Since the start of the year, members of the North Carolina House have caused several small public-relations crises by way of historically inaccurate and bigoted Facebook posts, which pair nicely with a swath of proposed bills that would grant the state the right to secede, outlaw gay marriage, block public records from out-of-state Americans, and pull two founding members of the ACC out from the sports conference should any future boycotts occur.
And yet, within the recent history of the General Assembly, this really isn’t surprising. The blight of HB2 aside, the General Assembly has attempted to: dial back police body-cam transparency laws, strip the incoming Democratic governor of his appointment powers, wait until after the Duke Energy coal ash spill to decide they needed stricter regulations on people’s fucking drinking water, pathetically halfway repeal HB2, dedicate too few resources to Hurricane Matthew relief, block the voting rights of minority citizens, increase public school class sizes, and require “education”—thinly veiled shaming is another term—for women multiple times during the abortion process.
As is now the case with the federal executive office, following state politics in a state essentially run by your FOX-News-informed relative—who is only rarely opposed by a smattering of limp Democrats convinced they live in a 100 percent red state—is fucking exhausting.
But rather than simply criticize the legislature as a whole, it’s worth looking at the various actors that help thrust the legislature into the national spotlight at least once a month now. The Republican party as a whole is responsible for much of the criticized legislation being proposed, but there are a couple extremist representatives that have commandeered the growing PR spectacle, at least for the past couple months, and there’s no reason to think they’ll let go of the reins anytime soon.
As 127 bills were filed on Tuesday, the main headline-grabber was not a piece of legislation, but a spicy Facebook post from Cabarrus County Rep. Larry Pittman. Pittman is a vocal voice in the House—he was one of the many representatives to speak during the contentious HB2 repeal debates, claiming that all 600 hundred people who called into his office to demand he vote against the repeal simply wanted HB2 to stand, ignoring the fact that liberals also derided the bill as a weak half-measure that only propagated discrimination against transgender citizens.
On Tuesday, he compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler, calling the Civil War—a war Pittman will likely argue was about state’s rights and not the abolishment of slavery—“unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
Twenty-four hours later, exactly Republican one member of the House, Jason Saine, has gone on-record to condemn Pittman’s statement, which has since been deleted from his Facebook page.
In quality memes and bigoted political rhetoric, Pittman is rivaled only by New Bern representative Michael Speciale. The 61-year-old legislator has made local headlines numerous times for his Trump-esque social media policy of just posting whatever he sees on a screen in front of him, facts, context, or optics be damned.
He first came under fire in 2015, when he shared to his public page an image, which has too much text to pass for a meme accidentally shared, referring to President Obama, then in his second term, as an “Islamic son of a bitch” and a “piss poor excuse for an American President.”
Speciale’s Facebook page is filled with other derisive memes, posts, and comments that very well could be featured in articles of their own. He laid low for just over a year (HB2, which he gladly supported, helped steal some spotlight); then came the Women’s March. On Jan. 25, he let his female constituents in on a little secret, just to be shared between the gals: Women already treated equally! Save your energy; your men will need your support!
He followed that up four days later, sharing a video when he took to social media to let his supporters know he thought the Women’s March was “a joke.”
After his comments made the News & Observer, he doubled down on his stance in a post addressing the paper’s decision to make his comment a story:
The march WAS A JOKE. Hey, offended snowflakes, the march was not about women or women’s rights, it was about pushing a liberal agenda. Pro-life women not allowed! There were, however, women dressed as vaginas, and little girls holding signs with the “F” word and more. There were topless women and women with red on their crotches to make it look like blood from their periods, etc.
And their rhetoric doesn’t end with their outrageous Facebook posts. They lay the foundation for the new laws they propose. In February, Speciale and Pittman paired up to file a bill that would grant North Carolina the constitutional right to secede from the union by striking the following passage from the state’s constitution:
This State shall ever remain a member of the American Union; the people thereof are part of the American nation; there is no right on the part of this State to secede; and all attempts, from whatever source or upon whatever pretext, to dissolve this Union or to sever this Nation, shall be resisted with the whole power of the State.
Pittman and Speciale, along with Beverly Boswell and Jay Adams, also introduced House Bill 69 (actually, it’s not nice), which would allow any United States citizen over the age of 18 to carry a concealed firearm without having to apply for a permit. Larger guns, like shotguns and rifles, would still require permits, but not handguns.
Yesterday, they made waves by introducing HB 780, known also as the Uphold Historical Marriage Act, along with Carl Ford of Rowan County (neighbors to Pittman’s Cabarrus County) and Bryson City Rep. Mike Clampitt. The bill sought to defy the Supreme Court’s ruling and ban gay marriage in the state of North Carolina.
The bill was dead on arrival, with Republican House speaker Tim Moore citing “strong constitutional concerns” as the reason the bill would be shuffled off to the House Rules Commission and not be heard. That wasn’t a huge surprise. Like you were taught in high school civics, a bill must make it through the Senate and the House before it makes its way to the governor’s desk. Seeing as the governor is Roy Cooper, a Democrat who largely ran and won thanks to his anti-HB2 stance, this won’t happen. Speciale and Pittman are well aware of this.
And yet they file them anyway.
As Pittman pointed out in a Facebook comment, getting a piece of extremist legislation through the state’s governing body doesn’t necessarily require Cooper’s signature when a party—Republicans, in this case—hold a supermajority in House and Senate. It’s still possible, ever so slightly, for these to become laws.
Of course Cooper won’t sign it! The only problem we have is getting our veto-proof majority to support it. If we can do that, Cooper is irrelevant.
Now, separately and stripped of their positions in the House, onlookers of a progressive mindset may take these men for what they think they are: a couple of extremist, 60-something right-wing men expressing their ever-growing disgust with modernity, the likes of which are littered among nearly every state, with little support and few concrete ideas.
But as HB2 shows, they also serve a certain function, setting the bar so dangerously low that more insidious discrimination can seem like good, old-fashioned compromise. They post outrageous shit and draft idiotic bills so often that when a bill like HB2 comes around, fellow Republicans, from the party’s leadership down to the rubes like Pittman and Speciale, believe they’re acting as moderate conservatives passing a practical law regarding the safety of women. And they are right back to serving that purpose this legislative session.
From afar, it can seem as if the likes of Speciale and Pittman are harmless, or even funny. In reality, the rhetoric and the bills—HB2, the state-citizen-only public records bill, the legalization of secession, the abolishment of pistol permits, the gay marriage ban—all lead to the same point, regardless of who’s posting or drafting. Every month now North Carolina gets dragged monthly by national pundits and fellow American citizens, while South Carolinians sit at their local bar and clink glasses for finally usurping their northern brethren in the Carolinas, Ranked list.