The plight of my fellow North Carolinians

It turns out that the North Carolina Republican Party’s attempt to declare an official state religion – about which I re-blogged about a week ago – was just the most abhorrent tip of a very large opportunistic iceberg. From Corey Hutchins writing for the Columbia Journalism Review (emphasis mine):

Maybe you’ve seen some of the eye-catching headlines bouncing out of North Carolina’s capitol over the last couple months. Stories about legislative measures like the one that would have made it possible to create an official state religion, or another that would mandate a two-year waiting period for a divorce.

It’s the first time in more than a century that Republicans have control of the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature. And they haven’t wasted any time in trying to drastically reshape North Carolina’s political, social, and economic landscape, unfurling a wave of bills on matters ranging from the relatively mundane to the momentous. Legislation has been proposed that would dole out prison sentences to women who go topless in public, allow public high schools to offer Bible study as an elective, and restrict access to abortions. A dozen years after the industry was outlawed amid concerns over predatory practices, there’s push to bring back payday lenders. Other measures would end teacher tenureeliminate green energy rulesresume executions, and restrict the power of local government, especially in the state’s largest cities. Unemployment benefits have been cut amid persistent high joblessness, and there’s a proposal that would turn the state’s corporate income tax from the highest in the Southeast to the lowest. There’s a Voter ID bill, and another one that would penalize families whose college-age children register to vote at their campus location. There are proposals to allow hunting on Sundays―something that hasn’t been permitted since 1868―and to raise the maximum speed limit for school bus drivers, and a group of GOP lawmakers recently tried to make North Carolina’s state marsupial the Virginia opossum. Asheville Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle even did a gag bit in which he challenged passers-by on the street to “name the fake bill” (most folks could not distinguish the made-up measure from the real ones).

A greater right-wing wish list has never existed. One reason for this is the “egregious” gerrymandering allowed during North Carolina’s redistricting after the 2010 census.

Republican state legislators tasked with redistricting frequently visited and consulted with the mapping team, according to depositions. Even Art Pope, the most influential conservative donor in the state, was appointed “co-counsel” to the legislative leadership and allowed in the room to give direct instructions to the technician.

So how has our traditionally centrist state, one that has gone “decidedly purple” in presidential elections – “narrowly for Obama in 2008, narrowly for Romney in 2012” – skewed so decidedly rightward in recent times (let’s not forget the gay marriage amendment of May 2012, which received national attention and remains a dark, ugly blemish on NC’s outward appearance)?

This question is not so much unexplored as contested. In national media―among both left-leaning and mainstream outlets―the focus is on big money and gerrymandering. Back in 2011, Jane Mayer wrote a detailed New Yorker piece headlined “State for Sale” that portrayed wealthy and politically-connected businessman Art Pope as a kind of man-behind-the-curtain whose deep pocks supported a network of think tanks, policy groups, and electoral campaigns to advance a right-wing agenda in North Carolina. (Pope is now Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.) Writing this month in The Nation, Ari Berman identified Pope as a key funder behind the “takeover of the North Carolina legislature” who had backed candidates for office and also a post-2010 redistricting effort that tilted the map drastically in the GOP’s favor. Meanwhile, the investigative muckraking newsroom ProPublica has focused on the “dark money”―that is, undisclosed donors―who funded North Carolina’s gerrymandering effort.

So its an open question whether this is truly the result of a realignment of social values on the part of the voters, or if the voters are being drastically misrepresented, with available evidence leaning toward the latter. North Carolinian’s need to be made aware of this as the midterm elections approach.

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