Commentary, Legislature, News

Opinion: How N.C. Republicans used division to consolidate power

Senate leader Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Tim Moore

We’re now less than a week removed from a climactic veto override vote on Republicans’ “born-alive” abortion bill, one designed as much to fire up social conservatives as to make any kind of real change to abortion laws.

And the news is replete with hot-takes about its impacts on the GOP and Gov. Roy Cooper’s agenda, but Politics N.C.’s Thomas Mills has a sharp take today, scrutinizing how the state’s GOP power base has used discordant legislation to bolster their power in the past, typically at the expense of good governance, North Carolina’s reputation and, of course, general decency.

Instead of a blow-by-blow analysis of the state budget — in its chrysalis stage with a GOP hand-picked conference committee from both the House and Senate — we’re mostly left to digest a lurid clash of religion, intrusive government, and a bitterly endangered Roe v. Wade, all issues lawmakers would rather talk about than their reliably miserly budgeting.

Lawmakers should get to work on actual policymaking, beginning with Medicaid expansion, a move that could actually save lives.

Read Mills’ take below:

The so-called “Born Alive” bill that Roy Cooper vetoed is the most controversial bill of the legislative session so far. The bill and the veto override are accomplishing the goals of the GOP and continuing a tactic that’s helped them maintain power. They are energizing their base while dividing the state. It’s no way to govern and a sharp departure from the principles that helped North Carolina become the state it is today.

The bill itself would have impacted very few people. It required doctors to give medical treatment to fetuses that “survive” abortions. The bill addressed so-called late term abortions. Virtually all of them are performed either because the fetus is non-viable or the life of the mother is at risk. The bill would likely have forced mothers to carry to term babies with severe handicaps that wouldn’t survive long after birth.

Really, though, the bill is not about abortion. It’s about division. It drives a wedge between pro-choice activists who oppose the bill and less informed people who don’t understand it. The strategy follows a pattern we’ve seen since Republicans took control of the General Assembly back in 2010.

They divided the state with Amendment One in an effort to excite the right side of the GOP by casting the Democrats as the party of gay rights. They passed the most egregious voter suppression bill in the country to restrict access to the polls, narrowly targeting vulnerable, older African-Americans. In the wake of the Charleston massacre, when South Carolina was taking down Confederate memorials, the GOP in the legislature enacted legislation to protect North Carolina’s monuments to the Confederacy. They passed HB2 to fire up their base by burnishing their anti-transgender credentials. They’ve used division, not unity, as a governing strategy.

And they used division to try to consolidate power, though often unsuccessfully. They made nonpartisan judicial races partisan. They did the same thing to local school board and city council races. They redistricted municipal and county districts to give Republicans the advantage, overriding the will of local governments. They politicized the UNC Board of Governors, leaving it in turmoil that still exists today.

When Republicans won control of the legislature in 2010, their divisive tactics were new to North Carolina, even if they’ve been adopted nationally today. Modern North Carolina was built by avoiding sharp social divisions. Instead, leaders of both parties used moderation as a governing philosophy. The state was never part the vanguard of change, but, unlike their Southern neighbors, they weren’t putting up roadblocks, either.

State leaders from Democrat Jim Hunt to Republican Jim Martin tried to keep a lid on social unrest by allowing history to drag us forward, focusing instead on building a strong economic infrastructure and educational system. They believed that good jobs and good schools were the keys to our future. While the late 1960s and early 1970s saw social turbulence, the upheaval was less than other states and we became a destination for businesses and families looking for stability, progress and opportunity.

Our social evolution was too slow for some people and too fast for others, but hit the sweet spot for most North Carolinians. We may not have been a leader in the march to marriage equality, but we didn’t have an amendment fight until the GOP took control. We saw slow but steady progress on voting rights to atone for almost 100 years of Jim Crow disenfranchisement until these new, radical Republicans decided too many black people were voting for Democrats.

Republican leaders have made division a governing principle. The goal is power, not progress. They’ve cast moderation aside, hoping that a sharply divided state can keep them in power by motivating their base. It may or may not be good politics, but it’s definitely bad for North Carolina.



The best editorial of the weekend highlights a massive GOP lie

Thomas Hofeller

In case you missed it, both the Winston-Salem Journal and Greensboro News & Record featured an on-the-mark editorial this weekend highlighting the Trump administration’s recently exposed treachery in seeking to add a question to the Census regarding the citizenship of respondents. As the editorial highlighted, recent revelations in the increasingly infamous Hofeller files have made it clear that the motivation behind the question was clearly to advance Republican political objectives.

In case anyone wondered why the Trump administration is intent on adding a citizenship question to next year’s census, Common Cause North Carolina has brought to light documents that make it clear the move is politically motivated.

The administration has claimed that asking about the citizenship status of everyone in the census is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act and prevent discrimination against racial and language minorities. Its lawyers told the U.S. Supreme Court that such protection of minorities would be the “principal benefit” of adding the citizenship question.

That, to put it bluntly, is a lie, and a particularly cynical lie at that. We now have strong evidence that the citizenship question is designed to do the opposite: to suppress minority participation in the census and expand the gerrymandering that helps white Republican candidates unfairly hold onto their power in legislative districts.

After explaining the link between the Census question and deceased Republican mapmaking guru, Thomas Hofeller, the editorial continues:

What the administration is trying to do is wrong on many levels. The attempt to tamper with the census is not only a politically motivated attempt to suppress voting; it is also racist.

The Census Bureau has estimated that adding a citizenship question will lead to about 6.5 million people not responding to the census. Getting wary minorities to participate is a problem under the best of circumstances.

The Bureau also says that the question is unnecessary, that the data is available in existing government records….

The Supreme Court has already heard arguments on the census case and is expected to rule soon.

If the Trump administration is allowed to include the question, it will be a win for the worst kind of partisan politics and a loss for democracy and the country. That much is now clear.

Click here to read the entire editorial.


Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Trump follows NC’s loathsome lead toward trans community

Lately, I’ve been pondering what it means to be a North Carolinian. As in Tar Heel born (in a doctor’s office, no less), Tar Heel bred (never lived more than 37 miles from home, just like Jesus) and, yes, like the song says, when I die, I’ll be Tar Heel dead.

Speaking of which, in North Carolina, if you’re even remotely a big shot, you’ll be awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, but you pretty much have to be at death’s door so it’s one of those honors you aren’t sure you want.

Governor’s office: Look here! You’ve been named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine!

Most people: How long do I have, doc?

North Carolinians can recall an astonishing amount of state trivia thanks to seventh grade history class. State bird: cardinal; state dog: Plott Hound; state mayo: Duke’s (OK, I made that up, but it should be); state motto: Esse Quam Videri (“to be rather than to seem.”)

How lofty this Latin phrase that celebrates being your authentic self, give or take an oppressive, commerce-crushing, dehumanizing transgender-targeted bathroom bill or two.

Historians say Esse Quam Videri was adopted because of its power to call attention to how not nearly so many people want actually to BE possessed of virtue as to APPEAR to be possessed of it.

I adore that shade was being thrown at phonies as far back as 1775 here in North Carolina. This insistence on being true to self was so important it was put on the newly crafted state seal!

So, what happened to that laudable sentiment and does this mean we should rethink the whole Plott Hound thing, too? Esse Quam Videri seems worlds away in meaning and intent from the current mindset of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Usually, I don’t get wrought up about state politics, preferring to save my energy for the national stuff because, well, a girl can only have so many hissy fits in a single day, but the two have merged in a most distasteful way this week as we learn of Trump’s latest takedown of the transgender community.

Over the holiday weekend, Trump showed his enduring respect for the many transgender troops who have served in the military by taking steps to undo an Obama reg that made it illegal for health care workers and insurers to discriminate against transgender patients.

Trump & Co. explained you can’t make somebody do anything to violate their private religious or moral beliefs. Soooo, if you cut your foot in an oyster bed and your preferred pronoun is “they” you don’t get a tetanus shot, just a double dose of fire-baptized judgment.

Celia Rivenbark

But, wait! That’s not all. Trump also proposed a rule last week allowing homeless shelters that receive any federal money to deny services to transgender people.

What’s Latin for “petty and cruel”?

North Carolina started this mess. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could clean it up? Let’s be, rather than seem to be human beings.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times-bestselling author and columnist. Visit


Children’s advocate: Senate budget proposal does little for kids

In case you missed it last week, Rob Thompson of the advocacy group NC Child generated a nice summary of some of the highlights and lowlights of the Senate budget (a proposal he described as generally worse than the House’s proposed version). House and Senate negotiators are expected to put together a budget conference report next week. This is from Rob’s summary:

Medicaid—The budget proposal includes deep cuts to Medicaid that would jeopardize the effectiveness of the program. According to NC DHHS, this budget would create a $100M shortfall in the Medicaid program.

Mental Health—The budget cuts $15M out of mental health services.

Foster Care—The budget increases the reimbursement rate for foster parents, which is important for the recruitment and retention of foster parents.

Juvenile Justice—There is insufficient funding for ‘Raise the Age’ community programs. In FY21, the Senate budget includes only 1/4 of what’s in the house proposal–$2.2M vs. $8.8M.

Public Health—There is no funding for firearm safe storage, a new office state fatality prevention, the nurse-family partnership, or youth tobacco prevention, all of which were included in the House proposal.

Early Education—The Senate continues a trend of supplanting state funding with federal dollars. According to NC DHHS, the legislature has supplanted $100M in state funding for early education with federal funding over the past 5 years. This means that if we had held state spending steady during that time period, we would have an additional $100 M invested in early education.

Senate Budget Overview

Health and Human Services

Public Health

Oral Health Prevention Services—The Senate cuts $301k recurring due to a funding reduction in the federal block grant. This cut is also in the House budget.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention—The Senate budget includes a $250K recurring increase in both years for teen pregnancy prevention initiatives. This increase is included in the House budget.

Women and Children’s Health Services—The Senate cuts $2.1 million recurring funding in both years from Women and Children’s Health Services of the Division of Public Health. This reduction is included in the House budget.

Public Health items in the House Budget not include in the Senate Budget:

-Nurse-Family Partnership: $3.8M in FY20; $1.8M in FY21
-Youth Tobacco Prevention: $980K in FY20; $680K in FY21
-Firearm Storage Awareness: $90K in FY20 and FY21

Child Development and Early Education

Smart Start – The Senate budget for Smart Start is similar to the House proposal but slightly reduced. Read more

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Hofeller files: Lawmakers lied to federal court in 2017, preventing NC from getting special election

The 2011 North Carolina legislative maps are among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court, and the state could have held a special election under new voting districts, but GOP lawmakers lied about needing more time to draw them, according to documents from deceased mapmaker Tom Hofeller.

It turns out the maps had been drawn all along and the “public” process the legislature put on at the time was a sham.

“In July 2017, legislative defendants convinced the federal district court in [North Carolina v.] Covington not to order special elections under new remedial maps in 2017, based on legislative defendants’ repeated statements that they had not yet started drawing new districts at all and needed sufficient time to develop criteria, draft the plans, and receive public input,” states a court motion filed Thursday in Wake County Superior Court. “The Hofeller files reveal that Dr. Hofeller had in fact already substantially completed drawing the 2017 plans in June 2017 before legislative defendants stated the process had even begun and a month and a half before the adopted criteria were even introduced and adopted.” [Read more…]


2. “Gerrymander” is much too polite a word for what Trump and the GOP are trying to do

For some time now, it has seemed that the widespread and growing use of the words “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” was a good thing for our state and nation. A decade ago, these words were insider terms used only by campaign consultants and politics wonks. In recent years, however, as the public has finally started to grasp the reality of how electoral districts have come to be drawn and manipulated, “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” have, increasingly, entered the general lexicon.

Unfortunately, while it’s certainly positive that lots of Americans now understand what gerrymandering is and that it’s to be combated, there’s a downside to the current widespread use of the term: it’s much too polite a word to describe what the Trump administration and its Republican Party allies are trying to do to our democracy.

Think about it for a moment. The word “gerrymander” – which traces back to the machinations of a 19th Century Massachusetts politician named Elbridge Gerry who concocted a Boston-area district that supposedly resembled a salamander – is a quaint, whimsical and almost comical term. It conjures up images of gamesmanship and “good ol’ boy” politicians nudging and winking at each other as they maneuver for incremental and temporary advantages over their rivals – rivals who would no doubt employ similar tactics if and when they got the opportunity. [Read more…]


3. NC officials dismiss hundreds of thousands of old court cases as part of massive data ‘clean-up’

Many cases have been on the books without resolution for decades

The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has been quietly facilitating the dismissals of hundreds of thousands of criminal charges and infractions across the state for the past two years as part of a data clean-up effort.

Each of the cases dismissed had been pending for years – some for decades – without prosecution, preventing thousands of people from getting a driver’s license and sometimes resulting in orders of arrests, often of individuals already living in poverty.

The end result of the mass dismissals is judicial efficiency, increased public safety and a human impact that can’t be measured. There have been more than 700,000 total cases dismissed thus far by 50 counties as part of the effort, called the Data Integrity Initiative. The AOC has not released information on how many charges in each of the jurisdictions was dismissed.[Read more…]


4. Advocates hope changes in Durham are a bellwether for bail reform in NC

Serena Sebring and Kayla Hartsfield were arrested last month after chaining themselves to the gates outside the Durham County Detention Center.

The two women, activists with Southerners On New Ground (SONG), were trying to bring attention to a cash bail system they say has utterly failed. Studies show the current system disproportionately jails minorities, the poor and those accused of non-violent crimes while failing to effectively assure that defendants make their court dates in higher numbers than those who are offered alternatives to cash bail.

“We have a lot to learn from other cities and states that have just decided, ‘We’re not going to do this system of ransom that money bail has become’,” Sebring said. “They’ve replaced it with a wide variety of things like ‘cite and release’ programs and other ways of supporting people in making that first court appearance that are more effective.” [Read more…]


5. Ten new charter schools win approval, two on hold as WCPSS raises concerns

Concerns raised by Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) has led the State Board of Education to table two of 12 charter schools that sought state approval Thursday.

The board’s approval of the other 10 applications paved the way for them to open in 2020.

But applications submitted for Wake Preparatory Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy were referred back to the state Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB), which had recommended approval of all 12 applications.

CSAB is expected to review the WCPSS concerns when it meets Monday. [Read more...]

Bonus read: State Rep. Craig Horn vows to fight for online preschool during budget negotiations


6. Governor’s veto of “born-alive” bill is sustained despite passionate pleas to mix religion and policy

On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives voted to sustain Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359, the so-called “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.”

Senator Joyce Krawiec (R-Davie), the primary sponsor of the bill, as well as House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), repeatedly stated that the bill was “not about abortion.”

“Today’s bill we are discussing is when a child is born alive,” said Speaker Moore at a press conference he held before the vote, “and what the standard of care is for that child at that time.” [Read more…] ===

7. A eulogy: For the abortion bill whose supporters dared not speak its name

Sometime in the latter hours of debate over an abortion bill that North Carolina Republicans insisted was not about abortion – even as the words “abortion” and “abortion victims” were uttered some fourteen-thousand times Wednesday – Speaker Tim Moore descended from his perch at the forefront of the state House chamber to debate.

It’s not unheard of for the Speaker, who presides over the House, to leave his post and enter the fray, but even Moore acknowledged this may be the first time he’s parried Democrats directly over abortion, an issue, he gently, paternalistically, reminded us is fraught with emotions. [Read more…]

8. Listen to our latest guest interviews with Policy Watch director Rob Schofield

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By John Cole