Commentary

Congressman Dan Bishop should be held to account for his shameful and possibly illegal act

The behavior of President Trump’s Republican defenders in Congress is beginning to resemble less and less that of a legitimate political party and more what one would expect from of a group of juvenile gang members egging each other on to more and more outrageous acts. The latest disgraceful example comes courtesy of newbie North Carolina congressman, Dan Bishop (pictured at left).

As Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer reported yesterday evening:

U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop apparently became the first member of Congress to divulge the purported name of the whistleblower whose memo sparked the House impeachment inquiry.

The Charlotte Republican published the name in a Monday tweet.

Bishop was responding to a tweet from someone who said Republicans should refer to the person as “the leaker” or “the deep state spy in the White House.”

“100%. I refuse to cower before the authoritarian intimidation campaign. He’s not Voldemort,” Bishop replied, alluding to the Harry Potter villain who’s rarely named. “And he’s not a bona fide whistleblower. Even if he were, he wouldn’t be entitled to secrecy.”

He went on to tweet the name of a person he called “a deep state conspirator.”

Make no mistake: this is a serious and dangerous act on Bishop’s part. The whistleblower in question has already received multiple death threats. What’s more, Bishop’s action quite arguably violates federal law. As the website Charlotte Stories reported yesterday:

If the name Bishop tweeted out is determined to be the actual name of the whistleblower, there’s a chance he could be found guilty of violating one or more of the following:

  • A 1982 amendment to the National Security Act of 1947 that makes it a crime to intentionally disclose “any information identifying” a covert intelligence agent.
  • Section 1505 of the US Obstruction of Justice code, which makes it a crime if someone “corruptly, or by threats or force … influences, obstructs, or impedes … the due and proper administration of the law.”
  • Section 1513 of the US Obstruction of Justice code, which makes it a crime to retaliate against someone “for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense.”

Federal law protecting whistleblowers is a vital bipartisan statutory scheme that goes to the very essence of a functioning democracy. By blatantly and shamefully violating such a law, Bishop is undermining the very legitimacy of American government and abetting the cause of lawless despotism.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Mark Meadows’ predictably dishonest response to impeachment hearings

It’s increasingly remarkable (and a testament to the troubled state of American politics) that supposedly intelligent and responsible people can continue to hear the details of the remarkable behavior of President Trump and his minions in the Ukraine scandal and still profess to think that there’s no “there” there. Take North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows.

As USA Today reported yesterday, Meadows (pictured at left) was his usual irresponsible and unpatriotic self in attempting to defend Trump:

After hearing for hours from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of State, Rep. Mark Meadows, one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill, left the hearing to do damage control.

The North Carolina Republican dismissed a new revelation by Taylor, that one of his staff members overheard the president ask specifically about investigations in Ukraine, and called the hours of public testimony boring….

“There’s nothing here. I mean, I can tell you in the room…more yawning going on than there is aha moments and I can tell you for a lot of us, we were probably checking our Twitter feed more than we were paying attention to some of the testimony,” Meadows said.

Think about that for a moment. Faced with the solemn duty of examining whether the president of the United States engaged in illegal, even quasi-treasonous behavior in selling out the country and its foreign policy objectives for personal gain, Meadows — a man sworn to uphold the Constitution — claimed he didn’t even pay attention to the proceedings.

It was stunning and embarrassing statement.

Of course, it’s also almost assuredly untrue. Meadows and his people were listening carefully. Had anything specific emerged from the hearings that would have genuinely tended to exonerate Trump or undermine any of the witnesses, you can be sure Meadows would have been all over it.

The problem for Meadows and his allies is that the witnesses were extremely powerful and credible. As the astute Charles Pierce accurately observed:

Make no mistake. If the hearings on Tuesday were a criminal trial, the jury wouldn’t have been out long enough to order lunch. The President* of the United States ran a cheap-assed, third-rate shakedown of the new president of an embattled ally for the purpose of enlisting the new president of the embattled ally in the ratfcking of the 2020 election. Both of those are crimes. Putting them together is a third crime.

Left with no facts or law to pound on, Meadows was thus reduced to pounding on the table and appealing to the worst instincts of his misguided far right followers by, in effect, urging them to tune out the impeachment hearings altogether.

Unfortunately for Meadows and Trump, the segment of Americans willing to fall for his “nothing-to-see-here” shtick is declining rapidly.

Commentary

Rogue state superintendent keeps breaking the law

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

The state schools superintendent keeps breaking the law. Strangely, nobody at the General Assembly seems to care. Similarly, the capital press corps has shown no interest in holding his rogue actions to account.

Johnson’s lawbreaking centers around two rounds of iPad purchases, neither of which were conducted in accordance with state law.

Johnson’s spending spree on iPads first became news in August 2018 when he announced a $6.6 million purchase of iPads to support early grade literacy. That sounded like good news. But as Policy Watch’s Billy Ball reported, the purchase was highly unethical. The purchase came on the heels of Johnson attending an Apple-funded junket to California where he was wined and dined by Apple executives. Additionally, the no-bid contract for 24,000 iPads violated state protocol by failing to get approval from the Department of Information Technology, the agency that oversees tech services for state agencies.

But what went mostly unreported was that Johnson had no authority to spend the money he used to purchase those iPads. State law – put into place at Johnson’s request – clearly states that the money was to be distributed to school districts so that they could make purchases that best meet their needs.

Section 2.6 of S.L. 2017-197, the 2017 Budget Technical Corrections bill, says that unspent funds from the Read to Achieve program were to be distributed to school districts (“shall be allotted to local school administrative units”). In an August appearance on WRAL’s “On the Record,” Johnson claimed this provision is what gave him the authority to purchase iPads on his own and give them to districts.

At the time of Johnson’s first round of iPad purchases, the state had already provided districts with the devices necessary to carry out Read to Achieve. Despite the lack of a pressing need, most districts decided to keep the iPads sent to them. But about 10 percent of the iPads were returned to the state, where they sat in a warehouse for over a year.

One year later, Johnson decided to break the law again to buy even more iPads. After all, what’s the best way to respond to charges of quid pro quo? Even more quo, clearly.

This time, Johnson used a different source of funds to buy even more products from the company who paid for his trip to Cupertino. At the end of the 18-19 fiscal year, there was money left over from funds appropriated to support the Department of Public Instruction, a state agency. Johnson used these funds to buy 800 additional iPads. Based on nothing more but Johnson’s whim, 200 of the iPads were sent to Ocracoke School, and 100 were sent to Junius H. Rose High School in Greenville.

One problem: it’s illegal for agency heads to simply give away state property.

Article 3A of G.S. 143 requires any excess state-owned surplus property to be distributed via the State Surplus Property Agency. That agency can then sell the property or determine ways to distribute the property to tax-supported or nonprofit tax-exempt organizations. The iPads in question were clearly state-owned, as they were bought by a state agency with state funds. And they were clearly surplus, as they weren’t needed by anyone at DPI. Distribution of these iPads at the whim of a state agency head clearly falls in violation of these laws.

This might just sound like me dinging a guy for failing to dot his i’s and cross his t’s. But the laws are in place for a reason. Imagine a different scenario in whcih Johnson was giving away cash instead of iPads. Imagine if the teachers receiving these iPads were political supporters or were personal friends of the Superintendent. What if he unilaterally decided that funds appropriated to support children with disabilities would be better used on more iPads? There are many reasons why agency heads are prevented from doing what Johnson did: redirecting state funds meant for school districts and distributing state property to others based on nothing but personal whim.

It remains to be seen whether Johnson will be held accountable for breaking the law twice to purchase and distribute iPads that nobody asked for, or if he will continue to break multiple state laws without consequence.

Commentary, News

League of Women Voters: NC congressional redistricting process remains flawed

Criticism of the congressional redistricting process that’s been taking place at the General Assembly in recent days continues to grow — particularly around the issues of transparency and opportunities for public input.

The group issued the following statement this morning:

The League of Women Voters of Wake County (LWV-Wake) has carefully monitored every day of the current congressional redistricting process. League of Women Voters of Wake County president Dianna Wynn says “We have concerns with the lack of full transparency and the nominal role public input has played in the process. Contrary to how redistricting is repeatedly approached in this state, voting maps are not for politicians. These are the people’s maps, and the people of North Carolina should have a greater voice in this process.”

The committee provided an online portal for public comment. During the legislative redistricting process, LWV-Wake requested that public comments be made public on the website. We appreciate that comments are now viewable as part of the current process. The portal, however, was insufficiently publicized to voters. Furthermore, we do not know if committee members bothered to consider the public’s concerns throughout the process. The public must be assured that their comments are not going into a virtual black hole, never to be seriously reviewed or considered by our elected officials.

LWV-Wake president Dianna Wynn says “I don’t know if committee members reviewed the comments submitted by the public. I did–I read them all. North Carolina voters want a much more transparent process and an end to gerrymandering.” If committee members read the public’s comments, they will find that voters want:

  • No incumbent protection drawn into the maps.
  • No use of partisan information.
  • No disadvantaging communities of color.
  • More public hearings across the state before and after map drawing.
  • More notice prior to a committee meeting.
  • And the voters want maps drawn by some form of nonpartisan commission and not by politicians driven by self-interest.

We appreciate the addition of an audio component to the live-streamed video of the computer terminals. This is something LWV-Wake requested during the last round of legislative redistricting. However, it is impossible for a voter at her computer across the state to simultaneously watch, as well as listen to, what is happening on four computer terminals. We encourage the General Assembly to explore better options for transparent map drawing that allows the public to see and hear the entire process as it occurs.

Finally, the League of Women Voters has long contended that political data should not be part of the process. We have no assurance that committee members or staff did not consult political data outside the room at any point during the last several days. Dianna Wynn says “We suspect that knowledge of political leanings in different parts of the state was considered, which is certainly counter to the spirit of an impartial map-drawing process.

The League of Women Voters of Wake County is a grassroots nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging citizens’ participation in government and understanding of important issues through education and advocacy. The League of Women Voters does not endorse or oppose political parties or candidates for office. Learn more at www.lwvwake.org.

Commentary, Education

Editorial: The path to creating better readers in our schools is not about quick fixes

Be sure to check out the lead editorial this morning on WRAL.com. As “Only determined focus, from statehouse to schoolhouse, will fix lagging reading scores” points out, it’s long past time for state political leaders and policymakers to get past their affinity for addressing the state’s educational needs with quick fixes and doing things on the cheap.

This is from the conclusion:

The inability to significantly increase the portion of students who, by the time they are in the fourth grade, have the basic skills to be good learners, represents a lack of determination and focus at the local level of education on up….

This is a crisis. Our education leaders – from the principals’ office and the local school board to the state Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction – must act. It is their constitutional duty to give every child an equal opportunity for a quality education.

Our courts ruled – more than 22 years ago in the landmark Leandro case – that the state failed in that obligation. Even with a court order, our leaders have fallen so short of their duty that the courts again are preparing to issue fresh directives. At the same time Gov. Roy Cooper’s has a commission working in parallel so the state is poised to move when the court acts.

Our leaders need to engage more directly with those who REALLY know about the challenges students face. They cannot tolerate failure on the current scale.

Good managers, when faced with failures to perform in their organizations, first turn to those on the front lines. Why aren’t they able to accomplish their tasks? Do they lack the materials or time? Do they lack the training? Are their efforts spread too thin (in school, too many students per class, lack of teacher assistants)?

Passing the blame and embracing ethereal fads isn’t teaching any more kids to read.

It is time for officials from the schoolhouse to the statehouse to focus on classrooms – get good teachers in them and give them the environment and tools to do the job.

Amen to that.