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McCrory-with-Polar-bear (2)Governor Pat McCrory was all smiles today at the N.C Zoo as he cut the ribbon for the new polar bear exhibit. It’s not the first time that state politicians have talked about polar bears.

In the 2010 and 2012 elections, Republican-allied groups ran ads against Democrats in the General Assembly for supporting funding for polar bears at the zoo.

A 2012 story by WRAL-TV had the details.

One other ad targets former lawmaker Cullie Tarleton, a Democratic (sic) who is running against Rep. Jonathan Jordan in a rematch of the 2010 race, which Jordan won. This year’s anti-Tarleton ad features the lines: “He (Tarleton) voted to spend $200,000 on a Shakespeare festival and $2 million on a playground for polar bears. Real Jobs used the polar bear accusation to great effect in mailers during the 2010 election.

Now Republican Governor McCrory is posing with people in polar bear costumes to celebrate the exhibit that was attacked by the groups working to elect legislators of his own political party.

It is apparently not very far from Real Jobs to Real Hypocrisy.

News

060810_1509_Environment1.jpgThere was a collective eye-roll among environmental activists earlier this month when the state Supreme Court announced it was taking over a review of the lawsuit between environmental groups and the state Environmental Management Commission over the handling of Duke Energy coal ash sites — as if the result was preordained.

Perhaps that’s because the conservative majority on the court is perceived as pro-business.

Or perhaps that’s because the high court has, in fact, been less than friendly to those interests.

In a new report examining judicial elections and environmental law — to be published in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law — Professor John Echeverria dubs the North Carolina Supreme Court a “virtual sinkhole for environmental law.”

Echeverria found that in every case over the last 15 years in which our high court reviewed a major environmental law issue, a majority sided with the anti-environmental protection party in the dispute:

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Read the full report here.

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.