I’m not a customer.

I thought it was an odd choice of words when Gov. Pat McCrory first said on the campaign trail three years ago that he intended to treat the citizens of North Carolina like “customers.”

McCrory has used that metaphor frequently during his term, most recently lauding the state’s customer service improvements at the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.

You can use the customer metaphor for residents and taxpayers, but it is a shallow and ultimately unsatisfactory interpretation of the relationship between people and the government of the state in which they live.

A customer is someone who receives a good or service in exchange for monetary compensation.

It’s clear now what the governor meant when he talked about customers. If you carry the metaphor to its logical conclusion, you can see he has done exactly as he promised.

Your best customers get the best service and the best deals. In politics, those are the customers who can make generous campaign donations, such as oil and gas companies that want to reap the state’s natural resources through fracking and offshore oil drilling. The residents of beach communities and counties targeted for fracking — who only pay taxes, after all — got the bum’s rush.

People without food, the people without jobs, the people without insurance were left to struggle on their own. Because businesses get to choose their customers, I guess that’s the equivalent of “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

I’m not a customer. I’m a stakeholder in the natural resources of the state, part owner of the water, land and air, who deserves more of a say about how those precious resources are used than the companies who want to exploit them without regard to damaging the environment.

I’m not a customer. I’m a resident of Greensboro, and as such I should be able to have a voice in how my leaders are elected. But the legislature’s state-mandated redistricting treats cities like fast-food franchises that have to follow rules set down by the chain’s owner.

I’m not a customer. I’m a citizen who has the rights and protections that belong to all Americans. But in North Carolina, my constitutional rights have been curtailed by lawmakers who want to legislate religion and morality with laws that restrict abortion and permit discrimination. The business corollary for that, I suppose, is Henry Ford’s famous quote that “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

I’m not a customer. I’m a constituent, a part of the whole that makes up North Carolina’s voting population. Though I still get to vote, my right to fair representation has been compromised by gerrymandering. It appears the customer is always right only if that customer is Republican.

If I were a customer, I presumably would get what I wanted for my money — better schools, environmental protection, help for those in poverty.

Instead, my tax dollars are being used for legal battles to defend unconstitutional laws, to fund tax breaks for the wealthy, to finance charter schools at the expense of public schools.

If North Carolina’s citizens are customers, then those who have appealed for help with the N.C. Department of Labor have received poor customer service indeed. According to a recent series by The News & Observer of Raleigh, the Labor Department seldom pushes companies to settle debts owed to workers. Some 40 percent of validated claims of unpaid workers were never pursued, resulting in $1 million in lost wages. During Cherie Berry’s 15-year tenure as labor commissioner, she has sued companies for failing to pay wages only 35 times, according to the N&O’s research.

If North Carolina citizens are customers, we must be like those hapless parents at popular teen clothing stores, who practically have to storm the counter to get the attention of self-involved clerks who can’t be bothered to stop talking to each other long enough to do their jobs — like the legislators who lingered in Raleigh for 81/2 months, ignoring the pleas of their constituents to have a say on the policies being formulated.

McCrory made a big splash last week about streamlining and improving customer service at the DMV. That’s great, but making it easier to renew my driver’s license is a poor trade-off for selling the rest of the state to the highest bidder.

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Contact Susan Ladd at (336) 373-7006 or susan.ladd@greensboro.com, or follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/susankladd or on Twitter at @susanladdNR.

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