Here are some preliminary thoughts about last night’s circus at the State Legislative Building and the online post mortem that’s been continuing right along in the hours since:
#1 – There’s compromise and then there’s plain old selling out. I’m currently plowing my way through Robert Caro’s latest tome on the life and times of Lyndon Johnson and I’ve spent many, many years lobbying the General Assemblies of two different states so I know all about political realities and the frequent necessity of compromise to get things done. That is not what happened last night at the General Assembly with the supposedly progressive lawmakers who voted with the conservatives in power. Compromise happens when smart people make strategic decisions in an effort to advance (or at least preserve) a coherent agenda. Selling out is when ambitious, unprincipled and/or delusional individuals make deals that benefit themselves personally at the expense of the greater good.
#2 – Most biting (and accurate) online commentary - Multiple online commenters have referred to Rep. Susi Hamilton’s late night skedaddle from the House floor on the budget vote and her vote for the fracking override in exchange for the extension of a tax giveaway to the movie industry (Rep. Hamilton is from the Wilmington area and has reportedly rented her home to movie industry employees) as the equivalent of selling out her party and principles for “30 pieces of silver.” The critique is not quite accurate; actually it was 60 million pieces.
#3- Wake up!! Rep. Becky Carney is a nice person who’s done some good things during her many years in Raleigh and I know she’s had some health issues (Blue Cross Blue Shield loves to remind us of this fact in TV commercials) and that it was late and that she feels real sorry about her vote in favor of fracking , but good grief!! If there’s one basic thing that a lawmaker is supposed to do, it’s sit in one’s seat, pay attention and vote “yes” or “no.” If her explanation is really true — that she accidentally cast her vote in favor of the motion to override the Governor’s veto (a vote that turned out to be the deciding vote) — she is guilty of a level of negligence and incompetence that is truly astounding. I know it’s harsh and that the Tillis/Stam team made things confusing by shutting off debate, but there simply can be no excuse for such an act by such an experienced and intelligent politician. At a minimum, one would have thought that the default vote for Democrats on all votes last night whenever they weren’t sure would have been “no.” (As an aside, rumors abound this morning in the G.A. that Carney was actually seen exiting the Speaker’s office last night shortly before the vote).
#4 – Most useful conservative pawn of the session — Rep. Darren Jackson and Rep. Hamilton (see above) are strong contenders here. Jackson — a generally progressive fellow on many issues — voted for the GOP budget at the last minute because, he said, he has a lot of state employees in his district. This is, of course, absurd. State employee will be greatly harmed by the budget, as will state government in general. Sadly, however, for reasons known only to the bizarre and inscrutable calculations of the people who run the organization, the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) has been a strong defender of the budget and a consistent ally of the Tillis/Berger team throughout the last two years. One must assume that the group had a lot to do with securing Jackson’s vote. At least, however, Jackson had the guts to stand up on the floor and own his vote.
But the winner in this category has to be Rep. Marcus Brandon of High Point. Brandon,who is African-American and the legislature’s only openly gay lawmaker, has made much throughout the session of his strange personal friendship with Republican Majority Leader Paul Stam – one of the state’s most tenacious and reactionary social crusaders and the chief sponsor of the marriage discrimination amendment. The apparent source of the Brandon/Stam partnership was their shared support for school vouchers. Okay, maybe Brandon gets half a break on this one. He’s 100% wrong on vouchers, but his stated rationale (that the traditional public schools in his area have a done a bad job for poor and minority kids) might narrowly pass a laugh/smell test.
But how does a school vouchers friendship translate into a vote to override the Governor’s veto of a budget that slashes public schools and dozens of other essential programs, denies compensation to eugenics victims and cements a tax break for millionaires? The least he could have done was stand up on the floor and pretend to offer an explanation.