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For a Vision of What Republicans Want to Do to the Nation, Look at North Carolina

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Above: The North Carolina GOP

While we are rightfully focused on the out of control Trump administration, I continue to pay attention to the meth laboratories of democracy that are the states. I do so for many reasons, but one of them is that you can see how Republicans are trying out new methods to create their dreamed of autocracy. I was originally going to combine this was a brief mention of Trump and Erdogan, but Melissa usefully did this already. So instead I will stick to that lovely paradise known as North Carolina. To being with, North Carolina Republicans stick to their most important principle: Being stringent defenders of pig shit.

North Carolina’s hog farms won an extra measure of protection from lawsuits Thursday, after the state Senate overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, who had sought to preserve the right of property owners to sue farmers over quality-of-life issues.

The state Senate narrowly defeated Cooper’s veto, a day after the House took the same step. The Senate vote was 30 to 18, mostly along party lines, in a procedure that requires support from three-fifths of lawmakers present. The vote was similar Wednesday in the House, with 74 voting to override the governor’s veto, and 40 voting to support the governor.

The new law limits the amount of money people can collect in lawsuits against hog farms for odors, headaches, flies and other aggravations. Critics have said the law limits financial recovery to the point that such lawsuits are not likely to be filed in the future.

The measure, which protects all agricultural and forestry operations, was prompted by 26 federal lawsuits filed against the state’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. In other states, such lawsuits have resulted in jury awards of hundreds of thousands of dollars to local residents. North Carolina’s law will limit financial recovery to several thousand dollars, according to some estimates.

An early version of the law, House Bill 467, would have applied retroactively to the Murphy-Brown cases, but lawmakers stripped out that provision amid objections from Democrats and Republicans alike that it would be inappropriate for the legislature to intervene in a pending legal dispute.

On Thursday, all 15 Democrats in the Senate supported Cooper, and were joined by three Republicans who had previouly voted against the legislation, including Tamara Barringer of Wake County. Two Republicans were absent who had previously voted for the bill when it passed the Senate last month.

In the House vote to override Cooper’s veto, seven Democrats voted against the Democratic governor, and three Republicans voted with him.

North Carolina has about 9 million hogs on nearly 2,300 hog farm operations, many of them concentrated in the eastern part of the state. The large farms, which can contain thousands of hogs, treat the hog feces and urine in open-air lagoons, from which water is pumped onto crops as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Nearly 500 residents living near those farms allege in the lawsuits that they are subjected to revolting odors as well as swarms of flies and buzzards attracted to outdoor bins where pig carcasses are dumped for pickup by haulers. The lawsuits include allegations that the spraying from the lagoons disperses fecal bacteria that wafts across property lines and settles on cars, homes and lawns.

North Carolina’s hog farming practices have been under scrutiny for decades. Amid rising public health concerns, the state banned the construction of new hog farms in 1997 that treat hog waste in open-air lagoons. More than 30 scientific studies have documented public health and environmental problems arising from industrial hog farming here.

And before someone makes the obvious point–yes, on this issue there are also crappy Democrats in the pockets of the agricultural lobby. That they suck on this issue is unfortunate. Whether they should be primaried or not I can’t say; obviously it depends on the district. But both sides don’t do it–all of one side and a few bad apples of the other side do it, which is not a reason to decry the entire Democratic Party, especially since Roy Cooper vetoed the thing.

Then there’s how Republicans respond to Democratic challenges.

N.C. Senate Republicans were visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments during an after-midnight session Friday morning.

As the clock approached 1 a.m., Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue was summoned to the front of the chamber to talk privately with Senate leader Phil Berger. The Senate had rejected five amendments from Democrats to fund their spending priorities, but each time one proposal was shot down, another one was filed.

Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon abruptly called for a recess, stopping the proceedings for nearly two hours. GOP leaders headed to a conference room with legislative budget staff, while Democrats – some surprised by the lengthy delay – passed the time with an impromptu dance party in the hall.

The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.

Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram’s rural district in northeastern North Carolina took the biggest hit from the amendment. It strips $316,646 from two early college high schools in Northampton and Washington counties, and it specifically bans state funding from supporting a summer science, math and technology program called Eastern North Carolina STEM.

The Northampton County program has received about $180,000 in recent years to serve 90 high school students, many of whom are African-American and from low-income families.

“I don’t know what motivated the amendment, but it will have a devastating effect on an area that is already suffering,” Smith-Ingram said Saturday, adding that the STEM summer program would shut down if the provision is in the final budget.

Would you be surprised to know that Smith-Ingram is African-American as well as a Democrat and that her district is heavily black? No, of course you wouldn’t.

Speaking of North Carolina Republicans’ war on African-Americans, it’s attempt to recreate something as close to Jim Crow voting as it could was rejected by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it’s entirely about the fact that the state’s new Democratic governor, whose power was drastically reduced by the GOP once they couldn’t control the office anymore, decided to stop defending the case, and not about the merits of the openly racist law. The upside is that the Fourth Circuit completely rejected it on the merits already and that stands. Of course, the real lesson is that even with flawed Democrats, they are way, way, way better than Republicans precisely because of issues like this. But maybe the Greens can run a challenger next time! That’s more important than making sure this type of voter suppression doesn’t continue!

But I guess Hillary should have held campaign rallies in Wisconsin. Anyway.

This is what a unified Republican government would look like nationally if it could a) get the power, b) break down the norms that prevent this sort of thing nationally, and c) didn’t elect a man of stupendous stupidity who blows up his own presidency. In other words, holding onto to both houses of Congress with a Mike Pence presidency and a bunch of judges named to these courts means we could be much closer to Erdogan’s Turkey than you would like to think.

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