Voting rightsAs this editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer explains, California has hit on a startlingly simple tactic that will both boost voting rates and shine a bright light on the actual reason conservative political leaders keep instituting new roadblocks to voting: automatic voter registration for all driver’s license holders.

The “New Motor Voter Act” will automatically register all eligible citizens to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver’s license. It’s the second such law in the country; Oregon goes even further by automatically registering all eligible adult citizens in the Department of Motor Vehicle’s database.

Federal law already allows for voters to choose to be registered to vote at DMVs. But as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said: “Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech and due process.”

California officials say that 7 million additional voters will be registered because of the law. Certainly, eligibility doesn’t guarantee participation, as low voter turnout percentages across the country show. But the law does remove one barrier to voting.

The editorial goes on to say this about the politics of the change:

“All of which leads us to a somewhat delicious feature of automatic voter registration: It lays bare the reason Republicans really don’t want more people casting ballots – because those voters might vote against them.

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Saying that he was concerned about the path North Carolina was on, Attorney General Roy Cooper officially entered the race for governor Monday evening. Cooper signaled to a crowd of supporters at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount that education funding would be a central theme in his race to unseat Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

“Our commitment to an education system that lifts incomes and provides opportunities for everyone should be unwavering and unmatched,” said Cooper.

The state Republican Party almost immediately went on the attack, tweeting that Cooper’s announcement lacked energy and vision.

To hear an excerpt of Cooper’s announcement, click below.

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Princeton economist Angus Deaton, who was named a Nobel Prize winner today, is best known in his field for his work showing that consumption choices and other individual factors — as opposed to those of larger groups as a whole — may provide better insight into the workings of the economy.

But as Vox points out here, Deaton also  authored this book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, in which he makes a compelling case as to “why income inequality in society as a whole is a threat to democracy — and why worrying about it isn’t just class warfare or resentment.”

Quoting Deaton:

The political equality that is required by democracy is always under threat from economic inequality, and the more extreme the economic inequality, the greater the threat to democracy. If democracy is compromised, there is a direct loss of wellbeing because people have good reason to value their ability to participate in political life, and the loss of that ability is instrumental in threatening other harm.

The very wealthy have little need for state-provided education or health care… They have even less reason to support health insurance for everyone, or to worry about the low quality of public schools that plagues much of the country. They will oppose any regulation of banks that restricts profits, even if it helps those who cannot cover their mortgages or protects the public against predatory lending, deceptive advertising, or even a repetition of the financial crash. To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the well being of everyone else.

Read more on Professor Deaton here.



North Carolina’s infant mortality rate has ticked upwards, a slight setback in the state that once had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation.

The state’s 2014 rate was 7.1 deaths of babies in their first year for every 1,000 live births, according to information released Monday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In all, 860 infants died in North Carolina during 2014 before their first birthday.

That’s up from the 7 deaths for every 1,000 live births the state had from 2010 to 2013, the lowest the state’s rate has ever been.

But the data shows the state continues to have significant differences in how babies fared from different racial and ethnic groups, with death rates rising in the Latino and African-American populations while dropping for white and Native American babies. (Click here to access chart on racial breakdowns).

Graphic from Washington Post

Graphic from Washington Post

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate is higher than the U.S. average of 6 deaths per 1,000 births, while the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world.

A 2014 chart from the Washington Post shows just how far the United State lags behind many countries, largely European, when it comes to how  infants fare.

Here in North Carolina, black babies continued to face worse outcomes than their white, Latino and Native American peers, and the infant mortality rate increased to 12.8 deaths for every 1,000 births of African-American children after years of declines.

Latino infants, who have had some of the lowest mortality rates in the state for years, had an alarming 68 percent jump in the mortality rate, from 3.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2013 to 6.2 deaths for every 1,000 births in 2014.


There were also geographical differences in the North Carolina data, with counties in the eastern part of the state (many of which also have the highest poverty rates in the state) exhibiting higher rates of infant deaths than found elsewhere.

From DHHS:

Infant Mortality by NC Policy Watch

Commentary, News

North Carolina’s environmental community will be watching closely this week to see if Governor Pat McCrory heeds their advice and vetoes the House Bill 765, which they have dubbed the Polluter Protection Act.

Dave Rogers, the state director of Environment NC, says the legislation not only  reduces air quality monitoring, it allows polluters to avoid civil penalties by “self-auditing” their violations.

Rogers discussed the drawbacks of HB765 when he sat down with Chris Fitzsimon over the weekend.

“It really is just a grab-bag of gifts to polluters across the state,” explained Rogers on NC Policy Watch’s News and Views.

Click below to hear an excerpt of that radio interview. The entire podcast is available here.

Fifteen of the state’s most respected environmental groups have urged McCrory to reject the legislation.  The governor has until October 30th to make his decision.

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