The best editorial of the weekend demands action from Burr, Tillis

Se. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

One can forgive the people of the Cape Fear region these days if they’re a little sensitive about chemical pollutants in the environment and the failure of public officials to protect human wellbeing as the ongoing GenX mess continues to play out. So, it is from a place of experience that editors of the Wilmington Star News authored yesterday’s lead editorial blasting Donald Trump’s selection of chemical industry apologist Michael Dourson to head the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution.

After listing several of Trump’s bizarre picks to head various agencies, the editorial (“EPA nominee should scare us all”) puts it this way:

“The appointment of Michael Dourson to head the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution, however, takes the cake. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.

Unlike [failed Ag Department Science Adviser nominee Sam] Clovis, Dourson is an actual scientist. He has, however, spent the past 20 years or so working for clients such as DuPont (former owner of Chemours), Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, defending the safety of pesticides and other chemicals. Generally, he argued that these chemicals were far less risky than EPA scientists or independent researchers believed.

Through a fluke in ethics rules, there is nothing that bars Dourson from ruling on these companies’ chemicals that he was being paid to defend a year or two ago. That’s not exactly draining the swamp.

Dourson helped DuPont defend its use of the chemical PFOA — better known as C8, the precursor to GenX — after states sued over water contamination. Starting to sound familiar?

DuPont and Chemours agreed to pay $671 million to settle thousands of C8 lawsuits. Dourson, however, insisted that the levels were safe, even though a panel of scientists convened by DuPont found a probable link with six illnesses: kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.

Nobody expected Mr. Trump to name tree-huggers or Greenpeace activists to environmental posts. We would, though, expect at least a principled conservative with an independent mind, not someone who’s spent much of his career essentially as a paid lobbyist for the chemical industry.”

The editorial goes on to note the extreme importance of the GenX water pollution crisis to residents of southeastern North Carolina. It concludes with a demand (it even includes their phone numbers) of Senators Burr and Tillis:

“When Dourson’s nomination comes before the full Senate (and it shortly will), Burr and Tillis should demand that the president name someone else. If you are ever going to contact your U.S. senator’s office about a national issue, this is it.

This isn’t about political ideology or whether you support or don’t support President Trump. This is about nothing less than the very basic safety of our drinking water.”


Burr, Tillis: We’re with the big money lenders — not consumers and military families

Sen. Thom Tillis

Sen. Richard Burr

As was reported in this space earlier today, one of the most direct and egregious new examples of Trumpism at work in undermining the well-being of average Americans came to the fore late last night when 50 Republican U.S. Senators voted with Vice President Mike Pence to elevate the interests of giant Wall Street corporations over those of average American consumers. As the New York Times reported:

“Senate Republicans voted on Tuesday to strike down a sweeping new rule that would have allowed millions of Americans to band together in class-action lawsuits against financial institutions.

The overturning of the rule, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-to-50 tie, will further loosen regulation of Wall Street as the Trump administration and Republicans move to roll back Obama-era policies enacted in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. By defeating the rule, Republicans are dismantling a major effort of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog created by Congress in the aftermath of the mortgage mess….

‘Tonight’s vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country,’ Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer bureau, said in a statement. ‘As a result, companies like Wells Fargo and Equifax remain free to break the law without fear of legal blowback from their customers.’”

As readers will have likely surmised, both of North Carolina’s senators — Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — voted for the anti-consumer action. What makes this all the more egregious is the fact that South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham voted against and long opposed the action because of the devastating impact it is likely to have on military families. Again, here’s the New York Times:

“In the weeks leading up to the vote, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who sponsored legislation to protect military members from being forced into arbitration, said he would not support a repeal of the rule.”

You got that? Even as a Republican senator from South Carolina — a state with perhaps a quarter of the military population present in North Carolina — loudly and publicly proclaimed his opposition, neither of the senators from the state with the third highest military population could be bothered to join in his effort. Not surprisingly, neither Burr nor Tillis has issued any kind of a statement on their decisive and destructive late night votes.

The bottom line: If North Carolinians ever had any doubts about where Burr’s and Tillis’s ultimate loyalties lie, last night’s action ought to have put them to rest once and for all.


Richard Burr’s hometown newspaper: Control rapid fire weapons now

The lead editorial in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal is on the money: it’s long past time for congress — including North Carolina’s two NRA-owned and operated senators, Thom Tills and Ricard Burr (pictured at left) — to put the good of the country first and act now to ban a host of dangerous mass killing machines.

After noting signs of some tiny amounts of progress on the issue of regulating so-called “bump stocks,” the Journal concludes this way in “Reasonable gun control crucial for our brokenhearted country”:

“Congress is a long way from what’s really needed: measures such as banning rapid-fire, military-style assault rifles, their large-capacity magazines, and access to endless supplies of ammo for those magazines and body armor. These options should be limited to the military and law-enforcement. There is no logical reason for civilians to have them, potentially threatening the safety of both law-enforcement officers and civilians.

And for those who say these measures would do no good, we contend that action against bump stocks, large magazines and endless ammo supplies would have at least slowed down the Las Vegas killer, saving at least a few lives. That alone would make those measures well worth it.

We need other measures, such as cracking down on the illegal arms trade and more exhaustive background checks that would make it harder for those with mental problems to buy guns. We believe in the Second Amendment, but it must be balanced with reasonable gun control.

North Carolina’s two U.S. senators, Richard Burr of Winston-Salem and Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County, have received criticism for the millions of dollars in campaign support they’ve received from the NRA. They should knock back any perception that they’re beholden to the NRA by helping to lead the charge on gun-control reform.”


New letter to Burr outlines devastating impact of latest Trumpcare proposal

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the latest GOP initiative to repeal the Affordable Care Act — the so-called “Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal” — is the most radical and potentially destructive yet. A new letter from an array of North Carolina nonprofits (including the parent organization of NC Policy Watch, the NC Justice Center) to, among others, Senator Richard Burr, explains why.

Here is an except:

“We the undersigned write to voice our collective opposition to the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal. We are very discouraged that instead of continuing down a bipartisan path and working on issues to improve the strength and stability of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplaces, the sponsors of this legislation have put forward a proposal that will:

  • Eliminate the financial assistance that helps North Carolinians with low and moderate incomes purchase health care coverage;
  • Prevent North Carolina from increasing access to Medicaid in the future and end expanded Medicaid coverage that helps millions of adults with low incomes in other states;
  • Gut Medicaid through deep, permanent cuts that would grow over time and threaten care for millions of seniors with low incomes, children, and people living with disabilities and shift massive costs and risks to states;
  • Jeopardize access to life-saving and effective treatments for addiction and weaken states’ efforts to address the current crisis of drug overdose deaths;
  • Undermine essential protections for people with pre-existing conditions;
  • Resurrect and worsen the devastating cuts in coverage and benefits that the American public and the majority of Congress have already rejected.

The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson (GCHJ) proposal threatens the health and financial security of millions of North Carolinians, including older adults, families with low and moderate incomes, people living with disabilities, women, veterans, and people with pre-existing conditions. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that GCHJ slashes federal health care funding for North Carolina by $8.1 billion dollars between 2020 and 2026, and Avalere projects that the total losses in federal health care funding would grow to $98 billion by 2036. While the estimates vary across third party groups – whether they be the Kaiser Family Foundation, Avalere, Manatt, or the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – they all agree that North Carolina is a financial loser under this bill.

The proposal does nothing to improve affordability or availability of coverage for consumers and will likely result in at least 1.1 million North Carolinians losing coverage by 2027 and will undermine the financial stability of our health care system and place additional fiscal strains on our state budget. Below we’ve laid out in more detail our concerns with this proposal and the devastating impact it will have on consumers in our state.

The letter goes on to detail each of the main failures of the proposal, including the absurd lack of process and transparency that have accompanied its recent rise.

The bottom line: If Senators Burr and Tillis vote for such a proposal and it actually becomes law, it will be one of the most harmful acts ever intentionally inflicted on our state by a group of elected officials.

Courts & the Law, News

Rep. Justin Burr: Judicial redistricting, merit selection may not be either-or scenario

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) and N.C. AOC Director Marion Warren talk to lawmakers Tuesday about judicial redistricting. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

The House and Senate just might come to a deal when it comes to judicial redistricting and merit selection: pass them both and see what sticks.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) said Tuesday after a House judicial redistricting committee meeting that a deal between the House and Senate in which Representatives pass judicial redistricting and Senators look at merit selection “could certainly be on the table.”

“To be determined,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to speak for the Senate. ”

The committee met for the first time Tuesday but did not discuss or go over the judicial and prosecutorial maps proposed by Burr in House Bill 717. Current maps were handed out to lawmakers and the public at the meeting but not Burr’s maps, which he has publicly stated would be tweaked but said Tuesday weren’t ready yet.

UNC School of Government Professor James Drennan gave a presentation to lawmakers about the history of North Carolina’s court system, modes of selection and judicial districts. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts Director Marion Warren gave a presentation about the agency and its role in overseeing the operation of the court system.

Both Drennan and Warren also took questions from lawmakers.

Drennan told the group that the one person, one vote principle did not apply to judicial redistricting the same way as it did for legislative and congressional redistricting but that it applied to some extent. He didn’t answer any specific questions about whether Burr’s maps were the right way to go and instead deferred to lawmakers to delineate what the right process was.

Warren confirmed to lawmakers that the AOC was not involved in the drawing of Burr’s maps but did respond to some requests for information about judges and districts. He also noted before the presentation that state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin made a request for lawmakers to consider the appointment of judges.

He described the state’s judiciary as a system that has “a tremendous amount of tension,” but that leads to checks and balances. He also said that he didn’t know of any other state in which judges (trial and appellate), prosecutors, clerks and budgetary folks are all under the same roof trying to speak with one voice.

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) asked Warren about feedback about judicial redistricting he’d gotten from judges. He said some judges have said they will wait for the process to play out before commenting and others have been very upset about the maps.

“I think if you dig into that original 717 map, you’ll find that there are winners and there are losers, and some of the folks that consider themselves winners may share, they may say something that goes along the lines of this, ‘Judge Warren, I’m good with that map, I just can’t say anything about it,'” Warren said. “And then there’s folks that consider themselves losers, for a myriad of reasons; they call and say, ‘Why aren’t you doing something about it.’ That’s the two spectrums at the two ends of the conversations that I’m having with folks across the state in the judicial branch.”

Morey responded that she had gone to and spoken with at least 20 districts across the state and had not heard one district court judge be in favor of Burr’s redistricting plan.

Warren was asked by Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) about how the AOC was handling the reduction in emergency judged and how workload would be affected under the proposed maps.

Warren said that Superior Courts have handled the reduction just fine but that the district courts were struggling.

“I’m having a great deal of difficulty with the district court,” he said, adding that there is a tremendous demand for emergency judges and he is having to manage it almost on a daily basis.

The meeting adjourned after Warren’s presentation. Burr said the committee would most likely meet late next week and then at least one more time before the maps are sent to the full House in October.

Despite some committee members talking about criteria Tuesday, Burr said he intends for his maps to serve as a baseline with tweaks to be introduced in a proposed committee substitute.

When asked about his stance on merit selection, Burr said his focus right now is on the maps.

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr

“You know, there’s many different ways to do that, to look at merit selection, so that’s not my focus at this point,” he said.

He added that there is nothing in the merit selection proposal he has heard that conflicts with passing his judicial redistricting proposal.

“They both can be passed, put merit selection on the ballot next year, you can still pass these proposed maps,” he said. “It depends on whether or not the voters pass a constitutional amendment concerning merit selection. If they do, then that will go into effect. If they don’t, then these maps will at least our judicial districts will have been updated based on the maps in 717.”