Commentary, News

Local officials voice overwhelming opposition to latest GOP overhaul of county elections boards

Not that anyone would ever expected Republican lawmakers in Raleigh to give a hoot, but it’s worth noting that almost all local elections officials are none too happy with one of the more controversial provisions in the new Republican bill to merge the state Board of Elections and Ethics Commission. We know this because of an interesting incident that took place yesterday morning at a North Carolina Association of Directors of Elections Conference in Wilmington.

According to an observer who contacted NC Policy Watch, Greg Gebhardt, a staffer for bill sponsor Rep. David Lewis, was addressing the group and was asked a question by an official from Anson County about how boards would possibly be able to avoid gridlock and make controversial decisions under the proposed GOP changes (which increase the boards from three members to four and mandate that they be split equally between Republicans and Democrats). According to the observer, Gebhardt replied that it would be a matter of “whoever has the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing.”

Rep. David Lewis

Rep. David Lewis

At this point, there was a loud groan/roar of disagreement in the room and an official from Yadkin County spoke up and pressed Gebhardt to seek the opinion of the 300 or so officials in the room regarding the change. When Gebhardt replied that didn’t have time to talk to everyone in the room, the Yadkin official persisted and urged him to seek a show of hands.

Faced with a room full of frustrated local county elections officials, Gebhardt acquiesced and asked “who thinks that they can make a four-member board work?” At this point roughly 10 to 12 hands were raised. The other 290 or so officials present kept their hands at their sides.

Gebhardt replied that he would share this information with Rep. Lewis, but as is so often the case with public input and the conservative North Carolina General Assembly, the information from experts in the field is certain to have zero impact as Lewis has already signed off on the change and helped shepherd it through the House yesterday afternoon.

In any logical world, Gebhardt — a public employee — would share his findings with Governor Cooper as the bill now rests on his desk. For some reason, however, we’re not holding our breath on that one.

Commentary

Editorial: Bill to limit lawsuits against hog polluters is dead wrong

As Lisa Sorg reported last night in the post immediately below, the state House approved legislation last night that would insulate polluting hog operations (“farms” seems like too genteel a term) from liability for the damage they inflict on their neighbors. This morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal explains why this idea, to put it bluntly, stinks:

“State legislation favoring big pork producers over property owners who can’t stand the unbearable odors the hog farms produce is dead wrong. This legislation needs to die.

As The Associated Press reported last week, ‘North Carolina lawmakers are taking steps to protect the world’s largest pork producer from lawsuits accusing its subsidiaries of creating unbearable animal waste odor. The 2014 lawsuits by about 500 rural neighbors of massive hog farms allege that clouds of flies and intense smells remain a problem nearly a quarter-century since industrial-scale hog farming took off. The smells can spark headaches and infuse households, they complain. Wind-driven spray has been known to coat a home’s exterior in liquefied excrement, some said. The smell clings to clothes. With the cases against U.S. subsidiaries of the Chinese pork giant heading toward a possible trial as early as this summer, legislators are now proposing to sharply limit penalties that a jury or judge could impose.’

This a load of you-know-what….”

The editorial goes on to explain that the legislation would protect big hog operations, including Smithfield Foods — a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate for liability for the damage that hog waste smells do to neighbors. The sponsors claim that local contract farmers ties to the conglomerate will eb injured if lawsuits seeking damages aren’t quashed. Here’s the conclusion:

“The AP reports: ‘The proposed law in the country’s No. 3 hog state by gross income recalls that politically powerful pork producers in the 1990s shaped laws to foster high-density hog production despite the environmental and health risks of the waste disposal systems. The predominant waste-handling method has changed little since then.

‘It involves using lots of water to regularly wash out farm buildings holding hogs, animals that generate prodigious amounts of waste. It’s collected in cesspools, where bacteria break it down, and the flowing remains are sprayed through high-pressure sprayers onto acres of farm fields. The droplets can radiate smells and be carried by winds. North Carolina pork producers are only now deploying less-smelly methods like spraying closer to the ground via hoses dragged behind tractors, but the traditional method, generally, prevails.’

We support our small farmers’ struggle to survive. Many of them have to form partnerships with large agricultural concerns. But those partnerships can’t come at the expense of their neighbors. A balance must be struck, one free of legislative meddling. Our state’s courts, not the legislature, must decide the matter at hand.”

Commentary

Encouraging crack in the facade: GOP lawmaker proposes Medicaid expansion for NC

House Bill 662 lead sponsor Rep. Donny Lambeth

The bill is inadequate. It bears some resemblances to “Pence-care” — the watered down Medicaid expansion law that the nation’s embarrassingly hypocritical Vice President ushered in while serving as Governor of Indiana. And yet, House Bill 662 is an enormously hopeful development in the slow but sure process of North Carolina conservatives realizing that they must embrace the central provisions of the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare.

As Lynn Bonner of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported over the weekend:

“Four Republicans in the state House have filed a bill to extend Medicaid health-insurance coverage to more adults, and to charge hospitals to help pay for it.

It’s the first time prominent North Carolina Republican legislators have sought to add adults who now don’t qualify to the government health insurance program.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act provided that option – removing millions from the ranks of the uninsured – but North Carolina under Republican control has been among the holdouts. GOP political leaders have been skeptical of whether the federal government would follow through on its promise to cover the bulk of the costs, and have demanded reforms to how money is spent before expansion.”

The near-term prospects for the bill remain cloudy at best, given the ideologues who still hold sway in the GOP caucuses on Jones Street. But the introduction of this bill is an important crack nonetheless in the facade of the right-wing power structure that’s controlled state government so long. It’s a reminder that if the leaders of the House and Senate would actually try to work with Democrats, rather than crush them, the state might actually be able to make some progress. Let’s hope more cracks and fissures continue to form in the days ahead.

Commentary

Crucial Conversation breakfast – Immigration policy in the era of Trump – April 18

Join us as NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation breakfast:

Immigration policy in the era of Trump: Where do things stand in North Carolina? What is the reality “on the ground”? How can caring and thinking people speak out and push back?

Register here

The presidency of Barack Obama was no picnic for American immigrants. Despite the incessant and inaccurate attacks of nativist voices (including the current inhabitant of the White House), the Obama administration actually brought about more deportations of unauthorized immigrants than occurred under any previous president – often with only the barest minimum of due process and devastating human carnage resulting.

Tragically, however, things have gone from badly flawed to dreadful under the administration of Donald Trump. Not only has the new president rushed to implement discriminatory and high profile policies targeting refugees from Muslim-majority countries, he has pushed less visible but still hugely destructive rule and policy changes that are negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of millions of other men, women and children from scores of countries – many of whom who have lived as productive and loyal Americans for decades.

Come learn about this vital topic and the need for North Carolinians to speak up as we host a distinguished panel of experts:

Abdo Diya

Julie Linton

Raul Pinto

Dr. Diya Abdo – A first-generation Palestinian born and raised in Jordan, Diya Abdo is associate professor of English and Chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. She is the founder and director of Every Campus a Refuge, a Guilford College Center for Principled Problem Solving initiative which advocates for housing refugees on campus grounds and assisting them in resettlement. Diya’s teaching, research and scholarship focus on Arab women writers and Arab and Islamic feminisms.

Dr. Julie Linton, M.D. – Julie M. Linton, MD, FAAP, is an academic general pediatrician with a career devoted to community pediatrics, medical education, and advocacy. An Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Dr. Linton works in the primary care setting and serves as the Advocacy Director for the Wake Forest Pediatric Residency Program. Dr. Linton is Co-Chair of the AAP Immigrant Health Special Interest Group and a member of the AAP Executive Committee for the Council on Community Pediatrics. She is a co-author of the AAP Immigrant Health Toolkit and two AAP policy statements: “Promoting Food Security for All Children” and “Promoting Food Security for All Children.” Dr. Linton co-founded and co-chairs the Forsyth County Refugee Health Collaborative.

Raul Pinto – Raul Pinto is one of North Carolina’s most knowledgeable, visible and important advocates on behalf of the rights of immigrants. He is also a staff attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center’s Immigrants and Refugees Rights Project where he represents low-income individuals negotiating the immigration system. Prior to joining the Justice Center, Raul worked as an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

Don’t miss this very special event at this important moment.

When: Tuesday, April 18 at 8:30 a.m. — breakfast will be available at 8:15 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a light breakfast

Register here

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

Editorial: The Gorsuch debacle spirals to a disastrous conclusion

Raleigh’s News & Observer does a fine job this morning of exploring and explaining the depths to which yesterday’s detonation of “the nuclear option” by U.S. Senate Republicans in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court takes our politics. After exposing the utter absurdity of the refusal to confirm President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, the editorial rightfully decries the idea of altering decades-old rules to help, of all people, Donald Trump:

“Now, in changing the Senate rules to prevent a filibuster of President Trump’s nominee for the court, conservative federal Judge Neil Gorsuch, the GOP guarantees Gorsuch a seat. And, Republican senators in using the ‘nuclear option’ of a majority-only requirement for approval, reject the very logic they used against Garland, that the people through their votes would let it be known what kind of justice they wanted. By that logic, the people wanted Garland, because three million more of them voted against President Trump than for him.

This is a sorry day indeed for democracy, and Mitch McConnell, the hard-line Republican leader from Kentucky who signaled his ardent dislike for President Obama from the beginning of his two terms as the elected president of the United States, offers ridiculous logic for his maneuver. He said Democrats kept ‘raising the stakes and moving the goalposts’ and that ‘we need to restore the norms of the Senate.’ What?

The ‘norms’ would have required a vote on Garland; the ‘norms’ would have left in place the requirement that a nominee have 60 votes to avoid filibuster. McConnell is the one who ‘moved the goalposts,’ and he knows it.

So Trump will have his justice in Gorsuch, 49, who absent the Garland fiasco might be more easily accepted by Democrats, as the party not in the White House generally respects the choice of the elected president, even if the president’s choice would not be that of the other party.

Regardless of his personal character, which is strong, Gorsuch will take his seat under a cloud Republicans seeded. They’ve set up a scenario wherein future presidents who may not be to their liking can nominate liberal ideologues Republicans may despise, but the simple majority required for confirmation will allow that future president to do as he or she wishes without the advice of the Senate.

Gorsuch wins. Almost everyone else, and most certainly the credibility of the Senate leadership, loses.”