Previously published on BillMoyers.com
First it was Wisconsin. Now it's North Carolina that is redefining the term "battleground state." On one side: a right wing government enacting laws that are changing the face of the state. On the other: citizen protesters who are fighting back against what they fear is a radical takeover. This crucible of conflict reflects how the battle for control of American politics is likely to be fought for the foreseeable future: not in Washington, DC, but state by state.
This week on Moyers & Company, "State of Conflict: North Carolina" offers a documentary report from the state that votes both blue and red and sometimes purple (Romney carried it by a whisker in 2012, Obama by an eyelash in 2008). Now, however, Republicans hold the Governor's mansion and both houses of the legislature, and they are steering North Carolina far to the right: slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, providing vouchers to private schools, cutting unemployment benefits, refusing to expand Medicaid, and rolling back electoral reforms, including voting rights.
At the heart of this conservative onslaught sits a businessman who is so wealthy and powerful that he is frequently described as the state's own "Koch brother." Art Pope, whose family fortune was made via a chain of discount stores, has poured tens of millions of dollars into a network of foundations and think tanks that advocate a wide range of conservative causes. Pope insists that he is simply "educating the voters on the issues so that they can hear both side of the issues, not just one side." The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, the first national journalist to investigate Pope's dealings in North Carolina, begs to differ. She says Art Pope has shown "that one really wealthy individual can almost rule."
Pope's most ardent opponent is the Reverend William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP, who says Pope is the powerhouse behind "an avalanche of extremist policies that threaten health care, that threaten education, [and] that threaten the poor." Barber's opposition to the Pope alliance became a catalyst for the protest movement that became known around the country as "Moral Mondays."
"State of Conflict" features several of the Moral Mondays protesters who were arrested for acts of civil disobedience during protests at the state legislature. They include a college student who says she's willing to go to jail so that she can "have a future," a doctor who claims the Republicans' refusal to expand Medicaid would "do great damage to my patients," and a 92-year-old African American woman who remembers the indignities of enforced segregation under Jim Crow. Declaring she is now fighting the same old battle on a different turf, she proclaims before a crowd of Moral Mondays protesters, "I am fed up and fired up!"
"State of Conflict" is more than a local story. It offers a case study of what may be the direction of American politics for years, perhaps decades, to come.
Also on the broadcast, good news on the decades-long fight to protect children from the dangers of lead-based paint. A California judge recently ruled that three companies were guilty of creating a public nuisance by manufacturing and selling lead-based paint for home use long after they knew it was harmful to children. The companies were ordered to pay $1.1 billion towards cleaning up the toxin.
"State of Conflict" is a collaboration between Okapi Productions, LLC and Schumann Media Center, Inc., headed by Bill Moyers, which supports independent journalism and media programs to advance public understanding of the critical issues facing democracy.
Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.