Folks looking for signs that rational behavior and common sense might be slowly creeping back into the national political discussion must be at least a little encouraged these days.

Noted Republican leaders in Washington and beyond are raising long overdue questions about the wisdom of the absurd no-tax pledge demanded of all conservatives by anti-government zealot Grover Norquist that has helped paralyze meaningful budget discussions for years in Congress.

A bipartisan group focusing on addressing the national debt is now holding events cross the country and in North Carolina where former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt and former Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser are the headliners.

And President Barak Obama and congressional leaders are now negotiating an alternative to the looming fiscal cliff.

None of this means partisan gridlock is over and there is plenty to worry about in the details of debt reduction plans and any fiscal cliff solution if one ultimately emerges.

But at least there is a glimmer of hope that the absolute intransigence of Republicans in Washington has softened and they seem willing to reject the most extreme factions of their party.

Sadly, none of that seems to be happening in North Carolina. Things here seem be headed in the opposite direction.

Greensboro’s News & Record reports that House Speaker Thom Tillis seemed to suggest recently on his Facebook page that he is open to the idea of nullification, the idea that states can refuse to obey federal law by declaring federal actions unconstitutional.

That is a favorite position of the Tea Party and the states’ rights crowd, and as The News & Record’s Travis Fain reminds us, it was used by states refusing to abide by school desegregation decisions by the federal courts.

Tillis asks readers of his Facebook Page if they would be interested in a “Town Hall on options for fighting the Federal Government’s encroachment of state’s rights.”

That question came after Tillis raised the states’ rights issue in connection with the Affordable Care Act, saying,“With 30 republican Governors and 27 GOP-controlled State legislatures, we have never been better positioned to assert State’s rights.”

And it’s not just Tillis. The speaker at the Dec. 6 meeting of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Republican Women’s club was right-wing talk show host and author Jason Lewis, perhaps best known for advocating for making it easier for states to secede from the Union.

The latest online poll from the Pope Civitas Institute asks readers if they think secession is a legitimate course of action for state government and if they would support it.

A majority of folks who responded say they would indeed support secession.

Maybe you can’t glean too much from folks who respond to online polls but you can certainly learn a lot about the folks who run them, based on the questions asked.

The folks at Civitas apparently believe secession is worth discussing and despite their far-right views the group is well connected with Republican leaders. Tillis’ own chief of staff used to work at Civitas.

Some national Republicans may have decided that hanging out on the far-right fringe doesn’t help their political party or the country, but the folks running the show in North Carolina apparently do not agree or don’t care.

Further to the extreme right we go. : :

— Chris Fitzsimon is the executive director at N.C. Policy Watch,