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The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. An infant‘s gravesite, environmental concerns could put proposed Caswell County mining operation on the rocks


In addition to historic cemeteries and archaeological resources, state is concerned about asbestos, drinking water pollution 

Rubbie Francis Wade entered this world in 1921. She left it eight months later, in the summer of 1922.

A descendant of the enslaved, Rubbie was not considered by whites important enough to document. Neither her birth nor her death were officially lodged with the Caswell County Register of Deeds. But we know from her delicately carved gravestone that she was the daughter of Robert and Norah Wade. [Read more…]

2. Critics vow to combat UNC’s “Silent Sam” deal with Confederate group

Students, faculty and legal experts are all questioning last week’s legal settlement in which the UNC System gave the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans – along with $2.5 million.

And some are vowing to fight it.

“We’re doing our best to figure out possibly what legal action we can take,” said Ashton Martin, undergraduate student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We definitely don’t see this as a satisfactory conclusion and we don’t want it to be the conclusion,” Martin said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this isn’t the final decision.” [Read more…]

3. State court cites time constraints in approving congressional maps that are “not perfect”

North Carolina Republicans officially ran out the clock – at least legally – when they enacted a new Congressional map just weeks before candidate filing.

A three-judge state Superior Court panel ruled unanimously Monday that the map can go forward, setting aside a prior injunction postponing congressional candidate filing.

“As a practical matter, in the court’s view, there is simply not sufficient time to fully evaluate the factual record necessary to decide the constitutional challenges of the congressional districts without significantly delaying the primary elections,” said Judge Paul Ridgeway, who read the panel’s decision. “It is time for the citizens to vote.”

The court declined to take up constitutional issues raised about the new map, and it did not rule on the constitutionality of the 2016 congressional map, which was challenged in the partisan gerrymandering case Harper v. Lewis. [Read more…]

4. After Republicans’ latest gerrymandering low, now is the time for your outrage

It may be difficult to say how you are feeling this morning, two mornings after a Superior Court panel — facing the impending launch of the 2020 election cycle — choked down another GOP-manipulated map for North Carolina congressional districts.

But because there are not, in this moment, 10,000 people on the steps of the Legislative Building frothing over the latest malpractice in Raleigh, it is safe to assume there are many in this state who are not simply angry enough.

Perhaps this reflects that roughly half of North Carolina is willing to acquiesce to gerrymandering as a necessary evil because, in this instance, it favors the candidate or the political party of their choosing. [Read more…]

5. Eight errors and omissions of the 2019 legislative session


Well, that appears to be a wrap.

The 2019 legislative session that commenced way back in January and dragged on in desultory fashion for months past its usual adjournment date finally petered out a couple of weeks back. Now, barring some new and unforeseen holiday season power grab – something that’s always a possibility for legislative leaders who maintain only a passing interest in quaint concepts like notice, public input and process – the honorables have absented themselves from the state capital until mid-January. [Read more…]

6. State Board of Ed examines decline in teacher licensure exam pass rates

The percentage of teachers passing state licensure exams has fallen to 80 percent, leaving some members of the State Board of Education (SBE) to wonder if students are being shortchanged by ill-prepared teachers.

A report shared with SBE members this week showed the passing rate on state teacher exams falling from 96% percent in 2014 to 80.2% in 2018.

“I know there are other pathways to teaching, but if you spent four years at a university in an EPP [Education Preparation Program] and can’t pass the content test and the pedagogy test, then we have a problem and it’s showing up in our test scores, SBE member Amy White said during the board’s monthly meeting this week. [Read more…]

7. Sen. Phil Berger sidesteps an inconvenient truth about NC teacher pay

 

Despite having voted to expand the economics and personal finance curriculum in the state’s high schools, North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger fails to apply basic principles of these subjects when touting supposed accomplishments in teacher pay in his Nov. 25 op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer, “Yes, Republican tax policies are working in North Carolina.”

Perhaps most notably, he conveniently forgets to apply a rather basic concept called “inflation.” Ignoring inflation in GOP efforts to convince North Carolinians that teachers have experienced windfalls under their tenure is an irresponsible representation of the reality of teacher wage growth, or lack thereof. While corporate income taxes have been cut by more than 50%, many teachers are, when one adjusts for inflation, out tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages.

Instead of touting “average” teacher pay (in the op-ed, Berger brags that “Since 2014, average teacher pay shot up by more than $9,000”) let’s look at actual teachers’ pay across the salary schedule. Consider the following real-world examples:[Read more…]

8. Weekly micro-podcasts and newsmaker interviews:

Click here to listen to Rob Schofield’s latest commentaries and podcast interviews.

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

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Winston-Salem Journal: Berger’s unethical mortgage deal

Last week, veteran political watchdog Bob Hall filed a formal complaint with the State Board of Elections questioning Senate President Phil Berger’s practice of paying himself “rent” from his campaign funds that he is then using to purchase real property.

While Berger has said this is not improper, Hall maintains the Senate leader should stop profiting personally from campaign contributions.

Today the editorial board of the Winston-Salem Journal comes down on the side of the Hall and good government. Here’s more from Friday’s editorial:

Talk about playing with house money …

Whether it is legal or not, it is wrong for the most powerful politician in the state to use campaign funds to buy a house. It’s a misuse that should concern taxpayers — especially those who contribute to the campaign.

Instead, staffers for Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden who is the president pro tem of the N.C. Senate, say no laws were broken, so what’s the big deal?

Simply put, Berger’s campaign allegedly is paying a company owned by Berger to rent the town house owned by Berger and his wife — enough to cover the monthly mortgage payments. And that is illegal, contends Bob Hall, the retired executive director of Democracy NC, who filed a complaint last week with the State Board of Elections. “Unless the State Board of Elections takes action, politicians will continue to profit handsomely by funneling campaign contributions to themselves, directly or indirectly, to pay for inflated expenses and subsidized assets,” Hall argues in his complaint.

Hall said at a news conference that the senator is using his campaign fund as “a piggy bank.” Hall’s complaint further alleged that Berger, through a second company he owns, is using campaign money to pay the rent and other expenses for his law firm in Eden. This means, according to campaign finance records, that Berger uses campaign money to pay himself a total of $3,000 a month for the Raleigh town house and his Eden law office.

As proof that he hasn’t broken any laws, a Berger representative counters that state elections officials have said he is not violating any campaign regulations by funneling money from his campaign to make payments on the $250,000, 1,400-square-foot town house.

Berger’s campaign staff says the senator first cleared the arrangement in 2016 with the state elections director at the time, Kim Strach, who served when Republican Pat McCrory was governor — and a second time with Karen Brinson Bell, who was appointed elections director by current Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

Further, it is neither uncommon nor unreasonable for legislators to use some campaign money to supplement a modest stipend ($104 a day for meals and housing while the General Assembly is in session) to pay for rental housing in Raleigh. The law requires them to maintain their homes in their districts and some may live too far from Raleigh to commute on a daily basis.

Even so, Hall maintains that Berger is breaking the law. While it is OK to pay rent with campaign money, Hall contends, not so with a mortgage. Funneling the money to cover mortgage payments is entirely different, Hall said, because the money is being used to buy an asset that likely will increase in value.

Meanwhile, a Republican campaign official characterizes Hall’s complaint as nothing more than a partisan attack. “This is just another example of Bob Hall being a bottom-feeder and a scumbag,” Dylan Watts, the Senate Republicans’ political director, chirped classlessly to The News & Observer of Raleigh. That’s quite a disproportionate response to a legitimate concern.

If the law doesn’t make situations like this crystal clear, it needs to. Legislators should scrub it free of any ambiguity.

What Berger is doing is not ethical. And if any other lawmaker did it — Republican, Democrat, whoever — it would be just as wrong.

Read more in the Winston-Salem Journal.

Click here to read Hall’s complaint filed on November 6th with the State Board of Elections.

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Going, going, gone. No tickets left for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ appearance at ‘Color of Education 2019’

Ta-Nehisi Coates (Photo: Getty Images/Tasos Katopodis)

This post has been updated to reflect a change in the “Color of Education 2019” program. Adriane Lentz-Smith, an associate professor of history at Duke University, will join Ta-Nehisi Coates on stage for a conversation about race in America.

Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates is expected to draw a big crowd Saturday when he headlines a one-day conference in Raleigh titled the “Color of Education 2019,” an event that will focus on race, equity and education in North Carolina.

But, if you haven’t already gotten a ticket, it’s too late.

Event organizers told Policy Watch the last ticket for the session with Coates was sold Tuesday morning. Tickets for plenary sessions have been sold out for weeks.

“Color of Education 2019” will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center from 8 am to 4:30 p.m. Coates’ keynote address is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.

The event is a collaboration among the Public School Forum of North Carolina, The Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity and Policy Bridge at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
Coates will read from his new book and first novel, “The Water Dancer,” which was released in September.

The novel was quickly selected by Oprah Winfrey as the media mogul’s new book club selection. Winfrey said the book is in the Top 5 of the best she’s ever read.

After reading from his novel and answering questions, Coates will be joined on stage by Adriane Lentz-Smith, an associate professor of history at Duke University, for a conversation about race in America.

Before Coates’ presentation, a full day of workshops and panel discussions will be offered. The workshops will focus on strategies to address persistent racial inequities in the state’s educational system.

Coates is a distinguished writer in residence at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. He is the author of the bestselling books, “The Beautiful Struggle,” “We Were Eight Years in Power” and “Between The World And Me,” which won the National Book Award in 2015.

Coates is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. And he is current author of the Marvel comics, “The Black Panther” and “Captain America.”

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The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. History made: Cooper appoints NC’s first Black woman as Chief Justice

Cheri Beasley made history this week when Gov. Roy Cooper announced that she would become the state’s first Black woman to be chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Beasley stood between the Governor and her husband, Curtis, as she spoke about the significance of her appointment, particularly during Black History Month.

“This court this year is coming right at 200 years, and this is certainly not the North Carolina of 200 years ago,” she said. “And so I’m excited about the fact that North Carolina has moved forward, that we do have a diverse court, and it’s so important that people feel good and have a confidence in the work that we do, and so I’m excited about continuing to do that work.”

The other thing that comes to mind when thinking about her leadership as a Black woman is “the little girls along the way who ought to have a sense of promise and hope for their futures,” Beasley said. [Read more…]

Bonus read: One-on-one: Future Chief Justice Beasley talks about ‘a life full of highlights’

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2. Bipartisan lawmakers: The time for redistricting reform is now

Litigation and uncertainty about which political party will have the most power in the future may finally propel North Carolina lawmakers to pass redistricting reform.

A bipartisan group of legislators gathered Wednesday morning to announce House Bill 69, which would create an independent redistricting commission to draw election maps with transparency and public input. It would bring an end to partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.

“At this point in time, you have neighborhoods being separated, homeowner’s associations being separated, students at the same university voting in separate districts – that can’t happen,” said Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Chatham, Durham). “That’s the type of thing that makes people feel government’s broken. We’ve got a chance with this step, with this bill, to move that narrative forward, to change people’s opinions.” [Read more…]

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3. Public schools supporters feel snubbed by Superintendent Mark Johnson’s invitation only event

Suzanne Miller has a general admission ticket to State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s big dinner event on Feb. 19, but she still can’t go.
Miller, an organizer for N.C. Families for Testing Reform, received an email Wednesday explaining that attendance is by invitation only.
So, the ticket Miller scored last month on eventbrite.com won’t get her through the doors of the Raleigh Convention Center where Johnson promises to make a “major announcement” about the state’s education system.
“If it’s a public announcement about public education, why is it being made behind closed doors?” Miller asked.

Miller said the eventbrite.com page didn’t mention that an invitation would be needed when she signed up to attend the event.[Read more…]

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4. Senator Phil Berger is just plain wrong

There’s an old maxim in American politics, usually attributed to former U.S. Senator and Nixon administration cabinet secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” Would that Moynihan were still alive today so that he could direct a reminder of this simple truth toward North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Berger, as you are no doubt aware, has embraced the role of a kind of 21st Century “Senator ‘No'” who tries to place himself squarely in the way of societal progress on issue after issue. Recently, in an apparent effort to further cement this moniker, Berger (or, presumably, his staff – and maybe even a junior intern judging by the quality of the claims) took to Twitter to rehash several tired and long discredited claims about the increasingly popular and bipartisan idea of expanding Medicaid in North Carolina.

According to Senator Berger, “Obamacare Medicaid expansion” is “wrong for North Carolina” for six reasons: [Read more…]

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Defending Democracy, News, Uncategorized, Voting

NC NAACP to Gov. Cooper: Veto Voter ID implementation bill

The North Carolina NAACP is urging Governor Roy Cooper to veto Senate Bill 824: “Implementation of Voter ID Constitutional Amendment.”

Members of the civil rights group call the bill the product of “a rushed process by a lame-duck General Assembly that both has been found to be unconstitutionally-constituted by the federal courts and has been voted out of office by the people of North Carolina.”

In a letter sent to the Gov. Cooper Wednesday, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman writes:

The rushed and unusual process through which this General Assembly passed SB 824 further demonstrates how little respect the General Assembly has for voters of color. In the two short weeks immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday, this lame-duck General Assembly shepherded a complex bill with the most serious ramifications through a cursory process with few opportunities for public comment and no public examination of the bill’s impact on voters of color and other vulnerable groups. The public was given little to no notice of changes in committee meeting times, and no notice of whether and when there would be opportunities to speak. This mimics the expedited process deployed to enact the ultimately invalidated HB 589 in 2013.

The leadership of the General Assembly contends it was forced to act quickly to pass photo voter ID legislation because of the voter ID constitutional amendment that was passed this past November. But the constitutionality of that amendment itself is an open question that remains pending before the North Carolina courts. Even if implementing legislation were required, a duly-elected General Assembly – one not elected under the cloud of unconstitutionally racially – gerrymandered maps and not sitting in a lame-duck session –will be seated in just a few weeks. And there is no timeline in the text of the Constitutional Amendment that required the hurried actions taken by this legislature resulting in this suspect bill.

Finally, no new justifications have been provided by this General Assembly to rationalize the imposition of the law’s infringement upon the right to vote. A photo ID requirement does nothing to address the state’s most pressing security issues.  It has nothing to do with improving the reliability of voting equipment, safeguards for voter data, protections against foreign interference, or safeguards against the types of irregularities currently under investigation in Bladen and Robeson County. Research consistently shows that fraudulent irregularities in voting are rare, and the types of irregularities that this photo identification could aid in preventing are even rarer—in this state and nationwide.  There is simply no reason, other than the General Assembly leadership’s own improper motivations, that this hastily-ratified bill should go any farther than it already has.

Read the NC NAACP’s full letter here.