Local Democratic members of the General Assembly frustrated by GOP’s moves
With the election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Legislature became a supermajority, with Republicans controlling the House, Senate and the Governor’s Mansion, and local Democrats say they are feeling the effects of that change in Raleigh.
In November, prior to the start of the 2013-2014 session, Parmon had voiced concerns about Democrats’ ability to get any progressive legislation passed.
“I think we’re going to see a complete right wing agenda trying to be accomplished, and having the General Assembly under Republican control, the governor will just rubber stamp the legislation,” she told The Chronicle shortly after her election to the NC Senate’s District 32 seat. “I’m afraid that we’re going to see the kinds of things that we’ve seen in Washington in the last few years in terms of gridlocks and a lot of fighting.”
The senator said last week that her fears have been confirmed. The Republican majority has been busy. So far, they have moved to end the state earned income tax credit for working families and slashed unemployment benefits, reducing the maximum number of weeks a person can draw unemployment from 26 to 20, and cutting the maximum weekly payout rate from $535 to $356.
In addition, lawmakers have refused to set up the exchange program that would allow the state to assist people in choosing insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act and rejected the proposed expansion of Medicaid, leaving 500,000 people who are eligible for the benefits across the state uninsured. Gov. Pat McCrory told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Friday that he was against the extension because he feels the state’s Medicaid system is “broken.”
“The fact of the matter is we need to reform the way we spend money in government, and there is so much waste right now. For example, in our Medicaid, we just found over $2 billion of wasted money and bad administration over the last two or three years,” the governor said. “We’ve got to look at how to spend money more efficiently … before I expand the system, I’ve got to fix the current system.”
Parmon believes the governor is taking the wrong approach in addressing the state’s fiscal woes.
“Everything they have done has been on the backs of our most vulnerable people: the poor, the elderly and children, and they’re just moving ahead continuously with these issues,” Parmon declared. “…Not one thing with jobs has come up. Not one bill.”
Parmon is also unhappy about the plan to place the words “No Lawful Status” on the driving licenses of immigrants protected under the federal Dream Act. Republicans say the special licenses are necessary to prevent voter fraud, since they will soon pass voter identification legislation.
The GOP and Democrats in the General Assembly have found some common ground. Last Thursday, legislators on both sides of the aisle voted to fix a glitch in a previous bill that caused a $37 million funding gap for group homes, but overall, local Dems say the outlook is bleak.
“Basically what I have found is a House with a supermajority vote that understands what that means. They’re carrying out their agenda; I don’t know how to call it anything else,” said State Rep. Evelyn Terry, who represents the 71st District. “If there’s any such thing as being totally and completely ignored, that’s how I feel.”
Terry, a House freshman who succeeded State Rep. Larry Womble, expressed concern about the legislature “swinging the hatchet” to cut programs before it fully understands their reach or scope. She said House Republicans have no regard for the desires of their Democratic counterparts.
“As far as moving North Carolina forward with a degree of government that is balanced, we’re just pretty much in limbo with the capability of being able to do that,” she said. “…This is a group of people that have been gunning for 100 years to implement an ideology that is diametrically opposed to our beliefs of fairness.”
Rep. Ed Hanes is also a House newcomer, having won Parmon’s old District 72 seat. He admitted the environment in Raleigh is “tough” for Democrats right now, but said he is determined to make the best of it by building relationships and collaborations where he can.
Hanes is co-sponsoring several bills with Republicans, including a bill that would fine drivers who are caught passing a stopped school bus, and a bill that would exempt the UNC School of the Arts from legislation that prohibits the use of pyrotechnics.
“I’m frustrated with the fact that we’re in a super minority, but at the same time, I ran for office fully aware of … who was in charge,” Hanes said. “What I’m trying to do is take that frustration and turn it into bills that we can work together on, that make sense for everybody.”
Veteran lawmaker Parmon said it is the governor’s job to provide leadership. She said she sees none coming from McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte.
“He is so far being led by the majority in the General Assembly,” she stated. “I don’t see him as leading the state. He’s being led by these two chambers.”
Parmon said she and other Democrats continue to vote according to progressive values, but their efforts are smothered at every turn by the Republican majority. Parmon said it is “absolutely” the worst political climate she’s experienced in her 22-year career.
“Anything to do with helping people has been cut. It’s very disheartening. There is no governing from the middle, no balance anywhere in the way that they are governing,” she said. “It goes against the grain of everything the people of North Carolina want.”
Local Democrats say they hope voters across the state are keeping close tabs on the GOP’s political maneuvering. They believe voter outrage can lead to changes in the General Assembly when mid-term elections roll around next year.
“The things that happened in these first few weeks … those are hard decisions that I voted against, and frankly I look at those as a first step towards the Democrats taking the House back because those are going to impact poor people all over the state, Democrats and Republicans,” Hanes said. “…Democrats just need to remain organized and remain focused on what our principles are and let the people ultimately make the call, and I think that they will do that.”