Radical Right-Wingers Attempted a Takeover in North Carolina - Here's How the People Fought Back
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, D.C., but state by state.
This week on Moyers & Company, “State of Conflict: North Carolina” offers a documentary report from a 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 is also a major funder of conservative political candidates in the state.
Pope’s most ardent opponent is the Reverend William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP, who says the right-wing state government has produced “an avalanche of extremist policies that threaten health care, that threaten education [and] that threaten the poor.” Barber’s opposition to the legislature as well as the Pope alliance became a catalyst for the protest movement that became known around the country as “Moral Mondays.”
“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.
Bill shares good news on the decades-long fight to protect children from the dangers of lead-based paint. When Bill spoke with public health historians Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner last year, they told him about a pending lawsuit in California demanding the paint industry to cover the cost of eliminating old lead paint from some five million homes.
Bill Moyers: Welcome to you and the New Year. An election year for every seat in the House of Representatives, one third of the Senate, 36 governors, and thousands of state legislators. Now, chances are you’re not hearing a lot about those races yet, but in this era of gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, the battle to determine America’s agenda is being fought in state politics.
So on this first weekend of the year, we’re looking at one state that embodies the conflicts roiling the whole country. On one side: a government controlled by the most right-wing conservatives of the Republican Party, who are remaking their state in their image, fueled by the wealth and power of one very rich man. On the other side: a very vocal mix of citizens whose resistance turned the first day of every week into a “Moral Monday.”
Join us for "State of Conflict: North Carolina."
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BM: A Monday in July. Raleigh, North Carolina. A procession moves toward the state house.
Rev. William Barber [at the NC General Assembly]: Forward together.
Crowd: Not one step back.
WB: When it comes to education what do we do?
C: We fight, we fight, we fight.
WB: When it comes to healthcare what do we do?
C: We fight, we fight, we fight.
Chief Weaver: My name is Chief Weaver of the General Assembly Police. This is unlawful assembly. You have five minutes to disperse and leave the property.
C: We fight, we fight, we fight.
BM: Once inside they block doors and passageways, knowing it will get them arrested. They are part of a movement that’s become known as Moral Mondays.
Wolf Blitzer [CNN]: Thousands rallying, protesting at the North Carolina State House for weeks.
Newscaster [MSNBC]: It’s been called Moral Mondays, it’s a protest against the state’s government.
Newscaster [CNN]: At the Moral Mondays protests here in Raleigh, North Carolina.
WB [Moral Mondays Protest]: In a state like North Carolina, in the South, turn to your neighbor, say, “We in the South.”
C: We in the South.
WB: Tell the media, this ain’t Wisconsin.
C: This ain’t Wisconsin.
WB: This is the South.
C: This is the South.
WB: Where justice was hammered out.
C: Where justice was hammered out.
WB: Where freedom was hammered out.
C: Where freedom was hammered out.
WB: This is the South.
Newscaster 1 [WRAL]: More than a dozen protesters are still in police custody, hours after taking a stand with…
BM: The protests began with a small gathering on a Monday in April. Then, their numbers started growing, Monday after Monday.
Newscaster 2 [WRAL]: Each week there are more arrests than the week before. Tonight there were 49.
BM: The rallies kept growing through the spring and the hot Carolina summer.
Newscaster 3 [WRAL]: The 13th wave of the Moral Monday protests. Crowds grew so large police had to shut down a portion of Lane Street in downtown Raleigh.
BM: By August, citizens were turning out in town after town across the state.
Newscaster [ABC 13]: Ashville Police telling us 5,000 or more gathered here in downtown Asheville.
BM: And the nation was taking notice.
Newscaster [Fox]: Moral Monday organizers say the media attention they’re generating outside the General Assembly makes up for much of the political power they lack on the inside.
BM: The protesters are challenging a relentless right-wing crusade to remake the laws of the state.
Newscaster [CBS]: In North Carolina, they are trying a new way to get people back to work. They’re cutting off unemployment benefits.
Newscaster [MSNBC]: North Carolina passed one of the most restrictive voter suppression bills.
Newscaster 1 [ABC 11]: Lawmakers in the statehouse and Senate just voted to prohibit expansion of Medicaid.
Newscaster 2 [ABC 11]: Executions will soon resume here in North Carolina.
Newscaster [NBC-Charlotte]: Dropping the state income tax and adding a higher sales...
BM: For the first time in almost 150 years, Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the legislature, where they have a veto-proof majority. And they are using their monopoly of power to enact laws the "Charlotte Observer" says “will touch every North Carolinian’s pocketbook, every student’s classroom and every voter’s experience at the polls.”
Bob Zellner: The extreme right-wing, they have overstepped so far.
Vicki Ryder: They seem to be targeting those who can least afford to pay for these changes.
Woman 1 [Moral Mondays Protest]: We’ve just kicked 71,000 of our neighbors off of the benefits that keep roofs over their heads and food on their tables.
Man 1 [MMP]: What they are doing to public education is a travesty.
Woman 2 [MMP]: The legislature wants to lower the age that we can be tried as adults to thirteen.
C: Day or night, we stand for what is right.
Woman 3 [MMP]: We are here to save the soul of our state.
Rosanell Eaton [MMP]: At the age of 92, I am fed up, and — and fired up. I said fed up.
C: Fed up.
RE: Fired up.
C: Fired up.
RE: Fed up.
C: Fed up.
RE: Fired up.
C: Fired up.
RE: Thank you so very much.
Adam Hochberg: North Carolina has in some ways a bipolar political culture.
BM: Adam Hochberg teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
AH: A lot of people from outside North Carolina, when you say North Carolina, the first thing they think of is Jesse Helms who was of course a stalwart of the hard right and was our senator here for more than twenty years.
Sen. Jesse Helms: Homosexuals, lesbians, disgusting people marching in our streets, demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other.
AH: On the other hand, North Carolina is the home of a lot of progressive politicians. At the same time that Jesse Helms was in the Senate in the eighties, Terry Sanford was his counterpart in the Senate who is one of best-known southern progressive liberals.
Sen. Terry Sanford: We need to remind ourselves that protest, even obnoxious and blood-boiling protest, is the fundamental ingredient of a free people.
WB [MMP]: Our state constitution says …
BM: Today the state’s progressive leader is William Barber. Before the right-wing takeover, his coalition had pushed for a string of successful reforms, including raising the minimum wage and measures increasing voter participation.
WB: Because this right to vote, and the fight for it, is not just political, it’s personal.
AH: Reverend William Barber is the head of the North Carolina NAACP. He is a, he is a man if you’re ever in the room with him, you’ll know he’s in the room.
WB [MMP]: And we have come to serve notice that we will unleash every political legal and moral strategy that we can to create the New South. But we will not go back.
WB: Well, fundamentally America constantly finds itself in, where the question is a moral question. How are we going to live out our deepest moral principles of doing justice, loving your neighbor, and what does that mean in terms of our laws and our public policy?
BM: Barber was arrested on the first Moral Monday back in April. On the news he declared he was protesting an avalanche of extremist policies.
WB [WRAL]: That threaten health care, that threaten education, that threaten the poor.
Sue Sturgis: One of the things that particularly upset people is we saw cuts to long-term unemployment assistance.
BM: Journalist Sue Sturgis covers North Carolina politics for the progressive Institute for Southern Studies, in Durham.
SS: It wasn’t a lot of money in the first place, but it was a safety net. And so one of the things we’ve seen as part of the agenda that’s now being played out in Raleigh is constant snips and cuts and tears to that social safety net. It’s no longer a priority for the people who control the state.
Newscaster [ABC 11]: 31 yeses and 17 nos, the vote tonight on Senate Bill 4 to block the expansion of Medicaid.
BM: The Republican refusal to expand Medicaid meant denying health insurance to half a million people.
WB: How can you stand up and say I just cut 500,000 people’s access to Medicaid and it’s the moral thing to do?
Dr. Charles van der Horst: They decided that they’re not going to expand Medicaid. And this was going to do great damage to my patients. And so I take that very personally that I’m not a person who just takes care of hearts and livers, but I need to take care of their, the whole body and the whole person.
BM: Dr. Charles van der Horst is an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina.
CVDH: What had happened is that April 29th, Reverend William Barber, had had a rally against these policies. So I thought, I should check this out. So on Monday, May 6, I went along and ended up doing civil disobedience and getting arrested.
Woman in Crowd [MMP]: Thank you Dr. van der Horst.
CVDH: And I deliberately made some decisions in subsequent rallies that I, I stand next to him. I wanted there to be an old white guy in a white coat with a stethoscope standing next to him.
WB: We’re going to walk together.
C: Walk together.
WB: And go forward.
C: And go forward.
WB: Love is lifted.
C: Love is lifted.
WB: Justice is realized.
C: Justice is realized.
WB: Don’t ask us…
Ari Berman: He’s trying to build a multi-issue, multi-racial coalition in North Carolina.
BM: Ari Berman has been covering the Moral Mondays movement.
AB: There’s this feeling that social justice is under attack and that people have to get in the streets to make people care, to dramatize what’s happening in the state.
C: Same struggle, same fight.
Chant Leaders [MMP]: Gay, straight, black or white.
C: Same struggle, same fight.
BM The conservative ideology the Moral Monday protesters are fighting isn’t new. What’s new is that just about everything on the right-wing wish list for the past four decades is at last becoming reality. Just as Art Pope planned.
Bill Maher [Real Time with Bill Maher]: What happened in North Carolina? Well, his name is Art Pope. That’s what happened.
Art Pope: I’m Art Pope and I’m a job creator.
C: Hey hey, ho ho, Art Pope has got to go!
BM: In public, the man most often fingered as the mastermind of the right-wing take-over presents himself as just a low-key member of the governor’s cabinet, running the numbers like an earnest accountant:
AP [WRAL]: This budget anticipates revenue neutral tax reform.
BM: He’s self-effacing.
Newscaster [ABC 11]: Are you the rainmaker of the North Carolina Republican Party?
AP [ABC 11]: No the voters are the rainmaker of the North Carolina Republican Party.
BM: But Art Pope wields so much power here that he’s been called everything from kingmaker to king. Pope is very, very rich. And he has shelled out so many millions of dollars for conservative causes and Republican candidates that his adversaries accuse him of buying the state government. Pope claims that’s not what the money’s for.
AP [WRAL]: Of course I think it has an impact. But the impact is educating the voters on the issues so they hear both sides of the issues not just one side.
Jane Mayer: There are wealthy individuals who have outsized influence in many states. Usually there’s a handful of them.
BM: Jane Mayer, of The New Yorker, was the first national journalist to investigate Pope’s power.
JM: But he really dominates the landscape in North Carolina in a way that nobody else does.
BM: That’s because he practices the golden rule of modern politics: he with the gold, rules. And Art Pope has the money: his own, his company’s money, and money from the John William Pope Foundation, named for his wealthy businessman father. That single foundation has spent some 46 million dollars on a network of advocacy groups and think tanks bent on steering North Carolina far to the right. Sound familiar?
SS: When people talk about Art Pope, someone who’s often invoked are the Koch brothers, David and Charles Koch, who also run a privately held company and spend a great deal to promote their particular brand of libertarian politics. And he’s very close to the Kochs. He served as a board member of Americans for Prosperity, which is a conservative policy advocacy group that was founded and is funded by the Koch brothers.
JM: In some ways, Art Pope is sort of a, a junior-sized version of the Koch brothers. He has what some people call kind of a factory production line for his ideology. The people that work for his think tanks are on the radio, they have websites, they have publications that are statewide. They get their message out all the time.
BM: Like this message, aimed right at the Moral Mondays protesters.
FDL [Money Monday]: Backed by a supportive liberal media, hundreds have been arrested for disrupting the state legislature.
BM: It accuses protest leaders of marching to protect access to government handouts.
FDL: These organizations are fighting to keep their spot at the public trough. Welcome to Money Mondays.
BM: Francis De Luca once ran the North Carolina chapter of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. He’s now head of the John William Pope Civitas Institute.
FDL: So Civitas Institute is heavily funded by the Pope Foundation, but I can tell you having now worked at Civitas for seven years and run it for almost six years, Art Pope’s control over Civitas is very little. He likes policy. I always try to describe Art as a policy wonk. He believes in a vigorous debate, even among his different groups. If you check, you will notice that our groups do not always agree. The groups he’s fund do not always agree on policy.
BM: Perhaps not always, but certainly often enough. For example, on cutting tax rates for corporations and the rich, which is exactly what the state recently did. By 2015, the highest earning North Carolinians will pay almost 26 percent less in income taxes than they did in 2013. Corporations will pay over 27 percent less. There’s also been a repeal of the estate tax, which applied only to people so wealthy, that just 23 families had paid it in the year 2011. When corporate and wealthy interests are at stake, Art Pope is right at home.
Where did Art Pope get the money — and the ideas — that have reshaped the politics of North Carolina?
The story begins when he was young man.
JM: He was a very intellectual kid and very early on he went to a summer program that was run by the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank and he was quite swept up with libertarian ideology and the ideas of Ayn Rand. Once he was through college and he went to Duke Law School he eventually became the general counsel in the family firm, and then he rose in the firm.
BM: All the way to the top, becoming CEO of that family firm.
SS: It’s a privately held company called Variety Wholesalers. It was started by his forebears. It’s a discount retail chain.
AH: These are usually lower end discount stores than, than a Target or even a Walmart or a K-Mart store. They go by a variety of different names. One of the largest chains he owns is called Rose’s. There’s one called Maxway. He has great personal wealth and great family wealth.
JM: And he had great political ambitions.
SS: Pope served in the legislature for several terms back in the 1980s and into the ‘90s.
AH: Art is a, he’s a very bright man and he knows the state budget and he knows numbers inside and out, but he is not what you call the stereotypic political candidate. You know the smiling telegenic politician. And after a couple years he ran for lieutenant governor and lost, badly. And he realized he was not going to influence North Carolina politics by being lieutenant governor or governor. He was just unlikely to get elected.
BM: Turns out he didn’t need to get elected to win elections. He just had to put his money in where it counted. He first set out to purge moderate Republicans from the state assembly by supporting candidates to their right in GOP primaries. And then, in 20l0 he took on the Democrats, who played right into his hands.
SS: The Democrats were in disarray in 2010. There had been a series of scandals in the party. Corruption scandals.
BM: A Democratic governor had pled guilty to a felony campaign finance charge. And that wasn’t all.
AH: We had a Democratic Speaker of the House go to prison on a bribery scheme. I mean there was a lot of, a lot of sleaze in the Democratic Party. We saw a backlash against President Obama and Obamacare, which is the same thing we saw nationally. We saw frustration over a lousy economy, which was the same thing we saw nationally.
SS: Also that election was right after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened up the door to outside money.
BM: That Citizens United decision, the handiwork of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, enabled corporations and individuals to spend unlimited amounts of often untraceable money — what’s now called “dark money.”
JM: He provided a perfect example of how the landscape had changed after the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.
AP [C-SPAN]: Well, break those numbers up.
JM: He saw the opportunities and he had the cash because of his family fortune. Art Pope is a very smart man who is, almost thinks about the world almost like an engineer. And it’s as if somebody had looked at the map in every single district and figured out what it would take to get Republican control. And so he along with some of the people he was working with targeted legislative races to pour money into.
BM: One of their vessels was a front group called Real Jobs NC. Co-founded by Art Pope, and bankrolled by one of his companies and a national Republican group, its real job was to demolish the other side. And in 20l0 it went on the attack.
Announcer [Real Jobs NC Campaign Ad 1]: Putting Raleigh Liberals first.
Announcer [Real Jobs NC Campaign Ad 2]: Their high taxes and wasteful spending cost us jobs.
Announcer [Real Jobs NC Campaign Ad 3]: Her priorities are costing us jobs.
Announcer [Real Jobs NC Campaign Ad 4]: Real Jobs NC sponsored this ad.
SS: That year he and his family and also the outside spending groups that he’s associated with spent 2.2 million on state legislative races.
JM: Which in the national scheme of things is not a tremendous amount of money, but in the context of a state, and in the context of state legislative races where really there’s not usually that much money spent, it — it was decisive.
Newscaster [WRAL]: Tonight’s shift in power is historic. The Republicans have taken control of both chambers for the first…
Newscaster 1 [ABC 11]: Republicans are now in control for the first time in more than a century.
Newscaster 2 [ABC 11]: So how big of a role does Pope himself think he played?
AP [ABC 11]: I supported 19 Republican legislative candidates that I contributed to and 17 of those won.
N2: That’s a pretty good track record.
AP: I’m glad.
AH: The 2010 election, Republicans got control of both houses of the state legislature, first time since just after the Civil War.
SS: And the Republicans were very smart. You know they, they realized that there was an opportunity there. Whoever controlled the legislature in 2010 would control the state’s political future.
BM: The winners would control the future because 2010 was a census year – the first in a decade.
AH: That means they get to control the redistricting process. So as you can imagine, that’s an opportunity for legislators to do some pretty self-serving things, and it was the same thing when Democrats were in charge. With computers nowadays you can get very specific about every house that’s included in the district, and you can know, what’s a Republican neighborhood, what’s a Democratic neighborhood, so you can look up at an individual house and say, okay, the man of the house is a Republican, and the lady of the house is a Democrat, and I see they have one adult son living at home and he’s also a Republican, I mean you can do it to that level. And you can draw districts in such a way that pretty much foretells which party is going to control that district. And what the Republicans did was draw districts as best they could to elect Republicans.
BM: They had help, according to the investigative group ProPublica. Help in the form of dark money from outside sources and Republican operatives down from Washington to help figure out the boundaries most favorable to their party. But there was someone else in the room, too. Art Pope. One person present told "ProPublica:" "we worked together at the workstation … he sat next to me." When the next election came around, 2012, the gerrymandering worked like a charm.
AH: The 2012 election occurs and it is the best election for Republicans in modern history in North Carolina. They take not just control of both houses of the state legislature, and they had not done that in a century, but they take overwhelming control. They take a veto-proof majority control of both houses of the legislature. They also get the governor’s mansion back for the first time in 20 years.
PM [Campaign Ad]: Let’s forget about politics for a while, and think about us. That’s what we tried in Charlotte when I was mayor.
BM: As mayor of Charlotte, Pat McCrory was known to be a fiscal conservative, but on other issues, fairly moderate for a southern Republican.
PM: I’m Pat McCrory and I’m running for governor.
AH: Governor McCrory in one of the debates before the 2012 election was specifically asked by somebody on the panel in a televised debate, would you sign any measures to further restrict abortion in North Carolina, and he said flat out no.
Laura Leslie [Debate Questioner]: If you’re elected Governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign? We’ll start with you, Mr. McCrory.
PM [2012 gubernatorial debate]: None.
LL: All right.
BM: But once in office McCrory swung hard to the right, beginning with the casual announcement of a key appointment.
PM [WRAL]: Art Pope has agreed to serve as my deputy budget director.
BM: Say what?
PM: Art Pope has agreed to serve as my deputy budget director.
BM: An innocuous title, masking a startling reality. The man who for years had poured money into those right wing think tanks into the Republican Party, and into Republican campaigns – including Pat McCrory’s -- would now be the governor’s man overseeing the state budget.
VR: His power is, is tremendous and very frightening to me that people can buy their way into that kind of power in what’s supposed to be a people’s democracy.
The Raging Grannies [MMP]: We’re the Raging Grannies…
BM: Vicki Ryder sings at Moral Monday protests with a group called “The Raging Grannies.”
TRG: To think that men in suits might take our voting rights away.
BM: Several years ago she moved from New York to North Carolina.
VR: After my husband and I retired, we were looking for a place to live that would be supportive of our values. And the Triangle region of North Carolina seemed to be a good fit for us. So we have just been shocked by how quickly things have turned from a very progressive atmosphere to one of extraordinary regression.
BM: Conservatives were getting the results they had been praying for. Some examples. Seventy five percent of the tax cuts went to the top 5 percent of taxpayers. Anyone making more than, say, $250,000 a year would now pay a state income tax rate at the same level as those making $25,000. Earned income tax credits for the poor were cut. Budgets were cut for at-risk kids in pre-K even as vouchers were given to private schools. Unemployment insurance was cut – with a bill crafted by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. And in Art Pope’s budget, the state’s higher education system took a hit of 64 million.
AH: You’ve traditionally had a lot of support for education in North Carolina, especially for a southern state. And I think it’s something that a lot of North Carolinians take, take pride in, not just, you know, pointy-headed liberal intellectuals, but a lot of people in the business community too. And I don’t think you’ll find even among Republican business leaders this attitude of marginalizing higher education that you have seen from the state capital. One of the first things that Governor McCrory did, one of the first controversies he got involved with as governor is he went on a conservative radio show, a national show, and took some swipes at the university and said, there are too many degrees in liberal arts, and he said, if you want to get a degree in gender studies, go to private school and do it, the people of North Carolina don’t want to pay for that.
PM [Bill Bennett’s Morning in America]: That's a subsidized course, and frankly if you want to take gender studies that's fine, go to a private school and take it, but I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job.
Molly McDonough: And he said that if you wanted to study these things that you should go to a private college rather than a, rather than a public one, which is not an option for so many of us.
BM: Molly McDonough grew up in Chapel Hill. She’s a sophomore at North Carolina State University.
PM: I'm looking at legislation right now in fact, I just instructed my staff yesterday, go ahead and develop legislation which would change the basic formula in how education money is given out to our universities and our community colleges.
Bill Bennett [Bill Bennett’s Morning in America]: Great, great.
PM: It's not based upon how many butts in seats, but how many of those butts can get jobs.
BB: Excellent. How many employable butts. Okay.
MM: I can’t remember the exact quote, but he said, it was something weird. It was about like all the butts in seats need a job.
MM [MMP]: My name is Molly McDonough. And I am 18 years old. So when I told my friends and my family that I was planning to get arrested, they were all very concerned about my future. And my response to that was I am doing this so that I can have a future.
BM: The budget did more than strip cash from education. Among other things, it got rid of jobs for environmental regulators, cut funds for drug addiction treatment, even funds that help people with AIDS buy drugs – the costly ones that would keep them alive. Sean Gorman is a hemophiliac, who got HIV from a blood transfusion. He’s been treated by Dr. Charles van der Horst since 1985.
CVDH: Again. And he was desperately ill very early with all sorts of horrible, horrible infections, including you had CMV retinitis.
Sean Gorman: Yeah, that’s how I lost this eye. I don't have vision in this eye.
BM: Gorman gets his medicine through a program called “AIDS Drug Assistance Program” – “ADAP.”
CVDH: Deep breath.
BM: The Art Pope budget cuts 8 million dollars from ADAP. And advocates say that’s enough to prevent some 900 future AIDS patients from getting the life-saving drugs they need through the program.
SG: You know, people won’t be able to buy their, you know, to afford to get their medications, then they’ll do without, and then they’ll get some crazy opportunistic disease, go into the hospital and have huge hospital bills which they won’t be able to pay for.
CVDH: Right. The average hospital admission would be something like $100,000 for an opportunistic infection.
Who’s going to pay for that? Well you and I will pay for that. That comes out our health insurance costs. So not only is it not being a good, moral person to take care of them, it economically makes no sense.
SG: Alright, we’ll see you in six months.
CVDH: Yeah, take care.
SG: All right, thank you.
CVDH: Good luck. Bye bye.
SG: Yep, thank you. Bye bye.
BM: There have been other dramatic changes. For one, the election of state judges.
Rep. Pricey Harrison: I believe we were the first state in the country to enact public financing for our appellate court races, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. And the rationale was we didn’t want judges running who were going to be getting money from the lawyers who were going to be appearing before them to finance their campaigns.
SS: And it worked very well and it’s been very popular. Democrats and Republicans, men and women, black and white, across the board it was a very popular program.
BM: But popular or not, the Art Pope network wanted it gone. And the Republicans killed that clean elections system for judges.
LL: What further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?
BM: Then there’s abortion rights.
LL: We’ll start with you Mr. McCrory.
BM: Remember that campaign promise candidate McCrory made in 2012? Well in 2013, Governor McCrory was singing a different tune.
Newscaster [NBC-Charlotte]: He says he’ll sign a controversial abortion bill into law. Protesters tell NBC-Charlotte reporter Rad Berky that is a broken promise.
PH: Basically the impact will be that 15 of the 16 clinics left in the state that provide abortions will have to shut down under the new standards.
C: Hey hey, ho ho, Pat McCrory has got to go! Hey hey, ho ho, Pat McCrory has got to go!
BM: Moral Monday protesters say they barely recognize their state under the current regime. What has outraged them most is the state’s new voting law, which cuts right to the heart of democracy.
Chant Leaders [MMP]: When voting rights are under attack, what do we do?
C: Stand up, fight back!
CL: When voting rights are under attack, what do we do?
C: Stand up, fight back!
BM: To understand their outrage, you need to know a little history.
AB: For a long time, North Carolina didn’t really have a very strong voter turnout.
BM: Journalist Ari Berman is writing a book about voting rights.
AB: And then they did a number of things after the 2000 election to make it easier for people to vote, they, for example, expanded early voting, they allowed same day voter registration during that early voting period, and those kind of things started to propel North Carolina forward in terms of voter turnout.
BM: Those voting reforms were on display during the presidential election of 2008, when North Carolina swung toward the Democrats for the first time in decades – not least because early voting brought more people to the polls.
Rachel Maddow [MSNBC]: On election day itself there were actually more votes cast for John McCain than there were for Barack Obama, but Obama still won the state because […] more than half of all North Carolina voters in 2008 voted early, and early voters ultimately put Obama over the top.
AB: And so I think Republicans said we need to down some of these voters. We need to make it so that the electorate is older, whiter, more conservative, not younger and more diverse.
BM: And how better to do that, than to push for strict voter ID requirements? And in 2008, that’s exactly what the Pope network began to do.
SS: There just has not been any kind of widespread voter fraud, but they repeatedly raise it as a concern in order to build a case for voter ID laws.
AB: Then you had candidates who are funded by Pope who said the same thing, so that there was some perception among elected officials that voter fraud was a problem even though it wasn’t.
Rep. Tom Murry: In order to restore confidence and accountability to our elections, we need voter ID.
AB: And pass this anti-voting legislation, essentially based on the manufactured outrage that Pope had ginned up.
BM: In 2013 the right-wing legislature passed a new law that critics called a voter suppression act – in part because its requirement for ID cards is most likely to affect the young, elderly, poor and minority voters. And there’s more.
AB: They cut a week off of early voting, they eliminated same day registration during that early voting period, they expanded the number of poll watchers that can challenge eligible voters on election day. At the same time they were eliminating pre-registration for 16 and 17 year-olds.
Francis de Luca: One of the changes in the bill was this thing they called preregistration, where they registered 16 and 17 year-olds using the schools to register them. You know, I like to call this the “pedophilia enabling act.” Where in the world can I go on a government website and find a list of 16 year-olds and their home addresses? I can go to the state board of elections. If you walked into a school and asked for that list, not only would you not get it, you would probably be arrested. And they would send police to your home and say why do you want a list of all our 16 year-olds in the school?
AB: There is really no evidence that pre-registering 16 and 17 year-olds endangers their security, there’s no evidence that it leads to voter fraud. And so to get rid of something like that I think sends a very bad message to the young people in North Carolina.
PH: And I think that it’s unfortunate because it’s, it seems to be part and parcel of pattern to make it much more difficult for a particular demographic to vote. And I guess I would say the bill is designed to make it more difficult for Democrats to vote basically.
BM: If you don’t want to take that from a Democratic legislator like Pricey Harrison, take it from a Republican county executive, Don Yelton, who admitted as much in his now infamous appearance on the Daily Show.
Don Yelton [The Daily Show]: The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college kids that’s too lazy to get up off their bohunkus and go get a photo ID, so be it.
Aasif Mandvi [The Daily Show]: Right, right.
DY: If it hurts the whites so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.
BM: Almost immediately, Yelton was forced to resign his position in the Republican Party.
RE: Good evening everybody.
C: Good evening.
RE: I am Rosanell Eaton, 92 years old. A citizen of Franklin County. I am before you today to speak on voting rights. We need more, not less, public access to the ballot.
BM: Her name is Rosanell Eaton, and she has a very long memory, including crosses burning on her lawn and Jim Crow laws forcing segregation on black Americans far into the 20th century.
Armenta Eaton: My mother, Rosanell, always believed that everybody should have the right to vote. She’s registered approximately, probably over 4,000 people. She got an award for that. She was awarded what is called the Invisible Giant Award. She would always have her little forms with her, she even has them now when she doesn’t really necessarily have to, but she wants to make sure that everybody — if she’s to see a person, she might ask them if they’re registered to vote.
BM: When she first registered to vote as a young woman, she faced a group of white men who put her to a test reserved for African Americans: she was told if she wanted to vote, she’d have to recite the preamble to the US Constitution.
RE: One of the men told me, stand up straight against that wall with your eyes looking directly toward me, and repeat the Preamble of the United States of America. Without missing a word, I did it.
AE: All right, ready to roll.
And it really bothers her that voter suppression coming right back in the year 2013. She just never thought she’d have to be fighting this battle just on another type of turf.
WB [N.C. General Assembly]: Bring it down, bring it down. Everybody listen up.
RE [N.C. General Assembly]: So let me tell you people.
WB: So let me tell you.
RE: There’s nobody in here I know that’s any older than I am.
WB: There’s nobody in here any older than I am.
RE: But you need to get involved.
WB: Get involved.
RE: When something comes up, you be involved.
WB: When something comes up, you be involved.
RE: You won’t have to learn —
WB: You —
RE: You won’t have to learn new strategy.
WB: You don’t have to learn new strategy.
RE: Be ready for them.
WB: Just be ready for them.
RE: So you all just keep on.
WB: Keep on.
Police Officer [NC General Assembly]: …General Assembly Police. You have two minutes to disperse or you will be arrested. Two minutes.
BM: On June 24th, 2013, Rosanell Eaton was arrested at the state legislature and charged with trespassing. Vicki Ryder was arrested in July.
VR: I think one of the things frankly that bothers me the most about what’s happening is that we fought that fight. You know, I was there in Washington, DC 50 years ago when Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. And we thought that we were making some progress.
BM: It’s a common theme among the protesters that today’s battles hark back to earlier ones, in the Civil Rights movement.
AB: Remember, North Carolina was where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, started. Those sit-ins in Greensboro inspired the modern civil rights movement of the 1960s. And so there’s a long history in North Carolina of civil rights activism and some of those very activists, people like Bob Zellner of SNCC, have been extremely active in the Moral Monday movement today.
C: Hey hey, ho ho, Pat McCrory has got to go.
BZ: Well I grew up in L.A., in Lower Alabama. I was the first white southern field secretary for SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and I was one of the first seventeen that were arrested in Moral Monday.
C: We fight, we fight, we fight.
BZ: Our purpose in life is to work for those who are powerless. And what’s happening now in the Moral Monday movement is on the same moral plane as what happened in the civil rights movement.
FDL: I got to say I think this is laughable. We’re talking about the people in the civil rights era, we’re talking about people being beaten, we’re talking about people, when they were put in jail, they didn’t get out of jail in time to go eat dinner that night. I am not questioning the individuals, why they’re doing it in their motivation, I am questioning the ones who try and equate it with the ‘60s and ‘50s and some of the great struggles in history.
BM: Protesters, however say the Pope-funded Civitas Institute itself has reached back to the past and dredged up an ugly tactic used against civil rights activists.
CVDH: So what they did, they put all our names, our occupations, our age, our race, party affiliation, and our employer, and our salary if we were public employees.
FDL: And we put all that up there, and we put up their party registration, which we just cross-checked, public record, to help identify what they were.
SS: It really hearkened back, and this is what really upset people a lot, it really hearkened back to a strategy that we saw during the mid-20th century civil rights movement where people protesting Jim Crow, who were signing petitions against segregation would have their names pulled off those petitions and put in the newspaper. And it was a way to encourage retaliation against them. Not necessarily violent retaliation, but you know the employer might see your name there and maybe didn’t want to hire a troublemaker.
FDL: You know I just don’t understand that thing that on one hand, you’re publicizing how you got arrested but on the other hand if we say it, it’s intimidation.
BM: There’s also an interactive feature on the Civitas site.
MM: Like there’s this game called “pick the protestor” where it has like three mug shots and it’s like, which person is retired? Which person lives in Chapel Hill? Which person has the last name of McDonough? And you click on the mug shot of the person you think it is.
BM: Francis De Luca says the game is a “fun” way to get people to interact with the site, and to prove that the protesters don’t really represent North Carolina – that they are disproportionately white Democrats, with more clergy and public sector workers than the state as a whole. The protesters say they indeed represent their state’s diversity. And that parts of the database are skewed.
MM: I looked myself up and they have some inaccurate information there. They, they have one section of the spreadsheets that are voting discrepancies, and so they say that I’m a registered Democrat which I am and then they say that I am registered to vote at the wrong address. Now what they either didn’t take into account or didn’t, you know, care to think through is that I’m a student. In November I live in Raleigh on NC State campus, and my permanent address is in Chapel Hill. And so when I got arrested I put down the address that they will always be able to contact me through which is my mother’s address. And that’s not where I registered to vote.
FDL: You vote where you live. If I tell you, if I registered to vote, I can tell you, if I get arrested, it’s going to be the same place. My home address is the same place I vote. I mean that’s how it’s supposed to be that your domicile is where you vote so if I’m telling you I get, when I get arrested I actually live somewhere else, but my registration is over here, then one of those two things is a lie.
CVDH: I think their intention was to intimidate others from committing acts of civil disobedience. And instead it’s had the reverse effect.
WB [Moral Mondays Protest]: Mr. Pope, it’s a waste of your money. See they want us to come here today and be all upset about this site. They want to sucker us into a back and forth about people on a website so they can take the focus off the policies being passed and signed by them in the General Assembly and in the Governor’s office. But it will not work.
BM: But so far, what North Carolina’s far right government is doing is working.
Man [NC General Assembly]: Clerk will allow the machine to record the vote. 84 have voted in the affirmative, 32 in the negative. The motion passes.
BM: Protesters are powerless to stop the passage of a single law.
WB: Not going back.
BM: It’s true they aren’t giving up.
WB: And so turn to your neighbor and say, let us not despair.
MM and Sister [MMP]: Let us not despair.
BM: But neither are Art Pope, the governor, and the veto-proof legislature.
JM: Well, I think what’s important is that what Art Pope has done in North Carolina could be done pretty much in any state. He’s shown that one really wealthy individual can almost rule.
BM: And so we enter 2014 with one more reminder that America is a country where the wealthy almost rule. Money talks. Although when we offered Mr. Pope and Governor McCrory an opportunity to be interviewed for our report, they didn’t respond.
Luckily, some people are much more vocal -- fighting back, saying enough is enough. And I don’t just mean the Moral Mondays protestors. The U.S. Justice Department is challenging North Carolina’s restrictive new voting law, arguing that it will have a disproportionate impact on minorities. And those new gerrymandered districts, engineered with Art Pope sitting in the room to ensure Republican dominance, are also being challenged in North Carolina’s own Supreme Court. The charge is that they’re race-based, and therefore unconstitutional. Yet even there, in the state’s highest court, money may affect the outcome. Take a look.
A Republican political action committee in Washington sends over a million dollars to a political action committee in North Carolina called Justice For All NC. That group then sends over a million dollars to a Super PAC called North Carolina Judicial Coalition, which spends over a million dollars supporting Justice Newby’s re-election.
Now that Republican political action committee in Washington where the money started is the same one North Carolinian Republicans worked with to gerrymander the state. That plan is being challenged by citizen groups as race-based and unconstitutional. So where do these citizens turn to seek justice? To the very state Supreme Court, one of whose members was re-elected with money from the partisans who drew up the redistricting in the first place. Justice can't be more corrupted than that. But when money rules, nothing is sacred, or cheap.
Which could explain why Art Pope, as we reported earlier, has waged a long crusade to kill the state’s popular system of public funding for judicial races – a system created to prevent rich people like pope and corporations from buying justice.
Last summer, Pope succeeded, opening North Carolina's highest court to the highest bidders.
Katie bar the door – except that no matter which door we’re talking about, Art Pope has the key to it. And possibly to the future.
Take the firepower of the rich, pour in heaps of dark money loosed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, add generous doses of fervent ideology, and presto: the battle for American politics and governance is joined. And every state becomes North Carolina, including yours.
Title Card: "State of Conflict" is a collaboration between Okapi Productions, LLC, and the Schumann Media Center, Inc., headed by Bill Moyers, which supports independent journalism.
BM: There’s a reason to keep fighting against the powers that be. Because no matter the setbacks or the years it may take, you can win. Remember when we introduced you to Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner? They’re public health historians who never quit even the giants of industry try to silence them. Their book "Deceit and Denial," for example, told how chemical companies concealed the truth about toxins in our food, water, and air. The companies responded with a vicious attack to discredit them, and failed. They were targets again when their most recent book, "Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children," warned that kids can still be harmed by lead.
Gerald Markowitz [Moyers & Company]: Scientists now say that it is very likely there is no safe level of lead, that any amount of lead in a child’s body, in a child’s blood, you know, causes a variety of neurological and intellectual problems.
David Rosner [M&C]: The message really should be is we need to really think of lead as one symbol, one symptom of this much larger problem of the pollution of our children, pollution of their lives, the pollution of all of us from a whole host of toxic materials that we are, we've grown accustomed to using.
BM: Markowitz and Rosner are often called as expert witnesses for the prosecution, including one lawsuit in Rhode Island that went to trial in 2005. Decaying paint left a deadly toxic mess in Rhode Island homes. The state Attorney General demanded that the paint companies be held responsible for cleaning it up.
DR: Our documents showed that they had known about what they were creating, they'd known that children would be poisoned, they were discussing children dying as early as the 1920s and '30s, and yet they had created this huge environmental mess of millions and millions of pounds on the walls of Rhode Island, all of which was waiting to poison future generations. And that they had done nothing about it, they continued to market. And that’s really, I think, enraged the jury.
GM: And we were thrilled, just thrilled when at the end of this trial the jury came back and for the first time in lead industry lawsuits they held three lead companies responsible for cleaning up the mess, in the form of lead paint on the walls of houses throughout Rhode Island.
BM: But two years later that groundbreaking decision was overturned by the state supreme court. Yet, when Markowitz and Rosner spoke with us last spring, they were hopeful that a similar lawsuit in California might succeed where Rhode Island had failed.
DR: The Supreme Court of Rhode Island had said this can't go under, there is no standing in future generations to get damages from these companies because they haven't been damaged yet. Until the kids are damaged you can't actually sue. And California has said that absolutely, public health law is all based upon preventing disease. All regulations are in order to prevent future damage, therefore it can go forward in California.
BM: And go forward it did, against more stiff opposition from the industry that denied ever having deliberately sold a harmful product. And yet, documents discovered by Rosner and Markowitz dating back as far as 1900 showed otherwise. Including one company’s admission that lead paint was a “deadly cumulative poison.” Unbelievably, the industry would go on to advertise that it was safe for children.
DR: And they show these ads in which children are painting their toys, painting their cabinets, painting their walls, painting their furniture with a poison. At the same time when in their own internal documents they’re saying, we have these examples, we have, we’re being attacked because children and babies are getting poisoned by lead on their cribs.
BM: Finally, last month, success. That historical record helped convince a California Superior Court justice who wrote in his decision that, “In the 1920s, scientists from the Paint Manufacturers Association reported that lead paint used on the interiors of homes would deteriorate, and that lead dust resulting from this deterioration would poison children and cause serious injury.” The companies just never bothered to warn the public. And even though lead was banned from paint back in 1977, the industry continues to deny accountability and has defeated some 50 lawsuits nationwide. The California judge ruled that three companies must pay $1.1 billion dollars to remove lead paint in some 5 million homes. The companies will appeal. No surprise to Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner.
DR: You know, in our lifetime we have seen the abandonment of the commitment to try to help those who are most vulnerable in our society. And instead of that commitment today we ask how much does it cost. And by that we mean how many dollars does it cost. We don’t ask what does it cost in terms of the health of our children, what does it cost in terms of the futures of our children and our society.
BM: So take a lesson from these two citizens who keep fighting for that future against the might of greed and power. Don’t give up. Fight on. You just might win.