The Best Reporting on the North Carolina Takeover

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One of the biggest political stories of 2013 — a year of DC discord and gridlock — unfolded at the state level in North Carolina.

In 2012, North Carolinians elected a Republican to the governor’s office. That same year, the Republican majority in the General Assembly — first elected in 2010 — grew to a supermajority. The result was that conservatives won the power to change state law dramatically — and over this last year, they used that power. The new legislation included ending benefits for the long-term unemployed; declining the Obamacare Medicaid extension; eliminating the earned-income tax credit; and passing what some observers call the worst voter suppression law in the country. In response, those critical of the right-wing legislative agenda united around protests at the state legislature on Mondays, part of a growing citizen movement that has come to be known as “Moral Mondays.” So far, the movement, however ambitious, has done little to slow the state’s Republican majority from pushing through its agenda.

But this story didn’t start on Election Day 2012 — its roots run deep. And a similar situation could unfold in any of America’s 50 states.

Here’s a rundown of some essential work by reporters following the money trail in North Carolina politics and the legislative agenda it has helped usher through.

A police officer watches over demonstrators and NAACP-led supporters as they congregate at Halifax Mall near the state legislature during "Moral Monday" protests at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, June 24, 2013. Protesters are angry over the rightward direction of the state on economic, social, education and voting policy. They focused much of their demonstration on looming unemployment benefits cuts that will end extended benefits for about 70,000 people at the end of June. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
A police officer watched over demonstrators at a Moral Mondays protest June 24. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

How did hardline conservatives win so big in what has long been considered the South’s most moderate state? –> In The American Prospect, two writers from the progressive, nonprofit Institute for Southern Studies — Sue Sturgis and Chris Kromm — provide a comprehensive overview of the social and political forces that came together to make the moderate (and sometimes even progressive) state move hard-right. Read more »

The role of redistricting –> ProPublica reported on how big money powered the redistricting of the state. Once Republicans won control of the legislature in 2010, they used their power to draw new district lines meticulously, taking into account individual households’ voting habits. It paved the way for big wins in 2012.

“Redistricting is supposed to protect the fundamental principle of one-person-one-vote,” ProPublica reported. “As demographics change, lines are shifted to make sure everyone is equally represented and to give communities a voice. In order for Republicans to win in North Carolina, they undermined the votes of Democrats, especially African-Americans. The strategy began in the run-up to the 2010 elections. Republicans poured money into local races in North Carolina and elsewhere. It was an efficient approach. While congressional races routinely cost millions, a few thousand dollars can swing a campaign for a seat in the state legislature.” Read more »

Who is Art Pope? –> Most recently, he’s been Governor Pat McCrory’s budget director. But he’s been described as the architect of the conservative takeover. Pope is behind a foundation that backs three groups that were behind 75 percent of outside spending in North Carolina political campaigns in 2008, and is the primary funder of one of them. He used to be a North Carolina state legislator, and once ran for lieutenant governor. But at the root of Pope’s political power is his fortune, which comes from a discount store business (think regional Dollar General–esque chains) begun by his father. Though a private citizen at the time, he was in the room as Republicans redrew the new districts that would reinforce their 2010 wins in 2012. (Fun fact: Pope helped found the Libertarian Party of North Carolina but resigned when members spoke too frequently and too seriously about mythical beasts such as Sasquatch.) In the The New Yorker, Jane Mayer’s 2011 profile chronicled Pope’s path from wealthy businessman to political puppet master. Read more »

Art Pope on Raleigh CBS affiliate WRAL.

The end of clean judicial elections –> In 2002, the North Carolina Legislature set up a program of publicly funded elections — a system by which taxpayer money helps cover the cost of political campaigns to minimize the influence of rich individuals and corporations. (For example, the system would protect a judicial candidate from being forced to accept or refuse a campaign donation from a lawyer or business that might later appear before her in court.) As a state legislator at the time, Art Pope played a leading role in the fight against the system, the Institute for Southern Studies’ publication Facing South reported. Over the next decade, Pope’s outside spending groups continued the battle — and once installed as McCrory’s budget director, Pope was well positioned to end public funding. His first budget slashed funding for the program. Read more »

“Sinful and tyrannical”? –> A case study in some Pope-funded rhetoric: The Civitas Institute, for which Pope provides majority funding, wrote an op-ed saying there was “no moral justification” for publicly funded judicial elections, which are “sinful and tyrannical” (a common and deliberate misreading of Thomas Jefferson, which the late, brilliant Aaron Swartz debunked succinctly). Read more »

Supermajority in action –> The Nation’s Ari Berman summarized the legislation that drove Moral Monday protestors to raise their voices this summer: “So far this year, legislation passed or pending by Republicans would eliminate the earned-income tax credit for 900,000; decline Medicaid coverage for 500,000; end federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest jobless rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slash taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; allow for guns to be purchased without a background check and carried in parks, playgrounds, restaurants and bars; ax public financing of judicial races; and prohibit death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts. ‘They’ve drank all the Tea Party they could drink and sniffed all the Koch they could sniff,’ [North Carolina NAACP president Rev. William] Barber says.” Read more »

Members of North Carolina student chapters of the NAACP and opponents of voter ID legislation wear tape over their mouths while sitting silently in the gallery of the House chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly where lawmakers debated and voted on voter identification legislation in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Demonstrators wore tape over their mouths as they protested new legislation regulating voting by sitting silently in the gallery of the House chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly, April 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The “worst voter suppression law” –> North Carolina’s new voting restrictions were signed into law less than two months after the Supreme Court gutted the voting rights act. The Nation’s Berman reports that the NAACP and a coalition of voting rights groups filed lawsuits to block the legislation on the same day that Gov. McCrory signed it. “The sweeping law requires strict government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, cuts the number of early voting days by a week, eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, makes it easier for vigilante poll watchers to challenge the validity of eligible voters and expands the influence of unregulated corporate money in state elections,” wrote Berman. “[S]ince the Supreme Court took away their most potent weapon for fighting voting discrimination, voting rights groups have no choice but to hope that the compelling and disturbing facts of this case persuade the courts to block the ‘monster’ new law.” Read more »

Now what? –> North Carolina’s General Assembly adjourned at the end of July, though protests continued. The Rev. Dr. Barber, one of the Moral Mondays protest organizers, says that the new year will see the “largest, most robust march in the South since Selma.” The 2014 legislative session begins in May. Last week, The News & Observer reported that activists from 12 states converged on Raleigh to attend a meeting to learn how to start Moral Mondays protests in their states. Meanwhile, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that demonstrations may be coming to Georgia as soon as this month: Protestors there plan to call on the legislature, which convenes this month, “to expand Medicaid, restore funding to public schools and [raise] the minimum wage.”

John Light is a writer and journalist sometimes based in New York. He writes a lot about climate policy, both inside and outside of the US. He was a former associate digital producer for Moyers & Company. His work has been supported by grants from The Nation Institute Investigative Fund and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, and has been included in ProPublica's #MuckReads collection. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.
Laura Macomber is an associate producer at Okapi Productions. She is a former employee of Newsweek & The Daily Beast, where she produced news stories for the company’s live journalism events, Women in the World and The Hero Summit.
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  • jan

    All I can say is Good Luck. I haven’t noticed any politician from any party at any level listening to voters for a while now.

  • Hunter Lucas

    I think I might be sick.

  • JANK

    ..The next photo of a cop with his back to the camera (as above)will be wearing a BROWN shirt instead of blue.

  • CloverFarms

    I took these photos at the demonstrations, truly impressive turnouts while the troglodytes in the Legislature just made snide jokes and went on their merry trip back to 1954:

  • Anonymous

    Yah, I encourage everyone to assert political independence and leave the parties which are really cults that care only about winning seats.. We can all fight evil as independents. State politics can a little more clear, and in this case the Repuglicans are the clear danger. Still, though, leave your party.

  • Rita M Nicholson

    Ops, It appears Repuglicans are following the wrong Pope.

  • rrebold

    I’d have to say the best, historically based, most personal and perhaps most objective reporting on the the NC situation has been done by Coffee Party founders Eric Byler and Annabel Park in their “Story of America” series.

  • Anonymous

    Political Science 101: In reality, there are only two national political party organizations of significance–the Republican Chamber of Commerce Religion Right Party and the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, the Chamber of Commerce Religion Right Party controls the House of Representatives, which means no legislation can pass Congress unless approved by the Republican Chamber of Commerce Religion Right Party. Hello???????? Is political science not understood by American voters or the news media? The passing of legislation requires approval from both chambers of Congress. President Obama does not make the laws of the land and his actions cannot violate constitutional laws passed by Congress! Finally, the Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court says it means! Hello???????????

  • dora wiilliams

    Wisconsin is in the same boat as NC these last two years. Our luck has run out. 2014 is our ONLY hope.

  • medcannabis1

    There comes a time in history when the good people of this nation come forward and peacefully demand that the billionaires and neo-conservative groups that have manipulated this country over the last 13 years are held accountable for their treasonous conduct. I have used these words because of the power of my statement, that when a small group of individuals who wield such great power and control the media and influence the political class with the corruption of the lobby procedures in nothing short of open bribery, then we must ask ourselves why we continue to allow them to serve in Congress. We must put forward compassionate citizens who are informed and knowledgeable and willing to serve in Congress as a public service for 3 terms and out and 2 terms in the Senate.. no one can profiteer off their former public office and they must return to their communities and back to their old jobs.. so government is again a reflection of the people of the community.. and not a representation of the corporate citizen and only serving their needs.

  • Anonymous

    The republican party (more accurately the Corporation party) has gone so far that they will get whiplash. The people of NC do not like their rights taken away. The GOP always favored business, but now they have utter contempt for 95% of the people. They have destroyed our democracy selling their votes to the highest bidders. Koch brothers successfully put Paul Ryan and others in office. Fossil fuel industry has blocked and had repealed environmental regulations. They want to do away with the EPA!. They deregulated banks, caused that Wall Street Crash which put millions out of their homes. Jobs were offshored. Pensions were stolen leaving people unemployed, broke, homeless. Why are people still voting republican?

  • Brenda Wayne Wyatt

    We will be Blue. We know what it stands for now.

  • Rita Marie Kelley

    Please join Move To Amend @, Sign the petition to pass the WE THE PEOPLE Amendment to get corporate money out of politics and restore true democracy! This is the first things first–the priority, because the reality is that corporations are running this country and making its laws–check out A.L.E.C., the American Legislative Exchange Council, backed by the Koch Brothers–they’ve been at this for 30 years. Now it OUR turn!

  • White True Patriot

    First North Carolina then the rest of the country! The KKK is rising to power again like God wants u7s to!

  • White True Patriot

    First North Carolina then the rest of the country! The KKK is rising to power again like God wants us to! WHITE POWER is the Republican Party today! Praise God!

  • Jack Steen

    Instead, Kevin, we’re going to elect the right people to BOTH Houses of Congress – members of the Democratic Party – in the MANDATE ELECTIONS OF 2014 AND 2016 that will put Hillary in the White House – and I’m sure Hillary will fill the Supreme Court with Justices that will waste little time in un-doing the damage this court filled with RepubliKlan has done to our Nation.

  • Jack Steen

    Actually, Cletus, it’s been your TeaKluxers that have granted tax immunity to the corporate teats that they dine at – THAT is what has bankrupted our society.

    It’s about to change, however, with the DEMOCRATIC PARTY MANDATE VICTORY ELECTIONS OF 2014 AND 2016.

  • Jack Steen

    Changing ‘what’ ?

    It’s properly referred to as ‘The Affordable Care Act.’

  • Anonymous

    Thom Hartmann reported today that the Kochs raised more money in 2013 than ALL presidential candidates raised in 2012. Their combined income was already 71 billion dollars. So we can bet that the Kochs will be subsidizing every rightwing candidate and endless advertising (in addition to their “think tanks” that produce media “experts” and “consultants” on climate change denial, privatization, and deregulation).

  • Anonymous

    IF you and everyone we know joins our local progressive group and/or Democratic Party to Get Out the Vote in 2014.

  • The Annoyed Elephant

    Here… let me translate this article into English for those who are too dumb to understand it…


    You’re welcome.

  • Anonymous

    All of the middle class white bois screaming about their loss of rights due to NSA internet snooping haven’t said “boo” about voter suppression, the ascention of the plutocracy, and The New Jim Crow.

  • Anonymous

    Dude…Hillary is Third Way and just another Blue Dog. If you like how Mr. Obama has betrayed the progressive movement, you will be Thrilled with Hillary.

  • Anonymous
  • Frederick Wayne Sharp

    Great pics, Cloverfarms! In case it hasn’t dawned on everyone, the phone is ringing. The wake up call is now. Does anyone really think that the power elite will just go quietly into the night?

  • Anonymous

    By all accounts I’ve heard, and experienced at the moral Mondays protests the individual police officers were respectful of our rights while doing their jobs. There are reports of some police working there taking pictures of individuals etc, that was not what the majority were doing. The handful I dealt with were simply observing and standing ready at a distance to allow us to exercise our rights.

  • Anonymous

    And your solution in this lifetime is who? You and I may not find either one left enough, but they stand between us and an even more conservative agenda. Ralph Nader voters caused us an election that has seen this country take a hard right turn. We can’t afford that mistake again. Vote for Democrats and then work from within for your progressive ideals. The alternative is more like we see in North Carolina, and other red states. If you are a liberal, you can’t find that acceptable.

  • Anonymous

    Turn off Fox and pay attention, you are brainwashed. Democrats have saved this countries economy, time and time again after Republicans destroyed it. Read history much? You won’t find he truth on Fox or other conservative media outlets bought and paid for by the 1%. They are laughing all the way to the bank .

  • Anonymous

    No you can’t. That is a dream that will turn into your worst nightmare. There are 2 political parties that matter and that is not going to change in the foreseeable fixture. Work from within to facilitate change and you stand a chance. Pull votes away from Democrats and you end up with George Bush.

  • Rick Emmerich

    Good, hopefully their efforts will cut down on fraud in the presidential elections. Many places in OH and FL (and others) had Obama ‘
    winning’ way more than 100% of the vote. Well played, perhaps, but hopefully the last time THAT happens.

  • Anonymous

    Wait, NC has had Democrat governors for the last 20 years and now all of a sudden it’s Republicans fault?
    You can’t make this stuff up!

  • Anonymous

    I seriously doubt that the Kochs combined income was $71 Billion. Their net worth may be that high, but certainly not their income.

  • Albert Cole

    Over three billion five hundred million workers in Asia ,who are paid slave wages, are vaporizing American jobs . It’s called Outsourcing . I hope you enjoy working for slave wages because it is only a matter of time before your job will be outsourced . And the Republicans are going to help you when you’re down.