voteKentucky governor Steve Beshear announced today that he would be ordering the restoration of voting rights to some 170,000 non-violent ex-felons who have completed their sentences, a step that would bring that state in line with others offering the same reinstatement.

Kentucky had been one of the last states still permanently barring convicted felons from voting, along with Florida and Iowa. Kentucky’s constitution did provide for a restoration of voting rights upon the intervention of the state’s governor though.

As the Brennan Center for Justice points out, there has been significant movement towards restoring felons’ voting rights, with more than 20 states taking steps in that direction over the past 20 years:

One key factor in this progress is the growing bipartisan consensus on the need for criminal justice reform, and the recognition that restoring voting rights is a smart-on-crime policy. Leaders of both parties are acknowledging that we imprison too many people for too long, and do not provide adequate opportunities for people to reintegrate into society — rather than recidivate — after they leave incarceration. That recognition has led law enforcement professionals, faith leaders, and public officials from across the political spectrum to endorse voting rights restoration proposals nationwide.

In North Carolina,  a felon’s voting rights can be restored upon completion of a sentence, including prison, parole, and probation.

“We’re seeing growing national momentum for rights restoration, and Kentucky is the latest place to join in on that trend,” Brennan Center Counsel Tomas Lopez said in a statement. “Restoring the right to vote will improve Kentucky’s democracy, strengthen its communities, and increase public safety. We hope the state will build on today’s reforms and make the right to vote accessible to all Kentucky citizens living and working in their communities.”


The Charlotte Observer editorial page does a good job today of explaining how our broken immigration system sets up good people for suffering and exploitation. As an editorial entitled “When undocumented workers are prey” explains, a woman is in jail today in North Carolina because she reported, accurately, that her employer was cheating her out of wages earned.

The woman in question, of course, was the subject of a weekend story in Raleigh’s News & Observer. As that story explained, the woman, Miriam Solais, is a one of many thousands of immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization and then, in keeping with the country’s “nod and wink” employment system, obtained a false Social Security card. Here’s the Observer:

“It’s the type of scenario that immigration advocates have warned about for years. But it’s more than just small businesses paying poor wages under the table. Larger employers like poultry plants are notorious for an abusive culture that exploits a primarily Latino workforce. Criminals prey on Latinos who they know are reluctant to report crimes.

All of which endangers not just undocumented immigrants, but their families. The state’s answer to this? Laws that further push these families to the margins, including the newly minted ‘Protect North Carolina Workers Act,’ which bans sanctuary cities and jeopardizes children’s access to critical services by restricting their parents’ use of a common ID that foreign consulates issue.

That provision, signed into law last month by Gov. Pat McCrory, could block tens of thousands of U.S.-born children – who are U.S. citizens – from getting birth certificates or being enrolled in schools, the advocacy group NC Child said Monday.

The solution, as always, lies in Washington, but conservative Republicans continue to block reasonable immigration reform that would offer undocumented immigrants a chance to obtain legal status while continuing to lead productive lives here. Instead, conservatives insist on the fantasy of deporting more than 10 million immigrants.

While that stalemate endures, immigrants remain in limbo and in danger. Yes, Miriam Martinez Solais broke the law, along with millions of others who crossed the U.S. border. But she shouldn’t be left vulnerable to other lawbreakers – and to the broken immigration system that enables them.”

The editorial is right that the solution lies in Washington, but until that happens, there are steps we can and should take at the state and local levels that would make things much better. A new report today from the Center for American Progress (“Providing Identification to Unauthorized Immigrants”)  lists some of those steps. Unfortunately, as the editorial notes, for now, North Carolina is headed in precisely the wrong direction. And with the current hysteria being stirred up by politicians of both parties, things figure to get worse before they get better.


The Greensboro News & Record has a worth-your-while, front page article this morning about a special kind of Thanksgiving event that took place last night. Here’s the lead:

“What happens when there are more people than chairs at the Thanksgiving table?

In most large families, people just eat standing up. Or they sit in chairs along the wall.

That’s what happened Monday night, as a large and nontraditional ‘family’ held a combination multicultural Thanksgiving dinner and news conference to support Syrian refugees.

About 350 people — elected officials, immigrants and aid workers — showed up for the celebration, where organizers had set places for 250.

No one cared. The evening was more about the message that came before the meal: All refugees, including Syrian refugees, should feel welcome here.

Speakers said America has a moral imperative not to turn them away — as the nation did to about 900 Jewish refugees trying to enter the country on the S.S. St. Louis in 1939.”

Let’s hope that, in addition to bolstering those in attendance, the event went at least a little way toward melting the icy heart of Congressman Mark Walker. This is also from the article:

“Before dinner, representatives from the group held a press conference in which they urged elected officials not to curtail Syrian refugees coming into the community.

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (R-6th) briefly attended the event. Earlier Monday, Walker held his own press conference in which he defended his recent vote to add extra screening requirements for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Several speakers briefly noted his presence at the celebration. The crowd gave unenthusiastic applause to Walker, who appeared uncomfortable at times. He left before the press conference ended.

Speaker Zane Kuseybi, a Syrian-American who is hosting a family of refugees, told Walker from the podium that he is ‘disappointed by your vote.’”

Cong. Mark WalkerWalker (pictured at left) deserves at least some credit for showing up last night, but his public stance on the issue has been as abysmal as most other prominent politicians in the state — a fact made all the more notable by the fact that Walker was only recently elected to office following a career as a Christian minister.

Let’s hope last night’s event forced Walker to think a little harder than he has been about the issue. As one of the speakers told him last night with respect to proposals to deny entrance to Syrian refugees:

“We want you to be the one official out of everyone who says, ‘No, that’s not the right thing to do.’”

Sometimes leadership on issue comes from unusual places. Maybe Congressman Walker will seize the opportunity to provide it here. Click here to read the entire article.


If you missed it over the weekend, PNC Bank Regional President Jim Hansen penned an excellent op-ed highlighting the importance of investing in early learning. Hansen writes in the Raleigh News & Observer about a recent poll that finds voters of all parties believe early childhood education should be a top national priority:

North Carolina has high-quality early-learning programs that produce good results. Duke University researchers found that N.C. third-graders had higher reading and math scores and lower special education placements in counties that spent more money on Smart Start and NC PreK. Unfortunately, far too few children benefit. Only 21 percent of our 4-year-olds are enrolled in NC PreK.

By 2020, 67 percent of jobs in North Carolina will require some post-secondary education. Yet the majority of our fourth-graders are not proficient in a key predictor of future academic success: reading. Raleigh groups such as Wake Up and Read are working on this issue, but there is an urgent need for community consensus and action.

N.C. employers say they have trouble finding people with the right skills. Six out of 10 N.C. employers reported communications skills gaps among job applicants, and close to half reported deficiencies in critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

The most effective way to address these challenges is throughout a child’s early life, when 85 percent of brain development occurs. As Nobel Laureate Professor James J. Heckman says, “Human capital begins at birth. The foundation for school, career and life success is largely determined through the development of cognitive and character skills beginning in children’s earliest years.”

It makes sense. Children’s earliest experiences determine how their brains are wired. Brain development is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Harvard University pediatrician Jack Shonkoff puts it this way, “Brains are built, not born.”

We need to know what our community, corporate and political leaders are doing to support quality early education. With the stakes so high and with such clear results from the poll, it’s important for each of us to do all we can to support the education of our youngest citizens.

Read Hansen’s full op-ed here.

For more on the lasting benefits of high-quality pre-k programs, listen to NC Policy Watch’s recent interview with Tracy Zimmerman, executive director of the NC Early Childhood Foundation. Click below to hear an excerpt of Zimmerman’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon. The entire podcast can be accessed here.

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The overwhelming majority of Americans falling into the Medicaid coverage gap are in the South. Due to the obstruction of politicians like those running the show in North Carolina, millions of people who could be insured at federal government expense must instead do without. The scandalous result: thousands of preventable deaths each year.

As Alex Zielinski at Think Progress explains, however, there are some new and encouraging signs that cracks in the obstructionist wall are starting to show:

Red States Begin To See The Light On Medicaid Expansion

Conservative leaders may be warming up to Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion — a program that has been traditionally gridlocked in GOP-led states — in an emerging trend that could have a serious influence on the program’s adoption in fellow red states. Recent state elections unveiled a majority of these changes.

At first, many voters in favor of Medicaid expansion feared the recent elections would worsen their chances. And with a new, staunchly anti-expansion governor elected in Kentucky and a unwavering Republican majority in the Virginia Senate, it’s clear why. But these potential road blocks to further state expansions may be countered with other unexpected victories in other states.

The biggest surprise came out of the Louisiana election, where Democrat John Bel Edwards won the governor’s race by a landslide this weekend. He’ll fill the seat of current Governor Bobby Jindal, who has rejected the “subpar” Medicaid expansion program from its start. Edwards is a true Southern Democrat — he’s openly against abortion and gun control — but stands firmly behind progressive health care and labor plans. He’s already pledged to sign an executive order authorizing Medicaid expansion on his first day in office. This would provide immediate coverage to an additional 225,000 uninsured residents.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Governor-elect Matt Bevin may be softening his opposition to this Obamacare provision. During his campaign, Bevin spoke firmly about his opposition to Medicaid expansion — which already exists in the conservative state. But now that the election’s over, he’s mentioned a scaled-back attack on the expansion program. Instead of cutting off the 400,000 people who benefit from the state’s Medicaid expansion, he may work with the feds to just adapt it to his liking. This will likely still shed some benefits of the current state program, but won’t affect its users as harshly as predicted.

Kentucky’s expected action — or inaction — may have inspired an unprecedented move toward expansion in a fellow red state, where no Democrat holds a political office: Alabama. Read More