The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. North Carolina’s greatest scandal continues
UNC center’s latest report on poverty provides powerful reminder of the communities and individuals being left behind

When you consider the matter for a moment, it’s really not all that surprising that conservative politicians in Raleigh have been so hell-bent for so long to silence Professor Gene Nichol and the colleagues and students with whom he works at UNC Law School. There are, of course, numerous critics of the reactionary policies that state leaders have been advancing for most of the past decade—many of them employed in state-funded universities—but when it comes to Nichol and his team, there are a couple of factors that have to drive the powers-that-be absolutely crazy.

Nichol’s voice itself is one. Few other North Carolinians this side of Rev. William Barber are as powerful, passionate and pointed in, as the old saying goes, “speaking truth to power.” If you have any doubts about this, you must have somehow missed Nichol’s regular essays that dramatically enliven the opinion pages of Raleigh’s News & Observer. Click here and here to check out a couple of recent examples. [Read more…]

2. Lawmakers want increased competition in elections, except their own

Hypocrisy in politics is hardly a new phenomenon but rarely is it as boldly on display as it was last week from Republican legislative leaders during the latest of the now monthly special sessions of the General Assembly.

The House and Senate passed legislation called the “Electoral Freedom Act,” first introduced by Senator Andrew Brock in this year’s regular legislative session that sought to make it easier for unaffiliated candidates and new political parties to appear on the general election ballot.

North Carolina has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country and many good government groups for years have pushed lawmakers to change them. [Read more…]

3. Groups with ties to Innovative School District head seeking state contracts for charter takeovers

Two groups seeking state contracts to run struggling North Carolina schools have professional ties to the man who may ultimately steer the decision to hire them, N.C. Policy Watch has learned.

According to documents obtained by Policy Watch, AMIKids Inc. and Communities in Schools (CIS) of Robeson County are two of eight organizations that have filed notices of intent to apply for contracts in the Innovative School District (ISD), a controversial reform program that could allow for-profit school operators to assume control of operations and staffing in lagging public schools for at least five years.

Until he accepted the role of ISD superintendent this year, Hall was the president and CEO of Communities in Schools of N.C., the state affiliate for CIS of Robeson County, an organization that specializes in dropout prevention with struggling kids. Before that, Hall also worked for more than seven years as national director for AMIKids, a Florida-based nonprofit that works with at-risk youth and non-traditional schools in a number of southern states. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads:

The N.C. Supreme Court building in downtown Raleigh. (Photo by Ricky Leung)4. Experts express concerns about consequences of eliminating judicial primary elections

North Carolinians will lose their “precious right to vote,” as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg calls it, in at least one election next year if lawmakers override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 656.

“The Electoral Freedom Act” eliminates next year’s primary election for judicial races among other things. It was passed in both chambers last week and Cooper vetoed it earlier this week. His veto will be up for an override vote by January at the latest—though some lawmakers have been told that an override vote could now be scheduled for as early as next Tuesday, October 17.

The only public explanation for the language about eliminating judicial primary elections next year (which was slipped into the bill via a last minute maneuver of the kind that have become commonplace at the General Assembly in recent years) has been to give lawmakers more time to tweak the redrawing of judicial and prosecutorial districts. [Read more…]

***Bonus video: Legislators will attempt to override Cooper’s veto of “The Electoral Freedom Act” on Tuesday

***Bonus read:  The latest on NC’s racial gerrymandering case: Will a special master get involved in a map redraw?

5. Duke Energy’s flood maps reveal only part of the risk of a coal ash spill

Saturday nights at the 311 Motor Speedway in rural Pine Hall smell of fast food and fuel. Wooden bleachers overlook the track, essentially a clay bowl, where under the bright lights, mini stock cars careen through the turns, monster trucks tear up mud bogs, and “Ucars” — souped up Hondas and Chevys and Fords — speed down the straightaways.

For an extra five bucks, you can sit in the VIP section, close enough to the track to feel the engines roar in your chest. From these premium seats, you could likely also see the infield begin to fill with coal ash and dirty water, should a basin at Duke Energy’s Belew’s Creek plant fail.

Facing litigation from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Duke Energy has made public previously secret information, including maps showing areas near 10 of its coal-fired power plants that would flood in the event of a basin breach. [Read more...]


Legislators will attempt to override Cooper’s veto of “The Electoral Freedom Act” on Tuesday (video)

Legislative leaders reportedly will attempt to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 656 next week.

The so-called “Electoral Freedom Act” eases ballot access requirements for third party candidates, but also seeks to eliminates next year’s primary election for judicial races and district attorneys.

As Melissa Boughton explains in her story today, the move by lawmakers to redraw judicial and prosecutorial districts is drawing concern from national groups:

Anyone who has been following General Assembly news this year should not be surprised. Douglas Keith, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the state has been “more effective than most” at getting bills passed in what appears to be a trend across the nation to manipulate state courts for partisan advantage.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. Its staff regularly studies and analyzes judicial changes across the nation, including in North Carolina.

“The courts’ role in our democracy is to protect rights and uphold the rule of law, particularly when it comes to the other political branches,” Keith said. “To do this, judges need to be able to act independently and without fear of retribution from the political branches, and the public needs to have confidence that courts are not just another political actor.”

Rep. Graig Meyer is also voicing criticism about the effort by Republican legislative leaders to manipulate the state court system for political advantage. Meyer tells NC Policy Watch that eliminating the primary, as SB 656 would do, is one of the ‘worst forms of government.’

Meyer appears this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon. Click below for a preview of that radio interview:

public health

Lunch & Listen: What’s next for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act and why Republicans are not done with repeal (Audio)

If you missed it over the weekend, be sure to listen to our interview with Dr. Jonathan Oberlander, professor of health policy and management at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor and chair of social medicine at UNC’s medical school.

Oberlander discussed what we can expect next for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act after the latest failure by the GOP to repeal and replace the ACA.

“There is a bipartisan direction out there. [But] I think there is a fair chance that Republicans will try to revive “repeal and replace” and perhaps wait and see what the results are of the 2018 elections are and if they pick up seats in the Senate.”

Click below to hear his full radio interview with NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon:


Lunch & Listen: Sen. Jay Chaudhuri on the special session and the GOP’s push to undercut a fair, independent judiciary (Audio)

The North Carolina House and Senate return to Raleigh at noon tomorrow for yet another special session.

House Speaker Tim Moore has indicated they will try to cover a laundry list of issues in just a few short days.

But Senator Jay Chaudhuri says the issue that concerns him most is the GOP’s push to redrawing judicial districts.

“This really has ended up becoming a sustained attack on the judiciary.”

Click below to hear Sen. Chaudhuri’s recent radio interview with NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon as they discuss judicial redistricting, damaging cuts to the Attorney General’s office and school funding:

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Lawmakers refuse to say how incumbent judges and D.A.’s fare in new maps; so we did it for you

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) said last week that the North Carolina House will pass legislation redrawing the maps under which state judges and district attorneys are elected without any information being made available to the public about how current judges and prosecutors will be impacted.

Lawmakers in the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting will vote on the new maps tomorrow, which will dramatically alter the districts in which judges and district attorneys across the state are elected. As of earlier today, they were set to vote on the maps without any idea of who would be affected, who would be “double-bunked,” who stands to lose their seat on the bench or which districts would be affected positively or negatively.

This stands in sharp contrast to when the General Assembly recently redrew legislative maps. At that time, lawmakers not only knew what district each of them would fall under, they actually considered incumbency protection as a criterion in the mapmaking process. [Read more…]

***Bonus read:

2. General Assembly stonewalling Cooper’s nominees to state Board of Education

Sandra Byrd has been a decorated North Carolina high school teacher in western North Carolina and an associate professor at UNC-Asheville, where she also served as assistant provost.

So she seemed a natural fit when Gov. Roy Cooper announced in May that Byrd was one of three new nominees for seats on the State Board of Education, North Carolina’s top public school board.

But as of today, nearly five months after Cooper’s proclamation, Byrd says she doesn’t know when, if ever, she’ll actually assume her duties on the board.

“I appreciate the governor’s confidence in me, and I am looking forward to serving on this board,” says Byrd. “But I don’t know when that will be.”

Byrd is one of three state board hopefuls caught, once again, in limbo with the N.C. General Assembly. Legislative confirmation is required under the state constitution for these powerful state board members, charged with administering state school initiatives and leading North Carolina’s 115 local school districts. But, despite no constitutional bounds on the time frame for confirmation, it was once a speedy process for most nominees, taking weeks or days.[Read more…]

***Bonus reads:

3. Demoted former DEQ chief contradicts department policy in national environmental journal

When Donald van der Vaart and John Evans ran the NC Department of Environmental Quality, they were not shy about expressing their anti-regulatory, pro-business philosophy. But now the former secretary and his chief deputy, who stayed at the agency in lesser roles after Roy Cooper was elected governor, have published a controversial article in a professional journal promoting views that not only clash with those of the current DEQ leadership, but also appear to flout its authority.

In the Environmental Law Reporter, van der Vaart and Evans shared the byline on a seven-page opinion piece calling for the repeal of a core tenet of the Clean Air Act, known as PSD, or Prevention of Significant Deterioration. For the past 45 years, the intention of PSD regulations have been to keep major polluters from eluding stricter emissions rules by moving into areas where the air is relatively clean. The industries could then sully the air in their new locations.

The two officials argue that the PSD is a form of “economic protectionism.” By requiring industries to further curb their emissions should they move into a cleaner locale, the PSD keeps them tethered to the “politically powerful” Northeast and Midwest, they wrote.

Ryke Longest, director of Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, said van der Vaart and Evans’ argument is “the flip side of environmental justice.”[Read more…]

4. Opposition to Confederate monument grows, but UNC officials decline to act

Dr. Altha Cravey, a tenured professor of Geography at UNC-Chapel Hill, knew she was unlikely to hear anything about the ongoing “Silent Sam” controversy at a high powered Tuesday gathering in Chapel Hill.

The meeting, with panels moderated by UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC alum Frank Bruni of the New York Times, was designed to tout UNC system President Margaret Spellings’ vision for the university and mark the 11th anniversary of the 2006 Spellings Commission Report that was issued during her tenure as U.S. education secretary.

“It was kind of love fest for Spellings — they never address real controversies and ongoing issues at these things,” Cravey said in an interview Wednesday. “I hoped that we would hear a little about this division on the UNC Board of Governors, but I knew we wouldn’t — and I knew we wouldn’t hear about Silent Sam.”

Cravey, a faculty member with a long history of activism, decided to take matters into her own hands. During Spellings’ keynote speech, Cravey wrote two hashtags on a piece of paper and raised them up from her table. [Read more…]

5. Charity and other on-the-cheap solutions won’t get the job done
The Right’s latest cynical efforts to undermine government and the common good

Many North Carolina conservatives have long pursued a cynical, ends-justify-the-means strategy when it comes to their ultimate goal of radically remaking the social contract. Here’s how it frequently plays out: First they complain incessantly that public institutions are inherently corrupt and inferior to the private sector; then they use this supposed “fact” as justification to slash public funding and/or sell off core public structures and systems to private interests. Soon, the whole process repeats itself as the self-perpetuating cycle plays out.

For a classic case-in-point, see the Right’s treatment of North Carolina’s public schools. First came the ceaseless drumbeat of complaints about a “broken” public education system and the “failure” of “government schools” and “mass education.” This was followed by years of funding cuts designed to curb “waste, fraud and abuse” and to force “education bureaucrats” to get their house in order. Next came the aggressive push for privatization in the form of vouchers and charters – accompanied, of course, by highly publicized (though frequently ephemeral) pledges to raise teacher pay, even as other essential components of the system were quietly squeezed and starved for resources. [Read more…]

***Bonus video for the week:  Advocacy groups pan Tillis’ rigorous proposal to provide undocumented youth with legal status