Three Republicans have put forward a proposal that would be extraordinarily destructive. The bill would give our teachers a raise–if they carried firearms in the classroom. All the bill’s boosters represent the base-pandering rancidity of the GOP legislature. But the most prominent of them, Ralph Hise, is perhaps the most pernicious member of the entire NC Senate.
Hise, a statistician by trade, represents a strip of counties in the mountains and foothills. Stretching from the South Carolina to Tennessee borders, Hise’s district epitomizes Appalachian poverty. Its residents are hard-up and isolated. In a better world, they’d be represented by a populist on a mission for economic justice. But Hise has consistently pushed policy in the opposite direction.
Despite representing a poor constituency, Hise has devoted much of his career to attacking anti-poverty programs. Community Care of North Carolina, a respected consortium of Medicaid doctors, was for years a boogeyman of Hise and his Senate Health Committee. Only former Rep. Nelson Dollar stopped them form abolishing CCNC, and abandoning the poor to the private market. Not long after, Hise pushed a bill to expel thousands of families from the food stamp program. North Carolina had more generous eligibility standards than some states, and that didn’t suit Hise. In cruelty, we should yield to no one.
Hise can attack the vulnerable with impunity, in part, because gerrymandering has assured his party of long-term power. As the Senate’s redistricting maestro, he knows this better than most. The legislative branch is far from his only target, however. Hise has led GOP efforts to gut the independent judiciary. Whenever Republicans attack democracy in North Carolina, Hise is most likely at the center of the effort.
As much damage as he’s inflicted on his own, rural constituents, Hise reserves special ire for cities. He simply detests Charlotte, Raleigh and the people who live there. Along with other aggrieved Republicans, he rammed through a bill that would have torn up Raleigh’s Dix Park lease. In an interview with Jason Zengerle, he scorned urban residents as irreligious and effete. It’s no exaggeration to say that Hise is more committed to aggravating the rural-urban divide than anyone in North Carolina.
Ralph Hise has his hands in everything that ails North Carolina politics. He exploits cultural anxiety to lure people into voting against their self-interest. Year after year, he has attacked our democratic institutions, to regressive ends. Republican leaders love him anyway, so he’s not going anywhere in the near future, but the best thing we can for state politics is to keep more people like him out of our legislature.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.