Commentary, News

Cooper vetoes latest GOP power grab bills

Governor Roy Cooper has vetoed two more of the embarrassingly partisan and ill-conceived government reorganization bills sent to him by the Republican General Assembly. This time the bills in question are Senate Bill 68 (the proposal to create the laughably misnamed “Bipartisan Board Elections and Ethics Enforcement”) and House Bill 239 (the proposal to shrink the state Court of Appeals just in time to deny Cooper the right to replace three soon-to-retire Republican judges). As Cooper’s understated veto messages make clear, the bills ought to be called the “Hyperpartisan Republican Elections and Ethics Gridlock Act” and the Let’s Guarantee GOP Control of the Courts Act.”

This is from Cooper’s veto message:

House Bill 239:

“Having three fewer judges will increase the court’s workload and delay timely appeals. Just as bad is the real motivation of Republican legislators, which is to stack the court with judges of their own party. Earlier this session, Republican legislators already injected partisan politics into our courts by slapping political party labels on all judicial races.

A bipartisan group of former state Supreme Court chief justices said that this bill would “seriously harm our judicial system” and “hurt the people of our state.” In addition, I believe this legislation is unconstitutional, and we should all be concerned about unwarranted attacks on the judiciary.”

Senate Bill 68:

This is the same unconstitutional legislation in another package, and it’s an attempt to make it harder for people to register and vote.

Changing the State Board of Elections to a 4-4 partisan split and local county board of elections to a 2-2 partisan split will result in deadlocked votes.

It’s a scheme to ensure that Republicans control state and county boards of elections in Presidential election years when the most races are on the ballot.

The North Carolina Republican Party has a track record of trying to influence Board of Elections members to make it harder for people to vote and have fair elections. Under this bill, that same party controls the pool of appointments of half the state and county elections boards.

I urge legislators to set the right priorities for North Carolina and stop electoral manipulation, which, like gerrymandering, is what’s wrong with politics.”

Let’s hope lawmakers come to their senses and sustain the vetoes.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial: Save program for undocumented kids

The Greensboro News & Record has a fine editorial this morning that’s worth a few minutes of your time. “Save DACA” highlights the troubling signs that the Trump administration is chipping away at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama- era immigration policy that allows kids brought to the U.S. as young children to stay, even if they’re technically undocumented, so long as they stay out of trouble.

After relating the story of a DACA youth who was almost wrongfully deported (the Trump administration said it used its “discretion” to let her stay) and pointing out that the program is still in effect, the editorial concluded this way:

In fact, the agency is following a presidential directive that is still in force. President Barack Obama’s executive order establishing the DACA program was one of his finest actions, making so much sense that Trump hasn’t touched it. At least not officially.

Yet, there are worrisome signs. Asked about the Montes case on Fox News Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “The policy is that if people are here unlawfully, they’re subject to being deported.” His statement didn’t acknowledge that DACA status means individuals are here lawfully and should not be subject to deportation.

If Trump overturns DACA, he should be prepared to deport not only college students but members of our armed forces or spouses of military men and women. Also “subject to being deported” will be bright young people who hold professional jobs or are otherwise gainfully employed, paying taxes, starting families and contributing to their communities.

Even people who view all illegal immigrants as “criminals” must recognize that small children aren’t committing crimes when their parents carry them across a border. The children didn’t choose to enter the United States, and by the time they’ve grown up, they don’t know any home other than this country. Yanking them from their American lives and sending them to a foreign “homeland” is cruel to them and bad for the U.S.

ICE has plenty of high-priority illegal immigrants it should target for arrest and deportation. It’s not a matter of “discretion” to leave DACA participants alone. It’s good policy and a presidential order.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

From the departments of overkill and “what are they afraid of?”: Lawmakers advance anti-union constitutional amendment

In 2017, there can be no doubt that North Carolina is one of the most hostile states in America to labor unions. In a time in which corporate greed already reigns supreme and corporate-sponsored politicians have been waging an unrelenting and frequently successful war on working people and their families, generally, the union movement in North Carolina is a small and beleaguered cause. Though it is often enormously creative, plucky, and determined and doing great things for all working people in the state (not just the tiny fragment of the workforce it represents officially), the North Carolina union movement poses about as much of a threat the hegemony enjoyed by state’s “powers that be” as the children’s or mental health lobbies.

State law already makes forming a viable labor union bargaining unit extremely difficult and bans it altogether for public employees. And these laws were put in place by Democrats.

Such a state of affairs, however, is clearly insufficient to satisfy the hard Right in the General Assembly. In a legislative session already marked by an relentless effort to demolish the public structures and rules that provide some hope for the preservation of a middle class society, market fundamentalists aim, like Godfather Michael Corleone, to “wipe out all their enemies.”

And so it was that a House committee today advanced two bills (House Bills 819 and 820) — one of them an amendment to the state constitution, for heaven’s sake — to, in effect, re-pass the state law that makes North Carolina a “right to work” state.

As the good people at the AFL-CIO of North Carolina explained earlier today, this is an absurd, unnecessary and cynically partisan act:

An effort by right-wing Republican state lawmakers to put North Carolina’s Jim Crow-era “right to work” (RTW) law in the state constitution with a November 2018 ballot measure is about protecting Republican legislative and congressional majorities in the midterm election.North Carolina has had a free rider [i.e. a “right to work] law since 1947….

Adding so-called RTW language to the state constitution after 70 years without it is unnecessary, wastes taxpayer dollars, and moves North Carolina in the wrong direction.

Working people in states with free rider laws like North Carolina’s make an average of $1550 less per year than in other states, and 9 of the 15 states plus DC with the highest unemployment rates are free rider states.

Research demonstrates that higher union membership leads to higher wages and greater access to health and retirement benefits–for union and non-union members alike. In fact, by any measure – wages, benefits, economic mobility, wealth, income inequality, wage inequality, poverty – unions help build the middle class.

And here’s the on-the-money explanation of the actual motivation behind the bills:  Read more

Commentary

Not exactly: Debunking conservative claims that NC is a “destination” for teachers

AJ Fletcher Foundation education writer Lindsay Wagner posted a fine story yesterday in which she examines the latest in a long series of claims by staffers at the conservative John Locke Foundation that North Carolina is a big teacher magnet, despite an almost decade-long conservative war on public schools.

Wagner’s verdict on the conservative claim: Not exactly. Here are some excerpts:

But according to Dr. Thad Domina, an education policy researcher and associate professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Stoops’ analysis doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We are enjoying a teacher in-migration in spite of—not because of—the policy framework we’re dealing with,” said Domina.

Domina said North Carolina is a destination for people, period — there are roughly 1.5 in-migrants to every out-migrant, and the state ranks in the top five for migration in the United States, according to a report by a moving company that has tracked migration patterns since 1977.

“Teaching forces are simply keeping up with population growth,” said Domina, who said he doesn’t think folks’ decisions to move to North Carolina has much to do with how attractive it is to teach here—instead there are greater economic forces at play, like the relatively low cost of real estate and the fact that the economy has been getting stronger with each year since the Great Recession, making it easier for families to secure jobs and move.

Teacher retention rates, said Domina, are also an important part of the story that’s left out of the Locke Foundation report. Stoops says that’s a factor he plans to look at in a future report.

“It’s easy to get teachers in the door, but it’s hard to keep good ones,” said Domina. “Idealism does get people in the classroom, but talking with former teachers over the years, the idealism doesn’t keep you there — it is hard grinding work.”

The kind of work that Domina says demands more rewards over the long haul than what North Carolina currently offers.Read more

Commentary, News

Good government watchdogs file suit against Forest, Berger and Moore over December special session

North Carolina lawmakers have rushed through a lot of high profile and controversial legislation in recent years, often with little or no opportunity for the public to be informed (much less comment) on the proposals under consideration.

Today, one of the state’s leading good government watchdogs called them on it. This is from a press release distributed by advocates at Common Cause North Carolina at a press conference that took place at the state Legislative Building this morning:

Common Cause Files “Right to Instruct Their Representatives” Lawsuit Challenging the Constitutionality of the NCGA’s Fourth Extra Session in December 2016

RALEIGH—Common Cause NC and 10 North Carolina citizens today filed suit in Wake County Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of the process that the General Assembly used to enact sweeping legislation by a hastily convened special session in December 2016.

At the heart of the challenge is a violation of citizens’ constitutional right to “instruct their representatives” — a right expressly guaranteed by Article I, Section 12 of the North Carolina Constitution.

“In December 2016, the General Assembly — with no notice to the public — convened a special session, cut off debate, and rushed through legislation that changed the fundamental structure of state government,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the nonpartisan Common Cause NC. “The right of the people ‘to instruct their representatives’ is meaningless if they have no notice and no opportunity to be heard.”

The release goes on to explain that Common Cause and the individual plaintiffs from around the state are asking the court to declare the General Assembly’s fourth extra session of 2016 (which took place December 14-16) unconstitutional and void the two bills passed during the session (Senate Bill 4, which changed the structure of state and county boards of elections and the State Ethics Commission, created partisan appellate judicial elections, and stripped the newly elected governor of the power to administer the Industrial Commission and House Bill 17, which curtailed the governor’s appointive powers and transferred power from the State Board of Education to the Superintendent of Public Instruction).

The court complaint (which is a fascinating read) puts it this way:

“The lack of advance notice to the public about the Fourth Extra Session and the sharply abbreviated legislative process denied plaintiffs and other interested citizens any meaningful opportunity to communicate with the ir representatives bout the potential effect of the bills, in violation of plaintiffs’ right under Article I, Section 12 of the North Carolina Constitution to ‘instruct their representatives….’

There was no emergency requiring the Fourth Extra Session, and no circumstances justified the lack of notice and the lack of opportunity for citizens to instruct their representatives….

Seeking to restrict public scrutiny, participation and debate, Defendants concealed from the public and the media the contents of House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 before convening the Fourth Extra Session.”

The lawsuit is, by the plaintiffs’ admission, a groundbreaking effort. The courts have not previously taken action to invalidate a legislative session in recent memory based on an abuse of process. As the old saying foes, however, “there’s a first time for everything.” Let’s hope this lawsuit brings about such an event.