“People are reluctant to hire me, because, ‘oh my gosh, he’s a bigot’ – which is the last thing I am.”
I’ve taught at a university in North Carolina for 30 years, and resided there for nearly 20 of them.
When I arrived there in 1987, the prototypical Southern racist politician, Jesse Helms, ruled the North Carolina roost. For a Brit, Helms was a shocker (or “shoker” as the current inhabitant of the White House spells it in his tweets).
The old brute was a Republican US senator for 30 years (1973-2003). Helms was thought to be inimitable, but his political playbook is now well-used by Republican pols in the south: hampering opposition to Jim Crow laws, opposing disability rights (even though he used a mobility scooter towards the end of his time in the Senate), as well as women’s and gay rights, affirmative action, access to abortions, and wanting the abolition of the National Endowment for the Arts (currently on Trump’s agenda).
Helms’s campaign ads were openly racist, and voting machines in heavily Democratic areas— primarily Chapel Hill and Durham– somehow had a way of failing on election days, as did the phones in the campaign offices of his opponent.
Ole Jesse left little to chance when it was time for voters to cast their ballots.
North Carolina has an overall conservative tilt, but unlike other southern states, it does have several significant liberal enclaves.
Chapel Hill and Durham have already been mentioned in this regard, but also to be acknowledged here is Asheville (“the Berkeley of the east”), where there isn’t a single Republican at all levels of government from the city council to its state-legislature representatives– an astonishing state of affairs for a city in the American south.
A former student who is a friend, Asheville-bred and born, and I drank a toast to this on my last visit there.
The presence of these patchy but important non-Republican constituencies has enabled North Carolina to be a swing state in recent presidential elections.
The NC House of Representatives is however so solidly Republican these days that its super-majorities have allowed Republicans to override a gubernatorial veto since 2013.
The override of a gubernatorial veto was not really needed until 2017, because the Tea-Party leaning Republican Pat McCrory took office in 2013— McCrory and his fellow Republicans in NC’s General Assembly saw eye-to-eye on every issue (except for a cosmetic increase in teachers’ salaries, with the Republicans in the GA being uniformly hostile to teachers and public education, while the governor saw no advantage in having NC’s teachers in a state of uproarious dissatisfaction come election time).
In 2016 McCrory lost his bid for a second term to the Democrat Roy Cooper, but by then a great deal of damage had been done, and will continue to be done because of the continuing Republican super-majority in the state legislature.
The Republican ascendency in NC’s legislative politics is due in significant part to the efforts of Art Pope, a North Carolinian lawyer and businessman who is a friend of the Koch brothers.
Pope almost matches the Kochs when it comes throwing vast amounts of cash at his political causes. According to the Huffington Post, “In North Carolina, he has invested approximately $55 million through his family’s foundation into a constellation of think tanks and advocacy groups”.
Pope backed Republican candidates in the 2010 elections for the NC General Assembly. $30 million was spent on NC races overall in the 2010 election, of which Pope’s company donated approximately $425,000 to Republican candidates, while groups tied to Pope spent $2.1 million on NC campaigns.
(The IRS has not yet released data on Pope’s contributions to Republicans in the 2016 elections.)
The 2010 election was significant because it laid the ground for massive electoral gerrymandering by the Republicans. Pope, who has a Duke law degree, was one of the architects of this, serving pro bono as a legal adviser when the Republicans redrew NC’s electoral map to enable the state’s US House delegation to flip from 7-6 Democratic to 9-4 Republican.
McCrory rewarded Pope for his efforts by making him his budget director when he became governor in 2013. McCrory was the first Republican governor since 1993, and only the third in the last 40 years. With the General Assembly also in the hands of his party, Republicans had complete control of the state government for the first time since 1870.
Pope duly embarked on the customary Republican fiscal agenda: tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, cuts in higher education, no expansion of Medicaid, reducing unemployment benefits, abolishing NC’s earned-income tax credit, reductions in funding for disaster and emergency relief (this though had to be reversed when Hurricane Matthew struck eastern North Carolina), repeal of NC’s estate tax, among a host of budget “balancing” measures.
With the budget in Pope’s hatchet-wielding hands, McCrory and his fellow Republicans in the legislature were able to implement other strands of the GOP’s agenda, such as voter suppression, opposition to Obamacare, restricting access to abortion, awarding a Spanish company a 50-year contract to put a toll lane on I-77, weakening environmental regulations, criminalizing the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, and putting a brake on the expansion of solar energy.
McCrory has always had close ties with the fossil-fuel industry. According to The Center for Public Integrity:
For 29 years, McCrory worked for the state’s largest utility [Duke Energy], an economic powerhouse that has been steeped in controversy after a devastating coal ash spill in 2014. And Duke Energy is one of the top donors to McCrory’s biggest advertising supporter, the Republican Governors Association, which seeks to elect GOP governors nationwide. (Duke Energy has also contributed to the Democratic Governors Association but has given the RGA three times more money in the past five years, according to Internal Revenue Service records.)
McCrory and the NC General Assembly achieved their greatest notoriety, however, when they passed a highly controversial bill– HB2 or the so-called “bathroom bill” – which reduced legal safeguards against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and which required transgender persons to use public restrooms in conformity with the gender listed on their birth certificates.
The ensuing furore over HB2 saw the cancellation of conferences, concerts, and tournaments scheduled for NC venues (this included the NBA All-Star game), corporations shelving their plans for expansion in the state, and economic and other boycotts.
Forbes estimates that HB2 has cost the state $630m.
It also almost certainly cost McCrory his reelection in 2016, as he became the first sitting governor to lose their bid for a second term in North Carolina history.
The NC gubernatorial election was on November 8, 2016, and McCrory’s Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, claimed victory that night, after leading by fewer than 5000 votes with thousands of provisional ballots still to be counted.
Unable to accept defeat, McCrory hung on to the posts of the doorway to the governor’s mansion until he had no fingernails left.
He refused to concede, casting doubt on the validity of 90,000 votes from Durham County (a Democratic stronghold) which arrived late, thereby giving Cooper his lead.
On November 22, 2016, McCrory requested a statewide recount– NC election law permits a gubernatorial candidate to seek a recount if the margin is fewer than 10,000 votes once the vote-count has been completed.
On November 30, 2016, the NC State Board of Elections ordered a recount of the disputed ballots in Durham County.
McCrory’s campaign also filed complaints alleging voter fraud in over 50 counties. Members of the State Board of Elections were appointed by McCrory himself, and they in turn appointed the local election boards. None backed-up the fraud allegations to McCrory’s satisfaction—a few felons and dead people had voted here and there, but that was all.
When results of the recount indicated that the margin wouldn’t change by much, McCrory finally conceded to Cooper on December 5, 2016, nearly a month after the election.
After conceding defeat, McCrory still had enough in him for one final piece of knavery. During a special session of the state legislature, officially to discuss hurricane relief, a suddenly-introduced measure to reduce the power of the North Carolina governorship was passed, and the lame-duck McCrory signed it into law immediately.
The legislators and McCrory clearly wanted to hamstring his Democratic successor. However, their measure, enacted with unseemly haste in breach of statutes, has since been blocked by the courts.
So, Pat McCrory is now looking for a job. Alas for him, no one seems want to touch the former governor with a barge pole.
Interestingly enough, so far he’s not even been offered gainful employment by Art Pope in any of the latter’s numerous enterprises, despite having done the bidding of the man with the bags upon bags of money.
Therein must lie a (cautionary) tale.
But Pat, in his wailing over not being able to get a proper job after he lost the governorship, still does not seem to have received the message.
Anyone “losing” $630 million on behalf of X (a US state, firm, bank, university endowment, sports team, whatever) may not have too many people knocking on their door with a job offer.
And if they are a bigot to boot…