North Carolina Democracy
In the past several years, many states have taken a severe rightward turn politically. One of the worst examples in 2016 has been the state of North Carolina. Steps taken in the form the passage of anti-LGBT legislation, voter suppression, gerrymandering and a complete overhaul of the authority and scope of the powers allocated to the office of Governor have seen the state lose all semblance of democracy, in the views of many both inside and outside of the state. This situation needs to be remedied to return North Carolina to a democratic government that truly represents all of its residents equally and restores political power to those it has so blatantly disenfranchised.
Controversy has been rampant in North Carolina political circles. This was true even before the passage of the so-called “bathroom bill” – HB2, which in effect allows schools, businesses and agencies to discriminate against people based on LGBT criteria. It gained the “bathroom bill” moniker via a well-publicized provision that stated individuals were restricted by law to using public restrooms designated for the gender designated on their birth certificates – thus barring transgender individuals from using the restrooms consistent with their gender identities. This bill gained national fame (or infamy, depending on your perspective), resulting in publicity which prompted some employers to reconsider creating new jobs in the state, high-profile artists to cancel concerts, and the NBA to move its All-Star game out of Charlotte to express its displeasure at the state’s intolerance. The result was a decidedly negative impact on the state’s economy and public reputation.
The governor who signed HB2 into law, Pat McCrory, was subsequently narrowly defeated by Democratic candidate Roy Cooper, despite the aforementioned voter suppression attempts. The Republican controlled legislature then saw fit to curtail much of the authority legally residing in the governor’s office while simultaneously strengthening the legislature’s own power. How convenient – jury rig elections and legislative district maps to ensure long-term advantage for yourself and your political friends, then legislate in such a way as to minimize the effects of losing the one or two elections your plotting hasn’t succeeded in providing the desired result.
Courts have found the gerrymandering unacceptable, requiring some new elections in the coming year. Likewise, courts have found some of the provisions in election laws passed in the wake of the SCOTUS decision eradicating some of the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act to also be unfair. All of this remains legally unresolved though, still leaving Cooper somewhat handcuffed and the legislature newly strengthened for the time being once Cooper takes over January 1. The fact that even having a veto-proof majority in the legislature was not sufficient power to satisfy the state’s Republicans is ominous. The extent they went to further entrench themselves in the county election boards, cabinet nominations and other appointments previously made by the governor and change the way court appeals are handled to further weaken Democratic power in the state may be seen in other states as a process for them emulate.
Some states, while not resorting to the extremes occurring in North Carolina, are in a similar situation – where Republicans have used electoral victories more as a means to try to solidify their power in perpetuity rather than as a means of effectively governing in accordance with the wishes and needs of the people they supposedly represent. Just as in the case where state Right-to-Work legislation has had a negative economic impact on millions of workers in those states, such a pattern of legislative conduct in other states will politically silence many millions more controlled undemocratically by like-minded authoritarian power-hungry politicians. The likelihood of this happening is much greater in the coming years, since the Republicans in charge of the White House, Congress and potentially in the federal courts in the near future, seem to indicate a willingness to use similar tactics at the level of the Federal Government. Just look at proposals they have been making concerning the Affordable Care Act, Social Security and other social safety net programs to get a glimpse of why so many Republican Congress critters seem to be chomping at the bit in eager anticipation of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
With a Republican-controlled Congress, which has done everything it possibly could do to obstruct President Obama in his every attempt to perform his Constitutionally assigned duties (as illustrated perhaps best of all by the Senate’s refusal to confirm or even hold hearings for so many of his judicial nominees – particularly the current opening of a seat on the Supreme Court itself) and an incoming President who comes with a group of Cabinet nominees who do not inspire in many hopes for fairness and equity, what can we expect will be done concerning such issues? Will an Attorney General Sessions, who was denied confirmation by the Senate to a seat on the federal bench on the basis of his attitudes, make voting rights and civil rights high priorities for investigation and prosecution? Or will the Justice Department turn a blind eye to injustices perpetrated on groups and individuals by state governors and legislatures determined to rig the system for themselves and against the poor, weak, elderly and members of religious, ethnic and other groups that they think don’t deserve a voice in what their government does to, with and for them?
Donald Trump’s speeches and Cabinet nominations have done nothing to convince me that he will do anything to protect the rights of most of us or insure that any sort of equality (political, economic or in terms of opportunity for advancement) will be a goal of his administration. He appears to want to be a ruler, not a leader. His choice of Mike Pence as VP, Sessions as AG and putting the fox in charge of the hen house when it comes to most of his other Cabinet-level nominations does little to reassure us of his good intentions. Turning the state governments in North Carolina or Indiana or Michigan or Texas or Kansas into models for other states or the federal government to emulate would result in disaster for the great majority of Americans.
Already this century, we’ve seen two Presidential elections in which the person who won got fewer votes than one of the losers. This past election the margin was over two million more votes cast nationwide for Clinton than for Trump. Gerrymandering has resulted in a US House of Representatives with a solid Republican majority despite the fact that significantly more votes have been cast for Democratic candidates. Voter turnout, in terms of number of votes cast by what should be eligible voters continues to suffer – often because of voter suppression efforts making it more difficult for some to register and vote than others or because of distribution of polling places or voting stations within polling places. There are myriad methods of making voting more difficult for some while making it easier for others.
If voting is still able to turn this situation around, we need to really put forth huge voter registration and get out the vote efforts in the next two elections, but particularly those in 2020, when the next census will determine how House reapportionment will require redistricting in many states. The regressive forces took advantage of that fact in 2010 and progressives were badly defeated in midterm elections which have resulted in the political situation we’re faced with today. We can’t count on a court system dominated increasingly by Republican appointees to help out our cause, nor can we expect legislatures dominated by Republicans and/or Corporate Democrats. Grassroots organizing and voter education will be in great demand to accomplish what needs to be done to stop the backsliding in terms of social programs, health care, education and economic equality to turn this government into one which seeks to improve the lives of all its people, not just the elites who live well at their expense.
Further Suggested Readings: