Commentary

National legal experts: Unless Supreme Court acts, NC gerrymandering will become the national norm

On his website, Election Law Blog, University of California, Irvine law professor Rick Hasen had a fascinating and extremely important post yesterday in the aftermath of Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court argument in the Wisconsin political gerrymandering case, Gill v. Whitford.

In “Justice Kennedy’s Partisan Gerrymandering Hypothetical is North Carolina’s Reality,” Hasen cites national redistricting expert Micheal Li’s analysis for the premise that unless the Court acts to limit gerrymandering, North Carolina’s rigged elections will become the national norm.

Li notes that in a hypothetical posed by Justice Kennedy (at left), the objectionable situation described is precisely what’s been happening in North Carolina. For confirmation, Li inks to an August, 2016 Charlotte Observer story which quotes Rep. David Lewis making patently clear that GOP maps were designed specifically to provide Republicans with a partisan advantage.

Hasen sums things up this way:

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the Court does not rein in partisan gerrymandering, it will be North Carolina that will be the norm, and it surely will make things even worse in terms of the public’s views of our democratic process.”

Commentary

Editorials blast override of Cooper’s GenX veto

The two largest newspapers in the area impacted most directly by the GenX chemical disaster had some choice words for state lawmakers this morning in the aftermath of their hyper-partisan veto override yesterday that reinstated the absurdly inadequate House Bill 56.

Here’s the Wilmington Star-News:

“Woohoo! It looks like our long, regional nightmare is over.

A mere four months after the StarNews reported that a toxic chemical was in our drinking water, Sens. Michael Lee and Bill Rabon announced Wednesday that a solution is at hand. Hallelujah, and pass a bottle of tap water!

Lee, Rabon and enough of their colleagues in the General Assembly were able to save the good folks of the Lower Cape Fear from the obviously nefarious intentions of Gov. Roy Cooper, overriding the governor’s veto of N.C. House Bill 56.

As the state faces unprecedented challenges in ensuring our water is at least somewhat safe, Cooper had the gall to request $2.6 million to reinforce the one state agency whose mission is to monitor state waters and keep them safe — the Department of Environmental Quality.

How dare he?

Sen. Lee was having none of it, though. And since it’s his role as a legislator to carry out the day-to-day business of the state — or is that the role of the executive branch? We get confused — Sen. Lee came up with a plan to solve the GenX crisis. And, he got a good deal — $435,000.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday by the office of Senate Leader Phil Berger, Sens. Lee and Rabon said, “It’s a shame that families in the lower Cape Fear region had to wait this long for a solution because of the Governor’s veto.”

….Meanwhile, with UNCW doing the work, that gives the folks at DEQ — remember DEQ? They’re the one state agency whose mission is to monitor waterways and keep them safe — more time to figure out how they are going to address the massive backlog of discharge permits they need to review. But since the Republican-controlled Generally Assembly has cut the DEQ water quality staff from 493 to 426 since 2015, we figure the Honorables must have another Plan to take care of that backlog.”

And this is from the Fayetteville Observer:

“The General Assembly returned to Raleigh this week and quickly overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a measure that sends $435,000 to Wilmington area researchers to study GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River.

And so the seemingly endless game of whack-a-mole continues, with Republican lawmakers reflexively slapping down anything the Democratic governor stands for. We’re waiting for our legislative leaders to protect the lives, health and safety of North Carolinians, and this is the best they can muster.

Cooper, for the record, wanted $2.6 million to add researchers and other water-quality staff to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services, the state agencies charged with overseeing responses to contamination of our waterways and water supplies. Senate leader Phil Berger blustered that it was only an attempt by Cooper to rebuild a bloated bureaucracy — when in fact, on Berger’s watch, budget writers have gutted the environmental agency and rendered it incapable of adequately protecting state residents from threats exactly like this….

It’s time for lawmakers to get more serious about gearing up state agencies to deal with this threat, and to spend less time playing cheap-shot politics. The people of North Carolina deserve better.”

Commentary

GOP lawmaker derides NC Chamber statement as “garbage” as legislature overrides Cooper environmental bill veto

As expected, the General Assembly overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of House Bill 56. As Lisa Sorg explained last month, the new law contains a hodgepodge of cynical and politically-motivated anti-environmental protection provisions masquerading as the opposite.

House Bill 56 is the junk drawer of environmental laws. Buried beneath the assorted mundane provisions are three that harm the environment and one that pretends to protect the public health.

• repealing the plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks;

• allowing law enforcement to cut back riparian buffers to supposedly root out crime;

• relaxing regulations on landfills;

• and, in a late and controversial addition, appropriating $185,000 to the Cape Fear River public utility and $250,000 to UNC Wilmington to address the GenX contamination in the river and drinking water supplies downstream. It also requires DEQ to issue a notice of violation to Chemours, the company responsible for discharging GenX and other contaminants into the river, by Sept. 8 or provide a report to lawmakers explaining why it hasn’t.”

As Chris Fitzsimon explained yesterday, this charade of a bill is made even worse by the underhanded way in which it was birthed and made law:

“But that’s what happens when it is about politics and ideology first, from secretly planned special sessions to gross distortion of the facts to convenient and situational born-again environmentalism.

Anything to win, to punish political opponents and deceive the people they are supposed to represent to mask the devastating effects of their ideological crusade.

That’s the House and Senate these days and why it’s so worrisome that they are coming back to town.”

Rep. Chuck McGrady

Not surprisingly, the override was approved on almost exclusively partisan lines with Republicans voting “yes” and Democrats “no.” One happy exception to this rule, however, involved GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady of Henderson County. McGrady spoke and voted against the override and, in a discussion of language loosening regulation of solid waste disposal, used an extremely apt word to describe a “fact sheet” produced by the North Carolina Chamber defending the deregulation. As he debunked the contents of the Chamber document, McGrady called it “garbage.”

Good for McGrady. Too bad he and others didn’t loudly apply that description to the entire bill as it would have been completely accurate.

 

Commentary

So-called “technical corrections” bill contains another partisan attack on Attorney General Stein

Attorney General Stein

Speaker Moore and Senator Berger

You really can’t make this stuff up. Apparently unsated by their previous transparently partisan attacks on Attorney General Josh Stein, the conservative leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly are preparing to punish Stein and his office again today during the latest rump special legislative session. Travis Fain of WRAL reports that a so-called “technical corrections” bill contains “language ordering the Attorney General’s Office not to delegate criminal appeal duties to local district attorneys, despite the fact that the legislature sliced the AG’s budget earlier this year. At the time, Attorney General Josh Stein said shifting duties would be necessary in light of the 11 percent budget cut.”

Did you get that? As Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton reported last month, the legislature inflicted destructive and unwarranted cuts on Stein’s office in the 2018 state budget that took effect July 1. Dozens of fine public servants had to be fired. In order to make sure vital work still gets done in such an environment, Stein announced that some criminal appeals duties would be transferred to local district attorneys. This is from her story:

“Before September 1, DOJ attorneys handled all criminal appeals, the prosecution of complex or conflict cases and “motions for appropriate relief” (MARs). In a letter sent August 2 to the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, Stein said his office would no longer be able to handle all of those things.

District Attorneys across the state will now handle all criminal appeals stemming from probation revocations and any misdemeanor other than a driving under the influence charge. They may also be required to handle MARs on behalf of the state, and Stein said his office would be cutting back on handling the prosecution of complex or conflict cases.”

Amazingly, however, this move will apparently not pass muster with the squeeze-blood-from-turnips bullies on Jones Street. Instead, they will apparently order Stein not to transfer these cases and, presumably, stop doing some other essential state legal work. Maybe they’ll direct him to handle the cases personally.

To make the whole thing even more remarkable and outrageous (and in keeping withe lawless manner in which the General Assembly now runs) this important policy decision will be taken without any notice, public hearings or opportunity for real discussion. Like essentially every other important legislative decision these days, the change was cooked up behind closed doors and will, effectively, be issued as a royal edict from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger  and House Speaker Tim Moore, who now preside over state government like a pair of dueling crown princes.

Unbelievable.

 

Commentary

Appropriate: Failed McCrory HHS Secretary to host Trump fundraiser in Greensboro

Aldona Wos

Donald Trump speaking

President Trump

WRAL.com reports that former Pat McCrory HHS Secretary Aldona Wos and her go-zillionaire husband Louis DeJoy will host a high dollar fundraiser for President Donald Trump this weekend in Greensboro. This seems appropriate since Wos and DeJoy are both Trump’s kind of people: rich and overbearing plutocrats who think their wealth somehow gives them the divine right (and the knowledge necessary) to run government, but who in fact have scarcely a clue.

For those who may have already erased the memory of Wos’ contentious and unproductive tenure at HHS from their minds, this is from a post that followed her long overdue resignation in August of 2015, entitled “Chief reaction to Wos departure: Relief”:

Here’s Wos’ hometown Greensboro News & Record in an editorial called “Good heart, bad fit”:

“As for tangible results, well, that was another matter. Despite her background as a physician and former U.S. ambassador— and her famous, sunrise-to-late-night work ethic — the sheer weight of the DHHS bureaucracy seemed to overwhelm Wos.

In time, critics on both sides of the partisan aisle began to wonder out loud if they were getting their money’s worth.

Now, after two and half years at the post, Wos is leaving, Gov. Pat McCrory announced at a Wednesday news conference in Raleigh. Standing at his side, Wos noted it was ‘time to go home.’ Although the governor tearfully praised Wos’ job performance and commitment — as he has all along — her tenure has been wracked by a series of missteps and crises, large and small…”

The N&R then goes on to list a half dozen HHS disasters under Wos’ leadership.

Raleigh’s N&O put it this way in a piece entitled “Don’t cry for me North Carolina”:

“Some Republican lawmakers were annoyed by the turmoil in the department and Wos’ inability to provide reliable numbers on the cost of Medicaid. Senate Republicans even proposed that their version of Medicaid reform would remove the program entirely from DHHS and place its management under the control of a new agency. Indeed, lawmakers doubts about Wos may well have played a role in her resignation.”

The Winston-Salem Journalcalled for the department to be put back on track:

“The resignation Wednesday of Dr. Aldona Wos, the embattled secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, was as overdue as it was unsurprising.…During the two-and-a-half years she has served as secretary, legislators of both parties, advocates and state audits have repeatedly pointed out flaws in the department’s delivery of service to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Charlotte Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers compares the department Wos leaves behind to the Statue of Liberty — the torch section.

Let’s hope Wos gives Trump some ideas about transitioning from public to private life in the near future.