News

“God is a racist” candidate got more than 8,500 votes

You may remember Russell Walker, the Republican candidate for the N.C. House in District 48 (which includes Scotland and Hoke counties).

He became a bit infamous in the run-up to last week’s election when it emerged he had written that “God is a racist and a white supremacist,” that “someone or group has to be supreme and that group is the whites of the world” and that Jews are descended from Satan.

His rhetoric was so hateful that he state Republican party disowned him. The party said he may have won with 65 percent in a low-turnout GOP primary but didn’t represent the party’s values.

In an irony that had to be particularly stinging for Walker, he lost last week to Garland Pierce – a Black minister. The result didn’t surprise many people – but the numbers Walker put up may.

Despite viral Internet infamy, cringing coverage of the race in the media and a condemnation from both the Southern Poverty Law Center and his own party, Walker got 8,586 votes according complete but unofficial results.

That should be shocking. Unfortunately, Walker is just one of a staggering number of white supremacists who decided this year was ripe for them to get into politics.

Courts & the Law, News

Column: Following new lawsuit, it’s time for NC redistricting reform

Thomas Mills, a longtime political consultant and founder over at Politics NC, says he has a suggestion for North Carolina leaders, after government reform advocates and Democrats filed a new lawsuit that takes aim at the state’s gerrymandered legislative districts.

According to Mills, lawmakers should call for a constitutional amendment that would create a bipartisan redistricting commission.

From Politics NC:

North Carolina legislative districts are headed back to court. There are so many lawsuits about redistricting and gerrymandering that it’s hard to keep track. This one will go to state courts where Democrats just won a solid majority on the Supreme Court.

To recap a little bit, and this is just from memory, the Congressional districts need to be redrawn before the 2020 election because a three-judge federal panel found them to be unconstitutional. Legislative districts in Wake County are already supposed to be redrawn because the legislature tried to make them more Republican after ordered to redraw other districts. Apparently, the legislature took it upon themselves to redraw any districts they thought needed more protecting, whether they were found unconstitutional or not. In doing so, they violated a constitutional provision that does not allow redrawing districts between Censuses.

This is the third decade in a row that North Carolina has undergone redistricting chaos. For all their squealing, Republicans sued as often as Democrats and Democrats’ maps weren’t nearly as biased as those drawn by Republicans. Polls show North Carolinians know more about redistricting than people in other states. It’s time to stop.

So here’s a suggestion: Republicans in the legislature agree to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2020 that will put in place a redistricting commission appointed by both Democrats and Republicans. They should set strict rules for redistricting that allow for little political jockeying. In exchange, Common Cause and its allies will drop ALL redistricting lawsuits leading up to the 2020 election. We can get through the next two years without worrying about drawing new district lines and look forward to a decade free of court cases about gerrymandering.

It’s time legislators put the people of North Carolina ahead of their political ambitions. We’ve had enough of extremist ideas and legislation that embarrasses our state. We need to return to our reputation of moderation and common sense. A bipartisan agreement to end gerrymandering would be a great place to start.

To this point, top lawmakers like Rep. David Lewis, the Harnett County Republican who’s spearheaded the GOP’s much assailed redistricting, have rebuffed calls for an independent redistricting process.

Yet, as the new suit’s litigants point out, Democratic General Assembly candidates in North Carolina took about 51 percent of the vote in this year’s elections, but were slated to win only about 44 percent of the seats.

Democrats broke the Republican veto-proof majority in the state House and Senate, but Republicans retained control in both chambers.

Federal judges have already ruled against state lawmakers in a similar lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional districts, and North Carolina awaits word on whether legislators’ appeal will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the new suit would challenge state legislative districts in state courts, a challenge that may ultimately be heard by the state Supreme Court. With this year’s election of civil rights attorney Anita Earls, Democrats hold a strong majority on that court.

Policy Watch’s Melissa Boughton has been dutifully keeping track of the winding lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s tortured maps. Be sure to follow her work.

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Report: GOP war on immigrants doing the intended damage

Reporter H. Claire Brown at the New Food Economy has a troubling, but unsurprising story about the damage that the combination of Trump rhetoric and threats of new restrictive new Republican policies on immigration and assistance to people in need are wreaking with low-income immigrant families.

This is from “Immigrant food stamp use plummeted after Trump took office, new research shows”:

Preliminary data from a survey of more than 35,000 mothers of young children indicate a nearly 10 percent drop in SNAP enrollment among immigrant families who are eligible.

The findings, presented Monday at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting, found that immigrant mothers’ participation in SNAP steadily increased from 2007 to 2017. Then, in the first half of 2018, the numbers suddenly dropped—by a lot. In 2017, 43 percent of eligible families who had been in the country for less than five years were participating in the program. By mid-2018, that figure had plummeted to 34.8 percent.

Allison Bovell-Ammon, lead researcher for the study and deputy director of policy strategy at Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch, emphasized that SNAP eligibility rules didn’t change between 2017 and 2018, so the drop is likely due to families’ fear of potential repercussions for receiving food aid. “These findings demonstrate that rhetoric and the threat of policy changes, even before changes are enacted, may be causing families to forego nutrition assistance,” she said in a press release.

In April, Harvest Public Media reported that anti-hunger advocates had begun sharing anecdotal evidence that immigrants were dropping out of SNAP over fear of deportation. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for the program, but if they have dependents who were born in the U.S., their children can receive food stamps. Though an early leaked version of the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule hinted that dependents’ SNAP use would be considered in determining a family’s immigration status, the final published rule indicated that only adults’ SNAP participation would be factored in.

As the year wore on, further indications that the current political climate might be affecting immigrant use of food benefits began to trickle in. Politico reported in September that agencies in 18 states have seen as much as a 20 percent drop in enrollment for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides food assistance to new mothers. Food banks also reported their clients’ confusion and concern about registering for SNAP use….

On Monday, conservative news outlet Breitbart reported what it surely considered to be Trump-related good news—not related, certainly, to the recent spate of work requirements: Nationwide SNAP enrollment is at its lowest in nearly a decade. More than 3 million people have left the program since the president’s first full month in office. Meanwhile, according to the Boston Medical Center research, food insecurity among immigrant families who have been in the country for less than five years has risen from 9.9 percent in 2007 to 17.8 percent today.

Click here to read the entire story.

Environment, Trump Administration

North Carolina’s environmental boss, EPA Region 4 administrator Trey Glenn indicted in Alabama

EPA Region 4 Administrator Trey Glenn, center, at an information and listening session about emerging compounds like GenX, held in Fayetteville earlier this year. Left is DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and right is Peter Grevatt of the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

This past summer, Trey Glenn, the EPA administrator over Region 4, which includes North Carolina, visited Fayetteville for a listening session on GenX and other emerging contaminants. “It’s a great time to be an American. It’s a great time to work at the EPA,” Glenn said in his tone-deaf opening remarks.

It’s uncertain how long Glenn’s great time at the agency will last. This week an Alabama grand jury indicted Glenn — a Trump administration appointee — on state ethics charges. The allegations stem from his previous work with a law firm that helped a coal company block an EPA cleanup of contamination in a low-income Black neighborhood in north Birmingham. The company, Drummond, was among the parties responsible for the pollution.

Al.com, a paper of record in Alabama, has an excellent story with extensive background on Glenn’s misdeeds. A Mother Jones piece also contains juicy details.

Al.com reported that Glenn and former Alabama Environmental Commissioner Scott Phillips worked in tandem to derail the polluted communities’ efforts to compel the coal company to clean up the contramination.

From Al.com:

From 2014 through 2017, Glenn and Phillips worked with those defendants [the coal company] to oppose the EPA efforts, court exhibits and trial testimony showed. One exhibit in that trial showed that Phillips proposed to “hijack” a north Birmingham community organization that had been working with the EPA to clean up neighborhoods there. During his testimony, Phillips said that by “hijack” he meant “work with.”

Among Glenn’s previous scandals: his financial involvement with Big Sky Environmental, responsible for the so-called “poop train.”

Again from Al.com:

Big Sky Environmental made headlines this year after it accepted human feces from New York for disposal at its Adamsville landfill. A train that delivered that refuse stunk up the surrounding community and after national news coverage became known as the “poop train.”

Mother Jones reported that the EPA didn’t respond to requests for comment about Glenn’s future at the agency. The great times, though, could soon be over.

Environment

After Hurricane Florence, derelict boat-owners left their mess for taxpayers to clean up

The US Coast Guard has identified 383 abandoned boats that contain hazardous materials requiring removal. But without specific funding to salvage them, the boats are allowed to sink after the hazardous waste is removed. (Photo: NC General Assembly presentation)

Nautical scofflaws who abandoned their boats before Hurricane Florence might have committed the perfect crime.

Lawmakers on the Joint Oversight Committee on Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources today were bewildered not only by the audacity of the derelict boat-owners, but also by the absurdity of the process: Once the boats are raised and their hazardous material removed, they are allowed to sink again. And the owners disappear without consequences.

Under the federal government’s Emergency Support Function 10, states receive disaster funding to help them control and remove actual or potential releases of oil and hazardous materials from abandoned watercraft. But EFS 10, as it’s known for short, contains no money to remove the vessels. So contractors lift the boats, remove the toxic material, and then let them sink again.

Only under Emergency Support Function 3 can the boats be hauled away for disposal. And for reasons unknown, North Carolina doesn’t participate in the ESF 3, said Capt. Christian Gillikin of the Atlantic Coast Marine Group, a private company that provides towing and salvage assistance.

“We should ask for EFS 3,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican. “To leave vessels in water is crazy. We have enough pollution in the water to begin with.”

If the state did enroll in EFS 3, then federal funding could help pay salvage companies to dispose of the boats without re-submerging them.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence escorted this abandoned boat to a stranger’s garage.

The expense to raise a boat, remove its hazardous materials, allow it to sink, then return later to remove it, is roughly $395 per foot. For a 32-foot boat, the entire process would cost $12,640. But if the boat could be disposed of immediately after the hazards were removed, it would cost about half that amount, Gillikin said.

In a state-wide survey, the US Coast Guard identified 383 derelict vessels containing potentially hazardous materials, such as fuel, oil, LP gas, solvents, acid and lead batteries and flammable signaling flares. Of those, 265 were located after Hurricane Florence.

The long-term environmental damage of these abandoned vessels can be significant. Routine garbage — beer cans, potato chip bags, plastic silverware – is not removed because it’s not deemed hazardous. So that detritus enters the water, breaks down into microscopic pieces, which aquatic life can ingest. Or in the case of plastic bags, turtles and marine mammals can become entangled in them and suffocate.

Fiberglass sailboats “delaminate,” shedding their skin and polluting the water in the process.

“The trash breaks up into little pieces,” Gillikin said. “It’s harder to deal with and costs more money to salvage.”

Abandoned watercraft lurking just under the surface also present hazards to boats — whose owners care about them – as they navigate through sounds and channels.

“Is there a way to identify the boat owners?” McElraft said.

An ID number, similar to those found on vehicles, can trace a boat to its ne’er-do-well owner. But motivated derelict boat owners often post bogus registration numbers, Gillikin said.

Absent state and federal regulations, local jurisdictions would have to pass ordinances to penalize the owners. Town of Beaufort has an ordinance requiring boat owners to remove their vessels and buoys from Taylor Creek. However some of those owners merely relocate their boats to other waterways within Carteret County. “It then becomes a problem for the county,” Gillikin said.

And even if the owners are found, local law enforcement would have to go through the court system to recoup the fees.

The purpose of the oversight committee meeting was to listen to presentations, not to vote. However, it could appropriate up to $50,000 to assess and develop a scope of work for removal and disposal of the boats. To actually remove and haul all 383 identified boats to salvage would cost roughly $4 million.

Lawmakers will likely introduce legislation to require all state-registered vessels to carry minimum liability insurance to cover salvage and recovery costs.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, said, “We need to put the responsibility on the owner of the boat.”