Published July 14, 2022
By Tom Campbell
There’s nothing better than curling up with some great fiction and a glass of sweet tea. But who would have suspected that fiction is transcripts of the January 6th House committee hearings? The most powerful man in the North Carolina Senate (and arguably our state), Phil Berger, likened the hearings to “fictional readings” in a WRAL-TV interview. During this same interview he declared he believed Lt. Governor Mark Robinson would be a “great governor.”
Phil Berger doesn’t live in Fantasy Land, however he evidently visits sometimes. His party described the insurrection as “legitimate political discourse” and many still insist the 2020 election was stolen. It was Honest Abe, one of the founders of the Republican Party, who said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
The only fiction surrounding January 6th emanated from a defeated president who refused to accept the truth. We saw Trump incite and encourage the mob armed with guns and other weapons. We heard their angry epithets and watched their actions. Seeing and hearing is believing!
Another transition of power, this time from Great Britain, took a different turn. Like Trump, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a great campaigner who couldn’t govern. But there is one significant difference. When it became obvious Johnson’s ruse was over a host of his Ministers, people who enjoyed great power and influence, stood up en masse and resigned, putting their country’s interests ahead of personal interests. We never saw a similar dramatic demonstration from those surrounding Donald Trump.
Senator, I don’t blame you for attempting to paint the House January 6th Committee hearings as fiction. At best, this interpretation is an attempt to divert attention and discussion away from topics unattractive to you.
Our legislature just concluded what must be considered a mediocre, timid and unresponsive short session. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue correctly summarized it, saying, “To have $9 billion and not invest some of it in our greatest resources is a form of sabotage.”
With so much money available and so many areas of need, why was this such a lackluster session? The only explanation heard was that with inflation soaring, our lawmakers believed there would be an economic slowdown and wanted to be prepared to deal with it. They increased our state savings reserves to $6 billion, justifying it by saying that in 2009, when Democrats were in control, they failed to prepare for the recession. They are correct about that, but $6 billion? The 2009 downturn, the worst since The Great Depression, did not last long or plummet enough to require anywhere close to this amount. That can’t be the real reason for such a tepid session.
Leaders were afraid to allow Democrats - or the public - any opportunity for input crafting the $27.9 billion budget. Only a handful of top Republicans were involved, and lawmakers had about 48 hours to view the 193-page document before voting. Even then, leaders employed a parliamentary maneuver to prevent amendments to it.
This budget failed to fully fund education, falling some $785 million short of an agreed upon plan. They did raise teacher pay an average of 4.2 percent and increased starting teacher pay to $37,000 - still the lowest in the Southeast and $6,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars lower than what teachers made in 2015. They could find increased funds for private schools, however. And even the 3.5 percent increase to state employees won’t help. Our state has been miserly in increasing employee pay and isn’t competitive in attracting and keeping talented people.
And just when we thought North Carolina might join most other states by expanding Medicaid to citizens who couldn’t afford health insurance, squabbles between the House and Senate prevented action. They struck out in legalizing sports gambling, even though anyone wanting to do so already can, and failed to further expand broadband internet funding for rural areas.
Lawmakers put a bandage on the hemorrhaging transportation funding shortfall by diverting 2 percent of our state sales tax revenues (escalating in future years) for transportation. This will initially fund some $194 million more a year, but remember it will reduce, by that same amount, funds for other government operations. For about 20 years we’ve known we needed a more reliable transportation funding source than gas taxes. This isn’t it.
We ask again why this was such a disappointing Assembly session? Berger himself gave us the answer in his television interview, saying that he and other legislative leaders are waiting to learn the outcomes of the November 8th General Election. They are hoping to once again regain veto-proof majorities and can pass legislation Governor Cooper won’t be able to override. Maybe they can hold the majority on the Supreme Court. If successful, Republicans will once again have virtual control of state government. Without restraints, count on bolder action in 2023, like additional restrictions on abortion, voting, further reductions in gubernatorial powers and more controls over boards and commissions.
This dear reader, is not “fictional reading.”