Raleigh is as divided as ever, and not just along partisan lines. That was the message three state lawmakers brought to Laurinburg on Monday as they visited with local business leaders.
With Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, a Republican Governor and a conservative Supreme Court, times are tough for North Carolina Democrats, said Rep. Garland Pierce, Rep. Ken Goodman and Senator Gene McLaurin while speaking to the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce during its fifth annual legislative breakfast. The three men represent several counties including Richmond County.
“The fact that we are in the minority party (means that our legislation) is not getting heard,” Goodman said.
Speaking first, Pierce noted that the battle lines have not just been drawn between blue and red.
“Urban and rural — that is the real battle,” Pierce said.
Adding that he thinks that Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget is likely to pass with only minor tweaks, Goodman said that he expects rural North Carolina to be hit the hardest by the budget’s proposals.
“Rural North Carolina is where the pain will be felt the most,” Goodman predicted.
While proposed cuts to the North Carolina Rural Center “might be” mitigated in the budgeting process, Goodman said that the elimination of Golden LEAF Foundation funding — designed to replace lost tobacco revenues — will likely be enacted as proposed.
Counties in the area has relied on funds from both the Rural Center and from the Golden LEAF Foundation in recent years to attract business and to improve economic conditions in the area.
“You have 15 counties with over 50 percent of the population in the state … so our challenge (as representatives of rural counties) is to find ways to get our agenda heard and to bring back what we can,” Goodman said.
Highlighting his business experience, McLaurin said that Raleigh could use a different brand of politician.
“We need more business people who are still at work. To improve, we need to have a citizen legislature — not career politicians,” McLaurin said.
All three of the legislators expressed concerns about cuts to public schools and education proposed by Republicans.
“Education is the economic engine that drives any community,” Pierce said.
Goodman said that most of the educators he has spoken with “haven’t been very happy with what they have seen” coming from Raleigh’s GOP leadership in recent months.
“We are going to lose 16 teachers in Richmond County (because of cuts),” Goodman said. “How does (the Republican) majority deal with that? They eliminate class size restrictions. That does not help our kids,” Goodman said.
Over the past year, Pierce said that he fears that some members of the Republican Party have become “drunk with power.”
“I encourage you to write the party in power and let them know how important certain issues are to you,” Pierce said.
McLaurin and Pierce found themselves on opposite sides of one contentious issue set to be legislated this week.
When the time comes, McLaurin said that he will support legislation that mandates drug testing for those receiving Work First benefits.
Work First is a program designed to help families stay off welfare or move off welfare and into jobs.
“I think anybody receiving public benefits should have to take a drug test,” McLaurin said.
“I wrestled with this issue of drug testing … (and I wanted) to send a message to people that if you’re going to expect to see government benefits then you are going to have to do the right thing for your family and yourself.”
Opposing the legislation, Pierce said that drug testing would become an unfunded mandate.
“Sometimes we have solutions looking for problems that don’t really exist,” Pierce said.
Pierce continued by saying that the mandatory drug testing legislation is “based on broad stereotypes of the poor.” If passed, the drug testing requirement could also see the state run afoul of the United States Constitution, added Pierce.
“(The drug testing requirement) represents an unlawful search and seizure of one’s urine,” Pierce said.
“And when you limit benefits, you start tampering with money that local businesses could have,” said Pierce, characterizing the proposal as “an attack on the poor.”
After taking office in January, McLaurin said that Goodman and Pierce were both helpful as he looked to learn his way around the Capitol Building.
“I’m figuring it out,” McLaurin said. “I’m grateful for the help of Rep. Pierce and Goodman.”
Goodman and McLaurin are from Rockingham.
The Laurinburg Exchange|Civitas Media