Commentary

Yet another editorial urges NC Senate to drop partisan confirmation hearings scheme

In case you missed it this morning, another major newspaper editorial urged the North Carolina Senate to eighty-six its unprecedented, unconstitutional and transparently partisan scheme to force Governor Cooper’s cabinet secretaries run the gauntlet of confirmation hearings. Here’s the conclusion to the editorial entitled “Unnecessary fight” from today’s Greensboro News & Record:

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, whom Cooper had defeated in November and who was leaving office in a matter of days, called the measure [enacting the confirmation scheme] “wrong and short-sighted.” Yet, he signed it into law anyway. Cooper sued, claiming a different reading of the constitution. The case is scheduled to be argued in court next week.

In the meantime, the Senate established a confirmation process, first calling Larry Hall, whom Cooper chose to lead the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. Hall did not attend a confirmation hearing. And then another, and another. Cooper said the process should wait until the legal dispute is settled.

He has support from a panel of judges who considered granting a preliminary injunction halting the confirmation law but declined — not on the merits of the case but because there wasn’t any need. The judges noted that, according to the law, the confirmation process doesn’t begin until the governor formally submits the names of his nominees to the president of the Senate. Cooper had not done so. Hall and his other selections were serving as “acting” agency heads for the time being. Furthermore, the judges said that, by statute, the governor has until May 15 to submit his names.

In the face of these findings, the Senate was premature to schedule hearings and certainly to demand Hall’s presence. Last week, Cooper’s lawyers went back to court seeking to quash the subpoena.

Going to court is becoming standard operating procedure in North Carolina.

“Believe me, this is not how we want this to go,” Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said last week.

Perhaps not. Maybe Berger expected Cooper to surrender. Instead, both sides are locked in an unnecessary fight started for a petty purpose — to bring a Democratic governor to heel before he could even get his administration started.

Democratic legislatures did not require confirmation hearings for leaders appointed by past Republican governors. The Republican legislature did not require it of McCrory.

Picking a fight for purely partisan reasons does nothing to help the people of North Carolina. The Senate should repeal this “wrong and short-sighted” measure.

Commentary, HB2

Another bad sign for equality opponents as Raleigh’s hockey team celebrates LGBTQ rights

There are a lot of hopeful signs these days when it comes to LGBTQ equality. There’s the ongoing positive trend in public attitudes across the globe — especially as you move down the age scale. There’s the growing list of one-time equality opponents who have publicly admitted the error of their ways. There’s the national and international derision that has been poured upon North Carolina as a result of the HB2 debacle. And, of course, there’s the joyful arrival of marriage equality.

Last Friday night, however, I (along with thousands of other people in Raleigh) were lucky enough to witness something new that provided a remarkably powerful and hopeful shock to the system (and one that this middle-aged, sports loving equality advocate never suspected he would see); it was called “Hockey is For Everyone Night.”

The occasion was a regular season National Hockey League game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators. My wife and I knew something was up, however, when we walked into the PNC Arena and saw rainbow-colored Hurricane symbols all over the place. Wow, I thought, could they really be planning on making some kind of a statement tonight?

Amazingly, the next thing we knew, red carpets were being unfurled on the ice so that Shawn Long, Director of Operations at Equality NC could drop a ceremonial first puck between the captains of the two teams. This was later followed by a video taped statement recorded by a Hurricanes player named Eddie Lack, in which the lanky Swedish goalie made a pointed call for inclusiveness and an end to discrimination of all kinds. Later in the evening, during the “community hero of the night” segment —  a game break usually reserved for extending public recognition and thanks to a member of the military, or law enforcement or other public safety officer — the person recognized was a representative of a local LGBT center.

At each opportunity, my wife and I stood and cheered as loud as possible for fear that there would be a need to drown out catcalls and boos. Happily, though, there were few, if any, to be heard. Instead, there was simply smattering of polite applause — the kind one would hear most nights for any other kind of civic celebration. It was, in other words, precisely the kind of event that it should have been: a thoroughly ordinary event recognizing ordinary people dedicated to what is fast becoming — even in the hyper-macho world of sports — an unremarkable and widely accepted cause. Thank goodness.

The next time they have such an event, let’s hope the Canes invite Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore to attend so that they can see how far out of the mainstream their narrow and hateful views are fast becoming.

Commentary

Under-reported loophole in HB2 “compromise” would establish huge, dangerous precedent for civil rights laws

Most of the debate thus far over proposed HB2 “compromise” legislation has centered around the section that would allow opponents of equality to demand local referenda on any human rights ordinances that cities might enact. There is good reason for this. As Gov. Cooper rightfully noted yesterday:

“First, [such a provision] subjects the rights of the minority to a vote of the majority. It would be like putting the Civil Rights Act to a popular vote in cities in the South during the 1960s. Except today, it would come with the perils of modern campaigns…. Imagine the endless campaigning—months of one side demonizing the other about whether LGBT citizens have rights. Toxic 30-second TV ads. Nasty mail filling up your mailbox. And North Carolina is still in the national news for all the wrong reasons.”

Unfortunately, as experts over at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina pointed out in an email exchange with NC Policy Watch today, that’s far from the only troubling provision in the proposal. House Bill 186 also includes language (see the top of page 4) that would exempt all charitable and religious organizations from any nondiscrimination ordinances cities might enact. Think about that for a minute.  It’s actually a remarkable loophole that would swallow a vast portion of any possible ordinances. Here’s Mike Meno of the ACLU-NC:

“The proposed law would create a sweeping and dangerous precedent by making North Carolina the first and only state to broadly exempt nonprofits from following local nondiscrimination laws in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The exemptions would apply to both religious institutions and nonreligious 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

The exemptions would apply to all kinds of organizations – nonreligious homeless shelters, domestic violence agencies, and more. Under HB 186, these charities would be able to deny services to LGBT people whose local governments have enacted nondiscrimination protections.

These groups receive a public benefit, in the form of a tax exemption, to serve the public good. They also often receive funding from local and state governments. But HB 186 seeks to give them a license to discriminate against employees, customers, and clients.

HB 186 also exempts religious institutions and city contractors from local nondiscrimination laws. When you combine those exemptions with the one for nonprofits, we’re talking about a huge number of organizations that would be allowed to defy local nondiscrimination policies.”

In other words, we already knew that the tiny slice of HB 186 that’s moderately positive — the provision allowing  cities to enact nondiscrimination ordinances — was badly flawed in that it would promote divisive local referenda on basic human rights. Now, however, upon further review, it turns out the proposal is even worse than many had realized in that, even if they were ever enacted, all local nondiscrimination ordinances would include a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. Add to this the fact that the bill prevents cities from doing anything ever to provide equitable access to restrooms for transgender people and it becomes clear that, however well-intended this bill might be, it’s one heck of a badly-flawed mess.

Commentary, HB2

Cooper stays calm and collected; says “no” to referenda on basic rights as opponents take the low road yet again

Gov. Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper

You’ve got to hand it to Gov. Roy Cooper. The man has the patience of Job and the always calm patience of of a Zen master. His opponents keep blowing their cool and firing ridiculous rhetorical stink bombs at him and the Guv just keeps chugging along; quietly and soberly rolling the boulder up the hill without sinking to their level.

We got to witness this pattern once gain yesterday as Cooper called for a resumption of negotiations around HB2 and courageously and powerfully made clear his opposition to the idea of placing basic human rights on the ballot in referenda. The statement, of course, was in response to a badly flawed proposal in the state House that would have allowed cities to enact nondiscrimination ordinances, but only if a small minority of voters was given a chance to place measure on the ballot that would veto such measures. As Chris Fitzsimon noted Friday:

“The bill literally would allow people to vote on whether or not gay people could be fired or denied services simply because they are gay.”

Here’s the Governor in a statement issued Sunday:

“I have two concerns with this. First, it subjects the rights of the minority to a vote of the majority. It would be like putting the Civil Rights Act to a popular vote in cities in the South during the 1960s. Except today, it would come with the perils of modern campaigns. Which is my second concern. Imagine the endless campaigning?—?months of one side demonizing the other about whether LGBT citizens have rights. Toxic 30-second TV ads. Nasty mail filling up your mailbox. And North Carolina is still in the national news for all the wrong reasons.”

Rep. Chuck McGrady

Rep. Chuck McGrady

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Cooper’s principled stance provoked another silly response from a Republican. This time it was the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck McGrady, who called Cooper’s position “outrageous” and dashed off some surprisingly personal and emotional tweets.

What is the deal with these GOP lawmakers and their emotional online venting? The once semi-reasonable Phil Berger seems to go all Donald Trump on anyone who disagrees with him about once a week these days. Now, it’s the usually moderate McGrady.

Who knows? Maybe they’re channeling Trump. Maybe it’s just the idea that the governor of the state is no longer their errand boy/doormat that’s getting under their skin, but whatever the case, Republicans would do well to start dealing with the man down the street at the mansion withe some seriousness and good faith. If they don’t, one suspects, they’re going to keep on getting crushed in the P.R. wars by a man who is notably calmer, cooler and significantly more popular than they are.

Commentary

Conservative hypocrisy front and center again on issue of state employees and job tenure

This morning’s big story in Raleigh’s News & Observer concerns the actions of Pat McCrory to make hundreds of political appointees into career state employees right before he left office.

This is from reporter Colin Campbell’s story, “Before leaving office, McCrory protected 908 state jobs from political firings”:

  • After McCrory took office in 2013 as the first Republican governor in decades, the legislature raised the number of positions the governor had the power to exempt to 1,500.
  • McCrory didn’t use all of those slots. At the beginning of last November, he had classified 1,212 jobs as exempt from the protections.
  • As part of a series of moves in December to reduce Cooper’s appointment powers, the Republican-dominated legislature lowered the maximum to 425 positions.
  • By the end of December, McCrory had changed 908 jobs to give them Personnel Act protections. Of those, 105 positions were vacant and 803 had employees who gained the protections. McCrory’s administration had hired 124 of the affected employees, while 679 had been working in state government before McCrory took office in 2013, according to the Office of State Human Resources.

On of the greatest ironies in this development, of course, is that conservatives have long crusaded against protected career status for workers (i.e. the right to be fired only for “good cause”) — be they educators seeking “tenure” or private sector employees combating the doctrine of “employment at will.” Here’s the Pope-Civitas Institute commenting on a so-called education reform bill passed by the General Assembly a few years’ back:

“While this legislation was important, the most significant provision to improve teacher quality was approval of legislation to eliminate teacher career status”

Funny isn’t it, how those same groups are now utterly silent about the actions of a conservative governor to provide similar protections to hundreds of favored state employees — at least one of whom was, according to the N&O, you guessed it, a former Civitas employee.