RALEIGH — The dichotomy in the perspectives was striking.
As North Carolina legislators finished up their primary round of lawmaking for the year, the Republicans who now control the General Assembly said that they had done what they said they would do.
Democrats said that the new majority had overreached, that they were turning back the clock in a centrist state not interested in much of the agenda pursued by the Republicans.
Time, and the next couple of elections, will tell who is correct.
Legislative Republicans should be asking themselves a simple question though: What if this legislative session, now mostly in the rearview mirror, looked a little different? What if they had been a little more conservative (in the most traditional way) and cautious as they set about re-writing public policy that had been 30, 40 or 50 years in the making?
Would they be better or worse off in the eyes of the public?
No matter what they had done, legislative Republicans’ public standing was likely to suffer some. That generally happens when you are in charge and making decisions, especially when the economy is in the doldrums.
So perhaps polling showing that generic Democrats would beat generic Republicans in legislative races today shouldn’t be interpreted to reflect discontent with their legislative reach.
It’s also true that Republicans delivered on some promises.
They passed a state budget while allowing temporary, two-year tax hikes to expire. They passed medical malpractice reform, limiting unfair lawsuits against doctors. They got rid of an arbitrary cap on experimental charter schools.
But back to the question, rephrased a little differently: What if they had, more or less, stopped there?
What if when it came to municipal annexation, they put some teeth in the law to require cities to provide real services, but didn’t beat about trying to undo existing annexations? What if they passed a simple Castle Doctrine bill that assured people of rights in their homes, but didn’t create fears of people pulling out guns during Little League ball games? What if they hadn’t delved into abortion, re-ignited debate on death penalty racial bias, or waded into election law proposals obviously intended to keep a sliver of Democrats from the polls?
As legislators adjourned for the better part of a month, Senate leader Phil Berger remarked, “This has been a session of real accomplishment and I think real change in the direction for North Carolina — a direction that the people of North Carolina have long been looking for.”
Berger’s sentiments are heartfelt, but he’s wrong.
The people of North Carolina wanted a tack in a different direction, not a whole course change. A tack involved a little more financial responsibility and a little more commonsense approach to government.
Over our lifetimes, Berger’s and mine, North Carolina has become a great state in which to live.
Impulsive, imprudent public policy can undo that. It can also undo political majorities.
Capitol Press Association