Commentary

Lawmakers return to town today: How ugly will things get?

The General Assembly officially convenes the 2017 “long” session today (click here for a preliminary primer) and for a lot of people this is dreary prospect. The Charlotte Observer went so far this morning as to use its lead editorial to spell out its five worst fears about the impending session:

1. The legislature’s relationship with Gov. Roy Cooper will be even worse than the one it had with Pat McCrory. Cooper, a Democrat, knocked off McCrory, but if Sen. Phil Berger and the gang can pancake McCrory, think what they might do to Cooper. That Cooper is trying to ignore their law and expand Medicaid, and that legislators see him as sinking an HB2 repeal deal last month, does not get relations off to a promising start.

2. Speaking of getting pancaked, Charlotte is at the center of the legislature’s griddle. Republican leaders have had an ongoing feud with the state’s biggest city and they don’t like Mayor Jennifer Roberts. Expect bullying, through tax redistribution, stealing more governing power and other methods.

3. HB2 sits untouched. It has done so much damage to the state, but its last chance at repeal for a while may have gone when the special session went off the rails in December.

4. Voting rights are attacked further. After a tight race with Cooper, McCrory did more than seek a legitimate recount. He alleged voter fraud in more than half the counties. Many see that as laying the groundwork for further restrictions targeting phantom fraud.

5. Redistricting gets nasty. The U.S. Supreme Court put things on hold Tuesday, but the General Assembly might yet have to redraw its election district boundaries. If it does, expect hardball, with individual legislators targeted across the state.”

And sadly, that’s not all that could be on the table. Such a list could have also included the Right’s ongoing pushes to:

  • eliminate the state income tax,
  • bring back predatory “payday” lending,
  • privatize and sell of our public education system,
  • ban all abortions,
  • harass immigrants,
  • complete the takeover and evisceration of the university system, and
  • a host of other items.

The Observer editorial also included a list of hopes as well that basically boiled down to the conservatives backing off the pedal a smidge. Let’s hope that’s possible, but if it is to happen, it will take a lot more than just relying on Governor Cooper to act as a roadblock; it will take tens of thousands of North Carolinians getting off their duffs like they did during the “Moral Monday” summer of 2013 and pushing back.

Buckle your chinstraps.

Commentary

Sigh…legislature will convene this week and then adjourn for two weeks to rake in PAC/lobbyist cash

Rep. David Lewis

Rep. David Lewis

In case you’ve been wondering about the General Assembly’s plans for the coming weeks, a recent email from one of House Speaker Tim Moore’s top lieutenants makes things distressingly clear. In a plea for cash sent out by Rep. David Lewis, the powerful Harnett County Republican and Rules Committee chair reveals that: a) lawmakers will convene tomorrow and then adjourn right away for two weeks and b) lawmakers will be only too happy to welcome contributions from PACs (and, presumably, lobbyists) during the interim that would be impossible if lawmakers were to remain in session.

This is from Lewis’ solicitation:

“Dear Friends,

Please join us for Rep. David Lewis’ first event of 2017 on Wednesday – January 18 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Caffe Luna in Raleigh.  An invitation and reply form are attached for your convenience.

Rep. Lewis welcomes your PAC contributions and Sponsorships and asks that PACs wishing to contribute make their checks payable to David Lewis for NC House and mail to….

The legislature will be in session on January 11 and again beginning on January 25.  We would greatly appreciate receiving PAC contributions from January 12 through January 24 as the campaign is not permitted to receive PAC checks while the legislature is in session.

The campaign in accordance with NC General Statute 163.278.13C is prohibited from accepting contributions collected, transferred, or delivered from lobbyists.

We greatly appreciate your generous and steadfast support.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that contributions from lobbyists are not actually prohibited if individuals who plan to lobby in 2017 haven’t officially registered for the year yet — something that many might be deferring given the fact that the session won’t really get going in earnest until later in the month. What better way to curry favor on Jones Street immediately prior to the session than for lobbyists and PACs they control to pony up some big cash?

It should also be noted at this point that the idea of a two week break after the new General Assembly is officially installed actually makes some sense. The idea, which was instituted a few years back, is intended to avoid the phenomenon that used to plague the General Assembly in which lawmakers sat around with nothing to do for weeks collecting their per diem checks while leaders figured out how to appoint committees, assign offices, etc. Unfortunately, being in the kind of jobs in which one if almost compelled never to miss a chance to ask for money has led lawmakers to take advantage of the two week adjournment in a very unfortunate way. Hence, Lewis’ cash call.

Sadly and predictably, the last chance fundraising binge will be not be confined to the majority party. Among others, the House Democrats have already scheduled their own PAC-friendly fundraiser for the evening of January 24 — the day before the session convenes for good. All in all, the whole sad story is another powerful reminder of why our state desperately needs to revive its move toward voter owned elections that Republicans so unfortunately repealed when they took power a few years back.

Commentary

Editorial slams GOP special session power grabs; calls on courts to strike them down

There’s another fine editorial this morning excoriating the General Assembly for its outrageous and, quite likely, unconstitutional pre-Christmas attempts to seize power from Governor Cooper.

Here’s the conclusion to “Judges right block legislative power grab” in today’s Winston-Salem Journal:

“Republican legislators have said the blocked law [transforming boards of elections] would promote bipartisan oversight of elections and ethics laws. But with six votes required for any agreement — especially on voting hours and locations — the board’s composition sounds more like a recipe for obstruction.

It can’t be ignored that these laws came from legislators whose party was caught red-handed trying to prevent African Americans from voting in 2016. It’s hard to trust their motives after an incident like that.

For the sake of the balance of power, we hope Cooper prevails in this case and in challenging the legislature’s law that says it must approve Cooper’s department heads. Gov. McCrory, who signed off on these measures, didn’t have to jump through these hoops.

We also hope the state board of education prevails in its suit against the new GOP law stripping it of power and giving it to the new and inexperienced state superintendent, Mark Johnson of Winston-Salem.

North Carolinians are best served when members of both parties work together, not when one party — either party — rides roughshod over the other and, thus, the people. The Democrats played rough when they were in power, but the Republicans are playing far rougher.

We know that politics can be an ugly game, but the GOP antics are ridiculous and costly.”

Commentary, News

The transcript of Gov. Cooper’s inaugural address

In case you missed it amidst the excitement of the weekend storm, Gov. Roy Cooper gave an inaugural address worth paying attention to over the weekend. You can watch by clicking here, but sometimes reading such speeches is more illuminating.
Here therefore is the actual transcript:

“Good morning. I hope everyone is safe and at home during this winter weather. I encourage you to stay there and off the highways until the roads are clear. Because of this storm, we have postponed the inauguration. But I wanted to spend a few moments with you to outline my priorities for North Carolina.

In 1776, the early settlers of North Carolina faced a defining moment. They came from all over our state – from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks- and gathered in the little town of Halifax.

There, without a single vote of dissent, they resolved to be the first state to petition the Continental Congress to declare American independence. And just like that, a small village became part of an unlikely story that would unfold over the centuries.

In this state, in our time, it has been the story of North Carolinians’ courage to lead on education, confront recession, and expand civil rights. Even in moments of tension, our grit and determination have always led to greater progress, no matter how challenging the journey may be.

We were the first state in America to open our doors to publicly supported higher education. We had the foresight to create the Research Triangle Park. And through the efforts and sacrifices of all our citizens, we have built a state where anyone would be glad to raise a family.

Our proud history didn’t come out of thin air. It came from us. It happened because we weren’t afraid to dream big and we kept our focus on the future.

That’s why today, my eyes remain fixed firmly on the horizon.

Now is not the time to point fingers or dwell on recent battles. The people of this state are tired of yesterday’s politics. You expect – and deserve – public servants who reject cynicism, who don’t succumb to political paralysis, who negotiate differences in good faith.

I pledge to lead by example. I will never stop fighting for North Carolinians.

I will do everything possible to reach consensus. I know we can find common ground on education when we all agree our teachers deserve a raise. I know we can come together to improve health care when we all agree that getting more families covered isn’t just a moral obligation but a financial responsibility, because we want all folks to pay fewer medical bills and have more money in their pockets.

So don’t let the last few months discourage you. There’s a lot we can accomplish, and I can’t wait to get started. I enter this office humbled by the responsibility you’ve placed in me. Whether or not I won your vote, I’m going to be working for you.

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Commentary

Of school “choice” and Superintendent “listening tours”: The weekend’s best op-ed column

June Atkinson

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction, June Atkinson

In case you to miss it over the weekend, be sure to check out the Sunday column by Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer, in which he reports on the aftermath of voters’ perplexing and possibly disastrous decision last November in the state school Superintendent’s race. As Barnett explores in an interview with ousted Superintendent June Atkinson, North Carolina may be on the verge of heading down a road it will later regret:

“The pain of her [Atkinson’s] defeat is compounded by the thin qualifications of the victor. Atkinson, 68, has a doctorate in educational leadership, taught for eight years and served 28 years in the Department of Public Instruction before taking charge of the agency. She lost to Republican Mark Johnson, a 33-year-old corporate lawyer and a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board. Johnson’s teaching experience consists of two years in the Teach for America program. He supports more charter schools, vouchers for private schools and the Republican rallying cry of using public education dollars to give parents “choice” in where their children go to school.

With a youthful Republican in the job, the legislature moved quickly to expand the superintendent’s powers at the expense of the State Board of Education. The board, also Republican-controlled, has sued to block the change.

In his first meeting last week with the State Board of Education, Johnson spoke earnestly about creating a sense of urgency about improving public schools. Then he announced he would go on a year-long ‘listening tour’ to figure out what the schools need. That doesn’t sound like an urgent response. But, as it is, the only ones Johnson will be listening to are top lawmakers whose priorities are to browbeat teachers and create public support for privatizing public education. ‘That’s the purpose – to make people lose confidence (in public schools) and then they say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a choice?”‘ Atkinson says.

North Carolina has invested heavily in its public schools over decades. Watching the per-pupil funding shrink to near the bottom of the national rankings under the state’s Republican leadership has been painful for Atkinson. Now to see public education’s leadership upended in the name of nebulous ‘choice’ feels to her like the entire structure of public schools is in danger. ‘It takes decades to build a cathedral, but it takes a short time to destroy the cathedral,” she says. “I guess that’s the way I feel at the moment.’”

And here’s the conclusion:

“The clamor for school choice isn’t really about choice, Atkinson says. ‘Choice is a euphemism,’ she says. ‘It’s saying, “We will educate some children and forget about the other children.”‘

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