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In this past 2012 election, we North Carolina voters finished giving the entire state government to Republicans – and not the moderate, “business-minded” Republicans North Carolinians are accustomed to, but the same far-right social conservatives who are plaguing the rest of the country – as we had begun to do in the Tea Party wave of 2010, shepherded along as we were by the massive amounts of money from conservative leader and corrupting influence Art Pope (a subject I have written about previously here, among other places). Apparently aware that their extremely conservative proposals are likely to precipitate an imminent backlash from historically moderate and increasingly young and progressive NC voters, Republicans in the statehouse have tried to cram in as many bedrock-conservative agenda items as possible as quickly as possible, and in so doing destroy some of the best things about North Carolina.

From an expansive and enlightening article from Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis, writing for The American Prospect:

Recognizing that this conservative moment might not last long, Republican legislators are moving swiftly. Despite the headlines, the most notorious bills—like the resolution to establish a state religion or the measure to outlaw public nipple displays—have been nonstarters. But the core of Pope’s agenda is going ahead. Every lawmaker in North Carolina knows that agenda: Scale back taxes, especially for businesses and the wealthy; slice away at the social safety net; and reverse the state’s focus on public schools as an engine for social and economic progress.

In February, lawmakers decreased maximum weekly unemployment benefits from $535 to $350 and shortened the period in which workers can receive them—an especially harsh measure given that unemployment in North Carolina is the nation’s fifth highest at 9.2 percent. North Carolina is one of 15 states that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have covered about 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians with the federal government picking up the tab. Now Governor McCrory is pushing to privatize management of the state Medicaid program, which would funnel North Carolina tax dollars to out-of-state managed-care companies while raising costs and reducing access to care.

Taxes became more regressive when lawmakers voted to end the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which was claimed in 2011 by more than 900,000 low-income, working North Carolinians. Senate Republicans are now considering a bill to cut the state’s corporate income tax from the highest to the lowest in the Southeast, which would be low indeed. It could have been worse. An earlier Senate plan, promoted by Pope’s Civitas Institute, would have abolished corporate and personal income taxes altogether, replacing them with a higher sales tax—the most regressive form of taxation. Even Pope shot down that idea, saying sales-tax increases would “hurt the economy.” (They would definitely have affected sales in his retail chain.)

Republicans have also set their sights on gutting environmental laws, proposing to repeal the state’s renewable-energy standard, speed the way for fracking, and allow offshore drilling for oil and gas. The party is also taking aim at the historic centerpiece of North Carolina progressivism: public education, which has long been a target of Pope’s network. Last session, cuts to schools eliminated more than 4,300 teaching jobs. This time, one Republican bill would shift $90 million of public-school funding to private schools through vouchers. Another would eliminate teacher tenure. A proposal to shutter at least one UNC campus is on hold, following a public outcry.

We gave them the state, and this is what they are doing with it. Perhaps the most tragic effort is what they are trying to do to North Carolina’s exemplary voting procedures, which had “become a national model for clean elections and expanded turnout, thanks to reforms like early voting, same-day registration, and public financing of some races.” Because of the advantage the expanded turnout gave to Democrats in 2008, Bill Cook of the state senate – under the influence of Art Pope – has proposed the following:

So the senator introduced a strict measure to require government–issued photo ID at the polls, slash the number of early-voting days, eliminate same-day registration during early voting, and delay by five years the time it takes for former felons to regain their voting rights. None of these proposals is original; they’re the same voter-suppression measures floated in recent years by Republican legislators from Wisconsin to Georgia. But then Cook got creative. He co-sponsored Senate Bills 666 and 667, both of which would ban parents from claiming their college children as dependents on their state taxes if those children vote on campus (as most students do). Then he filed Senate Bill 668, prohibiting the “mentally incompetent” from voting. Why? Because, as Cook told The Charlotte Observer, he had once seen such a person be “manipulated” at the polls.

If you live in North Carolina you should definitely read the entire article.

Recent centrist moves and minor steps toward compromise on the part of Ohio Republicans has apparently angered the Ohio Tea Party, with the advent of the election of Matt Borges, who once lobbied for the gay-rights group Equality Ohio, breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

From an article in the Columbus Dispatch:

Feeling betrayed by the Republican Party and its leaders, tea party groups in Ohio appear to be uniting and moving toward either a split from the GOP or action to punish Republican candidates who fail ideological purity tests.

A series of events, culminating with the April 26 election of Matt Borges as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, spurred a flurry of meetings and conference calls among tea party leaders last week to plot a course of action heading into the 2014 statewide election.

Options being discussed, according to Seth Morgan, policy director for Americans for Prosperity, range from breaking off into “a third party, to an insurrection (within the Republican Party) and everything in between.”

As I see it, any outcome here could be good. The tea party’s waning influence has left them with much less power than they had at the height of the movement – according to the article, “a 2012 poll by The Washington Postand the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 28 percent of Republicans identified themselves as tea party supporters.” If they do decide to split off and form a third party – which is probably the best possibility – then their last remaining bit of influence and clout, which is derived entirely from their position as part of the Republican Party, will be gone. They will once and finally be relegated back to the fringes of the political spectrum where they belong, and from whence they came. Even if they attempt to join forces with another extremist group – such as the Ohio Constitution Party, the chairman of which, Don Shrader, met with Portage County Tea Party executive chairman Tom Zawistowski to discuss just such an alliance – in an attempt to substantiate themselves, the would no longer be on the main stage of the political theater, and thus their influence would not constitute the credible threat that they may still represent now.

“An insurrection” within the Republican Party could be just as beneficial, and even more detrimental to the entire right wing by splitting up the conservative vote. Whether they start backing independent third-party candidates, or do it from within the Republican Party, they will rob the Republican candidate of as much as 28 percent of conservative voters, meaning the possibility that a Democratic candidate could only need 30 or 31 percent to win. (This is not to mention that the tea party itself is plagued by fragmented leadership and a lack of clearly defined organization and goals.)

Would they really do this? Yes:

“The suggestions range from everybody leaving the party in a mass exodus, to staying in the party but get challengers in primaries for every race of anybody who ever crossed us, to under-voting in certain races,” [says Lori Viars, vice chairwoman of the Warren County GOP and leader of Warren County Right to Life].

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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.

Ezra Klein – who is generally a little more leftwardly-extremist than I care for – has made an interesting point. From the Washington Post:

As I understand it, the GOP has five basic goals in the budget talks:

1) Cut the deficit.

2) Cut entitlement spending.

3) Protect defense spending, and possibly even increase it.

4) Simplify the tax code by cleaning out deductions and loopholes.

5) Lower tax rates.

The White House is willing to cut a deal with Republicans that will accomplish 1, 2, 3 and 4. But Republicans don’t want that deal. They’d prefer the sequester to that deal. That means they will get less on 1, basically nothing 2, 4, and 5, and they will actively hurt themselves on 3. So, rather than accomplishing four of their five goals, they’re accomplishing part of one. Some trade.

I’ve asked some Republicans sources to explain their thinking to me. But none of the answers quite seems to add up.

One answer is that they’re hoping the sequester gives them so much leverage that the Democrats fold and accept an equivalent or larger package of spending cuts that Republicans prefer. But I can’t find any Republicans who actually believe that will happen.

Another explanation is that Republicans don’t want to cut tax deductions now — which is the key to any deal with the Democrats — because they want to use those deductions to pay for rate-lowering tax reform. But if they’re not open to new revenues, they’re not getting rate-lowering tax reform while President Obama remains in office. And if they take power after Obama leaves office, they can just lower tax rates without paying for it, as they’ve done many times before.

A third answer is that the anti-tax pledge holds that cutting deductions to reduce the deficit is a tax increase, and Republicans won’t vote for a tax increase, even if it results in a policy outcome they vastly prefer. In other words, it’s ratio-myopia.

And perhaps that’s the real answer. But it’s a bit hard to believe. Perhaps I’m missing something?

As has been said before, this new Republican party never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

The Republican establishment is reasserting control. It’s purging some of the hucksters who’d taken the party’s reins — or at least the airtime — in recent years. It’s resisting much of the brinkmanship that marked the last Congress and trying to present a more fearsome, united front against counterproductive strategies favored by the right. All of the major 2016 presidential contenders have made the same political calculation: It’s better to build a reputation as one of the party’s adults than as one of its firebrands.

Just don’t call this process moderation. The Republican Party isn’t reinventing itself so much as reverting to its previous form. There’s little evidence of a rethinking of core Republican policy ideas.

– Ezra Klein, as reported at Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire.

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