The last week has featured some of the most offensive, belligerent, and vindictive behavior by elected officials in generations — and that is not a reference to President Donald Trump and his associates in Washington, though the characterization fits there too.
No, this startling episode came in the middle of the night last week in Raleigh when furious Republican leaders of the state Senate interrupted a debate on the state budget with a recess to meet with legislative staff.
They returned from the break with an amendment to the budget to punish Democratic senators by slashing funding for education projects in their districts and cutting the budgets of other programs and institutions represented by Democrats, from the N.C. Museum of Art to downtown revitalization efforts.
There can be no mistake about the intent of the proposal. As The News & Observer reported, the lone revitalization funding left in place was for Robeson County, which is represented by a Republican senator.
You might be wondering what prompted the unprecedented targeting of Democratic areas for additional budget cuts on the Senate floor. What so upset Republican Senate leaders that they resorted to the absurdly heavy-handed tactics to seek retribution against their Democratic colleagues?
Well, Democratic senators proposed several amendments to the budget that reflected their priorities. That is what did it.
One would have increased teacher pay more than the GOP budget proposed. Another would have given state retirees a cost of living pay increase that Senate leaders left out of their budget proposal.
Another would have increased broadband access to rural areas and still another would have funded community college scholarships. Many of the amendments would have reduced the tax cut in the Senate budget to pay for the changes.
Most of the proposals never received a real vote. Senate leaders made sure of that by using a parliamentary maneuver to cut off debate and bury the amendments.
But that was still too much for Republican leaders. They could not stand that Democratic senators were actually doing their jobs and representing their constituents and using their rights as duly elected members of the Senate to offer changes to a budget that affects every person in North Carolina.
No way Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger was going to put up with that — so the districts of the Democrats were punished for their senators trying to change the budget that Republicans created in secret.
Most Democratic senators weren’t even sure what was happening. One tried to ask a question about the GOP amendment offered after the recess that slashed the education funding from their districts but he was not allowed to speak.
The News & Observer account of the troubling episode said that Republican Senators were upset that Democrats were prolonging the debate in the session that began just after midnight.
But Republicans control the calendar and decided to hold the ridiculous overnight session instead of reconvening the next morning when the public could actually follow along with how lawmakers were making decisions about how to spend $23 billion of public money.
Instead, they tried to ram their written-in-secret budget through its last vote in the middle of the night and were offended when Democrats tried to change it.
And ultimately, it’s not just the Democratic members of the Senate who will suffer if the targeted temper tantrum cuts are made.
Students and families and small business across the state will lose too, and so will small towns.
Senator Berger and his fellow bullies were willing to punish students and schools in North Carolina because their Democratic colleagues made them stay up late and defend the budget they unveiled only a few days before.
Just a few years ago, the shocking undemocratic episode in the General Assembly would have resulted in screaming headlines and been the talk of the political world for days.
Not now, with bizarre news from Washington almost every day.
Maybe Senate leaders think they can do anything they want any time they want with no repercussions.
They are certainly acting like it, democracy and common decency—and the people of North Carolina be damned.
Chris Fitzsimon is founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, where this first appeared.