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What lawmakers could learn from Andy

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Tuesday, July 3: Andy Griffith died today, and who the hell could blame him.

As Sheriff Andy Taylor, his character was compassionate and fair, ethical and decent, nonviolent and slow to anger.

If he had been a North Carolina legislator, he would not have sentenced people to death on the basis of their race. He would not have polluted his neighbors' water. He would not have excised millions of tax dollars from Opie's or anyone's school. He would not have prohibited the gay and lesbian citizens of Mayberry, N.C., from marrying. In fact, he likely would have attended their weddings, and Aunt Bee would have brought her famous butterscotch pecan pie.

And if someone had done something wrong, terribly, terribly wrong—like forcibly sterilizing thousands of people considered by a privileged few to be too unfit, mentally deficient or poor to have children, and yes, there were probably such folks in Mayberry—he would have seen to it that the victims were properly compensated for the lifelong trauma exacted upon them.

In other words, he would have done right by the common person and stood up for the underdog—the opposite of how the majority of the North Carolina Legislature has conducted itself for the past 18 months.

As self-proclaimed champions of morality, conservative lawmakers—mostly Republicans, but also a handful of Democrats who regularly fail to uphold the principles espoused by their party—promised to lead the state's citizenry out of the morass of liberal depravity. These paragons of virtue were going to enact positive change in Raleigh, by God.

Instead, they inflicted their sadism on North Carolina.

They gutted the Racial Justice Act, landmark legislation passed by Democrats in 2009, that would allow death row inmates to appeal their sentence if they could prove it was racially biased. If successful, instead of being subjected to state-sponsored killing, these inmates would receive a sentence of life without parole.

They legalized fracking, which has been scientifically proven to increase the likelihood of earthquakes near drilling areas, to contaminate groundwater and to leak methane—which contributes to greenhouse gases even more than carbon dioxide—into the atmosphere. All of this happens while landowners, hoodwinked by land men hired by energy companies, get screwed.

They passed the Defense of Marriage Act, sending it to a public vote that allowed the majority to curb the rights of the minority. This is not unprecedented. The will of a bigoted majority previously took the form of segregation, the poll tax and slavery.

They passed a budget that cut $190 million from already-emaciated public schools. In the same budget, they eliminated long overdue compensation for eugenics victims. Democrats had failed to pass such legislation for years—so much for change from the paragons of virtue. (Paging Paul Stam: According to the conservative rhetoric, since marriage is for the purpose of procreation, should eugenics victims be allowed to wed?) In the first episode of Season 2 of The Andy Griffith Show, Andy weighs what to do about a bully who keeps taking Opie's lunch money. Eventually, Andy tells Opie a personal story that gives him the courage to stand up against the bully.

Conservative lawmakers are the bully. The human rights and welfare of all North Carolinians are the lunch money. What progressives have the courage of Opie to stand up to them?

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