We were jockeying for position in the Target store in Raleigh, the moms and kids and I all racing for the pens, pads and back-to-school bargains on the last-ever sales tax holiday weekend in North Carolina, when it struck me: Our state Republicans are their own worst enemies.
I'm not talking here about their reactionary policies or payola politics. Their policies are intentional—would they be Republicans if they couldn't punish poor folks?—and they seem devoted to the idea that if you hold a public office, you should be able to use it to make money for yourself and your friends.
Without going to jail, of course. That, to quote Richard Nixon, would be wrong.
Republicans know that when they pass a budget and it cuts school aid, or they pass a bill and it cuts unemployment benefits, they can simply get in front of the TV cameras and say that the budget helps schools, or the bill helps the unemployed, and most citizens won't realize they're not telling the truth.
The rule, then, is to avoid doing things that are so obviously stupid or dishonest that they give the truth away.
Lately, though, the Republicans have been making all kinds of telltale mistakes.
10. TAXING OUR PATIENCE The Republicans gave us "tax reform" this legislative session, cutting taxes on the rich and big corporations. Because the tax cuts were so costly, the GOP imposed new sales taxes on some items, like movie tickets. Still, most of us might not have noticed what they were up to—until the Republicans also repealed the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday that many stores advertised and shoppers could enjoy. Worse, they timed the repeal so stores could advertise last weekend's tax holiday as the last one ever—thanks to the GOP's brand of "reform."
9. HATING ON EDUCATION... The Republican budget added here and subtracted there from public school aid, making it hard for critics to prove that the schools are worse off—which they are. But flaunting their disdain for education, the Republicans ended (with some exceptions) pay increases for teachers who earn master's degrees. Such an easy story for TV news: the Republicans are against better-educated educators.
8. ...AND THEN LYING ABOUT IT The Republican budget gave teachers no pay hike—zero. Our teachers' pay was already near the bottom, and this new goose egg could put us dead last. But then Gov. Pat McCrory, in a speech to the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, claimed that with "tax reform," teachers would see a 1 percent hike in their take-home pay. Not true. Only people making $250,000 or more will see a 1 percent gain—a point we might've missed until the clueless McCrory spoke up.
7. UNCONCEALED MAYHEM Are the Republicans in thrall to the gun lobby? If you were in doubt, they changed the law so people with conceal-carry permits can take guns into bars. Cue comedian Bill Maher: Call it the "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?" law.
6. HATING ON WOMEN It's Republican policy to oppose abortion rights. But you could argue that they're not against women per se. You could, except they waited until the end of the session to unveil a horror-show of anti-choice measures without talking to women's health experts. Worse, they passed the measures as amendments to, first, an anti- Sharia Law bill and, later, a motorcycle safety bill. Were they trying to be funny?
5. HATING ON MEDICAID You've heard the Republicans' chant: Medicaid is broken! Medicaid is broken! It isn't—or it wasn't—but whether Medicaid worked well under Democratic administrations was at least a debatable question. But then the Republicans rolled out their new dysfunctional system, NCTracks, for paying Medicaid claims to doctors and other health care providers. It's "a real mess," says Adam Searing, director of the N.C. Health Access Coalition.
4. FRACKING UP GOVERNMENT The N.C. Rural Center was a dubious idea when the Democrats invented it. Public funds were doled out for economic development by a political board without much oversight. The Republicans shut it down, while inventing a new " public-private partnership" for development deals brought in by their own political cronies. The deals can be financed, Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker proposed, using a slush fund from fracking revenues. Good thing the press isn't here, Decker told a business crowd—and a News & Observer reporter duly jotted it down.
3. CHAPPING ON CHARLOTTE McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, was popular in the Queen City, but not so much since the Republicans took away its airport. After realizing that they should've heeded the state treasurer's warnings about bond defaults, the GOP gave it back, but not really. The Charlotte Observer can't get enough of this Republican screw-up story, which is now in court—and will be for months.
2. DOING FOR DUKE ENERGY Is McCrory, who worked for the giant utility, still a wholly owned Duke Energy asset? Some say yes, and they say it with more confidence after McCrory's Department of Environment and Natural Resources let the corporation off with a piddling $99,000 fine for polluting, via coal-ash discharges, the groundwater around its plants in Asheville and Charlotte.
1. SHAMELESS HYPOCRISY Republican State Chairman Claude Pope denounced D.G. Martin, the popular and mild-mannered host of UNC-TV's "Bookwatch," for saying bad things about the GOP in a newspaper column. Pope declared that such a toxic and divisive person shouldn't be on TV. I guess he never saw the truly vile and disgusting Jesse Helms when he was WRAL's editorialist—before he ran for Senate on the Republican ticket.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Error message."