Politics in North Carolina is truly a mess. On the one side, we have party drunk with power, struggling to control its nuttiest factions and unwilling or unable to curb the opportunists who want to plunder government. On the other, we have a disorganized party with no idea how to be the loyal opposition. Now, North Carolina, historically one of the country’s most moderate, pragmatic and successful states, is careening down an ideological road with no effective barriers.
In the state Senate, Phil Berger seems content to let the most ideological partisans run amok. His budget and finance plans reflect a third world view that shifts wealth from the middle-class to the rich and sees low-wages, low-taxes, low-regulation and low-skills as a viable economic development model.
Governor Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis seem less comfortable with that direction but won’t or can’t to do anything about it. Tillis is running for U. S. Senate and, while he’s reeled in some of the craziest stuff, he’s scared of alienating the right-wingers necessary to win a primary. McCrory, though, is the most disappointing. He’s yet to distinguish himself in any meaningful way except as a lackey for Art Pope’s privatization schemes, breaking what’s already working.
In their arrogance, Republicans have missed the main reason they were elected–to clean up the good ol’ boy and girl system that left North Carolina scarred with petty scandals. Instead, they say, “To victors go the spoils” and are pushing for more patronage positions even though they can’t find competent people to fill the ones they have (Aldona Wos, I’m talking about you).
And the Democrats seem unable to find a response. The state party is leaderless and lacks direction. In the legislature, nobody but Josh Stein has made a consistent, effective argument opposing even the nuttiest of GOP policies.
But in all this, there are glimmers of hope for Democrats. Outside groups are stepping up to fill the void left by the state party. “Moral Mondays” are gaining steam and, while they won’t curb the Republicans’ agenda, they are drawing attention to policies which have little support among the general public. As Republican strategist Carter Wrenn noted in his blog, other groups, including this blog, shined a light on the potential conflicts of interest of moonlighting Secretary of Public Safety Kieran Shanahan. And finally, former Congressman Bob Etheridge and ProgressNC are bringing attention to the cuts in education to that will almost certainly harm public schools.
McCrory and company should take notice. They can either stand up and try to moderate their right-wing or they will find themselves running for re-election as the anti-education party that raised taxes on the middle-class to give tax breaks to rich. Contrary to what they might want to believe, their electoral success was not due to the electorate’s shift to the right. North Carolina is still the moderate, pragmatic state that was here before they took power.