Along the same lines, just when you think it would be almost impossible for another media outlet to report on what’s happening in North Carolina and perhaps criticize what’s going on, the list gets longer: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, CNBC, CNN, The Raleigh News & Observer, and our own Asheville Citizen-Times.
Thank your sir, can we have another.
The seismic rightward shift taking place in Raleigh at the General Assembly is certainly newsworthy. Unfortunately, the spotlight shining on the Tar Heel state has not been very kind. We are making news not only for proposals that would make this state one of the most conservative in the nation, but also for a General Assembly that many are calling mean-spirited.
The July 9 lead editorial in the N.Y. Times was a no-holds barred assessment of the actions being taken by a legislature that is under GOP control for the first time since Reconstruc-tion. “North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.”
Of course, supporters of the work now being done in Raleigh often interpret criticism from the N.Y. Times as a badge of honor, but this time what most serious journalists consider one of the nation’s pre-eminent newspapers was dead on. All of us who follow state politics knew this legislature was going to turn right, but most of us did not think it would be such a hard right at such a high speed.
Here’s what the N.Y. Times criticized the legislature for: the decision to quit taking federal unemployment benefits that were going to 70,000 citizens while cutting the maximum state benefit from $535 to $350 per week and allowing folks to get benefits for as few as 12 weeks, this in a state that has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country; cuts in education spending, which put us 46th in the nation in per-capita education spending, including cuts in teacher pay, cutting pre-K availability, increasing class size, cutting assistants, ending the extra pay for teachers who get master’s degrees, and even cutting services for disabled children; repealing the Racial Justice Act, which promised death row inmates a chance to prove they were victims of racial discrimination; refusing to expand Medicaid and turning down federal money that is now going to other states, money that would have helped small hospitals in WNC who depend on Medicaid patients; and the new voter ID requirements, which in addition to disenfranchising many citizens would also end a tax deduction for college students if they vote at college instead of in their hometowns (a move the Times called a “blatant effort to reduce Democratic voting strength in towns like Chapel Hill and Durham”).
The N&O in Raleigh has been unable to contain its vitriol in criticizing the General Assembly: “When they got control of the General Assembly, Republicans vowed to drive North Carolina in a new and better direction. Instead, they’re behind the wheel in a demolition derby … Some of the actions are clearly ideological and partisan: abolition of the Racial Justice Act, for one example. But other actions that have been taken or are under negotiation smack of political immaturity. They’re just about doing away with anything the Democrats did in the way of innovative or helpful programs just because ... the Democrats did it.”
Other actions that have led to the derisive sneering toward our state: the inclusion of a measure that would have closed nearly all of the state’s abortion facilities in bill about motorcycle safety (really, including one of this country’s most divisive issues in a bill about motorcycle safety?); rolling back environmental protections; gutting state commissions that look out for the public welfare; taxing some of the state’s most important nonprofits; and mulling drug testing for recipients of public aid.
The list of misguided actions this legislature has taken is long. Although the new tax reform package unveiled this week may eventually do the state some good, that won’t happen without some serious changes. Right now it amounts to a substantial tax cut for the upper income brackets and a very small or no tax cut for lower-income families. It will give the state even less to spend on services, meaning deeper cuts to public schools, universities, community colleges and services for the elderly and disadvantaged youths.
As the Asheville Citizen-Times editorial writer put it earlier this week: “Thus the spotlight is turned on North Carolina. We’re used to basking in it. These days, it brings a harsh glare indeed.”