The Legislature is like high school without the acne.
The halls are loud and full of cliques. Preps: Outfitted in power suits and dresses, they congregate and preen, drink diet sodas and pop breath mints. Jocks: Garrulous, they have the broad shoulders and thick waists of someone who sacked many a quarterback in his day. Geeks: They're always carrying papers and notebooks and have the fine-lined eyes of people who actually read the bills before they vote on them. Hussies and hoods: They were the most interesting people in high school, but since their pasts render them unelectable, you won't see them at the Legislature.
What you will see in this legislative session, which convenes Jan. 30, will be unlike any other in modern North Carolina history. The Republican Party owns both House and Senate and the governorship. They've been clear about their intentions: roll back regulations, privatize certain public services, upend the tax code, slash and burn the budget.
What the state will look like this summer after the bloodletting is almost beyond imagination. I say "almost beyond" because I used to live in Texas, with its deep corruption, high numbers of uninsured people, relentless poverty, polluted air and waterways, educational failures and socioeconomic class divisions. North Carolina, meet your future.
In the past during the rare quiet times, I would occasionally roam the halls of the Legislative Building on Jones Street. I usually would see a janitor, gloves on, as she polished bannisters, rolled a trash can down the corridors and mopped away any trace of the hundreds of hard-heeled soles that had traveled the halls that day.
Meanwhile, in committee rooms and House and Senate chambers, legislators were concocting and passing laws that likely affected that janitor. More than any elected official, she represented the millions of regular, workaday North Carolinians.
Like high school janitors, she was likely invisible to the powerbrokers. But I bet if the garbage bins overflowed, the bathrooms turned into cesspools and soda cans stacked up beneath the benches, someone would notice. Someone would call the janitor. You could say she was the most important person in the building.
Track bills, find out who represents you, see a schedule of committee meetings and more at ncga.state.nc.us.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Power trip."