Today, there are a million North Carolinians out of work. Hundreds are dead, tens of thousands are sick, and the ghastly toll of the COVID-19 disaster has scarcely begun to be calculated. We know some things for sure: thousands are going to die, many of them our parents and grandparents. The trauma — economic, psychological and otherwise — from this crisis will linger for decades.
And at this defining moment in our state’s history, the Republican majority in the NC General Assembly decided to have some good laughs.
As pictured in photos from the News & Observer, in the recent General Assembly session focused on COVID-19 relief, Republicans in the legislature were all smiles. They high-fived and took pictures, complete with bunny ears, to congratulate themselves on passing a small relief measure.
One of the few Republican members who bothered to wear a mask was Rep. David Lewis — except that his was a plastic replica of Darth Vader’s, which he wore while playing the “Imperial March” music from Star Wars.
Rep. Michael Speciale was captured in full-dress colonial costume on the House floor, complete with powdered wig, to protest the Governor’s stay-at-home order. One wonders if the Representative notorious for his avid pursuit of voting restrictions grasps the irony of donning the costume of protesters angry at being denied representation.
This is simply not the behavior of serious policymakers working on behalf of the people. Instead, it’s a telling sign of the sad state North Carolina’s leadership — indeed, our democracy — is in.
The childish, theatrical antics of the Republican majority are those of a party who won fewer votes than their opponents in 2018. After winning a clear majority of votes in the last election, not only did Democrats not win a majority in the legislature — they only barely broke the Republican supermajority. It turns out, gerrymanders work. Since the Republican gerrymander in 2011, a majority of legislative districts simply aren’t very competitive at all anymore. This means that a large number of Republican legislators have never faced a real challenge. That’s how you get Darth Vader and bunny ears instead of a focus on lifting North Carolina out of a crisis.
As devastating as COVID-19 has been to everyone, it has proven especially lethal to North Carolina’s Black community. Black citizens represent less than a quarter of the population, but more than a third of both COVID infections as well as deaths. Combined with a historical legacy of unequal access to state services, healthcare and opportunity, the Black community is reeling from the impact of COVID-19. This makes the casual response by the Republican majority, which has not a single legislator of color, all the more galling.
Even before this crisis, we had no shortage of reminders that gerrymandering and racist voter disenfranchisement has very real consequences on our daily lives. It’s why more than a million North Carolinians lack affordable healthcare, while citizens of other states can access expanded Medicaid coverage. It’s a big reason why over half of North Carolina teachers must hold second jobs to make ends meet. It’s why every single issue, even as basic as passing a state budget, is held hostage in exchange for more and more corporate tax cuts, even while our state withers.
These problems, COVID included, are not unsolvable. But they require restoring accountability to the
legislature. Remember how Darth Vader’s reign worked out in the end. Will North Carolina follow suit?
The Long Leaf Pine Slate is dedicated to breaking the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly. Learn more about us at LongLeafPineslate.org and follow us on Twitter at @ForwardCarolina.
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