Five of the lowest lowlights of 2014

Five of the lowest lowlights of 2014

- in Weekly Briefing

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The Right’s most outrageous, you-can’t make-this-stuff-up moments of the past year 

With the arrival of the New Year, it’s suddenly awards season once again. The Oscars, the Grammys, the Golden Globes and countless other “ceremonies” will soon be gracing our TV screens in rapid succession and reminding us of all the fun stuff we missed (or paid limited attention to) during 2014 while we were obsessing about the sorry state of politics and public policy in North Carolina.

What better time, then, to pay homage to some of the people from this latter field — the people who put the “No” in North Carolina and who made the past year such a “joy” to cover and critique for the staff at N.C. Policy Watch? We’ll call them the “Arties” in honor of a certain extremely powerful conservative financier, former state budget director and aspiring UNC president.

“Most laughable claim of undeserved credit by a politician” – This is always a tough and highly competitive category, but the Arty for 2014 has to go to Lt. Governor Dan Forest. Forest, who is always a strong contender in any category related to outrageous statements and positions (see below) wins this year for the following December 31 claim on his website:

“Since Lt. Governor Forest took office, North Carolina unemployment figures have dropped 3 full percentage points. 98 of our 100 counties saw their unemployment rates go down last year. Our state has added 176,000 new jobs, paid back $2 billion of inherited debt, lowered the corporate income tax and cut the individual income tax rate for every taxpayer in the state.

North Carolina went from having the 5th highest unemployment rate and the 44th best business tax climate in the country, to being named by Forbes Magazine and Site Selection Magazine as having the 3rd best overall business climate in the country.”

Setting aside the nonsensical nature of many of these supposed advances (e.g. North Carolina was rated highly by Forbes and Site Selection long before Forest ever took office) the not-so-subtle implication by Forest that he – one of the least powerful and least influential elected officials in the state — is somehow responsible for any of the changes described is, laugh-out-loud, Stephen Colbert funny.

“Most offensive performance by a politician attempting to gin up his base through shameless pandering” – This is another highly competitive category, but for 2014, no one in North Carolina deserves the Arty more than Governor Pat McCrory. The Guv cinched the award with his down and dirty fear mongering on the influx of refugee children that hit the U.S. this past summer. As we observed at the time, the Governor was at once mean-spirited, dishonest and incomprehensible.

Not only did he make the absurd and obviously false claim that the influx of a few hundred children would have a “huge” and “permanent” impact on the state, he then tried to have things both ways by professing concern that the kids might end up in the worlds of drugs and prostitution (which he proposed to address by sending them back to their broken homelands!).

Ultimately, the transparent complaints from McCrory and five other conservative governors were even too much for arch-conservative columnist George Will, who told Fox News:

“The idea that we can’t assimilate these eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.”

Needless to say, though McCrory failed to get his way, the state has somehow survived the last six months.

“Most graceless and wasteful effort to ignore reality and undermine the basic rule of law – The Arty in this category goes to the team of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and former House Speaker/newbie U.S. Senator Thom Tillis for their refusal to accept the decision of the federal judiciary on the question of marriage equality.

Channeling their inner George Wallaces, Berger and Tillis attempted to challenge/circumvent/defy a binding appellate court ruling by intervening in the matter after the Fourth Circuit had ruled and calling on a state agency whose funding they oversee to not enforce the law. Happily, the federal district courts did their duty and so did the Administrative Office of the Courts.

As Chris Fitzsimon wrote in October:

“It makes you wonder what’s next for the anti-equality two. Will they stand in front of a register of deeds office next week doing their best George Wallace imitation, shouting marriage discrimination today, marriage discrimination tomorrow, marriage discrimination forever?

Sorry guys. Marriage equality is coming to North Carolina, sooner rather than later. And an end to employment discrimination is coming too, no matter how hard you demagogue and protest and waste our money fighting it.”

Honorable mention: Lt. Gov. Forest, who stopped just short of a call for secession in response to the marriage equality rulings, Congressman Robert Pittenger who attempted to defend firing LGBT people because of who they are as an “American freedom” and soon-to-be House Speaker Tim Moore, who has plugged right in in recent days by defending his past anti-LGBT statements and actions.

“Most cruel and destructive policy decision” – This is the most crowded category in this year’s Arties with contestants in the area of tax policy, public school privatization, Rube Goldberg teacher pay plans, failure to address the state’s looming coal ash crisis, predatory lending and many others. But the clear winner is the ongoing refusal to deny decent and affordable health care to hundreds of thousands of struggling North Carolinians by refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Not only is this nonsensical decision threatening the health and lives of thousands of people, it’s taking a terrible and unnecessary toll on the state’s economy and fiscal health. As health policy expert Adam Linker reported last month:

“North Carolina lost out on billions of dollars and thousands of jobs by refusing to close the Medicaid coverage gap in 2014 and 2015. If the state acts in 2016, however, we can recoup some lost ground by covering 500,000 more people. Such a move would create 43,000 new jobs by 2020 and reap $1 billion in tax revenue for the state and counties. Closing the coverage gap would save the state budget more than $300 million by 2020.

Sadly, however, while Gov. McCrory continues to make optimistic noises about following the lead of numerous other GOP governors and righting this disastrous wrong, at this point, he’s shown exactly zero capability to force the state Senate to do anything its hardline leadership opposes. And for now, the boss senators appear irreversibly opposed. 

And finally, the Arty for the “Most certifiably loony explanation of North Carolina’s political history” goes to our good friends over at the Pope-Civitas Institute. The Pope-Civitas people put out a lot of troubling and nonsensical information in 2014 — whether it was brandishing assault weapons in an online staff photo, falsely blaming Kay Hagan for a cut-off in federal unemployment insurance benefits, fabricating from whole cloth the supposed cost of implementing the Moral Mondays agenda or scurrilously claiming that “[Rev. William] Barber’s morality is based on government violence.”      

That said, the group outdid itself in May when it distributed an essay claiming that the modern progressive movement in North Carolina is rooted in the white supremacy movement of a century ago because both had/have numerous connections to the Democratic Party.

As we noted at the time:    

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at such absurdly vacuous “analysis” that crudely elevates fungible labels like “Democrat,”  “Republican,” “conservative,” “progressive” and “liberal” over the reality of human behavior. That the argument is advanced by a group that championed repeal of the Racial Justice Act, whose community all but worships one of the 20th Century’s most infamous and unrepentant race-baiting politicians and that has close ties to the people who attacked a modern day progressive white politician by distributing a photo of him with darkened skin and wearing a photo-shopped sombrero makes it all the more pathetic.

Suffice it to say that if the racist “Democrats” of 1898 were somehow able to return to life in 2014 North Carolina, they’d have no trouble figuring out where to fit into the modern policy debate.

Happy New Year, everyone! Competition for the 2016 Arties is already underway so stay tuned!