Analysis: Youth voter registration up since Parkland school shooting

Youth voter registration has surged since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, according to a new analysis by data firm TargetSmart – including a 5.5 percent bump in North Carolina.

The company’s analysis of 39 states found the share of youth registrations in the N.C. increased from 38.7 to 44.2 percent since the February shooting.

In a release promoting the analysis, TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier attributed the increase to the well publicized movement to organize youth for the November election.

“A new generation of political leaders emerged in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy,” Bonier said in the release Thursday. “We witnessed their ability to organize in North Carolina and across the country as massive crowds took to the streets for the March for Our Lives, and now we’re seeing a quantifiable impact from that organizing. It remains to be seen how many of these younger registrants will cast a ballot in November, but they are poised to have a louder voice than ever in these critical midterm elections.”

The release also highlighted the findings of a poll from the Harvard University Institute of Politics, conducted after the Parkland shooting. It found  64 percent of 18-29 year-olds favor stricter gun control laws whether or not they plan to vote in November. Nearly two-thirds of those under 30 who say they plan to vote said they support stricter laws.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Big crowd expected for Raleigh “democracy reform” townhall tonight

Organizers expect a big crowd tonight for a “democracy reform” townhall meeting featuring Congressman David Price that will take place at Broughton High School in Raleigh.

The event, which features the moniker “A Better Deal for Our Democracy,” will take place from 6:30 – 8:30.

The event website says that those in attendance will receive a congressional update from Price on issues like “extreme partisan gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights to foreign interference in our elections and rampant corruption in Washington,” hear from local advocates about the democracy reform agenda in North Carolina, and get a chance to offer their own thoughts and ideas for solutions to the challenges facing our nation.

Attendees will also discuss the road ahead in light of recent developments such as the Supreme Court’s redistricting rulings and the General Assembly’s proposed constitutional amendments. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Education, News

Exploring “education deserts” — How proximity to universities impacts Americans

If you have the time, check out an absolutely fascinating, interactive report on “education deserts” this week from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The report delves into areas of the country where potential students find themselves at least an hour’s drive from the nearest institution of higher education, drawing connections to poverty and inequality.

The analysis found that more than 11.2 million Americans, or about 3.5 percent of the adult population, live at least an hour’s drive away from a public university. Their maps highlight portions of eastern and western North Carolina for their gaps too.

While such studies are relatively new, they may highlight some of the persistent obstacles to economic advancement in poorer parts of the country.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

For most college students, place matters. And closer is often better. In 2016, almost 40 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen reported that their colleges were less than 50 miles from their homes, a proportion that has held since the 1980s. Studying close to home, family, and community can be even more vital for the roughly one in four undergraduate students who are considered nontraditional — those who are older, have child-care duties, work full time, or attend college part time.

But what happens when there’s no college nearby? That’s still the case in substantial pockets of the country. Areas where it’s difficult for placebound students to get to a college — commonly known as education deserts — have drawn more attention in recent years, but there’s still much to be learned about their breadth and their impact.

We wanted to learn more. If colleges and policy makers fail to consider the impact of education deserts, they will fail to engage a large pool of potential students. That may reinforce the inequality that higher education hopes to solve.

The first step in eliminating education deserts is finding them. Existing research into education deserts is so limited that there isn’t a broadly accepted definition of what constitutes one. So The Chronicle ran its own analysis. We started by identifying almost 1,500 two- and four-year public colleges. (For our analysis, we excluded institutions with an acceptance rate lower than 30 percent: These colleges wouldn’t be considered viable options by many local students.)

Like the authors of several recent studies, we then defined the areas each college serves. To do so, we calculated driving distance: If students who live or work off campus could drive to it within 60 minutes, we considered them in range.

We then looked to census block groups, geographical units for which the U.S. Census publishes useful demographic data. Block groups beyond any college’s driving radius were considered education deserts.

So how many adult Americans live in education deserts? The Chronicle’s analysis found that 11.2-million adults, or 3.5 percent of the adult population, live more than a 60-minute drive from a public college.

Areas of the country that qualify as education deserts under our definition are largely rural and predominantly in the West. Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana, in that order, have the greatest percentage of adults living more than 60 minutes from a college.


Prof. Gene Nichol provides a useful lesson in constitutional history

In case you missed it this morning, be sure to check out Prof. Gene Nichol’s fine essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer  celebrating and explaining the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it arrives at its 15oth anniversary.

Here are some on-the money excerpts:

“This month marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the most consequential provision of the U.S. Constitution, the 14th Amendment. It grants citizenship to anyone born in America and assures that state governments afford due process and equal protection of the laws.

Rep. John Bingham, the enactment’s principal author, explained he sought ‘a simple, strong, plain declaration that equal laws and exact justice shall be secured within every state for any person, no matter whence he comes, or how poor, how weak, how simple, how friendless.’ The 14th Amendment, along with its civil war counterparts, sought to remedy the tragic defects of 1789 and bring egalitarian democracy to the United States.

Of course Bingham’s words have been much-ignored in our constitutional history. The 14th Amendment was largely gutted in its first 50 years – except as a tool for corporate interests. And Plessy v. Ferguson cruelly buried its central meaning.

But since 1954, the Supreme Court has frequently used the 14th Amendment to demand that American government make real its foundational promises. Brown v. Board of Education (school segregation), Loving v. Virginia (anti-miscegenation laws), Craig v. Boren (sex discrimination), Harper v. Virginia (voting rights), Goldberg v. Kelly (right to hearing), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights), Graham v. Richardson (immigrant rights), Obergefell v. Hodges (gay rights) and Reynolds v. Sims (equal representation) are its principal markers. Without them, the U.S. would be a tyrannous nation. Anything but the land of the free. So it’s good to raise a glass to the old, but essential and defining, provision.”

After noting the repeated and ongoing efforts of conservative politicians like Donald Trump and North Carolina legislative leaders to undermine the amendment, Nichol concludes this way:

“But it’s also accurate to characterize the struggle as a continuing, never-yielding fight over Bingham’s 14th Amendment. The Tar Heel State initially voted against the amendment in 1866, for example, before eventually yielding to the pressures of the Reconstruction Congress. And the aggressive social and political agenda of today’s North Carolina Republican Party is impossible to square with the due process and equal protection mandates of the last half-century. Read more

Courts & the Law, News

‘Campaign finance watchdog’ calling for investigation into Court of Appeals Judge Phil Berger Jr.’s past report

Judge Phil Berger, Jr.

A former executive director of Democracy North Carolina is calling on the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to investigate “apparent campaign finance violations” related to Phil Berger Jr., a current Court of Appeals judge and the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Bob Hall, who is retired and describes himself as a “campaign finance watchdog,” wrote a letter Thursday to State Board Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach outlining the alleged violations. In the letter, Hall references Berger’s second quarter campaign finance report from 2016.

Hall reiterated in an email that his call for an investigation was in no way related to voting rights organization Democracy NC.

Berger Jr., through staff at his Court of Appeals chamber, told NC Policy Watch on Thursday morning that he had no comment about the allegations.

Hall alleges that two donors listed on the Berger for Judge Committee’s 2016 campaign disclosure reports did not make the contributions attributed to them. He does not name the individuals to protect their privacy, but said he will provide that information to the State Board separately. He also states in the letter that he has recorded conversations with those individuals.

Other allegations by Hall include Berger not disclosing food and beverage expenses for a fundraising event in July 2016 at the home of Olivia Oxendine, a Robeson County educator who is an appointed member of the State Board of Education.

“Court of Appeals candidate Phil Berger Jr. and his father, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr., attended the fundraising event,” the letter states. “In 2012, the state Senate led by Phil Berger Sr. refused to approve appointments to the State Board of Education made by then Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat. As a result of this action, largely controlled by Senate leader Phil Berger, the Republican governor elected in 2012, Pat McCrory, had the opportunity to make four appointments to the Board of Education in his first year, rather than just two. Olivia Oxendine was one of those four appointments.”

Hall also accuses Berger of not disclosing expenditures or in-kind contributions for a separate fundraising event held at a Greensboro restaurant in April 2016.

“Importantly, Phil Berger Jr.’s campaign was not ignorant of the requirement to disclose expenditures related to fundraising events,” the letter states. “For example, the Berger for Judge Committee disclosure reports list two payments to Caffé Luna for ‘catering’ – one recorded on April 22, 2016 for $1,533, and one on December 16, 2016 for $894.25. Caffé Luna is a popular Raleigh venue for political fundraising events; in fact, Sen. Phil Berger was a featured speaker at one on April 13, and another state legislator held a fundraiser there on April 19. It’s not clear if Sen. Berger attended either of the Caffé Luna events in 2016 that benefited his son, but nearly all the Triangle donations recorded at the time of these two events came from lobbyists, political action committees or political appointees.”

Hall also draws some conclusions about large donors that he states in the letter call for further investigation — one  is Tom Fetzer of Wilmington, a registered lobbyist and former NC Republican Party chair, and the other is from Pittsboro couple Maurice and Mary Raynor.

Fetzer made his largest donation to any single candidate in 25 years to Berger Jr. and several months after that contribution, he was appointed to a seat on the UNC Board of Governors by the state Senate led by Berger Sr., the letter states.

The Raynors were reported on Berger Jr.’s campaign finance report as owners of M&M Alpaca Farm in Chatham County, according to the letter. But they have owned many video-poker sweepstakes “parlors” across the state for years, and at the time of their contributions, one of their stores in Rockingham County was allegedly under threat of being shut down by the Eden police department.

“The sweepstakes parlor, called Starlite Eden 1, had been allowed to operate while Phil Berger Jr. served as district attorney for Rockingham County,” the letter states. “Some district attorneys across the state supported efforts by law enforcement officials to investigate sweepstakes operations for illegal activity, but DA Berger told local police to ‘hold off’ going after the parlors, according to media reports and the police.”

The parlor was eventually shut down under Berger Jr.’s successor but the Raynors made their donation to him at the time they were exploring legal options, closed the shop for a few weeks and then reopened it, according to Hall. It’s the only contribution they’ve made to a campaign for a state candidate in 25 years, the letter states.

“Considering that the Raynors’ $10,000 contribution to Phil Berger Jr. was made in June 2016, it would be more accurate for Berger’s campaign disclosure report to identify Maurice and Mary Raynor as the president and vice president of Starlites Tech Corp. or owners of sweepstake parlors, rather than simply as owners of an alpaca farm,” Hall writes.

Hall ends the letter by saying he looks forward to an investigation by the State Board.

“Complete and timely disclosure of the money involved in the public elections process is vital to a free and fair democracy of, by, and for the people,” he wrote.

Read Hall’s letter below:

Complaint Berger Jr 2018 by NC Policy Watch on Scribd