Still worried about North Carolina's swing to the right, the New York Times is scouring for evidence that the state's conservative rollback of taxes and regulations is backfiring on Republicans. The political infighting made the front page of Saturday's Times, which typically buries state political news on the back pages: "Move to Center Divides G.O.P. in N. Carolina."
Reporter Richard Fausset set the scene from Raleigh, attempting to show a GOP that's gone too far and is now frantically scrabbling back to the center. State Speaker of the House Thom Tillis is trying to win a U.S. Senate seat, yet finds himself (in the paper's loaded language) "caught between the hard-right face of the last session and his likely need to appeal to more moderate voters..."
The objective of the Republican Party here last year was clear: Unleash the pent-up conservative revolution in a state where the party had not controlled the state legislature and governor’s office for more than a century.
The newly empowered lawmakers cut taxes, pared unemployment benefits and eliminated business regulations. They allowed concealed guns in bars and restaurants, curtailed access to the voting booth and enacted new rules for abortion clinics. It was the most activist session in memory.
But this summer is a different story. One of the leaders of the revolution, Speaker Thom Tillis of the House, is trying to win a United States Senate seat. Another, Gov. Pat McCrory, is eyeing a tough challenge in 2016, and the legislature is unpopular.
That dynamic helps explain why the Republicans this week found themselves stuck in the sweltering capital,locked in an intraparty budget battle over teacher salaries, at loggerheads over how best to manage the state Medicaid system and riven by emerging personal, political and ideological agendas.
The most pressing of those may be that of Mr. Tillis, who is caught between the hard-right face of the last session and his likely need to appeal to more moderate voters as he tries to unseat Senator Kay Hagan in one of the races that could decide control of the Senate.
The budget stalemate has also exacerbated simmering personal tensions between the Senate’s conservative president pro tem, Phil Berger, and Mr. McCrory, a first-term governor who earned a reputation as a moderate in his former role as mayor of Charlotte.
Fausset at least knows a liberal group when he sees one, the Moral Mondays protests, previously celebrated by the Times:
North Carolina was once considered such a promising state for the Democrats that they held their national convention in Charlotte in 2012. Last year’s ambitious Republican agenda unleashed a tide of liberal outrage in the state, including the protest movement known as Moral Mondays, which has seen hundreds of activists arrested at the Capitol in civil disobedience actions. In an Elon University poll in April, 27 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the General Assembly was doing.
Conservative groups are as always, duly noted by the paper.
John Hood, the president and chairman of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative group based in Raleigh, does not believe that Republicans have in any way moderated their agenda “because they were burned by the blowback from 2013.”
Fausset dug impressively deep to find alleged crises in the state.
Public teacher pay has become another hot-button item. The state ranks 46th in teacher pay, according to the National Education Association. Concern over the potential flight of experienced educators was exacerbated this week when representatives from the Houston Independent School District held recruitment fairs here. The Texans recruited a number of North Carolina teachers at a job fair in May.
To Democrats, the Senate’s pay raise proposal is an example of Republicans trying to give voters the programs they want while working under the constraints they themselves imposed by cutting taxes. “They’re trying to do something about it,” said Senator Josh Stein, a Democrat. “But they’ve painted themselves into a corner.”
TheTimes has maintained a drumbeat on North Carolina since Republicans strengthened its rare hold on the state House and Senate in 2012. Trip Gabriel's May 18 report was also very concerned about the state's "abrupt right-ward swing."