Column: Lawmakers Turn North Carolina Into a Deregulated Dystopia
A dystopian nightmare is unfolding in North Carolina. It is what the whole country would look like if you were to marry David Koch to Ted Cruz, with a prenup by ALEC, the outside agitator also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the group that writes regressive laws, saving right-wingers the trouble of having to do it themselves.
Republicans in North Carolina took over both houses of the Legislature with the election of Gov. Pat McCrory in 2012, the first time the party has had complete control of state government in more than 100 years.
They went straight to work. If the Republicans were to inscribe their philosophy above the statehouse door it would read: “Let us seek to deregulate business and regulate everyone else.”
The Legislature promptly raised taxes on the bottom 80 percent, eliminated the earned income tax credit for 900,000 people, slashed education spending, declined the Medicaid expansion (leaving 500,000 of its poorest residents without health insurance), and grafted a draconian abortion restriction onto a motorcycle safety law. If you were a worker, a minority, a teacher, a woman, a doctor or poor, the Legislature got you.
When it wasn’t kicking kids to the curb, lawmakers found time to attack one of the right wing’s most pressing issues, keeping Shariah law from taking over the judiciary. They passed a bill that sought to keep the epidemic of foreign laws taking over U.S. courts from finding its way to North Carolina. McCrory declined to veto it.
If you were trying to put guns into the wrong hands, you couldn’t do better than the bill to prohibit police departments from destroying confiscated firearms. Just short of dealing out of the trunk of their squad cars, police officers are supposed to sell or auction off the weapons they seize, rather than destroy them, as is done elsewhere. This is one of the model laws devised by ALEC and blessed by the National Rifle Association.
Another hobby of conservatives is providing a solution to the pressing, yet nonexistent, problem of voter fraud. In 2012, of the almost 7 million ballots cast in North Carolina, 121 were referred to the Board of Elections for fraud, a rate of .00173 percent. A new law invalidates the identification documents Democratic voters are most likely to use: IDs used by college students, public or municipal employees, public assistance agencies, and out-of-state driver’s licenses (unless the voter registers 90 days before the election).
If you aren’t a frequent international flier, driver, veteran or American Indian who belongs to a tribe, you are out of luck. You are also facing interminable waits as voting places have become as inconvenient and poorly located as possible. Hillary Clinton gave a speech decrying the law, as did Gen. Colin Powell, in one of his very rare forays into the political fray. The state estimates that as many as 318,000 voters could now lack appropriate identification.
In the meantime, McCrory was doing what he could to remove regulations on business so they could do pretty much what they wanted. It usually takes a while to see what happens when business are allowed to conduct unfettered business, but not in North Carolina.
According to The New York Times, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources was ordered in June to focus on customer service — expediting environmental permits for businesses.
The results were quickly apparent. In February, as many as 27 million gallons of water and 82,000 tons of coal ash spewed into the Dan River after a storm drainage pipe ruptured under a containment pond at a shuttered coal plant owned by Duke Energy Corp.
Last year, operating under their new business-friendly mandate, state environmental regulators forged a deal with Duke over pollution from its coal ash ponds, which were known to be leaky and unlined. Critics said the deal was overly favorable to Duke, where McCrory worked for 28 years until he ran for governor in 2008. Federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the spill that will look at the company’s possible ties to the state regulator.
Beleaguered North Carolinians aren’t taking this sitting down. Monthly protests, organized under the aegis of HKonJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street) and the NAACP have gained momentum to the point where between 80,000 and 100,000 people turned out last month.
The protests are called Moral Mondays as a way of showing the Christian right that laws favoring the rich over the poor aren’t a bit Christian. We know what Jesus and Pope Francis would do for the poorest and most vulnerable. Let Republicans in North Carolina do it, too.
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.