Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Road to Political Chaos in Carolina

Defeated & spiteful NC Republican Gov. Pat McCrory
goes for the last laugh   
[Photo - Getty Images]
There's been a lot of justifiable outrage in recent days after both chambers of the Republican-majority North Carolina state legislature called a stunning special session where they rapidly introduced a series of bills
specifically designed to place limits on recently-elected Democrat Roy Cooper's powers as governor.

Not surprisingly, outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory quickly signed the bills amidst widespread protests.

The legislation, which was railroaded through Republican-dominated committees and pushed to the floor with almost no debate, includes a measure intended to curb the incoming Democratic governor of his ability to appoint members of his own party to the state's county election boards which oversee critical functions like the setting of voting hours at polling sites.

As Richard Fausset and Trip Garbriel reported in the New York Times on Thursday, remarkably this critical bill also mandates that a Republican will oversee the state board of election during election years while a Democrat will oversee the board during non-election years.  

Who even thinks something like that up?

The legislation, which was signed by Governor McCrory on Friday, also mandates that the incoming governor must have his own cabinet appointees approved by the Republican-majority State Senate.

Politically-speaking, the whole affair reeks of petty partisan Republican vindictiveness over their recent loss of the governor's seat to a Democrat.

Protesters pack the NC statehouse on Friday [Photo - AP]
An election that took over a month to finally decide after efforts by various Republicans to challenge the results of the election which Cooper won by 10,000 votes - not one shred of evidence of voter fraud was found.

Hundreds of outraged protesters packed the halls and chambers of the NC state legislature in Raleigh on Friday and over a dozen of them were arrested and forcibly removed in handcuffs.

Aside from the overt power grab by a hyper-conservative legislature that has conspired with Governor McCrory to do everything within their power to limit the ability of North Carolina citizens to exercise their right to vote, people around the nation are also angered over the blatantly deceitful manner in which Republican lawmakers introduced and passed the legislation.

As Emma Margolin reported for NBC News on Friday, state lawmakers had scheduled a special session for Wednesday December 14th in order to approve funding for victims of Hurricane Matthew.

But after passing measures to green-light $201 million in hurricane relief, Republicans quickly began introducing the legislation to strip the incoming governor of power.

Those kinds of flagrantly unethical tactics are nothing new for Governor McCrory and his Republican Tea Party cronies in the state legislature - that's how they passed the notorious House Bill 2 known as the "Bathroom Bill" last March widely-recognized as one of the most blatantly anti-LGTBQ laws in the nation, one that has cost the state hundreds of millions in business revenue after numerous high profile concerts, events and sports tournaments pulled out in protest of the discriminatory legislation.

NC resident Grace Hardison, who is 100-years old,
had her voter registration challenged
[Photo - WNCT]
In states across the country, from Wisconsin and Ohio, to North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida, the Republican party's willingness to subvert the principles of the democratic process in order to create a stranglehold on power has been relentless and remarkable in it's brazenness and scope.

One of the two major American political parties openly and actively using their power to draft laws to suppress the right to vote of citizens who happen to disagree with their policies harkens back to the Jim Crow south with poll taxes and literary tests.

The introduction of legislation in Republican-majority statehouses, bills crafted by influential hyper-partisan conservative think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) designed to intentionally make it more difficult for people who tend to vote Democratic to cast their ballots on election day, is a prime (and truly disturbing) example of a political party that has decoupled itself from morals and principles.

What took place in North Carolina last week is, in effect, the political weaponization of the American legislative process.

When lawmakers use their time, resources and influence not to enact legislation to revise the tax code in the interest of fairness, fund the construction of highways, repair damaged bridges, or protect drinking water from harmful pollutants, but to perpetuate control over the political process itself.

It's unprecedented, ethically flawed, toxic to a representative democracy that's supposed to be a model to the free world and totally contrary to the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

The Supreme Court - 277 days since Republicans
have acted on Merrick Garland's nomination 
It's a transparent effort to rig the American political system, but the Republican politicians, influential conservative media figureheads and wealthy hyper-partisan ideologues didn't do it alone.

They had help from one of the three branches of the federal government.

One that should by design, stay out of the political process.

Remember the partisan political environment in this country two years into President Obama's first term?

Back in January of 2010, as a wave of Tea Party anger swept across the American political landscape, fueled by simmering Republican resentment over the election of a Democratic African-American president with the audacity to believe Americans have a right to decent and affordable healthcare, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court gave the Republican Party a gift.

The high court issued a stunning 5-4 decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. 

As the SCOTUS Blog notes, in Citizens United the five justices who made up the conservative majority radically expanded the scope of the First Amendment by ruling that:

"Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections." 

Just ten months before the critical 2010 mid-term elections, when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 37 of the 100 seats in the Senate were up for election, the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United ruled that corporations and unions could pour unlimited amounts of money into Political Action Committees (PAC's) to either support, or trash a political candidate.

And pour money the Republican Party did.

According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, over the course of 2009 - 2010 the Republican Party spent a staggering $570,019,831 to take back the House of Representatives.

While Republican Senate candidates spent a whopping $439,855,244 during that same period to shrink the Democratic Senate majority.

The opening of those spigots of unrestricted cash flow into the political system by the Supreme Court's Citizen United ruling, along with their 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder which gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, seemed to give a kind of legal sanction to the Republican Party's efforts to subvert democracy.

It certainly empowered the North Carolina legislature to engage in the various kinds of reprehensible legislative actions we've seen since 2010.

While incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has vowed to challenge Republican efforts to strip him of power, he's clearly got his work cut out for him.

The road to the partisan political chaos that's taking place in North Carolina didn't just begin with a sneaky legislative maneuver in the state house last week, it started years ago.

On a road that runs right through the Supreme Court.

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