It’s hard to say whether the law or just the timing is bad. GOP legislators, having long advocated against big government, now want to interfere, again, in local governance in North Carolina.
The state House has joined the Senate in making it harder for a locality to remove controversial monuments. On everyone’s minds, of course, are the numerous monuments to Confederates or the Confederate cause, some 100 of them around North Carolina. The monuments, along with the display of Confederate battle flags, have been prominent in the public consciousness since the horrific shooting deaths of nine African-American people in a Charleston, S.C., church last month. The alleged killer was pictured with Confederate symbols.
The South Carolina legislature voted to remove a Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds two weeks ago, after an impassioned plea from one lawmaker who called the flag a “symbol of hate.”
The push in North Carolina to protect monuments is an insulting infringement on local government jurisdiction. Under the bill, if a group or a town or a city wanted to remove a controversial monument, the General Assembly would have to pass a law to allow it. Republican Rep. George Cleveland of Jacksonville came up with the ultimate defense of this action: “Municipalities and cities are subdivisions of the state, and the state can play with their property if they feel like it.” Wow. Why have mayors and town and city councils at all, then?
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Though the Senate bill was introduced before the Charleston shootings, controversies have arisen in the past about Confederate monuments, and the bill’s intent seems obvious even though there hasn’t been any great push to take monuments down.
But the larger issue here is the theft of the authority that rightfully belongs to local governments on such matters. The General Assembly’s Republicans already have interfered by resetting the election rules for the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County commissioners.
They’ve also done something similar in ending the way people protest rezoning in their communities. A “protest petition” could make it more difficult for a developer to get a rezoning approved, because such a petition, meeting a minimum number of required signatures, could require a “super majority” of a local governing board to approve it. Now the legislature is taking that away, saying only a simple majority of a board will be needed for a rezoning approval.
Republicans in the General Assembly are showing a blatant disregard and a lack of respect for local government bodies. One hopes the constituents of those bodies will understand the disregard and disrespect are really directed at them.