To the Editor:
The eyes of the Country are on North Carolina; and it is not good. On April 12, I wrote in this publication that the N.C. Legislature had generated unwanted national publicity for our state by fostering legislation that would require photo identification in order to vote and by introducing a truly baffling resolution purporting to exempt North Carolina from the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The second of the two resulted in more than 300 articles in the national press about our state, many including the public apology from the Republican legislator who sponsored the resolution.
Well, Republican social conservatives have struck again. Now, in refusing to expand Medicaid and extend medical coverage to thousands of uninsured North Carolinians, the Republicans have attracted attention from an opinion writer with a national audience who has published a piece about our State in one of the Country’s leading publications, The Washington Post.
In a June 11 article titled “The third Koch ‘brother’ hits North Carolina,” reporter Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote about Art Pope and the millions of dollars he successfully spent on legislative elections in North Carolina before Gov. McCrory named him as his budget director. Worth reading.
On the heels of the voter photo ID law, the refusal to expand Medicaid and the passage in the Legislature of gun legislation opposed by every police organization in the state comes news that the legislature has voted to repeal North Carolina’s first-in-the-Nation 2009 Racial Justice Act. This law allowed convicted death row inmates to challenge their death sentences based on evidence of racial bias in jury selection at their criminal trial and conviction. This is unfortunate. The law made sense on a number of levels. It was designed to recognize that race has played a role in jury selection in capital cases in our state. More than a majority of inmates currently awaiting execution in North Carolina are African-American, despite the fact that our state’s African-American population is 20 percent. The law ensures that if an execution is carried out, there will be a decreased likelihood that racial bias played any role in the conviction or sentence.
This is very important. In our system of government the states do not have the ability to make war – that’s reserved for the federal government. Perhaps the most fundamental thing that a state does is carry out the execution of convicted prisoners. In doing so, the state takes a life, an irrevocable act that should be undertaken only where there is great certainty that the sentence is just – or it should not be done at all.
But this Legislature does not care about these concerns. It seems the Legislature wants to restart executions which have not been carried out in North Carolina since 2006 and, not only that; it seems indifferent to whether they are carried out under the most just circumstances possible.
All in all, it seems that our State is being made into a social conservative playground. We are now an experiment in how much of the Republican social conservative agenda can be enacted. This is different than fiscal conservatism.
One critique of government central to fiscal conservatism – and a valid criticism on many occasions – is that the government spends too much. But it is not possible today to elect a Republican government to focus on that issue without bringing social conservative baggage. This is because in order to able to get elected anywhere, the fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party have struck a deal with social conservatives in order to win votes. This is what makes Republicans unelectable at the national level and over time and given demographics will make Republicans unelectable anywhere.
However, for now, it works in North Carolina. My fear is that being a social conservative playground is inconsistent with attracting high quality business investment. We may get more call centers, pork farms, truck depots – and there is a need for them. But I hope we can also get corporate headquarters, top-flight professors for our universities, top medical professionals and the like. If we do, it will be in spite of, not because of the social conservative agenda of our state government.
The author, Ray Kolls is a resident of Davidson and a moderate, pro-business Democrat who is conservative (in the context of his party) on fiscal issues and progressive on most social issues. He believes that if you want to write something like the above, you should declare where you stand.