Commentary, Defending Democracy, Environment, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

 

1. Supreme Court blocks lower court’s order for NC to redraw partisan congressional maps

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted state lawmakers’ request to block a lower court’s order for them to redraw the 2016 congressional maps because of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

The order was released Thursday evening. It grants the stay pending the timely filing and disposition of an appeal.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the stay, according to the order.

The U.S. District Court ruled last week that state lawmakers intended to maximize partisan advantage when drawing the 2016 congressional map and thereby discriminated against non-Republican voters. A three-judge panel gave the legislature until 5 p.m. Jan. 24 to redraw the maps and said they would also hire a special master for time’s sake.

Lawmakers requested a stay from the panel — it was denied — and the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the League of Women Voters, a plaintiff in the one of the two partisan gerrymandering cases, urged the Supreme Court to move quickly through the appeals process. [Read more…]

2. GOP senator’s email promises “relief” to class size crisis in March

A fix for North Carolina’s class size crisis in March?

A GOP senator from Wake County tells his constituents that he believes state lawmakers will proffer “relief” when they return in March, according to an email obtained by Policy Watch.

“We are still trying to gather information from all 100 counties of the state, to ensure that any fix is amiable to all,” Sen. John Alexander wrote in an email last week.

Alexander—who co-chairs a key Senate budget committee—was responding to pleas for the state legislature to provide additional funds or flexibility to local school districts in advance of a pending mandate that they slash class sizes in grades K-3.

The Wake County senator wrote that the relief comes after “much discussion, research and hard work over the last several months,” although he offered no specifics on any plan. [Read more…]

3. Is Trump finally approaching his McCarthy moment?
Latest racist attacks on immigrants could be an important tipping point

As bleak as our national political landscape may seem right now, it’s worth remembering that it is far from the only time in American history in which a dangerous, dishonest and delusional con artist has held a position of great prominence. In the early 1950’s, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin rode his paranoid and dishonest witch hunt against supposed “communist subversion” to become one of the most famous and powerful men in the nation.

It seems hard to imagine now, but there was a time during which even President Dwight Eisenhower, the enormously popular and well-respected hero of World War II, lacked the political courage to take on McCarthy in public, even though he knew him to be a dishonest charlatan. [Read more…]

4. Historical Commission members to grapple with Confederate monuments issue next week

Back in September, the N.C. Historical Commission put off a decision on removing three Confederate monuments from the State Capitol grounds. Instead, the commission formed a task force to study the politically fraught issue, which the North Carolina General Assembly dropped into their laps with a 2015 law that makes it more difficult to remove such statues.

Next Monday at 3 p.m., that task force – the Confederate Monuments Study Committee – will have its first meeting via teleconference. The public can listen in via a livestream on the YouTube site of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

With the issue of Confederate monuments such as “Silent Sam” on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill still a controversial one, the group’s work could have wide-ranging implications.

David Ruffin, chairman of the Historical Commission, says that the issue is still a sensitive one and the group will have to reach some consensus. [Read more...]

5. Strange bedfellows? Polluters, environmental groups form new coalition to lobby state government

On a cozy autumn evening at the luxurious Umstead Hotel in Cary, a medley of corporate luminaries, state lawmakers and environmentalists made small talk and mingled over drinks. The occasion: the formation of a new “unconventional partnership” with a “bold mission.”

North Carolina Forever, said Kathy Higgins, vice president of corporate affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield, “will bring together diverse interests” to encourage  “reasonable and necessary investments” in land conservation and water protection.

Shared on Facebook, the 27-minute video features Higgins, who is also NC Forever’s board chairwoman, invoking Article 14, Section 5 of the state constitution. It reads, in part:

“It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry … to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water ….”

She concluded: “We’re grateful to Smithfield Foods,” which started a similar group, Virginiaforever, 10 years ago, “for bringing us this model.” [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: Digging out: Let’s keep the de-icer, road salt out of our water supply

Environment

Where climate change is wreaking havoc: the 10 hottest counties in North Carolina

This post has been corrected to read that Elias Carr was governor of North Carolina in 1895, not William Umstead, who was born that year.

Three degrees might not seem like much, but when the temperature departs that far from the yearly average, something is amiss. That something — climate change — contributed to dramatically warmer temperatures in eight North Carolina counties  last year, with averages  at least 3 degrees above than those recorded from 1901-2000.

The data comes from NOAA’s annual report, released this week.

Those extremes, plus the fact that temperatures in every county were above normal contributed to the hottest year recorded in North Carolina since the state started keeping records: 1895, when Elias Carr was governor of North Carolina and Grover Cleveland was in his second term as president.

The average temperature in North Carolina last year was 61.1 degrees, 2.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. The state tied its own record for warmth, last set in 1990.

10 hottest counties, 2017, and departures from 20th-century average,
in degrees Fahrenheit

1. Richmond (+3.44)
2. Scotland (+3.32)
3. Warren (+3.2)
4. Moore (+3.07)
5. Franklin (+3.06)
6. Hoke (+3.03)
7. Johnston (+3.01)
8. Anson (+3)
9. Carteret (+2.98)
10. Washington (+2.91)

Many of these same counties also experienced extremely dry weather.  Richmond County, for example, was down nearly 8 inches of rain for the year, and Moore reported a deficit of nearly 10 inches.

10 driest counties, 2017, and departures from 20th-century average, in inches

1. Lee (-12.68)
2. Moore (-9.92)
3. Chatham (-9.66)
4. Harnett (-8.9)
5. Cleveland (-8.35)
6. Alamance (-7.96)
7. Richmond (-7.94)
8. Montgomery (-7.68)
9. Stanley (-6.68)
10. Randolph (-6.14)
Scotland (-6.10)

Those dry conditions have spread across the state into 2018, according to the NC Drought Monitor. Eighty-five of 100 counties are considered abnormally dry or in a moderate drought.

Meanwhile, in 2017, some mountain counties recorded excessively wet conditions. Watauga County received 9.4 inches more precipitation than average. Ashe County reported 7 inches above normal.

The lower 48 states reported the third-warmest year on record, just behind 2012 and 2016. The five warmest years on record for the contiguous US have all occurred since 2006, NOAA said.

For data geeks, the NOAA report is full of interesting, if troubling tidbits: California had the most destructive wildfire season on record. Outside the Continental US, in Hawai’i, drought conditions covered 71 percent of the state by the end of summer — yes, in a state that’s surrounded by water. Alaska’s average temperature was nearly 3 1/2 degrees above average.

You can drill down into the NOAA website for state-by-state, month-by-month and global analysis and data.

News

North Carolinians seeking sanctuary highlight need for congressional action on immigration reform

North Carolina is one of the the U.S. states with the most people seeking sanctuary from deportation.

The latest is Greenboro’s Oscar Canales,  who is taking sanctuary at Greensboro’s Congregational United Church of Christ.

His story has inspired a movement to keep this North Carolina business owner with his family.

From Triad City Beat’s coverage:

Canales was born in 1983 to parents who were subsistence farmers in the state of La Unión in El Salvador, and joined his aunt in the capital city of San Salvador at the age of 15 to work with livestock. Tired of constantly struggling to get by, Canales and a friend hired a coyote who told them he could get them work permits in the United States in 2005. Canales said he and his friend crossed the Rio Grande during daylight and walked into the Border Patrol under the mistaken belief that they would be given work permits. They didn’t realize the documents they received were not work permits but instead orders to appear in immigration court.

Canales said only after landing a job as a dishwasher at K&W Cafeteria in Greensboro did he have a lawyer look at his documents and learn that he had an immigration hearing. He was convicted in absentia.

Canales continued to work at K&W, where he met his wife. They have two children together, Karen and George, and co-parent his wife’s 17-year-old daughter, Shirley.

Canales started his own company, Canales Roofing, in 2012. He said he has employed about five people, including US citizens, since 2013. He said he’s put roofs on single-family homes, schools and businesses while paying taxes on his earnings.

One day in April 2013, while approaching an intersection on Merritt Drive, Canales said he accidentally let his foot off the brake and rear-ended another driver. Although there were no injuries or visible damage to either of the vehicles, Canales waited with the other driver for the police. Canales said after the Greensboro police officer looked at his Salvadoran ID, he arrested him based on his name matching another person with a criminal record who had the same name. After his booking in the Guilford County Jail, Canales was held in ICE custody in Winston-Salem, York, SC and the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. Eventually, he obtained a stay of removal and was released.

At his annual check-in with ICE on Oct. 26, the authorities seized Canales’ passport and notified him that his deportation order was being reinstated. At a follow-up appointment on Dec. 19, Canales was ordered to leave by Jan. 18.

Canales, who went into sanctuary at Congregational United Church of Christ on Thursday, and his supporters contend that honoring his deportation order would tear apart his family and disrupt a business that provides employment to Guilford County residents.

“Following Jesus means welcoming all, especially those who are targeted and treated unjustly,” said the Rev. Julie Peeples, the senior pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ. “Keeping families together is our way of loving our neighbor and living our faith.”

The church previously provided sanctuary to Minerva Garcia. Another immigrant facing deportation, Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, is currently in sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, also in Greensboro.

A press conference will be held at 5 p.m. today at the New Garden Friends Meeting at 801 New Garden Road in Greensboro where Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, immigrant families, community organizations and supporters will share their stories and call for action from Congress to protect the estimated 3.6 million DREAMers in the country.

 

 

 

Courts & the Law, News

Report: Judicial redistricting picking up speed; deal could be reached next week

The Associated Press is reporting that a judicial redistricting deal could be reached by the end of next week.

House Speaker Tim Moore told colleagues to be prepared for full work sessions and votes starting Tuesday, according to the AP article.

The joint House and Senate Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting meets at 1 p.m. Monday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. It will be the committee’s second meeting.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) introduced House Bill 717, which redraws all judicial and prosecutorial districts, at the end of the last regular session.

He has since released a number of maps, none of which were drawn collaboratively through a committee process. The Senate also recently released its own set of maps, also drawn in private. It’s unknown which maps would be voted on next week.

The Senate has shown more preference for “merit” selection over judicial redistricting, but Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke), a co-chair of the joint committee, was quoted in the AP article saying the chambers could strike a deal by the end of next week.

“Merit” selection would require a constitutional amendment to be approved by North Carolina voters.

Moore, Burr and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger did not return an email from NC Policy Watch seeking comment about possible votes next week.

Courts & the Law, News

Supreme Court blocks lower court’s order for NC to redraw partisan congressional maps

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted state lawmakers’ request to block a lower court’s order for them to redraw the 2016 congressional maps because of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

The order was released Thursday evening. It grants the stay pending the timely filing and disposition of an appeal.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the stay, according to the order.

The U.S. District Court ruled last week that state lawmakers intended to maximize partisan advantage when drawing the 2016 congressional map and thereby discriminated against non-Republican voters. A three-judge panel gave the legislature until 5 p.m. Jan. 24 to redraw the maps and said they would also hire a special master for time’s sake.

Lawmakers requested a stay from the panel — it was denied — and the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the League of Women Voters, a plaintiff in the one of the two partisan gerrymandering cases, urged the Supreme Court to move quickly through the appeals process.

“North Carolina voters deserve to have a fair map before the 2018 election, or they risk a fourth consecutive election under an unconstitutional map that does not reflect their preferences,” said Ruth Greenwood, senior legal counsel for voting rights and redistricting at Campaign Legal Center. “A single election under an unconstitutional map is one too many; four are intolerable. For that reason, the Supreme Court must move quickly to hear this case this term.”

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, agreed and said they are optimistic justices will hear and decide the case before the end of the court’s term in June.

“Voters and even most elected officials agree that partisan gerrymandering is violating the constitutional rights of Americans all over the country,” she said. “While we are disappointed that the stay was granted, North Carolinians deserve to participate in fair elections in 2018.”

Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Tomas Lopez said they too were disappointed about the stay.

“As the lower court warned in its ruling, without new, constitutional maps, North Carolinians will cast votes in congressional elections conducted under unconstitutional maps in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 — virtually the entire decade,” he said. “However, we remain hopeful that the Court will ultimately strike down partisan gerrymanders in the cases currently before it, and set a national precedent that people, not parties, should pick their representatives.”

Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause NC, another plaintiff in the cases, said they are disappointed the stay was granted but that “this fight is far from over.”

“We will ask the Supreme Court to affirm the lower court ruling or hear this landmark case,” he said. “We are confident that the court will ultimately agree that the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymander violates the constitutional rights of North Carolina citizens.”

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), who helped draw the 2016 congressional map, tweeted almost immediately after the court’s order was released.

“SCOTUS reins in District Court Overeach and grants STAY. 2016 Congressional maps remain in place. #ncpol,” he wrote.

Similarly, the state GOP party released a statement applauding the Supreme Court for issuing the stay.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has halted the partisan political efforts of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, who tried to inject utter chaos in our elections just days before filing begins,” said Chairman Robin Hayes. “Today’s ruling allows our congressional elections to proceed under the fair and legal maps used in the 2016 elections. We hope the Supreme Court will soon review the Fourth Circuit’s similar unprecedented actions in the legislative redistricting case and offer similar relief.”

Hayes is referring to a racial gerrymandering case in which a three-judge panel has not yet ruled whether it will take lawmakers’ redraw of an unconstitutional map or a special master’s. That case is North Carolina v. Covington, and involves legislative districts, not congressional ones.

You can read the Supreme Court’s order granting the partisan gerrymandering stay below.

17A745 Rucho v. Common Cause Order by NC Policy Watch on Scribd