Commentary

Stephen Colbert holds forth on 9th District fraud controversy

Last night’s monologue on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert featured Stephen’s unique assessment of the electoral fraud controversy in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. According to Colbert, the man at the center of the mess–Republican operative and one-time convicted felon McCrae Dowless–sounds like “a man like that should not be working for a congressional candidate — he should be a congressional candidate.” Here’s the video:

Commentary, News

Incoming U.S. House Majority Leader: Harris won’t be seated unless NC deals with fraud allegations

In case you missed it amidst all of the hubbub and controversy surrounding alleged fraud in Mark Harris’s “victory” in the 9th Congressional District last month, the final say about Harris becoming a member of Congress will actually reside in Washington. As The Hill reported yesterday, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has made it plain that Harris will not be seated if things are not fully investigated and resolved here. This is from “Hoyer: Dems won’t seat Harris until North Carolina fraud allegations are resolved”:

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday warned that Democrats will not seat a North Carolina Republican if allegations of election fraud carry over to next year, when Democrats take control of the lower chamber.

Hoyer, who will be majority leader in the next Congress, said he’s hopeful that North Carolina officials will settle the controversy surrounding Republican Mark Harris, who has a slim lead over Democrat Dan McCready in a contest dogged by allegations of election fraud.

But if the issue remains under a cloud of contention — or if local officials certify Harris in a way viewed as partisan — Democrats will investigate the matter themselves before seating Harris, Hoyer said.

“The allegation is of serious fraudulent activity on behalf of the Republican administrator — one or more — dealing with primarily absentee ballots. … So there’s a very substantial question,” Hoyer told reporters during a press briefing in the Capitol.

“The House … has the authority over the propriety of the election. This is a very substantial question [and] it ought to be resolved before we seat any member,” he said.

Harris, who defeated Rep. Robert Pittenger, a three-term Republican, in the GOP primary earlier in the year, leads McCready, the Democrat, by roughly 900 votes in North Carolina’s 9th District, a conservative stronghold that has not seated a Democrat since the 1960s.

But a number of voters have emerged since the midterms with claims that their absentee ballots were collected illegally. One woman has said she was paid by a GOP operative to do the collecting.

Amid the allegations, the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Friday declined to certify the results.

Hoyer said he intends to talk to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who will likely be chairwoman of the House Administration Committee next year, about how to approach the fraud allegations in the district, but he was clear that if the controversy persists into next year, Democrats will not seat Harris.

“If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris’s being seated until that is resolved,” he said.

In other words, it’s way too late for Republicans to continue to argue that the election is somehow settled. Now is the time for all parties to support a comprehensive investigation of what happened with mail-in absentee ballots in the 9th District and, if necessary, arrange for a new election.

Commentary

Editorial blasts UNC’s planned shrine for ‘Silent Sam’

This morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer gets it right in its assessment of the UNC Board of Trustees’ proposed fix for the ‘Silent Sam” dilemma. It urges the trustees to reconsider and fight for what’s right. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s hard to imagine a more expensive solution for what to do with Sam’s remains, or one that makes UNC look more out of touch. At the same time that Duke University is removing white supremacist Julian Carr’s name from a building, UNC Chapel Hill recommends spending millions for “the construction of a new free-standing, single-use building with appropriate buffers and state-of-the-art security measures” to house a relic that history shows was initially raised with racist motivations. It was Carr, in fact, who spoke at Silent Sam’s dedication in 1913 and bragged about severely whipping a “negro wench” for insulting a white woman.

The proposal has the feel of a university administration afraid to go to the mat for what is right and what it and its constituents believe, and seeking to mollify its conservative Board of Governors. It surely faced an unwinnable predicament.

But Silent Sam deserves no place of honor on UNC’s campus. Even without it, the university honors students who died in the Civil War in a couple of places on campus, including on marble tablets in Memorial Hall. If the statue is to exist at all, it should be in an off-campus history museum surrounded by full context. With its recommendation Monday, UNC Chapel Hill meekly said that while it thinks the statue belongs in the NC Museum of History in Raleigh, state law forbids that and so it instead suggests the new building.

While the university is probably reading state law correctly, it could and should have urged legislators to reconsider the law, or to at least make an exception in this unique case. Given that it will be late 2020 at best before all the necessary approvals for the Sam shrine are secured, it is optimistic but not out of the question to think that could still happen under the new General Assembly elected last month or even the one to be elected in November 2020.

In other words, UNC Chapel Hill leaders would be much better off fighting for what’s right than trying to compromise with what’s demonstrably wrong.

Commentary

Inequality costs average American $150,000 in net worth

Sam Pizzigatti of Inequality.org had a great recent column at otherwords.org about the steep price Americans pay for our trickledown, have-and-have-nots economy.

What Does Inequality Cost the Average American? About $150k
Americans pay a steep price for not spreading their wealth around as well as other developed countries.

Belgian waffles. Belgian beers. Americans love ’em.

But what Americans really need from Belgium has nothing to do with beer or breakfast treats. We need Belgium’s much more egalitarian distribution of wealth.

The English philosopher Francis Bacon once long ago compared wealth to manure. Both only do good, Bacon quipped, if you spread them around. Belgium is spreading about as well as any nation on Earth, according to the Swiss bank Credit Suisse’s latest annual global wealth report.

Why should Americans care about what’s happening in Belgium?

The new Credit Suisse report at first doesn’t make that clear. On average, the Credit Suisse numbers show, Belgian adults hold less wealth than Americans. Belgians average a bit over $313,000 in net worth. The average American holds nearly $404,000.

That $404,000 figure sound about right to you? Probably not. Most Americans hold personal fortunes nowhere near that level.

America’s average wealth per adult looks so good only because America’s rich are doing so fabulously well. The United States currently boasts some 1,144 individuals worth over $500 million in net worth. Their enormous fortunes are pumping up — and distorting — America’s adult wealth average.

How big a distortion? The new Credit Suisse report points us to the answer.

Credit Suisse researchers have computed, for each nation, how much wealth typical adults are holding. In the United States, the most typical — or median — American adult holds just $61,667 in wealth, far below the nation’s average wealth of $403,974.

In Belgium, a nation with only 16 adults worth over $500 million, the typical adult has a net worth of $163,429 — over $100,000 more than the typical American.

Credit Suisse puts America’s total wealth at $98.2 trillion. If we divvied up that wealth as equally as Belgium does, the typical American would have a net worth of $210,900 — more than triple the $61,667 the typical American actually has.

In other words, Americans are paying an inequality penalty of almost $150,000. Read more

Commentary

An unjust law the legislature should fix right away

In case you missed it recent days, be sure to check out a series of news reports on WRAL about a killing that occurred in Harnett County in 2013. The series, entitled “Presumption of Fear,” documents the untimely death of a young man named Christian Griggs and the fact that North Carolina law is badly flawed when it comes to allowing state investigations of county-level decisions on whether or not to prosecute in such matters. Former TV reporter Jon Camp explained the situation in the following op-ed that was featured by WRAL over the weekend:

Next week a trial will begin that reveals a deeply troubling loophole in North Carolina law.

After a capital crime the only two people who can request an independent state investigation are the sheriff and the district attorney. No one else – not a judge, not another district attorney, not a member of Congress, not the state attorney general – can involve the State Bureau of Investigations. It must be the sheriff and DA form the county where the crime took place.

Let that sink in.

If those two individuals want a case to go away — for any reason — they can shut it down. Not that this is happening but it can.

This loophole should concern all of us but it has made life absolutely hell for the Harnett County family highlighted in WRAL’s series Presumption of Fear.

I’m no longer in the news business but I spent 10 years as ABC11’s lead investigative reporter. I knew the story when it happened. I know it much better now. A few months ago Dolly and Tony Griggs hired me to help.  They asked if I would reach out to my old contacts to try to jumpstart a new investigation by the SBI.

I went to the courthouse in Lillington, got what records I could in the Griggs’ wrongful death civil lawsuit and researched the case. It just didn’t square. Critical questions weren’t asked or answered.

I showed the case to several lawyers, sat down with former contacts in the SBI, talked it over with other district attorneys, and met with both State Auditor Beth Wood and State Attorney General Josh Stein.

Each was sympathetic to the Griggs’ experience and agreed that there is a bigger problem here. But not one felt it was within their jurisdiction to help.

I spent every day of my 20-year reporting career seeking truth. Everything about this tells me we still don’t know what happened that October 2013 morning when Christian Griggs was killed. Even more clear is this: that won’t change unless the SBI gets involved. Read more