News

North Carolina’s death penalty: On life support? Join us March 12th for our next Crucial Conversation

Here’s something you might not know: North Carolina hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006, but the state – home to a boom in capital murder trials during the 1990s – houses the country’s sixth largest “death row” population.

That’s one of a series of sobering details in Unequal Justice: How Obsolete Laws and Unfair Trials Created North Carolina’s Outsized Death Row,” a report published in 2018 by the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, the state’s leading advocacy organization on capital punishment.

Here’s another one: A new poll from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation indicates that a majority of North Carolinians today do not support the death penalty, preferring life sentences without the possibility of parole. That’s a stunning shift for the state, where, for decades, most residents have strongly backed capital punishment.

Perceptions change, and North Carolinians’ “tough-on-crime” approach to the 90s gave way to a more nuanced view in the general public and in the courts today. More people understand the staggering racial imbalances in states’ application of the death penalty. And DNA evidence has proven integral in overturning decades-old verdicts, particularly those rendered by notoriously unreliable eyewitness testimony and forced confessions.

Register today for our March 12th event.

Yet some of North Carolina’s most powerful lawmakers have urged the state to resume executions, and if the state does so, it will begin with a list of prisoners tried and convicted under hopelessly outdated laws.

It’s time to revisit the death penalty in North Carolina, and we’ll do so at a special “Crucial Conversation” with three guests:

Andre Smith, whose son was murdered in Raleigh in 2007. He teaches meditation and anger management to prisoners and advocates for ending the death penalty.

Elizabeth Hambourger, a capital defense attorney whose client, Nathan Holden, was tried capitally in Wake County in 2017.

Kristin Collins, CDPL Associate Director of Public Information and author of the new report.

Learn more and register today for this special event.

News, Voting

BREAKING: Mark Harris bows out of NC’s 9th Congressional race

Less than a week after calling for a new election in the 9th congressional district amid allegations of fraud, Mark Harris has announced he will not run in the new election. Here’s Harris’ full statement:

Over the last several days, I have had the privilege of hearing from so many people who have stood with us, cared for us, and who have asked how they can pray for us. In my response to them I have simply said to pray for wisdom and discernment as we make decisions concerning my health situation, the new election in Congressional District 9, and where we go from here.

After consulting with my physicians, there are several things that my health situation requires as a result of the extremely serious condition that I faced in mid-January. One of those is a necessary surgery that is now scheduled for the last week in March.

Given my health situation, the need to regain full strength, and the timing of this surgery the last week of March, I have decided not to file in the new election for Congressional District 9. While few things in my life have brought me more joy than getting to meet and know the people of this incredible part of North Carolina, and while I have been overwhelmed by the honor of their support for me as the Congressman-elect of NC-9, I owe it to Beth, my children and my six grandchildren to make the wisest decision for my health. I also owe it to the citizens of the Ninth District to have someone at full strength during the new campaign. It is my hope that in the upcoming primary, a solid conservative leader will emerge to articulate the critical issues that face our nation.

Over the course of campaigning in the district, I met and got to know one such leader, Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing. Stony, from my observation, along with his wife Anne-Marie, have served Union County effectively through the years. His background and his experience have proven him to stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom. I hope that those who have stood with me will strongly consider getting behind Stony Rushing.

Through the challenges of life, Beth and I continually place our trust in God, and we both know He holds the future in His Hands. Please stay engaged, for it is our civic duty to do so.

Again, it has been an honor to have your love, support, encouragement, and prayers each step of our journey together. Over the next few weeks as I continue to gain strength for surgery, I want to respect my family’s desire for privacy and I will not be doing interviews.

Sincerely,
Mark Harris

Learn more about the ballot fraud scheme in the 9th district from Policy Watch courts and law reporter Melissa Boughton:

Education, News, Voting

Six things to have on your radar this week

Photo by Melissa Boughton

#1  We kick off the week with the State Board of Elections holding a much-anticipated evidentiary hearing today on claims of irregularities related to absentee by-mail voting and other alleged activities in the 9th Congressional District.

The hearing got underway at 10:00am at the North Carolina State Bar in downtown Raleigh.

Outside, pro-democracy organizations have gathered to call for accountability and a new election.

Currently, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the race has not been certified and the congressional seat remains unfilled.

Policy Watch’s Courts and Law reporter Melissa Boughton is live tweeting the proceedings, which are expected to last a couple of days. You can follow her coverage on Twitter at @mel_bough.

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#2 This afternoon Gov. Roy Cooper will deliver remarks at a ceremony honoring North Carolina’s 9th Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green at the North Carolina State Capitol.

The program will start at 4:00 p.m., with a reception to follow. For those who are unable to attend in person, watch the ceremony online here: https://bit.ly/2RarWjD

You can learn more about Green in this 2018 piece by reporter David Menconi.

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#3 Numerous legislative committees are meeting Tuesday and Wednesday– too many to mention them all. Here are just a couple to pay attention to:

9:00 AM – The Senate Rules Committee meets to discuss Senate Bill 5, a school construction bill titled “Building North Carolina’s Future” in 1027/1128 of the Legislative Building.  Policy Watch’s Greg Childress detailed the bill here last week.

10:00 AM – The Joint Health Care Committee will hear from State Treasurer Dale Folwell and Dr. Michael Waldrum, NCHA Board Chair on the proposed State Health Plan Pricing Model. That meeting will be in 643 of the LOB.

Wednesday’s 8:30 AM Joint Appropriations Committee will include a revenue forecast/budget outlook presentation by Dr. Barry Boardman in Room 643 LOB.

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

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# 4 Tuesday evening at 6:00pm State Superintendent Mark Johnson hosts a special invitation-only leadership dinner at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Johnson has promised a major announcements for North Carolina’s education system along with Kelly King, the CEO of BB&T.  But the event has started on a somewhat sour note with Johnson revoking tickets for teachers and public school supporters who had signed-up to attend.

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#5 – Wednesday evening the NC Budget & Tax Center hosts a special talk in Durham on economic issues facing our state.  Under the banner of Economy for All, this event seeks to shape current debate about the role of public policy in advancing more equitable economic outcomes and informing the general public about the issues that we must address to fully realize our potential for greater well-being.

The public is invited to hear from Professor Sandy Darity about his extensive work on advancing an equitable economy in our country and the policy choices that can make that possible.

Learn how you can be part of the conversation here.

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Tina Tchen

#6 – The Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama speaks Thursday at Duke University.

During her eight years at the White House, Tina Tchen served as chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, special assistant to President Barack Obama, and the executive director of the Council on Women and Girls, leading the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families and the first-ever United State of Women Summit.

Tchen will share her unique perspective and insights on workforce diversity and inclusion, breaking through male-dominated industries, and ending campus assault.

The event will begin at 7:00pm at the Bryan Center Reynolds Industries Theater in Durham.

Uncategorized

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. History made: Cooper appoints NC’s first Black woman as Chief Justice

Cheri Beasley made history this week when Gov. Roy Cooper announced that she would become the state’s first Black woman to be chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Beasley stood between the Governor and her husband, Curtis, as she spoke about the significance of her appointment, particularly during Black History Month.

“This court this year is coming right at 200 years, and this is certainly not the North Carolina of 200 years ago,” she said. “And so I’m excited about the fact that North Carolina has moved forward, that we do have a diverse court, and it’s so important that people feel good and have a confidence in the work that we do, and so I’m excited about continuing to do that work.”

The other thing that comes to mind when thinking about her leadership as a Black woman is “the little girls along the way who ought to have a sense of promise and hope for their futures,” Beasley said. [Read more…]

Bonus read: One-on-one: Future Chief Justice Beasley talks about ‘a life full of highlights’

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2. Bipartisan lawmakers: The time for redistricting reform is now

Litigation and uncertainty about which political party will have the most power in the future may finally propel North Carolina lawmakers to pass redistricting reform.

A bipartisan group of legislators gathered Wednesday morning to announce House Bill 69, which would create an independent redistricting commission to draw election maps with transparency and public input. It would bring an end to partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.

“At this point in time, you have neighborhoods being separated, homeowner’s associations being separated, students at the same university voting in separate districts – that can’t happen,” said Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Chatham, Durham). “That’s the type of thing that makes people feel government’s broken. We’ve got a chance with this step, with this bill, to move that narrative forward, to change people’s opinions.” [Read more…]

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3. Public schools supporters feel snubbed by Superintendent Mark Johnson’s invitation only event

Suzanne Miller has a general admission ticket to State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s big dinner event on Feb. 19, but she still can’t go.
Miller, an organizer for N.C. Families for Testing Reform, received an email Wednesday explaining that attendance is by invitation only.
So, the ticket Miller scored last month on eventbrite.com won’t get her through the doors of the Raleigh Convention Center where Johnson promises to make a “major announcement” about the state’s education system.
“If it’s a public announcement about public education, why is it being made behind closed doors?” Miller asked.

Miller said the eventbrite.com page didn’t mention that an invitation would be needed when she signed up to attend the event.[Read more…]

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4. Senator Phil Berger is just plain wrong

There’s an old maxim in American politics, usually attributed to former U.S. Senator and Nixon administration cabinet secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” Would that Moynihan were still alive today so that he could direct a reminder of this simple truth toward North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Berger, as you are no doubt aware, has embraced the role of a kind of 21st Century “Senator ‘No'” who tries to place himself squarely in the way of societal progress on issue after issue. Recently, in an apparent effort to further cement this moniker, Berger (or, presumably, his staff – and maybe even a junior intern judging by the quality of the claims) took to Twitter to rehash several tired and long discredited claims about the increasingly popular and bipartisan idea of expanding Medicaid in North Carolina.

According to Senator Berger, “Obamacare Medicaid expansion” is “wrong for North Carolina” for six reasons: [Read more…]

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Environment

Got something to say about coal ash? This is your week to share that input.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting public comment through Friday (February 15th) on how Duke Energy should handle the storage of its coal ash.

Duke Energy has proposed leaving the coal ash at six unlined pits, but environmental groups say it will keep polluting groundwater, lakes, and rivers.

Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center says Duke should be required to excavate the remaining ash as it has done at eight other sites in North Carolina and all of its sites in South Carolina.

Click below to listen to our recent interview with Holleman:

To learn more about Duke Energy’s progress on closing the ash basins, click here.

Image: Appalachian Voices

To comment on the Allen Steam Station coal ash cleanup, email: allencomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Belews Creek Steam Station coal ash cleanup, email: belewscomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Marshall Steam Station coal ash cleanup, email: marshallcomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Mayo Power Station coal ash cleanup, email: mayocomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Rogers Complex coal ash cleanup (formerly Cliffside), email: rogerscomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Roxboro Steam Plant coal ash cleanup, email: roxborocomments@ncdenr.gov