Once a more moderate state amid the South’s sea of red, since 2010 North Carolina’s state legislature has pushed one of the most aggressive right-wing agendas in the country, advancing the interests of the Tea Party and big business at the expense of the middle class. Republicans in charge of the General Assembly have introduced legislation on a wide set of conservative priorities and managed to enact increasingly extreme policies. Republican lawmakers made it harder for minorities and students to vote, reduced a woman’s right to choose, opposed the minimum wage, slashed unemployment benefits, and gave tax cuts to the wealthy while raising them on the working class, small businesses, and seniors.
Republicans hold such power in North Carolina thanks to changes that began with the 2010 elections, when an influx of outside cash helped the GOP obtain control of both halves of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Their majorities gave them power over once-a-decade redistricting, and with assistance from national groups and Republican operatives, they redrew North Carolina’s federal and state districts in a way that all but ensured Republican victories in 2012. In the next election cycle, the state’s new districts and some additional outside spending delivered to Republicans the governor’s mansion, a majority of the state’s U.S. House seats, and a supermajority in the state House to complement the one they had earned in the state Senate in 2010.
The GOP’s success in North Carolina wasn’t merely a mirror of the Tea Party wave that benefitted Republicans across the nation in 2010; it was part of a strategy crafted on the national level and carried out with the cooperation of prominent conservative interest groups and donors, including the Koch brothers. Chief among these are the Republican State Leadership Committee, which planned and largely bankrolled a nationwide strategy to control redistricting; Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed group that made North Carolina a ‘model state’ for its political efforts; and the network of conservative North Carolina-focused super PACs and advocacy groups funded almost entirely by longtime political operative and Koch ally Art Pope. Using his personal, family, and business money, Pope created and sustains groups including the Civitas Institute, the John Locke Foundation, and Real Jobs NC, which collaborate on electoral strategy and public policy to advance conservative reforms.
After the 2012 election, North Carolina’s new Republican governor, Pat McCrory, repaid his political debts by appointing Art Pope to his cabinet, where he oversees the state budget. Then, with the assistance of Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, this conservative quartet began enacting the Tea Party’s wish list into law.
Other groups that played a role in North Carolina’s conservative takeover include Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and ALEC.