The day after and the battle ahead

By: - September 1, 2005 9:00 am

The day after the Senate passed the lottery, Governor Mike Easley signed it into law in the glow of the television lights and then things returned to normal in Raleigh. The House ignored Easley and House Speaker Jim Black and bowing to the wishes of the NRA, and a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that North Carolina is making little progress in fighting poverty.

House members defeated a bill to change a recently passed law that requires court personnel to tell victims of domestic violence how to get a permit for a concealed weapon. Easley signed the bill Saturday over the objection of advocates for victims of domestic violence, but promised that the General Assembly would change it with the support of Speaker Black.

It was clear the bill was in trouble as the debate unfolded, with the NRA lobbyist exhorting lawmakers to vote no with exaggerated thumbs down gestures from the public gallery above.  Easley’s promised fix was defeated and now it is official state policy to encourage victims of domestic violence to carry a concealed handgun, adding a deadly weapon to an already emotionally charged situation. 

The powerful gun lobby wins again, reminding us all how things get done in Raleigh, with money and influence and political threats.  That makes it easier to understand why the fight against poverty in North Carolina is such an uphill struggle. No advocate for the poor lords over the House chamber with guiding gestures backed up by campaign contributions and a sophisticated political machine.

The census figures show that 15 percent of people in the state live below the now absurdly low federal poverty line, $12,830 a year for a single mother and her child.  That means thousands more families can’t make ends meet. More than 16 percent of the state’s population has no health insurance, forced to gamble that they won’t get sick because they can’t afford to pay for insurance.

These figures are no surprise. The state’s politicians have heard them and ignored them before. This year the response was to not make them worse, and the talking points from legislative leaders cite the decision not to cut services to the blind and disabled as an accomplishment.

Easley responded to critics of the tactics used to pass the lottery by telling the Insider “If you lose the game, you complain about the referees. If you lose an election, you complain about the process.” 

Pretty cavalier for a man who tried to pressure Senators to reject a request to help an ailing colleague have his vote recorded.  But Easley’s remarks also ought to be a rallying cry for advocates for the poor, many of whom opposed the regressive lottery that makes Easley so proud.

Easley is right. We must complain about the process. The same energy that prevented the state from establishing a lottery for 23 years can now be turned to reforming the process that allowed the lottery to pass and that allows the NRA lobbyist to control the House from his seat in the gallery above them. 

Until that process is reformed, those census figures on poverty and health care aren’t likely to change much.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066