"Twas the night before New Year's
And all through the state,
Progressives were gnashing
Their teeth at their fate.
Oh, well. You know how the rest of it goes, down to when the Republicans exclaim, 'ere they take up the reins: "Happy New Year for us. For the rest of you: pains."
But I'm nothing if not a glass-half-full type of pundit, a believer in what turns out not to be an old Chinese proverb, namely that every crisis brings both danger and opportunity. (Perhaps someone in China made a mistake translating the phrase, "Some assembly required.")
The danger for our state is apparent as Gov.-elect Pat McCrory prepares to take his oath of office and add a Republican executive branch to a General Assembly controlled by his party. Stay tuned for Republican bills to privatize public education, repeal our puny renewable energy law, hack away at health care for the poor, and cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy under the guise of "reform."
Less apparent is the opportunity for progressives—some assembly on our part is definitely required.
Still, with no chance to influence what most of state government will be doing over the next two years, progressives are free to stake out a forward-looking platform and present it to the public in pristine form. No need to mince or trim.
Think of this as our Barack Obama 2004 moment, like when George W. Bush was re-elected and Obama sat down to write The Audacity of Hope.
In that spirit, I have three suggestions, three New Year's resolutions, if you will, to expose what the Republicans are up to—and show how we'd do better.
1. Use the voter ID law to find new voters.
The Republicans intend to pass a pernicious law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls. I second the motion by the bloggers at BlueNC.org that Democrats turn this attempt to suppress voter turnout into a campaign to register and equip 1 million voters, half of them new to the rolls, with whatever ID is required.
The Republicans want to discourage low-income and senior citizens who don't drive, knowing that if these folks do vote, they skew Democratic. Note to whoever wins the job of state Democratic chair: These folks, if they vote, skew Democratic. Resolve to see that they do.
2. Make the Medicaid fight about jobs.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare but left the states free to decline the law's mandate that they expand their Medicaid programs to cover all non-elderly low-income people. The expansion was intended to cover 17 million people, beginning in 2014, including some 488,000 in North Carolina. Enrollment was to begin this year.
Predictably, most Republicans governors are either opting out or threatening to do so. McCrory is noncommittal, but expect the Republican Legislature to say no if he doesn't.
Resolve, therefore, to act on the following numbers, which come from the nonprofit N.C. Budget & Tax Center. Medicaid expansion will cost North Carolina $830 million over the first six years. So no, it's not free to the states. But over the same period the federal share will be $15.5 billion—money that, if North Carolina opts out, will be left in Washington.
That's $15.5 billion worth of jobs for doctors, nurses, orderlies and other health-care workers in our state that would be lost. Not to mention the loss of better health care for the working poor.
3. Bring the sunshine to Duke Energy.
The merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy created a single corporate monopoly in North Carolina in charge of almost everything electric. Add the fact that McCrory was on the Duke Energy payroll, and our ability to influence what they do is nil, right?
Wrong! After decades of Democratic governors kowtowing to the utility companies, we now have the juiciest of targets in McCrory-Duke Inc. What's more, we have the best of reasons to take aim: Planetary survival.
As NC WARN's Jim Warren puts it, "The bigger they are, the better chance [Duke Energy has] of doing something smart about climate change." Something smart would be an all-out commitment to renewable energy sources (solar, wind, biomass) and energy conservation, while weaning North Carolina from reliance on fossil-fuel and nuclear plants that are frightfully expensive to build and maintain—the reason Duke/Progress is projecting rate hikes as far as the eye can see.
An added benefit of renewables: more jobs, and jobs sooner rather than, in the case of a nuclear plant, years from now, if ever.
Duke Energy's long-range plans call for little solar, less wind and almost no biomass. Meanwhile, Republican legislators are preparing to repeal Senate Bill 3, the 2007 law that imposed modest requirements on the utilities to get going on renewables.
Time to fight back. Duke Energy's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) can be rejected or modified by the state Utilities Commission, which for years has toed the corporate line but now must be challenged to act for the public good. Hearings on Duke's proposed 2013 IRP start in February. On Jan. 24, NC WARN and Greenpeace will offer a workshop for those who intend to take this on: 6:30 p.m. at the south branch of the Durham Public Library, 4505 Alston Ave.
While we're at it, let's resolve to tell McCrory that the new public staff director he names—the person who's supposed to represent our interests on utility issues—be someone with a public-interest background and communications skills. No offense to Robert Gruber, who's retiring after five six-year terms, but he hasn't exactly ignited public attention to these critical issues.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The darkest hour is just before dawn."