Commentary

NC teacher pens open letter to Burr re: Trump nominee for Education Secretary

NC Policy Watch friend and occasional contributor, Forsyth County public schoolteacher Stuart Egan, has authored another one of his fine open letters to a powerful politician about our public schools. The latest is a passionate plea directed to Senator Richard Burr regarding Donald Trump’s troubling plan to nominate Michigan Amway queen Betsy Devos as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Senator Burr,

As the senior senator of our state embarking on your third term in office, your voice in the national arena carries both weight and experienced perspective. And while you and I share many differing opinions on issues that affect our country, I do believe that we share a passion to make sure that all students have access to a great public education.

In preparing to cast my vote this past election, I did review your website to glean your perspective on some issues that seemed to become lost in the national debate with what might be one of the more bombastic presidential elections in history. On your www.burrforsenate.com website, you posted on op-ed you wrote for the Fayetteville Observer entitled “Giving our children a better future.”

In it you made statements such as:

“Our children are the future of North Carolina, and they represent the best of us. I am proud to be an avid defender of North Carolina students in the Senate.”

“As a part of my commitment to defending North Carolina students, I was proud to offer an amendment to fix a long-standing inequality in education funding that has shortchanged North Carolina’s teachers, schools and low-income students for over 15 years.”

“My amendment makes sure that federal education funding meant for schools that serve kids from low-income families actually goes to those very schools.”

“This means that with more education dollars coming to North Carolina, we will have more teachers in North Carolina helping our students get a great education.”

“We have made great strides this Congress to deliver control of K-12 education back to local communities, while making sure limited federal education funding is going to the communities that need it the most. But making sure that our children are getting the best education possible is going to be an ongoing fight for North Carolina families in Washington. I’m pledging to continue fighting for North Carolina’s schools, teachers and students, because a brighter future for North Carolina students means a brighter future for North Carolina.”

What I sense in these words is a commitment to our public schools.

In fact, you are the son of a former public school teacher and a graduate of R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem. I teach at another school in Reynolds’s district, West Forsyth High School, and am proud to report that Reynolds still holds an incredible reputation as a historically effective institution and I know many of the fantastic teachers who work there.

However, we are experiencing in North Carolina a decline in teacher candidates. Why? Because public education is under attack. And when public education is under attack by “re-forming” efforts like vouchers and unregulated charter school growth then communities suffer. Your wife is a leading realtor in the Triad area. I feel very confident that she could tell you the effect that the public school system has on the “value” of property in our communities.

I say all of this because President-elect Trump has appointed a candidate to lead the nation’s public schools who very well may be the most unqualified individual to ever be considered for the position.

And you have the power to help keep that from happening.

Read more

Commentary, News

Senator Burr reverses stance on Supreme Court vacancy

US Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

US Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

In case you missed it, North Carolina’s senior senator Richard Burr has changed his position on the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy that was created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Eight months ago, Burr said the slot should be filled by the new president — whoever is elected next week:

“In this election year, the American people will have an opportunity to have their say in the future direction of our country. For this reason, I believe the vacancy left open by Justice Scalia should not be filled until there is a new President.”

Yesterday, he took a dramatically different position. This is from an article in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“If Hillary becomes president, I’m going to do everything I can do to make sure that four years from now, we’re still going to have an opening on the Supreme Court,” he said.

Click below to listen to an excerpt of the audio first reported Monday by CNN.

Commentary

Voters, legal experts agree: Tillis and Burr are simply wrong on Supreme Court blockade

Thom TillisNot that it’s much of a surprise — polls have been consistent on this matter for months — but yet another one came out yesterday that shows overwhelming opposition amongst North Carolina voters to the U.S. Senate blockade (championed by Senators Tillis and Burr) of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. This is from the widely respected analysts at Public Policy Polling:

“We also find by a 60/23 spread that North Carolinians would like to see the Senate move forward with Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court by holding hearings. There’s bipartisan agreement on that issue with Democrats (74/13), independents (55/24), and Republicans (43/36) all in agreement.”

The new poll numbers come on top of countless editorials and op-eds from lawyers, law professors and historians highlighting the illogical and indefensible stances taken by Burr and Tillis ( a Judiciary Committee member) in refusing to give Garland a hearing. Yesterday, a friend of N.C. Policy Watch forwarded a July post from the judicial policy experts at the national nonprofit, the Alliance for Justice (“Benched! Own Job Description Eludes Senator Tillis”) put it this way:

“As the Republican Senate has brought judicial confirmations to a standstill, refusing even to hold a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and confirming lower court judges at a historically slow rate, the most obvious explanation for all the obstruction has been politics: Republicans would rather spite President Obama and preserve judicial vacancies for a Republican president than ensure a fully-functioning judiciary. But for Thom Tillis, the Republican Senator from North Carolina and member of the Judiciary Committee, the problem appears to be (for better or worse) an alarming amount of misinformation, whether it be the importance of filling judicial vacancies, how bad the vacancy crisis has become under GOP leadership, or the Senate’s basic constitutional duty to confirm judges.

On Wednesday, just before the Senate left for a seven-week vacation, Tillis objected to voting on slate of uncontroversial judicial nominees because, in his words, confirming judges has “nothing to do with doing our jobs.” That startling claim would certainly surprise the Constitution’s drafters, who wrote that the Senate must provide “advice and consent” on judicial nominations, and Democratic members were no less shocked. Read more

News

McLennan: Unpredictable Trump puts McCrory, Burr in no-win situation (video)

When Governor Pat McCrory praised Donald Trump as the outsider that the country needs in the White House, he probably could not have imagined Trump would start a public feud with a Gold Star family, kick a baby out of a campaign rally, and complain the November’s election could be rigged.

Political scientist David McLennan of Meredith College suggests that’s a real problem for Gov. McCrory and Senator Richard Burr — neither knows what Trump will say or do next in the remaining three months leading up to Election Day.

“Trumps numbers, if they do continue to fall, that leaves Gov. McCrory and Senator Burr in a very difficult situation,” explains McLennan.

McLennan, who appears this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, believes that while McCrory and Burr want to appeal to the base, neither man wants to be in the position of having to justify Trumps’ actions.

On Thursday, Trump’s Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence was campaigning in Raleigh.

McCrory opted to head east – visiting Elizabeth City State University and attending the U.S. Coast Guard’s  annual picnic.

For a preview of McLennan’s interview with Chris Fitzsimon, click below:

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Commentary

Powerful essay underscores absurdity of Burr/Tillis judicial blockade

In case you missed it, the essay below (which originally appeared here) does a great job of explaining the outrageous nature of the ongoing blockade of Judge Merrick Garland and numerous other Obama judicial nominees by the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate — a blockade in which both of North Carolina’s senators — Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — continue to play a sadly prominent role.

The Need for a Reflective Judiciary Demands a Return to Normal Order
By Danyelle Solomon and Michele Jawando

Fifty-two federal judicial nominees are currently waiting for Senate action, underscoring congressional gridlock and the need to put people before politics.

Edward Stanton III, the highly respected African American U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, has been waiting for more than a year for the U.S. Senate to vote to confirm him as a federal judge. Despite his stellar record and bipartisan support, it is looking less and less likely that the Senate will confirm him before the year is out. Unfortunately, Stanton’s story has become the norm rather than an exception.

The president nominates judicial candidates with the advice and consent of senators. The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary—chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and comprising senators from both parties—is responsible for reviewing nominees’ credentials, making evaluations of their records, and then voting on their nominations before sending nominees forward for full consideration before the Senate. This process used to work more smoothly, with just a few months being the average wait time between nomination and confirmation. That is no longer the case, with confirmations now regularly taking more than a year.

To have a fully functioning judicial system, courts need judges. And for courts to maintain their legitimacy with the public, judges must reflect the populations they serve. As much as judges strive for fairness, judges’ backgrounds’ can affect their decisions and the public’s acceptance of their decisions. A 2014 Rasmussen Reports poll found that 84 percent of black voters and 56 percent of other voters of color consider the justice system to be unfair to black and Hispanic Americans. Without more equal representation on the bench, that number will just continue to grow. Read more