Commentary

If you had dollar for every time conservative politicians promised to start “running North Carolina like a business” back when they were engineering their rise to power at the start of the decade, you’d have a lot of money — maybe enough to hire back some of the educators they’ve fired since then.

This morning, the business that comes to mind when you think about their performance is Enron: a deceptive and secretive shell game that fell apart when people finally figured out what the heck was going on. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

“Several top Republican lawmakers say they likely won’t reach a budget deal by an Aug. 14 deadline – a delay that will prolong uncertainty for public schools and other agencies that depend on state funding.

Since the last fiscal year ended June 30, the state has been operating under a temporary budget that keeps government running at current spending levels.

But the House and Senate budget writers tasked with negotiating a permanent spending agreement haven’t met yet….”

And while it’s true that the House version of the budget is, though badly inadequate, much superior to the Senate’s (thus providing good reason for House members to fight hard in negotiations), this really is getting past the point of being ridiculous. The public schools are paralyzed on many important decisions, the Governor is a complete, ribbon-cutting non-factor and people are seriously talking about things dragging on well into the fall. At some point, it gets down to a matter of basic competence to run the state and a commitment to governing, and unless things get moving in a good direction and fast, one has to conclude that the folks in charge in Raleigh these days simply don’t have either one.
Commentary

In case you missed it, the Fayetteville Observer had this to say this morning about the dreadful proposal to expedite executions and keep the drugs used to do the dirty deed a secret:

“The legislative urgency to get North Carolina back into executing murderers has reached a fever pitch that looks a lot like bloodlust. It’s an ugly spectacle.

A bill approved by the state Senate late Monday would cast a shroud of secrecy over executions and could end physician participation in them….

This attempt to obscure the execution process comes at a time when serious questions are being raised about the death penalty, including two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court wondering in an opinion this year whether the death penalty is constitutional.

That debate will surely continue, and it should. We need thoughtful discussion of the issue and whether we’re imposing a fair sentence or simply seeking revenge for a terrible crime.

What we don’t need is a General Assembly slicing away at reasonable public understanding of the state’s execution protocols, instead choosing to wrap it all in secrecy.

We’d like to believe it’s still our government, not the personal property of a privileged few in the halls of state government.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s N&O put it this way yesterday:

“When the government is putting someone to death in the name of the people, the people have a right to know how it is being done.

But in a macabre and all-too-quick march toward resumption of the death penalty in North Carolina, Republican lawmakers are doing all they can to restart executions stalled since 2006 with a measure now in negotiation between the House and Senate that would drop a requirement that doctors be present at executions. The legislation also would keep confidential the drugs to be used in lethal injection executions.

This is a horribly misguided idea….

The death penalty is the one penalty that can’t be corrected. And DNA testing has revealed that some inmates convicted of crimes that could have brought the death penalty have been innocent. Rather than put executions on a fast track, North Carolina should abandon them altogether.”

Sadly, the bill passed the House today and will be sent to Governor McCrory shortly.

Commentary, News

Today’s must read comes from  Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times. In his latest piece, A Dream Undone, Rutenberg takes readers back to 1956 when Henry Frye (who later became North Carolina’s first black Supreme Court chief justice) was subjected to a literacy test and barred from registering to vote.

Rutenberg then fast-forwards us to 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, eliminating such tests and seeking to end the disenfranchisement of black voters. His story goes on to explain:

In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to NYTactively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements.

Rutenburg’s article covers five decades of the struggle to expand voting rights, right up to the the federal trial (North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. v. McCrory) in Winston-Salem that could wrap-up later this week.

Read A Dream Undone here in The New York Times.

For more on the voting rights trial continuing in Winston-Salem, listen to Policy Watch’s recent radio interview with Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina.

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Commentary

Pat McCrory 4Another day, another startling display of disrespect from a Republican state lawmaker toward Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

Patrick Gannon of the The Insider (subscription required)  reports that Rep. Phil Shepard was overheard Tuesday delivering some harsh words about the governor to his Republican colleagues.

Before a House Transportation Committee Tuesday morning, Shepard, a committee cochairman, was overheard expressing frustration about the Republican governor to fellow legislators. “If he would just shut his mouth,” Shepard said. “What does he think he’s trying to accomplish?”

Ouch. No wonder McCrory spends a lot of time flying around the state cutting ribbons.

Commentary

As the numbers below from the good people at the Alliance For Justice show, the conservative blockade of President Obama’s judicial nominees is reaching absurd and historic levels. Admittedly, Obama has 18 months to go in his term, but if things continue at their current pace, only 20 nominees will be confirmed during his last two years in office. This number would be vastly lower than any other modern president — a fact that is rendered all the more outrageous by the fact that the country and the judiciary are both much larger than they were in the past.

The consequences of this shameless stall job are being felt all over the country (including here in North Carolina) as our court system grows increasingly incapable of doing its job — serving the legal needs of the citizenry.

Confirmations