Today’s political news will be dominated by the debate over whether or not to allow magistrates to forego their responsibilities to their jobs and opt out of marrying same-sex couples. The whole debate is depressing and a symbol of how far North Carolina has fallen.

The political leaders pushing this bill are grabbing the same mantle raised by segregationist leaders like Lester Maddox. Even as society’s views were shifting in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, Maddox and his peers in the deep South tried to hold back history. North Carolina, in contrast, was trying to move on. Back then, and for the next forty years, we were seen as leading change. Now, we’re seen as resisting it.

On other fronts, we’ve already lost our stature. From the mid-1990s until the Republicans took control of the state, we made investments in public education that showed steady improvement in our schools. Today, South Carolina has surpassed us in both per pupil spending and teacher salaries. The GOP raised a battle cry about broken schools and are taking us down an ideological rabbit hole of for-profit charter schools because, in the view of the free market ideologues, competition makes everything better.

Our university system fired a highly respected and competent president without any discernible reason. The firm hired to find a replacement has said that the Board of Governors must offer a plausible explanation for ditching President Tom Ross if they hope to find somebody of his caliber to lead the system. Unfortunately, everyone knows that he was fired simply because of his political affiliation. By appointing ideologues and partisan zealots to the BOG, the Republicans have put the reputation of our university system at risk.

In passing highly restrictive abortion measures, the legislature sends a signal to the country that religious beliefs take priority over women’s rights. Despite the success of the solar industry in North Carolina, the legislature wants to kill the Renewable Energy Standard–not because it’s not working, but because it stands in conflict with free market principles.

The guiding principles of the Republicans leading our state are based in religion and ideology. The religious conservatives want to impose their Old Testament views of morality on the state and the free marketeers apply competition to every scenario whether it’s warranted or not. Instead of moving forward and leading the South, we’re clinging to the past and letting the rigid confines of ideology drive our economic strategies while tearing apart the institutions that made North Carolina great.

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