Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Former GOP Supreme Court justice: 2 year terms amendment continued effort to ‘intimidate judiciary’

The North Carolina Senate filed a Constitutional amendment Tuesday that would shorten all judges and state Supreme Court justices terms to two years and end all sitting judges terms in December 2018.

Bob Orr, a prominent Republican who served as a justice on the state Supreme Court and as a candidate for governor, described the Constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 698, as a “continued effort to try and intimidate the judiciary.”

“It’s just wrong,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Orr said the amendment sends the wrong message to the judiciary that if judges won’t rule the GOP’s way, lawmakers will retaliate.

“That’s just fundamentally repugnant to everything I believe,” he said.

He added that when the 1868 state Constitution was being discussed — it was the first one with a requirement for judges to run for election — the issue was how long a term judges should serve, not how short. He said some lawmakers at the time wanted 16-year terms. [Read more…]

2. A new low in the dismantling of democracy
The folks running the General Assembly reached a new low this week in their efforts to dismantle our democracy—-and that is no small feat given their actions in the last few years.

Senate Rules Chair Bill Rabon filed legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to shorten the terms of all judges in the state to two years and end every current judge’s term at the end of 2018. They would all have to run for reelection this fall and every two years after that.

That would literally turn judges into partisan politicians spending as much time much raising money and campaigning as they do hearing cases. There are currently 403 judges serving, when you add up district court, superior court, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The idea is absurd on its face and makes a mockery of the judicial branch of government.  District Court judges currently serve four-year terms. Every other judge and justice serve terms of eight years, the idea being that they will be less affected by the shifting political winds. [Read more…]

3. NC Senate appoints industry front group member to Oil and Gas Commission slot reserved for conservation voice

Jim Womack has a reputation in North Carolina for being many things, but a conservationist isn’t one of them.

An outspoken fracking proponent, of course. A blogger who, under the pseudonym James Madison, likened President Obama to a Marxist Muslim imam, sure. A Tea Party supporter and Lee County Commissioner who voted to dismantle the environmental board — yes, that happened.

It was because of this background that many environmental advocates and political observers were puzzled earlier this month when Senator Phil Berger reappointed Womack to the state’s oil and gas commission to fill a seat reserved for a “nongovernmental conservation interest.”

Womack’s purported conservation bona fides stem from his membership on the board of science and policy advisors of the American Council on Science and Health. However, a review of the group’s position papers, books and the backgrounds of all 300 advisors shows that ACSH performs no conservation activities.[Read more…]

4. Facing charter takeover, Robeson County leaders tell state to stay out

Just days after a North Carolina official tapped a Robeson County elementary for a controversial charter takeover district, local leaders say the state isn’t welcome in Southside-Ashpole Elementary.

“The governor of North Carolina and the legislators cannot justify that, as far as I’m concerned,” Jerry Stephens, a Robeson County commissioner, told Policy Watch Tuesday. “It’ll be such a great fall-out.”
Commissioner Jerry Stephens

Members of the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education unanimously approved a joint resolution Monday night opposing Southside-Ashpole’s selection for the state’s Innovative School District (ISD), which could allow charter or education management organizations—including, possibly, for-profit groups—to seize control of operations and staffing in hopes of turning around lagging test scores.[Read more...]

5. Our rogue General Assembly returns to Raleigh for yet another rump session
Why the legislature now operates this way and why it’s a big problem

The North Carolina General Assembly (or, at least, a goodly portion of it) returned to town last night. Nearly four months after having passed a new state budget—the event that used to signal the conclusion of an annual legislative session—lawmakers are back yet again.

The top agenda item this time for our “part-time” lawmakers: to override Governor Cooper’s veto of a bill to alter state elections passed during their last cameo appearance in the state capital. At least, that’s what we think the plan is. Though the Senate acted last night, no one knows for sure. The move comes just days after legislative leaders had stated publicly that no such action would be taken until at least January of 2018.

This makes roughly a half dozen times this year that lawmakers have convened, departed and returned. Though legislative leaders have wised up (at least from a P.R. perspective) and stopped always referring to their serial returns to Jones Street, as “special sessions,” (there were at least five of such sessions in 2016—remember the HB2 session and the pre-holidays session to undermine Roy Cooper?) that is, effectively, what’s been going on with great regularity for several years. Rather than coming to Raleigh for a single annual session and then returning upon its conclusion to their homes, jobs and families as was long the tradition in the state, lawmakers—especially since Republicans assumed control back in 2011—now operate under a new model. [Read more...]

*** Bonus read: Searching for the ‘Holy Grail’ in partisan gerrymandering standards: An update from the federal trial in Greensboro

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