RALEIGH — Last year Terry Van Duyn stood in the halls of the Legislative Building protesting, but now she’ll stand on the Senate floor representing Buncombe County. At her new desk in the back corner of the Senate chamber, she’ll hear the voices of the opposition she helped amplify last year.
“Moral Mondays” are set to return to Raleigh this week. The protest event at the state capital on Mondays will resurrect efforts to repeal new GOP laws and increase social program spending. Efforts that have so far been unsuccessful in changing the policy path of Republican legislative leaders.
Van Duyn, a Democrat who was appointed following the death of Sen. Martin Nesbitt, was arrested during a protest last summer and due to appear in court this July.
“We disagreed with a lot of legislation, but the pace of it was so fast that we had no opportunity to even contact our legislators about it, it was like we’d find out about it and the next day it would pass,” she said.
Protests this year will focus on drawing attention to the effects of laws passed last year, including changes to teacher pay, the rejection of Medicaid expansion and limits to unemployment insurance, said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP.
There were 930 arrests during last year’s “Moral Monday” protests; 250 of those cases were dismissed, according to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office. There are 640 cases still pending in district court and 100 cases in Superior court, according to the NAACP, which is tracking cases and offering legal help to defendants.
Lynn Blakey, a Hillsborough musician, came to “Moral Mondays” after the decision to not expand Medicaid.
“They slammed the door in the faces of 500,000 of my neighbors and fellow citizens denying them lifesaving medical care for no good reason, pure politics,” she said.
But the issues go beyond the Democrat-Republican divide, said Mike Savitt, a retiree who was arrested at protests last year. He is concerned with new laws passed by Republicans that limit local authority and regionalize control of the Asheville water system and Charlotte airport.
“Things like that that are absolutely opposite of Republican principles,” he said.
Republicans, who control both houses in the Legislature, have not signaled a shift in direction. Republican leaders say their laws, which have balanced the budget and paid federal debts, have put North Carolina on the path to economic prosperity.
“What I hear from all my constituents is thank you,” said Sen. Thom Goolsby, R- New Hanover, who dubbed the protests “Moron Monday” in an opinion column last year.
“We’ve been very clear about what we’ve been doing,” he said. “People in North Carolina are very supportive of the successes we’ve achieved.”
North Carolina’s unemployment rate is down 2.2 percentage points from a year ago, to 6.2 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Demonstrators will face new building rules banning signs attached to sticks or anything on the building. Any activities that create an “imminent disturbance” to legislative meetings are now prohibited. The rules, which were approved by the Legislative Services Commission, apply to all people visiting the Legislative Building, but were reviewed in response to the Moral Monday protests last year. But critics say the rules, which hadn’t been changed since 1987, were meant to quash the protests.