In my mind, I’ve been going to Carolina, not for the sunshine (or the moonshine), but for yet another example of hopelessly shallow media coverage -- of an Event and a Process. The Event, of course is HB2, the bathroom bill – The Process, the Kochification of a once-purple new-south state, where a lot of green has turned it cherry red.
Beginning with The Process (and with much credit owed to Jane Mayer’s doggedly brilliant book “Dark Money”), recent events are neither surprising nor out of step with a course set soon after President Obama narrowly won the state in 2008. Something just had to change.
And it did. North Carolina became a proving ground for a brilliant strategy conceived by the Koch Brothers-led investment vehicle, the ‘non-profit’ Americans For Prosperity (AFP). They dubbed the plan REDMAP. The idea started from the fact that Congressional Districts would be redrawn by state legislatures based on the results of the 2010 decennial census.
Control of those legislatures would help maintain GOP domination of the US House of Representatives, as well as bolster chances for state-level legislation they favored. As AFP President Tim Phillips explained, North Carolina was “a great opportunity. If you could turn around a state like that, you could get real reform.”
AFP worked with Art Pope, Duke-educated lawyer and heir to a discount chain store fortune, whose family foundation had pumped some $60 million into the state’s political infrastructure since the 1980s, seeking to hold back a tide of change. He became the point man and chief financier of REDMAP in Raleigh. AFP’s and Pope’s undisclosed ‘dark money’ campaign investments paid-off handsomely in 2010, as Republicans captured both houses of the state General Assembly.
They were ready with redistricting plans, tax cuts for the wealthy (75% of the cuts’ value to the top 5% of earners), environmental, education and services cuts, culture war bills (abortion, gay marriage) and a package of voter access limitations that harked back to 1950s. UC Irvine law prof and elections expert Richard Hasen declared “I’ve never seen a package of what I’d call suppressive voting measures like this.” While slashing education funding in general, the legislature did manage to decree that high school curricula include (in)doctrinaire libertarian offerings developed by the Pope-funded Civitas Institute.
So successful was the REDMAP gerrymander of Congressional districts (see remarkable map), that although more votes were cast for Democrat candidates, 10 of 13 districts elected Republicans in 2014.
A few further points are worth making: there is no counter-balancing Dem-side effort at the state level – they have simply been out-spent and out-maneuvered. In addition, the REDMAP success is a testament to the anti-(small d)democratic power of Dark Money – used skillfully, as here, it skews elections dramatically toward them that’s got, and away from them that’s numerous.
Finally, NC is only the best of many other examples of REDMAP success that will impact elections for many years. As erstwhile Obama advisor David Axelrod rued: “The GOP is top-down, but the Kochs had a different plan, which was to organize the grass-roots. It’s smart. There’s no equivalent on the Democratic side. They’re damn good organizers.” He might also have noted that the Koch political machine’s budget and staffing are both twice the size of the GOP. Yikes -- I can only take some solace in the fact that they dislike Mr. Trump, but that leaves all that money to be invested in down-ballot candidates.
Turning to The Event, it should not be surprising that wretched HB2 – the bathroom bill – would be an exudate from such a legislative gathering. What IS surprising is that the press has taken the Carolina GOPers at their word that this is a serious attempt to protect their womenfolk and kidlin’s from the utterly unexpressed depredations of transgender Americans. That straightforward argument is absurd for two nearly unassailable reasons.
First, there’s simply no evidence that such a threat has ever existed in all the years and all the bathrooms that have already been co-habited by straight and trans individuals. None. You could argue that youngsters are in infinitely greater peril of being preyed-upon by their wrestling or football coaches. Let’s give these legislators credit for knowing that.
Second, surely they must also be aware that HB2 is clearly unconstitutional under the authority of settled precedents rendered by conservative Supreme Courts – notably Romer v. Evans. The 14th Amendment, after all, requires that there be at least a so-called ‘rational basis’ for classifying and treating individuals differently under the law. As above and in the 1990s Romer case where Colorado singled-out gay Americans, no such basis exists -- the state was/is acting out of 'pure' animus against an disfavored group. This should also be as clear to the press as it is to anyone with a shred of sense or judgment.
So then why’d they do it? To provoke a wedge-issue confrontation in an election year fraught with both uncertainty and disaffection with Big Gubmint – that’s why. Despite the best efforts of the Carolina Dark Money forces, they face very tough elections for Governor and legislature in this Presidential election year. These voting cycles really bring out those as-yet-unsuppressed voters, especially on the Dem side, and particularly if Hillary Clinton is to be their nominee. The GOP needs to rile its base, which is largely white, rural, tradition-minded and credulous.
How better to do that than to cynically poke at a small, unfamiliar minority, and then claim to be defending your sovereignty – and your wimmin! – from the bullying of the big, bad Obama(!) Administration in Washington? You can almost hear the echoes of an earlier civil rights era, when the aroused citizenry sought to protect the ‘southern way of life.’ Already the Governor has been catapulted into regular free coverage by the national press, the state AG/Dem gubernatorial candidate has had to renounce the law by saying he won’t defend it, and li’l ole Carolina has drawn first blood in a practically biblical David/Goliath courtroom confrontation.
As a wedge issue, it’s straight out of the Karl Rove playbook, circa 2004. It worked then when the issue was gay marriage, and 'signs that might be omens' suggest it might succeed again this year. Just don’t expect the press to remember that far back – or tell you about it.
For anybody who might be interested in a follow-up on Tuxedo, The Most Interesting Dog -- here's a youtube vid of him tooling around in his cart. So far, so good.