For decades, anyone who pays attention to politics has been forced to endure the tired old pledge from practically every conservative candidate that, upon election, he or she will “run government like a business.” Today, we got to see once again the “business” that North Carolina conservatives are using as their model: Ringling Brothers.
Anyone who doubts this should have stopped by or tuned in via the Internet to today’s meeting of a once venerable House-Senate panel known as the Revenue Laws Study Committee. For decades, Revenue Laws has operated as one of the North Carolina General Assembly’s most wonkish and staid committees — a sober group that focused on technical tax policy matters. This is not to say that the Committee has not tackled large or controversial issues, but through the years it has almost always been run in a way in which the issues were debated seriously and in which more or less even-handed debates regarding substance got at least as much aattention as politics.
Today, however, susbtance tooks a vacation as legislative right-wingers turned the committee’s regular meeting into a circus sideshow.
First, the committee chairs turned the meeting over to a Washington business lobbyist named Dick Patten who heads a small trade association dedicated to doing away with the estate tax. Patten railed and rambled nonsenscially at great length about “class warfare”, the evils of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and his belief that the estate tax was a Marxist plot. Meanwhile, when Senator Floyd McKissick asked that the committee hear briefly from a local expert with contrary views, Ed McLenghan of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, the chair refused to allow McLenaghan to speak and only allowed him to pose a few questions to Patten!
Unfortunately, this was not even the main event for the Revenue Laws circus. That occurred later in the morning when the committee went to the extraordinary and clearly unnecessary lengths of subpoenaing and forcing state unemployment insurance system head Lynn Holmes to testify under oath for a couple of strange and silly hours.
That hostile interrogation reached its apogee when arch-conservative Rep. Dale Folwell, an unannounced candidate for statewide office, attempted to pursue an absurd line of questions in which he claimed, quite offensively, that an unemployed worker could, under Holmes’ watch, walk into a restaurant and apply for a job and then “run out before he could actually be offered the job” and still remain eligible to keep receiving unemployment benefits!
Who spends his time thinking up this kind of stuff?
Unfortunately, as we noted last October, this is not the first time Folwell has launched a nonsensical broadside against unemployment insurance. But this latest development — forcing a state employee to answer ridiculous hypotheticals under oath — takes things to a new and disturbing level.
It looks like the 2012 is going to be a long and crazy year for the three ring circus on Jones Street.