North Carolina is now the state you want to drive around, not through. In just seven months, Republican lawmakers and their brother-in-arms, Gov. McCrory, cut unemployment benefits to the long-term jobless, slashed public education funding in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy, allowed people with conceal-carry permits to bring guns into bars (I'll take a 40-ouncer of Colt .45 with my real Colt .45), passed the most repressive voting bill in the U.S., made it nearly impossible for a woman to get a legal abortion and repealed the Racial Justice Act.
And in an 11th hour move, legislators slipped language into a health bill, SB 473, that gives the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore equal standing as the Attorney General Roy Cooper in representing North Carolina in constitutional challenges to state law.
This breach of checks and balances happened because the constitutionality of several recently ratified laws likely will be challenged. Cooper, a Democrat, has opposed many of these repressive bills, and the Republican leadership wants to undermine his authority by meddling in the judicial branch.
We could go on. And on.
So we will. Here are the five worst House lawmakers judged by the inanity of their legislation and the damage they inflicted on North Carolina. It was tough to winnow the list, but not as tough as finding a moderate, reasonable Republican. They are as rare as sex-selective abortions.
Stay tuned: Next week we rank the five worst state senators.
5 Worst Representatives
- Thom Tillis
As House Speaker, Tillis is responsible for setting the agenda for the chamber; he's the go-to guy. But this session, Tillis, who's running for U.S. Senate in 2014, became the where-did-he-go-guy. On one day in mid-July, he missed votes on 36 bills so he could throw a fundraising soiree in Washington, D.C. When the House was debating the abortion bill, the Mecklenburg County Republican was a no-show. And the Charlotte Observer reported that a Tillis superPAC raised $70,000 from three men whom Tillis then appointed to the UNC Board of Governors.
Tillis' conservative bona fides aren't carrying him far. He was named Legislator of the Year in 2011 by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded conservative group that crafts model legislation for legislators to then pass in their states. But two years later, even FOX News called him a "weak candidate." Ouch.
The Asheville conservative threw down the gauntlet early in the session, declaring that the public display of a woman's bare nipples (but not a man's) should be outlawed. The bill failed in committee like a dude trying to nurse.
More important, in an act of revenge against the hippy liberals of his mountain town, he was the primary sponsor of HB 488, which forced the City of Asheville to surrender its water system to a regional authority. One of several measures undermining local government power, the bill became law without the governor's signature; subsequently, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. granted a temporary restraining order against the provision. Moffitt also voted for the abortion, gun and voting bills that McCrory signed into law.
- Tim Moore
Some day when you drive by the wound that is 751 South in Durham, think of this Cleveland County lawmaker. (A historical marker could be erected, perhaps?) He added language to SB 315—originally an innocuous proposal about the Durham Police Department headquarters—to force the City of Durham to annex and extend water and sewer to the monstrous development. In yet another instance of state government usurping local authority, the bill passed and became law.
Moore also co-sponsored the voting bill.
- Paul Stam
The House Majority Leader's main obsession was privatizing education, beginning with charter schools. His plan to shift $40 million of public money to private schools—including religious and for-profit ones—through a scheme of corporate tax credits, is chilling in committee, waiting to be revived next year.
Stam also co-sponsored HB 250, which is now law and allows charter schools to expand one grade level at a time without permission from the state board of education. Previously, if a charter school wanted to add grades beyond what the state approved, it had to go before the state board of education.
Stam co-sponsored measures curbing voting rights and governing sex-selective abortions. He was among the masterminds behind the original abortion bill, the "Family Faith and Freedom Protection Act" that even McCrory deigned not to put his name on—right before he broke a campaign promise and signed a recast abortion bill into law.
- Ruth Samuelson
PAT MCELRAFT AND RUTH SAMUELSON
This dynamic duo supported a raft of abortion measures, including one to bar sex-selective abortion. Yet neither could present any concrete evidence that such abortions occur in N.C. However, Samuelson did co-sponsor a bill—and McElraft voted for it—that could make sex-selective murders easier to commit. The gun bill, HB 937 allows people with conceal-carry permits to bring their weapons into taverns and playgrounds.
We're curious, George, do you have a problem with Latinos? In February, Attorney General Roy Cooper issued an opinion stating that undocumented immigrants who qualified under a federal executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) could apply for N.C. driver's licenses. Cleveland responded with a bill that would have trumped Cooper's order. He also sponsored a measure that would have prohibited undocumented immigrants from enrolling in community college. Both bills stalled in committee.
To solidify his honorable mention status, he co-sponsored the House version of the renewable energy bill (see Avila) and the Family Faith and Freedom Protection Act.
- Marilyn Avila
During a House discussion about restricting tanning bed use for kids under 18, the Wake County representative questioned whether ultraviolet rays from tanning beds and the sun actually can cause skin cancer; the link has been scientifically established. Alas, the Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act passed the House; the Senate could vote on it next year*. The same legislature that passed the abortion bill ostensibly over concerns about women's safety failed to pass a bill that could cut the incidence of melanoma in young adults.
(A reader pointed out that Avila also was in favor of eliminating the Child Fatality Task Force, which supported the tanning bed bill. Revenge is best served microwaved?)
Avila also climbed on board the anti-environment train, co-sponsoring the Affordable and Reliable Energy Act, which would have nullified renewable energy requirements for utility companies. It did not pass. Thankfully, this legislative session has.
*This story originally stated the tanning bill died in committee; it passed the full House.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The worst representatives money can buy."