Why North Carolina Is NOT the New Wisconsin

The comparison works superficially, but really, we're way worse

A new narrative is starting to emerge from publications on the institutional left, your Nation, your Atlantic: North Carolina is the new Wisconsin.

They have a point, sort of. In short, the comparison works, but only superficially. What’s happening here is far more extreme, far-reaching and damaging.

The protests in Wisconsin began with Gov. Scott Walker’s February 2011 “budget repair bill” designed to close a $137 million budget shortfall. Included in that bill was a proposal to limit public employees’ pay raises and — the kicker — strip public sector unions of their right to bargain collectively over pensions and health care.

This was enough to turn the State Capitol in Madison into a squatters’ madhouse; the protests eventually expanded to include other draconian aspects of Walker’s budget proposal, but the collective bargaining issue was the foundation for the entire months-long, headlines-across-the-nation political wildfire.

Think about that: An entire state loses its mind because a governor proposes to take away collective bargaining rights from public-sector unions. This is extraordinary, as The Nation’s Ari Berman notes in his piece: “Unlike in Wisconsin, North Carolinians have no collective bargaining rights to protect.” North Carolina is one of those “right to work” states that make eunuchs of unions. North Carolinians think of collective bargaining as a big crowd at a roadside bazaar in Haywood County.

Here’s what the two states’ protests have in common: They both involve fairly large crowds of people at the states’ seats of government (although North Carolina’s have been far less populous and intrusive than in Wisconsin, where people lived at the Capitol for weeks at a time); and some of the same characters (the Koch Brothers, ALEC) are behind the states’ sudden push to the right.

But that’s really about it. Where Wisconsin’s protests were mainly limited to the budget and dissipated after the effort to recall Walker failed, the Tar Heel State’s are in response to a right-wing assault on every conceivable front: the budget, environmental protection, tax policy, health care, voting rights, gun laws, education, you name it. At times, it’s seemed as if this legislative session has produced one gigantic omnibus bill, the Back To Mayberry Act of 2013, all designed to wipe out 40 years of progress in one wrecking ball of a session. For as much heat as Wisconsin generated in 2011, the consequences don’t come close to the ones we’re facing in North Carolina in 2013.

There’s one other institution trying to draw the Wisconsin-North Carolina parallel: Gov. Pat McCrory, who a couple of weeks ago referred to the Moral Monday protests this way: “Outsiders are coming in, and they’re going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin.”

For one thing, it’s been proven pretty conclusively that the vast majority of protestors are North Carolinians. For another, considering Walker survived the recall effort stronger than ever, I don’t know what McCrory’s worried about — unless somewhere, deep beneath that red power tie, is the faint heartbeat of good old moderate Mayor Pat, who on some level must realize what a travesty his first term has been to date, and exactly what kind of bargain he made to occupy a seat that’s getting hotter by the day.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest