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Paul O'Connor: GOP legislature disdains Democrats and democracy

By Paul O'Connor

Syndicated columnist

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RALEIGH — That Republicans express disdain for the Democratic Party is not unexpected. That they refuse to refer to it by its proper name, instead calling it the “Democrat Party,” is just rather childish.

What is concerning, however, now two terms into GOP legislative control, is their disdain for the related common noun, “democratic.” This legislature has shown a scary disposition to discount the principles of democratic government in at least three important areas.

One. As noted a week or so ago, the ruling party has decided that it knows better than local officials when it comes to running local affairs. The power grabs of the Charlotte airport and Asheville water system, the annexation law changes and the repeal of the business privilege tax show a dismissive legislative attitude toward local officials, people elected by local voters to run local affairs.

In a truly democratic society, government is kept as close to the people as possible. That was once a core argument of Republican politicians here. In North Carolina today, legislators prefer to rule from Raleigh, far from local voters.

Two. The political right disdainfully calls our public schools “government schools.” Their preference is for private and charter schools, which are publicly funded schools run by a charter’s board of directors and not by the local elected school board.

Charters can be an effective alternative to public schools when they provide a course of study aimed at a defined segment of students who can’t be served in a bigger system. But there is something inherently undemocratic about charters in that they spend public money while providing the public no say in how they are run. The elected school board is shut out.

Citizens pay their taxes, and that money flows to the charter schools. But citizens have no say in how that charter is run. And taxpayers have no say whatsoever in how private schools are run, either. But this legislature wants to provide millions for private school vouchers.

One might argue that parents have a greater say in charters and private schools, and there may be some truth to that. But, parents are not the only taxpayers with a stake in how well publicly funded schools operate. Every taxpayer contributes, and every resident is affected considerably, by the output of a publicly funded school system. As taxpayers, we all deserve our one vote on school policy, and we don’t get it with charters or private schools.

Three. Legislators passed an inexcusable voter identification law last year. It’s a voter suppression law, not one designed to ensure the integrity of our voting. It is designed to make it difficult for certain groups to vote, notably the poor, elderly and racial minorities.

Additionally, this legislature cut the hours that we can vote before Election Day. Democracies seek to increase citizen participation in their government, not reduce it.

It’s clear that today’s Republicans, long starved of power, have inebriated themselves with it, even if democracy is damned in the process.

Capitol Press Association