Heading into the new year, Republican lawmakers were in prime position with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, and a Republican in the governor’s office. So far, they haven’t been shy about flexing their political muscle. They’ve introduced bills to require voter ID, repeal the Racial Justice Act, eliminate teacher tenure, and even double the amount of time a married couple has to be separated before they can be granted a divorce. And then there’s the resolution that would've said the U.S. Constitution’s ban on establishing a religion doesn’t apply to North Carolina. House Speaker Thom Tillis announced there wouldn't be a vote on it.
Michael Bitzer, professor of Political Science at Catawba College and WFAE's political blogger, speaks to Duncan McFadyen about the GOP initiatives.
MCFADYEN: Professor, are Republicans going “hog wild” with this newfound power?
BITZER: Well they’re certainly making up for the past, oh, 120 years that they’ve been completely out of power. Remember, we have to go back to the late 19th Century, when they [Republicans] controlled all aspects of state government. So, there’s a lot of pent-up frustration, certainly among the Republican ideologues, that they want their issues tackled. And, we’re seeing that with all those bills you listed, plus more.
MCFADYEN: Let’s go through a couple of the bills here; we don’t have time to go into all of them. Voter ID was introduced yesterday…
BITZER: Exactly. This is going to have not just the voter ID and the photographic evidence that a voter potentially has to present. But, there are other aspects related to voting. Bills have been introduced about cutting down the number of days of early voting. Bills have been introduced that would basically limit where students, college students, could cast their ballots. They would have to do it in their home county, or potentially their parents could lose a tax deduction. There are a whole host of issues related to future voting opportunities that republicans have filed and are looking to pursue.
MCFADYEN: And, we should point out many of these bills have not passed. Some of them may not pass. Isn’t this just something politicians do, they come in on all sides of the spectrum to make a statement?
BITZER: Oh, certainly. It’s still a signal, particularly back to a base of supporters in North Carolina’s Republican Party that we are indeed on your side, and we’re addressing some of the issues, even though it may not go more than the paper it’s printed on.
MCFADYEN: Does this session feel different to you? I mean, controversial legislation is always introduced.
BITZER: It certainly does, but with Republicans having such super majorities, and the fact that the governor is also a member of their party, that’s going to basically unleash the floodgates of opportunities to influence, to change, to put their stamp on state government. Now, they have a willing voice and a supporter in the governor’s mansion who probably would be loathe to try and do any vetoes, because it would show a war between the Republicans in the state legislature. And the Republicans in both the House and the Senate have veto-proof majorities. They can do basically whatever they want.
MCFADYEN: Didn’t this happen when the Democrats were in power too? Were there a lot of left-wing bills introduced just to make a statement?
BITZER: There certainly were. And, remember in the Democratic Party, you have avowed liberals, but then you also have the classic Southern Democrats. And that was the kind of mediating force. The two sides did not want to go nuclear on each other, and so it kind of stymied at times what the legislature would actually push through. But, this is the Republicans’ opportunity now.