The Republican leaders in North Carolina are currently engaged in a power struggle over taxes and budget with one conservative leader resigning from a powerful leadership position while calling out corruption.
In North Carolina, the first time since the Reconstruction era, the Republican Party has super majority in both the House and the Senate of the General Assembly and there is a new Republican governor eager to prove himself on the national stage. It seems that the Republican Party of NC had seen this political situation as an historic opportunity to create a model of conservative reform for the nation.
Now, there is a bump in that aspiration and story. The House Republicans, Senate Republicans, uncompromising conservatives among Senate Republicans, and Republican Governor Pat McCrory are in fight over the budget and how to rewrite state tax laws.
At the center of the fight is Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) who recently resigned as Co-Chair of the Senate Fiance Committee in protest. Sen. Rucho labored for over nine months to find a way to overhaul the current tax system so that it's in line with the conservative philosophy.
That philosophy is that taxes should be "low, simple and equal" according to Sen. Rucho. And, the best way to achieve this is through eliminating the income tax and taxing consumption including services, and closing all loopholes. As Rucho puts it this way, "Everyone should be treated the same. No one gets special treatment."
Rucho contends that every one of the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee actually believes that this kind of massive overhaul of the tax system is needed and that the reason why that this is out of reach right now is entirely due to the influence of paid lobbyists representing powerful industries such as realtors and hospitals, i.e., corruption.
When Senate leader Phil Berger introduced his own compromise tax plan on June 11th taking Rucho's plan off the table, Rucho resigned in a letter a few days later.
The Raleigh State Capitol police expelled the media from the capitol dome on Wed. June 26, prior to arresting 3 men who refused to leave, and after Gov. Pat McCrory chose not to meet with a group of 50 North Carolina residents asking him to veto a slate of bills they see as mean-spirited and extreme.
Those arrested were Hudson Vaughan, Joshua Vincent, and Rob Stephens (field director for the NC NAACP). Story of America film directors Annabel Park and Eric Byler were shut out of the building, along with 2 local news crews, 2 citizen journalists, a print journalist, NAACP's staff videographer.
About an hour later, with the 3 men still inside, Chief Glen B. Allen, the state capitol police chief, came out to speak to NAACP attorney Jamie Phillips. Members of the press, and about 20 of the protesters, had been waiting outside the capitol's north entrance after seeing a police officer park a car there, presumably to transport the detainees.
Chief Allen said he was trying to convince the men to leave on their own volition. He said that he would allow Phillips to come into the building to observe if it became necessary to arrest the men. He also said that he would allow the media to observe.
However, after the arrests were made and the men were handcuffed, they were hurried to the south entrance of the capitol building in order to avoid the media. It seems clear to me that the decision to "un-arrest" the men and issue them citations instead was part of an effort to avoid media exposure. But Chief Allen told Phillips that it was for public safety reasons.
4 KEY MOMENTS
6:21 - Chief Allen says, "If the media is interested in staying, we'll let you know when we're about to do it. We'll bring them out, probably."
6:59 - The door to the state capitol opens and a head peeks out.
7:08 - Forward Together movement organizer Laurel Ashton receives a phone call alerting her that the 3 detainees are being ushered to the opposite side of the building.
7:25 - Rob Stephens explains it was the sight of the media waiting outside that caused them capitol police to remove their handcuffs and "un-arrest" them, issuing citations instead. This corroborates what our camera captured at 6:59, when the door opened and a head peeked out at the north entrance. Moments later, the detainees were released using the south entrance.
Eric Byler and I have been traveling around America with the goal of trying to understand why Washington is so gridlocked and the people apparently divided 50 years after the March on Washington. In Alabama, we encountered some dramatic expressions of that division. We also found people showing great leadership and working towards reconciliation such as Chief Kevin Murphy, the Montgomery Police Chief.
In Selma, we came across a situation where the people celebrate and honor two different versions of history of Selma and America. There is the community of people honoring the sacrifices made by people in 1965 on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge as they tried to march to Montgomery from Selma for voting rights for all people in America and were brutally beaten, an event known as Bloody Sunday. Every year in the month of March, there is a celebration and a re-enactment of the march from Selma to Montgomery attended by people from across the country.
Then there is the community that honors the sacrifices made by people at the Battle of Selma exactly a hundred years before Bloody Sunday. Every April, they celebrate Confederate Memorial Day and organize a re-enactment of the Battle of Selma attended by people from across the country.
Although these historic events occur every year in Selma, they are largely organized and attended by two distinct communities of people.
Tim Funk is the Faith and Values Reporter for The Charlotte Observer. He was assigned to cover "Moral Monday" on June 10, when members of the clergy led hundreds of people into the North Carolina General Assembly to protest voting restrictions and other policies they say will adversely affect the poor, children, the working class, and the middle class.
During the moments before Tim's arrest, there were a series of warnings from Chief Jeff Weaver of the General Assembly police. There was a lot of noise in the room, and the bull horn was most audible when pointed directly at us. It is possible Tim did not hear the final warning. From our vantage point(s), it looked as if Tim was the second person arrested, out of a reported total of 89. The charges include failing to disperse from an "unlawful assembly."
The golden doors that you see toward the end of the video lead to the state senate chamber. On the opposite side of the circle is the state house chamber.
Nearly 400 people have been arrested in the North Carolina General Assembly since April 29, when 17 people, mostly clergy, were arrested as part of a civil disobedience campaign led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and the North Carolina NAACP.
NOTE: Nancy Brown will be a guest on "The Middle Ground," on Coffee Party Radio tonight at 8 pm ET.
I caught up with Nancy Brown at 3 am at the Wake County Detention Center. She had been released hours earlier, but the person with whom she was riding home had not yet been released. She recounted her experience of being arrested by Capitol Police as part of the "Moral Mondays" civil disobedience campaign led by Rev. Dr. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP. Annabel Park and I then visited Nancy's home six days later.
New laws would target the parents of college students who register to vote with tax increases (parents would not be able to claim their children as dependents if they register to vote near their campus, rather than at their parents' address), end Sunday voting and same-day registration for early voting, and, reduce the number of early voting days resulting in long lines at polling places in well-populated areas. A "voter ID" law would create a financial and logistical barrier for hundreds of thousands of American citizens who wish to continue voting, but do not own cars, or were born many years ago before hospital births were commonplace.
Meanwhile, tax increases would hit the poor and the middle class, while tax breaks are being afforded to two dozen wealthy families. Assistance from the federal government is being refused, including unemployment benefits and Medicaid expansion that would have helped half a million people get health insurance.
Nancy's primary concern was for the poor — people who are worse off than she, even though she said she had never earned more than $20,000 in a year. Nancy lost her husband at a young age and makes her living as a gardener. In her interview with Annabel, she talked about formative experiences involving race relations. She mentions "white people" who can be a bridge between the races, recognizing perhaps that she herself is modeling this kind of civic engagement by joining a movement that was triggered by actions by the North Carolina NAACP. Moral Mondays protests in Raleigh North Carolina are as diverse and dynamic as the state's population is becoming. Historians and political scientists point to the demographic shift taking place in the state (and, Barack Obama's victory here in 2008) as a catalyst for the aggressive policies to restrict voting, and financially undermine the poor, the working class, and the middle class.
This video has a comprehensive list of the voting restrictions being proposed by Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly: