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The ultra-conservative agenda 

Legislative Preview

Ultra-conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity–NC and the John Locke Foundation, an arm of the Art Pope empire, have issued their marching orders for the 2011 legislative session.

Their agenda rolls back significant progressive and social justice advancements. Also notable are their references to a "constitutional amendment" in these proposals. That may sound like democracy in action, but the motivation behind these proposed public referenda is to make it more difficult to legally challenge these measures or to repeal them when the GOP falls out of power. Here are counterpoints to some of their agenda items.


Health care

The smokescreen: Pass Texas-style tort and lawsuit reform (AFP–NC)

Clearing the air: North Carolina turns up its nose at Texas barbecue and it should do the same for the Lone Star State's "health reforms." In 2003, Texas lawmakers passed a tort reform bill that capped noneconomic damages at a minuscule $250,000 for all doctors on a single case. Snookered by promises that the measure would mend the state's broken medical system, voters elected to enshrine it in the Texas constitution. Not surprisingly, malpractice rates decreased for doctors, but as the PBS NewsHour reported last year, the lower costs weren't necessarily passed on to consumers. So how has reform benefited the average Texan? The state has the third-fastest increase in health insurance premiums in the U.S. And the number of Texans without health coverage was 6.4 million last year, or 26.1 percent of all residents, up from 6.1 million in 2008, or 25.1 percent.


Labor

The smokescreen: Keep N.C. a "Right to Work" state; pass a constitutional amendment to protect workers' rights to secret ballot elections (AFP–NC)

Clearing the air: Republican lawmakers nationwide are vilifying unions as havens for greedy public employees. Fact: Many public employees earn less than $30,000 a year and they can't collectively bargain. As for secret ballots, the National Labor Relations Board announced earlier this month it plans to sue four states over constitutional amendments that prohibit private sector workers from choosing a union through a card check, according to The New York Times. Restricting the vote to secret ballots, unions say, allows companies to coerce employees at the workplace into voting against organizing. The NLRB contends these state amendments violate federal law. Fiscal conservatives should ask whether it's a judicious use of taxpayer funds for N.C. to legally defend itself on this amendment.


Elections

The smokescreen: Repeal taxpayer financing of political campaigns, protect free and political speech rights by deregulating campaign speech (AFP–NC, JLF)

Clearing the air: Money influences elections, so it's not surprising that AFP and JLF, which pour huge sums of cash into candidate coffers, want to hoard that power. In N.C., candidates for appellate and Supreme Court and Council of State can voluntarily publicly finance their campaigns. The money comes from a $50 assessment on attorneys in the state and from a voluntary $3 designation on the state income tax form. Publicly funded candidates build grassroots support from small donors, rather than relying on money from high-rolling special interest groups.

Speaking of which, in the 2010 elections, AFP spent $284,850 on 22 non-judicial races in N.C., according to an Institute for Southern Studies analysis. A Pope-funded venture, Civitas Action, spent another $196,272 on elections. Considering these sums, we're hearing Pope and his ilk loud and clear. They have a megaphone to the candidates' ears, and citizens have a tin can and a string.


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