Commentary

His words, not ours: Lt. Gov. Forest says he’s offering “reactionary commentary”

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

Since winning reelection last November, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has clearly been using his mostly ceremonial office as a platform to run, more or less full-time, for Governor in 2020. As we reported in this space, Forest told attendees at a Craven County GOP event in February that he plans on being Governor of the state in 2021.

Since then, Forest has continued to spend a great deal of his time traveling the state (and the country), smiling for the camera, speaking to Republican groups and championing discriminatory laws like HB2. Rather remarkably, GOP lawmakers have now even gone to the trouble and expense of directly abetting this effort by inserting language in the state budget bill that will establish a taxpayer-funded, three-person security detail for Forest and his family that will serve at his complete discretion.

Interestingly and not surprisingly, however, despite all of the advantages that come with having a taxpayer-funded campaign platform, Forest, who has long represented the extreme right wing of the religious Right, continues to insert his foot in his mouth.

In the past, of course, Forest has raised eyebrows (and provoked guffaws) by claiming that Raleigh’s News & Observer inserts hidden message in its news headlines and co-founding an organization that purports to rate companies on their supposed devotion to conservative Christian ideals (the Sears catalog got downgraded for featuring lingerie ads). Now, if probably inadvertently, he’s done it again.

This is from a recent article in the conservative Republican publication known as North State Journal that was clearly intended to be a flattering puff piece on Forest:

“It’s obviously different,” said Forest, a Republican, of his relationship with new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper compared to Pat McCrory. “But it doesn’t change what we do on a daily basis. It certainly changes how we react and communicate with the governor’s office and the things the governor does and says obviously there’s going to be more reactionary commentary out there from us. It’s just the way it’s got to be.” (Emphasis supplied.)

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: thanks for clarifying and confirming that for us Mr. Lt. Governor. No one really had any doubts about the matter, but it’s good to see you taking ownership of your positions and ideology.

Commentary, News

Hopeful sign for NC NAACP as respected pastor seeks to succeed Rev. Barber

Rev. T. Anthony Spearman – Image: Facebook

Rev. William Barber II

A lot of North Carolina progressives have been feeling a bit of unease in recent weeks as they became aware of the impending departure of longtime NAACP President, Rev. William Barber. Rev. Barber, of course, has become national leader over the past dozen years as he transformed the North Carolina NAACP — often through sheer force of will — from what had been a troubled and often irrelevant group into one of the nation’s strongest state conferences. The notion that Barber, who announced earlier this month that he is stepping down to help launch a new national Poor People’s Campaign, will no longer be available on a daily basis to lend his formidable leadership skills has caused some caring and thinking people to worry that the organization might falter.

Happily, however, there is cause for optimism with recent word that one of Barber’s ablest lieutenants is now seeking to succeed him. Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, the senior pastor of St. Phillip A.M.E. Zion Church in Greensboro and current third vice president of the organization, has announced his formal candidacy in recent days. This is from a statement Spearman released earlier this week:

“Over the past twelve years, the N.C. NAACP founded a movement, shifting from ‘Banquets’ to ‘Battle’. The eyes of the world are on our movement in awe over the explosive growth of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly Coalition (HKonJ). In 2006, we began with sixteen coalition partners, and today we have over 200 diverse social justice organizations working to implement our 14 Point People’s Agenda in 100 counties across North Carolina.

In 2012, many of us traveled throughout N.C. to put a face on poverty, and we were utterly astounded by some of the atrocities we encountered. In 2013, the Moral Monday Movement was formed, using a five-point justice vision that we are fighting to achieve:

1. Pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability

2. Educational equality that ensures that every child receives a high-quality, well-funded, constitutional, diverse public education;

3. Healthcare for all by ensuring access to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and by providing environmental protection.

4. Fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing continuing inequalities for black, brown, and poor white people.

5. Protect and expand voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, and the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law. Read more

Commentary

Blue Cross: Trump, Congress to blame for new rate hike request

How disastrous would Trumpcare be for North Carolina? This disastrous: It’s only passed one house of Congress and it’s already badly destabilizing the insurance market. This is from the NC Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project:

Today, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced it is requesting an average premium rate increase of 22.9 percent for individual market plans in 2018. Before the Trump administration took power, Blue Cross had been making progress in managing costs of new members who gained coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act. In 2016, the company reduced their losses on the individual market by 86 percent and returned to overall profitability. The company notes today that they were seeing the market begin to stabilize with a healthier risk pool.

However, since January, the Trump administration has deliberately undermined the health insurance markets in an attempt to cause the Affordable Care Act to fail. Despite continued requests from the health insurance industry, health care providers, and consumer advocates alike, the administration has threatened to hold hostage payments it owes to insurers for cost-sharing reductions. Blue Cross notes that this uncertainty is directly responsible for three-fifths of their requested increase (14.1 percentage points alone). Without the Trump administration destabilizing the market in such a way, Blue Cross would only seek an increase of 8.8 percent for 2018.

The administration has also undermined enrollment, threatening to not enforce the individual mandate, scaling back marketing and outreach efforts, and instituting new rules that make it harder for consumers to enroll.

The aggregate impact of these policy decisions is a climate of uncertainty and instability for the health insurance market, leaving insurers little choice other than to raise premiums higher than otherwise necessary in order to brace against potential losses. Like Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, insurers in other states have clearly attributed significant portions of their rate hikes directly to uncertainty from the federal level.

What’s more, Congress’ ongoing and misplaced attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has further destabilized the health insurance markets, as insurers face an unclear legislative and regulatory environment moving forward. Read more

Commentary

Phony state legislative budget process continues this morning

Here’s a classic example of the absurdity of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget writing process from this morning’s committee meetings on Jones Street. House Appropriations subcommittees convened this morning to look at a new version of the budget bill that House leaders authored in secret. Though a superficially better process than the Senate — where the subcommittees had zero public role — it quickly became clear that the meetings were essentially for show.

In the Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee, for example, members learned how the designated pots allotted to their categories of state government had been filled and then had some discussion. Rep. Billy Richardson, for example, offered a powerful explanation as to why far too little was being appropriated to the office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS).

Here’s the kicker, however: Upon hearing Richardson’s legitimate beef, committee chairs informed him that if he wanted to make any kind of amendment to raise the appropriation level in IDS or any other line item, he would have to propose an equal cut in some other JPS item. In other words, the idea of taking money from tax cuts or savings was verboten. All amendments would have to comply with what we might call a “rob Peter to pay Paul” rule. The committee than recessed for one hour and informed members they had 60 minutes (less really) to prepare any such amendments they might care to offer under these absurdly restrictive conditions. You can read all of the rules here.

In other words, the “process” being implemented this morning is essentially meaningless. While it is superficially superior to the kangaroo legislating that when on in the Senate, when it comes to the basic of budgeting and governing — i.e. deciding how much to spend and how to prioritize on anything other than a micro-level — the House is really no different. GOP bosses have already decided the important matters in private. What’s more they’re so insecure in their decision making that they won’t allow genuine “give and take” debate in which elected representatives of the people have a real opportunity to propose meaningful amendments in public.

Commentary

What you need to know about the new report on Trumpcare

Health policy expert Brendan Riley of the N.C. Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project released his analysis of the Congressional Budget Office report on Trumpcare last night, Here’s what he found:

Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the American Health Care Act passed on May 4 by the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 217-213. The bill was amended less than 24 hours before the final vote, and the House – including nine Republican lawmakers from North Carolina’s congressional delegation – passed it without having obtained the critical analysis from the CBO about the impacts on health coverage.

The previous iteration of this bill failed to attract sufficient votes from centrists and conservatives alike. Yet the amended bill would devastate older North Carolinians, Tar Heels with lower incomes, and our neighbors living with pre-existing conditions. Overall the CBO finds that the amended Trumpcare bill would:

  • Leave 23 million more Americans uninsured than the Affordable Care Act;
  • Hike premiums, particularly for low-income communities and people over the age of 50;
  • Eliminate affordable coverage options entirely for less healthy consumers and those with pre-existing conditions; and
  • Provide tax breaks to the wealthy, insurers, and drug companies at the expense of the Medicaid program, for which it would cap federal spending and cut by $834 billion.

Today’s CBO analysis confirms what we knew all along: last-minute amendments negotiated in the middle of the night made the American Health Care Act even worse for the American people. These changes would eliminate key protections for consumers, including the ban on pricing discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions and minimum standards of coverage for plans.

Contrary to predictions recently made by Senator Thom Tillis, the CBO estimates that states would take up waivers to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions against pricing discrimination and to allow insurance companies to sell plans that offer bare-bones coverage and minimal protection from major medical risks. In fact, Read more