Nichol: Making the case that lawmakers are destroying North Carolina

From left, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger
From left, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger hlynch@newsobserver.com

When I read the other day that lawmakers are now telling schools how to teach math, I remembered Lily Tomlin’s quip: “No matter how cynical I get, it’s impossible to keep up.” We’ve gotten used to a lot of insanity during this campaign to destroy the meaning of North Carolina.

I know that sounds overblown. Courts sometimes demand a “bill of particulars” to clarify such vague assertions, a detailed itemization of claims made against one’s adversary. In the spirit of clarity and particularization, here’s mine.

The governor and General Assembly have:

1. Tragically refused to expand Medicaid. Merely to show disdain for President Obama, they’ve denied health care to a half million poor Tar Heels though the federal government would pay almost all the fare. Hospitals have closed, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, over $30 billion in federal funds are surrendered and a thousand or more of us die each year as a result of one of the most cruel and indefensible decisions in N.C. history.

2. Enacted the most aggressive voter suppression law in a half century. The central purpose of North Carolina’s monster voting law – imposing a biased ID requirement, limiting early voting and eliminating same-day registration, out of precinct voting and early first-time registration – is to make it harder to cast the franchise. It is foundationally un-American.

3. Launched an internationally derided war on LGBT people. Beginning with Amendment One, followed by a discrimination-abetting religious exemption law, the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of state dollars to pursue already-concluded litigation and, most famously, the passage of House Bill 2, Republicans have inflicted enduring wounds on North Carolina merely to prove they despise the LGBT community.

4. Moved systematically and pervasively to dismantle the public schools. Through teacher and teaching assistant layoffs, reductions in pre-K programs, massive budget cuts, the expansion of charters, the introduction of vouchers, the (attempted) elimination of tenure, the closing of a celebrated teaching fellows program, the creation of a destructive A-F school grading system and, now, the adoption of achievement school districts, the General Assembly has worked to lay waste to public education.

5. Initiated the nation’s most appalling crusade against poor people. Despite burgeoning poverty and hunger rates, enacted the sharpest cut to unemployment compensation in history, ended the earned income tax credit, drastically cut food-stamp eligibility, abolished legal aid appropriations, sharply reduced child care subsidies and greatly increased regressive sales taxes – all to cut taxes for the wealthy. As if it’s no longer thought unworthy to steal from the poor.

6. Violated the personal liberty, constitutional privacy and bodily integrity of NC women. Enacted not only the infamous “motorcycle” abortion bill and the nation’s longest waiting period, but also passed a shocking mandatory sonogram law – enlisting a woman’s body, physician and pocketbook in a coercive campaign to intimidate her from the exercise of constitutional rights. Requiring doctors to mouth a state-mandated script, like Stalinist apparatchiks, contrary to their perception of the best interests of their patients.

7. Abused legislative power to limit necessary and traditional prerogatives of public and private institutions. Warming to totalitarianism, the General Assembly has threatened, coerced and (sometimes) restructured courts, municipalities, county commissions, universities, community colleges, regulatory commissions, administrative agencies, school boards, unions, legal services programs, corporations, academics, civil servants, lobbyists, journalists and citizens unwilling to bend to the will of its leaders.

8. Opened the door to degradation of the environment and natural resources. Sought (notoriously) to limit research on climate change, revoked tax credits for renewable energy, enthusiastically embraced fracking and off-shore drilling, crushed funding for state parks and environmental enforcement, repealed state rules more protective than federal counterparts, crafted sweetheart deals with donors/polluters and changed DEQ’s mission to “customer service” – seeking to become the least regulated state in the union.

9. Embraced government by perjury. Electoral participation was suppressed to stop non-existent voter fraud, HB2 protected against fanciful transgender assault, local elections were overturned to assure democratic accountability, abortions were restricted out of a newly discovered concern for women’s health and tax cuts for the rich were reportedly designed to create prosperity for the poor. It’s hard to see why any political ideology demands its adherents constantly lie about their motivations.

10. Perhaps most distressing, ruled as a white people’s party. From their veto-proof legislative caucuses, without a single black member, they repealed the racial justice act, eliminated race discrimination lawsuits, racially gerrymandered legislative districts, made it harder for African-Americans to vote and increased racial segregation in the public schools. Knowing they won’t be able to govern as a white party in a decade, they’ve been in a hurry.

Rarely have so few inflicted so much, so quickly, on so many, with so little justification. Revolution born in malice.

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