Commentary

Editorial: What Rep. David Lewis ought to be saying about Voter ID and next week’s legislative session

Rep. David Lewis

Be sure to check out the lead editorial on WRAL.com this morning (“Legislative leadership needs to heed ‘new sheriff’ in town”), which explains why GOP leaders at the General Assembly ought to be paying attention to recent election results. In particular, the editorial offers this very specific recommendation to the Republican House majority’s lead voter suppression champion, Rep. David Lewis:

Among the topics likely to come up during the session is implementation of the recently approved state Constitutional Amendment to require photo identification when citizens vote. Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, told a reporter what he expects his new law will include. He indicated it will be much like a failed 2013 voter ID law.

North Carolina citizens voted in favor of a picture voter ID. They DID NOT vote for a half-baked, quickly passed law that will do more to generate court challenges and legal fees than assure fair elections.

If Lewis wasn’t so tone-deaf to voters’ wishes, he should have said this:

“This is an important change. We’re not going to rush into it. We can use this short session to work WITH Gov. Roy Cooper, Democrats in the legislature and the citizens of North Carolina.

“We need an orderly process. We should hear from election law experts, local election officials who will implement the new requirements and North Carolina’s voters.

“We can go around the state, hold hearings and gather information on the challenges and best ways to implement this. During the long session we’ll have more information and time to be better able to put together a law that, I hope, works to make sure our elections are fair and NO ONE is denied their right to vote.”

That’s what Lewis and his fellow legislative leaders should do. It is what North Carolina voters just 14 days ago said they want them to do.

Will it be more of the same from Berger and Moore? We will know next week.

Commentary

Maddening, but predictable: Rep. Mark Meadows’ punishment for sexual harassment non-response released post-election

Rep. Mark Meadows

The Ethics Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a scathing 45-page report today in which it blasts North Carolina Congressman, Freedom Caucus leader and high-profile Trump supporter Mark Meadows for his “failure to take prompt and decisive action to deal with the alleged sexual harassment in his congressional office.” The case stemmed from Meadows’ failure to take adequate action to address the serial incidents of sexual harassment committed by his (now former) chief of staff, Kenny West in 2014 and 2015. West was removed from his position after the harassment came to light, but Meadows kept him on staff for months as a “senior advisor.” After later resigning, West continued to draw full salary and travel reimbursement for two months.

The committee ordered Meadows to pay $40,625.02 to the U.S. Treasury. Of course, the maddening and suspicious aspect of the committee’s action is that it didn’t come out until a Friday afternoon 10 days after Meadows was re-elected. While the language used and sentiment expressed in the report both seem appropriately scathing, the timing feels very much as if it was designed so as to minimize problems for Meadows. Here is the report conclusion:

The Committee takes allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination extremely seriously. Mr. West’s behavior toward the female employees in Representative Meadows’ office, regardless of whether or not a federal court would consider it sexual harassment under Title VII, has no place in the House of Representatives. In 2014, the Committee advised Members “to scrupulously avoid even the impression of a workplace tainted by sexism.” The Committee emphatically reiterates that message again today.

Representative Meadows could have and should have done more to ensure that his congressional office was free from discrimination or the perception of discrimination. While Representative Meadows did take some important immediate steps after learning of the allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. West , he did not do enough to address the allegations or to prevent potential further harassment or retaliation. His failure to take decisive action led to his retention of an employee who did not perform duties commensurate with his pay. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Committee decided to reprove Representative Meadows for his conduct in this matter. Additionally, the Committee concluded that Representative Meadows must reimburse the U.S. Treasury in the amount of $40,625.02 for Mr. West’s salary that was not commensurate with his work.

The Committee is conscious of the current climate, as the nation seeks a more full-throated societal condemnation of sexual harassment than what has been the norm of past generations. As representatives of the people, the House should be a leader in this national conversation. It is the Committee’s hope that this Report will not only hold Representative Meadows accountable for the inadequacy of his response to allegations of sexual harassment against someone under his supervision, but serve as a caution to the entire House community to be sensitive to the potential for sexual harassment and discrimination. Amid an evolving national conversation about sexual harassment, Members’ offices should serve as an example for the modern American workplace, and accordingly those offices should be professional and fair environments for all who work within them. Upon publication of this Report and Representative Meadows’ reimbursement of funds to the U.S. Treasury, the Committee considers the matter closed.

Click here to explore the report and related documents.
Commentary, Courts & the Law, Environment, Legislature, News, Special Session, Voting

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. The next big battle in North Carolina politics is just days away

The 2018 election may finally be in the rear view mirror, but for better or worse, the next battle over the state’s future will commence very soon – on Tuesday, November 27. That’s the day that Republican legislative leaders will convene the latest of their endless stream of “special” legislative sessions.

Unfortunately, there’s little indication that there will be anything very special about this particular convening – unless, that is, one places a high priority on voter suppression, dishonest schemes to amend the state constitution, and rump, lame duck governance in which unaccountable decision makers attempt to foist lasting change upon a mostly uninformed public.

As usual, we know very little about the specifics of the planned session at this point, but multiple news outlets have reported that it will feature the adoption of legislation to implement (i.e. flesh out the details for) some or all of three constitutional amendments approved by voters last week. That means that we could see legislation related to the amendments on voter ID, victims’ rights and hunting and fishing. The tax cap amendment requires no new legislation.[Read more…] ===
2. With the supermajority doomed, North Carolina should reconsider Medicaid expansion

Despite the manufactured panic of the migrant caravan, despite the midterm’s so-called “referendum on Trump,” despite the nation’s nonsensical gun laws, despite an election that often seemed a direct rebuke of misogynist GOP leaders and policies, the pollsters told us the 2018 election would begin and end with healthcare.

Prevailing wisdom held that, in 2010, voters were rankled by Obamacare when they tossed Democrats and other supporters of former President Obama’s signature legislation.

If past is prologue, 2018’s bad-tempered midterms would spell similar problems for Republicans, who’d, according to the polls, irritated voters by meddling with Obamacare. These days the law, warts and all, enjoys broad support in the general public, and enthusiasm for the GOP’s “repeal Obamacare or bust” campaign seemed to wane even before the late John McCain’s dramatic thumbs down.

Remarkably, a full-throated 41 percent of voters told exit pollsters last week that health care was their most important issue this year, according to NBC News, dwarfing even the economy, gun reform, and immigration. To twist Clinton strategist James Carville’s words, it’s Obamacare, stupid. [Read more…]

3. Partisan gerrymandering will be North Carolina’s next big court battle

Breaking the Republicans’ veto-proof legislative majorities was the short game for North Carolina Democrats and many voting rights activists this year. Their long game? Ending partisan gerrymandering for good in North Carolina.

Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed a lawsuit earlier this week in Wake County Superior Court challenging the redrawn 2017 maps used in the election last week. They are using the state constitution’s Equal Protection and Free Election clauses as well as the free speech and association guarantees to make their case.

“There is nothing ‘equal’ about the ‘terms’ on which North Carolinians vote for candidates for the General Assembly,” the 69-page lawsuit states. “North Carolina’s Constitution also commands that ‘all elections shall be free’ – a provision that has no counterpart in the federal constitution. Elections to the North Carolina General Assembly are not ‘free’ when the outcomes are predetermined by partisan actors sitting behind a computer.” [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Trump nominee Farr could be confirmed to Eastern District judgeship by end of year

4. Republican legislators pledge to probe Cooper Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal

The Joint Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline voted Wednesday to launch an investigation into Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, albeit one without an investigator — and without any notion of how much the inquiry would cost.

The investigation, spearheaded by Republican Sens. Harry Brown and Paul Newton and Rep. Dean Arp, will look into whether Gov. Roy Cooper’s $57.8 million Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Duke Energy and Dominion Energy was a “pay to play” deal to construct a segment of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in North Carolina.

The lawmakers have implied that, in exchange for ponying up the money — which Cooper would control via an escrow account — the utilities would receive key water quality permits from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). [Read more...]

5. High-powered trial lawyers joust as latest hog trial commences

Robert Thackston, who is tall, bald, with a trunk as straight as a redwood’s, removed his midnight-blue suit jacket to reveal a white twill shirt so crisp it threatened to shatter.

On the seventh floor, in Room No. 2 of the federal courthouse in Raleigh, the Texas lawyer sat at the head of a scurry of attorneys hired by Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer. He rocked in his chair and flipped through his thicket of notes, as if perusing a wine list. He raised his eyes and gazed at the grid of lights in the ceiling. He seemed to be rehearsing.
Robert Thackston

Behind him, in the gallery, fellow Texas attorney Michael Kaeske, graying but boyish, smiled and shook hands with each of the plaintiffs. The eight Black neighbors of a 6,000-head industrialized hog farm near Rose Hill in Sampson County had entrusted him with their story. It seemed to weigh on him. Flanked by lawyers from the Salisbury firm Wallace and Graham, which hired him as the lead attorney, he approached his desk and turned around to face the packed courtroom. He touched three fingers to the side of his neck, as if measuring his pulse.

The fourth hog nuisance case against Smithfield Foods began in US District Court on Wednesday. Yet even before the trial, its methods and strategies contrasted with the previous three. The farm in question, Sholar, is owned and operated by Smithfield Foods. Although in all of the cases the defendant is Smithfield, the company has often used its growers — family farmers contractually bound to corporate whims — as a public relations tool to elicit sympathy. This time, there is no family farmer. There is just Smithfield. [Read more…]

6. Folwell, State Health Plan swim against rising tide with denial of insurance coverage to transgender individuals

North Carolina is not the only state whose transgender state employees and dependents are without insurance coverage under their state’s health plan.

But the state’s blanket exclusion of treatments for gender dysphoria—from counseling and hormone treatment to gender confirmation surgery—puts it firmly in the minority.

Only 12 states in the U.S. currently have explicit exclusions of transgender and transition-related health care in their state employee health benefits. Seventeen states and Washington D.C explicitly provide for this type of care as part of their employee health benefits. Twenty-one states don’t specifically cover the treatment but do not have a blanket exclusion, making it easier for patients to appeal for some treatments and for the coverage to expand to include them.

“Generally speaking, it’s a positive trend,” said Logan Casey with the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado-based group that tracks state stances on LGBTQ rights issues. [Read more…]

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

Commentary, News

NC Superintendent Mark Johnson launches another bogus PR scheme

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

North Carolina’s ethically challenged and frequently perplexed, but ever-self-promoting schools superintendent Mark Johnson is out with another superficial PR scheme that has nothing to do with advancing public education in our state and everything to do with trying to make Johnson look good. Johnson, who once purported to survey teachers via an online “poll” that included no way of assessing whether the respondents were actually teachers, is promoting another equally absurd “Parents’ Perspective Survey” about school testing.

Johnson distributed a mass email to parents today (he apparently obtained their emails from local public school system lists) that urges parents to respond to the “survey,” but that also features the prominent words in large type “Too Much Testing!” (how’s that for a fair and balanced poll?) and even offers the “chance to win $250 right before your holiday shopping.” You can see the email below.

Suffice it to say that this is a ridiculous and inappropriate scheme that ought to be beneath the dignity of supposedly serious public official entrusted with overseeing the education of the state’s children. The issue of whether North Carolina does too much testing of its students is certainly an important one, but one obviously can’t obtain legitimate results with such a preposterously slanted overture.

As the folks at the NC State polling operation Pack Poll tweeted this morning, Johnson’s scheme is “unethical” and “dishonest.” It may also be illegal if Johnson intends to bestow $250 on his contest winner from public funds. Of course, given Johnson’s recent flaunting of state ethics laws, such criticism is likely to bounce off the Superintendent—especially since it’s almost certain that his real intention here is not to survey parents, but to harvest email addresses for future political purposes. Here’s the bogus email:

 

Parents and caregivers,

As the State Superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools, I want you to know that your child’s success in school and beyond is our top priority. This school year, we want your input to make sure we are on the right track for students, parents, and teachers.

Today, we want to know your concerns about testing in school.

Too Much Testing!

Students, parents, and educators are concerned about too much testing. As both State Superintendent and a parent of a child in our public schools, I share your concerns.

We have already taken steps to reduce testing. Find out more by visiting this page

We have more work to do.

Please take our 5-minute survey on testing to tell us what you think.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

As an added incentive, after you take the survey, you can enter for a chance to win $250 right before your holiday shopping.

I will use your input to guide our work with state lawmakers and local school districts to reform the current system of over-testing.

We are working hard to improve our schools because every child should have the opportunity to go to safe and inviting schools, to work hard, and to succeed. Thank you for being a partner with us in this important mission.

 

 

 

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC
NCsuperintendent.com

Commentary

Winston-Salem Journal rightfully blasts Trump’s latest assault on a free press

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

Be sure to check out the lead editorial (“Attack on the free press”) in today’s edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. In it, the Journal editorialists do a fine job of explaining why the Trump White House’s recent ban on CNN reporter Jim Acosta is both wrong and unconstitutional (a position that even Fox News has endorsed). Here’ the conclusion:

No one in America, not even the president, is above the law. Neither is anyone too powerful or important to be held accountable.

Journalists who ask tough questions, and those who report news stories that don’t fit the administration’s line, are not “enemies of the people,” no matter how hard Trump tries to vilify them and whip up hatred of them.

There is, in truth, a fair amount of “fake news” circulating on social media and elsewhere, and it’s tough enough for citizens to sort out what information is valid, well-researched and from a reasonably objective and responsible source. When Trump routinely labels anything that doesn’t follow his script as “fake news,” he’s undermining the free press that is essential to a healthy democracy.

Within a few days of his banning Acosta, Trump loudly — and rudely —attacked three black women members of the White House press corps, saying one is a “loser,” another asked “stupid” questions and the third was asking a “racist” question. That only makes Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ reliance on an obviously doctored videotape portraying an altercation between Acosta and a press aide also makes matters worse. This clumsy and childish tactic is unworthy of any press professional.

Trump’s disregard for the First Amendment and his attacks on the press are not only self-serving, they’re dangerous. They’re reminiscent of banana republic dictators who demand fawning, state-run media and suppress any hint of criticism or tough questions.

We don’t expect that kind of behavior from the president of the United States. And we shouldn’t tolerate it.