Nichol: Governing by mendacity in North Carolina

When Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican, introduced her new abortion bill on behalf of an array of House Republicans, she explained “there is no effort here to try to restrict a woman’s right to (terminate a pregnancy), what we’re trying to do is make her care competent.” To that end, oddly, the statute would expand North Carolina’s waiting period to obtain an abortion from one day to three and block the UNC and ECU medical schools from training doctors in the procedure. There are “other opportunities,” McEraft said, “to learn how to act in an emergency situation.” The Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education disagreed.

No doubt the lawyers had explained to McElraft that simply making it more difficult to get an abortion is impermissible, though legislating to protect a woman’s health is presumptively constitutional. So, even though her proposed statute would, in reality, threaten patient safety, McElraft simply declared that what seems to be the night is actually the day.

Yet again, in North Carolina, those who vehemently oppose the right to choose, across the board, ride in to promote the safety, and the honor, of women seeking to secure an abortion. Adding flippancy to her want of candor, McElraft responded, now famously: “When we can have a few more little taxpayers, why not?”

Sen. Chad Barefoot introduced a measure, now enacted, to dramatically restructure Wake County Board of Commissioners elections. Barefoot was apparently chagrined with the 2014 outcome – electing Democrats to all seven spots on the board. As a result, Barefoot’s bill increased the size of the board from seven to nine, employed single member districts and placed an array of Democratic incumbents in the same district – should they have the gall to seek re-election.

Barefoot protested that the “reform” had nothing to do with partisan politics. Sure, he wasn’t moved to dump the Wake County election system till he saw the 2014 outcome, but now he understands that “the commission needs more representation for the small towns and rural communities” of the county. The current commissioners, these Democrats, aren’t like Barefoot. They “don’t understand the needs of the people in small communities, they don’t understand our way of life.” Barefoot, thankfully, is not after politics, just illumination.

Sen. Trudy Wade seeks similar enlightenment for Greensboro citizens – though her gleam of insight demands that the size of the City Council be reduced and re-configured, rather than expanded. Wade isn’t out to help Republicans, she says. It’s just that the “vast majority of Greensboro neighborhoods lack representation from someone who truly understands their needs.”

When faced with cries of opposition from the home front,

Wade explained the “vocal group of Greensboro residents and elected officials who have spoken against the bill have a personal vested interest in maintaining the status quo.” That’s one way to put it, I suppose. But when you set about to legislatively overturn the results of an election, the folks who won it are always going to have “a personal vested interest in maintaining the status quo.” Wade apparently studied both veracity and democratic theory with Barefoot.

Then, closer to home for me, there was the firing of Tom Ross. Board of Governors Chairman John Fennebresque explained at his painful news conference that Ross had been fired for no reason. He had been “exemplary” in every way. His “work ethic” and “integrity” were “perfect.” There was “no precipitating event.” In fact, Ross “has been wonderful.” How could politics have had anything to do with it? We love Ross. We just woke up one morning and decided to can him. Dissembling on stilts. Path-breakingly incompetent dissembling, to be sure. But dissembling nonetheless.

The list could go on. New “religious freedom” bills supposedly have nothing to do with discriminating against lesbians and gay men. Medicaid can’t be expanded because we cannot, in good conscience, put new people into a “broken system.” Better to leave them lying in the parking lot outside the emergency room. A hyper-partisan voting bill, suppressing Democratic-leaning voters at every turn, is just “a commonsense measure” ensuring electoral integrity. No matter how inaccurate, just keep repeating the mantra. Eventually folks will stop asking questions. That, after all, seems to be the goal.

I understand, as well as the next fellow, that North Carolina has undergone an ideological sea change over the last three years. But what political philosophy not only embraces, but apparently requires, such government by mendacity?

Gene Nichol is Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.