Such is the state of politics in North Carolina that the General Assemby's goings-on have already become fodder for scholarly exploration. In Southern Spaces – "an interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the U.S. South and their global connections" – Dan T. Carter, a University of South Carolina professor, offers up "North Carolina: A State of Shock."
In it, Carter assesses the current tumult in North Carolina government and the "hijacking of the state's political system." Yes, that's a reference to Art Pope. Carter says that he's frequently asked what's going on in North Carolina and that he responds that it's worse, much worse, than you think.
With almost no consultation from other groups, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce wrote the bill "reforming" the state's unemployment insurance program. While employers saw a modest increase in payments to the reserve fund ($3.40 per worker per month), three-fourths of the cost of restoring solvency came from cuts to the unemployed. In a series of measures eliminating or reducing benefits for 170,000 workers, the legislature slashed unemployment eligibility standards, cut benefit payments by more than a third, and reduced the length of eligibility to twelve weeks, the shortest time period in the nation. These measures caused North Carolina to become the only state in the nation to lose assistance from the federal Emergency Relief Program, payments that would have poured $780 million federal dollars into the hands of the unemployed and from there into the state economy.
What is unnerving is the willingness of large numbers of voters in North Carolina and across the nation to embrace the very policies which cause them so much pain. If there is any lesson to be learned from the last thirty years, it is the failure of trickle-down economic policies that benefit only the wealthiest Americans. Over the last twelve years, median income, a key indicator of middle class well-being, has declined seven percent.23 That growing inequality and insecurity seems to have strengthened the forces of hyperindividualism while weakening any sense of the possibility for collective action. But not entirely.
The payoff to Pope's long-range plans came in the off-year 2010 election when he and other wealthy donors spent $2.2 million targeting twenty-two Democratic incumbents in the state legislature. A modest sum in today's high-rolling political sweepstakes, these funds financed a barrage of slick, negative mass mailings that distorted and frequently misrepresented the positions of the targeted lawmakers. At least two were flagrantly racist. Only four of the incumbents survived and the Republicans, aided by a fired up Tea Party base and a lethargic Democratic turnout, took control of the legislature.
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