Commentary

Tillis continues to obfuscate on climate change…but it’s probably better than it could be

North Carolina’s junior senator Thom Tillis sat down with Spectrum News reporter Tim Boyum the other day for a discussion of climate change (plus some other issues) and, as is so often the case with Tillis, watching the video provides for a maddening experience.

On the one hand — hallelujah!! — Tillis actually concedes that climate change is real and acknowledges the scientific fact that humans are playing a role in bringing it about. This position, of course, contrasts sharply with the thoroughly absurd and conveniently extreme position he voiced during the Republican Senate primary in 2014. At that time, Boyum — who was moderating the debate — asked whether climate change was a fact and Tillis, like all three of his fellow right-wing competitors, said “no.”

During this week’s interview, Boyum cited the two contradictory instances and also noted actions in the Senate in which Tillis has signed on to a resolution that acknowledged climate change as real, but denied the human role, and another in which he urged President Trump to renege on the Paris Accords that seek to attack climate change. Boyum then, quite generously and gently, asked him about the “evolution” in his position and, amazingly, Tillis refused to acknowledge there had been any such evolution, i.e. a flip-flop.

Instead of acknowledging it directly, he simply appears to mumble “Yeah I don’t know” and then immediately pivots into talking about things that people in the military and business have told him about the obvious reality of climate change and the need for us to change human behavior. He even alludes to the scientific reality of ozone layer depletion, says it plays a role in climate change, and describes his recent conversation with some young people about that fact.

But, of course, ozone layer depletion dates back many decades. Why didn’t he mention that in 2014?

Happily, though, he then, he goes on to actually talk with some conviction about the need for moving toward alternative, sustainable energy and even defends North Carolina’s “renewable portfolio standard” that has been incessantly attacked by his fellow conservatives.

Unfortunately, just when one is ready to get excited that Tillis has mustered some guts to speak the truth, he lapses into an absurd attack on President Obama and the Paris Accords and then concocts an imaginary and powerful group that supposedly wants to do away with all carbon emissions.

To which all a caring and thinking person can do and say in response is to sigh, slap one’s forehead and at least be thankful that the man has come this far. Lord knows, given the extremist positions espoused by many of his fellow conservatives, it could be a lot worse. That said, given Tillis’ penchant for 180 degree political pirouettes, more dispiriting moments are likely right around the corner.

Click here to watch the video.

 

Commentary

Another editorial calls for an end to destructive pollution from Chinese-controlled hog farms

The chorus of voices calling on the Chinese conglomerate known as the WH Group to clean up its North Carolina hog farms continues to grow. After noting the just nature of the recent massive court verdicts in favor of hog farm neighbors who have been victimized by farm pollution and the unfortunate efforts of state lawmakers to limit such awards and defend the hog farming industry, today’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal puts it this way:

“As these problems first emerged, Republican legislators sided with the hog farms, portraying their operators as persecuted family farmers and the residents who were suffering from hog waste as nuisances who were intent on attacking the hog farmers’ livelihoods. But Smithfield Farms is owned by the WH Group, a Chinese company that is the largest pork producer in the world. Its profits approached $1 billion last year. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the legislature sided with a well-heeled Chinese company rather than North Carolina residents.

These lawsuits could have been avoided had hog farm operators been willing to adopt more modern techniques used in places like Missouri and Colorado, that contain the smell and residue better. It’s not too late to do so now.

‘These juries are repeatedly seeing problems with the kind of waste management that’s used,’said Cassie Gavin, a lobbyist with the North Carolina Sierra Club. ‘Clearly it’s time for the state and the industry to take a hard look at their waste management and modernize it so the public is protected.’

Farming is an important industry in North Carolina and should be supported. But that doesn’t mean that hog farmers should be allowed to make life difficult for their neighbors. Legislators should protect not just corporate farms, but also the health and well-being of those who live near those farms.

The legislature definitely should be supporting local residents. Isn’t this what we elect them to do?”

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Former legislative counsel Gerry Cohen on NC’s six proposed constitutional amendments

At today’s Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon, former legislative counsel Gerry Cohen had harsh words for the deceptive nature of the six constitutional amendments that state lawmakers are seeking to place on the state’s November ballot and the inadequate process that the General Assembly employed in rushing them to passage during the harried closing days of the 2018 session.

Shortly after the event, Cohen was kind enough to share the text of his remarks, which we’re happy to publish below. You can access a PDF version of the remarks by clicking here.

NORTH CAROLINA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
2018 NC POLICY WATCH “CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS” SERIES
PRESENTATION BY GERRY COHEN

Quoting from the mission of today’s conversation “In the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session, North Carolina lawmakers took the unprecedented step of voting to place six constitutional amendments on the November ballot. The amendments deal with a wide-ranging array of subjects: the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife; the rights of crime victims; changes to the state board of elections and the transfer of appointment powers from the governor to the legislature; selection for judicial vacancies; a cap on the state income tax and requiring a photo ID to vote.”

The six amendments simultaneously on the ballot is the third highest ever since our 1776 state constitution, behind only 10 on the ballot in 1914 (all of which were defeated in 1914 – I was told interestingly by someone who started work at the General Assembly in 1948 that the reasons for defeat was a proposed amendment in the package that dealt with hunting and fishing, and it brought down to defeat the other nine as well), and seven on the 1970 ballot, including a revised state constitution and six proposed amendments to it. The highest number in more recent memory was in 1982 when five amendments appeared on the ballot, three of which failed at the polls.  The 1914 amendments that went down at the polls even included a bizarre one (my all-time favorite) which amended a reference in the State Constitution to the Civil War which had called it an “insurrection and rebellion” (certainly a northern point of view) to the “War Between the States”, a distinctly southern reference. The voters were having none of it. Interestingly that amendment was put on the ballot by NCGA action less than 90 days after the infamous dedication of the “Silent Sam” statue in Chapel Hill. (Also good was the repeal by the 1970 Constitution of the old provision banning duels).

So we know that when the General Assembly jams lots of amendments on the ballot all at once (other than the 1970 ballot which had been preceded by a study commission which met for two years hammering out language from 1967 through 1968 and months of discussion in the 1969 session), the track record of passage is NOT good.

Since the 1982 debacle, the General Assembly made two major changes: In 1983 it created the “Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission” composed of the Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the Legislative Services Officer, and tasks them with writing factual summaries of proposed amendments. There had been little information for the public on the 1982 amendments. That commission had worked quietly for the last 35 years on the next 15 or so constitutional amendments that went on the ballot The General Assembly began to consistently pass implementing legislation prior to the referendum so that voters would have a lot more information on what the amendments would do.  Other than one self-executing amendment that did not need legislation, 13 of the last 14 amendments had enacted implementing legislation prior to the referendum and all but two were approved by the voters.  This year, none of the five amendments that require implementing legislation had it enacted. For example, on the highly contentious Voter Photo ID proposal, voters will have NO idea on what types of photo ID will suffice.  Even in the 1969-1982 period, a majority of the amendments had implementing legislation passed before the referendum. Read more

Commentary, What's Race Got To Do With It?

It’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day: Here’s why that’s important

Image: www.womendadvancenc.org

By Antionette Kerr

Why are we still telling Black Women to work twice as hard?

It’s time for equal pay

The women in my family set high standards for what “hard work” felt and looked like. In many ways these lessons gave me strength and inspiration. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their wisdom and I credit them for my fierce work ethic. But lately, I’ve started to challenge the old adage that as a Black Woman I have to “work twice as hard” to be considered successful.

Demanding equal pay is especially important for communities of color who have been told that they had to work “twice as hard,” and be “twice as good” to be successful. This belief is so widely accepted that even former first Lady Michelle Obama advances it in speeches across America.

I echo the thoughtful sentiments of Guardian writer, Britni Danielle. “There’s one mantra many black parents drill into their children’s heads throughout their life: be twice as good. It goes that as black folks in America, we’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as our white counterparts,” she wrote. “Some semblance of this speech has been handed down for generations, and given our history in the US – forced into chattel slavery, oppressed under Jim Crow, and racially stigmatized to this day – it’s proven itself to be true.”

This is especially ringing true for women of color. According to equalpaytoday.org , “Each year, Equal Pay Day for All is held in April, but when we look at the wage gap for women of color, the gap is far greater. When compared to all men, women earn $.80 (cents) on the $1. When compared to White, non-Hispanic men, Black/African American women earn only $.63 (cents) on the $1. This means the typical Black woman must work until August 2018 to be paid what the typical White man was paid at the end of December 2017.”

The “work twice as hard” speech has become a rite of passage in many communities of color. Read more

Commentary, Education, News

Editorial: Bill Cobey stands up for state board and public schools

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

In case you missed it this this morning, Capitol Broadcasting Company published an editorial over at WRAL that takes aim at state legislative leaders following the news that State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey is stepping down from the board next month.

Cobey, a longtime North Carolina Republican who once chaired the statewide GOP and served in Congress, has often been at odds with the Republican-controlled legislature in recent years.

The editorial notes the reaction from Republican lawmakers, or rather lack of reaction, to Cobey’s departure is telling.

From the editorial:

Last week Chairman Bill Cobey, announced his resignation from the State Board of Education six months before the end of his term. “I want to move on so that others can lead,” he said.

We hope he’d serve his entire term, but we are not surprised that he is leaving.

Who could blame Cobey, at 79, for taking a break from the daily attacks on our public education system by Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. They have been unrelenting in their efforts to dismantle the State Board of Education. Cobey fought the good fight on behalf of the board and is still fighting.

There are few North Carolinians who can claim Cobey’s conservative Republican pedigree. In 1982 (when Speaker Moore was 12 years old) he was Jesse Helms’ Congressional Club choice to unseat a four-term Democrat in the Fourth Congressional District. He fell short that year, but won the seat two years later.

Cobey was Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources under Gov. Jim Martin. He served as chairman of the state Republican Party. He was on the board of a private school and vice chairman of the Jesse Helms Center in 2013 when Gov. Pat McCrory named him to the State Board and he was elected its chairman.

It is certainly curious that, upon his resignation, Cobey received public words of appreciation for his service from Gov. Roy Cooper and former Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson while Republicans, including Berger, Moore and former Gov. McCrory who appointed him, were uncharacteristically muted.

It is the fact that Cobey isn’t a pushover; that he stands up for his principles and also works with Democrats to find common ground to strengthen public education; that he stands up for the constitutional role of the State Board of Education in the face of legislative efforts to weaken it. That infuriates Berger and Moore.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has been acquiescent to the legislative leadership and with newly-enacted powers from the legislature, worked to subvert the state board’s authority.

The current leaders of the General Assembly see every exchange as an opportunity for a confrontation, every issue is reason for ideological combat. Anyone who might have the moxie to suggest an alternative solution or competing idea is the enemy. Cobey has been under attack for several years. He fought hard.

Make no mistake about it, Bill Cobey believes in the strength of his ideas and positions. But he also has the confidence to let others challenge them and discuss them.

Most significantly, he has the patience to listen and work with those with different perspectives to seek common solutions. That’s not being a push over or liberal. That’s leadership.

It’s about putting the interests of the state, public schools and children first.

Cobey has the right priorities. They are sorely lacking among many members of the General Assembly.

We extend our admiration for, and thanks to, Bill Cobey and his service to North Carolina.