Before North Carolina can call for limits on the power of the federal government, it has some homework to do.
A group of Republican state legislators in North Carolina on Tuesday introduced a bill that would, if passed, establish a committee to study whether the state should apply to Congress for a “convention of the states” under Article V of the Constitution.
The convention the lawmakers have in mind would propose amendments imposing “fiscal restraints” on the federal government, limiting its “power and jurisdiction” as well as the “terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.”
The bill’s four primary sponsors are state Reps. Bert Jones, Chris Millis, Dennis Riddell, and Jim Fulghum — all Republicans. The bill itself, the text of which is only a page long, argues that the federal government has “created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending,” “invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative process of federal mandates,” and “ceased to exist under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.”
Alma Adams, a long-time Democratic state representative and arts educator, is all-but-certainly going to be a Congresswoman. But due to a cost-saving move by her state’s governor, her first partial term may well be over before she gets sworn-in.
Back in January, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) announced that he would hold the special elections to replace Federal Housing Finance Agency director Mel Watt as U.S. Representative for the majority-minority 12th Congressional District on the same days as the already established primary, primary runoff, and general election dates. McCrory said this move would save the state “in excess of $1 million” — the estimated cost of holding stand-alone special elections — and would be “the most efficient process” to comply with “the various filing deadlines, ballot preparation time, state and federal calendar requirements for ballot access, [and] voter registration deadlines.” When critics, including the North Carolina NAACP, noted that this would leave the district unrepresented until November at the earliest, the governor responded that “not much goes on in Washington between July and the election anyway.”
It was a particularly revelatory bit of television, and it is one that you should keep in mind because, today, you are going to hear a great deal about how the fact that Tillis won the Republican primary last night was a victory for the Republican “establishment,” because Tillis defeated a genuine whackaloon named Greg Brannon, who had been backed by Tea Party Republicans and by dudebro superstar Senator Aqua Buddha of Kentucky. This interpretation of the results depends vitally on two propositions that are undermined by the very election that is supposed to validate them.
Point The First: As regards the issues, there is no Republican “Establishment” any more. This is because the notion of a Republican Establishment requires that there be at least an occasional flirtation with moderation and there are no Republican moderates any more. (It also requires that there be at least an occasional flirtation with reality, but I don’t expect miracles here.) Tillis is a perfect example. Not only has he presided over a legislative body that is extreme in the legislation it passes, but Tillis himself has signed aboard the “personhood” crusade on reproductive rights, and he has resolutely stood in opposition to marriage equality. The difference between Tillis and Brannon, in terms of what their campaigns say about what they’d do if they were elected, is solely based on the theory that Brannon was so far off the wall that Tillis could be positioned by the media as being a moderate. The goalposts, by now, probably can be found on Mars.
Point The Second: As regards the politics, there is no Republican party any more. There is merely a universe of powerful conservative institutions, each of them with their independent sources of income and power, and none of them under the effective control of the formal party apparatus. They operate on their own imperatives, and they support whoever they want to support, regardless of what Mitch McConnell or obvious anagram Reince Priebus thinks about what they’re doing. Because, within the party, the gamut of positions on most issues runs from A to A, these independent institutions can simply line up behind the candidate whom they feel is more electable, since they can rest easily knowing that their interests are covered by whomever is elected. Brannon was more easily cast as a crackpot, so those institutions decided that Tillis could be elected. Nothing about him is remotely risky.
As should be obvious from the video, Tillis is as blackhearted a reactionary as one currently expects a champion of modern conservatism to be. He will be central to the attempt to recreate the newly insane state legislature of the newly insane state of North Carolina on a national basis. This should puzzle no one. The long game of corporatized, radically extreme Republican politics is coming down to the final moves. Nothing — and certainly not the nomination of “Establishment” hero Thom Tillis — can stop that now.
A marquee Senate race pitting Democrat Kay Hagan against whichever Republican emerges from next Tuesday’s crowded primary is getting all the attention in North Carolina, boosting voter interest and turnout. At the same time, significant sums of money, totaling $1 million at last count, are flowing into the state to affect the outcome of a judicial primary, “usually a pretty sleepy enterprise,” says Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan group that monitors judicial elections.
Money buys airtime, and across North Carolina on 10 stations, incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat, is labeled in a television ad “not tough on child molesters.” That’s based on her dissent in a narrowly decided 4-3 ruling that said satellite monitoring of some sex offenders was not a new punishment, which would be unconstitutional, even though it did not exist at the time of their offense.
“This is a way of trying to bully the bench,” says Brandenburg. “Nasty campaign ads send a message to judges that as they make rulings on controversial cases, they may get ads against them down the line, and that’s not what they should be thinking about. They’re supposed to focus on facts and the law.”
Now North Carolina is ground zero in the partisan battles, but just a few years ago, the state was working hard to insulate judges from the onslaught of cash that many see as distorting democracy. It was the first in the nation to try public financing in judicial races, saying candidates shouldn’t have to spend all their time raising money, especially Supreme Court judges.
Over a decade ago, a fund was created using attorney fees to provide minimal campaign financing through state grants to qualifying candidates. The program was enormously popular; 80 percent of judges who ran used it, and it helped diversify the bench with more women and African-Americans. But there was always ideological opposition from the right on free speech grounds, and when Republican Gov. Pat McCrory took office in January 2013, one of the first things his budget director did was zero out public financing for judges.
The dam had broken anyway with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United 2010 decision, and judicial races have become a free-for-all just like every other political contest. Judges in North Carolina run without party identification; the races are nonpartisan, but everyone knows where their party allegiance lies. Two years ago, in a contested judicial race, “Ninety percent of outside money came from the conservative side,” says Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies. “They were way more on top of this game.”
Despite all of the progress made so far on LGBT rights, on Tuesday, Louisiana voted to uphold the state’s anti-sodomy law, 67-27, despite it being ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, in their landmark 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision.
In its decision, the court ruled that laws prohibiting sodomy seek “to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.”
Unless you live in Louisiana?
In fact, in addition to Louisiana and Texas, Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas and Oklahoma have all maintained their own anti-sodomy laws, despite their direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision. In three of these states — Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — such anti-sodomy laws pertain exclusively to “homosexual conduct.”
The Louisiana bill in question, HB12, proposed to amend “crime against nature…” and was introduced in January by State House Representative Patricia Smith (D-Baton Rouge). Although it seems painfully obvious that there is no reason on Earth to maintain such a law, Smith’s proposed bill was a direct response to the targeted arrests of gay men in her district who were profiled and lured by undercover police to agree to consensual sex. At least 12 men have been arrested in this “sodomy sting” since 2011, despite the fact that prosecutors refused to bring charges in every single case.
There’s a lot of very weird stuff going on in the newly insane state of North Carolina. The state has a problem with coal ash, and with its groundwater, and with the reluctance of Duke Energy to clean up, among other things, the 39,000 fking pounds of the gunk that it spilled into the Dan River in February.
The state’s Environmental Management Commission decided that Duke Energy needed a “reasonable amount of time” to correct the groundwater violations. (As should be obvious, you could sail a coal barge through that adjective there.) A Superior Court judge said to hell with that noise and reversed the commission’s findings, demanding that the clean-up begin immediately.
And you will never guess what the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission did.
No, really, you will never guess.
They appealed the judge’s ruling.
Told you that you wouldn’t believe it.
Obamacare, the United Nations’ Agenda 21, the National Defense Authorization Act. All of these things appear to be linked, in the mind of North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Greg Brannon, a global conspiracy “to control you, to control me, to control life.”
He also seems to believe his kidney disease might be the result of a flu vaccination.
BuzzFeed flagged Brannon’s 2012 comments during a local radio interview. Brannon, a physician, is running as the tea party alternative to North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, who has been the presumed frontrunner for the GOP nomination. A March 11 poll from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found Brannon and Tillis tied at 14 percent to lead the Republican primary field.
For the uninitiated, Agenda 21 is a non-binding UN plan regarding sustainable development that is the subject of numerous fringe conspiracy theories. Glenn Beck, for instance, wrote a dystopian novel about it, and Beck’s news site, The Blaze, has warned readers that it could lead to a one-world government.
Of all the tea partiers running for Senate in 2014, Greg Brannon, a GOP primary candidate hoping to topple vulnerable North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan, is one of the most extreme. He opposes public education, claiming it “does nothing but dehumanize” students. He doesn’t believe that states have to follow Supreme Court decisions. He contends bipartisan compromises in Washington “enslave” Americans. He hails the the late Sen. Jesse Helms—who died in 2008 without ever renouncing his support for racial segregation—as a “modern hero.” He claims that “all ten of [Karl] Marx’s planks of Communism”—including the abolition of private property—“are law in our land today.” In October, Brannon cosponsored and spoke at a rally supporting nullification—the notion that states can invalidate federal laws at will—that was cosponsored by the League of the South, a secessionist group seeking “a free and independent Southern republic.” And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has endorsed him.
Conservatives are eager to snatch up Hagan’s Senate seat, and they have pinned their hopes on Brannon, a tea party rabble-rouser and fiercely anti-abortion OB-GYN who has never run for elected office. In addition to Rand Paul, RedState editor Erick Erickson, who featured Brannon as a speaker at his annual RedState confab in November, and Ann Coulter have award Brannon their blessings. In a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, Brannon was the only Republican who beat Hagan in a head-to-head matchup. When PPP polled Republican primary voters on the four GOP candidates, North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis ran 9 points ahead of Brannon—but nearly half of those voters said they were undecided.
Brannon says he is eager to join Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz in the “wacko bird caucus.” And he has a role model in mind: Helms. He has promised, if elected, to emulate Helms, who represented the state in the Senate from 1973 to 2003. In November, Brannon told the RedState crowd that he even asked his wife to move to North Carolina because “Senator No”—Helms’s nickname—was his hero. Helms, by the way, earned that sobriquet for obstructing disability rights legislation, funding for HIV prevention, and a bill to establish a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., among many other things. He entered politics fighting interracial marriage, bullied black Senators, and considered gay people “morally sick wretches.”
North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Greg Brannon has an interesting argument for eliminating food stamps: “slavery.” In a videotaped interview with the North Carolina Tea Party in October, Brannon, a Rand Paul-endorsed doctor who is top contender for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, cited James Madison in making the case for abolishing the Department of Agriculture—and with it, the $76 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Brannon has a real chance of winning: A December poll from Public Policy Polling found the GOP primary field split but showed him leading Hagan, 45-43.
“We’re taking our plunder, that’s taken from us as individuals, [giving] it to the government, and the government is now keeping itself in power by giving these goodies away,” Brannon said in the interview. “The answer is the Department of Agriculture should go away at the federal level. And now 80 percent of the farm bill was food stamps. That enslaves people. What you want to do, it’s crazy but it’s true, teach people to fish instead of giving them fish. When you’re at the behest of somebody else, you are actually a slavery to them [sic]. That kind of charity does not make people freer.”
It’s something of a mixed metaphor, because Brannon is suggesting that people on food stamps are lazy, while also conflating them with a system of labor exploitation in which people were literally worked to death. (Also: Madison liked slavery.)