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Civitas does the right thing about its controversial website…sort of

There is good news (at least it appears to be good news) in the saga of the Carolina Plott Hound — a web platform owned and operated by the conservative Civitas Institute that had, among other objectionable things, been linking to an anti-Semitic website that accused attorney General Josh Stein of being part of an international Jewish conspiracy. Yesterday, Civitas executive director Francis De Luca issued the following statement:

“We regret that an error in judgment was made when Carolina Plott Hound shared a link to a blog post that suggested North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein made certain decisions based on his ethnicity and religion. To be clear, Civitas condemns the use of identity politics and believes that assigning the motivations of individuals based upon their membership of a group violates a core conservative principle. As such, the sentiments expressed in the blog post do not reflect our values nor the values of our sponsors and supporters. Neither I nor the organization share these sentiments. We condemn all racism, anti-religious speech and ethnic slurs.

Furthermore, we have reviewed the Carolina Plott Hound website and concluded that it does not fit into the overall Civitas mission to remove government barriers to freedom so that all North Carolinians can enjoy a better life. The site will no longer be operated by Civitas.”

De Luca also told Raleigh’s News & Observer that Civitas would sell the site. Good for Civitas for finally owning up to this — though it should be noted that the Plott Hound has been engaged in this kind of activity for years. One wishes that Civitas and its funders had not kept the group’s connection to the site hidden from public view and taken such action long ago.

At least two things about De Luca’s announcement, however, remain problematic:

#1 – The announcement fails to indicate the name of the individual or individuals responsible for editing the site and, in particular,  posting the anti-Semitic link. Does this person (or do these persons) remain on staff? If so, were they disciplined in any way? Ultimately, the central problem here is not the Plott Hound site itself, it’s that a supposedly responsible conservative organization and its employee(s) generated such trash. Simply ditching the vehicle that they used to serve up bigotry appears to leave the underlying problem unaddressed.

2 – The announcement says only that Civitas will no longer operate the site — not that it will be shuttered. And if it’s going to be sold to someone else, does that mean the buyer will keep serving up the bigoted garbage? Who will Civitas sell to — David Duke?

The bottom line here: The Civitas action is a welcome start, but the group and its funders need to do more (and show more transparency) to prove that they are acting in good faith and have truly turned over a new leaf.

Commentary

Mark Johnson’s hometown newspaper: State courts must reject his bid for unchecked power in education

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

This morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal is on the money with its assessment of a lawsuit challenging the efforts of state lawmakers to bestow essentially unfettered control of North Carolina schools on the state’s rookie superintendent of public instruction  (click here to read Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton’s summary of the case from last week).

As the editorial, “Fairness in education,” rightfully observes:

“Good for a three-judge panel that has delayed a new state law that would shift power from the state school board to the state school superintendent. Lawyers for the board now have more time to convince the state Supreme Court that the law is an unjustified power grab.

By the terms of the state constitution, the state school board has enjoyed strong power. The GOP-dominated legislature never tried to change that when Democrat June Atkinson was the state superintendent. But when she lost her post in last fall’s election to Republican Mark Johnson of Winston-Salem, the legislature pushed through a bill that outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory signed that would give more power to the state superintendent.

The Associated Press reported last week that the panel gave lawyers for the State Board of Education until Oct. 16 to make their case that the law is unconstitutional. The AP also noted that “the same three judges ruled in July that the law was valid.”

We hope the state Supreme Court will strike down the law.

The state school board that is GOP-dominated should retain its power. As we’ve said on this page, ‘After serving only two years on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board, Johnson, a lawyer and former teacher, ran for state superintendent and won. He’s a hard worker. But no superintendent should be given this unchecked power, especially one with this little experience and especially not for partisan motives.’

Johnson’s lawyer is fighting the delay. But the state school board’s attorney, according to the AP, argues that the risk of disrupting operations at the core of the state’s education system before the state Supreme Court ultimately decides the case is too great.

‘Let’s do this calmly, slowly and give the appellate courts a chance to rule and make the final resolution of this issue,’ the attorney, Andrew Erteschik, said. ‘In a case of this size and magnitude, a ‘well, let’s just see what happens’ approach is not what’s best for our 1.5 million school children.’

The high court should strike down this law.”

Commentary, News

Five things to have on your radar this week

#1 DACA in Crisis; Panel Discussion
A panel of lawyers, activists, and students gather Monday evening at the FedEx Global Education Center in Chapel Hill to discuss the future for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. Panelists will discuss how to protect students and how to support the undocumented and ‘DACAmented’ community. Panelists include:
• Rubi Franco Quiroz, current UNC student and immigrant activist
• Raul Pinto, Attorney, Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project at the North Carolina Justice Center
• Yesenia Polanco, Raleigh-based immigration attorney
• Emilio Vicente, UNC alumnus and United We Dream organizer
The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at FedEx Global Education Center, 301 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill. Learn more here.

#2 Protect health care, protect Medicaid – protest outside Sen. Tillis’ office
The so-called Graham-Cassidy bill is the latest bill seeking to repeal and replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act. Health Care advocates and activists say if it passes in the Senate, it would destroy Medicaid as we know it.

On Tuesday, activists will gather outside Senator Thom Tillis’ office to continue to let him know that the vast majority of North Carolinians do not want cuts in Medicaid. Participants are pressing North Carolina’s Senators to strengthen, not weaken, the ACA. The event runs from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at 310 New Bern Ave, Raleigh.

#3 Judicial Redistricting back in the spotlight
Rep. Justin Burr reconvenes the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting this Tuesday. The 1:00 p.m. meeting will be held in 544 of the Legislative Office Building.

As Melissa Boughton reported at last week’s meeting:

The House and Senate just might come to a deal when it comes to judicial redistricting and merit selection: pass them both and see what sticks.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) said Tuesday after a House judicial redistricting committee meeting that a deal between the House and Senate in which Representatives pass judicial redistricting and Senators look at merit selection “could certainly be on the table.”

Follow Boughton’s live coverage of tomorrow’s  meeting on Twitter @mel_bough.

#4. – One-Stop Voting begins
Early voting begins on Friday for this year’s October elections. For more on the municipal elections, visit: http://www.ncsbe.gov/Elections/2017-Election-Information.

#5A monumental discussion
Friday morning will be the fall meeting of the North Carolina Historical Commission. While the commission’s meetings have drawn little attention in the past, look for a lot of interest this week after calls by Governor Roy Cooper and others to remove Confederate monuments from state grounds in the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

If you haven’t been following this issue, read Joe Killian’s piece with newly appointed commission member David Ruffin:

“There is no question that many of the monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era, through the last gasp of the Jim Crow era,” Ruffin said. “They were political monuments from the beginning. But as late as four or five months ago I said I hoped we didn’t have to go there with this controversy, because the country seems so torn apart in so many other ways. I just thought it was one more battle I hoped we didn’t have to fight.”

Then Charlottesville happened, Ruffin said, and opened his eyes.

“Charlottesville was so toxic, it really changed my mind about some of these things,” Ruffin said. “History and politics aren’t my profession – in fact, getting into some of this can be harmful in my profession. But you do know what is right and wrong. In this case, this is a runaway train. There’s no choice. You have to pick your battles – but in this case, you have to take a stand.”

Friday’s meeting of the state Historical Commission begins at 10:00 a.m. at the Archives and History/State Library Building in downtown Raleigh. You can find the agenda here.

Commentary

Weekend editorials agree: NC must stop denying climate change and sea-level rise

Enough is enough: that’s the obvious conclusion of multiple weekend editorials from around North Carolina when it comes to conservative, head-in-the-sand denials of climate change and sea-level rise. With yet another major hurricane brewing in the Atlantic basin, the message delivered by the editorials is clear. It’s time to stop denying and staring doing something.

From the Charlotte Observer:

“There is no longer a real scientific debate about the reality of climate change or that humans have contributed to it, particularly because of the heavy use of fossil fuels that has been occurring for decades in the developed world. That doesn’t mean scientists are prophets, just that the science has detected a significant probability that extreme weather events will increasingly impact our way of life. Imagine, for example, how life in the Carolinas would be affected if the economy of popular resort Myrtle Beach is undermined by unpredictable and extreme weather patterns….

And while it’s impossible to say with certainty that any single weather event is directly caused by climate change, The Economist recently noted that the number of extreme natural disasters worldwide – including forest fires, droughts and landslides – has quadrupled since 1970, including the monsoon season in South Asia that killed more than 1,200 people as we were focused on hurricanes hitting the U.S.”

Ignoring climate change won’t make it go away.

It would be wonderful, as some officials in Raleigh and Washington seem to believe, that not talking about global warming would protect us from its dangers.

But after Hurricane Irma roared into Florida while Texans were still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, it should be clear that it’s past time to talk not only about climate change but also about what we can do to combat it and prepare for what it might bring….

But we all should be talking and planning further ahead. With a highly vulnerable coast of barrier islands, North Carolina in particular should be thinking ahead in a realistic way that acknowledges the likely effects of climate change. Desperate to protect tourist dollars and real-estate values, coastal communities repeat costly beach renourishment projects. In recent years, the state has relaxed some regulations on seawalls and other structures to control rising sea levels. The prospect of increasingly powerful hurricanes only makes such short-term solutions even more shortsighted.”

“Predictions aren’t exact, but the overwhelming consensus among scientists is that our activities are warming seas and melting ice caps. Read more

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Web of local money, political connections behind legislature’s decision to bypass DEQ in GenX clean-up

The fire is elusive, but the smoke is thick.

An analysis of professional and political relationships among major players in the GenX crisis shows the connections that led to a controversial state appropriation made by state lawmakers during the most recent special legislative session in House Bill 56, and a contract between the Cape Fear utility and a public relations firm.

It’s not unusual for state lawmakers to have deep political connections to major donors and operatives in their districts. But these connections could wind up diverting badly needed money away from an underfunded state agency to a public utility beset by scandal.

House Bill 56 has several contentious provisions, among them, the puzzling last-minute gift of $185,000 from conservative lawmakers to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA). The utility knew about the GenX contamination at its Sweeney drinking water plant in May 2016, according to a timeline it provided, but did not alert state environmental authorities. [Read more….]

Bonus reads:

2. More with less: With $3 million in the balance, initial AG cuts take effect

Changes from a $7 million budget cut to the North Carolina Department of Justice went into effect September 1 and as expected, people are making do with less.

“The work is still getting done,” said Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, adding that employees are committed to doing the work and serving the public.

The General Assembly cut $10 million from the DOJ budget, which is operated by Attorney General Josh Stein. The cut wasn’t in either the initial Senate or House budget but was added at the last minute before a final vote was taken on the FY2018-19 budget.

It was unexpected and has been viewed by many as a partisan move because Stein is a Democrat. Stein has repeatedly refused to speculate about the political nature of the massive budget cut and has instead expressed grave concern for the safety of North Carolinians if he is forced to keep cutting. [Read more….]

3. North Carolina conservatives must disavow allies’ bigoted hate speech
Website with ties to Civitas Institute promotes anti-Semitic attack on Attorney General Stein

There are a lot of deeply troubling and even shocking aspects to the ongoing rise in “white nationalism” and religious bigotry that plagues the American political landscape these days. First and foremost, of course, is the active participation of the president of the United States in the process. That the highest office in our land is being used in such a perverted way to aid and abet such a noxious cause remains a stunning and unacceptable reality that should sicken all people of good will on a daily basis.

Almost as disturbing as the behavior of Trump and the coterie of bigots with whom he associates at the national level, however, is the real world experience of confronting such behavior close to home. Increasingly, acts, viewpoints and arguments that most of us thought had been relegated to the dustbin of history are now rearing their ugly heads in public places – even places connected to and promoted by “responsible conservatives.”

On Monday of this week, just such a disturbing occurrence took place in North Carolina on a website supported and funded by one of the state’s most visible conservative groups.[Read more….]

4. Charter takeovers met with skepticism as director begins pitching model

Eric Hall, in the midst of a rainy drive to rural Robeson County to pitch North Carolina’s ambitious but controversial plan for a charter takeover of several low-performing schools, wants to set one thing straight.

“It’s not a takeover,” he says of the so-called Innovative School District (ISD) that he leads. “It’s about making conditions better locally.”

Hall seems well aware of the skepticism surrounding the model, once dubbed the “Achievement School District” but given a new name this year after rocky beginnings for similar efforts in states like Tennessee and Louisiana grabbed headlines.

Last week, Hall’s office released a list of 48 low-performing schools spread across 21 districts, the lion’s share situated in high-poverty locales. Each of them will be eligible for the first year of Hall’s district, which will launch with two schools in 2018-2019 and another three in 2019-2020.

Now he begins a slew of community meetings with local district leaders in places like Robeson County, home to five of the schools that made the state’s list. All reported performance grades in the bottom 5 percent statewide, and none met or exceeded academic growth goals in the last three years. [Read more…]

5. Author of new book on tragic 1991 Hamlet chicken plant fire: Little of substance has changed

Twenty six years ago, one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history rocked the tiny town of Hamlet, North Carolina.

Twenty five workers died and 55 were injured when a grease fire broke out at the Imperial Food Products plant, which made cheap chicken tenders for chain restaurants like Long John Silvers. The victims, mostly black and female, struggled to get out of the building but found the doors locked from the outside. The plant’s owner, Emmett J. Roe, kept the doors padlocked and the windows boarded because he thought his low-wage workers might steal chicken.

Some struggled desperately to kick the doors open, leaving indentations in the steel before being burned to death or succumbing to smoke inhalation. Others tried to huddle in a large walk-in freezer to avoid the blaze, where they nearly froze before suffocating.

In the aftermath of the fire, state and federal investigators found the building had no fire alarms, no sprinklers — nothing that could be considered a fire exit. It had never undergone a safety inspection. [Read more….]

***Upcoming event on Tuesday, September 26th: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon: Prof. Bryant Simon discusses his new book, “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives”

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