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Momentum against all six constitutional amendments continues to grow

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

A group of Triangle mayors and council members are the latest political leaders to oppose six constitutional amendments on the ballot Nov. 6.

On Thursday, Common Cause NC and Local Progress released a letter signed by mayors of five cities: Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Holly Springs, and Morrisville. The groups will hold a press conference Friday in Raleigh with more local officials who are expected to support the letter.

The letter states, as local elected officials, they are aware of the “potentially damaging impact of the legislature’s proposed six constitutional amendments on the ballot this November.”

“The tax amendment and several others would have major impacts on the local level. We are at a critical juncture in the future of North Carolina,” it states….

“Passing any of these six amendments furthers the partisan divide and makes it even more difficult for our state to make the progress it needs to serve all the people of North Carolina so we can meet our potential,” Morrisville Mayor T.J. Cawley said in the announcement.

The full list of signers will include elected officials in Raleigh, Wake County and Orange County, and will be announced Friday, said Justin Guillory of Stop Deceptive Amendments, a group opposing the amendments.

And this is from the letter:

“The proposed amendment to lower the cap on income taxes has the potential to shift even more money from education to tax breaks for the wealthy. North Carolina has already fallen behind in meeting the needs of its citizens. The limits on current state revenue have put pressure on local budgets and have required local officials to either cut vital services or raise property taxes. Property tax rates have been raised in 74 of 100 counties since 2012. capping the tax rate will also limit North Carolina’s ability to respond to future unforeseen needs, such as responding to a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence or another recession.”

The press event will take place today at 10:30 in downtown Raleigh. For more information go to: https://stopdeceptiveamendments.com/.

Commentary, News

Second thoughts: Now it’s three GOP lawmakers who oppose judicial appointments amendment

As we reported in this space yesterday, Republican Senator Wesley Meredith has done an about-face on the proposed constitutional amendment that would take the power to fill judicial vacancies from the Governor and, for all practical purposes, give it to legislative leaders. Meredith’s explanation was lame and confusing, but he made it clear that he now opposes the amendment that he voted on multiple occasions to place on the ballot.

Now comes word that Meredith has been joined by two additional flip-flopping fellow GOP’ers. Justin Guillory of the advocacy group “Stop the Deceptive Amendments” explains:

Three Republican state legislators come out against the judicial vacancy amendment

RALEIGH—Stop Deceptive Amendments today thanked three Republican state legislators who are now publicly opposed to the judicial vacancy amendment.

  • Sen. Rick Horner (R – Johnston, Nash, Wilson) announced his opposition to the judicial vacancy and elections board amendments at a candidate forum.
  • Rep. Chuck McGrady (R – Henderson) explained his opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment and tax cap amendments on his website.
  • Sen. Wesley Meredith (R – Cumberland) announced his opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment at a candidate forum. (Video here at 23:45).

These three Republican lawmakers join former Republican Governors Pat McCrory and Jim Martin and former Republican Chief Justices Rhoda Billings and I. Beverly Lake in opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment.

In addition to growing Republican opposition, for the first time a poll found the judicial vacancy amendment losing among voters. The new poll from Spectrum News and SurveyUSA found the amendment losing 35%-36%.

“The momentum to defeat this misleading and dangerous amendment is growing by the day,” said Justin Guillory from Stop Deceptive Amendments. “Bipartisan opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment proves this is a bad idea that will permanently alter our constitutional system of checks and balances.”

For more, visit stopdeceptiveamendments.com.

Commentary

Editorial: Ag Commish Troxler needs to explain request for farm aid blank check

As Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg explained yesterday morning, state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has some rather grand plans for aiding farmers with state money in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

Troxler, a Republican, asked lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources yesterday for the $250 million to immediately fund the NC Farmer Recovery Reinvestment Program. The only requirements thus far are that the money would help the “underinsured and uninsurable” in 35 federally declared disaster areas with crops, livestock and poultry losses; and that a farmer must use the funds to continue in agriculture, including obtaining financing.

As Sorg’s story went on to explain, the request was met with sympathy, but  some skepticism from lawmakers. Basically, lawmakers said, if we’re going to fork out that kind of dough, you’re going to need to come forward with something more than the vague plan Troxler outlined on Monday. At the time, Troxler said “We have a draft in our minds of what it would look like.”

An editorial in today’s Fayetteville Observer echoes the sympathetic but skeptical reaction that Troxler’s proposal received:

There is no question that our farmers need help, and that it’s not just charity — agriculture is one of this state’s big industries and we can’t afford to lose it, or even see it greatly diminished. Those $1.1 billion in losses translate to a total economic impact of about $2.8 billion.

But to some of the lawmakers who listened to Troxler’s plea this week, the Farmer Recovery Reinvestment Program sounded risky — it almost boils down to loading trucks with bushels of money and sending them out to spread the funds across the state’s farmland. It comes up short on details like oversight, accountability and programs with specific goals and purposes. How will the farmers be chosen? How will the program prevent waste and fraud? Those questions need to be answered.

Even some farmers were skeptical. “You could make good headlines,” said Duplin County farmer Morris Murphy, “but if the money is not put in the right places, it won’t solve the problems we have as farmers.” It could end up, Murphy said, “a government fiasco.”

“Fundamentally I’m not opposed to it,” chief budget writer Chuck McGrady told Troxler. The Henderson County Republican said “I just don’t know if I have enough substance right now to just buy into it.” Brent Jackson — a Senate budget writer, a Sampson County Republican and a farmer — agreed and asked Troxler to provide much more information before the General Assembly reconvenes next week to consider further aid for flooding victims.

Given the magnitude of the state’s farm losses, the size of Troxler’s request isn’t out of line. But the commissioner also has to know his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly are a fiscally conservative bunch and won’t hand him a blank check. He’s got a lot of work to do, and fast. But the state’s farmers are depending on him to design a responsible farm disaster aid program and get it back to our lawmakers next week.

Indeed.

Commentary, News

Today’s “must read”: NC’s death row packed with people convicted under obsolete laws

Be sure to take just a few minutes out of your day today to check out a new, powerful and easy-to-read report from the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. “Unequal Justice: How Obsolete Laws and Unfair Trials Created North Carolina’s Outsized Death Row” offers a damning assessment of a broken and unjust system that has placed and left dozens of people on death row who were convicted under widely varying laws. This is from the summary:

The death penalty is all but extinct in North Carolina. Juries have recommended only a single new death sentence in the past four years. The state hasn’t carried out an execution since 2006. Yet, North Carolina has the sixth largest death row in the nation, with more than 140 men and women. It is a relic of another era.

More than 100 of N.C.’s death row prisoners — about three-quarters — were sentenced in the 1990s, under wildly different laws. During those years, North Carolina juries sent dozens of people a year to death row, more than Texas. The state’s courtrooms were dominated by prosecutors like Ken Honeycutt in Stanly County, who celebrated new death sentences by handing out noose lapel pins to his assistant prosecutors.

Beginning in 2001, after investigations and DNA testing began to reveal innocent people on death row, a wave of reforms transformed the landscape. New laws guaranteed capital defendants such basic rights as trained defense attorneys and the right to see all the evidence in their cases. A court mandate requiring prosecutors to seek death for virtually every first-degree murder — the only such requirement in the nation — was ended.

Today, the death penalty is seen as a tool to be used sparingly, instead of a bludgeon to be wielded in virtually every first-degree murder case. Yet, new laws and shifting public opinion have had little impact on prisoners sentenced in another era. The bulk of North Carolina’s death row is now made up of people who were tried 15, 20, even 25 years ago. They are prisoners of a state that has moved on, but has refused to reckon with its past.

DPL’s report, Unequal Justice, finds that out of 142 death row prisoners in North Carolina:

92% (131) were tried before a 2008 package of reforms intended to prevent false confessions and mistaken eyewitness identifications, which have been leading causes of wrongful convictions across the country. The new laws require interrogations and confessions to be recorded in homicide cases and set strict guidelines for eyewitness line-up procedures.

84% (119) were tried before a law granting defendants the right to see all the evidence in the prosecutor’s file — including information that might help reduce their sentence or prove their innocence.

73% (104) were sentenced before laws barring the execution of people with intellectual disabilities. Despite a promise of relief for these less culpable defendants, disabled prisoners remain on death row.

 73% (103) were sentenced before the creation of a statewide indigent defense agency that drastically improved the quality of representation for poor people facing the death penalty, and a law ending an unprecedented requirement that prosecutors pursue the death penalty in every aggravated first-degree murder. Before these changes, prosecutors did not have the ability to seek life sentences in these cases and poor people often received a sub-standard defense.

The bottom line: North Carolina’s death penalty is hopelessly obsolete and broken, and it continues to generate tremendous injustices. Click here to read the entire report and to watch a powerful video summary.

Commentary, News

GOP state senator opposes constitutional amendment that he voted to place on the ballot

There are a lot of strange and confusing aspects to the story surrounding the slate of constitutional amendments that Republican legislators have placed on the November ballot. Here, however, is an especially weird and perplexing one: It turns out that Wesley Meredith, a Republican senator from Fayetteville opposes the Republican-driven amendment to alter how North Carolina would fill judicial vacancies. The amendment, as you will recall, shifts the lion’s share of the power in such matters from the Governor to the General Assembly.

As reported by the Fayetteville Observer Meredith made public his opposition to the amendment during a community forum the other day. He did it again earlier today in an interview with Policy Watch. In the interview, Meredith expressed the strong belief that the current system for electing judges and filling judicial vacancies via gubernatorial appointment works well and has worked well for years under both Republican and Democratic governors.

What’s especially noteworthy about Meredith’s stance on the issue, of course, is that he is a Republican and the amendment (which is widely recognized and derided by many as a Republican Party power grab) was passed by both houses of the General Assembly with almost exclusively Republican votes.

What’s even stranger is that one of those Republican votes was Meredith himself.

On June 25, Meredith voted “aye” on both second and third reading on the Senate floor to send the original version of the amendment (a measure misleadingly dubbed the “Judicial Vacancy Sunshine Amendment”) to the ballot.

Sen. Wesley Meredith

That amendment was later declared unconstitutional by the state courts and rewritten during a hastily convened August special session that was held just weeks before the start of absentee voting. During the special session, Meredith again voted twice in favor of the new version of the proposal and three times in opposition to proposed Democratic efforts to amend the measure.

When pressed this morning for an explanation of the rather striking contradiction involved in publicly opposing an amendment that he himself had helped to place on the ballot, Meredith seemed to struggle. First, he observed that he had refused to sign onto the resolution in which the General Assembly called itself back into special session to rewrite the unconstitutional amendment. When asked however why he voted for the new and revised amendment once the session had been convened, Meredith claimed, that it was his (erroneous) understanding that if he had not done so, the original unconstitutional amendment would have somehow gone back on the ballot. He also claimed that he had sought to speak out on the matter in debate, but was not recognized by the presiding officer.

Meredith had less of an explanation and seemed flummoxed when asked about the original June vote. Instead of addressing the question directly, he instead observed that there had been a lot of confusing votes and discussions on judicial selection issues, reiterated his general support for the status quo and offered an apology if he had gotten any of the “dates” surrounding the matter mixed up.

The bottom line: If ever there was powerful indictment of all six constitutional amendments that appear on the ballot this fall, Meredith is it.  Simply put, if a veteran state senator — a man who cast numerous critical votes to place the amendments on the ballot — is so deeply confused about the action he has taken that he both a) didn’t understand the impact of his own action and/or b) has done a 180 degree flip flop on one critically important amendment in just a matter of weeks, something is decidedly rotten in the state of Denmark.

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