The Tarring of Congress
Gary Caruso | Friday, February 17, 2017
North Carolina, the “Tar Heel” or “Old North” State, is renowned for iconic events such as the Wright brothers’ aviation first in Kitty Hawk, honored on the state’s license plate with the phrase, “First in Flight.” Politically, however, after the Republican Party gained total control of the governor’s house and both legislative chambers for the first time in more than a century during the 2010 election — a nationwide backlash principally focused against former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) — the GOP’s flight path has landed onto several peculiar public relations tar pits. Perched atop the list most notably is passage of House Bill 2 last year; most recently, the GOP legislature’s overreaching attempt to limit the newly elected Democratic governor’s duties.
The Tar Heel State stands as a poster child for politically aggressive, moralistic rigidity. Amidst strict voter ID measures, gerrymandered districts and restrictive voter procedures, North Carolina has brought upon itself public wrath and boycotts. HB 2, the enacted statewide so-called bathroom bill, requires individuals to use public accommodations consistent with one’s birth certificate — as opposed to one’s gender identity, the standard advocated last year by the Obama administration. In response, the lucrative NBA 2017 All-Star Game originally slated for Charlotte, North Carolina, was relocated outside the state. The NCAA also blacklisted the state by moving seven championship events originally scheduled to be played in North Carolina.
The HB 2 measure was the Republican-controlled government’s attempt to nullify federal measures and preempt a nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte that made it possible for transgender individuals to use public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. But that was not a unique occurrence. Most recently after the legislature remained in Republican control but a Democrat was elected governor, the North Carolina Supreme Court blocked the GOP legislature’s overreaching attempt to limit the newly elected Democratic governor’s duties, specifically removing the governor from managing the elections process.
For a casual observer, the reaction usually includes a sigh of disgust with the thought that both political parties do these power grabs on a routine basis. To an extent, both sides strive to advance their visions of governance (usually characterized as an “agenda” by the opposition). In simplistic rhetoric, the GOP would like its brand to be one of less taxation, less government regulation and a smaller government. The Democrats attempt to be more inclusive and diverse while utilizing government to assist the American society. Each accuses the other of stepping to far from the center.
However, it matters which party is given total control of a state or the federal government because the GOP enacts laws that are generally more restrictive, less diversely inclusive and notoriously attempt to advance their party’s electoral success through limitations and restrictions. Once called the “Party of No” for creating the gridlock during the Obama tenure, Republicans play a meaner, more ruthless and uncivil type of hardball politics. Compromise and bipartisanship GOP-style is when they control an entire governmental apparatus and force 100 percent of their philosophies onto a more diverse and complicated electorate.
This is a far cry from the days when both parties said, “yes,” during a Republican President Ronald Reagan and a Democratic congress led by Speaker Tip O’Neill who together both cut and raised taxes — nearly a dozen “revenue enhancement” tax hikes that included doubling the federal tax from 4 to 9 cents on a gallon of gasoline along with saving Social Security. Tax historian Joseph Thorndike said that two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 together “constituted the biggest tax increase ever enacted during peacetime.”
Today, the political parties are nestled snuggly in super-safe gerrymandered congressional districts that skew heavily towards both parties slicing communities along political and geographical lines to create super-safe districts. Some argue that the more balanced a district in its political makeup, the more reasonable the representative. Statewide, however, voter suppression dramatically affects election results.
This week, three college professors released findings that demonstrated election turnout was in fact suppressed by strict voter ID laws. Their data showed that strict voter ID states had a 3 percent Latino gap versus 5 percent gap, 11 percent Asian gap versus 6 percent gap and 5 percent black gap versus 3 percent gap in states without strict ID laws. Given the razor-thin margins in some Rust Belt states, the effort to tilt regulations that manipulate voter district boundaries while limiting voter participation at the ballot box does pay off for the GOP.
The historical pace (same-day HB 2 special session passage and signing) at which North Carolina GOP lawmakers sped down Bazaar-o Boulevard to enact their rigid, conservative agenda and pushed back at progressive change portends of what to expect in the U.S. Congress now that the Republican Party controls the entire federal government. Already not a month into the Trump presidency, the GOP-controlled House eased restrictions on coal companies dumping ash into water streams and weakened provisions that require federal contractors to pay workers prevailing wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Can a powerful GOP one-party government with no need for compromise consistently muddy the waters while picking the pockets of workers without inciting a public backlash reminiscent of 2010? We will only know if voters tar and feather the GOP congress in the 2018 off-term elections.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.