North Carolina has the dogwood as the state flower, the northern cardinal as the state bird, the plott hound as the state dog, and the Fraser Fir as the state Christmas tree.

We also have the channel bass (red drum) as the saltwater state fish, and the Appalachian Brook Trout is the state’s token freshwater fish. But that needs to change. We need just one fish that better represents the present climate here.

I therefore nominate the red herring, because I have seen many more of those these past few years in the Old North State than any other aquatic animal.

I know. A red herring actually is a dead smoked herring, salt cured and darkened through a smoking process for eating. But it also refers to the logical fallacy of introducing something that really is not important to stop people from noticing something really important.

And this practice of drawing attention away from really significant social issues is something that many current members of the North Carolina General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration have done very well. Take, for instance, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, otherwise known as HB2.

Rep. Tim Moore and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest both spoke of the need for a special session to “protect our women and children” from the invasive Charlotte city ordinance that would allow transgender people access to the public bathrooms for the gender they identified with. However, that was the red herring, because what really occurred in a legislative debacle on March 23 was not really a protective measure, but a sweeping discriminatory act against the LGBT community as well as way of sneaking in other really important pieces of legislation.

The first is the removal of rights for all citizens to bring to state court any discrimination suits against any employer. The second allows private businesses to bypass local authorities and underpay labor for a higher profit.

A red herring was used by the General Assembly to make citizens think that there was a scourge from which we had to protect our women and children, but really what happened was a power grab for more control by the GOP in Raleigh over local municipalities and removal of due-process rights for discriminated citizens.

That’s a mighty powerful fish.

Another example occurred when the voter ID law was passed. Those who sponsored the bill said that it was to protect the election process from voter fraud.

There’s your red herring: voter fraud. Except voter fraud in North Carolina is practically nonexistent. Actually, this voter ID law hurts turnout for many minority voters, many of whom are in rural areas and are from lower income levels. Those same people tend to vote Democratic. So if I wanted to maintain political power in Raleigh as the GOP does, maybe I could keep people who generally vote for the opposing party from actually being able to cast a vote.

Again, a powerful fish.

Another school of red herring can be seen in public education. When the GOP grabbed power in the general assembly, an onslaught was started against public schools and those who teach our students. Red herrings were thrown every which way by those bellowing that our public schools were failing and that at the root of this problem were bad teachers. This began the crusade to get rid of teacher tenure.

However, “tenure” is really not what many people think it is. It is not ultimate protection for each and every teacher against being terminated. It means that there are due-process rights that a teacher has to protect him or herself from whimsical dismissal.

“Tenure” allows teachers to have the power to advocate for students and schools in the face of legislators who place personalities before principles. “Tenure” is what allows teachers to fight for the very schools they serve for more resources without fear of instant reprisal. Remember that part of the HB2 legislation that removed rights to file a discrimination suit in state court? That’s a lot like citizens’ “tenure” being taken away.

Ironically, all of these examples will and have been challenged in court for their unconstitutionality (which will cost the taxpayers money). Why? Because the scent of the red herring was not strong enough to keep all people from noticing the really important issues?

Possibly. But it’s really because the most powerful scent from a red herring will never be stronger than the smell of manure that some in Raleigh have been shoveling.

Stuart Egan teaches English at West Forsyth High School.

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