Chris Fitzsimons: Have N.C. GOP lawmakers ‘jumped the shark’?
In a few years when people are looking back at the demise of the reign of the radical right in North Carolina, this may well be the week that they point to as the beginning of the end, the week that the tea party Republicans in control in Raleigh jumped the shark and caused even people who never pay attention to politics to ask what in the world is going on in their own state government.
Fourteen members of the state House signed onto a resolution that calls for creating an official state religion, declares that people in North Carolina are not subject to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and proclaims that the state can decide on its own what is constitutional and what is not.
The ludicrous resolution (which has died in committee) understandably prompted national scorn and ridicule but there’s more to it than that.
There was absurd legislation introduced last session too, most notably a bill to consider establishing a separate state currency for North Carolina. That was also ridiculed around the country, but there’s an important difference this time.
The currency bill was introduced by Rep. Glen Bradley, a fringe tea party Republican. Nobody else signed it. Bradley often disagreed with House leaders, who promptly redistricted him out of his House seat. He is no longer a member of the General Assembly.
Among the 14 Republicans who signed the state religion resolution are House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes and Appropriations Committee Chair Justin Burr, two senior members of the House leadership team. Starnes, as majority leader, is arguably the second or third most powerful member of the House and was elected by his fellow Republicans to his post.
These are not lone, fringe members who are taking their cues from George Wallace and to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King have their lips dripping with the words of nullification. These are House leaders turning to nullifiers like Wallace for inspiration. The fringe on the right is now actually running the House.
Now that people are finally awake, they are more likely to pay attention when they hear other horror stories from this tea party General Assembly. And there are plenty.
The same week the resolution dominated the headlines, Senate Education Committee Chair Jerry Tillman convinced a committee not to require criminal background checks for charter school teachers. The obsession with charters and vouchers to undermine public education is so strong that even children’s safety is apparently not a concern.
A House committee voted to repeal renewable energy standards that more than 80 percent of people in the state support.
Bills were filed to use the state tax code to penalize parents if their children in college have the gall to register and vote in the town where they attend school. The Senate voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act, sending a message that racial bias in the death penalty is not their concern.
Lawmakers approved Gov. Pat McCrory’s appointment of a man to the State Board of Education who not only favors voucher schemes but doesn’t seem to think that gay and lesbian students deserve protection from bullying.
McCrory himself held a press conference to announce he was turning over the state Medicaid program that takes care of the most vulnerable people in the state to the profiteers on Wall Street.
Republican leaders show no signs of slowing down their dismantling of North Carolina and the blizzard of reactionary legislation will no doubt continue.
But things feel different now. People are finally starting to pay attention to what is happening to their state. The House leadership’s state religion resolution made sure of that.
And the people simply won’t stand for it.
Chris Fitzsimons is the executive director of NC Policy Watch, a progressive, nonprofit and non-partisan public policy organization. More information: www.ncpolicywatch.com.