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How One Multi-Millionaire Is Turning North Carolina Into A Tea Party Utopia

By Ian Millhiser  

"How One Multi-Millionaire Is Turning North Carolina Into A Tea Party Utopia"

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GOP Donor Art Pope


In 2010, Republicans took over both houses of the North Carolina legislature for the first time since 1870, due in no small part to the spending of a single, very wealthy Republican. As Jane Mayer reported in 2011, “three-quarters of the spending by independent groups in North Carolina’s 2010 state races came from accounts linked to” wholesale baron Art Pope. Of the 22 state legislative races targeted by Pope’s family and his organizations, 18 fell to Republicans. Yet Pope’s bought-and-paid-for legislature had limited reach until very recently thanks to the state’s Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue. That all changed last January, when Perdue was succeeded by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

With no remaining checks to Republican rule in North Carolina, the state has now become a haven for some of the most ideological — and ill-considered — tea party fantasies dressed up as legislation. Here are just a few of the bills being pushed in the house (and the senate) that Art Pope built:

  • Voter Suppression : It’s a sad commentary on the state of American politics that once Republicans take over a state, they almost immediately begin enacting laws to make it harder for Democratic-leaning groups to cast a ballot. North Carolina Republicans, however, have embraced voter suppression with unusual enthusiasm. They’ve introduced voter ID, a common GOP method of reducing turnout among minorities, low-income voters and students. They’ve introduced Florida-like restrictions on early voting, cutting early voting hours and eliminating voting the Sunday before election day in order to thwart voting drives at African-American churches. And they want to punish parents whose children vote from their college addresses.
  • Reverse Robin Hood: A GOP bill in the North Carolina Senate would eliminate all individual and corporate income taxes, and largely replace it with higher sales taxes. Sales taxes disproportionately burden lower-income taxpayers, because they spend a larger percentage of their income on basic needs. It is also far more difficult to create a progressive sales tax than to enact a progressive income tax code that places a lesser tax burden on those who can least afford it. As a result, a similar tax plan in Louisiana would raise taxes on 80 percent of residents, while giving Louisianans in the top 1 percent of income earners an average tax cut of $25,423.
  • Shutting Down Abortion Clinics: Another bill in the state senate would add new restrictions to abortion clinics in an attempt to force them to close their doors. Among other things, the bill requires doctors to have admitting privileges in a hospital located within 30 miles of the clinic, an unnecessary restriction that serves little purpose other than to limit the pool of doctors available to clinics.
  • Anti-Worker Constitutional Amendment: A so-called “right-to-work” law, which depresses worker wages by cutting back unions’ ability to collectively bargain for wages and benefits, is already the law in North Carolina, effectively cutting both union and non-union wages by $1,500 a year. Nevertheless, 34 Republican lawmakers (and one Democrat) sponsored a state constitutional amendment that would lock this anti-worker policy into the state Constitution. The same amendment would strip public sector workers of their right to collectively bargain, and lock in policies making it easier for companies to pressure their workers against unionizing to boot.
  • Subsidizing Home Schooling: Eight Republican lawmakers sponsored a bill giving families a $1,250 per semester tax subsidy if they home school their children.
  • Judges For Sale: A pair of bills in the state senate would eliminate the state’s successful public financing system for judicial elections. Prior to this system’s enactment in 2004, “73 percent of campaign funds for judicial candidates came from attorneys and special interest groups,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice’s Alicia Bannon. Now, it’s 14 percent. So public financing was successful in rolling back moneyed interest groups’ ability to buy and sell judges through campaign donations, and these GOP bills would throw judicial elections back to the old ways.
  • State Sponsored Religion: Eleven Republicans, including the state’s House Majority Leader, backed a resolution proclaiming that the Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional,” and then decreeing that North Carolina could establish its own state religion. On the bright side, state house Speaker Thom Tillis announced that he would not advance this resolution after it was widely panned.

The defeat of North Carolina’s religious endorsement resolution is a hopeful sign that these bills can be stopped. But it’s important to remember that the religious establishment bill was simply a non-binding resolution that amounted to little more than an ideological yawp. The real test is whether efforts to restrict the franchise, target women’s freedom, cut wages and enrich people like Art Pope are ultimately successful.

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