NC legislators about to put an exclamation mark on one of the worst sessions in state history

October 17, 2023 6:00 am
the North Carolina Legislative Building

The North Carolina Legislative Building – Photo: Clayton Henkel.

The 2023 session of the North Carolina General Assembly could be rightfully categorized as one of the worst in modern state history based merely upon what lawmakers failed (or chose not) to accomplish.

Topping any list of such failures would be the destructive and blatantly lawless decision to ignore the state constitution and a state Supreme Court order by failing once again to even adequately fund the state’s public schools. At a time of desperate needs and massive state budget surpluses that would have made complying with the detailed recommendations of a court-appointed expert almost pain free, GOP legislative leaders chose instead to double down on their longstanding policy of disinvesting in traditional public schools and funneling cash to unaccountable and discriminatory private schools.

The negative reverberations from this cruel and shortsighted decision (and the chronic educator shortages and crumbling facilities to which it will give rise), will harm the lives and futures of tens of thousands of children – particularly in the state’s poorest counties – for years to come.

But there were many similar errors of omission.

Throughout state government, massive and debilitating staff shortages spurred by absurdly inadequate pay and lousy working conditions went almost completely unaddressed. Whether it’s environmental protection, adult prisons, juvenile justice, health and human services – or any number of other agencies – core public services and structures and their frequently overwhelmed and heroic employees will continue to try to operate on a worn and frayed shoestring.

Meanwhile, thanks to the failure to maintain or enact responsible fiscal policies, wealthy North Carolinians and large and highly profitable corporations will continue to evade their collective duty to fund the public structures that do so much to make their soaring wealth possible.

And sadly, as long as the list of destructive omissions has been this year, the list of destructive acts of commission was probably even longer. The list includes, among many other things:

But wait, it gets worse.

GOP leaders are now, by all indications, preparing to place an exclamation mark on the 2023 session in the coming days by ramming through new, secretly crafted bills to redraw and further gerrymander the state’s legislative and congressional districts.

This action will take place just a few weeks before the candidate filing period for the March primary which commences the week after Thanksgiving.

Think about that for a moment.

The act of running for office – either the U.S. House or the General Assembly ought to be something that’s thoroughly and carefully considered by anyone who chooses to do so. In any sane scenario, candidates should also know the district that they seek to represent and the people that live there.

But the impending situation in North Carolina will all but ensure that nothing like that takes place in multiple districts. Rather than having months to contemplate and prepare their candidacies (as would have been possible had GOP leaders commenced the redistricting process at the beginning of the year and conducted it in a timely, open, and transparent way) the coming weeks will give rise to a chaotic mad dash full of confusion and, in all likelihood, litigation.

It’s a process that will be used to keep aspiring Democratic party candidates in the dark as long as possible and further enhance the power and influence of national dark money donors as campaigns that ought lift up local issues will end up hinging more on what voters think about President Biden and Donald Trump.

And perhaps most sadly and not coincidentally, it’s a process that’s likely to strengthen the stranglehold on power of the current legislative leadership and set the stage for another regressive legislative session in 2024.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.