Light blogging lately, and that's in part because I'm very discouraged about the state of things politically. It seems that conservatives have done a very good job at the local level of ruining this country, and doing so while cheating. The recent Supreme Court decision striking parts of the Voting Rights Act has caused many states to roll out voter Id laws, further entrenching the GOP dominance in some areas of the country.
But I think what really has got to me is the state of NC politics. Even the New York Times editors took notice:
The Decline of North Carolina
Every Monday since April, thousands of North Carolina residents have gathered at the State Capitol to protest the grotesque damagethat a new Republican majority has been doing to a tradition of caring for the least fortunate. Nearly 700 people have been arrested in the “Moral Monday” demonstrations, as they are known. But the bad news keeps on coming from the Legislature, and pretty soon a single day of the week may not be enough to contain the outrage.
In January, after the election of Pat McCrory as governor, Republicans took control of both the executive and legislative branches for the first time since Reconstruction. Since then, state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.
The cruelest decision by lawmakers went into effect last week: ending federal unemployment benefits for 70,000 residents. Another 100,000 will lose their checks in a few months. Those still receiving benefits will find that they have been cut by a third, to a maximum of $350 weekly from $535, and the length of time they can receive benefits has been slashed from 26 weeks to as few as 12 weeks.
The state has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, and many Republicans insulted workers by blaming their joblessness on generous benefits. In fact, though, North Carolina is the only state that has lost long-term federal benefits, because it did not want to pay back $2.5 billion it owed to Washington for the program. The State Chamber of Commerce argued that cutting weekly benefits would be better than forcing businesses to pay more in taxes to pay off the debt, and lawmakers blindly went along, dropping out of the federal program.
At the same time, the state is also making it harder for future generations of workers to get jobs, cutting back sharply on spending for public schools. Though North Carolina has been growing rapidly, it is spending less on schools now than it did in 2007, ranking 46th in the nation in per-capita education dollars. Teacher pay is falling, 10,000 prekindergarten slots are scheduled to be removed, and even services to disabled childrenare being chopped.
“We are losing ground,” Superintendent June Atkinson said recently, warning of a teacher exodus after lawmakers proposed ending extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees, cutting teacher assistants and removing limits on class sizes.
Republicans repealed the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that was the first in the country to give death-row inmates a chance to prove they were victims of discrimination. They have refused to expand Medicaid and want to cut income taxes for the rich while raising sales taxes on everyone else. The Senate passed a bill that would close most of the state’s abortion clinics.
And, naturally, the Legislature is rushing to impose voter ID requirements and cut back on early voting and Sunday voting, which have been popular among Democratic voters.One particularly transparent move would end a tax deduction for dependents if students vote at college instead of their hometowns, a blatant effort to reduce Democratic voting strength in college towns like Chapel Hill and Durham.
North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.
Similar things are happening in Texas. Here's one woman who is not worn down, and I wish I could be as inspirational:
On a national level, we have a do-nothing Congress:
WASHINGTON — The current Congress has had just 15 bills signed into law so far, the fewest in recent history.
This is not an insignificant feat. After all, the 112th Congress (2011-2013) was the most unproductive since the 1940s. But even that Congress, by this time in its first year, had 23 bills signed into law.
The Huffington Post compiled the data from GovTrack, which lists laws since 1973. Back then, significantly more legislation made its way into public law. The height was the 94th (1975-1976) and 95th (1977-1978) legislative sessions.
While the 113th Congress has passed a couple of significant pieces of legislation — including the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims — the approvals have often been accompanied by intense partisanship not seen in the past, when both VAWA and disaster relief received strong bipartisan support.
Other bills that became law this year, however, have been significantly less weighty — awarding a congressional gold medal and a measure regarding commemorative coins.
Last year, Thomas Mann of the left-leaning Brookings Institution, and Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, published a Washington Post op-ed saying that the GOP deserves the blame for the dysfunction.
"We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional," they wrote. "In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party."
In an interview with Washington radio station WAMU aired on Monday, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) bemoaned the productivity of Congress and called on his colleagues to do more.
"The first six months of this Congress have been among the least productive in American history," Connolly said. "Only 13 bills have been passed into law in the first six months of this year. That's gotta be a record low."
I am praying for a national backlash next election cycle. Gay rights being the rare exception, this country really is going backwards.