Normally, North Carolina's Republican leaders are a hard bunch to rattle. They're dismissive of proposals that don't fit their agenda. They sneer at people who make those proposals, or people who rule against them in court, or pretty much anyone who contradicts them in any sort of way.
That nastiness has been a part of the rollup to today's Teachers March on Raleigh, certainly. Union County Republican Mark Brody called teachers "thugs" for participating in the walkout. Other Republicans, including House speaker Tim Moore, went with the well-worn approach of smearing the march as a "union" effort, even though there is no functioning teacher's union in our state.
But Republican leaders also appear a bit, well, nervous about this event. They're flooding inboxes with news releases about how well they've treated teachers. They've launched a website, ncteacherraise.com, that helpfully supplies "The Truth About NC's Rising Teacher Salaries." Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger even called a news conference Tuesday ahead of the march so that they could promote yet another teacher pay hike of 6.2 percent in the 2018 budget.
It was an unusual flurry of counter-programming, not to mention acquiescence, and it shows just how uncomfortable Republicans are with the optics of 15,000 teachers filling the streets of the state capitol to protest how they've been treated. Similar optics this year have helped lead to public support - and ultimately real legislative movement - in Oklahoma, West Virginia and Arizona.
Yes, teachers in other states also were willing to walk out for more than a day - something NC teachers have yet to publicly consider - but there's unquestionably (and finally) some national momentum for educators. Teachers here are capitalizing on it. Republicans are clearly wary of it, especially in a year where progressives have shown across the country that they're willing to voice their unhappiness with their votes.
Ultimately, N.C. Republicans also know this: The "truth" about teacher pay is that even after the five raises lawmakers like to tout, our teachers are woefully underpaid compared to teachers in other states. We're not close to the national average, and Republicans are rejecting proposals that would get us there. It's that simple, and 15,000 educators are about to offer North Carolinians their side of the story. We don't expect Republicans leaders to cow, but they have reason to be rattled. They're hardly fooling anyone, and today, everyone is going to hear about it.