Balancing Acts in the Legislature
For nearly two decades, a few of the more liberal Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly have been introducing bills to repeal archaic sodomy laws.
And for two decades, the Democratic leaders in the legislature would find a way to keep the bills at arm's length.
There may have been some logic behind the legislation, but the moderate Democrats who controlled the legislature didn't want to step into messy social issues debates likely to harm them politically.
One of the reasons that Democrats were able to control the legislature in North Carolina for so long was that they mastered the ability to placate the liberals in their ranks without giving in to their hard-left tendencies.
If the Republicans who now control the legislature want anything approaching a similar run at power, they'll have to learn the same trick.
They may not admit it, and many of their supporters may not accept it, but the fact is that most of the Republicans in key legislative leadership positions aren't so ideologically different from many of the Democrats who held those positions before.
The main difference is that the moderate Democrats are much more likely to support tax increases aimed at avoiding public school and university cuts than are the moderate Republicans.
The Republicans wouldn't be in their current catbird seat if the differences were more stark. They were put into that position by independent and moderate swing voters precisely because of pocketbook issues.
Passing bills to allow people to carry concealed handguns into restaurants and parks, or engaging in debates about gay marriage, probably isn't going to do much to impress those swing voters. On the other hand, it may be the red meat that fires up the GOP activists and conservative core voters.
Republican legislative leaders like House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger end up charged with performing a balancing act, trying to pacify the hard right but focusing on the policies and issues that will keep GOP majorities in the legislature.
That balancing act for their Democratic predecessors was probably easier. Liberals believe that they are right, but that the majority of those around them don't share their enlightenment. With that worldview, you can accept that you won't get your way, but that one day the world will catch up to your high intellect and superior values.
Conservatives see it differently. They believe that they are right, but convince themselves that most Americans share their views. It's not too hard to reach that conclusion when you insulate yourself listening to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
So it becomes difficult to persuade those hard-right legislators that there might be a downside to passing legislation that arms schoolteachers, prohibits Federal Reserve bankers from crossing state borders or requires you to dip your finger in an inkwell upon voting. (OK, none of those bills have been filed - yet.)
It is that kind of persuasion that is required to keep legislative majorities.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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