There was a time in North Carolina in which Smithfield Republican Leo Daughtry was widely seen as one of the General Assembly’s true, hard right conservatives. First in the state Senate and later in the House, where he served a Majority Leader under Speaker Harold Brubaker, Daughtry was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who battled with progressives on everything from budget and tax policy to social issues to the role of government itself.
Today, however, the day after Daughtry announced that the current session will be his last in Raleigh, it’s difficult not to see him as a “moderate” and one of the most reasonable members of the Republican caucus.
What’s changed, of course, isn’t Daughtry. Rather, it’s the nature of conservatism itself in modern North Carolina that’s different. Where once conservatives were about bringing a conservative approach to governing, today the movement is increasingly about a radical overhaul of society itself. According to North Carolina’s most powerful politicians and their most important supporters in 2015, government is no longer something to be managed conservatively; it is at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, the enemy of “freedom.”
This contrast between conservatives like Daughtry and radicals like the folks driving the agenda now was highlighted during the waning days of the 2015 session when anti-public education conservatives tried to ram through another dramatic increase in school voucher funding. This move provoked Daughtry to stand up and successfully oppose the move.
“I went to visit this school [receiving school vouchers, in his district]. It’s in a back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half teachers,” said Rep. Daughtry. “And I think you need to go slow with Opportunity Scholarships. From what I saw…the school there that I visited didn’t seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to.”
In other words, Daughtry called out the move to expand vouchers before there’s any evidence that they work for what it is — an ideologically-driven push by the anti-government right and religious conservatives to do away with what they derisively refer to as “government schools.” Thanks goodness he did so.
What Daughtry’s departure will mean for lawmaking in future General Assemblies is hard to say at this point. It’s conceivable that another responsible conservative who actually believes in government could take his place. Let’s hope so. Unfortunately, given the ongoing radical drift of the conservative movement in North Carolina, that seems far from a sure thing.