Okay, I’ll take John Hood up on his offer to debate substance instead of motives, though I’ll argue that politics and perception often matter just as much.
In his column today he disputes the notion that the Republicans are attacking cities. Well, the GOP has brought that on themselves. As he notes, Bloomberg Business week, a national publication, did a story called The Republican Power Grab. For people outside looking in, including businesses looking for a place to locate, it sure looks like a heavy-handed, power-hungry state government. Managing perceptions and narratives is part of political leadership. So far, the GOP is failing on that front.
As for looking at the substance of proposals, both the Asheville water-system dispute and the Charlotte airport argument are local issues. Historically, the legislature rarely intervened in local disputes unless all the legislators representing the area were in agreement. That’s certainly not the case in either of these instances. Maybe those rules have changed with the new GOP-led legislature, but then we get back to the perception of a heavy-handed state government.
Annexation laws have long been the bane of certain GOP legislators. However, they have allowed North Carolina’s urban areas to grow responsibly. The main reason people oppose annexation is that they don’t want to pay increased municipal taxes. However, they want all the benefits that the cities have to offer, but don’t want to pay for them. They use the roads, libraries, entertainment and shopping venues without paying for the development and maintenance.
As for lowering class size, in the 1930s, North Carolina made a radical move by putting the primary responsibility for public education in the hands of state government. In doing so, the state tries to maintain a minimum standard of education for even the poorest counties. Like the state as a whole, we have a large gap between the success our urban and rural schools. Shifting the responsibility to local schools boards is a bad idea because, no, they don’t always know best.
Finally, they are not just redrawing Wake County’s school board districts and rescheduling their elections, Republican legislators are doing it across the state. They’re redrawing districts in Guilford and Buncombe. They’re making non-partisan races partisan in Lee County, against the wishes of the local government. If those aren’t partisan power grabs, the GOP is doing a really poor job of communicating what they are.
Maybe there is not an intentional “war on cities” anymore than there is a “war on women” but there is certainly a lot of state government intervention in local matters. For people who are just watching state government out of the corner of their eye, the GOP looks awfully heavy-handed. Even if there is a valid excuse for each issue, it still just sounds like an excuse. And for the party that claims they want less government, it just sounds hypocritical.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >