Republicans have been bad for North Carolina, especially its reputation. For decades, the state was seen as a bastion of moderation that attracted industry, housed a world-class public university system, balanced development and environmental responsibility, and welcomed people openly. That perception began to change rapidly when the GOP took control of the legislature in 2011.
Republicans sent a message to Muslims that they’re not welcome by passing a law banning Sharia Law, despite no evidence that Sharia posed a threat. They put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban marriage, the only time we’ve used the constitution to strip people of rights instead of expanding them. They passed a bill allowing magistrates to opt out of marrying gay couples and they passed the notorious HB2 to further restrict the rights of LGBT citizens.
Republicans reduced funding to public schools while using taxpayer dollars to subsidize private education. Our teachers became among the lowest paid in the nation and per pupil spending shrank dramatically. Today, an unfunded mandate on elementary schools is leaving schools without art and music classrooms.
The GOP clearly targeted African-Americans to reduce their influence in voting and in governing. They passed the massive voter suppression law that the courts found targeted African-Americans with “surgical precisions.” They proudly drew the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in the country, giving themselves a veto proof majority in a state that’s evenly divided. And then, just to make sure African-Americans got the message, they passed a bill to protect monuments to the Confederacy.
The most damaging legacy of the GOP, though, will be the assault on the UNC system. The university has been the state’s crown jewel, attracting business and industry, providing for social mobility, and enhancing our national reputation. In response, the GOP fired the well-respected president, Tom Ross, without ever disclosing a reason other than that he was a Democrat. Last week, against the advice of lawyers, academics from across the nation, and the University administration, the GOP led Board of Governors killed the UNC Center for Civil Rights. The move will certainly harm the reputation of the UNC School of Law, but it sends a more ominous message to people considering working for or attending UNC: ideologues are in control and nobody’s work is safe. And now, they’re trying to micromanage the system, giving marching orders to the UNC president and school chancellors. They’re pushing an ideological agenda that might have a devastating impact on UNC.
The GOP is reversing the progress North Carolina has made. If they had been in power from 1960 to 2010, we wouldn’t be the state we are today. We wouldn’t have the Research Triangle Park because they certainly wouldn’t have invested in a public/private partnership of that scale. We wouldn’t have the UNC system we have today because they wouldn’t have built the consolidated university that made our public system among the best in the nation. And we certainly would not have the community college system we have today because there’s no way in hell they would have added the sales tax it took to pay for it.
No, if Republicans had had their way, North Carolina would have remained the Southern backwater it was in 1959. It took men of vision like Luther Hodges, Terry Sanford and Bill Friday to build a state with ambition and goals. Republicans have no leaders like that and they’re quickly trying to dismantle the progress we’ve made.