Commentary

Burr must do his patriotic duty in Russia investigation

This morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer is on the money in pointing out that the nation is depending on North Carolina Senator Richard Burr to step up to the plate and get moving with the investigation in to Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process. Unfortunately, the signs are not encouraging:

“Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina assured the public that the Senate investigation he is charged with leading will be aboveboard. So far, it doesn’t look anything like the balm that could help heal the country’s political wounds. Recent reports from investigative reporters with Yahoo! News, The Daily Beast and CNN suggest the investigation is stalled even as sources claim Russia allegedly tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign through Trump advisers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday he’ll hold a hearing May 8. But the Senate Intelligence Committee hasn’t gathered documents or interviewed key witnesses three months into the probe. Though Democrats have requested evidence such as emails and phone records from the Trump campaign, Burr has yet to sign off on them. And the committee is lightly staffed and doesn’t include those with an intricate knowledge of Russia or have investigative skills….

Intelligence agencies have already determined that a combination of the propagation of Russia-inspired fake news and selectively timed leaks of sensitive emails from Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats through WikiLeaks had an impact on our elections. How to reckon with that reality responsibly to shield ourselves from further incursions is difficult enough. It’s a delicate dance, requiring a firm response without igniting an unnecessary war or hearkening back to the days of the Red Scare.

Without a full, complete nonpartisan investigation, the public will be ill-equipped to assess what policy responses make the most sense, making it that much more difficult to garner widespread support. We get the politics: Burr and his colleagues were sent to Washington to further the agenda of their respective parties. Their supporters expect nothing less.

But there are moments when a political party’s short-term goals must take a backseat to the country’s well-being. This is one of those times. Burr must seize it.”

Clearly, the time for action is now. Burr can show once and for all whether he is a patriotic American or an incompetent political hack in the days to come. Let’s hope for the former.

Commentary

Why have Tim Moore and Phil Berger turned their backs on this cause?

Common Cause NC executive director Bob Phillips addresses the media prior to today’s petition delivery at the General Assembly

There are a lot of  substantive areas in which the leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have set new standards for hypocrisy and double talk in recent years. Nowhere, however, is this kind of behavior more blatant or maddening than it is in the field of political gerrymandering.

For years, both House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sponsored legislation to end partisan gerrymandering and replace it with a nonpartisan redistricting system. Moore even helped pass such a bill out of the House a few years back after Republicans took control of the General Assembly.

In 2017, however, neither man can be bothered to lift a finger to even secure a committee hearing for the idea. At the same time that both leaders are helping to advance a seemingly endless list of destructive, unpopular and unconstitutional bills, good, popular and constitutional redistricting reform bills like House Bill 200 and Senate Bill 209 languish unheard and unseen.

Today, good government advocates did their best to call Moore and Berger out on their hypocrisy. Staff members and volunteers from Common Cause NC held a brief public event outside the Legislative Building and then delivered boxes containing petitions with thousands of signatures to Moore’s office. Like the idea of nonpartisan redistricting itself, the petition text was simple and straightforward:

I, ________________, am a resident of North Carolina and a citizen concerned about the negative effect of partisan gerrymandering on our state. Gerrymandering robs too many North Carolinians of their vote on Election Day and I encourage the North Carolina General Assembly to enact a nonpartisan redistricting process, such as House Bill 200, for the state and end gerrymandering now.

Not surprisingly, Moore’s assistant informed the Common Cause folks that, due to this week’s “crossover” deadline, the Speaker would be too busy to meet with them today. Of course, the bitter irony there is that the same crossover deadline will soon sound the death knell for redistricting reform legislation for another year. In other words, Moore is too busy killing a proposal that he once championed to even meet with his former allies on the issue.

To their great credit, the Common Cause advocates stand ready to forgive and forget the treachery. Indeed, Common Cause executive director Bob Phillips wrapped up his remarks today with a plea to both men to “come back home to the cause of redistricting reform.” If only Berger and Moore had half the grace and class evident in that statement, our state would be in a hell of a lot better place.

Commentary, News

New poll: Voters of all stripes agree that NC electoral maps are rigged

Good government advocates will descend on the Legislative Building this morning to demand that lawmakers make good on their commitment to consider legislation in 2017 that would establish a fair and nonpartisan redistricting process. And, judging by a new poll released this morning, the honorables would do well to pay attention. This is from the good folks ta Democracy North carolina:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trump Supporters, Black Voters Agree: District Maps are Rigged
New Poll Supports Voters’ Call for Redistricting Reform

RALEIGH, N.C. — What’s one thing that Donald Trump supporters and African Americans in North Carolina agree on? By large majorities, according to a new poll, they think the way state legislators draw their political districts is unfair and too influenced by partisan politics.

The poll, commissioned by the nonpartisan group Democracy North Carolina, reveals unusually broad support across the political spectrum for redistricting reform.

Overall, four out of five North Carolina voters (80%) say it’s not fair for politicians to draw their own districts. That includes 85% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, 80% of independents – as well as 70% of Trump supporters and 80% of African Americans.

The poll also shows that voters want elected leaders who will change the system.

A majority of Democrats (58%) and Republicans (56%) agreed they’d be more likely to vote for candidates who support an impartial method for drawing voting districts. Support for reform is even more important among the crucial sector of unaffiliated voters; 68% say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who favors an impartial redistricting system.

“People recognize that politicians are choosing their voters, instead of the other way around,” said Democracy NC spokesperson Jen Jones. “By using computers, politicians can draw lines that separate voters by race and party, create safe districts, and shield themselves from the will of the people. It’s not fair, and voters across party lines want the process to change.”

Full poll results here.

Democracy NC is a member of the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Governmental Reform, which spans the liberal-conservative spectrum, from the NC Justice Center to the John Locke Foundation. The coalition is holding a press conference at 10:30 today in front of the General Assembly that features the diverse voices of ordinary citizens who support redistricting reform.

The citizens are presenting thousands of petitions to NC House Speaker Tim Moore later today. They are also using the poll’s findings to show legislators the breadth of support for reform.

The poll says a solid majority of all voters, regardless of age, race, gender or party affiliation think the current process of legislators drawing districts is wrong and too partisan. Opposition is strongest among women, and the importance of choosing a candidate who favors reform increases with the voters’ age. About equal shares of white and black (81% v. 80%) voters think the current system is unfair, but black voters are more likely than whites (94% v. 59%) to be very concerned about the influence of partisan favoritism on how maps are drawn.

The poll was conducted April 4-5 by Public Policy Polling and has a +/- error margin of 4%.

Democracy North Carolina is a statewide nonpartisan organization that uses research, organizing, and training to increase civic participation, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and remove systemic barriers to voting and serving in elected office.

 

Commentary

Editorial: Cooper right to veto two GOP power grab bills

The Fayetteville Observer has another fine editorial praising on Governor Cooper’s latest vetoes of Republican power grabbing legislation. This is from “North Carolina politics triumph over impartial, efficient justice”:

The first of the two bills is a try-try-again effort by lawmakers to merge the state’s ethics and elections boards into a single eight-member body equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. A three-judge panel last month tossed out an earlier attempt to create such a board and this new version tries to tiptoe around the judges’ constitutional concerns. While Republicans say the board would fairly represent both parties, the reality is that it likely would create gridlock — deadlocked 4-4 votes on any proposed changes in election procedures that would thus leave in place Republican decisions made during former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

Worse, adding the responsibilities of dealing with ethics complaints and debating regulations would further bog down the combined board, quite possibly creating an anything-goes ethical environment in Raleigh, which for some lawmakers might turn out to be a much-appreciated license to steal.

Cooper said the election-ethics bill is “the same unconstitutional legislation in another package, and it’s an attempt to make it harder for people to register and vote.” Cooper urged lawmakers to “stop electoral manipulation, which, like gerrymandering, is what’s wrong with politics.”

Well, it’s one thing that’s wrong with politics. There are others, and that includes the second measure Cooper vetoed Friday, a bill that will reduce the state Court of Appeals from 15 members to 12. The only rationale for the bill is political — it prevents Cooper from appointing Democratic judges to three upcoming vacancies that will occur when members reach the mandatory retirement age of 72. But as the governor pointed out Friday, it will put a heavier workload on the remaining dozen judges, who generally hear cases in three-judge panels. It also will slow the administration of justice, because appeals won’t be heard as quickly.

A Republican Court of Appeals judge gave credence to Cooper’s position when he resigned from his seat on Monday, rather than wait until his mandatory retirement date arrived next month. His was one of the three vacancies Republicans wanted to prevent Cooper from filling. Judge Doug McCullough filed his letter of resignation and Cooper quickly appointed Democrat John Arrowood to the seat. McCullough told The News & Observer that he didn’t want his legacy to be “impairment to the appeals court” because of its reduced size. “It makes it administratively awkward, and we would end up deciding fewer cases.

Yet to the lawmakers who also decided to force all judges’ political parties to be listed on ballots, it’s clear that partisanship is paramount in our legal system, easily besting virtues like efficiency, effectiveness or impartiality.

Cooper’s veto was the right reaction to both of these political statements. When the legislative majority overrides him, at least their constituents will know which values they hold highest.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

The Republican power grabs just keep on a comin’ in Raleigh and so do the denunciations by the state’s leading newspapers. Yesterday’s lead editorial in the Wilmington Star News is the latest to blast GOP’s dishonest remake of the state Court of Appeals — what it calls a “naked grab for partisan power.” Here are some highlights:

Four former chief justices of the state Supreme Court, one of them a Republican, believe the N.C. General Assembly is taking actions that “seriously harm our judicial system” and “hurt the people of our State,” according to a story in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

In a letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the former justices criticized a bill adopted by the GOP-dominated legislature cutting the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12….

This latest move appears to continue the General Assembly’s effort to reach into every aspect of governance and render it almost irrevocably Republican.

After Cooper was elected, the Honorables limited the number of staffers appointed by the governor. They also began requiring Senate approval of cabinet secretaries. There was no such requirement for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. That decision is being challenged in court.

The courts are also pondering changes imposed on state and local elections boards that weaken the power of the governor and of Democrats in local districts during years of crucial elections. A U.S. District Court judge said the General Assembly’s attempt to redraw district lines for Greensboro City Council is unconstitutional.

Last year, the courts threw out the congressional maps drawn up by the Honorables, forcing a special primary. We’re still awaiting a ruling on the General Assembly’s state legislative districting plan.

And last year, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a voter ID law it said was designed to disenfranchise minority voters.

The list goes on.

There’s no imperative to reduce the number of judges on the Court of Appeals. This is not “good governance,” as our state constitution mandates. It is another naked grab for partisan power.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen it before.