Commentary, News

Democracy advocates: Nonpartisan redistricting is essential in light of latest court ruling

The good government advocates at Democracy North Carolina issued the following statement this afternoon in response to today’s ruling by a three-judge panel that North Carolina legislators unconstitutionally used race when they drew legislative boundaries for state House and Senate members. Click here to read the ruling.

“Today’s federal ruling overturning North Carolina’s racially-gerrymandered legislative districts is a tremendous victory for our state’s voters and for everyone who values fair elections,” said Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall. “With computerized precision, GOP lawmakers drew zig-zagging political district lines that separated black voters from white and other voters in order to prevent multi-racial fusion coalitions from electing candidates the Republicans feared. It’s essentially computerized apartheid. It’s also a cynical replay of a strategy from over a century ago that promotes racial division to protect white political supremacy.”

Hall added, “Regardless of political party, North Carolina can do better. It’s time for our state’s leaders to move beyond the nineteenth century.”

Meanwhile, Bob Phillips of Common Cause NC told Raleigh’s News & Observer that “Once again, the courts have had to intervene against the legislature’s unconstitutional gerrymandering. Today’s decision is yet more evidence that North Carolina clearly needs to establish an impartial redistricting process that puts voters ahead of partisan politics.”

Let’s hope lawmakers finally listen to Hall and Phillips an soon.

Commentary

Court of Appeals ruling a defeat for Wilson’s public broadband efforts; Further appeals possible

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued a ruling yesterday that bodes ill for the efforts of towns like Wilson, North Carolina to get out from under the thumb of giant telecom monopolies. As N.C. Policy Watch reported back in March, Wilson was one of several American cities that had built out their own fiber optic networks as an alternative to poor quality networks maintained by private companies like Time Warner Cable. Initially, the effort was supported by policymakers in Raleigh. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, however, after conservatives took power in Raleigh in 2011, cable company lobbyists found a more favorable environment for their argument that this was somehow unfair competition.

Reporter Jon Brodkin of the website Ars Technica reports on yesterday’s decision:

“The Federal Communications Commission has lost in an attempt to preempt state laws that restrict the growth of municipal broadband networks.

The FCC in February 2015 voted to block laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories. The FCC, led by Chairman Tom Wheeler, claimed it could preempt the laws because Congress authorizes the commission to promote telecom competition by removing barriers to investment….

The loss is a big one for Wheeler. The FCC voted through his net neutrality rules and the muni broadband decision on the same day; he called it “the proudest day of my public policy life.” The FCC’s net neutrality decision was upheld by a federal appeals court, but a win on the state law preemption would have allowed Wheeler to make a bigger impact on boosting broadband competition in the United States.

About 20 states have laws restricting the rights of cities and towns to compete against private Internet service providers. Municipal ISPs in Tennessee and North Carolina wanted to expand outside their territories but were blocked from doing so by state laws, and thus asked the FCC to preempt the statutes. If the FCC had won, cities and towns in other states could have followed suit and asked the FCC to overturn restrictive laws throughout the nation.”

Not surprisingly, cooperate-funded conservatives like Senator Thom Tillis are lauding the decision. This is from the story in Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, hailed the court ruling, saying: ‘Today’s ruling affirms the fact that unelected bureaucrats at the FCC completely overstepped their authority by attempting to deny states like North Carolina from setting their own laws to protect hardworking taxpayers and maintain the fairness of the free market.’ Tillis was speaker of the House when the law passed.”

Interestingly, Tillis and other conservatives who blasted a recent Fourth Circuit ruling striking down North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law as being the product of “three unelected Democrat judges” made no mention of who appointed the judges in yesterday’s Sixth Circuit ruling. All three were appointed by President George W. Bush.

Happily, this may not be the final chapter in the story. As Brodkin also reported: Read more

Commentary

Voters, legal experts agree: Tillis and Burr are simply wrong on Supreme Court blockade

Thom TillisNot that it’s much of a surprise — polls have been consistent on this matter for months — but yet another one came out yesterday that shows overwhelming opposition amongst North Carolina voters to the U.S. Senate blockade (championed by Senators Tillis and Burr) of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. This is from the widely respected analysts at Public Policy Polling:

“We also find by a 60/23 spread that North Carolinians would like to see the Senate move forward with Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court by holding hearings. There’s bipartisan agreement on that issue with Democrats (74/13), independents (55/24), and Republicans (43/36) all in agreement.”

The new poll numbers come on top of countless editorials and op-eds from lawyers, law professors and historians highlighting the illogical and indefensible stances taken by Burr and Tillis ( a Judiciary Committee member) in refusing to give Garland a hearing. Yesterday, a friend of N.C. Policy Watch forwarded a July post from the judicial policy experts at the national nonprofit, the Alliance for Justice (“Benched! Own Job Description Eludes Senator Tillis”) put it this way:

“As the Republican Senate has brought judicial confirmations to a standstill, refusing even to hold a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and confirming lower court judges at a historically slow rate, the most obvious explanation for all the obstruction has been politics: Republicans would rather spite President Obama and preserve judicial vacancies for a Republican president than ensure a fully-functioning judiciary. But for Thom Tillis, the Republican Senator from North Carolina and member of the Judiciary Committee, the problem appears to be (for better or worse) an alarming amount of misinformation, whether it be the importance of filling judicial vacancies, how bad the vacancy crisis has become under GOP leadership, or the Senate’s basic constitutional duty to confirm judges.

On Wednesday, just before the Senate left for a seven-week vacation, Tillis objected to voting on slate of uncontroversial judicial nominees because, in his words, confirming judges has “nothing to do with doing our jobs.” That startling claim would certainly surprise the Constitution’s drafters, who wrote that the Senate must provide “advice and consent” on judicial nominations, and Democratic members were no less shocked. Read more

Commentary

Watchdog group sees “train wreck” looming in November without more time for NC voters to cast ballots

voteThe good people at Democracy North Carolina released some startling numbers today that do not bode well for the mechanics of the November election in North Carolina. They also called on Gov. Pat McCrory to take immediate action to help address the potential crisis. Here’s their news release:

73,500 Extra Hours: More Voters, Needing More Time to Vote, Highlights Need for Strong Early Voting Plans

New figures released today show that North Carolina voters will need more time to cast ballots this fall, and they’ll face longer lines at the polls if action is not taken in the next 10 days by county and state officials.

Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan voting rights group, said five indicators point to “a disastrous train wreck at the polls” if county boards of elections do not adopt more expansive early voting schedules than they used in the last presidential election.

Because of a ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, counties are scrambling to adopt new plans for a 17-day early voting period by an August 19 deadline set by the State Board of Elections. County boards of elections had crafted plans for a 10-day period under the old law that the court said was unconstitutional. The old law required counties to provide at least as many hours of early voting opportunity as they did in 2012, but the court’s ruling eliminates that hourly minimum.

“Based on what we’ve seen in Guilford and Wake counties, we’re worried that short-sighted or partisan local election officials will not adopt plans that serve the best interests of voters,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.

“Fortunately, many county boards have good leaders,” he added. “They should all recognize the indicators and conditions that point to the need for investing in strong early voting plans with weekend and evening hours that will relieve the stress on Election Day.”

The indicators include:

HIGH-TURNOUT SWING STATE. North Carolina is again a swing state in the presidential race, along with hot US Senate and gubernatorial contests. Overall turnout of registered voters hit 70% and 68% in 2008 and 2012, respectively. It will likely exceed 67% again this year.

MORE VOTERS. North Carolina now has 6.6 million registered voters, a gain of 275,000 over August 2012, and it will have nearly 7 million by November 2016. If just 64% of those additional 275,000 voters show up to vote, and each one takes 8 minutes to cast a ballot, that’s an additional 23,500 hours of voting time elections officials need to plan for.

NO STRAIGHT-PARTY VOTING. This is the first presidential election when NC voters cannot use the time-saving procedure of marking one box to choose all the candidates of one party. A surprising 2.5 million voters used straight-ticket voting in 2012, or 56% of all those who voted. Even if just 2 million voters need an extra 90 seconds to mark contests on North Carolina’s notoriously long ballot, the loss of straight-ticket voting will add at least 50,000 hours to the voting time in 2016 over 2012. More on this at http://demnc.co/straightticket. Read more

Commentary

Art Pope goes all in with partisan defense of HB2, attacks on LGBT advocates

Art Pope 3The Charlotte Business Journal posted a lengthy interview that conservative financier Art Pope gave to reporter Erik Spanberg this morning. For the most part, Pope merely recites the usual partisan and ideological talking points that he has inflicted on followers of North Carolina politics for decades: Tax cuts are good. Public spending is bad. Gov. McCrory, who made Pope his first budget director, is doing a fabulous job of “helping and serving the people of North Carolina.” Pope also confirms once again that he doesn’t support Donald Trump for President, but frustratingly, Spanberg doesn’t appear to have asked why.

The real newsy part of the interview, however, is Pope’s McCrory-like rap on HB2 and Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance. Though Pope attracted some publicity during the legislative session for saying the legislature went too far with HB2 and expressing support for a commission that would somehow review the issue and make recommendations in 2017 (i.e. after the NBA All-Star Game would have taken place and much of the political pressure against HB2 would have subsided), he makes clear in the interview that, in his view, the whole issue is the fault of Democrats, leaders in the city of Charlotte and LGBT rights advocates.

According to Pope:

  • it was inappropriate and likely unconstitutional for the city of Charlotte to enact an anti-discrimination ordinance — something it did in response to months of public debate and that mirrored the actions of scores of states and cities around the country,
  • the attacks on HB2 were “a smear campaign being conducted by Human Rights Campaign encouraged by the Democratic party to encourage boycotts of North Carolina” and
  • the failure of a so-called “compromise” bill that would have returned North Carolina law to where it was before the Charlotte ordinance (i.e. a place in which LGBT discrimination in employment and public accommodations was perfectly legal) and promised to “study” the matter failed because of — wait for it — opposition from the Human Rights Campaign and Attorney General Roy Cooper.

And while he does allow that “there are some genuine concerns by the LGBT community that could and should have been addressed,” he also makes the outrageous and downright delusional statement that “Before the Charlotte ordinance, North Carolina didn’t have any controversy over discrimination against (the) LGBT community or the use of bathrooms.”

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that  a supposedly well-informed citizen would utter such a head-in-the-sand claim.

And as for the failure of the “compromise” being the fault of HRC and Cooper, how can that possibly be when Republicans have overwhelming legislative majorities, as well as control of the Governor’s office? Conservative leaders have been riding roughshod over the Democrats and LGBT advocates for years. Now, when they can’t muster the votes to repeal some of their own handiwork, it’s the fault of people who opposed it in the first place?

The bottom line: Pope has been trying to position himself in recent months as a “moderate” on HB2, but when push comes to shove, it’s clear that: a) he just doesn’t get the reality of LGBT discrimination and b) he is, first and foremost  a partisan who simply can’t admit the fact that his political friends and allies made a grievous and destructive error that is causing enormous damage to our state.