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As the session winds down and the fundraising for 2014 begins, the pressure to move to the right will increase.

Who will rein in the General Assembly? 

Hey Sen. Goolsby, these Moral Monday protesters don't look like hippies.

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Hey Sen. Goolsby, these Moral Monday protesters don't look like hippies.

"Governor McCrory will be back out tomorrow throwing the baseball perhaps with children who share his All-American passion." —A statement from McCrory's press office

If you're waiting for "Mayor Pat" to show up to temper the aggressively partisan tone of the legislature, forget it.

Gov. McCrory's moderate alter ego, pined for in a recent Charlotte Observer op-ed, appears safely locked away. He may yet assert his independence from the Legislature with a veto or two late in the session, but if so, it'll more likely be the result of a turf battle and not an outrage over an injustice about to become law.

The idea of injustice does not appear to be resonating with the executive branch, which has dismissed those arrested at the General Assembly as "outsiders" even though only eight of the 388 jailed as of last Monday are from out of state. (It should be noted that some of them are natives who've returned to have their say.)

Further evidence McCrory is out of touch was the snide tone in a statement on the "ball-gate" incident: The governor was caught slipping out to toss a little baseball with his security team around the same time that a crowd of schoolkids was delivering a petition to the governor's mansion decrying cuts to education.

The clumsy response from McCrory's press office—quoted above—contained an unnecessary dig that seemed to imply that children concerned about issues such as increased class sizes are less American or not passionate about All-American pastimes.

The message to reject the hardline conservative agenda has been delivered via petitions, newspaper editorial pages and the sound of zip ties cinching the wrists of those arrested at the Legislative Building. But the Republicans aren't listening. If anything, the extra attention drawn to our state by the Moral Monday protests against the extreme policies of the Legislature is likely to harden right-wing positions.

The 2012 election, which handed the GOP the governorship and supermajorities in both chambers, happened in part through an act of faith by independents, conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans that it was time to purge the last of a tainted Democratic regime. They wanted to believe that McCrory's campaign talk of commonsense ideas wasn't just hot air, that for all the heated tea party rhetoric swirling around the legislative races, a pragmatic middle would emerge in Raleigh to run state government.

Unfortunately, instead we got one of the most politicized sessions in years, in which, with great efficiency, decades of policy development has been rolled over, repealed and replaced with untested and unvetted products straight from the bill shops at ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the Heritage Institute.

As the session winds down and the fundraising for 2014 begins, the pressure to move to the right will increase. In the heavily gerrymandered districts the GOP drew for themselves, the threat in a primary is from the right, where the Super PAC money resides.

Weaving political gamesmanship into the legislative process are House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who have openly positioned themselves for U.S. Senate runs. Tillis is scheduled to make it official this week and already has a Super PAC with an appropriately inspirational name: Grow NC Strong.

Berger, meanwhile, has been as coy as anyone with a 15-minute bio on YouTube can be. His appearance last month sans jacket in a slickly produced video explaining the Senate tax reform plan was about as close to a campaign commercial as you can get without an official committee.

In the race for the nomination to face Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, both gentlemen are polling in the single digits, running far behind 5th District U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, who is favored by both hardcore conservatives and nearly every Democratic consultant.

Democrats are counting on deeply conservative GOP primary voters to deliver a candidate that can't win statewide no matter how much money gets dumped on the race. From the looks of the field so far, Republicans will not disappoint. To protect their flanks in a potential Senate primary, Tillis and Berger continue to tack to the right, and with them, the chambers they lead.

In the final weeks of the session, the Senate, House and Mayor Pat's office are negotiating a compromise over remarkably similar budgets. The House stripped about 100 pages of special provisions the Senate wanted, but the bottom lines of all three iterations of the state spending plan vary by less than 1 percent.

A handful of major bills remain, including the final details on tax reform and fast-tracking the rules for fracking. But in the face of mounting protests and national scrutiny, this Legislature looks set to blow town.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Might makes right."

  • As the session winds down and the fundraising for 2014 begins, the pressure to move to the right will increase.

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