CHRIS FITZSIMON: The Imaginary Shift to the Left Not Supported by the Record
Jones Street in Raleigh, where the General Assembly meets, is now turning into Berkeley East, judging by a Sunday story in the McClatchy newspapers in North Carolina with the headline "Left Wing Is Faring Better in Raleigh."
The subheadline explained the transformation this way: "Lawmakers OK bills that embrace liberal ideas such as sex education, protecting the environment."
The legislation in question would ban plastic shopping bags in three coastal counties and allow parents to decide what kind of sex education their children would receive at school.
Pretty radical stuff. The next thing you know, utilities will all be nationalized and children will wear tie-dye uniforms.
Among the other supporting evidence for the supposed leftward lurch is an anti-bullying bill that includes sexual orientation in a list of characteristics of kids likely to be mistreated at school and legislation that would make it easier for accident victims to recover damages if they are injured.
The newspaper story says that many of the bills were typically pushed by liberals. One of the sponsors of the bill to change the civil justice system is Rep. John Blust from Greensboro, one of the most outspoken conservative Republican members of the House.
None of these proposals are close to becoming law. They simply passed either the House or Senate.
Here are some other proposals that also passed one chamber and remain under consideration by lawmakers. One would weaken the state's air toxics program and is supported by the chemical industry. Another would overturn the state's ban on hardened structures off the coast, a proposal pushed by coastal developers and local governments.
Another bill would change the state's rule-making process, making it much more difficult for policymaking boards to adopt tougher environmental protections.
And that's just a sample of all the "left-wing" movement to protect the environment. The NRA's latest legislative update mentioned several pro-gun bills that remain alive, including one to allow district attorneys to carry concealed weapons in the courthouse.
The annual push by conservatives to raise the cap on the number of charter schools passed the House, and the telecommunications industry convinced the House to approve a telephone deregulation plan that's likely to result in higher rates.
When the Senate approved the Racial Justice Act, an overdue reform of the capital punishment system, an amendment was added to make it more likely that executions will resume.
The Senate approved a bill that would change corporate tax law to give a break to a handful of multistate corporations, not exactly a high priority of the left.
Then there is the most important issue of the session, addressing the state's $4.6 billion budget shortfall. The Senate budget calls for $500 million in new revenue, but the plan to raise it lowers the corporate income tax rate.
The Senate budget would make deep cuts in public education and early childhood initiatives, abolish afterschool programs, reduce funding for nonprofits that provide vital services, even reduce support for mental hospitals.
That's hardly a liberal approach. And that was all before state revenue projections were sharply reduced and Governor Beverly Perdue shifted federal stimulus money to balance the current year's budget, giving House budget writers $1.5 billion less to work with.
House leaders released spending targets last week that include no revenue increases, which means $2 billion more in cuts than the Senate made. That's an anti-government zealot's dream.
The General Assembly has its progressive moments, and let's hope for many more, but lawmakers still generally look to corporate interests for guidance on economic policy and check with their pollsters before opposing the religious right on social issues.
The fact that a few common-sense bills passing one chamber or the other sparks claims that the left-wing is faring better is ample evidence that Jones Street is a long way from becoming a liberal paradise, even if people at the store in Manteo wind up using paper bags.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story