Commentary

Editorial agrees: NC “not a full democracy”

This morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record does a good job of highlighting and explaining the recent column by UNC Chapel Hill Professor Andrew Reynolds in Raleigh’s News & Observer decrying the sad state of North Carolina’s struggling democratic institutions.

“North Carolina ranks with authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies in terms of electoral integrity, a UNC-Chapel Hill political science professor wrote in The News & Observer of Raleigh last week.

That’s an astonishing statement, but Andrew Reynolds is not an Ivory Tower pundit. He has helped set up elections in Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt and other difficult places, and he and colleagues have created measures to evaluate the quality of elections around the world.

North Carolina does not stack up well. There are many problems with voting restrictions in North Carolina, but the main reason our state stands out is for its extreme gerrymandering.

We should all understand that. It doesn’t take a doctorate in political science to see that state legislative and congressional elections aren’t competitive in North Carolina. But we may not realize just how bad it is.”

And here’s the conclusion:

“Reynolds makes a good argument that North Carolina operates like a sham democracy in critical respects. The question is what people can do to reclaim the right of real representation….

It’s possible that court-ordered legislative redistricting could lead to special elections next November held on a more nearly level playing field. The prospect of having to run in fair elections could moderate the actions of Republican legislators.

Local governments can also provide a bulwark against legislative abuses. Asheville and Charlotte have staved off legislative attempts to wrest control of their water system and airport, respectively. Greensboro has so far stopped a city council power grab. Cities should fight for their own interests every time they’re threatened by an undemocratic legislature. They can build their own moral authority by encouraging more grass-roots participation in local affairs.

Most importantly, North Carolinians must flood legislators with messages demanding democracy in Raleigh. Americans shouldn’t tolerate less.”

Not surprisingly, Reynolds has received a flood of comments regarding his column. In a follow-up in this morning’s N&O he reviews some of them and lays out some of what we need to do to reclaim our democracy.

Let’s hope his provocative stance sparks some real action.

 

Commentary

Op-ed explains close connection between gerrymandering and HB2

Common Cause NC logoThere’s a great op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer that reminds us once again of the disastrous impact of gerrymandering on the North Carolina General Assembly. As Common Cause North Carolina Executive Director Bob Phillips observes:

“When state lawmakers couldn’t come together to repeal House Bill 2, it was just another sorry reminder of the toxic partisan divide that often renders the N.C. General Assembly dysfunctional.

Compromise, trust and honest brokering seem to be out of reach for this body of elected officials that arguably has more impact on our lives than any other level of government.

So what happened and why?

The inability to repeal HB2 is a symptom of what is a grave threat to our democracy: partisan gerrymandering.

When the majority party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, gets to draw its own districts for its own advantage, our whole elective system becomes unfair. The proof is in the legislative maps – illogically shaped districts creating a jigsaw puzzle covering our state, making lawmakers virtually unaccountable to voters.

Consider our incoming legislature that will be sworn in this January. More than 90 percent of them ran uncontested in November or won their election by a comfortable double-digit margin. Largely because of gerrymandering, citizens have no choice and no voice in our elections.

Lawmakers from these heavily gerrymandered districts are far more concerned with fending off potential primary opponents than facing a substantial general election challenge. As such, they arrive in Raleigh with no incentive to ever reach across the aisle and compromise.

That inability to conduct a civil discussion and reach an overall agreement was on full display in the special session called to repeal HB2, but failed to do just that.

We can’t go on like this. To the world, North Carolina appears to be a basket case.”

Click here to read the rest of Phillips’ excellent piece and here to learn more about some of his group’s excellent work on this vital issue.

Commentary

Editorial celebrates career of truly great government watchdog

Bob Hall speaks to a crowd of peopleIt’s the day after Christmas so a lot of people are taking a bit of a break from politics and policy today, but if you do feel an urge to devote a few brain cells to the state of the world, here’s a brief and uplifting item to check out. The lead editorial at WRAL.com this morning celebrates the career of the great Bob Hall — North Carolina’s leading good government watchdog.

This is from “More participate in N.C. democracy thanks to Bob Hall”:

“Bob Hall’s mission at Democracy North Carolina the last 25 years can be boiled down to a dozen words: Keep elections and government clean. Get everyone who can vote, to vote….

It would make a long, but deserved, reception line as Hall, 72, prepares to retire this spring from leading the organization he created.

Hall’s efforts have strengthened our state’s government and politics by getting as many people involved as possible. Through it all, Hall has the proud distinction of having been praised and vilified, sometime in the same breath, by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

After documenting many of Bob’s accomplishments in promoting honest government and voter participation, the editorial concludes this way:

“He’s received well-earned recognition for his work, including a MacArthur Fellow Award (known as the ‘genius grant’) and the N.C. Press Association’s First Amendment Award.Hall’s determination and integrity has been critical to thwarting efforts to retreat on voting rights while exposing those who abuse the election process for personal gain or petty partisan advantage. He has also been outspoken against hyperpartisan gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts, supporting independent nonpartisan redistricting.

It is not glamorous work. It often creates bitter enemies. But Hall’s integrity and hard work gained even stronger allies. He has helped build a more inclusive North Carolina where more people than ever are able to participate in their government.

We salute Hall’s remarkable legacy – and more importantly — the example he offers to those who follow in his effort to make our elections fair, give everyone full and easy access to the polls and create a state that is more open and inclusive.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, HB2

Three simple truths about the legislature’s failure to repeal HB2

Here are three simple truths about yesterday’s on again, off again circus at the state Legislative Building at which state lawmakers wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars and person hours and further damaged the state’s reputation in an unsuccessful special session that was supposed to have repealed North Carolina’s all-purpose LGBT discrimination law, HB2:

#1 – The notion pushed by Senate leader Phil Berger and others that Democrats and Gov.-elect Roy Cooper were somehow responsible for the failure is utterly preposterous. Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore preside over massive Republican super-majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. The Republicans could have held yesterday’s session and passed whatever they wanted without the Democrats having even been present. Berger only needs a little over 70% of his own caucus to pass anything. At virtually no time in the past six years have Republicans sought Democratic votes — or even Democratic input — on any matter. Now, seeking to repeal their most disastrous law, they need Democratic help? Give us a break.

#2 –  If anything, Cooper and the Charlotte City Council bent over backwards too far. As was noted in this space repeatedly last spring and summer when similar proposals were floated to predicate an HB2 “repeal” on Charlotte backing down from its equality ordinance, such a plan was highly questionable from the outset. There was no good reason to repeal the Charlotte ordinance. It had already been invalidated by HB2 and, even more importantly, it had always been a sound and essential public policy. It had been enacted after weeks and weeks of public meetings and testimony during which numerous citizens spoke of the need to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment and public accommodations. Nonetheless, in an extraordinary gesture to seek compromise requested by the Governor-elect (a move that many now see with some justification as naive), the Council rescinded the ordinance this week before any action was taken by the General Assembly and with (apparently) no written guarantee of a quid pro quo.

#3 – Conservatives never really wanted repeal. This is the ultimate truth about HB2, of course. As soon as rumors of a repeal (even Berger and Moore’s lame proposal of a quasi-repeal that would have taken effect in 6 or 8 months) emerged, the religious right turned apoplectic and used all of its powers within GOP circles to save their treasured monument to discrimination. That’s why Berger couldn’t even pass his disingenuous “cooling off period” proposal: conservatives in his own ranks wouldn’t support it. And when Democrats rightfully balked at what they saw as a clear double-cross, the whole thing fell apart.

The bottom line: HB2 was, is and always will be a terrible stain on North Carolina’s national and international reputation. It has damaged thousands of lives and cost billions of dollars. Tragically, however, the conservative powers that be in this state do not see it this way. And as long as these people retain complete control over the levers of political power and adhere to their backward and bigoted views, things are unlikely to improve.

Commentary

NY Times columnist blasts McCrory’s behavior as emblematic of troubling national trend

If you get a chance, be sure to check out New York Times columnist David Leonhardt’s column from this morning comparing the post-election responses of President Obama and our own Governor Pat McCrory. One demonstrates how to handle an election defeat with class, grace and eye toward the common good, and the other — well, not so much. After describing how Obama has tried to defuse concerns about Russian interference and has gone out of his way to aid Trump’s transition, Leonhardt describes McCrory’s performance this way:

“McCrory went so far using his levers that a federal appeals court unanimously slapped him back. It threw out legislation he had signed to restrict voting access, saying it targeted African-Americans with ‘almost surgical precision’ and ‘discriminatory intent.’ Still, McCrory and his allies managed to take steps to make voting harder for many Democrats.

The mischief didn’t keep him from losing narrowly, and in the second act, McCrory initially refused to accept the outcome. He invented stories of “massive voter fraud” and spent weeks refusing to concede….

[Since then,] McCrory has signed two bills that strip his successor, Roy Cooper, of some powers.

The justification — a much smaller, long-ago power grab by state Democrats — is laughable. The Charlotte Observer called the changes breathtaking and arrogant. The News & Observer, of Raleigh, compared them to a coup.

In sum: McCrory tried to change the election’s rules to help himself; pretended he did not lose afterward; and is ultimately overturning some of the election’s consequences.

Leonhardt goes on to explain how McCrory’s troubling behavior appears to be emblematic of a growing trend amongst GOP politicians across the country who, more and more, are bringing bigger and badder weapons to political conflicts than their Democratic opponents.

“If he [McCrory] were merely a rogue politician, this story would be a local one. But too many Republicans elsewhere have begun to ignore political traditions, and even laws, to exert power. While Democrats continue to play by more genteel rules, Republicans have subscribed to the Capone school of politics (as Sean Connery fans can recite): ‘They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.’”

And here’s the on-the-money conclusion: Read more