North Carolina was once thought of as a beacon of progressivism in the “New South,” thanks to moderate Democratic governors like Terry Sanford (1961-1965) and Jim Hunt (1977-1985, 1993-2001) who were tireless advocates for public education and civil rights at a time when many of their Southern peers were not.
Unfortunately, those days seem like ancient history. In just recent years, the state has been besieged by all manner of self-inflicted political quarrels that have, quite frankly, made it a national embarrassment.
To understand what has happened in North Carolina’s politics lately, you first have to understand what happened back in 2010. It was in that year that the century-long stranglehold that Democrats had in the state legislature came to an abrupt halt. It was in that year that Republicans won a majority in both the state House and Senate for the first time since 1898.
After being politically dormant for over 100 years, the Republican state lawmakers who were swept into the state legislature in 2010 did what you might expect – they tried to make up for lost time.
Alongside former Governor Pat McCrory (R-NC), the legislature supported efforts to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in public education funding. They implemented a strict voter law that was subsequently struck down by federal courts because of the “surgical precision” with which it was intended to disenfranchise African-American voters.
Similarly, strict gerrymandered House and Senate districts drawn by Republicans in North Carolina were also shot down by federal courts due to the clear intention of disenfranchising voters, and the state will be forced to redraw its congressional map.
And, of course, the passage of the now-notorious House Bill 2 (“HB2” also known as the “bathroom bill”) tarnished the state’s reputation like nothing else. The controversial bill drew widespread condemnation from advocates of the LGBT community who contended that the bill greatly restricts the rights of members of the LGBT community.
Major sporting events, concert performers, and state governments boycotted the state in response to the discriminatory law. Measuring the overall economic fallout from HB2 is an imperfect science, but just from publicized projects alone, the state lost thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in capital investment. One estimate by Forbes from November of last year put the total economic loss at $630 million.
Last November’s election was largely a referendum on HB2 in the state’s gubernatorial race. Somewhat predictably, the state’s former governor, Pat McCrory (R-NC), lost a tight election in what was otherwise a Republican wave year. The election of Roy Cooper (D-NC) as governor was thought to be a necessary step in restoring a sense of political normalcy in a state that has had anything but over the past several years.
Any altruistic hopes that the state’s far-right legislature and newly-elected governor would play nice for the good of the people didn’t last long, however.
Still smarting over a contentious gubernatorial race that was decided on a recount, Republican state legislators in North Carolina sought to stick it to the newly-elected Gov. Cooper. In an unprecedented power grab, legislators passed multiple laws after the election, and before Cooper was inaugurated, that were designed to strip him of some of his executive powers.
One such move would have allowed Cooper to only designate 425 state employees as political appointees, as compared to the 1,500 enjoyed by his predecessor. Another bill would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to have to undergo confirmation from the state Senate.
Again, the courts stepped in and put a halt to most of the power grabbing measures, declaring that they violated the state’s Constitution.
The feud between Gov. Cooper and the Republican legislature seemed to die down recently, as the two sides worked out a compromise repeal bill to get the state’s controversial HB2 law off the books, but even that process, and resulting bill, spilled bad blood for all to see.
Both sides aired grievances publicly amid multiple failed attempts to make any progress on a good faith effort to repeal the bill. Eventually, the Republican-led legislature and Gov. Cooper were able to sign into law a compromise bill – HB 142 – which repeals much of the provisions in the initial bathroom bill.
While this compromise bill has drawn fire from both the left and right for not “going far enough,” it is a step in the right direction for a Republican-led legislature and Democratic governor who haven’t exactly gotten off to the best of starts. Hopefully, this is a sign of brighter things to come out of the state’s capitol in coming years.
Sam was raised in our nation’s capitol and, for as long as he can remember, has always been an avid political junkie. In a former life, he worked as a staffer to a U.S. Senator. He now works as an economic development consultant in Atlanta, but moonlights as a freelance political writer as a way to scratch his political “itch.” He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.