The best op-ed of the weekend

seven-springsIf you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out Ned Barnett’s on-the-money essay (“State inaction magnified Hurricane Matthew’s impact”) on North Carolina’s response to (and lack of preparation for) Hurricane Matthew. As Barnett makes clear, no amount of “rainy day funds” or politically motivated camera hogging can make up for the simple fact that the state has under-invested in infrastructure for years — precisely the kind of infrastructure that would have helped prevent some of the worst impacts of the storm. Here’s Barnett:

That shortfall was exposed by Hurricane Matthew’s flooding of eastern North Carolina. The state’s neglect of infrastructure and regulation exacerbated the disaster and will increase the cost of recovery. Despite the lessons taught in 1999 by the flooding of Hurricane Floyd, this governor and legislature are not committed to the funding and regulations needed to control flood waters and protect water quality from flood-related pollution….

Robin Smith, a Chapel Hill lawyer and environmental consultant who served for 12 years as assistant secretary for environment at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality), said the state has made “significant cuts in water quality programs” even as the risk of pollution and flooding has increased.

“Clearly, one of the causes of increased flooding is increased development,” she said.

When the floods come in the east, the environmental damage is compounded by an unfortunate concentration of industrial farms and plants that raise and process hogs and poultry. Fourteen hog waste lagoons were flooded during Hurricane Matthew, according the NC Pork Council. The storm killed nearly 3,000 hogs and 2 million chickens and turkeys….

Frank Holleman, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center who has pushed to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, said industrial waste shouldn’t be exposed to flooding. “You shouldn’t be storing any kind of dangerous waste in a flood plain. The whole idea of storing waste is to contain it, not have it wash away into our rivers,” he said.

And now, in case you missed the memo, the McCrory’s administration’s budget office is calling for another round of across-the-board spending cuts in 2017-18. As, you may recall, NC Policy Watch reporter Billy Ball reported a couple of weeks back that the administration is calling for $173 million in cuts to public education, but similar cuts are being demanded of all other agencies too. This includes the Department of Environmental Quality — the agency that houses things like water quality protection and even dam safety.

In other words, the seemingly hyperactive response from the administration to the hurricane in recent weeks has been more for show than anything else. When it came to the critical investments that could have prevented some of the damage and made recovery less onerous, state leaders were MIA. What’s more their, plan at this point is to double down on those cuts in the years to come in order to keep paying for their regressive tax cuts.

In other words, when the next hurricane hits eastern North Carolina, residents will get a shoulder to cry on afterwards, but little, if anything, to help prevent the devastation.

Click here to read Barnett’s entire column.


New U.S. citizen and first time voter: Americans should vote proudly

North Carolina Justice Center Senior Administrative Assistant Suijin Li Snyder is participating in her first presidential election as a U.S. citizen this year. The experience has moved her to share some of her thoughts on this momentous occasion with NC Policy Watch:

suijin-li-snyderSince I turned 18 in my native Venezuela, voting was one of the privileges that made me feel so proud. I was proud to be able to elect the leader of the country, the person that will represent our nation and each of us, and to express my voice and become part of the political mechanism and the sense of responsibility that the election process gives.

This is my first election as an American citizen. It’s a very proud moment but I’m also shaken by the polarization of the two parties and the visceral dislike I see for and in some cases, from, their candidates. In this election year it’s easy to think your vote might not change things; that you don’t know enough about the candidates or that you don’t have time for this. I believe, however, that you should think about how privileged we are to live in a country where we can exercise our right to vote. Please don’t waste this opportunity! Know that your vote counts and that you will make a difference.

I love this country because of the opportunities, technology, innovation, creativity, sense of security, and FREEDOM! Is it perfect?  No, but we have more to be proud of than to be ashamed of.  Even though this election appears to have brought out the worst in many I know that America continues in a positive direction because we are compassionate and thoughtful and I will cast my precious vote with that sentiment in my mind and my heart.


Expert blasts presidential debate moderators for ignoring the biggest problem facing the U.S.

In a week in which even the CEO of Exxon-Mobil has stated that climate change brings “real” risks that require “serious” action, Dr. Joe Ramm of the Center for American Progress has a brief but great column lamenting the “criminally irresponsible” failure of presidential debate moderators to ask any questions regarding what is likely the most important existential challenge facing humanity. Here’s Romm:

“Climate silence lives. Despite pleas from editorial writers, columnists, and scientists, Chris Wallace, the moderator of the third and final presidential debate ignored arguably the most important issue facing the next president?—?climate change.

Thus the 2016 election continues the inexplicable tradition begun in the 2012 election in which presidential and vice presidential debate moderators remained silent on the gravest preventable threat to the health and well-being of all Americans.”

After noting that scientist and editorial writers of all kinds had pleaded for such a question he concludes this way:

“All to no avail. In the immediate aftermath of the debate, commentators are rightfully shocked over Trump’s statement that he refuses to say he will accept the election results.

But if we fail to avoid multiple irreversible catastrophic climate impacts?—?from Dust-bowlification to sea level rise to ocean acidification to ever-extremer weather?—?future generations are going to care about little else for decades if not centuries. And they will be rightfully shocked that major figures in the U.S. media failed to raise the issue in presidential debates when it mattered most.

Bottom line: The only guaranteed way for a candidate to make sure climate change and clean energy come up in a debate to bring it up herself, as Clinton did in the first debate.”

Click here to read the entire column.


Prominent Charlotte real estate exec to McCrory and legislature on HB2: “Just change the damn law”

There was another strong indicator this morning that Gov. McCrory and other HB2 supporters have lost the war. This is from a story by reporter Ken Elkins in today’s Charlotte Business Journal entitled “Johnny Harris offers blunt assessment of HB2 at PGA championship event”:

Johnny Harris, developer and president of Quail Hollow Club, where the 2017 PGA Championship will be played, has refined his opinion of House Bill 2 just a bit.

Now, he’s more direct.

“Just change the damn law,” he says. “That’s all we’ve got to do.”

“It was a mistake,” Harris adds. The law, enacted by the N.C. General Assembly to negate Charlotte’s ordinance extending protected status to the LGBT community, is “very disappointing.”

Harris, the CEO of development firm Lincoln Harris who personally recruited the 2017 PGA Championship to Charlotte, spoke on a panel at a Charlotte Business Journal event that attracted about 200 to Quail Hollow Wednesday.

Harris has opined on HB2 before. On his travels around the country, business and sports people question him about life after the enactment of HB2. He has been quoted predicting that HB2 troubles will only worsen until the law is changed.

Now the 2017 PGA Championship is one of the few tourism-generating, national sporting events that remains in Charlotte after HB2 became law.

When HB2 proponents lose people like Harris (a rich developer who spends the rest of the article expounding on the wonders of self-serve beer machines) you know the demise of their discriminatory law is just a matter of time. Click here to read the rest of the article.


This morning’s “must read” op-ed: Bring back public financing for judicial elections

The best op-ed in North Carolina newspapers this morning comes from Melissa Price Kromm, Executive Director of N.C. Voters for Clean Elections and can be found in Raleigh’s News & Observer. Here are some highlights from “NC should restore public funding for judicial elections”:

“For nearly a decade North Carolina enjoyed a widely popular and effective election system that gave state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals candidates limited funds to run competitive campaigns without having to solicit money from special interests who may later appear before them in court. In 2013, Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature eliminated the program over the objections of business and civic leaders, former governors, a dozen former presidents of the State Bar Association, the American Bar Association and hundreds of other public leaders.

The result has been unsurprising and follows a troubling trend threatening fair and impartial courts in states around the country. In 2014, the first North Carolina Supreme Court election without public financing since 2002 saw candidates spend more than $6 million on top of another $2 million spent by special interest groups and political parties. That money funded some of the nastiest political attack ads in the state’s history. Justice for All, with funding from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a national super PAC funded by corporations and wealthy individuals to elect Republicans to state office, spent $900,000 on an ad falsely accusing North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson of siding with child molesters in the courtroom.

A growing body of research has documented the negative effects all of this campaign spending can have on court decisions after Election Day. The ‘soft on crime’ ads run against Justice Hudson are particularly troubling. A 2015 study found that the more TV ads aired during state supreme court elections, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants.

Several studies have also shown that the more campaign contributions from business interests justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants appearing before them in court.”

Kromm rightfully points out that this is not how our court system is supposed to work. The courts should be open to all and completely unbiased. The idea of big money special interests essentially buying our judges ought to make all of us sick to our stomachs. Here’s her excellent conclusion:

“To be sure, our system of public financing judicial elections was not perfect since, with or without the program, judges will still have to contend with outside groups spending hundreds of thousands or millions on ads for and against them. But when the program was in place, 80 percent of candidates participated and were able to run competitive campaigns without creating potential conflicts of interest down the road.

In the long-term we need a constitutional amendment or a new U.S. Supreme Court that allows common-sense limits on how much special interest groups can spend in elections.

Let’s hope our governor and legislature are listening to the judges who have to run in the current system and spare us from yet another judicial election dominated by special interest spending.”

Click here to read the entire op-ed.