(pictured above: Freshman Rep. Ed Hanes speaks at the recent Emancipation Association program.)
Lawmakers wary of political tide shift in Raleigh
Forsyth County Democrats are expressing varying degrees of optimism about the chances of finding common ground with the Republican majority in the General Assembly.
The 2013 regular session was one of the most contentious in recent memory, with Republicans pushing through a slew of controversial laws and Democrats, without a significant number of votes to mount serious challenges, virtually screaming their disapproval from the sidelines.
“It’s been challenging, without a doubt,” declared freshman State Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., who represents Forsyth County’s District 72. “I stepped in with the attitude that I was going to work with everybody, and while I was able to do that, it was challenging, from both sides of the aisle.”
Hanes’ House colleague, State Rep. Evelyn Terry, said her first year in the Legislature has been memorable, but not in a particularly good way.
“As far as public policy goes, I am at a loss for finding anything that was really good,” commented Terry, who represents District 71. “I hate to say it, but I don’t know what was good out of the legislation that came through, because it all seemed focused on a revenge or a step back into time.”
State Sen. Earline Parmon is in her first Senate term, representing the District 32, but she was a member of the House for more than a decade. She maintains that 2013 was the worst year she’s experienced for progressive policies and ideals.
“The legislation passed in the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013 was not good for poor people, working families, at all,” she said. “…The legislation that was passed had no compassion for the citizens of North Carolina. If it didn’t help the wealthy, they didn’t pass it.”
Parmon is hopeful that state residents are as fed up as she is and will express their frustrations at the polls during this year’s midterm election.
“There is an opportunity for change,” she noted. “With the legislative elections, there are many opportunities for people across this state to let the Legislature know that they were not pleased and were very disappointed in this kind of draconian legislation that was passed.”
Hanes believes the Republican majority is in danger this year.
“I think they’re going to see 12-15 seats (lost), and I think that’s a direct response to some of the overreaching that happened with the legislation,” said the freshman legislator. “I think you’re going to see some of that backlash come back.”
Although she is hopeful that the midterms will translate to a shift in the Republicans’ stronghold on the General Assembly, Terry said she isn’t convinced that the influx of private investors that many believe are truly controlling politics across the state won’t again prevail.
“It’s a crapshoot,” she remarked. “When you interject money into politics, then it skews the whole notion of people and their feelings regarding public policy and how it’s affecting them.”
Although there is a limit to what kinds of legislation can be passed during the upcoming short session, which starts May 14, Terry said she will set her sights on alleviating the economic impacts of some of the legislation passed in 2013 and work to find ways to protect her constituents from the effects of the new laws.
“You can’t focus on all things, so the reality for me is economic justice. That’s where my head will be,” she said. “…We need to find ways to keep economic vitality within the communities of low wealth, where people are hurting.”
Hanes said he will also be working to help area residents weather the repercussions of the laws passed in 2013.
“I’ve been looking at what changes can happen from the laws that were implemented in 2013,” he stated. “My concern would be how these laws are going to impact people and how are we going to prepare people in the community to deal with the impact that’s going to happen?”
Parmon, who is currently Forsyth County’s lone senator (State Sen. Pete Brunstetter stepped down on Dec. 15 to take a position as executive vice president and chief legal counsel for Novant Health), said she is hopeful that Brunstetter’s replacement will bring some common sense and moderate thinking to the table.
“I’m hoping that Forsyth County’s going to get a senator in place and one that can understand the issues that are important to Forsyth County,” she said.
Both Parmon and Hanes said they will be doing everything they can to ensure that the people of Forsyth County – and across the state – are making their voices heard in the voting booths, despite the myriad pieces of legislation that have been passed in the last year that will make it more challenging.
“We need people to get out and vote,” Hanes said. “It’s been a very tough time for folks … all over Forsyth County, and the only way to change that is to get out and vote, especially in our African American communities. We don’t show up strongly in non-presidential years, and we pay the price for that; we paid the price for that in 2010. If we show up and vote, the rest will take care of itself, but we’ve got to take that first step.”