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Lawmakers kick the underdogs

General Assembly unleashes harsh changes to state priorities



While most of the nation handed President Obama an impressive, five million-vote victory, North Carolina "rejoined" the Old South, which held on to its traditional ornery brand of conservatism while smacking Obama in the region by six million votes. More ominously, the state's turn toward the past is being carried out by a legislature with a vengeance that threatens to erase any vestige of the state's reputation for political moderation. Not to mention the damage that will soon be done to the state's most vulnerable citizens as well as the ecology of our beautiful coastline.

Republicans now control 32 statehouses, thanks to blatant, in-your-face gerrymandering (led in N.C. by "Frackin'" Bob Rucho of Matthews), and bucketfuls of corporate money, courtesy of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. In Raleigh last week, things took a disturbing turn, as GOP kingmaker Art Pope and his sock puppets took hold of the reins of power.

So far, the General Assembly has outdone even other GOP-controlled legislatures, unleashing some of the harshest changes to state priorities in living memory. Lawmakers refused to let the federal government buy health coverage for a half-million North Carolina Medicaid recipients, thus screwing not just the poor, but the sickest of the poor, which should qualify the lawmakers for the Jesse Helms Spiteful Nastiness Prize. According to McCrory, the system is so "broken," expanding it would just cause more problems. This shortsighted move means the state will lose out on the $2 billion per year in unemployment money the feds were ready to pour into our economy. I guess when you just don't give a damn about anything but your own wallet and a narrow ideology, the 25,000 jobs the N.C. Institute of Medicine says the Medicaid expansion would have created don't matter any more than those half-million low-income N.C. citizens do.

It was all too revealing when Gov. "Mayor Pat" asked the legislature to slow down their rush to pass anti-Obamacare legislation, only to be brushed off like a pesky fly by the legislature. That's when McCrory turned around and said he was in favor of dumping the extra Medicaid money all along. That's showing 'em who's boss, Pat. Meanwhile, three of the tea party's favorite governors — John Kasich of Ohio, Arizona's Jan Brewer and Rick Snyder of Michigan — support the Medicaid expansion in their states, despite their opposition to Obamacare, because it will offer health care for people who need it. Yep, our state is now being run by people to the right of Jan Brewer.

Just in case anyone thought the New Bosses weren't callous enough, the GOP also rammed through a bill to cut the maximum weekly unemployment insurance benefit by $200 and capped the number of weeks one can receive unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to as few as 12 — in a state where the unemployment rate, 9.2 percent, is the fifth highest in the U.S. Even worse, the unemployment bill will activate a federal cut-off of $780 million in benefits to 170,000 North Carolinians. Seven other GOP-run states have cut unemployment benefits, but North Carolina's are the most severe in the country.

On top of those draconian moves, the legislature is moving to ease the way for natural gas fracking in N.C. In addition, the GOP decided to fire members of key state commissions, including the Coastal Resources Commission, which will now include more business interests and fewer inconvenient scientists with actual expertise. If you've ever been to the Outer Banks and thought, "Hey, we should build up this delicate environment so it's more like Cancun," you may be in luck.

All of these moves — refusing federal money to expand Medicaid, the cut in unemployment benefits, the wrecking of coastal protections — are radical, destructive changes for this state and are nearly breathtaking in their utter lack of concern about people who, let's just say it, aren't as well-to-do as the New Bosses.

The tragic truth we're slowly awakening to in North Carolina is that while much of the country now stands behind more progressive policies, Raleigh has been taken over by reactionaries and radicals determined to ram through a reckless agenda and destroy what little social safety net the state offers. McCrory, much slower on the draw then the General Assembly in terms of policy ideas, has already been reduced to a role as the supposedly "moderate" face of the political thugs in the legislature. It's no surprise that progressives in the Raleigh area are already calling him the Deputy Assistant Governor in the Art Pope administration. This isn't what many of McCrory's "moderate Democrat" supporters had in mind.

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