2017 – a year of fights. Because some things are worth fighting for and sometimes it’s just politics.
General Assembly v. Governor Cooper: even before he was elected, the Democrat Governor picked fights with the Republican legislature. He made their position on HB2 the flashpoint of his campaign, took it national and claimed economic damage (which never materialized). The bickering between the two went on and on – everything from redistricting to separation of powers and arguments over how NC conducts elections, even the state budget. Cooper vetoed 13 bills; NCGA overrode 10 of them. With an election in 2018, the highest ranking democrat in the state will pick more fights hoping to change the dynamics of the General Assembly for the 2019-20 session.
Repeal of HB 2 – after nearly a year of arguing whether grown men should be allowed to use the bathroom, shower or changing room designated for women, and even Governor Cooper recognized he’d gotten all the mileage he could out of trying to make Republicans look unreasonable, a compromise was struck and we were finally able to get back to talking about growing an economy, getting people back to work and continuing transformational reforms to make North Carolinians’ lives better. What we learned was people of North Carolina care about the economy, their job, their kids education and being able to enjoy their lives without undue regulation for government. Expect the momentum of transformational changes in taxes, limited government, fewer regulations, fiscal responsibility and focus on education and jobs to continue in 2018.
Raise the Age – North Carolina was the last state to prosecute and punish 16 and 17 yers olds as adults for lower level crimes. Raising the age legislation fixed that with lots of data indicating recidivism rates will go down, money and lives saved. Great example of what happens when all three branches of government and hundreds of interested parties work together (see #1). It opens the door to further criminal justice reforms, like recodifying NC’s criminal code and comprehensive prison reform.
Environmental concerns – Coal Ash cleanup continued to be an issue across the state as well as a newly recognized threat with GenX in the Cape Fear river area. This General Assembly is faced with addressing environmental issues that have been going on for decades. Finally attention to environmental questions is based on data, real threat and realistic clean-up costs. They repealed a silly ban of plastic bags in a few coastal counties that had done nothing to protect the environment, only raised the cost of doing business. The legislature will take action on GenX clean up early in 2018 and continue their measured and data driven approach to addressing environmental issues, despite hysteria and knee jerk reactions from whacky environmentalists.
Board of Governors in turmoil – Free speech on campus, accountability in funding, efficiency, lower tuition, moving their offices, challenging President Margaret Spellings. They eliminated a civil rights center on the UNC-Ch campus that had for decades been a misuse of public funds. The members of the board are not all in agreement and the push for change has been called disruptive and radical. Debate has been heated. They are not afraid to ask tough questions and challenge the status quo. In spite of, or because of the fights, the University system will be better for it.
Human trafficking – Due in part to great reporting by Carolina Journal, we all became aware of the horrors of human trafficking. It quickly became apparent, there are no quick fixes but raised the important questions about child care, foster care, addiction, public safety that are now being addressed. Legislation was passed to address these problems, but it was recognized that solutions are complex and there is no one bill fix. This is a multi-year, perhaps mulit-generational problem and one that can only be solved with everyone working together.
Opioid addiction crisis – It was recognized that North Carolina has one of the worst problems in the country. And like human trafficking, it is complicated and complex. It will take involving the medical community, improving mental health services, holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable, calling on law enforcement, and expecting personal responsibility are all part of the war on this crisis. The debate has raised the question of what is the most appropriate role for government. Important question, critical fight for 2018.
Redistricting again. And again. And again. Lawsuits continue to work their way through the courts. District lines are up in the air for legislative seats as the General Assembly awaits a decision on the special master’s drawn maps. Two important cases rest with the US Supreme Court. Ultimately the US Supreme Court needs to make the rules clear. Will they do it in 2018? With the next round of redistricting coming up after the 2020 census, they need to fix this 30 year old problem now. In the meantime, the redistricting battles between Republicans and Democrats (and they are both to blame) go on in NC and states across the country.
Alcohol reform – Increasing the purchase limit to 5 bottles for distilleries will allow the craft distilleries to grow. Allowing alcohol to be sold at 10:00 rather than noon on Sundays will help the tourism and restaurant industries. The proposal to increase the distribution threshold for craft breweries raised questions of fairness and free markets – an important discussion that is not over. All this talk about alcohol freedom raised the possibility of complete re-work of the ABC system, including privatizing it like many other states have done. The status quo will fight it.
DPI v. State Board of Education – Another fight ensued over who does what, who hires who and who actually controls education in NC. New Superintendent of Public Instruction went head to head with the State Board of Education. While they iron out their differences in Raleigh, kids across NC are seeing more options for an education that works best for them, parents get access to education savings accounts, and teacher salaries are now competitive. Pilot programs for increases in teacher pay based on performance and targeted help for low performing schools are underway, proving what’s really important is not in Board Rooms in Raleigh but in classrooms across North Carolina.
Can’t we all just get along in 2018? Maybe. Look for bi-partisan agreement on making prisons safer, reducing the cost of healthcare, cleaning up the criminal code, letting people work, ensuring educational opportunities, exploring telemedicine and online learning.
Happy New Year!