The best editorial of the weekend

There were lots of good ones, but the vote here is for the Saturday entry from the Wilmington Star-News“N.C. Senate drags feet on class-size fix.” As the editorial points out:

“To recap: A few years ago, the General Assembly ordered that class sizes in grades K through 3 be reduced. Not a bad idea.

But the Honorables provided no funding. That means school districts have to scrimp, save and work it out for themselves, with local money.

In New Hanover County, the school system is going to have to hire up to 48 new elementary teachers — and come up with classrooms for them.

Brunswick is adding 32 teachers, setting up trailers and turning computer labs into classrooms. Much of this will be accomplished either by increasing county taxes or by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Peter, in this case, would be students in grades four and up. Their class sizes are likely to swell, and word has it that many schools will be losing music, art, physical education and technology teachers.

The legislature needs to fix the mess they made, and since the class-size rules take effect in August, it would be nice if they could muster a bit of urgency.”

After noting that the Senate is in no hurry to address the issue, the editorial concludes:

“Of course, this is the same crowd of Republicans who assembled in a matter of days after the Charlotte’s city council passed a non-discrimination ordinance. In a special one-day session, the General Assembly passed the infamous — and completely unenforceable — HB-2, the ‘potty police’ law.

That, apparently, rose to the level of an urgent problem. The welfare of our schoolchildren and stability of our school systems? Not so much….

We wonder how they feel about the Senate’s delay in addressing a problem it helped create? A mess, by the way, that could have — and should have — been cleaned up months ago.

We urge parents and voters to ask them.”


Tom Fetzer’s ethics issue helps make clear why he shouldn’t even be on the UNC Board of Governors

Raleigh’s News & Observer reported over the weekend about an ethical issue that’s arisen for former Raleigh mayor and Republican party boss Tom Fetzer in his role as a member of the UNC Board of Governors. It turns out that Fetzer – a member of the board’s hardcore right wing – has been meddling in the issue of the proposed combination of UNC Health Care and Charlotte-based Carolinas HeathCare System after he recused himself because of a conflict of interest. This is from the story in the N&O:

“UNC board member Tom Fetzer, a health care lobbyist, set off the spark Thursday when he questioned the legality of the proposed partnership between UNC Health Care and Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System. Fetzer’s challenge prompted the board’s leaders to advise their colleague to stay out of the matter because he has a conflict of interest.

In a thinly-veiled admonition that Fetzer may have crossed the line, he was asked by email to ‘refrain from engaging in further action related to the UNC Health Care matter’ even as the note acknowledged he had rightly recused himself from the board’s activities on the partnership.

The board will next ask the State Ethics Commission for advice on Fetzer’s ethics conflict.”

It’s hard to see how Fetzer’s behavior could be determined to be anything other than inappropriate by ethics officials (or anyone else paying attention). Earth to Tom Fetzer: “recuse” means to actually remove yourself from the consideration of a matter – not just to do it part of the time or when you feel like it.

But, of course, the very fact that Fetzer is even on the board in the first place ought to have long ago been determined to be inappropriate. Fetzer is big-time lobbyist for a bevy of high-profile clients. He gets paid big bucks to get people like Phil Berger and Tim Moore to help those clients. How can anyone in their right mind believe this fact doesn’t enter into his mental calculus when Berger and/or Moore and other state legislators make plain their desired outcomes on matters involving UNC?

Add to this the fact that the guy is also a lobbyist for, among others, the alcohol and tobacco industries and was a lobbyist in 2017 for what many rightfully consider to be gambling interests (i.e. the fantasy sports industry) and his presence on the UNC Board of Governors is rendered all the more inappropriate.

Let’s hope state ethics officials promptly inform Fetzer that he’s way out of line and that the whole experience causes a general reconsideration by all involved about any official involvement on Fetzer’s part with the university system or any other public body.


CLARION CALL: Reflections on the First Anniversary of the Women’s March

The following is an op-ed by Margaret Toman, a retired union member, activist, and a volunteer at the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, and Jeremy Sprinkle, the organization’s communications director.

Jeremy Sprinkle and Margaret Toman

On January 21, 2017, the now legendary Women’s March drew millions onto the streets in all 50 states and in 32 countries in the aftermath of a flawed U.S. presidential election and the inauguration of a racist President at the helm of a sharply divided country. Over 17,000 people, most of them women and girls, marched through downtown Raleigh in a pink-hatted sea of outrage and solidarity against racism and sexism, affirming that “Women’s rights are human rights.” The Women’s March ignited a spark of hope in a winter of despair — hope that fueled a year of organized resistance which led to important victories.

Several states and municipalities have adopted a $15 minimum wage or moved in that direction with more raises pending. Federal judges have rejected political gerrymandering, invalidated Muslim travel bans, and protected the Dreamers. Women are running for office around the country and winning. Black women helped to elect a labor-endorsed candidate from Alabama to the U.S. Senate for the first time in a generation, and Virginia voters sent packing politicians hostile to the interests of working families. Despite being under constant attack as “fake news,” our free press survives, and with every fresh reported outrage coming from policymakers in Raleigh and Washington, new allies join us and invigorate the resistance.

Today, we commemorate the Women’s March at the “Rally on Raleigh” and vow our continuing solidarity. We dare not linger long in celebration. History is holding up a mirror that we cannot evade. A year ago, we looked into that mirror and took collective action. Clear-eyed and resolute, we look into it again today.

We see avarice and corruption driving official policy, human rights under sustained assault, and our coffers emptied for war and tax cuts for the rich. We see the President making excuses for white supremacists who threaten our black, brown, and LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We see Lady Liberty’s torch light flicker as our government tears immigrants striving for the American dream from their families and communities, while letting unconscionable corporate greed suppress the wages and freedoms of people laboring for a better life. We all know these working folks. They pick our cucumbers, deliver our newspapers, serve our food, drive our school buses, care for our children and our elders. They are people who, when payday comes, might have to choose between paying rent or electricity, who sometimes stand in long lines at food pantries, and who watch skyrocketing housing prices with visceral fear, aware that there is not enough affordable shelter for everyone. We see mothers working two jobs who barely see their children, caregivers upholding high standards for love while watching their own future slip away, construction workers laboring in dangerous conditions under which too many die.

We resolve to act when those at the top use their power to line their silk pockets by taking public resources and the wealth working people create. We resolve to petition our lawmakers to raise North Carolina’s minimum wage to a family-sustaining wage, and to run for office and become the voice of working people in government if they will not. We resolve to show up and walk the next “Fight for $15 and a union” picket line. We resolve to support people exercising their freedom to join forces in the workplace so they can negotiate collectively for a better life. We will continue to be our courageous, creative, and catalyzing selves.

We resolve to do these things because history is pressing upon us a sense of urgency, a clarion call to liberate our confidence from fear. Our liberation is born of connection and a realization that we are all in this together — the student paying loans who cannot afford a down payment on a house, the cancer patient who cannot buy critically necessary medication, the elder whose social security is being threatened. All of us, organizers, donors, activists, voters, and volunteers, are a unified force who will forget no one. No ignorant politician, cruel policy, or unconstitutional law can overcome the power of our solidarity or halt our march for justice. We affirm with author/activist Jonathan Smucker: “It is selfish to jump ship when there are not enough lifeboats for everyone. We must conspire to take the helm.”

From this day in January 2018 onward, in honor of the Women’s March, the Resistance, and the commitments that bind us, let us now turn to face with unity and resolve the challenges of the days leading to November 6, when we will take the helm together, and dance.

Margaret Toman is a retired union member, activist, and a volunteer at the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, where Jeremy Sprinkle serves as communications director.

Commentary, Defending Democracy, Environment, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch


1. Supreme Court blocks lower court’s order for NC to redraw partisan congressional maps

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted state lawmakers’ request to block a lower court’s order for them to redraw the 2016 congressional maps because of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

The order was released Thursday evening. It grants the stay pending the timely filing and disposition of an appeal.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the stay, according to the order.

The U.S. District Court ruled last week that state lawmakers intended to maximize partisan advantage when drawing the 2016 congressional map and thereby discriminated against non-Republican voters. A three-judge panel gave the legislature until 5 p.m. Jan. 24 to redraw the maps and said they would also hire a special master for time’s sake.

Lawmakers requested a stay from the panel — it was denied — and the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the League of Women Voters, a plaintiff in the one of the two partisan gerrymandering cases, urged the Supreme Court to move quickly through the appeals process. [Read more…]

2. GOP senator’s email promises “relief” to class size crisis in March

A fix for North Carolina’s class size crisis in March?

A GOP senator from Wake County tells his constituents that he believes state lawmakers will proffer “relief” when they return in March, according to an email obtained by Policy Watch.

“We are still trying to gather information from all 100 counties of the state, to ensure that any fix is amiable to all,” Sen. John Alexander wrote in an email last week.

Alexander—who co-chairs a key Senate budget committee—was responding to pleas for the state legislature to provide additional funds or flexibility to local school districts in advance of a pending mandate that they slash class sizes in grades K-3.

The Wake County senator wrote that the relief comes after “much discussion, research and hard work over the last several months,” although he offered no specifics on any plan. [Read more…]

3. Is Trump finally approaching his McCarthy moment?
Latest racist attacks on immigrants could be an important tipping point

As bleak as our national political landscape may seem right now, it’s worth remembering that it is far from the only time in American history in which a dangerous, dishonest and delusional con artist has held a position of great prominence. In the early 1950’s, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin rode his paranoid and dishonest witch hunt against supposed “communist subversion” to become one of the most famous and powerful men in the nation.

It seems hard to imagine now, but there was a time during which even President Dwight Eisenhower, the enormously popular and well-respected hero of World War II, lacked the political courage to take on McCarthy in public, even though he knew him to be a dishonest charlatan. [Read more…]

4. Historical Commission members to grapple with Confederate monuments issue next week

Back in September, the N.C. Historical Commission put off a decision on removing three Confederate monuments from the State Capitol grounds. Instead, the commission formed a task force to study the politically fraught issue, which the North Carolina General Assembly dropped into their laps with a 2015 law that makes it more difficult to remove such statues.

Next Monday at 3 p.m., that task force – the Confederate Monuments Study Committee – will have its first meeting via teleconference. The public can listen in via a livestream on the YouTube site of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

With the issue of Confederate monuments such as “Silent Sam” on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill still a controversial one, the group’s work could have wide-ranging implications.

David Ruffin, chairman of the Historical Commission, says that the issue is still a sensitive one and the group will have to reach some consensus. [Read more...]

5. Strange bedfellows? Polluters, environmental groups form new coalition to lobby state government

On a cozy autumn evening at the luxurious Umstead Hotel in Cary, a medley of corporate luminaries, state lawmakers and environmentalists made small talk and mingled over drinks. The occasion: the formation of a new “unconventional partnership” with a “bold mission.”

North Carolina Forever, said Kathy Higgins, vice president of corporate affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield, “will bring together diverse interests” to encourage  “reasonable and necessary investments” in land conservation and water protection.

Shared on Facebook, the 27-minute video features Higgins, who is also NC Forever’s board chairwoman, invoking Article 14, Section 5 of the state constitution. It reads, in part:

“It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry … to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water ….”

She concluded: “We’re grateful to Smithfield Foods,” which started a similar group, Virginiaforever, 10 years ago, “for bringing us this model.” [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: Digging out: Let’s keep the de-icer, road salt out of our water supply