Unfortunate Words From Speaker Tillis
It's getting downright embarrassing to have Thom Tillis occupying the exalted post of speaker of the N.C. House. There's problem enough when an everyday Joe - or even a state legislator - says some of the insensitive kinds of things Tillis has said lately. But when he is in a position that gives him the power to get some of his private prejudices converted into public law, it gets a little scary.
Tillis, the Cornelius native swept into office as part of last November's Republican tsunami, touched off the most recent spate of well-deserved criticism when he urged that the state "find a way to divide and conquer" people on welfare.
Tillis said at a Madison County meeting that the state should "show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition" - while "getting those folks to look down at those people who choose to get into a position that makes them dependent on the government."
Part of a Pattern
Maybe there's a legitimate point down there somewhere, but "divide and conquer" is something you do to your enemy. "Look down on" is something you do to someone deserving of scorn. Is that really the attitude we want government taking toward the less fortunate among us?
The speaker later admitted that he made a "poor choice of words." It would be different, maybe, if this were a one-time slip of the tongue or didn't-know-the-microphone-was-on moment. But it is part of a pattern than has become all too painfully clear.
Tillis refused to back down from some other comments that had also stirred up a storm. He stuck by his remarks supporting the idea that welfare recipients - and even some state employees - should be required to undergo drug tests.
Again, drug tests are typically something to which one subjects criminal suspects. Surely that is not the way we want our state officials to view our hard-working law-enforcement officers, teachers and other public workers.
'A Taste of What's to Come'?
Many North Carolina teachers are still trying to get over something Tillis said last June, when he really didn't know the microphone was on during a closed-door session with fellow Republican legislators in Raleigh. It came during a discussion on ending the (voluntary) deduction from teachers' paychecks of dues for the N.C. Association of Educators .
"They don't care about kids," Tillis said in a generalized, broadside insult. "They don't care about classrooms. They only care about their jobs and their pensions." Again referring to the abolishing the withholding of teacher dues, he added: "We just want to give them (the NCAE) a little taste of what's to come."
So what is to come? Once more, the hostile tone made this unguarded statement sound like a declaration of war against an entire profession.
This comes, remember, at a time when the legislature is already wondering whether it acted too hastily in axing things like the N.C. Teaching Fellows program and the Governor's School. It comes at a time when North Carolina ranks near the bottom in teacher pay - and near the top in its antagonistic attitude toward public employee groups of any kind.
So much for enlightened government.
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