If you want to understand the troubling state of the current political debate in North Carolina, the recent Ashe County Republican Party Convention is a good place to start.
The Jefferson Post reports that Sen. Dan Soucek gave the keynote address at the weekend event and defended the regressive actions of the 2013 General Assembly, at one point telling the crowd that “liberals across the country, especially in the Northeast,” were furious about the decisions state lawmakers made on Medicaid expansion, tax reform and other issues.
Nothing unusual there, though it’s not clear why Soucek is talking about people in the Northeast in a speech to a gathering in Western North Carolina.
Rep. Jonathan Jordan blamed the media for the General Assembly’s low approval rating, invoking another standard Republican talking point to explain away the unhappiness of the public with the reactionary 2013 session.
The convention also passed a number of resolutions. One of them was the “nullification” of the Affordable Care Act.
That’s not a call for Congress to repeal the law, as troubling as that would be. It’s a call for the state to invalidate the ACA and refuse to obey it, even though it was passed by Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nullification was most famously invoked by segregationists like Alabama Governor George Wallace during the civil rights movement as he refused to obey a federal court order to desegregate the schools, citing states’ rights and Alabama’s sovereignty in nullifying a federal law he didn’t like.
It is not the first time in recent years that nullification has been endorsed by Republicans. Several GOP legislators addressed a nullification rally on the lawn behind the Legislative Building on the first day of the 2013 General Assembly session.
Robin Hayes, then the chair of the N.C. Republican Party, spoke to the crowd that day too and praised the event’s organizers who talked of nullifying the ACA and any new legislation passed by Congress to reduce gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting.
Hayes now runs the campaign of Rev. Mark Harris, a prominent candidate for the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. Greg Brannon, a Tea Party favorite who is currently running second in the polls in the Republican battle for the Senate nomination, spoke last fall at a Nullify Now event in Raleigh.
Nullification is back in vogue as a legitimate policy position in the current Republican Party in North Carolina.
It is also worth remembering that 14 members of the state House signed onto a resolution during the 2013 session that called for creating an official state religion, declaring that people in North Carolina are not subject to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and proclaiming that the state can decide on its own what is constitutional and what is not.
The resolution prompted national scorn and ridicule but one of the 14 Republicans who signed on as a co-sponsor was House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, arguably the second or third most powerful member of the House. Starnes is widely reported to be a candidate for House Speaker in 2015.
Appropriations Committee Chair Justin Burr, another member of the House leadership team, also signed on.
The folks at the Ashe County convention last weekend passed other resolutions too, including one calling on the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, returning to the days when the John Birch Society was demanding a withdraw from the UN and calling President Eisenhower a communist dupe.
But this wasn’t a meeting of a far right fringe group. It was an official Republican Party event, run by Republican officials with the participation of Republican members of the General Assembly.
Folks on the far-right conspiratorial fringe are no longer on the sidelines meeting in remote locations in back rooms with a handful of people attending. They are inside the Republican Party and in many cases they are the Republican Party, passing resolutions at conventions, sponsoring radical legislation and holding rallies about nullifying duly passed federal laws.
The more mainstream Republicans complain in private about the nullifiers and the folks with wild conspiracy theories that have seeped their way into party meetings and conventions.
But the party’s more traditional powers don’t say much in public about the far-right activists, especially if they are candidates or might be seeking elective office in the near future for fear of offending the loud and boisterous base.
That public silence speaks volumes about the current state of the Republican Party and who is really running it — and it’s a scary prospect indeed.
Chris Fitzsimon is director of NC Policy Watch.