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by Kirk Ross

Did progressives in North Carolina get screwed by Democratic successes in the past election? That’s the uncomfortable question being asked around the state by people who thought that an increased margin would give Dems enough confidence to advance key issues, mainly in the area of health care. But in a turn that reveals the mysterious physics of politics, the increase of a majority in the legislature – mainly the senate – has sent state policy into retrograde in a couple of key areas. Instead of the relatively thin six- and eight-seat majorities of the last two sessions respectively, the results of the 2006 election boosted the senate margin to 31 to 19 – a much more comfortable 12 seats. The simple part of the new equation is that with a much wider majority it is no longer a case of needing every last Democratic vote. And rather than the GOP being intimidated, they’ve used this to drive a wedge or two into the Democratic caucus. They know they’re not going to win the hot button issues – yet – but the ones where there are plenty of pro-business Dems to join forces with are falling their way. That’s why we’re getting an energy bill with lovely perks for major power companies and have seen health care bill after health care bill gutted or skewed so as to not anger those with the key to the PAC safes. The other part of the equation, the one with lots of Greek letters and squiggles is the balancing act of those in precarious seats. In the west, where the Dems won in large part thanks to a surge of progressives voters out to unseat a sitting GOP congressman, the senators that won are facing competitive races and, perhaps, feel a need for the kind of money that business PACs bring to the table. Then, there’s David Hoyle, a Democrat in what is arguably a solid Republican district and a prime example of why progressives are far from the short rows in convincing senators of their clout. Hoyle, a finance co-chair and a key member of the Senate leadership team, has long had a way of sounding the alarm that too progressive a tact would mortally wound him politically. This even though he ran unopposed in 2006 and won by a handful of percentage points in 2004 when George Bush carried his Gaston County district by more than 2 to 1. Yet Hoyle, now in his eighth term, seems to always be firmly focused on his next election. And since like most of the leadership he contributed tens of thousands raised for his ’06 cakewalk to senators in close races, he’s got the ear of many. So, progressives watching this session with high hopes that the NC General Assembly would, say, embrace universal health care or cut an energy deal that isn’t loaded with Easter eggs for Duke and Progress are going to be disappointed. But what are they going to do about it? Among the greendogs and others, there may be some grousing about the situation, but not much action and the kind of primary fratricide going on between factions of the state GOP seems unlikely. Being a little choosier with campaign dollars is one option, but for those already dependent on PAC money, a shift in netroot and progressive giving isn’t going to have much of an impact – at least not, you know, according to Hoyle.

To comment on this column e-mail Chris Lowrance at chris@yesweekly.com.

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