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NC Commerce Secretary says legislature, protests making it hard to sell North Carolina

Note: The Commerce Department has taken issue with my characterization of Decker’s comments,  please see a note about their objections below.

N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told a group of reporters in Raleigh Monday that turmoil and conflict surrounding this year’s state legislative session has made it difficult to sell North Carolina on the national stage.

“I’m fielding calls every day , ‘what the heck’s going on (over) there?,’” Decker said, in response to a question about the turmoil surrounding this year’s legislative session. She added, “The current environment makes it very challenging to market North Carolina.”

Decker’s comments were made Monday while speaking to a group of reporters in Raleigh and were in response to a question about how receptive businesses were to the state given the national attention that the ambitious, conservative agenda, including an extensive proposal to change the state’s tax system, at the N.C. General Assembly have earned. The weekly arrests of protestors upset at what they see is an agenda that hurts the poor and middle-class at “Moral Mondays” events have also brought a considerable amount of national attention to the state.

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker [1]

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

She also said that the state’s current corporate income tax is too high in order to be competitive, and that she plans on continuing to use incentives as a way to lure employers to the state.

Decker added to her comments, saying that she doesn’t believe the state has lost any jobs as a result of the controversy surrounding Jones Street but has heard from company’s concerned about what will happen to the state’s corporate tax rates.

North Carolina has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation, and Decker said she’s been concentrating much of her effort on addressing job shortfalls.

This year has seen weekly arrests of protests at Moral Monday’s events and messages coming from Republican leaders in the legislature has been about a state left with broken systems after decades of Democratic leadership.

Click here [2] to read the latest Associated Press article that raises questions about whether the criminal charges filed against the nearly 700 protesters are appropriate.

The AP article (by Michael Biesecker) included the following observations from last week’s Senate debate about a bill that will greatly restrict abortions in the state.

More than 500 people, mostly women, showed up Wednesday after the Senate voted along party lines to move ahead with restrictions on abortion with no advance public notice or hearings. They filled the gallery overlooking the Senate chamber, and 100 more packed the atrium outside.

Among them was Jennifer Hesse of Cary, who held up a plastic clothes hanger — a symbol of the back-alley abortions she said would result from the restrictions. As she spoke with a reporter, two General Assembly police officers approached, one snatching the hanger from her hand.

“Ma’am, you can’t have that here,” Officer Frank Flores said.

Pressed on what law Hesse violated, Flores said it was “building rules” — an amorphous statute that includes prohibitions against littering, damaging decorative plants, possessing weapons, or carrying signs and placards of more than 25 square inches.

Moments later, officers approached 30-year-old Katina Gad of Raleigh, who had been ejected from the Senate gallery after yelling “Shame on you!” as Republicans voted to send the anti-abortion bill to the House. As photographers and cameramen tried to capture images of Gad being handcuffed on a disorderly conduct charge, officers swarmed around.

When a cameraman tried to angle his shot around the blockade, an officer shoved him and knocked him back several steps. A member of the sergeant-at-arms’ staff assisting police drew back an aluminum cane over his head, threatening to whack those observing.

Last month, officers arrested a Charlotte Observer reporter who was interviewing those being arrested

 Note and clarification (July 11): This post has been altered from the original to add more context about Decker’s comments.

In addition, Commerce Department spokespeople have taken issue with N.C. Policy Watch’s post, and said that Decker did not comment directly on the Moral Monday protests and arrests. but rather said the challenges stem from uncertainty surrounding the efforts to change the state’s tax structure.

We disagree, and feel Decker’s comments about the challenges selling the state directly in response to questions about the legislative climate as well as the weekly protests. There is audio below of some of her comments below for readers to decide for themselves. Decker also spoke later in the luncheon about fielding calls from outside the state after a reporter asked her about the effects of turmoil surrounding this year’s legislative session.

[audio:http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Decker_response1.mp3|titles=Decker Interview]