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

Commentary

Tony Tata 2If you’re looking for a powerful testimonial to the sorry state of both the policy and media worlds in modern North Carolina, you need look no further than the ridiculous hubbub surrounding yesterday’s sudden resignation of state Department of Transportation Secretary, Tony Tata.

The story begins with the bizarre fact that Tata was ever in the job in the first place. Not only did he come to it with almost zero experience in the field (and, indeed, hardly any experience of having lived in North Carolina), he was allowed to continue in the job and collect a full salary long after it became obvious that he was a part-time employee who devoted large blocks of his time to churning out schlocky pulp fiction and dispensing right-wing foreign policy bromides on Fox News. It’s also worth noting that this should have come as no surprise given that Tata’s term as Wake County schools superintendent followed the same pattern.

Yesterday’s sudden resignation was par for the course with Tata. Rather than announcing a plan for resignation and transition to new leadership of the massive department, he made the event all about himself by simply up and quitting in one day without, apparently, even saying good bye. Then, in his inimitable, self-promoting media hog style, Tata went on TV with multiple news hosts before the ink was dry on his resignation to talk about his novels and to contradict his statements from just last month that he had no interest in running for Congress. To make even matters even more absurd, speculation (which he hasn’t denied) has it that he’s considering a run against Republican incumbent Walter Jones, Jr. of eastern North Carolina — this despite the fact that Tata (who’s registered as unaffiliated) does not and has not ever lived in Jones’ district.

But what really served as icing on the cake of yesterday’s nonsense was the fawning behavior of the Raleigh media which was more than happy to abet Tata’s self-promotion. First, WRAL’s lead news anchor David Crabtree went to the trouble of conducting a lengthy interview with the guy — when has this ever happened before with a departing state cabinet secretary (even one who accomplished something and was truly dedicated to his or her job)? As an aside, at least Crabtree pushed Tata on the suddenness of his departure — a question Tata never really answered.

Then, this morning, Raleigh’s News & Observer devoted a large, top-of-the fold, front page story (featuring a large, flattering photo) to his resignation as well as a one-page “Focus” section detailing much of his life story!

The bottom line: It’s more than apparent that the reason Tata gets this attention has little to do with his capabilities as a public administrator or policymaker; it is a result of the perception in some circles — a perception that he is all too happy to promote — that he is a celebrity (someone who is “famous” — at least by North Carolina standards —  for being “famous”). And sadly, as Donald Trump is doing such a good job of demonstrating of late, many Americans continue to find this brand of “leadership” irresistible. We have undoubtedly not seen the last of Tata or his shameless self-promotion.

Commentary

Kudos to citizen journalist Greg Flynn for pointing out on Twitter today the recent and outrageous appointment of Rowan County businessman and former Housing Board Chairman Mac Butner to the Rowan County Board of Elections. As Flynn reported this morning, Butner said the following on Facebook in 2013:

Butner-post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The post still appears on Butner’s Facebook page. The national political site Wonkette reported last July (caution: the website uses language some may find offensive) that Butner has made other hateful statements on Facebook — including racially charged comments about Moral Monday protesters — that were later taken down. The Salisbury Post has more on those comments in this story from last summer.

According to an article from last Friday in the Post, Butner was selected for his new job by local GOP officials and approved by the state Board of Elections (the members of which, of course, report to Gov. McCrory). Two weeks ago, McCrory helped force the resignation of state Board member Paul Foley because of some ethical issues. In the present case, it’s hard to see how he can avoid taking similar action.

[According to a tweet posted yesterday by Salisbury Post Politics/County government reporter Josh Bergeron, Butner has actually been made chair of the Board.]
News

Retiree-benefotsLegislative staff pitched a policy solution to lawmakers on Monday that could reduce the state’s $25.5 billion unfunded liability associated with the Retiree Health Benefit Fund by 11.8 percent, producing a larger cost savings than the Senate’s proposal to eliminate retiree health benefits for all teachers and state employees hired after January 1, 2016.

The fix? Shift some of the costs associated with providing fully funded retiree health plans to the federal government. Going that route would require all retirees to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans—and by doing so, retirees shouldn’t be expected to bear more out-of-pocket expenses and the state would save $64 million annually, reducing the total unfunded liability by about $3 billion.

The Senate, on the other hand, wants to address the unfunded liability by eliminating retiree health benefits for new hires beginning in 2016. Some say this option will unfairly shift more costs to the worker and could hurt recruitment efforts, while producing an estimated smaller cost savings of 10 percent as opposed to the 11.8 percent that would come with enrolling retirees into Medicare Advantage plans.

For the full story, head on over to our main site. And you can read the legislative report below.

Commentary, News

Governor Pat McCrory’s Transportation Secretary caught many in the state government world by surprise Tuesday with the announcement that he would leave the office immediately.

A press release from the governor’s office explained Tony Tata’s departure this way:

…Tony Tata has resigned as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) to focus on personal and family matters in addition to pursuing his passion as an author.

“Tony Tata has been a valuable partner in our efforts to reform and modernize North Carolina’s transportation system,” Governor McCrory said. “His dedication to the people of North Carolina is in keeping with his long career of service to his community, state and country.”

Tata’s resignation takes effect today. Chief Deputy Secretary Nick Tennyson will serve as Acting Transportation Secretary.

Tata has been one of the more visible members in the McCrory administration, most recently traveling the state with the governor to promote the Connect NC bond proposal.

NCDOT Sec. Tony Tata and Governor Pat McCrory discuss Connect NC bond proposal in late June at Hammocks Beach.  (Photo: Governor's flickr account.)

NCDOT Sec. Tony Tata and Governor Pat McCrory discuss the Connect NC bond proposal in late June at Hammocks Beach. (Photo: Governor’s flickr account.)

Here’s what others on social media are saying about Tata’s departure: