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North Carolina’s Political U-turn: Model of a Reborn Confederacy?

Neal Peirce / Jul 26 2013

For Release Sunday, July 28, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceThere was a time when North Carolina was a symbol of Southern enlightenment. Compared to the policies of the old “Solid South” – Democratic, conservative, fervidly anti-civil rights – the state embraced relatively progressive policies in such areas as education and race relations.

No longer.

In the new, suddenly solid Republican South, the Tar Heel state is racing to lead the pack in conservative anti-city and implicitly anti-black politics.

Just check the record of what’s occurred since 2010, when Republicans for the first time since 1896 won control of both houses of North Carolina’s Legislature.

They’ve passed a tax bill that will reduce state revenue by more than a half-billion dollars a year, benefitting higher-income taxpayers while increasing taxes for small business owners and lower- and middle-class taxpayers.

Moves on unemployment insurance will cut benefits and the length of coverage for tens of thousands of North Carolina workers.

The state’s earned income tax credit is being closed off, raising the tax burden on thousands of the working poor.

Aid to elementary education is dropping, with the growing state now spending less on public schools than it did in 2007.

On the social side, the GOP-controlled legislature recently repealed the Racial Justice Act of 2009 – a law that allowed death-row inmates to claim that racial bias played a role in their convictions. With 152 people on death row, that decision and others helped spark a series of political rallies at the state capital in Raleigh, called Moral Mondays. The NAACP and allied civil rights, labor and immigration groups have joined in, trying to combat what they call North Carolina’s new “mean-spirited” public policies.

But what are the odds that Moral Monday protests or the like will deter North Carolina’s new right-wing politics? Realistically, very low. The state’s sharp political shift is neither accidental nor short-lived. It reflects years of planning by Republican political operatives in close alliance with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-sponsored lobby that helps develop and circulate model laws reflecting not just corporate-friendly but ultra-conservative social agendas (like “stand your ground” gun laws).

Thomas Edsall, in a perceptive analysis on The New York Times’ website, says the Republicans’ success in gaining control of all 11 legislatures in states of the Civil War Confederacy represents a conscious effort to identify the Democratic Party as the party of blacks, and Republicans as the party of whites. The theory has been that “white” Republican votes would outnumber “black” Democratic ones. African-American political power is clearly being eviscerated in the process: In less than 20 years, the percentage of black legislators in the South serving in the majority party where they can influence policy (formerly the Democratic Party, now the Republican) has fallen from 99.5 percent to 4.8 percent.

To a degree, the policy is working nationally – witness the Republican takeover of legislatures in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, shifts all relegating black elected officials to the minority. By no accident, all the switched states are seeing strong pushes for voter-ID laws, restricted early voting and shortened polling hours – moves clearly designed to suppress the votes, and policy voice, of blacks, Hispanics and the poor.

North Carolina, Edsall suggests, has “become a tea party test tube” with its current wave of measures bearing harsh consequences for blacks and other minorities. The state House speaker, Thom Tillis, is a board member of ALEC. And the legislature is broadening its agenda not just to suppress minority and poor peoples’ voices but to punish urban areas in general.

Case in point: an effort to eviscerate North Carolina’s long-standing annexation powers of cities, laws widely seen as among the nation’s fairest. The legislature ripped an area of recently annexed territory out of Goldsboro – even after the city had obligated itself for $7 million to build water and sewer lines to serve the new area.

Now the Republican legislators are out to seize city assets outright. Prime example: a law to force Charlotte to give up ownership and control of the airport that the city had founded, bonded and supported for decades.

The legislation as originally adopted (moves were afoot late in the week for a compromise of a sort) put the airport under a regional authority – reasonable enough if the region had created and paid for the facility, which it hadn’t. Another legislative target is Asheville’s water system. It’s to be given to a new regional authority – with no monetary compensation whatever to the city. (The city sued and a judge has temporarily blocked the move.)

Charlotte is also fighting in court, and the legal outcome is unclear. But it’s clear an ugly “reward-friends, punish-adversaries” politics is in full flower. Growing Hispanic and other more moderate political voices could offset the trend. But with North Carolina’s legislative districts carefully drawn to entrench the ascendant Republicans, a return to moderation may be years – if not decades – away.


Neal Peirce’s e-mail is npeirce@citistates.com.

For reprints of Neal Peirce’s column, please contact Washington Post Permissions, c/o PARS International Corp., WPPermissions@parsintl.com, fax 212-221-9195. For newspaper syndication sales, Washington Post Writers Group, 202-334-5375, wpwgsales@washpost.com. (c) 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group

9 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Neal: Thanks for talking about NC. There are some amazingly interesting battles happening here, and unfortunately for us in NC, we will also suffer the scars.
    The story of NC really starts with the strategy of Art Pope to go after the Legislative election that coincides with the census. This allowed the Republicans to control the redistricting, and thus how votes were put into districts. My Asheville district spans all the way down to Gastonia, which is a suburb of Charlotte, about a 2 hour drive away. Also, it should be noted that the State took Asheville’s airport before it took Charlotte’s. There was a great article by the New Yorker that was the canary in the coal mine from several years ago.
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/10/111010fa_fact_mayer

  2. Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    PS: Check out the ALEC Board of Directors. NC has the largest representation on their Board, and the most active is Tim Moffitt from the Asheville area. Moffitt is the one leading all of the Asheville asset seizures, amongst other things.

  3. Darrell Marcy
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    After reading Maria’s uplifting article, this is all the more painful. I was going to say, the ugly reality that America has become, but really is it worse or better. The pre-civil rights era had to have been much worse.

  4. Mayraj Fahim
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    GOP is very shortsighted. They believe in suburbs when it is already being revealed what wasteful and inefficient policy it has been.
    http://bettercities.net/news- opinion/blogs/charles-marohn/ 20319/second-life-cycle-blues
    Second life cycle blues
    http://dc.streetsblog.org/ 2011/03/14/a-metro-detroit- business-owner-on-the-talent- repelling-effect-of-sprawl/
    A Metro Detroit Business Owner on the Talent-Repelling Effect of Sprawl
    http://bettercities.net/news- opinion/blogs/charles-marohn/ 20313/detroit-american-autopsy
    Detroit: An American autopsy
    http://www.theatlantic.com/ business/archive/2013/07/are- the-suburbs-where-the- american-dream-goes-to-die/ 278014/
    Are the Suburbs Where the American Dream Goes to Die?
    New research shows upward mobility is higher in denser cities
    “the bankruptcy in Detroit is simply a notable milestone on the long road to the collapse of the Growth Ponzi Scheme. Part of the national level fear caused by the impending bankruptcy in Detroit comes from the fact that Detroit is in many ways the model of suburban growth. This is the world headquarters of Motordom, and more than any other city has embraced, and suffered the consequences of, the unproductive growth pattern. This was supposed to be the best city, not the bankrupt city.
    The truth is, people everywhere are afraid of what’s happening in Detroit, because to one extent or another we’re all Detroit. In every part of the country we’ve spent trillions of dollars on infrastructure to promote unproductive places that will be dead weight on our backs. The question before us is how to rationally respond to this crisis. Finding rational responses, and making difficult decisions, will be the ultimate work of this generation. The bankruptcy of Detroit is only the beginning.”
    http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/7/11/bankruptcy.html
    Bankruptcy

  5. Mayraj Fahim
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    See also:
    http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/7/12/friday-news-digest.html
    And in Taylorsville, UT, the Growth Ponzi scheme is unfolding before our eyes. Many people have said to me that, “well, people will just have to pay more,” when their city starts to fall apart. Great in theory, but the world just doesn’t work that way. As growth slows and things are starting to fall apart, the last thing people can handle (or will agree to) is a huge tax increase that will simply slow the decline. This proposed increase in Taylorsville — 47% — is on the low end of what I believe is needed in most cities if they hope to remain solvent in their current form.
    http://www.ksl.com/?sid=25557414&section=local
    Taylorsville’s proposed 47% tax increase ‘just can’t be justified,’ taxpayers association says

  6. Posted July 31, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I’m curious how businesses feel about all of this – local and national corporations? I live in Ohio and our governor and state legislature are clearly operating from the same play book. I fell in love with Asheville when my daughter lived there for 9 months last year studying herbalism. I’ve spent a lot of money there in the past couple of years. I wonder if I wrote to the various businesses to remind them how much I’ve spent and that I likely won’t be back any time soon because of the crazy politics, would they put pressure on the state government to rein it in?

    Your thoughts?

  7. Neal Peirce
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Your idea of letting businesses know just how you feel about a state’s extreme political choices is an excellent one. Thanks for being in touch — Neal Peirce

  8. Posted August 1, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Contacting businesses about the downside of this U-turn is an excellent idea. Think of the major banks headquartered in Charlotte, the tech firms in the Research Triangle, as well local and regional economic development organizations.

  9. Lance Buhl
    Posted August 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Neal, it’s been many years since we met, and I’ve been following your website work for several of those years – important and always informed and well-formed essays. Thanks for that.
    As a North Carolinian for the past 15.5 years, it has been profoundly depressing for Alice and me to be witness to the absurd deformation of the Republican Party nationally, and especially, here.
    What bothers me most is that we are not calling Republican policies for what they are: immoral. I know that is a very dangerous word to use in political debate. But, if we consider who benefits and who loses as a result of their policies – using social and economic justice as the measure – there is no other way to characterize what they mean to achieve and how they are going about it – and, I’m afraid, realizing their vision: a white, relatively well-off and highly benefited ruling minority.
    Considering political calculus alone, if I were inclined to be light-hearted, I would run an add to the effect that Mugabi’s political chicanery is modeled after Republican-style voter exclusions. Hope you are as well as your column. Be well. Lance