NBC News' online tipsheet blared this breathless announcement yesterday: "The best - and most important - political story that no one has probably heard about is taking place in North Carolina." But if you read me regularly, you already know all about North Carolina, the erstwhile progressive state where reigning right-wing Republicans have been busy turning back the clock to circa 1950.
And now it's time for an update. In addition to all the reactionary stuff I listed here two weeks ago, we have some new doozies. The worst is the fresh Republican assault on North Carolina's black voters (no surprise there), and we'll get to that momentarily. But let it also be recorded that, beginning this week, the state's jobless citizens will see their weekly state benefits slashed by 33 percent, and their maximum time to collect will fall from 26 weeks to as low as 12 weeks. Roughly 70,000 people are being thrown off the rolls. And thanks to the ruling GOP's stringent new rules, the jobless will no longer have the backup option of collecting federal unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, the Republican governor is soon expected to sign a bill that will force the public schools to teach anti-abortion propaganda beginning in seventh grade. I recognize that propaganda is a loaded word, but the dictionary definition - "Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view" - jibes perfectly with the issue at hand. Basically, schools would be required to warn girls that abortion would increase their subsquent risk of a premature birth.
In reality, there's no higher risk; the ruling NC GOP is codifying junk science for ideological purposes. The notion of a higher risk has already been soundly refuted by (among others) the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Public Health Association, and the New England Journal of Medicine (which, after studying 11,814 pregnancies over a five-year period, among women who had undergone earlier abortions, concluded in 2007 that it had found "no evidence" of an increased risk of premature birth.)
But, as we know, right-wing Republicans don't do science very well - especially when science clashes with their determination to craft a state-sponsored ideology. Despite all the public attention being paid lately to the anti-abortion war in Texas, this North Carolina episode deserves equal time.
And now for the main attraction:
Eight days ago, as you'll recall, the U.S. Supreme Court shredded the historic Voting Rights Act, making it far tougher for the Justice Department to thwart racial discimination at the ballot box. North Carolina Republicans have responded by saying, in essence, "Great, now we'll have an easier time making it harder for blacks to vote!"
The GOP lawmakers are busy readying a law that will severely cut (or totally end) early voting, Sunday voting, and same-day registration. That's a major blow to black voters, because they've made disproportionate use of early voting, Sunday voting, and same-day registration.
The state stats prove it. During the 17-day early voting period in 2012, North Carolina Democrats cast 49 percent of the ballots; Republicans, only 30 percent. And according to the U.S. Elections Project at George Mason University, blacks comprised 29 percent of all the early ballots. Sunday voting, in particular, has become a tradition in the black community - as it has in many other states. Blacks also comprised 34 percent of the same-day registration voters.
The ruling GOP claims, of course, that its motives are benign. When lawmaker Bob Steinburg was asked why he and his colleagues plan to curb or kill Sunday voting, he replied: "I'm also opposed to hunting on Sunday. Sunday is the Lord's day." (Gee, I didn't know that hunting was on a par with voting. And if Sunday is truly reserved for the Lord, how come all the North Carolina malls are open for business on His day?)
We all know what's really going on here. In presidential elections, North Carolina has long been reliably Republican - voting for the GOP candidate in eight of the last nine contests. The sole exception was 2008, when a motivated minority turnout helped propel Barack Obama to a narrow victory. Obama lost the state narrowly last year, even with the early voting and Sunday voting rules in effect. But state Republicans, traumatized by the '08 experience, are determined that it not happen again.
All told, the predominantly white party seeks to win elections by maximizing white voters and suppressing non-white voters. North Carolina is ground zero for this not-so-grand experiment.