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In North Carolina, Republican excesses are hampering the rights of the people

Jonathan P Hicks | 1/16/2014, 4:26 p.m.
Jonathan P. Hicks

There is something patently un-American and undemocratic about a group of people being denied representation in Congress. At the heart of the American experience is the principle that people who are citizens—Americans who pay taxes and contribute to the life of their community—should be represented in the House of Representatives. But there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are now being denied that representation in the state of North Carolina.

The issue centers on a congressional district that was represented by Mel Watt, who was appointed late last year by President Barack Obama to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency—a notable position for an African-American in the administration. Watt therefore resigned his seat in Congress, but North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, has decided against holding a special election to fill the seat any time soon. Instead, he has called for the election to take place in November, meaning it would be nearly a year before the residents of the 12th Congressional District are represented in the House of Representatives.

McCrory said that it is simply too expensive for the state to pay for another election when funds are already earmarked for voters to go to the polls in November. “A simple schedule, where the voters have ample time to evaluate the candidates, and the candidates have ample time to campaign, was the best option,” McCrory wrote in a letter to two Democratic congressmen who urged him to hold a special election sooner.

For one thing, there should be no price tag placed on the basic tenets of democracy. Secondly, McCrory is using his executive power to ensure that the voters of a Democratic-leaning district that sent an African-American to Congress will not have an opportunity any time soon to repeat that bit of history. Moreover, it is yet another move by the state’s Republican governor to undertake measures aimed at reversing gains for North Carolina’s African-American community.

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Pat McCrory

In fact, McCrory has become something of a poster child for the cause of turning back the clock. He signed into law legislation enacting new voter identification laws that require residents to produce proof of their identities when they go to the polls to cast their ballots. It represented the first voting restriction by a state since the United States Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act last year. But that’s not all. McCrory also championed the law that ended same-day voting registration and shortened the period of early voting—two features that were popular among African-American voters.

It is important for Americans of all stripes to look closely at the events in North Carolina, which is not the only state with a Republican-controlled legislature and governor working feverishly to find ways to keep African-Americans, Latinos, young people and any other group it deems to be inclined to vote on the Democratic line from going to the polls. These are efforts that are being duplicated in a number of different states, whose conservative, right-leaning officials are sparing no effort to reverse the gains made by the icons of the Civil Rights Movement.

The NAACP in North Carolina has been at the forefront of responding to this assault and its leader, the Rev. William Barber, has been a crusader on behalf of protecting the rights of African-American and other North Carolina voters.

“The governor’s decision is the latest case of undemocratic political bullying. Taxation without representation is a form of tyranny,” said Barber recently. “Surely there can be a fair formula worked out to ensure that all the people of the 12th District will have their voice heard in this historic session of Congress.”

The governor’s position is a maneuver to deny 700,000 voters their right to have the representation that the Constitution provides for them. It is part of a larger strategy that is becoming far too prevalent throughout the country and one that needs to be countered at every turn.