Republicans used their supermajorities to fundamentally transform state government. Were a well informed North Carolinian to view today’s policy regime from the vantage point of ten years ago, they would have perceived nothing less than a revolution. North Carolina’s government now looks almost nothing the like the forward-looking entity that drove progress for fifty years before the fateful Tea Party wave. Legislators, in short, made full use of their power.
This “Conservative Revolution” provoked a sustained backlash. Fortunately for North Carolina Republicans, the late Obama years saw several cycles of strong GOP performance at the national level, so their chickens didn’t come home to roost until after they had solidified their transformative gains. The reckoning finally came, however, in 2018. Last years elections were a total repudiation of the Generally Assembly from House and Senate results to the smashing defeat of Phil Berger’s power-grabbing amendments. Clearly, voters wanted a course correction.
To an astonishing degree, GOP lawmakers have ignored the voters’ call for an adjustment. Both houses of the legislature are advancing radical policies not different from the bills they rained down on the state for eight years. These proposals range from immigration to healthcare, and they bear the hallmarks of extremism and overreach that cling to nearly all NCGOP legislation. Republicans are acting like they did not lose the election.
GOP arrogance in the face of voter censure is not, to say the least, new to North Carolina politics. But it is particularly obnoxious this year. Voters have awarded the executive and judicial branches to Democrats; 16 new Democratic legislators took their seats in January. If we needed proof that North Carolina is a purple state, not the deep-red stronghold Republicans like to imagine it, voters delivered more than enough to prove the case. Drunk on gerrymandering, Republicans are acting like rulers, not public servants.
I can imagine two more explanations for the GOP’s defiant behavior. One, they are not capable of moderating themselves. Thirty years of Art Pope’s propaganda may just have turned the NCGOP into stone extremists. There’s also another, darker and more Machiavellian possibility. GOP leaders know that these bills will never become law, and that seeming futility is actually the point. They are trying to force Roy Cooper’s hand, sending him incendiary bills that will feature heavily in attack ads next year. The 2010 elections empowered them to do enormous damage. 2020, they hope, will let them do it again.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.