News

It’d be hard for find anyone in North Carolina unaware of the upcoming Nov. 4 election, with the political television and radio advertisements currently blanketing the state.

The end is now in sight. vote

Today marks the first day of early voting, and you can look up your counties’ early vote locations and times here.

For those of you in Boone, the early voting location at the Appalachian State University’s student union is open, after a flurry of decisions yesterday by state appeals courts and elections board.

Finally, if you face problems at the polls, receive a mailing or hear announcements with misinformation intended to mislead voters, you can call Democracy N.C.’s North Carolina Election Protection hotline at 888-OUR-VOTE (888-687-8683).

And if you’re looking for some context about what’s happening to voting rights across the country, read this piece N.C. Policy Watch’s courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey wrote about voters in North Carolina and other states striking out at the U.S. Supreme Court.

From the N.C. Policy Watch article:

When the dust settled, attorneys, legal experts and court watchers had plenty of sorting to do, trying to make some sense of orders – handed down unsigned and without opinions — that directly impacted the rights of hundreds of thousands of voters.

The court’s seemingly routine manner of handling the cases miffed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in her Texas dissent called her colleagues to task for ignoring clear evidence of voter discrimination and suppression.

“She’s not going down without a fight,” election law expert Rick Hasen wrote “and if this dissent stands for anything, it’s for the proposition that even if the court opts to erode the right to vote by way of unsigned orders at dawn, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will not let it be invisible to the rest of us.”

Read more here.

Commentary

UtilitiesNC Policy Watch followers will recall that last week we reported on a an recent and egregious giveaway to big utility companies in which the North Carolina Utilities Commission pulled a mysterious and unforeseen rabbit out of a hat to reverse its own previous ruling from earlier this year.

The case revolves around whether all of the 2013 tax cuts enacted by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory should be accounted for when it comes to computing the rates that regulated monopolies like Duke Energy are allowed to charge ratepayers. In May, the Commission ruled by a 6-1 vote that they must.

A few months later, however, in an abrupt and apparently unprecedented move, three McCrory appointees to the Commission changed their minds and signed on to a new opinion by the Commission chair, Ed Finley, in which the May ruling was summarily reversed and the “exceptions” (i.e. the appeal) submitted by two of the power companies upheld. Parties in the case were not even given a chance to submit arguments on the question.

According to the new majority, the cut to the state’s corporate income tax should not be factored into rates and companies should be free to keep the windfall if they like. According to the three overruled commissioners:

“The Majority’s decision, rescinding, in part, the Commission’s May 13, 2014 Order in this docket, allows the utilities to charge ratepayers in perpetuity to collect for taxes that the utilities no longer pay. The Majority’s decision errs with respect to fairness to ratepayers; errs procedurally with respect to due process and the limitations of the Commission’s right to rescind, alter, or amend an Order; and errs in its content with respect to its legal conclusions.”

As it turns out now — perhaps because of the adverse publicity here and elsewhere — most, if not all of the big utilities are now saying they will not keep the windfall.

This is good news for consumers but it should not be the end of the story. Even if the utilities are too embarrassed to keep their unearned money, the Commission majority’s heavy-handed action was and is still unacceptable and sets a terrible precedent — both with respect to substance and procedure.

Let’s hope that both the Utilities Commission Public Staff and Attorney General Roy Cooper stick to their guns, appeal the matter to the state judiciary and secure an order vindicating the rights of consumers ASAP.

News

Hours after UNC-Chapel Hill released details of an independent investigation into academic fraud at the school, Governor Pat McCrory issued the following statement:

unc-chapel-hill-logo“The finding of academic fraud is a disturbing reminder of what can happen, even at our flagship university, when we misplace priorities and have a lack of oversight. It is imperative that we ensure there is accountability at all of our universities to make sure we are upholding a culture in which students, parents and taxpayers are getting a return on our most important investment: education.

I’m again reminded of the words of former UNC system president Dr. William Friday, ‘People do not want their lifetime measured by how much their football team won or lost. There is something valuable they want measured on their intellectual tombstone when the time comes, and it will come.’ Dr. Friday words still ring true today.

I look forward to working with Chancellor Folt and all the chancellors to maintain North Carolina’s devotion to excellence in higher education.”

To read the full 136-page report on the scandal by Kenneth Wainstein, a former top U.S. Justice Department official, click here.

News

vote-stickerAs we reported early this morning, the Court of Appeals refused to review Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephen’s order requiring the opening of a voting site on the Appalachian State University campus.

With that refusal, the State Board of Election scheduled a 4 p.m. meeting to vote on a new Watauga County plan that would include a site at ASU. The Board also, though, had filed a request with the Supreme Court for a stay of the Stephens order and a review by the high court.

By 4 p.m., the Board had not heard from the Supreme Court, so went ahead with the meeting and unanimously approved a new plan that included a site at ASU, per the Board’s public information officer Josh Lawson.

Just after adopting that new plan, the Supreme Court granted the stay and agreed to hear the case.

According to Lawson, despite the Court’s ruling, the Board would have to schedule yet another meeting to adopt another plan without the ASU site in response to the high court’s decision.

Lawson said that as of now he knows of no new plans to hold another Board meeting to do that — a decision that would come from Board Chair Josh Howard.

Meaning this: Unless something changes overnight, early voting will take place at a site in the Student Union of the Appalachian State campus (likely the “Price Lake” room).

Follow this post for further developments overnight.

Commentary

Medicaid expansionConservative political support for one of the central components of Obamacare continues to grow. The latest conversion: North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis.

This is from a story by reporter Craig Jarvis in Raleigh’s News & Observer about Tillis’  televised appearance on Time Warner Cable’s “Capital Tonight” show last evening:

Medicaid: Asked if he thought it would be likely that the state legislature would expand Medicaid coverage after refusing to do so previously, Tillis said it might make sense once the state has better control of the financing of the program, which is notorious for its cost overruns.

He said he didn’t have an ideological objection to expanding the coverage. But he said when the state auditor told the previous governor that money was being wasted on it, the appropriate response would not have been to make it bigger and more costly.

“I would encourage the state legislature and governor to consider it if they’re completely convinced they now have the situation under control,” Tillis said.

In other words, the Speaker is echoing the McCrory administration’s imperfect but mostly encouraging line on the issue. Let’s fervently hope that Tillis’ successor as House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem Berger adopt this same common-sense stance so that the matter can be disposed of as early in 2015 as possible.