North Carolina Republicans, whether you approve of their legislation or not, have been bullish about ramrodding their agenda through the political process this year. The brusqueness with which they have governed has caught many people by surprise.
Supporters point out that they are simply fulfilling the promises upon which they campaigned. Fair enough. But they have not proven themselves to be gentle in wielding their power. They have marginalized Democrats in a way folks who observe politics have not seen in a long time.
Democrats, when they held a firm grasp on power, were, at least, benevolent taskmasters.
Some observers point out that Republicans have not held such power in state government to such an extent as they do now – the GOP controls both the House and the Senate and the Governor’s office – in a long time and they likely want to make hay while the sun still shines.
But just how long will the sun shine on Republicans?
There are a couple precedents they can observe and, perhaps, take lessons from.
In 1994, the national Republican party swept into power in Washington on the heels of scandals surrounding then-President Bill Clinton.
The Newt Gingrich-led GOP promoted its Contract with America and they proceeded to hound Clinton at every turn. Their attacks seemed petty to a lot of Americans who thought them pompous and arrogant.
Republicans began splintering among themselves and in just a few short terms, the power they had amassed had melted away.
More recently, and closer to home, Republicans took control of the Wake County Board of Education. They proceeded to push the superintendent out of office. To be technical, Del Burns resigned his post, but he made clear that the GOP majority wasn’t making what he considered good decisions.
In fact, they school board Republicans bullied their way through a number of issues, most notably a move away from diversity-based school assignment. They pushed through an agenda that seemed pre-determined and planned out away from the public eye.
And if the public wants eyes anywhere, you can bet it’s in the room where their children’s educations are impacted.
Before long, the solid Republican majority began showing its own fissures and in less than four years, voters decided the bickering and nastiness was too much. Three candidates ran for state office. One, Chris Malone, won. Another resigned and moved to the western part of the state. The third, Garner’s John Tedesco, remains on the school board, but he has been relegated to the back row as Democrats returned to power.
So, the lesson for Republicans in the General Assembly? Once you gain power, wield it gently. Work with the minority party to win at least some support for your agenda instead of acting like a bull in a china shop. Take time to implement your reforms gently.
If you don’t do those things, the power you enjoy could well be short-lived.
Voters just don’t have much stomach for a bunch of adults acting like spiteful children.
Nor do they have much stomach for turning the status quo completely on its head.