Conservative stamp on state government
During the past seven months, High Point University professor Martin Kifer observed Republican leaders in Raleigh as they fundamentally changed the nature of state government and its relationship with millions of North Carolinians.
It will mean a shift in the way we pay taxes, how we vote by having to show a photo ID, how children learn in public schools and young adults at colleges, whether and how a woman can have an abortion, how long someone out of work can draw jobless benefits, where a firearm owner can carry a concealed weapon and how a state agency regulates businesses.
The shifts in laws and policies are breathtaking. But Kifer, an assistant professor of political science at HPU, said whether you agree or object to the changes, in most cases they shouldn’t come as a shock.
The conservative stamp that the N.C. General Assembly and first-year GOP Gov. Pat McCrory put on state government was foreshadowed in last year’s election campaign and previous pronouncements by Republicans and their allies.
State Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, detailed the changes made during the recently concluded legislative session in an email to constituents and took pride in the accomplishments, saying that conservatives followed through on what they pledged to do.
“I ask my constituents to examine our legislative report card. Decide for yourselves,” said Tillman, the Senate majority whip.
There were instances of bills that might not have been expected when the year started, such as controversial legislation to make Guilford County Board of Education elections partisan or shift control of the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport from the city of Charlotte to a regional group. But Kifer said in most instances, Republicans tipped their hand to their intentions.
“The Republicans had an efficient pursuit of the goals they laid out. People shouldn’t be surprised,” Kifer told The High Point Enterprise.
However, the changes have upset many people, especially those used to Democratic control of state government for decades.
In late July, 8,000 teachers and their supporters, including ones from High Point, descended on Raleigh to protest what they say are devastating cuts and changes in public education funding. During this year’s General Assembly session, activists showed up — and in some cases got arrested — during the Moral Monday demonstrations at the State Legislative Building to protest an array of conservative initiatives.
Legislatively, though, Democrats and their supporters had virtually no way to stop Republicans from enacting their agenda. Building on gains from the 2010 election, Republicans last fall padded their numbers to a veto-proof majority in the state House and Senate. McCrory, who grew up in Jamestown in Guilford County, became the state’s first Republican governor in 20 years.
“In the last two election cycles, we’ve gone from a unified Democratic state government to a unified Republican state government,” Kifer said.
One of the less-publicized changes — but a potentially far-reaching one — from Republican control of state government involves reforms to environmental and business regulations, said John Dinan, professor of political science at Wake Forest University.
“It will be big in coming years. There are some significant changes in there in terms of requiring a regular review of regulations. It has gone somewhat under the radar,” Dinan said.
In a sense, North Carolina has drifted this year to reflect a state government more like its counterparts in the South, Dinan said. Neighboring states, such as South Carolina and Tennessee, turned to Republican control many years ago.
“North Carolina was a little longer in that partisan alignment taking place,” Dinan said.
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