Opinion

Playing politics

jmiller@mcclatchy.com

As the General Assembly trudges toward the final weeks of its long session, legislators are wrestling with late-night (and early morning) maneuvers and short tempers.

What has always bemused us is when politicians — or ordinary citizens — toss around complaints about “playing politics” as if politics is not, in fact, what powers our system of representative government. Thus, we want to be careful about our conclusions on a couple of moves by legislative leadership last week that brought push-back from the governor and counterattacks from legislative leaders.

Gov. Roy Cooper, even as he extolled a $31 million grant to help address an opioid epidemic that is pummeling North Carolina and the rest of the country, took aim at Republican legislators for how they were handling the fight with state funds. Cooper accused state Senate leaders of treating the opioid crisis as a “political football” after they pushed through a budget amendment at 3 a.m. a few days earlier. The Senate leader in turn said it was the governor who was playing politics with the crisis.

What had Cooper especially upset is that the budget amendment cut education spending in Democrats’ legislative districts while boosting funding for opioid overdose treatments in districts represented by Republicans. The education funds would have paid for two early college high schools in rural northeastern North Carolina and a summer science, math and technology program for disadvantaged high school students.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between education funding and battling the opioid epidemic,” Cooper said at a Thursday press conference. “We can and should do both.”

A spokeswoman for state Senate leader Phil Berger took aim at the political gamesmanship charge. “We agree that addiction is not a partisan issue,” Shelly Carver said. “The fact is this amendment targets funds to help many areas of the state hardest hit by the opioid crisis, and there are Democrats and Republicans struggling in each of these areas.”

Despite those protestations — and the legitimate assertion that people of both parties (and those with no party affiliation at all) live in all 100 counties of oru state — it’s hard not to see political motives beyond the norm of partisan jockeying for victory in those early-morning budget shuffles. The truth is, even with the state funding and even with the federal grant, this state, like most of the country, is still responding much too slowly and with too little investment to the havoc that opioid addiction is causing.

Escalating our response to opioid addiction — and adequately funding our public schools — requires legislative decisions. And that means politics — politics that can change the legislature’s composition come November 2018.

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