The Budget Bomb
The consequences of one-party dominance of state legislatures
In less than two hours, the N.C. Senate is scheduled to vote on the state budget. The budget bill is 429 pages long. Legislators received copies at about 11:30 p.m. last night.
Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte registered the appropriate level of disgust in the accompanying tweet, which reflects not just the brazenness of the cabal that currently runs affairs of state in Raleigh but the extent to which that cabal pays lip service to “bipartisanship” as a kind of sad joke. The Republicans who control the House and Senate have no interest in bipartisanship and face no penalty, electoral or otherwise, for doing whatever they want to do. So the most important bill in state government will get rubber-stamped 15 hours or so after its submission. Wonderful.
On one level, this is simply what happens under one-party rule. Democrats in previous legislatures exercised their own version of this game—though not, I think, to the extent the GOP supermajority has since 2013. It’s part of a larger, national phenomenon in which Republicans are taking over state legislatures at an unprecedented rate, as detailed in this Washington Post analysis of an Indiana academic’s data collection.
There are all sorts of well-established reasons for this—Obama backlash, gerrymandering, Citizens United, the continued reddening of the South—but you can’t fully grasp its noxious effects without considering how the shift leads to people like this winning, and maintaining, public office:
Outspoken Republican state Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern took to Facebook this month to share an obscenity-filled comment about President Barack Obama.
“Look you Islamic son of a bitch” begins the quote Speciale shared on his public Facebook page Sept. 5. “Unless you give all your land back to the native Indians, don’t pretend to lecture Israeli’s (sic) about our borders when you can’t control your own.”
The quote isn’t from Speciale himself. He posted an image of Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook that featured the comment. The image appeared on a page called “1 MILLION People to DEFEAT Barack Obama.” It’s unclear where the quote originated.
“Are you going to do something about (Islamic State terrorists),” the comment concludes, “or should Israel show you how it’s done because you are too much of a coward and the most piss poor excuse for an American president in your Great Nation’s history.”
After the post garnered media attention Monday, Speciale added a comment with the image responding to criticism:
“I find it interesting how many liberals pretend that they are offended by this post, yet they have no problem with Obama destroying the very fabric of this nation. These same folks didn’t appear fazed when some of the most vitriolic garbage was being spewed by their fellow liberals at President Bush! It must also be a slow news day at WNCT and The News and Observer, since they think this is a story today. Obama will end up as the worst president in history, and it will be a result of his performance, and none of my Facebook posts can be blamed!”
This is typical of Michael Speciale, a two-term representative. Two years ago, he voiced his opposition to what he saw as a vague bill establishing standards for commercial dog breeders: “‘Exercise on a daily basis’—if I kick him across the floor, is that considered daily exercise? ‘Euthanasia performed humanely’—so should I choose the ax or the baseball bat?” When the civilized wing of humanity objected, Speciale, a retired Marine, responded with a Trump-style “f*ck you”: “I will debate as I believe to be most effective, and I will not succumb to political correctness.”
If the voters in Speciale's district are comfortable with someone like this representing them in Raleigh, and they clearly are, then OK. But let's not kid ourselves that the problem he represents won't continue to get worse in an increasingly consequence-free General Assembly.