Sometimes local, parochial, podunk matters are the tip of a far larger ice floe. Where I live, the local news has been preoccupied by NC Senate Bill 36, sponsored by a former city council member, now a state senator, Trudy Wade, veterinarian, who appears to be anxious to put down the local Democrats.
SB36 aims to redraw local council election districts, eliminating two seats in the process and doing away with at-large representation. It will also shrink the power of the mayor, depriving him of any vote on matters before the body except in the event of ties.
Allegedly the goal is to streamline local government, but the effect is to boost seats held by Republicans, put fewer seats in Democrats’ hands and cut the number of minority representatives on the council in half. The city council is suing in federal court arguing that the redrawing of districts is designed to reduce minority participation in elections. The bill is also being contested as unlawful under the state constitution.
If this were a single instance, it might raise fewer eyebrows and hackles, though the state meddling in municipal and county government seems like the kind of overreach usually decried by Republicans –unless it benefits them.
SB36 is not, however, an isolated event, but part of a pattern. Ever since Republicans took the North Carolina governorship and a majority of both houses in the General Assembly for the first time since 1896, there has been a concerted effort to solidify their electoral power and undermine efforts by the opposing party to contest elections.
So, a Republican on the state election board has colluded with local election officials in Watauga County to eliminate an early voting site near Appalachian State University, where Democrats normally rack up large totals. The obvious goal is to make it harder for students to cast their ballots. Legal challenges are contemplated.
Another redistricting bill has been introduced in the Republican General Assembly to redraw Board of Commissioners districts in Wake County, among the more liberal counties in the state where the county seat is the state capital of Raleigh. The Bill would add seats and give equal weight to the populous, Democratic, urban core and the sparsely populated, rural, Republican periphery. This “reform” came months after an election gave all eight Board seats to the Democrats, and would prevent such a result in the future.
These local efforts are of a piece with Electoral Law 2013 passed by the Republican majority in the General Assembly and designed to reduce early voting, eliminate same day registration, require voter IDs and enact other strictures which would have the effect of disenfranchising minority voters and making it harder for young, elderly and poor voters to exercise the franchise. This interpretation isn’t just one man’s fevered imagination at work. The Attorney General of the United States is suing the state for attempted voter suppression and racial discrimination. As are the NAACP, the ACLU and The League of Women Voters.
This is not a new technique. Beginning with the Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay House in the 1990s, a concerted effort has been made to rejigger electoral processes to favor Republicans nationwide. But rather than do it top-down, the party has focused its efforts at the state and local levels, designing districts to favor the party and rewriting election laws to disadvantage Democratic constituencies.
The plan has succeeded. In 1994, roughly 40 percent of state Houses and Senates were majority Republican. Today it is 65 percent. If this were the result of the people choosing freely, that would be democracy in action. If it is the result of efforts to disenfranchise and burden some voters and favor others it is something else entirely.
It may be recalled that candidate Obama was damned for his early work as a community organizer when he used as his playbook “Rulers for Radicals,” a famous guide for helping powerless people to get their voices heard in a rigged game. Its author was the late labor and community organizer Saul Alinsky, once called an organizational genius by conservative icon William F. Buckley.
What the Republicans are doing is the other side of that coin, systematically rigging the game in their favor. And there’s a playbook that describes just such a program as theirs. Like a previous party, today’s Republicans are subjecting their political opponents to intimidation and discriminatory legislation. They have adopted a policy of coordinating the party with state governments, professional organizations and the other power centers to align them with party goals. They have targeted labor unions, favored business interests and tried to bring more levers controlling the economy, education, culture and the courts under party sway.
Who pioneered such a model for extending a Party’s hegemony and cementing its power? According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, that was the method used by the Nazi Party during its first two years in power to solidify its advantage. It can happen here. Ask Gov. McCrory, Art Pope, the Piedmont’s answer to the Koch Brothers and the power behind the McCrory’s throne, Trudy Wade and all the rest of the party stalwarts. They now have to defend their actions in courts, but many of the judges who will rule are also Party members or appointees.