Drinking the Kool-Aid

Number 1.pngStaying married has its dangers. Off the top of our heads — and this is purely at random, mind you, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the inability of lawmakers to address NC’s real problems — all of these things can threaten a marriage: the loss of a job and resulting money troubles, a chronic medical condition and no health insurance, destitute in-laws whose Medicaid benefits have been cut, children who are miserable because their schools lack the resources to address their learning needs, and restrictive abortion laws that shame and punish women for making the gut-wrenching decision to terminate a pregnancy, even when their lives are in danger.

bride-of-frankenstein.jpgWhat doesn’t threaten the sanctity of marriage is the existence of gay people. Try as we may, we cannot think of a single instance in which gay men or lesbians seeking to commit to one another in a faithful, respectful long-term partnership threatens heterosexual people seeking to do the same.

 Which is why the so-called “Sanctity of Marriage” Act perplexes us. We’re not sure when or why NC lawmakers decided to start blaming gay people for the inability of straight people to stay together for better or for worse. But blame them they did, with lemminglike hysteria when they stampeded to a special short session this September called specifically for one single task so important they were willing to shell out $150,000 a day in taxpayer money  to address it: they convened so that they could vote to ban any legal relationship recognitions for same-sex couples. A constitutional amendment is now on the May 2012 Primary ballot for all North Carolinians to vote on.

Sadly, while the NC Senate split along party lines, in the NC House there were ten Democrats who voted yes to this amendment: Rep. Bill Brisson of Duplin County; Rep. Jim Crawford of Granville County; Rep. Elmer Floyd of Cumberland County; Rep. Ken Goodman of Richmond County; Rep. Charles Graham of Robeson County; Rep. Dewey Hill of Columbus County; Rep. Frank McGuirt of Union County; Rep. Bill Owens of Pasquotank County; Rep. Garland Pierce of Scotland County; and Rep. Tim Spear of Washington County.

We expected better of these ten. Which is why we have awarded them the top spot in our November Hall of Shame. Look closely. These are the faces of lawmakers who gave in to the preposterous notion that straight people have anything whatsoever to fear from gay people (other than their power at the ballot box, of course):

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Tea Party Pat to the Rescue

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McCroryPat-145x150.jpgGovernor wannabee Pat McCrory is the Sally Kirkland of NC politics. If there’s an event, he’s there. If there’s a photo op, he’s there. And if there’s a Tea Party brownie point to be had, he’s really there, making a  splash and hoping to score future votes.

 

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Witness the case of the robo-call he made for an unqualified Wake County School Board Tea Party candidate who touted her financial acumen, despite having declared personal bankruptcy, and claimed she had amassed “vast managerial experience” over the course of her career… a career consisting solely of stints as a small business loan collector, Air Force mechanic and strip club waitress.

 

Way to pander to the far right, Pat. It’s earned you the #2 spot in our Hall of Shame.  But you might want to re-think your strategy after the latest election. Pushing an unqualified candidate, especially a Tea Party one, isn’t likely to do you much good at the ballot box. The voters don’t seem to be in the mood to put ideology over their best interests anymore. By the way: you broke the law. Next time, include who paid for the robo-call as part of the message or you’re going to have a tough time running as the law and order candidate.

Holding yourself to a lower standard:

Number 3.jpgNC House Representative Justin Burr is a snappy guy, or at least snappy so far as NC legislators go. He’s younger than most and, face it guys, he’s a heck of a lot thinner and still has all his hair. So we can understand why he’s into Brooks Brothers suits. He looks good in them. But what we can’t understand is why the heck it’s legal for him to use campaign funds to buy those Brooks Brothers suits — or why NC State Board of Elections Chair Gary Bartlett agrees with him that it’s okay.

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Is this really wise, gentlemen? Do you know how many people will file for office now, just so someone else can pick up the tab for their Calvin Klein suits and Manolo Blahniks (hopefully not worn together)? 

 

Yes, for holding himself up to the letter of the law — and a lower standard — we’re giving NC House Rep Justin Burr the #3 spot in our Hall of Fame.  

 

By the way, we think he could totally rock this look instead: 


(Progress NC tips its hat to Greg Flynn, citizen journalist, for uncovering this whole episode. Well done, sir!)

Worst attempt at deflecting attention EVER…

Number 4.pngOn the eve of a contentious Wake County School Board race that had her candidate floundering for weeks, Wake County GOP Chairman Susan Bryant threw out a Hail Mary media pass, hoping to distract voters with some good old-fashioned racism and a heavy dollop of whining.

 

Declaring that legendary 19th century North Carolinian Josephus Daniels was a racist, she called for a boycott of the newspaper he founded (Raleigh’s News & Observer) and a name change for Daniels Middle School.

 

titanicNYT.jpgWe’re not sure why it took Bryant 75 years to figure out Daniels was a racist — some of us here at Progress NC learned that way back in 8th grade at, yes, you guessed it, Daniels Junior High — and we’re certain her moral stance had nothing to with her pique at the N&O for doing its job and reporting on her party’s crappy candidate. We can only hope someone explains to her about the Internet so she can brush up on more topical events. There is another election coming up, after all.  

 

It’s rare, but it happens: Susan Bryant has earned the coveted #4 spot on our Hall of Fame for sheer cluelessness.

Talk about a bully pulpit…

Number 5.pngMike Hager is a first-time NC House Representative who is a big proponent of the controversial method of natural gas exploration called fracking. He’s also kind of a bully. When Progress NC called local officials in his district to obtain a permit to set up our Pink Slip Truth Tour display at House Speaker Thom Tillis’s upcoming Town Hall in Rutherfordton, word got back to Hager. He called us to inform us that the Rutherford County Commissioners had voted to ban us from all county grounds because then “everyone would want a picketing permit.” We seriously doubted that, but we thanked him for getting back to us — and then promptly called the Rutherfordton Police Chief, who graciously issued us our permit, as is our First Amendment right. Within an hour, Hager had called us back to demand “why we had gone behind his back” and to warn us “there would be repercussions” if we showed.

 

Well, we showed, the people of Rutherfordton could not have been nicer and everyone got to exercise their First Amendment rights without coming to blows. The only repercussions we anticipate is how annoyed Rep. Hager is going to be when he sees we’ve awarded him the coveted #5 spot in our Hall of Shame. Not bad for a first-termer. And, dude, chill out. Take it from us: you’re going to meet lots of people who don’t agree with you in the years ahead.


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You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas:

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Using party labels to evaluate whether a politician is progressive or not has always been risky business in North Carolina. Plenty of more moderate, often pro-business Republicans participated in the sixty years of forward-thinking state government that brought us to 2010 while plenty of conservative Democrats sought to impede progress over those same decades. Of course, nowadays, moderate Republicans in NC are as scarce as the red wolf ─ but there are still plenty of Democrats eager to prove they are as conservative as vintage Lawrence Welk re-runs. Chief among them: NC House Rep. Tim Spear (D-Washington); Rep. Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank); Rep. Dewey Hill (D-Columbus); Rep. William Brisson (D-Bladen); and Rep. James Crawford (D-Granville). These five lawmakers voted with House Republicans in favor of a $19.3 billion budget crafted by the GOP and then voted to override Gov. Perdue’s veto of it. Their actions dropped NC to 49 in the nation in public education spending, right down there next to Utah, where home schooling is the state sport. And their votes were a tough reminder that you can’t judge a dog by its collar.

Did they do it out of a sense of duty to our state or because they were trading their votes for pork barrel projects and mercy during the redistricting process, as some have charged? Only time will tell. But in the meantime: gentlemen, please take your place in the Hall of Shame doghouse. We’ve reserved a special corner there for Red Dog Democrats.

Thom, Thom, Thom… timing is everything!

Note to politicians everywhere: “Do as I say, not as I do” has never been an effective way to win the support of the people.

When you’re Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, a little common sense can go a long way. Just ask NC House Speaker Thom Tillis. After masterminding the creation of a budget that led to 1) the layoffs of hundreds of teachers and teaching assistants, 2) 1,050 jobs in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources alone being cut, 3) salaries of Smart Start employees being slashed by nearly half and 4)  local governments being forced to cut budgets for police, fire and rescue services… Tillis quietly offered his staff HUGE pay raises – all paid for with taxpayer money. Yes, right in the middle of the worst budget crisis in North Carolina history last June, the news broke that Tillis had given pay raises of up to 27% to half of his staff, including two people who received raises of $30,000 each.

MADMagazine-Tillis-9-7-011Now, maybe Tillis is really hard to work for and his staffers deserve every penny, but in contrast: NC’s teachers and state employees have not received a raise since July 1, 2008, over three years ago. No wonder people got mad. To make matters worse, he handed out these raises less than five months after making a big deal out of his pledge to reduce costs and declaring that his office payroll would be less than his predecessor’s. In fact, as the News & Observer reported, Tillis has spent nearly 10% more on salaries than his predecessor. Amid public outcry, Tillis backed down on the raises, but has so far refused calls to give the money back to the state.

Was this whole debacle proof Tillis is careless, callous or just the world’s most generous boss? You’ll have to make that call. But we feel confident in saying that it was at least as dumb as the MAD Magazine cover we’ve created to commemorate it. Learn more at www.TellTillis.com, a website that allows North Carolinians to contact Speaker Tillis to tell him to get his priorities straight.

Yeehaa! It’s Paul Stam and his petulant parliamentary maneuvers!

Stam-WhoseSide-FinalDemocracy is messy. Parliamentary procedure tries to impose order, but politicians always game the system. Abraham Lincoln himself once jumped out a window to avoid a quorum when his side was losing. That doesn’t make such practices right. Especially when they are used to circumvent a fair process. Which brings us to Paul Stam, GOP Leader of the NC House.

Stam likes to use an obscure parliamentarian rule called “Motion to Reconsider” when it appears his side is about to lose. By switching his vote at the last moment in favor of a bill he’s been actively opposing, he can move that it be reconsidered at a later date even after it is defeated – making it impossible to record a permanent decision on the bill. He used this tactic when the House failed to override Governor Perdue’s veto of a harsh voter photo ID bill that would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. Even though the House failed to override Perdue’s veto, because of Stam, the bill will be kept alive for another possible veto override vote at any time until the 2011-2012 session ends. If used by everyone, this technique would bring the General Assembly to a screeching halt since no bill would ever be truly resolved.

Stam’s excuse for using the maneuver: they do it all the time in Washington, DC. Really? That’s the best you can do? Because we’re pretty darn sure the last thing our state needs is for its leaders to emulate the behavior we’ve been seeing in Washington. We do not need extreme partisanship. We need our leaders to work together, to accept when their side has lost during a fair fight — and to learn to compromise with people whose viewpoints may differ from theirs for the greater good of North Carolina. Performing the political equivalent of holding your breath until you turn blue because you didn’t get your way is unacceptable behavior for an elected official. Please take your seat in the corner of our Hall of Shame, Rep. Stam. We’re giving you a time out.

Sens. Stan Bingham and Richard Stevens: Profiles in Cowardice

ProfilesinCowardicePhotoNew restrictions on a women’s right to choose became law in July when the NC General Assembly voted to override Gov. Perdue’s veto of HB 854. The new law institutes a waiting period, requires counseling and mandates doctors to perform an ultrasound. It plants government firmly in the middle of the doctor/patient relationship.

However, the outcome of HB 854 was not a foregone conclusion until minutes before the vote was taken in the NC Senate. And that’s when Republican Senator Stan Bingham of Davidson County took a walk.

Bingham had been the only Senate Republican to previously vote against the punitive measure. Bingham’s absence, along with Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Wake), who declined to vote on the bill the first time around and was conveniently absent for the override vote, provided the margin needed for the Senate to override the gubernatorial veto.

The circumstances of Bingham’s absence are downright shameful. Bingham was on record as opposed to the bill, saying he has four smart daughters: “I leave it up to them to make decisions about their own bodies.” He was in the Senate Chamber minutes before the override vote. A quick recess was called and when legislators returned Bingham was nowhere to be seen. Later, when asked why he didn’t stay to vote against the bill, Bingham said, “Because the caucus didn’t want me to.”

Wow. Just wow. Sens. Bingham and Stevens placed loyalty to extremists in their party leadership above the rights of North Carolina women, above the wishes of their constituents and, perhaps worse, above their own consciences. How’s that for cowardice?

Senate GOP: Taking The Unemployed Hostage

In perhaps the most politically-depraved act of the 2011 NC General Assembly, Senate GOP leadership held 47,000 jobless North Carolinians hostage for more than six weeks during this year’s session. The ransom? Draconian cuts to the state RansomNote-Unemployment-Flatbudget that usurped the Governor’s rightful power to have input into it.

By refusing to pass along federal money for extended unemployment benefits – not even state money, mind you -and tying their approval of its release to completely unrelated state budget cuts, legislative leaders demonstrated that they were more interested in playing politics and pandering to their radical far right base than doing what was in the best interest of the people of North Carolina.

The Charlotte Observer says it well:

Here’s one of the saddest commentaries on the state of politics we’ve seen in a long time: State Senate leaders are refusing to revive legislation to extend federal jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed because of political reasons. That’s beyond indecent, but Republicans running the state Senate don’t seem to understand that.

Perhaps it’s due to their inexperience in running a major segment of state government that they’re willing to prolong the misery of N.C. citizens over a transparent and hollow ideological gambit.  They are more interested in trumping the governor and boxing her into a budget corner than they are in helping those who the soured economy has left behind. If they believe voters sent them to Raleigh to block help for those suffering from the prolonged economic downturn and reluctant recovery, they’ve missed the lessons of the 2010 election: Voters care a lot less about ideology and a lot more about getting the job done.

Charlotte Observer: Legislature’s disdain of jobless is appalling
Saddest of all, these actions caused real pain to real people. It wasn’t a philosophical policy debate over a hard to grasp concept, there were real and tragic consequences.