News

New polling shows growing support in NC for impeachment

The latest Meredith College poll is out and it finds growing support amongst North Carolinians for impeaching President Donald Trump. This is from the summary that accompanied the poll results:

The Meredith Poll found that over 90 percent of state residents were very familiar or somewhat familiar with the allegations of wrongdoing stemming from President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president this summer. However, only a plurality of North Carolinians—48.2 percent—say that his actions justify an impeachment inquiry, while 41 percent state his actions do not. As expected, party affiliation is the key factor dividing respondents. A large majority of Democrats—81.5%—favor the impeachment inquiry, while only 13.8% of Republicans feel similarly. Over half of those calling themselves independent—51.1% —favor the impeachment inquiry. “The division in North Carolina, based on party affiliation, reflects the national mood about impeachment,” stated McLennan.“Most Democrats are urging the House to move forward, while Republicans see the inquiry as more partisan.”

Other findings from the poll:

  • Just over a third of respondents (34.6%) were satisfied with the conditions in the country with almost two-thirds (60.3%) being dissatisfied.
  • North Carolina residents were evenly divided when asked about conditions in the state with 42.9% being satisfied and 46.9% reporting being dissatisfied.
  • Most North Carolinians think the economy is strong with over half (52.4%) referring to it as excellent or good.
  • President Trump’s job approval ratings have fallen to just under 40 percent (39.9%) — down from 44% earlier this year.
  • North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper remains the political figure in the state who citizens think is doing the best job, as his approval ratings remain “above water” with almost half of the respondents (48.6%) approving of the job he is doing with just under a third (32.1%) disapproving his work as governor.
  • Voters generally support the idea of the government being able to remove, temporarily, firearms from someone determined by a judge to be a danger to him/herself or others (commonly referred to as a Red Flag law), with over three quarters (76.4%) of the respondents supported this type of law.
  • On the question of whether the General Assembly should pass the bill ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, over two-thirds (67.4%) of North Carolinians support its passage and only 16.9% oppose it.

The poll says that Trump still enjoys a narrow lead over possible Democratic opponents and that Sen. Thom Tillis is currently running neck-to-neck with his two main Democratic challengers—Cal Cunningham and state Senator Erika Smith.

Click here to explore the full poll results.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: NC Revenue Department needs to get with the program

In case you missed it, the Winston-Salem Journal had a good editorial over the weekend in it which lauded Gov. Roy Cooper for his generally solid work to advance the cause of sustainable energy, but blasted Cooper’s Revenue Department for doing just the opposite.

After pointing out that Cooper’s recently announced clean energy plan has numerous good aspects, the editorial noted:

For about two decades, North Carolina used tax credits to encourage individuals and businesses to invest in renewable energy partnerships. Investors could get tax credits as high as 35 percent on money they invested in various clean energy projects. The credits had to be taken in five equal installments.

That particular program ended in 2016, but investors who had projects in progress could keep taking the credits until they had used them up. Some people involved in solar projects created partnerships not only with energy companies but also with banks, insurance companies and other institutions that essentially bought the tax credits.

Then last fall, the Revenue Department said it wasn’t going to allow the tax credits in some of those partnership deals that had been used to pay for solar energy projects.

Suddenly, investors who been important in the development of the state’s solar farms stood to lose as much as $500 million….

After noting that Revenue officials are relying on an unnecessarily cramped reading of the law, it closes by calling on Gov. Cooper to get his people in line in support of a vital cause:

But North Carolina’s tax code can differ from the federal one when state laws differ from federal laws. By insisting on this narrow view, the Revenue Department is in effect making policy, a policy that’s not that of the governor and that also seems to go against the intent of the General Assembly and a recent state Supreme Court ruling involving the IRS code.

The Revenue Department is also unfairly changing the rules on investors who acted in good faith, in a move that will make it tough for future clean-energy projects here to find financial backing.

The Revenue Department is a part of Cooper’s administration just as surely as the Department of Environmental Quality is.

Cooper should do what it takes to get the Revenue Department on board with his ambitious clean energy proposals.

Commentary

Rep. Lewis’ loan deal emblematic of a larger problem in NC politics

Rep. David Lewis

There are a lot of troubling aspects to the recently disclosed loan deal between North Carolina House Rules Committee chair, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and John Gray — one of four individuals indicted earlier this year in an alleged bribery scheme involving businessman Greg Lindberg and former Republican congressman and state party chairman Robin Hayes.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Travis Fain of WRAL reported earlier this week that Gray provided a personal loan to Lewis of $500,000 in June of 2018 that was supposed to be for four months. This is from Fain’s report:

Deeds of trust filed in the deal show that Lewis and his wife, along with their farm and property company, put up land in four North Carolina counties as collateral. The loan has not been repaid, and Gray has not foreclosed on the properties as the deeds indicate he could.

Hurricane Florence hit two months after the loan closed, causing “catastrophic loss” at Lewis’ farm, the lawmaker said. Gray, who Lewis said he’s known for about 10 years, agreed to extend the loan.

While Lewis disclosed the loan arrangement between the two men, and its existence may not have broken any laws, it certainly doesn’t look or smell good. Gray was a consultant to Greg Lindberg — a wealthy insurance business owner whose company was registered to lobby the General Assembly at the time of the loan. What’s more, as WRAL also reported, Lindberg and his team had multiple meetings with GOP leaders in 2017 in which there were discussions of large potential contributions to Republican campaign efforts.

Simply put: It strains credulity to imagine that a powerful GOP lawmaker like Lewis was wholly unaware of these lobbying efforts or discussions of campaign contributions. After all, he told Fain that he’s known Gray for “about 10 years.” What’s more, Gray had also donated more than $7,000 to Lewis’ campaigns.

Perhaps more importantly, it also strains credulity to imagine that Lewis would have been able obtain such a large personal loan if he was a run-of-the-mill Harnett County farmer and not an important elected official.

In other words, even if the arrangement between the two men was completely legal, it stinks that a powerful politician can gain access to a half-million dollar loan from a deep-pocketed individual with lots of business before the public body in which that politician serves.

And this fact serves to illustrate a larger point.

For decades now, men and women of both political parties have come to the General Assembly with the obvious objective of “cashing in” on their public service. For some, this means finding work as a well-paid lobbyist after leaving the legislature. For others, it involves securing full-time employment with the state or a regulated industry. And for others, it just means making connections with wealthy and powerful interests who can provide other perks and benefits.

And while such arrangements are devilishly difficult to prevent or even regulate, it doesn’t make them right. Unfortunately, in the dark era of Trump, they seem, increasingly, to amount to business as usual.

Commentary, Education

Teacher identifies 10 “reforms” that have damaged NC’s public schools

In case you missed it, veteran Forsyth County schoolteacher and regular Policy Watch contributor Stuart Egan has a fine new post on his blog Caffeinated Rage entitled “These Ten Educational ‘Reforms’ In North Carolina Have Intentionally Hurt Our Public Schools.” Here are his first five:

1. Opportunity Grants (Vouchers) –

There has never been any empirical evidence that the vouchers actually work. Maybe voucher proponents would like to point to NC State’s study last year, but that study ultimately did not make conclusions on the veracity of the vouchers. In fact, it said that the Opportunity Grants need much more research as it is hard to assess the program.

Or they might point to “satisfaction surveys” like Joel Ford of PEFNC did in an op-ed on EdNC.org. If that is the only variable by which they can measure the effectiveness of the grants, then that is absolutely weak.

And it has been shown that Opportunity Grants have heavily been used in nontransparent religious private schools. Furthermore, not even half of the funds for the vouchers have been awarded, yet the NCGA keeps putting more money into this reform.

From Public School First NC.org:

In the 2017-18 school year, 7001 students attended 405 private schools at a cost of $20.3 million. The largest cohort of Opportunity Scholarship recipients attended a single religious school in Fayetteville, with those 201 students making up more than half of its student population. The largest dollar amount, $451,442, went to Liberty Christian Academy in Richlands, NC where 122 of the 145 students are voucher recipients. The 2018-2019 Budget Adjustments bill increased funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program from $45 to $55 million.

voucheroverfunded2

2. Innovative School District –

North Carolina’s ISD is run by an out-of-state for-profit charter chain. To date it has only  school and it just got its third superintendent and its second principal – after only one full year in operation.

It is not a success by any stretch of the imagination.

Here is the most recent growth rates and grades for subsets for that ISD school.

reforms4

Southside Ashpole Elementary:

  • 4 – F’s
  • Everything else is an “I” which stands for “Insufficient Data.”
  • 1 – Not Met’s
  • 2 – Met

The current ISD here in NC has been in existence for over three years. It has not worked.

At all.

3. Charter School Cap Removed –

This past January, Kris Nordstrom published an article that openly showed this data.

The cap was removed beginning in 2012-2013.

And there is substantial evidence that charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools.

The Excel spreadsheet in the previous post lined to above is a list of every charter school that exists now in this state that had a school performance grade attached to it for the 2018-2019 school year. It is cross-referenced to the last full school report card it has on record from the 2017-2018 school year.

According to that data table in that post which includes 173 charter schools,

  • 81 of them had a student population that was at least 65% white.
  • 40 of them had a student population that was at least 80%  white.
  • 100 of them had at least 50% of the students classified as white.
  • 31 of them had a student population that was at least 65%  black.
  • 17 of them had a student population that was at least 80% black.
  • 43 of them had at least 50% of the students classified as black.

To put in perspective, that means:

  • Over 110 of the 173 charter schools had a student population that was at least 65% one race/ethnic group.
  • 150 of the 173 charter schools had a student population that was at least 50% one race/ethnic group.
  • Over 50 of the 173 charter schools had a student population that was at least 80% one race/ethnic group.
  • 132 of the 173 schools listed had a 2017-2018 student population that was lower than  40% Economically Disadvantaged.

4. School Performance Grades –

16 states

NC is the only state that puts more emphasis on proficiency than growth and counts proficiency for 80% for a school performance grade. NC weighs proficiency at least 30% more than the next ranking state.

And North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

graph

5. Virtual Charter Schools –

There are two virtual charter schools that have not very well in the past, but were renewed by the state for another four years and championed by Mark Johnson.

Here are their grades and growth by subset groups.

reforms3reforms2

reforms1

NC Virtual Academy:

1 – F
6 – D’s
2- C’s
5 – Not Met’s
1- Met

NC Cyber Academy:

4 – F’s
4 – D’s
1- B
6 – Not Met’s
0- Met

Click here to see the other five.

Commentary, immigration, Trump Administration

Trump’s destructive war on immigrants is taking a deadly toll

Journalist James Garcia authored a powerful essay recently in the Arizona Mirror that does a good job of summarizing the destructive impact of the Trump administration’s policies toward immigrants. His assessment: we won’t be able to call ourselves a nation of immigrants much longer if Trump’s relentless and bigoted policies aren’t halted soon.

This is from Garcia’s roundup of what’s happening on the immigration front:

The Trump administration wants to slash the number of refugees allowed to resettle here to 18,000 next year. That’s about 20 percent of the target set by President Obama in 2016, and the lowest government cap since 1980.

Refugees are also being affected by a policy change that dramatically expands the government’s practice of returning asylum seekers who arrive at our border to Mexico to await court hearing dates. It used to be if you made a credible claim for asylum, you could be released to a sponsor – usually a family member in the U.S. – until your case wound its way through the system, a process that often takes years.

Already about 45,000 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico under the policy. Unless an appeals court rules otherwise, tens of thousands more asylum applicants could be sent to Mexico to live in conditions that are substandard, if not outright dangerous.

Reports have shown “that migrants sent back to Mexico under the policy have been robbed, kidnapped for ransom, raped, tortured and killed,” according to Vox.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have penned so called “safe third country” agreements with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that require migrants to seek asylum first there if they pass through one those countries on their way to the U.S. 

The plan is almost as heartless as it is absurd. Many of the 800,000 migrants who have been arrested at our border in the past year came from those three violence-ridden nations in the first place. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are all on the top ten list of countries with the world’s highest murder rates.

Legal immigration is also under assault. Read more