North Carolina has been known, for the most part, as the moderate Carolina, anchored in the political middle by the liberal triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. But North Carolina's political climate changed in 2010, when voters joined a wave of states to deliver a stinging rebuke to President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress over the slow pace of the economic recovery and the passage of ObamaCare.
Both the state House and Senate were won by Republicans for the first time in more than 100 years. The party's efforts were boosted by Art Pope, nicknamed "the third Koch brother" by Katrina vanden Heuvel at the Washington Post, who poured $2.2 million into state legislature races in 2010. "Not that much, by national standards," writes The New Yorker, "but enough to exert crucial influence within the confines of one state."
In 2012, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, was elected governor. With complete GOP dominance, the state that voted for Obama in 2008 suddenly began passing a host of conservative bills.
The backlash has been intense. For the last nine weeks, thousands of progressive protesters have been staging "Moral Mondays" in front of the state's General Assembly building, resulting in a total of 675 arrests. McCrory has dismissed the demonstrators as "outsiders" trying "to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin," a reference to efforts by labor groups to recall the state's governor.
What, exactly, has North Carolina liberals so fired up?
1. An anti-abortion "sneak attack"
The state Senate was considering a bill aimed a preventing courts from being influenced by Islamic law — yes, that old canard — when, with no public notice, Republicans tacked on an amendment with tough new restrictions on abortion. One would force abortion clinics to meet license standards for ambulatory surgical centers — something only one clinic in the state could currently do.
The measure goes up for final Senate approval on Wednesday, then, if it passes, on to the House, which has already passed some of the provisions. Liberal forces in the state are livid. "This attempted sneak attack on women's reproductive rights is absolutely shameful," said Sarah Preston of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
"Yes, in one fell swoop," says Amanda Marcotte at Slate, "Christian fundamentalists are trying to impose their faith on the rest of the state while protecting North Carolinians from having the Muslim faith imposed on them. Oh, if only North Carolina Republicans could understand irony."
2. Voting restrictions
When the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, 40 of North Carolina's 100 counties no longer needed federal approval to change their election laws.
The result? North Carolina Republicans immediately moved to pass a voter ID law, and began planning an end to early voting, Sunday voting, and same-day registration, moves that Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, says would have a "demonstrably negative impact on voters of color."
Riggs has also accused the GOP of "racial gerrymandering" by concentrating black voters in a handful of districts. The imbalance, according to David Zucchino at the Los Angeles Times, is demonstrated by the fact that Democratic congressional candidates garnered 51 percent of the vote in North Carolina in 2012, but won only four out of 13 House seats.
3. Federal benefits
The latest "Moral Monday" protest came after North Carolina Republicans voted to become the first state to cut federally funded long-term unemployment benefits despite having the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country. Paul Krugman at The New York Times explains:
The Republicans controlling that government were so eager to cut off aid that they didn’t just reduce the duration of benefits; they also reduced the average weekly benefit, making the state ineligible for about $700 million in federal aid to the long-term unemployed. [New York Times]
North Carolina Republicans have also rejected the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, calling it a "broken" part of ObamaCare. Estimates put the number of low-income people who would have benefited under the expansion at 500,000.
4. The culture wars
In May, North Carolina voted to adopt a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, despite the fact that the state already had a law banning same-sex marriage. Apparently it wasn't enough; North Carolina's Amendment One guarantees that civil unions and other types of domestic partnerships won't be recognized by the state.
Then there was the Rowan County Defense of Religion Act, which claimed that "the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion." The bill ultimately proved too controversial for most state Republicans, who killed it in April.