After a crazy 2013 in North Carolina politics, what will 2014 bring? It's an election year with a U.S. Senate race plus whatever new lunacies come out of the General Assembly. Naturally, I consulted my friend Theo Sophical, who is something of a seer. Here's what he foresaw.
January: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest presents his promised plan to make North Carolina's teachers the best paid in the nation. They're close to the bottom now, averaging $46,000 a year, and to push past New York State, which is No. 1, would require raises of almost $28,000 each—but only if you're thinking in dollars. Let's give every teacher a street, Forest says, and they can charge a toll. Or an acre of state parkland, maybe with a camouflage vest and a duck call?
Anyway, Forest says his new compensation plan will require no tax increase. Of course not: He's a Republican. But won't Art Pope, the state budget director, expose the flaws in Forest's formulation? No, because Pope is about to resign.
Pope's departure allows Gov. Pat McCrory, also a Republican, to call a press conference to denounce Democrat Frank Eaton's depiction of him as a felt-covered cartoon character. "I'm not Puppet Pat anymore," McCrory says.
February: More than 20,000, a record, come out for the 8th annual HK on J march in Raleigh on Feb. 8, led by the Rev. William Barber. Barber is president of the state NAACP and leader at the Moral Monday protests. He's turning up the heat on the Republicans who control state government. They coddle the rich. Barber demands justice—and work—for the poor.
McCrory tries to mingle with the HK on J crowds, but they were so impolite, he says—busy stuffing themselves with doughnuts. Apparently he mistook them for the runners in the 10th annual Krispy Kreme Challenge.
March: In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the Rev. Mark Harris, a Charlotte preacher and former head of the State Baptist Convention, slams the front-runner, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, for taking campaign contributions from the laundered proceeds of a criminal gambling enterprise. True. "Gambling is the devil's playground," Harris thunders.
Harris, best known for his role in the anti-gay Amendment One campaign of 2012, also makes a play for the tea party vote, ripping Tillis for his coziness with corporations and the rich. Stealing a page from Occupy Wall Street, Harris endorses a tax on all financial transactions to repay the public for bailing out the banks.
Incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, wishes she could say things like that. But she's a moderate, so she can't.
April: With the General Assembly returning in May, Democrats unveil their legislative agenda. They call for a raise in the minimum wage, a public works fund for job-producing energy conservation projects and a pay raise for teachers and state employees, paid for by repealing the 2013 Republican tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
Republicans are split. Some realize that they can't keep pounding teachers and be re-elected. Others, though, love pounding teachers so. And the GOP can't bring itself to repeal that $500 million-a-year tax cut, so there's not much in the till for raises.
May: The May 6 Republican primary produces a runoff. Tillis finishes first, but despite his enormous spending advantage, he falls short of the 40 percent mark to win outright. Harris finishes second and quickly wins endorsements from the other three candidates.
June: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger dominates the 2014–15 budget, which results in a 3 percent raise for teachers but cuts to other school aid. Local school districts are left to choose between teacher layoffs or property tax hikes. State employees are stiffed again.
As the session ends, the Republicans make a deal with the city of Raleigh that allows the Dorothea Dix park plan to move forward. Raleigh keeps its lease but pays more; the extra money goes into escrow for the park. State Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, claims credit. Republican attacks on the Dix lease are one reason Hunt's re-election is in jeopardy.
July: Harris, uniting the far-right Republicans, defeats Tillis. Hagan is thus deprived of the chance to run against Tillis and the General Assembly's radical record. On the other hand, contributions from establishment sources pour into Hagan's campaign.
August: The Moral Monday movement is morphing into an election-season campaign to turn out the vote in November. It's an off-year election when turnout usually drops, but Republican attacks on education, the environment, the unemployed, women and voting rights are deeply unpopular. And Operation Jumpstart, Democracy North Carolina's project to get people registered and to the polls, is in full flight.
September: Wait, Obamacare is a hit? With 7 million Americans having purchased health insurance on the federal or state exchanges—most at low, subsidized rates—the only question now is why some states still refuse to accept 100 percent federal funding for Medicaid expansion.
States, that is, like North Carolina, where McCrory and Harris continue to cry "Never!" to upward of $2 billion a year in federal money to pay hospitals, doctors and health care providers.
October: The Hagan-Harris race is the most-watched, most expensive Senate race in the country. Shadowy groups like "Americans for America" are behind an avalanche of TV attack ads forecasting end times if Hagan wins. Anti-Harris ads paid for by Democratic donors are slightly less frequent and incendiary.
November: Wake County delivers a massive verdict for the Democrats. Along with a Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) landslide, it's enough to re-elect Hagan and knock six Wake Republicans—including Sen. Hunt—out of the General Assembly. (The others: Barringer, Barefoot, Fulghum, Malone and Murry).
Democrats win control of the Wake County Board of Commissioners and promise a referendum in 2015 on a ½-cent sales tax for transit.
Republicans still hold the N.C. Senate and House, but their veto-proof margins are gone—cut in half.
December: McCrory resigns for personal reasons. What they are, he won't say, but it's clear he was having no fun.
Forest, his replacement, wears a camouflage vest to work.
And you thought Duck Dynasty was weird?
This article appeared in print with the headline "It gets better."