The scum rises: A look at the recent actions of the N.C. Legislature

What is this shit? 

I borrow this line from music writer Greil Marcus’s infamous reaction to a somewhat underwhelming Bob Dylan album to express, in the plainest language, my thoughts on the raft of last minute legislation squeezed through the colon of the N.C. General Assembly last week by the Republican-led state Legislature.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge the Republicans a little well-deserved revenge for years of Democratic gerrymandering and nearly omnipotent control of the state’s political fortunes. But securing seats for your party’s representatives through redistricting is far different than taking gratuitous steps to suppress voter turnout, restrict access to abortions, and further erode what’s left of the state’s public school system.  

These actions are all indicative of the national Republican Party’s anti-science, anti-intellectual, fundamentalist-pandering agenda. 

The voter registration issue is particularly troubling. The bill cuts the time for early voting by a week, cancels same-day registration and requires all voters to display specific forms of government-issued ID. It also eliminates a program that encourages high school students to register to vote in advance of their 18th birthdays. 

The bills supporters argue that the legislation is in response to what they believe to be the state’s significant, and unreported, voter fraud problem. To point out that this is disingenuous is to state the obvious. I’ve yet to hear any politician explain how restricting early voting and same-day registration while eliminating opportunities for young people to register would in any way reduce fraudulent voting tactics.  

The legislation also dissuades young adults, specifically college students, from voting in yet another way — by punishing their parents. The bill reads: “If the voter is a dependent of the voter’s parent or legal guardian, is 18 years of age or older and the voter has registered at an address other than that of the parent or legal guardian, the parent or legal guardian will not be allowed to claim the voter as a dependent for state income tax purposes.” 

Frankly, I would have much more respect for our state legislature’s Republican majority if they would drop their ridiculous, intelligence insulting claims and simply say “You know what, large voter turnout isn’t good for us, so we’re going to do what we can to keep it as low as we can manage.” 

Maybe the most telling comment I’ve heard on the subject of the voter ID legislation came from N.C. Gov. McCrory during a press conference last Friday. Asked about the bill’s prohibition against pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds, McCrory said, “I don’t know enough … I’m sorry, I haven’t seen that part of the bill.” 

A bald-faced lie or a simple admission of incompetence? Who can tell? 

Of course voter ID is only the gruesome tip of a very large and bloody iceberg. 

In a state rated 46th in the nation in teacher pay and which is expected to fall back to 48th next year, our representatives failed to give teachers raises and eliminated additional pay for those who earn master’s degrees. 

Also axed in the Republican-penned 2013-15 budget was the Teachers Fellows Program, which provided scholarships annually to 600 high-achieving high school students who wanted to enter the teaching profession. Room was also found to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit as well as the tax holiday on back to school clothes and supplies while instituting a new tax system that will see 95 percent of the individual tax cuts go to the wealthiest 5 percent of North Carolina’s residents.  

Lest anyone forget,  McCrory somehow found the money to give raises, up to 11 percent in some cases, to members of his cabinet so they could “afford to live.” 

For all their pro-corporate, free enterprise gabble, North Carolina’s GOP representatives seem to overlook the fact that, when new businesses consider relocating to a state, one of the things they take into account is the educational climate. If employees aren’t willing to sacrifice their children’s learning opportunities, they’ll simply find someplace else to grace with their tax dollars. 

And perhaps the women employed by those companies will note McCrory’s statement, while running for governor, that he would pass no law that would place further restrictions on abortion rights. Then they can read all the press statements where the governor twists himself into knots trying to explain his approval of abortion legislation that was originally added onto an anti-Sharia law bill during a committee meeting with no public notice. After certain questions were raised about this procedure, it was then tacked onto a motorcycle safety bill.  

The guidelines mandated by the legislation could force all save one clinic in the state to close and will prohibit abortion coverage in insurance plans offered by cities, counties or the online marketplace for private policies established under the federal health overhaul law. 

So much for transparency and campaign promises.  

I’ve had the opportunity to meet, converse with and observe certain local representatives from the North Carolina House and Senate. If the level of arrogance displayed by these individuals is any indication of the majority attitude in Raleigh then I believe it’s high time we reinstated public flogging, preferably on the front lawn of the State  Legislative Building. The hand rubbing glee and barely contained mockery flaunted by these individuals would be unseemly in anyone, but coming from supposedly humble, country raised politicians it’s positively nauseating.  

As a lifelong resident of North Carolina and the guardian of an 11-year-old public school student, I take the actions of our state lawmakers personally. If, as seems to be the case, they have no intention of safeguarding the interests of the majority of this state’s citizens and instead continue to pursue a radical, balls-out conservative agenda, then it’s my and every other thinking persons duty to tell them to go fuck themselves. More importantly, despite the new legislation, it’s our duty to vote. 

I began this column with a Bob Dylan reference and I’ll end it with another, more appropriate, lyrical nod: 

“Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull

From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capital…” 

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