A panel of Democratic lawmakers at a weekend forum assailed “mean-spirited” Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly they said have stripped funding for the state’s critical needs.
State Sen. Valerie Foushee and Reps. Verla Insko and Graig Meyer spoke at the “Democracy Revival” town hall meeting sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and local residents. About 200 people attended the two-hour forum at the Carrboro Century Center.
“We see every day people who are running away from their constituents,” NAACP President Anna Richards said, alluding to failed efforts to hold similar meetings with U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. “So what an honor to have you all here.”
Foushee told the crowd that gerrymandering has created a system where Republican incumbents have a lock on their legislative districts and no longer have to compromise or even listen to opponents.
“What we have in our state is a form of government that does not allow input from the public or from across the (legislative) aisle,” said Foushee, a retired Chapel Hill police administrator representing Senate District 23 covering Orange and Chatham counties.
“Basically a bill does not come to a vote unless the Republicans know they have enough votes to pass it,” she said.
Insko, a retired public health administrator serving House District 56 in Orange County, compared Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget with the state House and Senate spending plans.
▪ On education, Cooper would increase funding by $755 million next year, she said. The House and Senate would provide only half the increase: $406 million and $408 million respectively.
▪ On broadband access, Cooper would spend $20 million to expand internet access in rural areas, including $14.5 million to pay for middle and last-mile projects needed to reach customers’ homes. The House and Senate budgets provide no money for such projects and only $250,000 for the Department of Information Technology’s broadband office, she said.
▪ On the opioid crisis, Cooper would spend $12 million in mental health funds and $2 million to aid law enforcement’s efforts to the fight the problem, Insko said. The House and Senate plans both cut mental health funding and propose much less to fight the opioid problem.
In his remarks Meyer, representing House District 50 serving parts of Durham and Orange counties, returned to gerrymandering to explain how Republicans have tightened their grip at the state and federal levels.
North Carolina has 13 congressional seats. In 2016, Republican candidates for those seats won 54 percent of the vote to Democratic candidates’ 46 percent, he said. If the seats reflected that breakdown, there would be seven Republicans in Congress and six Democrats.
Instead there are 10 Republicans and three Democrats, he said, in effect giving Republicans 77 percent of North Carolina’s seats in Congress.
“We live in a system right now where your representatives have a greater incentive to (reach for) the extremes of the base than toward the middle,” he said.
Watch your words
Audience members at Saturday’s forum asked the legislators about issues including gun control, a single payer health insurance program, immigrant rights and the Paris accord. (Chapel Hill and Durham governments have pledged to continue reducing carbon emissions despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the international agreement. At the forum, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle rose to say her town was working on a similar resolution.)
But after Carrboro Alderwoman Jacquie Gist asked about the legislature’s “war on cities,” exerting power over issues previous left to local officials, Foushee warned the crowd to work quietly and not antagonize those in power in Raleigh.
“Be careful in your rhetoric,” she said. “They are listening, and they are watching, and they tend to be vindictive.”