A liberal's view of the most recent legislative session
September 05, 2013You've no doubt read a great deal about the good, bad and ugly of the most recent legislative session. We've posted our share right here. But just in case you wanted to read the view from "the other side"—i.e. the left wing, liberal Elite Media, we thought this article by Jim Morrill with the Charlotte Observer might fit the bill. Morrill writes:
They cut taxes and regulations, even repealed the "death tax." They enacted voter IDs and school vouchers, tightened rules on abortion clinics and loosened laws on guns. Click here to go to the original source to read the rest of the story.
They rejected federal Medicaid money, ended teacher tenure and cut benefits for the unemployed.
It was, says one GOP operative, the "national Republican agenda on steroids."
Republican lawmakers passed 338 laws this year that will touch every North Carolinian's pocketbook, every student's classroom and every voter's experience at the polls. Their sweeping changes have drawn praise from conservatives, scorn from Democrats and punch lines on Comedy Central.
It was the first session in more than a century that Republicans controlled the legislature and the governor's mansion. Democrats had little influence and less success.
But the Republican agenda was, in fact, many agendas.
Some came from think tanks. Some from the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. Some from conservative ideas that had taken root nationally. Some came from business lobbyists or from partisan politics.
"The voters elected a conservative majority, and they got a conservative agenda," Republican consultant Marc Rotterman says. "And I don't think anybody should be surprised by that."
Critics say GOP lawmakers went too far.
Chris Fitzsimon, director of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch, says North Carolina voters, who split narrowly in the past two presidential elections, didn't suddenly veer far right in 2012.
"They voted for more conservative people," he says. "They didn't vote for this agenda."
North Carolina is one of 26 states where Republicans control the legislature; it's one of 31 with a GOP governor. Some of the agenda here was shared across the country.
North Carolina Republicans, for example, cut taxes by $2.8 billion over five years. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven other states with Republican governors – and most with GOP legislatures – also cut taxes significantly.
One piece of the puzzle
One group that influenced legislation in North Carolina and across the country was the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
ALEC is a clearinghouse for pro-business and conservative ideas and an incubator of conservative legislation. Nationwide, the Center for Media and Democracy identified 466 ALEC model bills that became legislation this year.
It's unclear how many there were in North Carolina, though several of the group's model bills became templates for actual legislation.
At one point, Raleigh's News & Observer counted at least two dozen bills that matched ALEC priorities. They included voter ID, publicly financed vouchers for private schools, and prioritizing energy exploration.
One ALEC model bill called for states to claim sovereignty under the 10th Amendment. It became a resolution co-sponsored by GOP Rep. Larry Pittman of Concord, but it didn't pass.
A model called the Commonsense Consumption Act was designed to prevent civil suits against food manufacturers whose products may lead to obesity. Known as the "Big Gulp" bill, it was introduced by a handful of legislators and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory last month.
Republican Rep. Craig Horn of Weddington, who has attended ALEC conferences, minimized its influence in North Carolina.
"I'm not aware that it's driven any agendas on the House side," he says. "Some folks have agendas, and certainly there's no end to groups with agendas. Some of the big issues tend to move around the country."
Critics such as the liberal Progress North Carolina say ALEC has an undue influence in North Carolina. House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius won the group's "Legislator of the Year" award in 2011. McCrory's legislative lobbyist, Fred Steen, is a past state chairman.
Justin Guillory, research director for Progress N.C., says ALEC has significant influence. But, he adds, "ALEC is just one part of a larger picture of (lawmakers) writing legislation to benefit wealthy corporate contributors."
"I don't want to diminish ALEC's impact," he says, "but they're only one part of the puzzle."
Art Pope's influence
Two groups based in Raleigh also claim a share of the GOP agenda. Both are funded by Art Pope, McCrory's budget director and a top financier of conservative candidates and causes.