Commentary, News

University researchers: North Carolina among the nation’s more politically corrupt states

The 2018 results will not come out until this fall, but according to the 2017 research compiled by the Institute for Corruption Studies at Illinois State University, North Carolina is (or, at least, is perceived as) one of the nation’s more corrupt states.

Since 2014, Professors Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston have published an annual report known as the “Corruption in America Survey” which includes a “Corruption Perceptions Index” that is based on feedback from journalists who cover state government. Here’s how the authors describe their methodology:

“We contacted close to 1,000 reporters via email/phone. We received a total of 270 responses. Unfortunately, in some states (Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia) we have a small number of responses partly due to small number of reporters covering state politics. Hence, while interpreting the results from these states we should be cautious. We received no responses from New Hampshire, and North Dakota.?

In our survey, we define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups. It is the form of corruption that attracts a great deal of public attention. A second form of corruption, however, is becoming more and more common in America: legal corruption. We define legal corruption as the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.” [Note: Policy Watch reporters were not surveyed.]

The study ranks states in several categories, including “Illegal Corruption” and “Legal Corruption” in the executive, legislative and judicial branches. In each area, North Carolina was ranked as more corrupt than most states.

“Illegal Corruption” in the executive and legislative branches was characterized as “moderately common” — tying us with several other states and ranking us behind only a handful in which corruption was determined to be “very” or “extremely” common in one or both categories, including Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Georgia, Hawaii and Pennsylvania.

Similar findings were reported in the area of “Legal Corruption.” In this area, North Carolina finds itself in the “very common” category — a rating that places it worse off than most states.

Obviously, the rankings include a host of very subjective factors and no doubt suffer from a time lag — many of North Carolina’s most infamous corruption stories date from a few years back — but the whole thing still makes for interesting reading. Click here to read the entire report.

Commentary

The best op-ed of the weekend

Controversial UNC BOG member Tom Fetzer

If you missed it, be sure to check out the Saturday op-ed on WRAL.com that was signed by an array of former members of the UNC Board of Governors. In it, ten prominent North Carolinians of different political parties and philosophies all agree on one thing: the current, right-wing-dominated UNC board is a group that’s running amok. This was best exemplified by the recent chaos surrounding the aborted hiring of a chancellor at Western Carolina University and the downright bizarre and inappropriate actions of board member Tom Fetzer.

This is from the op-ed “Former UNC board members concerned about current board’s ‘bad governance'”:

Good governance can take many shapes and forms, depending on the organization and circumstance, and is not always easy to see or detect. Bad governance is different – like many things, you know it when you see it.

And what we saw at a recent meeting of the UNC Board of Governors was clearly bad governance.

  • First, an individual board member took it upon himself to retain a third party to do a background check on the UNC President’s recommended candidate for Chancellor of Western Carolina University.
  • Second, a committee chairperson allowed the unanimous recommendation of a candidate by her committee and her President to be overturned by the board without returning it to the President or the committee for their input and recommendation. This inappropriate action severely undermined both….

Unfortunately, it appears our Board of Governors has become increasingly politicized, and some members are conflicted. Politics has no place in the selection of members, and any conflicts of interest must be avoided. Boards must have a high level of independence and professionalism to be effective.

What we saw last month was not good governance. Our state, our President, our faculty, our students, our entire University System deserve better. What we witnessed will negatively affect the quality of people willing to come to our Universities as Chancellors, faculty and staff.

Good governance has many positive aspects. Maybe the most important is to attract and retain great talent and leadership.  We ask our legislators and our Board of Governors to remember that they serve the people of North Carolina.  They can and should do better.

Signed by the following former members of the UNC Board of Governors:

  • Paul Fulton
  • Ann Goodnight
  • Fred Eshelman
  • Derick Close
  • Brad Wilson
  • Jim Deal
  • Peaches Gunter Blank
  • Leroy Lail
  • Phil Phillips
  • Jim Babb”

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

Commentary

Tillis continues to obfuscate on climate change…but it’s probably better than it could be

North Carolina’s junior senator Thom Tillis sat down with Spectrum News reporter Tim Boyum the other day for a discussion of climate change (plus some other issues) and, as is so often the case with Tillis, watching the video provides for a maddening experience.

On the one hand — hallelujah!! — Tillis actually concedes that climate change is real and acknowledges the scientific fact that humans are playing a role in bringing it about. This position, of course, contrasts sharply with the thoroughly absurd and conveniently extreme position he voiced during the Republican Senate primary in 2014. At that time, Boyum — who was moderating the debate — asked whether climate change was a fact and Tillis, like all three of his fellow right-wing competitors, said “no.”

During this week’s interview, Boyum cited the two contradictory instances and also noted actions in the Senate in which Tillis has signed on to a resolution that acknowledged climate change as real, but denied the human role, and another in which he urged President Trump to renege on the Paris Accords that seek to attack climate change. Boyum then, quite generously and gently, asked him about the “evolution” in his position and, amazingly, Tillis refused to acknowledge there had been any such evolution, i.e. a flip-flop.

Instead of acknowledging it directly, he simply appears to mumble “Yeah I don’t know” and then immediately pivots into talking about things that people in the military and business have told him about the obvious reality of climate change and the need for us to change human behavior. He even alludes to the scientific reality of ozone layer depletion, says it plays a role in climate change, and describes his recent conversation with some young people about that fact.

But, of course, ozone layer depletion dates back many decades. Why didn’t he mention that in 2014?

Happily, though, he then, he goes on to actually talk with some conviction about the need for moving toward alternative, sustainable energy and even defends North Carolina’s “renewable portfolio standard” that has been incessantly attacked by his fellow conservatives.

Unfortunately, just when one is ready to get excited that Tillis has mustered some guts to speak the truth, he lapses into an absurd attack on President Obama and the Paris Accords and then concocts an imaginary and powerful group that supposedly wants to do away with all carbon emissions.

To which all a caring and thinking person can do and say in response is to sigh, slap one’s forehead and at least be thankful that the man has come this far. Lord knows, given the extremist positions espoused by many of his fellow conservatives, it could be a lot worse. That said, given Tillis’ penchant for 180 degree political pirouettes, more dispiriting moments are likely right around the corner.

Click here to watch the video.

 

Commentary

Another editorial calls for an end to destructive pollution from Chinese-controlled hog farms

The chorus of voices calling on the Chinese conglomerate known as the WH Group to clean up its North Carolina hog farms continues to grow. After noting the just nature of the recent massive court verdicts in favor of hog farm neighbors who have been victimized by farm pollution and the unfortunate efforts of state lawmakers to limit such awards and defend the hog farming industry, today’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal puts it this way:

“As these problems first emerged, Republican legislators sided with the hog farms, portraying their operators as persecuted family farmers and the residents who were suffering from hog waste as nuisances who were intent on attacking the hog farmers’ livelihoods. But Smithfield Farms is owned by the WH Group, a Chinese company that is the largest pork producer in the world. Its profits approached $1 billion last year. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the legislature sided with a well-heeled Chinese company rather than North Carolina residents.

These lawsuits could have been avoided had hog farm operators been willing to adopt more modern techniques used in places like Missouri and Colorado, that contain the smell and residue better. It’s not too late to do so now.

‘These juries are repeatedly seeing problems with the kind of waste management that’s used,’said Cassie Gavin, a lobbyist with the North Carolina Sierra Club. ‘Clearly it’s time for the state and the industry to take a hard look at their waste management and modernize it so the public is protected.’

Farming is an important industry in North Carolina and should be supported. But that doesn’t mean that hog farmers should be allowed to make life difficult for their neighbors. Legislators should protect not just corporate farms, but also the health and well-being of those who live near those farms.

The legislature definitely should be supporting local residents. Isn’t this what we elect them to do?”

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Former legislative counsel Gerry Cohen on NC’s six proposed constitutional amendments

At today’s Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon, former legislative counsel Gerry Cohen had harsh words for the deceptive nature of the six constitutional amendments that state lawmakers are seeking to place on the state’s November ballot and the inadequate process that the General Assembly employed in rushing them to passage during the harried closing days of the 2018 session.

Shortly after the event, Cohen was kind enough to share the text of his remarks, which we’re happy to publish below. You can access a PDF version of the remarks by clicking here.

NORTH CAROLINA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
2018 NC POLICY WATCH “CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS” SERIES
PRESENTATION BY GERRY COHEN

Quoting from the mission of today’s conversation “In the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session, North Carolina lawmakers took the unprecedented step of voting to place six constitutional amendments on the November ballot. The amendments deal with a wide-ranging array of subjects: the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife; the rights of crime victims; changes to the state board of elections and the transfer of appointment powers from the governor to the legislature; selection for judicial vacancies; a cap on the state income tax and requiring a photo ID to vote.”

The six amendments simultaneously on the ballot is the third highest ever since our 1776 state constitution, behind only 10 on the ballot in 1914 (all of which were defeated in 1914 – I was told interestingly by someone who started work at the General Assembly in 1948 that the reasons for defeat was a proposed amendment in the package that dealt with hunting and fishing, and it brought down to defeat the other nine as well), and seven on the 1970 ballot, including a revised state constitution and six proposed amendments to it. The highest number in more recent memory was in 1982 when five amendments appeared on the ballot, three of which failed at the polls.  The 1914 amendments that went down at the polls even included a bizarre one (my all-time favorite) which amended a reference in the State Constitution to the Civil War which had called it an “insurrection and rebellion” (certainly a northern point of view) to the “War Between the States”, a distinctly southern reference. The voters were having none of it. Interestingly that amendment was put on the ballot by NCGA action less than 90 days after the infamous dedication of the “Silent Sam” statue in Chapel Hill. (Also good was the repeal by the 1970 Constitution of the old provision banning duels).

So we know that when the General Assembly jams lots of amendments on the ballot all at once (other than the 1970 ballot which had been preceded by a study commission which met for two years hammering out language from 1967 through 1968 and months of discussion in the 1969 session), the track record of passage is NOT good.

Since the 1982 debacle, the General Assembly made two major changes: In 1983 it created the “Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission” composed of the Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the Legislative Services Officer, and tasks them with writing factual summaries of proposed amendments. There had been little information for the public on the 1982 amendments. That commission had worked quietly for the last 35 years on the next 15 or so constitutional amendments that went on the ballot The General Assembly began to consistently pass implementing legislation prior to the referendum so that voters would have a lot more information on what the amendments would do.  Other than one self-executing amendment that did not need legislation, 13 of the last 14 amendments had enacted implementing legislation prior to the referendum and all but two were approved by the voters.  This year, none of the five amendments that require implementing legislation had it enacted. For example, on the highly contentious Voter Photo ID proposal, voters will have NO idea on what types of photo ID will suffice.  Even in the 1969-1982 period, a majority of the amendments had implementing legislation passed before the referendum. Read more