Higher Ed, News

Guskiewicz becomes new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor amid continued Silent Sam conflict

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously voted to appoint Kevin Guskiewicz chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Friday.

The Board of Governors, UNC-System Interim President and Guskiewicz himself declined to answer any questions on the settlement Friday.

Guskiewicz, who has been serving as interim-chancellor for the last ten months, enters the role under a cloud: the controversial legal settlement that gives the Silent Sam Confederate monument to the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — along with $2.5 million.

At an afternoon announcement and celebration of Guskiewicz’s appointment Friday, UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin confronted the issue directly, speaking to Guskiewicz from the stage she shared with him and other UNC leaders.

Her remarks:

The announcement that Silent Sam would be permanently moved to another location other than UNC brought with it mixed emotions from the student body. Many students were excited to hear the monument would no longer occupy a space on campus but disappointed to learn that UNC would be paying a Confederate group $2.5 million to effectively handle the statue and by extension this problem. As a student myself who has spoken with other students about their experiences and thoughts: This is not enough.

Silent Sam may be gone but the feelings and sentiments associated with it remain prevalent both on campus and in the minds of students everywhere. Chancellor Guskiewicz, you now  bear the responsibility of making sense of this new situation — and to lead us forward now that Silent Sam is gone.

In order to do this, we want you to confront UNC’s history and acknowledge the wrongs it has committed in the name of the Confederacy and furthering a racist agenda with the settlement. We want to see you take an active stance against the sentiments of racism, hate and suppression that have taken space up on our campus for far too long. But most importantly, want to see you publicly denounce hate and provide actionable solutions for the minority populations that have been harmed time and time again because of this statue. It will not be an easy feat, but I think it’s important you get a good idea what assuming this role will mean to the students who call UNC home. Chancellor Guskiewicz, there is a lot to do. And I hope to work directly with you as we push forward solutions that better the lives of minority students in the wake of recent events. I hope you will rely on the student voice when making decisions that ultimately impact students and stand for students always.”

UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin.

Guskiewicz has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement.

This week he made public a letter he sent to UNC System leadership in which he expressed concerns about how the $2.5 million might be used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans — and that the group’s values are inconsistent with the university’s.

Guskiewicz thanked Martin for her remarks, saying that he heard her voice and those of many across the campus.

“We do have work to do,” Guskiewicz said.

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U.S. House Judiciary Committee votes to impeach Trump

(L-R) House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and ranking member Doug Collins (R-GA) speak to each other during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker – Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump Friday morning along party lines, setting up a likely vote next week in the full House.

The Judiciary Committee voted 23-17 entirely along party lines to advance the two articles, which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in response to allegations that he improperly pressured Ukraine’s president to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and blocked lawmakers’ efforts to investigate the incident. 

No North Carolina lawmakers serve on the committee.

The roll call came after two days of heated sparring among members on the committee. Democrats declared that Trump gave them no choice but to move ahead on the impeachment articles. Republicans, meanwhile, remained steadfast in their defense of the president, arguing that Democrats had their sights set on impeachment since Trump’s inauguration.

The full House is expected to pass the articles on the House floor next week ahead of a congressional recess. That vote is also expected to be largely partisan, with the likely defection of some moderate Democrats.

If the articles pass the House, Trump will become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House, following Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. President Richard Nixon resigned after the Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against him, but before the full House held a vote.

The U.S. Senate is expected to hold an impeachment trial early next year. Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the GOP-led chamber, but the vote is likely to be a difficult one for some vulnerable Republican senators facing tough reelection fights in 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Fox News Thursday night that there’s “no chance the President is going to be removed from office.”

Ahead of Friday’s committee vote, Democrats called impeachment their solemn duty, arguing that Congress couldn’t let Trump’s behavior stand.

“The reason that we’re moving forward on articles of impeachment is that the president of the United States abused his power by soliciting foreign interference in his own reelection, thereby cheating American voters,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

“Look, if President Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not impeachable, nothing is,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). “The primary check on a president becoming a king is elections. This president abused his powers to undermine our elections.”

Republicans accused their colleagues in the majority of failing to provide convincing evidence against the president, and they introduced a series of amendments attacking the articles, all of which were voted down Thursday by the Democratic majority.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, called the panel a “rubber stamp” for Democrats’ agenda. He accused Democrats of defining the abuse of power as “anything they want it to mean.” Democrats “don’t care, facts be damned,” he said.

As the epic vote headed into its 12th hour on Thursday night, Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) lamented, “I have not heard a new point or an original thought from either side in the last three hours. The same talking points have been repeated over and over again, ad nauseum, by both sides.” He offered a suggestion: “If no one has anything new to add they resist the temptation to inflict what we’ve already heard over and over again.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) surprised the GOP by adjourning the vote late Thursday night, declaring that the vote would be held Friday morning. Republicans on the committee were furious, accusing Nadler of upending schedules and failing to consult them about their plans. Read more

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors dodge Silent Sam settlement questions, appoint new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor

Protesters gathered in the rain outside Friday’s UNC Board of Governors teleconference meeting.


The UNC Board of Governors and UNC System leaders avoided  questions about the controversial Silent Sam settlement at its teleconference meeting on Friday — even as some of its members called for more transparency on the $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

As expected, the board voted unanimously to make interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz the next permanent chancellor. But even as Guskiewicz and board members expressed concern over the details fo the Silent Sam deal, the board kept most of its discussion on that issue in closed session.

Board member Marty Kotis initiated the discussion during the open session, saying that while he didn’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” the settlement he shared Guskiewicz’s recently expressed concerns about how the Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to use the settlement money.

“I think the red flag for everyone has been this letter from the leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Kotis said.

In the letter, from SCV leader R. Kevin Stone to group members, Stone talks about using settlement funds to build the group a new HQ, among other uses.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis.

Kotis said it was his understanding the settlement funds, to be managed by a trust, would be restricted in ways that conflict with the SCV’s apparent plans. The UNC System has yet to release the trust agreement — or any other communications about the deal requested by Policy Watch and other media outlets.

The UNC System is working to fulfill those requests and make more documents publicly available, system spokesmen said Friday. They could not say when that might happen.

UNC General Counsel Tom Shanahan repeatedly suggested discussion of the settlement might be better conducted in closed session as it could contain legally privileged information. But as other board members pressed on with discussion, Shanahan said he did believe the funds would be restricted in ways not compatible with Stone’s letter.

The letter is also, in part, the basis for a legal intervention in the settlement announced this week by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Board member Jim Holmes, reportedly one of the architects of the settlement, said how the money may be used would be clear once more information about the settlement and trust agreement are publicly released.

“I want to be exceptionally clear,” Holmes said. “There is a document that — if it hasn’t been released, will be released — that outlines the terms of the trust handled by an independent trustee and the uses of the funds are specified.”

“We can’t control what other people say,” Holmes said in reference to Stone’s letter.

UNC Board of Governors member Jim Holmes.

In the absence of a publicly available trust agreement, law experts who have examined the settlement documents dispute that the uses of the $2.5 million are as narrowly specified as Holmes said.

In an interview with Policy Watch after the meeting, Kotis said he and other members of the board have themselves not seen the trust agreement, so they aren’t certain how the funds can be used.

I keep hearing that a lot of documents are going to be released,” Kotis said. “The board members haven’t had a chance to see them yet — I haven’t seen them.”

“I think what Jim Holmes and David Powers are saying is — they SCV say whatever they want, but they can’t use it for that,” Kotis said. “If that’s true, okay — I can live with that. But if they can use it for all the things this guy described, I think there are going to be a lot of concerned people including me. I have no reason to believe that yet besides this guy’s letter — one blustery letter to his group. But we’ll see what the documents say.”

Board member Thom Goolsby, who has called for the Silent Sam Confederate monument to be re-erected on campus at Chapel Hill, said he has also has strong concerns about the deal and the level of public transparency on it.

“I do hope the board of governors and its counsel will make itself available to answer all the questions that are being raised across the state on this issue,” Goolsby said. “It appears to not be dying down to be revving up.”

Indeed, nearly 100 students and community members protested outside the meeting. About 40 of them were let into the meeting during the open session. When the board went into closed session discussion they left the room chanting “No  payout, no BOG, no racist UNC!” The group was escorted back outside by UNC police. Several protesters said they were not allowed to return for the second half of the open session meeting. UNC spokesmen denied that, saying no protesters stayed the length of the closed session for the resumption of the open meeting.

Goolsby said it’s his understanding money has already been transferred — though he did not specify whether that money was from the UNC System to the trust or UNC-Chapel Hill’s endowment to the UNC System.

“It very much concerns me as to what’s been done here,” Goolsby said. “I look forward to all the truth coming out here and there being open discussion between the board, the press and the people of North Carolina as to how this happened and what’s actually going on.”

UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby.

Goolsby has not returned calls for comment from Policy Watch.

On Thursday afternoon, during a meeting of the board’s University Governance committee, board member Tom Fetzer asked that the minutes of the committee’s Nov. 27 meeting — at which the settlement was approved — reflect that he was not on the call during the vote, and therefore did not vote. Fetzer did not speak on the issue during Friday’s meeting and has not returned calls for comment.

The rest of the settlement discussion happened during a closed session of less than a half hour.

When the board came back into open session, it took a vote on Guskiewicz’s appointment as the next chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We’re going to do great things to move us forward,” Guskiewicz told the board via telephone. “I appreciate your confidence in me.”

Guskiewicz’s appointment is immediate at an annual salary of $620,000.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper, one of the few university leaders who attended Friday’s meeting live, declined to answer questions from reporters on the settlement, Guskiewicz or any other topic after the board adjourned.

Guskiewicz, who has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement, will appear at a media event today at 2 p.m. at the Current ArtSpace, 123 W. Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

The University said he will give remarks at the event, but specified that it is not a press conference. It is not yet clear whether he will take any questions.


Landmark prescription drug pricing bill clears U.S. House over GOP objections

Republican Congressman George Holding of North Carolina’s 2nd District opposed the reform legislation

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed a landmark health care measure Thursday that proponents say would dramatically reduce the rising cost of prescription drugs and significantly expand access to health care benefits and services.

The sweeping legislation passed largely along party lines, with 230 lawmakers voting for it and 192 against. Only two House Republicans voted for the bill — Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

“Today is a beacon of hope for so many families who have been burdened by the outrageous cost of prescription drugs in this country,” Rep. Haley Stevens, a freshman Democrat from Michigan, said on the House floor.

The cost of prescription drugs has soared in recent years, and Americans pay more for drugs than do residents of other wealthy countries.

In North Carolina, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment rose nearly 58 percent between 2012 and 2017, far more than the 11 percent increase in the average annual income of North Carolinians over the same time, according to an analysis by AARP. Nearly a third of residents stopped taking drugs as prescribed because they couldn’t afford them.

U.S. drug prices are especially high in large part because the federal government doesn’t negotiate lower prices with drug companies, experts say — but the bill passed Thursday would enable it to do so.

Under the bill, lower prices would be available to all consumers, not just beneficiaries of Medicare, the government insurance program serving Americans over age 65 and some younger adults with certain disabilities or who have kidney failure.

The bill would also bar drug companies from charging Americans significantly more than they charge consumers in other countries for the same drugs and from raising prices at rates higher than inflation. And it would cap out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs at $2,000 and expand Medicare coverage to include vision, hearing and dental benefits.

Savings from lower drug costs — which Democrats said would amount to $500 billion over 10 years — would also be invested in biomedical research, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, home visitation programs for women and children, and health centers targeting underserved people.

Republicans objected to the legislation, calling it — in the words of GOP Rep. George Holding of North Carolina — a “bad deal” for Americans.

He and other Republicans said regulating drug prices would suppress innovation in biomedical research and stall the development of life-saving drugs and treatments.

“It’s simply a chance we cannot afford to take,” said GOP Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia.

Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania rejected the argument, saying Wednesday that drug prices are going up not because of the cost of research and development, but because “drugmakers are jacking up prices wherever and whenever they can maximize their profits.”

Republicans also said the bill would reduce the number of drugs and treatments available on the U.S. market and force Americans to wait longer to access them.

As an alternative, they offered a smaller-scale proposal that would not “impose price controls” but would lower out-of-pocket spending and increase transparency while protecting access to new medicines and encouraging competition.

Most Americans think prescription drugs are too expensive, polls show, and one in four insured adults has difficulty paying for them. Majorities favor efforts to reduce their cost — including allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies.

The Democratic-led bill that passed the House Thursday is not expected to clear the GOP-controlled Senate, and President Donald Trump has threatened to veto it.

The White House said it would “likely undermine access to lifesaving drugs” and cited a report by the Council of Economic Advisers, an executive branch agency, that found that it could lead to the loss or significant delay in the development of as many as 100 new medicines.

But Democrats accused Trump — who pledged in 2016 to “negotiate like crazy” for lower drug prices — of backpedaling on his campaign promise. “Trump promised in 2016 he would work to lower drug prices,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the floor Thursday. “For that reason, he ought to support it.”

Allison Stevens is a reporter for the States Newsroom Network of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

Courts & the Law, News

Brennan Center releases guide, model legislation for redistricting commissions

The Brennan Center for Justice has published a guide and model legislative bill to help states design citizen-led redistricting commissions just ahead of the next round of map-drawing.

Four states already have independent commissions up and running.

“In 2021, all 50 states will redraw legislative and congressional maps for the next decade, making 2020 the last chance to put fair redistricting processes in place around the country before maps are redrawn,” states a blog post written by Yurij Rudensky and Annie Lo — the authors of the model language.

“The last round of redistricting saw unprecedented gerrymanders, often targeting communities of color. The good news is that Americans across the political spectrum support independent redistricting systems that promote equitable representation. A well-designed commission can do just that.”

A record number of states already have passed redistricting reform, including several that adopted recommendations from the Brennan Center guide.

In 2018, voters in Colorado and Michigan approved ballot proposals to create independent commissions — in each case with strong bipartisan support. And other states that opted for reform that didn’t include establishing fully independent commissions, such as clear map-drawing rules, public transparency provisions, or an alternative form of commission, nonetheless incorporated many components of best practices, according to the post.

“The year 2020 may prove to be the biggest one yet for fair maps,” it states. “Citizen advocates in Arkansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon have already started the ballot initiative process to set up independent redistricting commissions. And legislatures in states including Virginia, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania are expected to take up commission-based proposals as soon as January 2020.”

North Carolina is not one of those states. There were half a dozen redistricting reform bills filed in this year’s legislative session, but Republican lawmakers stalled hearings until the last minute and then didn’t advance any of the measures.

North Carolina lawmakers, though, were forced to draw a new state electoral map and chose to draw a new congressional map after a court took them to task for unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. Democrats and fair voting advocates have been calling for citizen-led redistricting commissions for years.

The Brennan Center’s annotated guide and model bill for designing independent commissions makes it easy for states to safeguard against abuse. They lay out the “nuts and bolts” of crafting strong protections against racial discrimination and partisan manipulation and provide sample language that can be adjusted to fit state-specific needs.

“The clock is ticking, but there’s still time to set up the next redistricting cycle to succeed, to make districts more responsive to the will of voters, and to safeguard against the abuses of the past,” the post states.

See the guidelines and model bill below.

2019 10 ModelBillGuideFINAL (Text)