The battles ahead for NC in 2014

Greensboro News & RecordJanuary 6, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:

The message delivered by the Rev. William Barber III just before Christmas probably didn’t provide North Carolina Republicans with holiday cheer: “If you thought we fought in 2013, you ought to see how we fight in an election year.”

Barber, president of the NAACP in North Carolina, led the Moral Monday protests that began in Raleigh and spread to other cities across the state. They were a big part of a contentious year in politics.

Barber has become the most powerful voice of opposition to the Republican Party in North Carolina. Democrats have no comparable spokesman within the state legislature, where their numbers are too small to slow the GOP agenda. Nor are Democrats likely to improve their position much in November’s elections because too many districts give Republicans an edge.

Not that the contests won’t be hard-fought anyway, as Barber promises. This will not be a peaceful year in state politics.

The battle lines are sharply drawn. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his legislative allies claim a string of successes in 2013 that they aim to build on this year. Those include:

• Tax and regulatory reform they say has created a better business climate and slashed the state’s unemployment rate.

•  Further “encouraging” job-seeking by cutting unemployment benefits.

• Education reforms they say give parents more choice and hold schools and teachers accountable.

• Steering the state away from a future financial obligation by refusing to expand Medicaid.

• Changing election laws to prevent “voter fraud.”

Barber, Democrats and other critics have a completely different take on all these initiatives.

Some are being contested in court. The U.S. Justice Department has challenged a voter ID requirement and other election changes. Other lawsuits attempt to block abortion restrictions, school vouchers, the elimination of teacher tenure and redistricting. The legal wrangling likely will go on for years and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Add to that the expenses associated with the protests. More than 900 people were arrested last year by General Assembly police on trespassing and other charges. Those cases are grinding through the courts. So are related issues. Just before Christmas, a judge reversed a McCrory administration ruling that denied use of the Capitol grounds for a Moral Monday rally.

This all yields a bad state of affairs in North Carolina. Leaders should resolve to create a less-poisonous 2014 political environment.

It could start with Republicans acknowledging that public support for their agenda is narrow, at best, and at least listening to opposing views. Instead, they give the impression they’d just rather see all dissenters arrested. Democrats also could admit that their governing in the past contributed to many of the state’s problems, including its sluggish economy, and that business as usual was a nonstarter once Republicans took over.

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