|By Chris Kardish, Governing|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Hall sees the last half-century as one of steady achievement that pulled the state ahead of most of its Southern neighbors in everything from voter participation to higher education. Democrats, who ran the state during most of those years, now find themselves on the sidelines, watching a Republican legislature turn back decades of Democratic priorities and enact a starkly conservative agenda in a state that helped elevate
Aided by a national backlash against Obama,
Finally in total control in 2013, Republicans passed a long list of contentious laws, from strict voter identification requirements to a system of private school payment vouchers. These moves have generated endless media coverage and drawn tens of thousands of people to "Moral Monday" protests on the grassy mall behind the legislative building in
But even in a quiet legislative session, bitter differences over last year's legislative product remain close to the surface.
Starting in the 1920s,
The state has always been socially conservative (it was one of the last to adopt a state lottery and liberalize the sale of alcoholic beverages), but the new Republican majority has also tacked to the right on economic policy. It has reduced spending on public education, rejected
With the legislature's help, McCrory has been given three times the number of slots for political appointees as his predecessor. Many of those at-will employees, who are expected to show political loyalty, are concentrated in the
Environmental advocates argue that the greater politicization of the agency and its chief's emphasis on treating businesses like customers has led to a weak response to a widespread problem that the recent ash spill helped bring to public light. Environmentalists have found groundwater contamination elsewhere and attempted to sue a number of times since
The department eventually proposed a settlement last year with
In addition, the
Under pressure to act, McCrory rolled out legislation this year that would require removal of coal ash ponds at some of Duke's 33 sites, but the announcement underscored some tension between the governor and his fellow Republicans in the legislature. Lawmakers said McCrory didn't consult with them about what they'd like to see in a bill or what they can achieve within their caucuses. "I think it's a learning curve on how to work with the legislature," says Sen.
Critics on the left say there's no longer any sign of the moderate
Perhaps McCrory's biggest legislative priority this year is raising teacher pay, which has fallen to 46th in the nation after rising to the middle of the pack in the early 2000s. That could be harder with a
The tax plan Republicans passed last year eliminates
Spending levels per student on higher education are 25 percent less than they were before the recession, and McCrory proposed a
But if Republicans are upsetting the traditional
To be sure, though, there have been voices of caution. Among the most prominent is Republican U.S. Sen.
With the sudden shift to the right and the growing number of independent voters in
The most important election this year in
It's a message that's likely to play well with Republicans and some independents. But can Republicans continue to govern a balanced state, one with a growing number of unaffiliated voters, from the far right? Democrats and other critics insist they won't be able to. As
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