It appears the public is beginning to figure out that the people they elected to run the General Assembly may not be what they claimed to be in October, candidates committed to creating jobs and addressing the state budget crisis to get the state back on the right track.
The latest survey from Public Policy Polling finds that voters in North Carolina by a narrow margin now have an unfavorable opinion of Republicans in the legislature. That’s a far cry from the sweeping Republican victories in General Assembly races just four months ago.
It’s hard to know for sure what has changed voters’ minds, but it is probably a safe bet that proposals to set up a separate state currency, allow concealed handguns in family restaurants, and privatize public education haven’t helped.
The new majorities have spent more time debating how to deny health care to people in North Carolina than how to create jobs and more time trying to deny low interest loans to unemployed workers returning to community college than exploring ways to improve public schools.
It seems like every week there is another bill introduced calling for a constitutional amendment, which seems odd given the conservatives’ often professed reverence for the constitution. The latest, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Hastings, would make English the official state language, as if English is in danger of extinction in North Carolina.
There are amendments to ban gay marriage even though it’s already illegal, to limit legislative terms, and to set arbitrary and restrictive spending limits that would threaten education and human services programs.
House Speaker Thom Tillis has repeatedly refused to take a position on the legislation introduced by Rep. Glen Bradley to create a separate state currency so the public must wonder if Tillis too believes the state needs to design and print its own money.
Then there’s the budget, the most important issue of all this session. The public is beginning to understand that there is no easy way to cut $2.4 billion without damaging public education and denying services to children and families who need them.
The more people realize what is at stake, the more they understand that campaign promises to balance the budget without ripping new holes in the safety net or hurting schools were simply disingenuous.
People around the state are now rallying to save early childhood programs, mental health services, and public education. At a recent meeting in Charlotte, parents told a group of Republican legislators that they would be willing to pay higher taxes to save teachers’ jobs and protect their children’s schools.
Republican Rep. Bill Brawley told them that was impossible because Republicans ran for office on a no tax increase pledge. They have also said that the pledge means they will not extend the temporary tax increases passed in 2009 to protect schools and services for the most vulnerable people in the state.
That’s what most likely behind much of the decline in Republican legislators’ approval numbers, that voters perceive they are more interested in keeping an absurd political pledge than keeping teachers in classrooms and preschool programs helping at risk kids. Add in the calls for a separate currency and the assault on the constitution and it’s a safe bet the buyer remorse will only grow.