ICYMI: Last week’s top stories on Policy Watch


1. They persisted: It wasn’t easy, but in 2019 local communities scored environmental victories

2019 was the year of planetary grief: The Trump administration’s drumbeat of environmental rollbacks – at last count 80-plus. Melting sea ice and the attendant rising ocean levels; the very real threat of species extinction; extreme weather, like Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Outer Banks.

And yet, in North Carolina, people persisted. They marched and protested against the national inertia to address climate change. They turned out for tedious government meetings. They commented, wrote letters, organized around environmental issues threatening their communities.

Sometimes, despite all efforts, they could not move the levers of power. But there were also many victories. It’s important to recognize that when people, armed with science, facts, and relentless watchdogging, can reduce or even thwart environmental harm. [Read more…]

2. Progress, setbacks in fight against gerrymandering headline an extraordinary year in the courts

Two-thousand nineteen will forever be immortalized as the year North Carolinians fought back against gerrymandering and won. Their prize? For the first time in a decade, voters will get to cast their ballot in something resembling a constitutional election in 2020.

Of course, it’s pretty easy to say gerrymandering and redistricting dominated the news in North Carolina in 2019 — it’s been that way for at least three years. But something different happened this year: the U.S. Supreme Court finally determined it would not put an end to partisan gerrymandering, while at the same time, leaving a path open for state courts to take on the issue.

Common Cause v. Lewis, a challenge to the state’s legislative maps, had already been pending at that point, so it became the first test case following the highest court’s ruling. It also provided for quite the introduction to Stephanie Hofeller, the daughter of infamous GOP mapmaker Tom Hofeller. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the elder Hofeller helped racially gerrymander North Carolina a few years back and then, when that was struck down as unconstitutional, he gerrymandered the state to entrench Republicans in power for the foreseeable (or so he’d hoped). [Read more…]

3. Public education battles of 2019 figure to remain front and center in 2020

The year ended with a bang on the K-12 education front in North Carolina.

WestEd, an independent nonprofit research group, released a long-awaited report intended to help North Carolina meet its constitutional obligation to provide its school children with a “sound, basic education.”

The report grew out of the 25-year-old Leandro case in which five rural school districts sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise the tax revenue to provide students with a quality education.

WestEd contends North Carolina will have to spend nearly $7 billion over eight years to begin to meet is constitutional obligation to the state’s children.

The WestEd report was, perhaps, the state’s biggest education story in 2019 and will likely be the topic of much debate and consternation in 2020.

But so far, while many of the state’s Democratic leaders have applauded the report and have begun to discuss its budgetary implications, there have been few comments about it from leaders of the Republican-led General Assembly, at least publicly.[Read more…]

4. PW investigates: Five important stories from 2019

1) PW exclusive: Experts question business dealings of UNC Board of Governors member

Thom Goolsby has a long history of controversy – as an attorney, a lobbyist and a former North Carolina state Senator.

But when Policy Watch broke this story about Goolsby in September, it wasn’t about fiery public comments over Silent Sam or controversial rhetoric targeting liberal adversaries. It was about an Internet-based business that may violate an agreement Goolsby entered into with the Securities Division of the N.C. Secretary of State’s office in the aftermath of a failed investment business that was accused of mismanagement and deceptive business practices.

From the story: [Read more…]

5. Weekly podcasts and radio commentaries with Rob Schofield:

6. Policy Watch’s Top 10 editorial cartoons of 2019

Enjoy some of John Cole’s top editorial cartoons of 2019, as we look forward to more of his creativity at Policy Watch in 2020. [View more….]


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