North Carolina’s long-standing, deep-dipped social conservatism has been on display in recent days.
The legislature overrode Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill exempting magistrates from performing gay marriages if they have religious objections.
McCrory signed a 72-hour waiting period for abortions giving North Carolina, along with Utah, South Dakota and Missouri, the longest waiting period in the country.
And the Rev. Franklin Graham, one of the state’s best-known preachers, announced he was pulling his organization’s money out of Wells Fargo because he was offended by a TV ad for the bank showing two lesbians adopting a deaf girl.
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All of this may come as a surprise to those who like to think of North Carolina as a progressive, forward-looking place.
There are several things going on here.
First of all, although North Carolina has been progressive in many ways – in creating universities, roads, the arts, state parks and so forth – it has been at the same time a Bible Belt state where even the liberals pray.
A political paradox
North Carolina has always operated on two tracks. So in the 1920s, when Gov. Cameron Morrison was making North Carolina the “Good Roads” state and was pouring money into the state’s universities, he was also campaigning against teaching of evolution in the public schools. (“I don’t want my daughter or anybody’s daughter to have to study a book that prints pictures of a monkey and a man on the same page,” Morrison said.)
North Carolina was one of the first states to adopt Prohibition, and one of the last states to allow the sale of mixed alcohol beverages or a state lottery. The state passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages by a wide margin. It defeated constitutional amendments to give women the right to vote in 1920 and the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
North Carolinians have seen nothing inconsistent about building great universities and being socially conservative.
Secondly, North Carolina is right now a virtually one-party state because of legislative gerrymandering that has made the General Assembly and Congress non-competitive. The evangelical wing of the GOP is in a position to defeat a more moderate GOP candidate in a Republican primary, giving it leverage in the legislature that is more powerful than its actual numbers.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive of the N.C. Values Coalition, functions almost like an old-time political boss. If you are a Republican, you cross her at your own peril.
And McCrory, a more traditional Chamber of Commerce Republican, has proved to be an ineffective counterweight to his party’s right wing. In almost every confrontation with the more conservative legislature, he has been rolled. Some of that has to do with legislative hubris, but much has to do with McCrory’s lack of political and governing skills.
There has been only a modest push back from the state’s powerful business community, once the voice of progressiveness in North Carolina. With the legislature cutting taxes for corporations and high earners, business has been reluctant to stand up to the legislature.
Given all those factors, could the teaching of evolution vs. creationism – an issue fought out in the legislature in the 1920s – be next on the legislative agenda?