One of the most common sights in North Carolina these days is a Republican member of the General Assembly trying to wriggle away from the responsibility for the damage caused by the budget they approved this summer.
Sen. Buck Newton is the latest budget slasher desperately trying to avoid any accountability. The budget that Newton and his Republican colleagues approved orders the Department of Public Instruction to decide which of the state’s three residential schools for blind and deaf students to close.
One of them, the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf, is in Newton’s hometown of Wilson.
The Wilson Times reported that speakers at an emotional public hearing there last week about the school’s possible closure included current students, family members, and local officials, including Gary Farmer, the former dean of students and a current member of the Wilson County Board of Education.
Farmer said it made him sick that the General Assembly had pitted the three residential schools against each other. That is exactly what lawmakers did.
Newton spoke too, saying that an earlier version of the budget would have closed the Wilson school instead of allowing a committee at DPI to decide. He pointed out that the school had low costs and said that he hoped the committee would take a “strong, hard look at the big picture.”
That presumably means not closing the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf and shuttering either the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton or the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh.
Maybe Sen. Newton thinks that the students and families in Morganton and Raleigh somehow won’t be affected by the decision to rip their lives apart to save the state a little money to pay for the Republicans’ tax cut.
Newton voted for the budget that will force one of the schools to close. So did Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican, who is now fighting to keep the school in Morganton open. Blackwell calls the school a “wonderful asset” to the community.
An honest look at the “big picture” Newton mentioned would raise the question of why any of the schools should be closed and families devastated.
The answer of course is that lawmakers like Newton and Blackwell were determined to cut taxes above all else. That was their priority, even if it meant closing schools for the deaf or blind, firing teachers, slashing services for victims of crime, even cutting funding for mosquito control that is so important to Eastern North Carolina.
They can’t claim they didn’t know what their budget would do. They put it together, voted for it, and are now busy defending it against the attacks by people who are just beginning to come to grips with the damage it is causing.
Their defense is generally to offer confusing talking points, attack Democrats, and simply refuse to acknowledge the reality of what the cuts mean in their own communities.
There’s a word for it, obfuscation, and we have it heard before from Republicans, back in June, when the House Republican Caucus accidentally left the microphones on in the room in which they were meeting and inadvertently broadcast their discussion to anyone who wanted to listen in.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam told his fellow Republicans at that meeting that only Rep. David Lewis should answer questions about certain provisions in the budget during the House floor debate because “David can obfuscate more than anybody I know.”
A lot of Republicans are obfuscating these days, Newton and Blackwell among them.
That’s a lot easier than telling families of children with disabilities the truth, that tax cuts were more important than helping their kids.