North Carolina’s most polarizing politician may be attempting something of an image reboot as he sets his sights on the governor’s mansion.
Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson has been both reviled by those on the left and celebrated by fringe elements on the right for his extreme views, including regular doses of anti-LGBTQ and antisemitic rhetoric.
Now that Robinson has declared his candidacy for governor in the 2024 election, there are signs that the firebrand who once referred to homosexuality as “filth” may be trying to soften his public image in an effort to attract more mainstream votes.
Over the past week Robinson’s Twitter account has been doing its damndest to portray future-governor Mark Robinson as a reasonable, regular guy who just wants to bake some nice cookies and do great things for North Carolina.
Last week news also broke that Robinson would not be attending August’s ReAwaken America event in Las Vegas.
ReAwaken America is a traveling conspiracy theory exposition and political rally led by Donald Trump’s former national security advisor General Michael Flynn and an Oklahoma podcaster named Clay Clark who is currently facing a defamation suit over claims he made about Dominion Voting Systems and the 2020 presidential election.
Clark and Flynn have been traveling around the country (since shortly after Trump pardoned Flynn for lying to the FBI) providing space for QAnon conspiracy theorists and antivaxxers such as Alex Jones and Robert F Kennedy, Jr to infect people with their bonkers ideas.
Last month Clark breathlessly tweeted that Mark Robinson would be attending ReAwaken America in August in Las Vegas.
A poster for the event featured Mark Robinson’s smiling face front and center.
But recently the poster was updated to say that Robinson had merely been invited, and Robinson’s communications director explained he would no longer be attending the event.
No doubt Mark Robinson would like for voters to believe that he’s not a guy who belongs on stage with the likes of Alex Jones. But the two actually have a lot in common.
Jones recently declared bankruptcy after being ordered to pay almost $1.5 billion in damages to the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones had falsely and repeatedly claimed on his InfoWars website and talk show that the 2012 murders of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School did not actually occur.
Robinson knows a thing or two about denying school shootings and disparaging shooting victims.
In 2018 Robinson posted an image of Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg with the words “Media Hogg” and a series of laughing emojis. In comments on the post Robinson indicated he thought Hogg was an actor.
Mark Robinson would love to hoodwink North Carolina voters into thinking he’s a reasonable, moderate politician who will do great things for our state.
Sunday’s New York Times deep dive into Mecklenburg County Representative Tricia Cotham’s shocking decision to switch parties and give North Carolina Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the state legislature contained few bombshells on the now-infamous legislator’s controversial move.
For the most part, the Times rehashed details many North Carolinians already know:
➢ That Cotham was recruited by Republicans to run for a second stint in the legislature after several years away
➢ That Cotham spent the years between her first and second stretches as an elected official working as a education-focused lobbyist, developing close relationships with Republicans and a passion for school privatization
➢ That when Cotham filed to run in 2022 it surprised many Democrats–and her silent treatment of others in the caucus and of organizations like Planned Parenthood raised concerns before the election
➢ That Cotham was angry that Democrats “treated her as a newcomer when she returned to the House, inviting her to freshman orientation and offering her a mentor”
➢ That no evidence has surfaced to support Cotham’s contention that she was a victim of bullying by fellow Democratic legislators
➢ That the legislator was envious of attention that other Democrats received from the party and upset that she “did not get the gratitude or spotlight that she felt she deserved”
However, some details about Cotham’s political fundraising stood out to me.
Cotham was elected to a very blue seat, knocking off her Republican opponent by almost 20%. Interestingly, the New York Times identifies some of the biggest donors to her campaign for the Democratic House seat as having given almost exclusively to Republicans.
The Times also noted at least one donor, Ann Newman, as having requested and received a refund for a $250 contribution she made to Cotham’s 2022 campaign.
According to transparencyusa.org, Cotham took in nearly $82,000 in contributions for the 2022 general election. While there were apparently some Republicans donating to what they hoped would be a Trojan Horse candidate, the majority of those donors were local Democrats who expected that Cotham would represent their interests after they helped her win her seat.
That’s what a representative is supposed to do, right?
Not only did Cotham NOT represent those interests, her decision to switch parties singlehandedly gifted a veto-proof supermajority to North Carolina Republicans, meaning Governor Cooper can no longer stop terrible policy from becoming law.
Cotham has also gone out of her way to lend support to efforts to restrict women’s health care and divert funding for public schools to private schools and charters.
Assuming no major changes to voucher bills filed earlier this session, the legislation will triple funding for school vouchers as well as eliminating income eligibility requirements so that any student in the state–regardless of financial need–may use public money to attend private schools.
In effect, that means North Carolinians will now be forced to subsidize the tuition of wealthy students who already attend private school. Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt recently acknowledged that fact, saying the Department of Public Instruction expects most vouchers to be taken by families whose children do not currently attend public schools.
(Side note: Thus far Superintendent Truitt has NOT lived up to her campaign promise to oppose voucher expansion if elected)
Opportunity Scholarship was first implemented in school year 2014-15 and doled out a mere $4.6 million in taxpayer funds that year. School year 2022-23 saw nearly $134 million distributed, the vast majority to private schools. The new legislation would take that figure north of a half a billion dollars a year by school year 2032-33.
You’d think the self-styled party of fiscal responsibility would want to ensure that taxpayers are getting a good return on an investment of more than a half a billion dollars a year.
You’d be wrong.
Republican legislators have created the country’s least accountable voucher system in North Carolina. Not only do voucher-accepting schools have no requirements for teacher licenses, accreditation or standard curriculum, but these schools have no requirement to participate in the state’s end of year testing program. That means we have no way of knowing whether any student who has left a traditional public school for a voucher school is getting better academic outcomes or not.
Republicans’ anything-goes approach to voucher management means abundant opportunities for fraud by unscrupulous, profit-driven actors, and the school privatization space is filled with them.
In addition to problems with lack of accountability and potential for fraud, expansion of vouchers means less available funding for the traditional public schools that serve the vast majority of the state’s students. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year is a lot of money to divert away from public schools at a time when those schools are struggling to staff up and to provide students with the resources they need to learn.
The North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management estimates the changes will directly deprive public schools of more than $200 million per year by school year 2026-27. Those cuts will be felt most deeply by the state’s rural districts:
It’s anyone’s guess when the state budget will be presented to the public, although some signs point to next month. That leaves time for you to contact your legislators and express your views on voucher expansion or any other legislative matter that concerns you.
You can find contact information for members of the General Assembly below: