Revised voting rights bill rolled out in U.S. Senate, with Manchin on board

Expert: It’s not about masks or freedom, it’s about grandstanding and branding for Cawthorn

Professor Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper, a distinguished professor of political science at Western Carolina University, offers a must read assessment of Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s visit to the Johnston County School Board meeting this evening. Professor Cooper rightfully questions why the freshman congressman would travel 300 miles outside of his own district to weigh in on a local school board decision. The answer: political aspirations and cash.

As Cooper explains in today’s column cross-posted from Old North State Politics:

If all goes according to plan, this evening Republican member of Congress Madison Cawthorn will speak at a Johnston County School Board Meeting and ask the board to reverse their decision to require face masks in schools. According to a flier advertising the event, Cawthorn will park at either the fast food parking lot “in front of the outlets” or Becky’s Log Cabin Motel in Smithfield and join a few hundred protestors to fight for “PARENT’S CHOICE on masks, vaccines, and CRT in schools.” Robby Starbuck, a congressional candidate from Tennessee who once produced the official video for the Spongebob Movie will also be offering his advice to the 7 member school board in Johnston County.

Madison Cawthorn addressing Macon County supporters over the summer.

If you’re thinking that this seems a little… geographically puzzling, you’re right. Johnston County is located in the 7th congressional district, whereas Cawthorn represents the 11th congressional district. To get from Smithfield to Cawthorn’s home in Henderson County, head West and in about four and a half hours (assuming you don’t need to stop for gas or a bite to eat), you’d finally enter the friendly confines of Hendersonville, NC. Along the way, you’ll pass through 6 other congressional districts.

So, why would a member of Congress drive hundreds of miles out of his district to join a political novice from Tennessee and a few hundred other protestors to weigh in on a school board decision that doesn’t fall under even the most generous view of congressional power?

Not to sound too meta, but the primary answer is that we’re talking about it. And by “we” I don’t just mean the readers of this blog, but rather everyone who covers, follows, or practices NC politics. Cawthorn’s trip to Johnston County has been covered in media outlets across the state, and has spawned enough Twitter traffic to rival an early season Duke/UNC game. The attention is the point. And it’s working.

If the attention is both the means and the primary end, then fundraising is a secondary goal–and one that will likely be successful. Cawthorn raised over $1.7 million through June 30 of this year—a sum that dwarfs the receipts from established Republican members of Congress like Patrick McHenry and Virginia Foxx. When the fundraising numbers are revealed from September, 2021, I’ll bet you a beer (or ginger ale if that’s more your speed) at any North Carolina brewery that the Johnston County event will spark a pop in Cawthorn’s fundraising—a cash infusion that would come in handy for any candidate, but particularly one with Cawthorn’s burn rate.

It also seems likely that Cawthorn’s political aspirations extend past NC-11, making this out-of-district attention grab a little less confusing that it would be for a member of Congress who has no intention of running in higher office. In four years Cawthorn will be 30 years old and eligible to run for the US Senate, an office that will be up for election in 2026. While the Senate incumbent Thom Tillis’ stature within the Republican Party would stop most Republican members of Congress from seeking the seat, Cawthorn has not been shy about criticizing Republican party leadership and recently called Tillis “a terrible campaigner and a complete RINO” [Republican in Name Only]. It’s not much of a stretch to think that Cawthorn has his eyes on that seat.

Cawthorn’s social media branding also reinforces the notion that a trip to Johnston County, while not helpful to his NC-11 constituents, may play into larger, statewide political aspirations. His Twitter handle is “CawthornforNC,” not “CawthornforNC11” or “CawthornforWNC.” While this might be dismissed as a coincidence or a small detail that should be ignored, Cawthorn’s behavior and decision-making suggests that one thing he is unusually attuned to is branding. After all, he built his team around “comms, not legislation

In the end, Madison Cawthorn’s visit to a school board meeting hours away from his home will not further his legislative goals or move the policy needle for constituents in his district, but it will further his brand as a national political figure who is, in his own words, “probably the furthest, most conservative person in Congress.” And that, is precisely the point.

Chris Cooper is the Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. He tweets at @chriscooperwcu

Veteran NC political observer Tom Campbell calls out the John Locke Foundation

Middle-of-the-road columnist and talk show host decries conservative group’s anti-vaccination stance 

[Cross-posted from NC Spin.com]

For years I have read pieces and had dialogue with many people from the John Locke Foundation. I haven’t always agreed with their positions, but I always found them to be open to dialogue, thought-provoking, rational and measured in their responses. That changed at 3:00 p.m. last Friday.

Here’s what arrived in my email inbox:
“No. We won’t comply with Biden’s vaccine mandate, and no one else should either.”

Amy Cooke, the CEO of the John Locke Foundation continued, “That one man – Joe Biden – wants to force free Americans to inject something into their bodies should be abhorrent to everyone. That some think it’s acceptable shows how much our foundational freedoms have eroded. To my profound disappointment, authoritarianism has become mainstream.

“Medical decisions are personal and private. Period. President Biden’s political party often cites Roe v. Wade as their own rationale for such medical freedom, yet in an alarming turn of events, he has turned full-throated authoritarian, announcing he will wield the power of federal labor officials to force private businesses to function as medical doctors for every employee. In short, Joe Biden believes he – not individuals in consultation with a doctor – knows what’s best for every one of us.”

This statement was both shocking and very disappointing on many fronts. Joe Biden is the President, although many on the right (perhaps many in the Locke fold) don’t want to acknowledge it. His duty is to protect and serve ALL people in the country.

Consider the facts:

  • 136,000 people are diagnosed with COVID each week in the US.
  • Vaccines and the wearing of masks are the most effective ESTABLISHED means of combating this virus. Not horse de-wormers or fake tonics.
  • Only 54 percent of our populous is fully vaccinated. 80 million, approximately 25 percent have refused to get a single shot.
  • 1,500 Americans are dying every day from COVID. That number could be dramatically reduced.
  • The unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to die from COVID than those vaccinated.
  • Our hospital emergency rooms are running out of space because of COVID patients. Other people needing medical care are not getting it because of shortages of beds and personnel.
  • 92 percent of those in hospitals for COVID are unvaccinated.
  • Doctors and nurses are worn out from treating COVID patients.

Locke’s response to the President’s plan is that a minority (25 percent) of people can dictate how free the rest of us can live, work and play. They seem to believe 80 million unvaccinated people can essentially overrule the 200 million who have done their duty, gotten their shots and wear masks. It runs against our long-held belief of majority rule.

There are those who want to use bullhorns to shout about their freedoms and personal choices. They ignore the fact Read more

Biden administration announces “comprehensive” plan to fix high drug prices

Prescription drugs sit on a pharmacist’s counter. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week issued its plan to address high drug prices as part of President Joe Biden’s push to take on anticompetitive practices across the economy.

But while it addressed in detail abusive practices by drugmakers, it was a lot more superficial about the practices of much-larger corporations that serve as drug middlemen and as some of the country’s largest insurers.

The report, “Comprehensive Plan for Addressing High Drug Prices,” was produced by HHS and forwarded on Thursday to the White House Competition Council pursuant to Biden’s July 9 executive order Promoting Competition in the American Economy.

The council held its first meeting on Friday.

The report notes the harm being done by rapidly inflating prices in the $370 billion drug marketplace, where medicine costs almost twice as much as it does in other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a 38-member group of mostly developed economies.

“Americans pay too much for prescription drugs,” it says. “We pay the highest prices in the world, which leads to higher spending. Higher spending puts pressure on private and government payers to raise premiums or make benefits less generous. Lack of affordable access to prescription drugs and other health care services leads to worse health outcomes.”

Most of the solutions it offers deal with manufacturer abuses.

For example, it takes on a practice called “pay for delay,” in which a maker of a brand-name drug with exclusive access to the market pays generic competitors to delay bringing their products into the fray, thereby keeping up prices.

The report also proposes methods to promote production of generic and biosimilar drugs and it proposes to bring down costs through direct negotiations between huge programs such as Medicare and the companies that make them.

However, the report is much lighter on proposals about what to do about pharmacy benefit managers — middlemen who handle the transactions. That marketplace is dominated by three corporations that are among the country’s 15 largest and they’re also huge players in insurance and pharmacy.

The rebates the companies, known as PBMs, negotiate with manufacturers have been shown to increase the list prices of brand-name drugs, and the companies are also suspected of playing a big role in keeping prices of generics artificially high.

Critics have said that a lack of transparency in PBM rebate negotiations leads them to believe the companies are profiting handsomely at the expense of everyone else. Read more

U.S. Department of Education approves spending plan for emergency relief money

The U.S. Department of Education has approved the state’s spending plan for $1.2 billion in aid from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) Fund.

The money is the second installment of $3.6 billion awarded to North Carolina to help K-12 students recover from pandemic-related disruptions, and to improve academic outcomes.  The state received the first $2.4 billion in March.

The state will use the award to launch “evidence-based initiatives” to support schools statewide, including $30 million for high-impact tutoring, $19 million for a competency-based assessment and platform, and $35 million for a competitive grant program for summer-school and after-school extensions, according to an NC Department of Public Instruction news release.

Superintendent Catherine Truitt

“North Carolina’s plan for this funding isn’t just about recovering from the pandemic – it’s about rebuilding and re-envisioning the education landscape in our state,” said State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.

Districts and schools are receiving 90 percent of the state’s total $3.6 billion allocation, based on the same proportions used for allocating federal Title I funds keyed to census poverty estimates.

The remaining 10 percent, or $360 million, will support statewide initiatives to help schools and students recover from pandemic-related disruptions and to also improve outcomes long term.

Here are the highlights of North Carolina’s spending plan:

Total ARP ESSER allocation for North Carolina: $3,601,780,364

Top Priorities within North Carolina’s plan:

• Academic recovery in reading and math.
• Addressing the social-emotional health and well-being of children throughout the state.

Highlights of North Carolina’s Plan:
• Returning to In-Person Learning in 2021: Public schools in North Carolina are required to offer in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.
• Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) will consider specific evidence-based interventions, including $30,000,000 for high-impact tutoring statewide, $19,000,000 for a competency-based assessment and platform to be used across the state, and $35,000,000 for a competitive grant program for school extensions.
• Investing in Expanded Afterschool Programs: NCDPI has proposed allocating ARP ESSER funds to support extended learning recovery after school enrichment.
• Staffing to Support Students’ Needs: The Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration is working with health care professionals to improve health and educational outcomes for children in North Carolina. The team is currently working to expand an existing model that provides elementary schools with access to pediatricians via telehealth technologies. Early indications show this telehealth option reduces barriers to care for students resulting in improved health outcomes for children, reduced chronic absenteeism, and a decrease in the impact of health care-related costs on parents or caregivers.
• Community Engagement and Consultation: NCDPI held stakeholder engagement sessions in July and August 2021. NCDPI received formal approval from the State Board of Education to create an ARP ESSER Advisory Group. The ARP ESSER Advisory Group will convene regularly and provide suggestions to improve implementation and further development of the ARP ESSER State Plan.

Source: NC Department of Public Instruction