News

Marsy’s law founder fighting Nevada drug trafficking charges

billionaire

Henry Nicholas mug shot, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dep’t.

As many North Carolinians will recall from last year’s debate on the six proposed constitutional amendments sent to the state ballot by the Republican-led General Assembly, one of the amendments — a proposal to make several changes to state criminal procedures in the name of “victims’ rights” known as “Marsy’s Law” — was the original handiwork of a California billionaire and Wells Fargo heir named Henry Nicholas. As we reported in this space last September, Nicholas has had some problems of his own with the law since becoming a crusader for victims’ rights.

Reporter Dana Gentry at out sibling publication, the Nevada Current, has the latest on Nicholas in a story published yesterday:

Marsy’s Law founder to seek dismissal of drug trafficking charges

By Dana Gentry

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 2 to determine whether billionaire Henry Nicholas and his companion, Ashley Fargo, an heir to the Wells Fargo fortune, should face trial on drug trafficking charges.

But attorney David Chesnoff says he’ll be asking Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Karen Bennett-Haron to dismiss the charges.

“We are filing a motion to dismiss the entire matter because the evidence does not support the charges. Dr. Nicholas looks forward to vindication in court and continuing his important philanthropic work and fighting for victims’ rights,” Chesnoff wrote in a statement following an arraignment Monday morning. Nicholas and Fargo remain out of custody.

The two were arrested in Las Vegas in August 2018.  Police say Nicholas and Fargo were in possession of large amounts of narcotics, including methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, heroin, pills believed to be ecstasy and hallucinogenic mushrooms. They did not attend the arraignment.

Nicholas, who funds efforts throughout the U.S. to pass Marsy’s Law, a victim rights initiative, has avoided convictions in the past involving allegations of drug and prostitution charges.

In a 2007 story in the Los Angeles Times, Nicholas told the paper “the allegations of drug use against him were especially absurd because he had been recognized by authorities for his efforts to boost law enforcement.”

Commentary, Environment

Expert: The truth about farting cows and the policies that actually put hamburger at risk

You’ve probably heard something in the news of late about the proposed Green New Deal and how its proponents supposedly want to end the production of beef. North Carolina’s tea partying congressman Mark Meadows made such a claim recently. As climate expert Dr. Joe Romm, pointed out over the weekend in a column entitled “Republicans are the real threat to hamburgers, not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” however, the truth about what the Green New Deal proposes and the policies that actually put beef production at risk are a little different.

After pointing out that the original mention of “farting cows” come from a draft FAQ section associated with the proposal that was later deleted, Romm explains:

“The actual resolution says only that the goal of slashing carbon pollution over the next decade should be achieved by “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”

Romm then goes on to point out that Ocasio-Cortez was clearly right when she said that “We gotta address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” He than says this:

“Reducing beef consumption isn’t just good for your health, it’s needed to preserve a livable climate. The fact that per capita red meat consumption has been on the decline in this country in recent decades suggests Americans understand one if not both of those facts.

But the GOP effort to block any serious discussion or legislation to address climate change has never been based on facts.

After all, if Republican leaders and President Donald Trump actually accepted climate science, they would understand that their do-nothing strategy is the greatest imaginable threat to every single type of food production, including livestock.

Because grazing cattle require so much arable land and fresh water, cows are among the biggest victims of any extended drought — and climate change is already driving a major increase in the duration and intensity of droughts in this country and around the world.

Higher temperatures from global warming cause greater evaporation, drying up reservoirs and parching the land. At the same time, climatic shifts in precipitation are causing longer dry spells in the Great Plains and Southwest, like the epic multi-year drought California endured earlier in the decade.

Together, these factors turn ordinary droughts into mega-droughts, which result in less water for people and cattle — and for the crops we both feed on. In the early part of this decade, Texas was in the middle of its worst drought in recorded history, causing epic water shortages and cutting down crops like hay and corn that serve as cattle feed.”

In other words, as Romm concludes, large-scale cattle farming isn’t going to survive in a world that features mega-droughts:

“To get to the more manageable ‘lower emissions’ scenario, America and the world must far exceed the emissions reduction goals agreed to in Paris in December 2015. In short, we need something approximating a Green New Deal.

House Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee mockingly tweeted that they need to eat hamburgers now before they disappear.

Thanks to their blinkered denial of the climate crisis, that may be more prescient than they realize.”

Click here to read Romm’s entire article.

Commentary, Education

Civil rights advocates: This is the face of school re-segregation

In case you missed it earlier this week, there was a powerful op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer that explained in painful detail how charter schools are abetting and expediting the re-segregation of our public schools. As civil rights advocates Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix of the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights explained, the most recent case involves the conversion of a private academy in long-troubled Halifax County.

In February, the state’s Charter School Advisory Board approved the conversion of Hobgood Academy, a private school in Halifax County, to a publicly funded charter school. The decision, which will result in the school receiving up to $2 million in taxpayer money that would otherwise go to the already underfunded public schools in the county, sadly ignores the racialized history of the school and the continuing legacy of segregated education in Halifax. It also contradicts school choice advocates’ purported reliance on a market-based theory of education.

In the late 1960’s, as desegregation was finally coming to North Carolina, a number of private schools — ”segregation academies” —were opened to allow white parents to pull out of integrating public schools. Hobgood Academy, founded in 1969, is a textbook example of these attempts to preserve segregated education, and has maintained that profile throughout its existence, with a student body that is 88 percent white. Halifax County Schools, the public school district in which Hobgood is located, is just 4 percent white.

The decision to approve a charter for Hobgood demonstrates the state’s steadfast refusal to consider the issue of racial segregation in charter schools. The willingness to provide millions of taxpayer dollars to support Hobgood’s survival ignores not only its legacy as a white educational enclave in Halifax, but also the reality that the entire county continues to struggle with the challenges of racially divided schools. Three public school districts serve the county’s approximately 6000 students. In addition to the county district, Weldon City Schools is 3 percent white, while Roanoke Rapids Schools is 60 percent white. Additionally, these districts are already handicapped by the significant diversion of funds to existing charter schools.

If Hobgood had been a public school, it would have been legally required to take affirmative remedial measures to address its segregative practices and create a racially diverse student body. It never did so. In its charter application, Hobgood promises to recruit “students who will reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the town of Hobgood and Halifax County Schools.” But how realistic is it to believe that any significant number of African American or Latinx parents would choose to send their children to a school that was designed to, and for decades has, excluded them?

Click here to read the rest of the op-ed.

Defending Democracy, News

Campaign finance watchdog calls for investigation of Cherokees’ soaring political donations, connections to gambling legislation

Veteran North Carolina campaign finance watchdog Bob Hall is calling on the State Board of Elections to investigate the campaign finance contributions of one of the state’s most active givers.

This is from a news release Hall (pictured at left) distributed this afternoon:

With the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) pushing legislation (SB-154/HB-302) to add sports wagering to a sprawling gambling operation, it’s a good time to look at the tribe’s clout in the NC General Assembly.

Turns out EBCI donated $570,400 to state legislators, other candidates and political committees in the 2018 election – and a total of $1,300,000 in the past three elections, which ranks it among the three biggest PACs in the state, along with the Duke Energy PAC and NC Realtors PAC.

It also turns out that it’s long past time for the State Board of Elections to conduct a thorough audit of EBCI’s political arm.

Reviewing EBCI’s contributions is especially difficult because, unlike other PACs and contrary to state law, it does not file its disclosure reports electronically.  You have to slog through PDF’s of paper reports posted on the State Board’s website; the reports are not searchable or easily converted into a single data file. They also don’t always match what recipients report they received as a campaign donation.  My analysis uncovered more than two dozen mismatched contributions – i.e., discrepancies in what EBCI and the recipient reported….

EBCI’s political giving is unique. Other PACs are required to amass their money by soliciting donations from their members, executives, and supporters. EBCI doles out millions to its tribal members – over $150 million in per-capita payments in 2018 alone – but it is not required to ask its 15,000 members for money to build up a tribal PAC. Instead, in the early 2000s, EBCI argued it was a sovereign nation, not a normal corporation or association, and it received special permission from the State Board of Elections to donate directly from its non-gambling business revenues, i.e., profits from its hotels, restaurants, etc., which have grown rapidly because of its expanding casino operations.

The $570,400 donated to state politicians and committees in the 2018 election is four times the $136,250 it gave in the 2006 election….

My request for the State Board to conduct its first comprehensive audit and investigation of EBCI’s political donations is attached. The letter provides additional examples of discrepancies, background information, and a table with over 400 EBCI contributions.

Click here to read Hall’s letter to elections board executive director Kim Strach. Click here and here to see the legislation referred to in Hall’s letter.

Education, NC Budget and Tax Center

New report: Legislation to address NC’s school building crisis would only begin to address school facility needs

North Carolina lawmakers are debating two proposals that would direct state money to fund long overdue public school construction needs, but both fall short of offering sustainable solutions for the state, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center. Ultimately, rolling back tax cuts made in the last several years could completely address the state’s school building needs without undermining funding for education.

“Where students learn matters for their educational outcomes,” said Kris Nordstrom, Senior Policy Analyst with the Justice Center’s Education & Law Project and co-author of the report. “Leaving children to learn in unhealthy, unsafe environments will have a negative impact on their well-being now and in the future as well as our state’s educational goals.”

North Carolina has a massive backlog in needed investments such as school construction and repairs, the report said, across a range of projects in communities facing very different demographic and fiscal challenges. Rapidly growing populations in some urban parts of the state drive needs for construction, while economically struggling communities lack the tax base to fix aging and dilapidated school buildings.

Moreover, the state of our schools is a self-inflicted wound, the report said, due to tax cuts passed by lawmakers since 2013, which have reduced state revenues by approximately $3.6 billion per year. Between changes to the corporate income tax and failures to deliver on promised education lottery funding, lawmakers have diverted nearly $2.5 billion from school construction funding since 2006.

“Even compared to the depths of the Recession, North Carolina schools today have fewer teachers, assistant principals, instructional support personnel, teacher assistants, and supplies,” Nordstrom said. “Had leaders chosen a different path that did not undermine state funding, we could have kept pace with both school construction and operating needs.”

Read the full report.

The new legislation proposed to help close these gaps – House Bill 241 (which would issue bonds to fund school capital needs) and Senate Bill 5 (which earmarks General Fund revenue to public school capital) – differ in how they would pay for increased school construction but share two common features: Read more