The GOP’s new normal in Raleigh — Are you for it or against it?
North Carolina has rarely seen an election where the candidates matter so little, but who wins matters so much.
This year it’s not about the names on the ballot. Those are mere window dressing. Their alma matter, their church, their IQ, their gender, their profession, their hometown — things voters might have cared about in the past — have fallen by the wayside, too. Even the last-minute, slick campaign ads will likely be futile in budging voters to their side of the fence.
Instead, state races for the next General Assembly are about one thing: are you for or against the changes made by a new conservative brand of Republicans now in power in Raleigh?
It’s what state political expert Chris Cooper calls “macroforces,” things outside a candidate’s control that influence voting.
“The vast majority of voters made up their minds before they even knew who the candidates were. They had what we call ‘standing commitments,’” said Cooper, the head of Western Carolina University’s Political Science Department.
They either liked or didn’t like the direction in Raleigh, and knew long before election season whether they would vote to continue the course.
“I think people are activated and thinking about state politics on both sides in a way they haven’t been before,” Cooper said.
To progressives, the changes of the past two years came fast and furious, like a whirlwind of destruction that wasn’t fully realized until the dust settled. They claim the changes dismantled the core values and tenets that set North Carolina apart in the South as a state of progress, vision and prosperity.
“They were doing so much so fast, in most cases without any public notice or public input. It was impossible I think for legislators themselves to keep up, much less the public or reporters,” said Chris Fitzsimon, the director of the liberal NC Policy Watch. “They were being drafted in secret and then inserted in the budget, things that nobody knew were in there until after it passed. I think people are beginning to realize all the damage that was done to successful programs that made North Carolina a good place to live and work and raise a family.”
But to conservatives, the changes were long overdue. Lawmakers were simply making up for lost time, with much to set right after a century-long Democratic reign. They claim the changes finally brought fairness for the over-taxed and over-regulated, and tightened the belt on overly generous spending.
“We have made incredible progress in turning the state around,” said Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin. “This election will determine whether we stay the course or return to failed policies of the past. I believe we have made remarkable progress. I am very proud of what we are doing with North Carolina. We are moving forward.”
To some, the Republican leadership is just getting warmed up and needs more time to complete the reform they envision for the state.
“I don’t think any conservative legislator would say we are finished and done,” said Jim Tynen with the conservative Civitas Institute.
To voters like Kathrine Bartel in Waynesville, that’s a scary thought. Bartel said the policies in Raleigh benefited the wealthy and special interests, consolidating money and power while sacrificing the greater good.
“As advocates for working people, for poor people, for the disenfranchised and the underrepresented, we object to the power shift,” Bartel said. “It is very clear the wealthy were winners.”
But Tynen said a correction was needed to roll back the unfair burden foisted on the business sector and higher earners under liberal policies of the past.
“The system had gotten way out of whack, and we are trying to make it fairer and less burdensome,” Tynen said.
North Carolina has also been in the national media spotlight the past two years, with the Washington Post and New York Times covering the state’s political upheaval in an unprecedented way, Cooper said.
“The whole country is watching what is happening in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “I don’t know of another time North Carolina state politics has been this important nationally.”
On page 10, a quiz should help you decipher which camp you fall in, and, if you decide the candidates themselves do in fact matter, you’ll find stories on them inside this week’s issue as well.
March to the polls
The Moral Monday movement that formed in opposition of the conservative policies reshaping North Carolina are organizing a “march to the polls” during early voting. Check the political category in the calendar at the back of the paper for these and other political events.