The Speaker of the NC House’s townhall meeting in Boone last night generated news from Thom Tillis: “Marriage is not a constitutional right.”
Repeatedly hit for his anti-gay constitutional amendment, Tillis essentially apologized for it. “I have a personal difficulty with [that] constitutional amendment because I don’t believe government should be telling us what to do, but” ... yadda yadda yadda ... “marriage is not a constitutional right.”
In other words, “they made me do it.” He kept repeating that 60 to 70 members of the General Assembly pressured him into letting the anti-gay amendment go forward, and he really really regretted it, being such a small-government conservative like he is. But whatta ya gonna do when 70 people pressure you? Stand up to them like a man with convictions? Why, no.
Speaker Tillis was hit almost immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag at the beginning of the festivities. Someone stood up and pointed out that we all just publicly honored “liberty and justice for all.” So how is the anti-gay amendment an example of that?
Another woman delivered one of the most articulate denunciations of anti-gay legislation that we’ve heard. The action in the General Assembly (led by Dan Soucek, incidentally, who was sitting on the front row grinning like Alfred E. Neuman), was simply “shameful,” the woman said. “Loving people should have the same rights as I do, a heterosexual person and an ordained minister.” That seemed to stun Tillis for just a microsecond, but Mr. Speaker is nothing if he’s not slick and practiced in this kind of setting. He struggled nevertheless for coherence in responding to the female minister: “This is not an issue that I completely disregard some of the arguments you make,” he said, twisting his syntax until it squealed.
In other questions/comments, it was pointed out that education in the state was “cut hard.” “What else was cut as hard?” the young man asked. The answer – Health & Human Services and the Department of Environment & Natural Resources – landed with a thud. An elderly woman followed up, pointing out that national studies showed that North Carolina was the 10th most toxically polluted state in the Union. Speaker Tillis launched into some boilerplate “cost-benefit” analysis blah blah blah “pendulum swings” blah blah blah, completely ignoring the woman’s concern about toxic pollution. Impatient with his answer, the woman interjected, “Either you’re killing people with toxic pollution or you’re not.”
Too much money in politics – and specifically too much Art Pope money – came up, and out of the Speaker’s mouth fell this stunning piece of political philosophy: “The democratic process suffers without the expenditure of money.” Well, all-righty then!
The Speaker has spoken publicly about the possibility of reinstating funding for the popular Teaching Fellows program for college students who want to become public school teachers. This valuable program was zeroed out in the Republican budget. But when two full rows of ASU Teaching Fellows stood and applauded Tillis for expressing this viewpoint, he began backpedaling: “I’ve only recommended that it be reinstated,” he warned, and then told the college students that the onus was on them: “You’ve got to build the business argument for its value.”
Ah! There’s no argument like the “business argument” to this Speaker, and one person in the audience called him out on that: “Why are you so focused on pleasing business? You’re too tilted toward big corporations.” At which Tillis invoked the Holy Godhead of Republican Politics, the “job creators,” before which he genuflects, and the old discredited meme that North Carolina has the worst business environment in the known universe (“the tax and regulatory burden”). Not true, but never mind when you’re worshipping at the corporate altar (whose money, as we had already learned, equals democracy!).
The question that went unasked and therefore unanswered, the question that is now hanging in the air and demands an answer: “Since you’re so personally opposed to government that intrudes into our personal lives, Mr. Speaker, are you going to vote against Amendment One next May 8th?”