It can’t happen here: a cautionary tale from North Carolina


Under Pat McCrory, politics in the Tar Heel State have galloped to the right—just as they could in Virginia if Ken Cuccinelli wins the governorship. File image. Under Pat McCrory, politics in the Tar Heel State have galloped to the right—just as they could in Virginia if Ken Cuccinelli wins the governorship. File image.

You know, despite our constant kvetching, we still think of Virginia as a fundamentally good and decent place, politically speaking. Sure, we’ve got more than a few knuckleheads sitting in the General Assembly, and our current governor long ago traded in his moral compass for a shiny new Rolex, but we have to believe that a majority of the Old Dominion’s officeholders are reasonable and compassionate individuals who truly care about Virginia and all of her citizens.

But as we read the headlines out of North Carolina over the past few weeks, we couldn’t help but marvel at how easy it is for a seemingly reasonable state to slide into political extremism and intolerance. And as some of Virginia’s more punitive recent legislation begins to take effect (resulting in, for instance, the closing of the busiest abortion provider in the Commonwealth), we shudder anew at the idea of what might happen should Ken Cuccinelli win the governorship, and take office with (God help us) Lieutenant Governor E.W. Jackson by his side.

For those who haven’t be paying attention, until very recently North Carolina was one of the most progressive southern states around. It had a string of Democratic governors stretching all the way back to 1993, and hadn’t seen a full Republican government (including the governorship and both houses of its General Assembly) since 1870.

But all of that changed with the 2012 election of Pat McCrory, a genial conservative who had been elected as mayor of left-leaning Charlotte a record seven times. He took office with a solidly Republican Assembly ready to follow his lead, and they quickly set to work implementing a right-wing wish list, most of which had gone unmentioned during his campaign.

Among his first acts was to cut the state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefits by 35 percent, and severely reduce the number of weeks an unemployed person could receive unemployment (this in a state which has the nation’s fifth-highest unemployment rate). He also opted out of the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion plan, which would have provided insurance to half a million North Carolinians. In addition, the General Assembly passed stringent voter ID requirements, and is working on legislation to repeal same-day voter registration and limit early voting. They are also keen to lower state income taxes and raise the state sales tax (a change that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor), eliminate public financing of judicial elections, and pass a so-called “right to work” constitutional amendment.

But the pièce de résistance came right before the Fourth of July holiday, when the state senate sneakily attached a slew of restrictive abortion measures to an unrelated “Sharia law” bill and quickly passed the entire package. The House followed suit by passing its own version of the anti-abortion measures attached to a motorcycle safety bill.

This dizzying onslaught has caused much consternation in North Carolina (and severely impacted McCrory’s poll numbers), but all of the anger in the world can’t undo the destruction that has already been done—or stop McCrory from inflicting even more damage in the future. No, the only way to stop terrible policies from being implemented is to keep the terrible policymakers out of office.