In the year Barack Obama won his second term as president, and the death knell was sounded for the Tea Party, the ideological warfare was won handily by Republicans in the state of North Carolina. Not only is the state legislature firmly in the hands of Republicans, both in the Senate and the House, the state mansion is also occupied by a Republican, Pat McCrory. The Republicans' motto in 2013 seems to be: "Let the power grab begin in North Carolina!"
That is precisely what Bill Rabon, a Republican State Senator from Southport, a charming city in the coastal region of the state, intended with State Bill 10. If passed, it would gut and/or eliminate existing state boards and commissions, including the state Utilities Commission, the Industrial Commission, the Coastal Resources Commission, which had been well-balanced so far between the different parties and interest groups, and populate them with appointees by the governor and the Republican legislature, even if the terms have not yet expired. (I have written about McCrory's view of higher education in the state here.) It would also eliminate 12 judgships.
Rabon introduced State Bill 10 on January 31, which started out seemingly innocuous with only 3 pages, that would eliminate some commissions that have either fulfilled their legislative mandate, were duplicates, or had become obsolete. By Feb. 5, however, it had grown to 13 pages and called for a thorough overhaul, if not total elimination, of these selected boards. On Wednesday, the bill was on a fast track to the House after passing two readings in the Senate. Thom Goolsby, a Republican State Senator from the adjacent district (I have also written about him here many times), was one of the sponsors. It targets especially the environmental boards and, if passed, not only would it gut the commissions overseeing the state's environment, it would also eliminate the clause that would prohibit those who have financial interests in any project to be exempted from being appointed to boards and commissions. It is also interesting to note that Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for 29 years.
Rabon is not apologetic or abashed about what the purpose of his bill is. In his own words, the purpose of the bill is that the McCrory administration should "begin to wield its power right away." Moreover, he said unabashedly that the Bill would allow the governor and to appoint people "who are more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration."
This leaves the rest of the state unhappy to say the least. "This is quite breathtaking in scope," said Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, about the bill. "This is injecting politics into boards and commissions where it is unnecessary. In fact, it's detrimental to the state and to the people," he continued. Environmental organizations, such as Stop Titan Action Network, have already condemned the bill. Wilmington Star News has published an editorial on February 6, condemning these rapid changes and warning that this tactic may backfire. Wilmington is on the Southeastern coast of of North Carolina and depends heavily on tourism for revenue. The impact of the potential passage of this bill would have an especially great environmental effect on the entire region in terms of pollution.
All of McCrory's and the Republican agenda seem to be on a fast track. On Wednesday a bill sailed through the North Carolina legislature that would create new high school graduation requirements focused on vocational training. The measure went through without opposition and will head for a seemingly quick vote in the Senate. The bill directs education officials to develop curriculum so that high school diplomas will carry new seals endorsing the graduate as "career ready," "college ready" or both, depending on the courses students complete. McCrory's comments on higher education have been in the news lately, and this kind of attempt to track students is of no surprise to many in higher education.
The question in many people's minds is this: is this fast track power grab going to spell success or doom for the state Republicans? Many others fear, however, these changes are coming too fast and may be unstoppable in the new political landscape in which North Carolinians find themselves.