Home Opinion OPINION: NC GOP lawmakers betray a surprising lack of confidence

OPINION: NC GOP lawmakers betray a surprising lack of confidence

North Carolina Republican legislators have rarely, if ever, been in a stronger position. Their leaders — Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore — have a combined 23 terms of legislative experience and political chits upon which to draw, millions of dollars in campaign cash and dark money at their disposal, and loyal and skillfully gerrymandered veto-proof majorities at their command.

Like old-time, big-city bosses, Berger and Moore accumulate personal wealth in ways that push the limits of the law, reward their friends and family members with plum government gigs, and punish those who dare to challenge or cross them.

And even when there is discord within the GOP caucuses — as with the recent kerfuffle over Berger’s effort to expand casino gambling that ran afoul of both the religious right and the Indian casino industry with which Moore has long worked closely — this almost never results in a partisan defeat or meaningful crack in the total control the GOP wields over final policy debate outcomes.

Simply put, with rare exceptions, Republicans can pass anything they want, anytime they want, without even consulting Democrats or Gov. Roy Cooper. Moreover, with the relentless and ongoing effort to transfer more and more executive powers to the Legislative Building and further gerrymander legislative maps for the 2024 election, it’s easy to foresee a scenario in 2025 in which a new governor — be they a Democrat or a Republican — will be rendered a virtual figurehead.

And yet, bizarrely, this unfettered power seems to have bred surprisingly little confidence in the hard-right policy agenda these lawmakers so aggressively pursue.

See, for example, last week’s action that marked what appears to have been the climax of the 2023 legislative session.

In area after area, Republicans pushed through an agenda that reflects the passions of their political base. Slashing taxes, privatizing public education, remaking our colleges and universities, limiting environmental regulation, erecting barriers to voting, reversing progress for LGBTQ people, reducing reproductive freedom, expanding gun rights — the list reads like it was written at gathering of dedicated Heritage Foundation staffers and fundamentalist preachers.

Ordinarily, you’d think such a lengthy and ambitious agenda would represent an opportunity for aggressive political evangelizing: “Look at us and read these proposals! See what we’re doing and why they’re the right thing for our state!”

The budget bill lawmakers approved, for example, is 625 pages long and includes scores of new state laws. If there was ever an opportunity to spread the political right’s gospel and recruit new converts, this was it.


If you’ve followed developments in Raleigh, however, you know that no such effort took place. Rather than loudly and proudly explaining and championing the details of the legislation they advanced, Republicans instead adhered to a strategy of cloak-and-dagger secrecy.

Several new and momentous changes to state law that had never before seen the light of day were hurtled through the legislative process in just 48 hours. Even over the weekend, observers were still unearthing new nuggets that escaped the attention of reporters, lobbyists and Democratic members who had been forced to speed read the whole budget overnight like college freshmen cramming for a final.

And yet the bill emerged right after a three-month period during which the legislature scarcely met — a fact that leads to the obvious question: If GOP leaders really believe in the bevy of new laws they pushed through last week, why didn’t they use the summer months to discuss and promote them openly?

The answer, of course, lies in the peculiar and rigged nature of the Republican legislative supermajority and the gerrymandering that undergirds its strength.

Simply put, North Carolina is a deeply purple state. While conservative true believers undoubtedly make up a sizable portion of the electorate, they are nothing close to a genuine majority. And that’s why so many parts of the political right’s agenda — private school vouchers, regressive tax policies, bans of abortion and contraception, reversing marriage equality, denying the urgency of the climate emergency, making voting more difficult, and preventing the passage of gun safety laws — remain very unpopular with average voters.

While they’re happy to tout their “accomplishments” on Fox News and at select conservative church and party gatherings, when it comes to day-to-day lawmaking in Raleigh, politicians of the right remain wedded to stealth and backroom maneuvers. Their last-minute move to concoct and add new secrecy laws to the budget that allow legislators to hide and even profit from records they produce — while shutting out the mainstream news media and the public — are part of the same phenomenon.

In short, the GOP may enjoy large and powerful supermajorities, but the secrecy surrounding the budget makes clear once again that party leaders know their policies lack broad popular support, and as such, are best enacted with as little sunlight as possible.

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast. Republished from ncnewsline.com.