Updates from the crisis in Wisconsin

For those trying to keep up with developments in and around Kenosha, Wisconsin in the aftermath of the latest shooting of an unarmed Black man by police, be sure to check out the coverage provided by our sibling publication, the Wisconsin Examiner. In recent days, the Examiner has featured several commentaries and news stories on the crisis, including the following:

The following story details the tragic events of last night and features literally scores of powerful photographs on the Examiner website:

Police watch as protesters gather on August 24th, 2020 in Kenosha. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

Two killed, one injured in Kenosha in protest of police shooting
Hundreds marched through the streets prior to clashes

Kenosha police said in addition to the two fatalities, a third person was transported to the hospital with “non life threatening injuries.”

Eruptions of civil unrest and clashes with riot-clad, militarized law enforcement have left the city of Kenosha scarred. Marchers have gathered over the last several days to protest the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake by Kenosha officers on Sunday, Aug. 23. Blake was shot several times getting into his vehicle, with his children reportedly watching from inside the car.

The exact circumstances of the Blake shooting are also currently under investigation by the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). Blake survived, although he sits in a local hospital paralyzed by his injuries, according to his father. Meanwhile, the streets of Kenosha have been flooded by the bodies and voices of hundreds of people. From longtime Kenosha residents to seasoned activists from Milwaukee to people who’ve traveled from out of state.

“I’ve been here since I was about five,” 26-year-old Stephanie Hunt told Wisconsin Examiner. “Since I was little I’ve seen them [Kenosha law enforcement] screwing up left and right, you know? There have been times in my life where they have been helpful, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t racism and improper training.” Other residents who either participated in the march, or watched as the crowd passed their homes, shared similar sentiments.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said 49-year-old Lisa Cole, as she watched the march go past, speaking of this current era of protest. “It’s so overdue for a change. I think police officers need a lot more schooling, and a lot more training.” Read more


Who’s snubbing who? No NC elected officials speaking at RNC in Charlotte

Neither Thom Tillis, Pat McCrory nor Phil Berger is speaking at the RNC in Charlotte this week.

As a service to Policy Watch readers — very few of whom, we presume, are glued to their screens lapping up every second of the Republican National Convention/Trump family reunion in Charlotte this week — here is a list of all the North Carolina elected officials speaking at the event: ____________.

No, that’s not a misprint. As best as can be determined from the official list distributed by the Trump people, not a single Republican elected official from the host state — neither of its U.S. senators, none of the nine Republicans currently representing the state in the U.S. House, not the White House chief of staff who until recently represented western North Carolina in Congress, neither of the Republican leaders of the state’s General Assembly, nor the former Republican governor/former longtime mayor of the host city  — will address the event/coronation. And unless we’re missing something, there isn’t even an immigrant-bashing local sheriff or gun-toting city council member from North Carolina on the list.

Yes, 25-year-old western North Carolina congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn will speak tonight and one of the state’s most embarrassing residents, Franklin Graham, will help wind things up tomorrow. Oh, and Graham’s daughter Cissi did a little anti-LGBTQ fear mongering last night. But that appears to be it.

And doesn’t that strike you as somewhat bizarre?

It’s true that political conventions were long ago transformed into studio-audience-adorned national infomercials that could take place anywhere, and that the pandemic has made this an especially weird political year. But, seriously, not a single North Carolina Republican pol?

It’s not like these folks have much else to do and haven’t been around. Sure, folks like Robin Hayes, David Lewis and Phil Berger have had other things to attend to. But Congress is basically recessed and has been doing things online for a while now anyway.

Senator Thom Tillis has actually been in the Queen City holding competing events. Mark Meadows has been at the convention doing some non-socially-distant glad-handing.

And still, not even a single NC GOP’er of note at the dais? Couldn’t they have at least spotted Virginia Foxx or Ted Budd 30 seconds to introduce Eveleth, Minnesota mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich?

So, the obvious question is: who’s snubbing who?

The suspicion here is that it’s a little from both sides.

As for Tillis, it seems pretty clear that the junior senator is fighting for his political life and has decided that Trump’s woeful performance in combating the virus and low approval ratings are mostly weighing him down at this point. Hard to imagine that he’d so visibly avoid the big show if that weren’t the case.

Richard Burr has clearly already checked out of the limelight as he winds down his political career and strives to avoid criminal indictment for insider trading, so his absence is pretty easily explained.

As for the others, though, it’s got to be a little embarrassing. Just about all of them have been loyalists to the Trump cause and, despite being a notably uninspiring collection of orators, you’d have to think Pat McCrory or Patrick McHenry could rouse as much right-wing ardor as Donald Trump, Jr. girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle.

The bottom line: For a group that hoped to turn North Carolina red by bringing its national convention to Charlotte, the party of Trump has evidenced precious little appreciation for, or connection to, the state’s Republican elected officials.

Commentary, COVID-19, News

Cooper provides more COVID relief, but he needs help from Washington and the legislature

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (pictured at left) announced a new package of $175 million in aid to struggling North Carolina families today.

As Cooper’s announcement explained, the money is earmarked to fund three initiatives designed to help people remain in their homes:

Eviction Prevention and Utility Payments: Approximately $94 million of the funding will be disbursed by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) to support rental and utility payments and prevent evictions for those with a demonstrated need. The funding will be distributed to eligible community agencies around the state that will work directly with North Carolinians on an application and disbursement process. The fund includes $28 million from federal Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funding and the remaining $66 million from CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) money.

Crisis Response and Housing Stability: About $53 million of the funding is designated for the Emergency Solutions Grant-Coronavirus (ESG-CV) Program through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). The federal ESG-CV money is intended for families experiencing homelessness or who face a more immediate risk of homelessness and will be distributed by similar community agencies handling NCORR’s program. This innovative model will help streamline the process for families. Once a person applies, local community agencies will determine which program they are eligible for and then complete the application quickly.

…Information about how people can apply for the NCORR program and the ESG-GV program will be shared once the programs have launched in the coming weeks….

Local Government Funds: Another $28 million of federal funding will be administered by local governments through the North Carolina Department of Commerce. This money also comes from the federal CDBG-CV program and will be administered by incorporated municipalities under 50,000 residents and counties under 200,000 residents that apply to participate. Local governments are encouraged to prioritize the money locally to help their residents pay rent and outstanding utility bills. In addition, the funds may provide support for internet access, food distribution, COVID-19 testing and diagnosis and employment training for health care workers.

The application process for local governments to apply for the Commerce-administered funding has opened. Eligible local governments who would like to apply for the Commerce CDBG-CV program can click here to learn more.”

Of course, as timely and welcome as Cooper’s action is, it’s still far short of the kind and quantity of aid that is desperately needed. The only potential sources of the truly plentiful aid that millions of struggling North Carolinians need are, of course, under the control of the Trump administration and the U.S. Senate — both of which have thus far said a resounding “no” to a package containing adequate aid — and the North Carolina General Assembly, whose Republican leaders have thus far followed Trump’s cruel and destructive lead.

Commentary, COVID-19

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows at RNC: “Toga! Toga! Toga!”

As noted in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, the notion that the failed reopening of the UNC system is the fault of “irresponsible” students who couldn’t control their long-stifled urges to party with peers is a bogus one. As the column points out:

“And even if one sets aside the obvious foreseeability of large student parties and kids acting like kids, the simple fact is that rapid virus spread is almost always what occurs when you gather hundreds of individuals to live together in close, congregate living quarters. As Killian also reported last week, ‘[t]he full-capacity dorm plans embraced by most UNC system schools…are considered highest risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for colleges and universities.'”

Moreover, as former UNC chancellor Holden Thorp observed yesterday in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, to the extent student partying has been a factor, universities have lost their moral authority to blame students:

“Colleges have a complicated relationship with student partying. They try to stop it when it gets out of hand, but they embrace it when it’s to their advantage. Every college fund raiser, including me, has accepted a gift after being regaled by a donor with nostalgic memories about epic parties at a frat house or dorm. We all may tangle with Greek life when confronting its racism, guns, gambling, sexual violence, and drugs, but it’s the college president who grabs a pledge form and gets on a plane when a former partyer strikes it rich later on. (UNC-Chapel Hill even has endowed chairs named after fraternities and sororities.)

The pandemic reveals the costs of failing to reckon with that paradox. Colleges may want to blame student partying for not allowing them to reopen successfully, but they have forfeited the moral authority to do so.’

And then — perhaps even more importantly — there’s the issue of wildly divergent messages from supposedly responsible adults.

One of the most under-reported aspects of the university reopening fiasco is the role played by conservative political leaders (i.e. President Trump and his minions) who have repeatedly denied the seriousness of the pandemic and acted as if they are immune — a message that’s clearly been taken to heart by many a hard-charging frat boy.

Take White House chief of staff and former North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows. Here’s Meadows yesterday at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte doing his impressions of Dan Forest and Eric Stratton of Animal House fame by shaking hands and exchanging hugs and kisses sans mask.

Honestly, how can we possibly expect young people to stick to social distancing guidelines when the people running the country refuse to do so themselves?

COVID-19, Education

“Must read” report calls for swift action to help public schools

In case you missed it last Friday, the good people at the Public School Forum of NC released a new and important policy brief entitled “COVID-19’s impact on public school budgets: Unstable funding requires quick action.” And as the headline indicates, the report highlights the grave danger currently faced by public schools as a result of the pandemic — particularly a potential loss of significant funding due to big drops in student enrollment.

As the report explains:

North Carolina’s public school leaders predict that they may be facing student enrollment declines of up to 20% for the 2020-21 school year due to COVID-19. Fewer students translates into potentially significant reductions to school budgets that are already substantially underfunded, and could result in teacher and staff layoffs that could come this school year — an already chaotic time for students.

The report goes on to explain in plain language how North Carolina’s school funding system works, how a temporary drop in enrollment could devastate a typical school system and how the federal relief received thus far are mostly going to cover the increases in costs schools are incurring to cope with the present crisis (e.g. purchasing PPE and cleaning supplies and coping with increases in expenses for transportation and student meals.)

It then spells out three commonsense solutions:

1) Hold school district budgets harmless for enrollment decreases in 2020-21: In August 2020, the North Carolina State Board of Education passed a resolution calling on the NC General Assembly to enact legislation that would hold public school district budgets harmless for declines in student enrollment that take place this upcoming school year because of COVID-19. This resolution, however, does not change anything unless the legislature reconvenes to take further action to support our public schools.

2) Push for additional federal COVID relief funding for public schools: State and local governments are facing an economic crisis due to efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while absorbing substantial losses in revenue. Support from the Federal government has helped, but additional funding efforts are required to address school districts’ needs that are arising due to COVID-19.

3) Allow districts to utilize state funding to address specific needs required by COVID-19: Local school budgets are comprised of various allotments funding different items, such as teachers, supplies, devices and more. Local district finance officers say that they need greater autonomy to use unspent funds from one allotment category to another, as needs shift unexpectedly during this pandemic. Currently, state legislation restricts local flexibility to allocate funds, limiting the ability to respond nimbly and efficiently to address swiftly changing local needs.

Click here to read the full report.