Commentary

Chris Fitzsimon departing from NC Policy Watch after 13 remarkable years

After 13 years of amazing and visionary leadership, our dear friend and colleague, NC Policy Watch founder and Executive Director Chris Fitzsimon, is leaving the organization later this month.

Yesterday, Rick Glazier, the executive director of the NC Justice Center — the parent organization of Policy Watch — issued the following statement:

A note to friends of NC Policy Watch and the North Carolina Justice Center from Rick Glazier

RALEIGH (November 9, 2017) – It is a with mixture of emotions that I write to tell you that Chris Fitzsimon, the founding director of NC Policy Watch, will be leaving the project after 13 amazingly productive years. As you all are well aware, Chris is an institution in North Carolina policy and journalism circles. For more than three decades – first as a reporter, and later as an assistant to then-House Speaker Dan Blue, founder and executive director of the Common Sense Foundation, and since 2004, the director of NC Policy Watch – Chris has served as a passionate, powerful and relentless voice for justice in our state.

Now, in a development that serves as a tremendous validation of Chris’s remarkable work in growing Policy Watch from a one-person shop into a formidable and unique eight-person news and commentary organization, he has been asked to help take the Policy Watch model national. Later this month, Chris will start work for The Newsroom, a new nonprofit incubator that will help establish and manage a network of similar projects in states around the country.

Thus, while it is with great sadness that we contemplate his departure, it is also with great pride in his accomplishments and excitement for him and the nation that we look forward to the work ahead.

One other especially positive aspect of this transition is that, in the course of negotiations with his new employers, Chris has been able to convince them to allow him to stay in North Carolina, based in a Chapel Hill office. Not only will this allow him to remain a close friend and adviser to Policy Watch and other progressive North Carolina nonprofits, it will also allow him to remain a semi-regular Policy Watch columnist and as a weekly cast member on the syndicated political TV talk show, NC SPIN. We know that many of our more conservative friends will be disappointed.

Please be on the lookout for announcements in the very near future about a farewell event for Chris and next steps for NC Policy Watch.

Needless to say, there will be no let-up in the quantity and quality of the news and commentary emanating from the Policy Watch team.

And please join us on November 29 for a special event (“Spotlight on Journalism” – click here for more information) highlighting the fine work of all of the members of the NC Policy Watch team.

 

Commentary

NC’s cheapskate General Assembly: Placing school children’s health and well-being at risk

Image: Mitchell County Schools

WRAL News had has an important and infuriating story last night that’s worth your time today. It’s about the outrageous dearth of school nurses in North Carolina and the way the state has had to turn to lightly-trained clerical personnel to address the health needs of thousands of schoolchildren. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were watching/reading about a Third World country. This is from “As student medical needs mount, school nurses in short supply”:

“North Carolina has 115 school systems, but, according to school system data, just five of those systems have a nurse dedicated to every school, which works out to one nurse for every 1,086 students.

With more and more children needing help with complex medical issues, that ratio can have consequences for school staff and students.”

After telling some harrowing stories of children provided by clerical personnel, the report continues:

“According to North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, the average school nurse covers two to three campuses, though some cover as many as six. Those ratios leave a lot of student medical care in the hands of school staff.

In September, Courtney Frederick’s 5-year-old ended up in an emergency room after a bookkeeper at a Harnett County Elementary school mistakenly gave her daughter, Malia, a double dose of an ADHD medication prescribed to a different student.

‘I was in disbelief, actually,’ Frederick said. ‘I was really mad.’

Frederick attributed the mix-up to school staffers overwhelmed.

‘Something went totally wrong,’ she said. ‘I think they were rushing and doing too many tasks at one time.’

A receptionist at Eastern Wayne Middle School also expressed concerns. She told WRAL News, ‘the amount of medicine I give on a daily basis would stun you!’ She said she was even stuck by a used lancet after a student tested their blood sugar.

While there is no training standard, each school nurse trains staff on how to administer first aid and how to give medicines. But the list of medical needs in modern classrooms is growing longer.

Research from the DHHS shows the average classroom has:

  • Two students on medication
  • Two with asthma
  • One with an attention deficit disorder
  • One with a life-threatening allergy
  • One student with a less common health condition, such as cancer, a feeding tube or a bleeding issue….

Only one school system in the WRAL viewing area has a full-time nurse in each school: Orange County. The NC Nurses association said that was the result of an effort by parents to have a full-time nurse on campus.”

This is truly a classic example of kind of cheapskate government promoted for so long by the anti-government “think tanks” in the Art Pope Empire (a group that spent years complaining about too many children getting free and reduced price school lunches). Unfortunately, as noted in Tuesday’s Weekly Briefing, school nurses are just one of a long list of essential areas in which the GOP-dominated General Assembly has slashed our schools since taking control in in 2011.

Commentary

Amazing numbers on gun violence on the anniversary of Trump’s election

It’s a remarkable fact to contemplate, but today marks the one-year anniversary of the election of the Great Prevaricator. The good news, of course, is the fact that the nation is still standing — at least sort of. The bad news is that the most important government on the planet remains under the control of a serial teller of untruths and a mostly spineless cadre of sycophants who refuse to acknowledge that their emperor wears no clothes.

The damage that this situation has wrought is massive and all but incalculable, but in one very important area, some good people are trying come up with some useful numbers. The following come from an infographic generated by the folks at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

  • One year since Trump was elected
  • He was the first sitting president to speak at the NRA convention since 1983
  • Under his leadership, more than 500K more fugitives from justice can legally access guns
  • As well as 324,000 Social Security beneficiaries whose illnesses are so severe, they cannot handle their finances
  • 93 Americans are shot & killed every day
  • 2 high profile mass shootings
  • 0 laws passed to stop the madness

The Brady infographic might have also gone on to point out that there have been 307 mass shootings in the United States already this year (and that we still have the holiday season ahead of us!)

Happily, the list also goes on to list several ways in which Brady and other groups like Moms Demand Action and North Carolinians Against Gun Violence — are fighting back — in Congress, in state legislatures and in electoral politics. As they look for ways to take action on this difficult anniversary, caring and thinking people could do a lot worse than to join in the advocacy work of these fine groups.

Commentary

More encouraging electoral news: Maine votes overwhelmingly to expand Medicaid

In case you missed it, yet another important piece of good news from last night’s elections came from the state of Maine.

This is from an article in this morning’s New York Times:

“Voters in Maine decided on Tuesday to expand access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, making the state the first in the nation to settle the issue by referendum.

Maine is one of 19 states whose Republican governors or legislatures have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Other holdouts like Utah and Idaho are closely watching the initiative, as newly formed committees in both those states are working to get a Medicaid expansion question on next year’s ballot. The outcome may offer clues about the salience of the issue in next year’s midterm congressional elections.”

Would that there was a way to place such a referendum on the North Carolina ballot as there can be little doubt as to how it would turn out. Even a slanted poll from the right-wing Civitas Institute recently reported that North Carolinians are evenly divided on the much more progressive solution of Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal. The much more modest idea of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — an act Republican leaders in North Carolina have refused to take for several years now — would provide insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of people and save thousands of lives per year. Sadly, there is little indication at this point of any real inclination on the part of Republicans to act. One wonders if this will still be the case as we draw closer to the 2018 elections.

Commentary

Progressive resistance up, Trumpism down in Tuesday’s election results

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

The verdict being delivered by national political analysts is that yesterday’s election results — particularly in the closely contested state of Virginia — represent a sharp rebuke of Donald Trump and his divisive policies.

Here’s the Associated Press:

“Seizing his party’s first major Trump-era victory, Democrat Ralph Northam beat back a charge from Republican Ed Gillespie in the race for Virginia governor, a bruising election that tested the power of President Donald Trump’s fiery nationalism against the energy of the Trump resistance.

In Virginia, like in several contests across America on Tuesday, the Trump resistance won. And it wasn’t close.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist and Army veteran, led longtime Republican operative Gillespie by several points as the final votes ticked in. Democrats also scored victories in the race for New Jersey governor and in Maine, where voters slapped the state’s Republican governor, a Trump ally, by backing a measure to expand Medicaid coverage under former President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Democratic mayors of New York and Boston, both vocal Trump critics, also won re-election easily. And Virginia voters elected the state’s first openly-transgender state representative, among more than a dozen state legislative pickups for Democrats.

The resounding victories marked the GOP’s most significant day of defeat in the young Trump presidency and a rebuke to the president himself as his party eyes a suddenly more threatening midterm election season next year.”

“Ralph Northam’s election as Virginia governor amid reportedly high turnout on Tuesday is a stinging and welcome rebuke to President Trump and white nationalism.

Mr. Northam’s Republican rival, Ed Gillespie, an establishment operative, chose to dog-whistle himself breathless in pursuit of the state’s pro-Trump white voters, and the president attested to his make-America-great-again credentials. By late Tuesday, though, Mr. Trump was trying to sidle away from Mr. Gillespie, claiming that a candidate who sacrificed his own reputation to adopt the president’s style and positions in fact ‘did not embrace me or what I stand for.’ Mr. Gillespie did, and he lost.

Virginia and New Jersey, where Democrat Phil Murphy easily won the governor’s race, were the first statewide general elections since Donald Trump won the presidency a year ago, and Virginia, the only southern state Hillary Clinton won in 2016, was by far the more consequential of the two. Late Tuesday Democrats were also registering gains in the Virginia House of Delegates, suggesting strong disapproval of Mr. Trump at the grass roots.

Progressives generally fared well here in North Carolina as well as the state’s major cities elected progressive mayors. The bottom line: The resistance against Trumpism had its first real coming out party last night. Let’s hope elected officials in Washington and Raleigh are paying attention and recognize that plowing ahead with more hard right policies will only fan the flames of the resistance movement in 2018.