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McCrory_Confederate-plateI went on the radio talk show of conservative host Bill LuMaye in Raleigh on Friday and the subject quickly morphed into a debate about confederate monuments and the failure of state conservative leaders to live up to their promises about removing the confederate flag from state license plates. And although I think I hung in there against the defenders of secession and others — many of them, weirdly, transplanted Yankees — who passionately defended the monuments and the decision of the General Assembly and Gov. McCrory to “protect” them, I wish I’d had the article featured in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by Tim Tyson in front of me.

In it, Tyson provides a useful history lesson about the origin of many of the monuments and the one-sided history they frequently portray. Here’s Tyson:

“If your family has been in North Carolina since the Civil War like mine has, your ancestors might well have detested the Confederacy. If you added up the African-Americans, the Unionists, the anti-Confederate rebels, the anti-war crowd and those who simply hated what the Confederacy did to their home state, they might have outnumbered the hardcore Confederates. The sizable crew of dissidents was just as Southern as Robert E. Lee and might be astonished to see Confederate monuments all over the state today.

In arguing for the new Mandatory Confederate Monuments Act, Republican Rep. Marilyn Avila of Raleigh said, ‘When you talk about memorials and remembrances, the point of time at which they were erected is extremely relevant.’ Avila was right. She simply had no idea when the monuments went up, saying it was ‘shortly after the War Between the States.’ If someone had tried to put up Confederate monuments all over North Carolina shortly after the Civil War, there might have been another war. The unanimous Confederate white South is nothing but a cherished myth – especially in North Carolina.”

Read the rest of Tyson’s fine, myth-busting essay by clicking here.
Commentary

Right-wingThere are a lot of bad explanations that have been advanced to justify various acts of the state’s conservative political leadership in recent years.

There’s been the “it’s all Bev’s Fault” excuse in which every problem in (and experienced by) state government — including the Great Recession and its aftermath — is attributed to former Governor Bev Perdue. One can also substitute President Obama here as well, except of course, when one is discussing the national economic recovery (all the good parts of which are, naturally, attributable to conservatives and/or fracking).

Then there’s “the Democrats did it too” excuse. As was explained here, this is most typically used to justify lack of transparency or process, but it can also work to justify gerrymandering, education cuts and a slew of other promise-breaking transgressions. Naturally, previous conservative promises to change the way things are done in Raleigh cannot be mentioned when using this explanation.

And, of course, who could forget the “things are just fantastic now here in the Old North State” explanation. This is invariably trotted out when the latest unemployment report reveals another bump in the rate or new data emerge on the state’s yawning and growing gap between haves and have nots.

Lately, however, there’s been a new contender and it’s been used regularly by lawmakers and right-wing think tankers to justify the last minute, out-of-thin-air  emergence of completely new legislative proposals several months into the legislative session and long after the supposed deadline for the introduction of new bills. This is the “that issue has been discussed for a long time” excuse. You know how this goes:

Reporter: What do you say, Senator (or conservative commentator) to those who argue it’s simply wrong and an evasion of the rules to introduce a series of immensely important constitutional amendments (or a 50 page bill to wreck state environmental laws) weeks after the session was supposed to have ended and months after the supposed bill introduction deadline?

Lawmaker (or commentator): Well, now, you know that issue has been out there for a long time and been discussed in lots of venues. I think everyone knows what the debate is all about and you can rest assured it will get a full going over.

To which all a body can say in response is, “is that so?” By such logic, government doesn’t really need any rules or process at all.

After all, Read More

Commentary

Pat McCrory 4Sometimes, you have to wonder how Governor Pat McCrory prioritizes the issues to which he will devote his attention.

Right now, the General Assembly is in the midst of one of the most momentous — and potentially damaging — stretches in recent state history. An interminable and increasingly destructive budget impasse, the serious consideration of a radical series of constitutional amendments, a plan to sell off the state’s award-winning publicly-controlled system for delivering health insurance for people in need to Wall Street corporations and a proposal to expedite the privatization of public schools are all on the front burner on Jones Street. Add to this that the legislative session is about to go into double/triple overtime and one might reasonably conclude that now is THE time for the Governor to be exerting leadership and driving the agenda.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, here is what the Guv has apparently made his top priority, according to Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday called on the state Senate to pass a historic tax credit plan that has languished in the legislature since March.

House Bill 152 would create a scaled-back version of the tax credit, which expired at the beginning of the year as part of a Republican-led tax reform effort. The new credits would pay property owners less than the original program, with an expected annual cost to the state of $8 million. The available credit would be larger in the state’s poorest counties.

The House passed the bill in a 98-15 vote on March 26, but the Senate referred it to the Ways and Means Committee, which never meets.

‘I’m getting impatient, that’s why I took off my tie,’ McCrory told a group of about 100 tax credit supporters. ‘We shouldn’t even have a fight about it. … We need action today. Go to the legislature!’

McCrory’s cultural resources secretary, Susan Kluttz, said she’s made 73 trips to 52 towns across the state to solicit support for the tax credits.”

You got that? At a time of great upheaval in which fundamental decisions are being made about the future of North Carolina, the Governor is spending vast amounts of his time campaigning for what is, at best, a tiny side issue. This isn’t to say that restoring the historic tax credits wouldn’t be a nice thing to do, but good grief! Seventy-three trips for a tax credit that amounts to spare change in a $21 billion budget?

C’mon Governor. We know General Assembly leaders frequently opine that you are all but irrelevant, but you could at least try to insert yourself into the debates that really matter. The historic tax credit campaign at a time like this is simply embarrassing.

Commentary

well-timed tissueGov. McCrory may have shed a few tears yesterday over the departure of his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wos, but the chief reaction across the state — both within government and without — was relief and a strong feeling of “what took so you long? This morning’s editorial pages tell the story:

Here’s Wos’ hometown Greensboro News & Record in an editorial called “Good heart, bad fit”:

“As for tangible results, well, that was another matter. Despite her background as a physician and former U.S. ambassador— and her famous, sunrise-to-late-night work ethic — the sheer weight of the DHHS bureaucracy seemed to overwhelm Wos.

In time, critics on both sides of the partisan aisle began to wonder out loud if they were getting their money’s worth.

Now, after two and half years at the post, Wos is leaving, Gov. Pat McCrory announced at a Wednesday news conference in Raleigh. Standing at his side, Wos noted it was ‘time to go home.’ Although the governor tearfully praised Wos’ job performance and commitment — as he has all along — her tenure has been wracked by a series of missteps and crises, large and small…”

The N&R then goes on to list a half dozen HHS disasters under Wos’ leadership.

Raleigh’s N&O put it this way in a piece entitled “Don’t cry for me North Carolina”:

“Some Republican lawmakers were annoyed by the turmoil in the department and Wos’ inability to provide reliable numbers on the cost of Medicaid. Senate Republicans even proposed that their version of Medicaid reform would remove the program entirely from DHHS and place its management under the control of a new agency. Indeed, lawmakers doubts about Wos may well have played a role in her resignation.”

The Winston-Salem Journal called for the department to be put back on track:

“The resignation Wednesday of Dr. Aldona Wos, the embattled secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, was as overdue as it was unsurprising.…During the two-and-a-half years she has served as secretary, legislators of both parties, advocates and state audits have repeatedly pointed out flaws in the department’s delivery of service to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Charlotte Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers compares the department Wos leaves behind to the Statue of Liberty — the torch section.

Meanwhile, the Fayeteville Observer took a different approach, noting that Wos’ departure provides a perfect time to expand Medicaid:

“When he explained why he declined to adopt Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid coverage two years ago, Gov. Pat McCrory said he couldn’t do it because the system was broken. Two consecutive years into positive fund balances, it doesn’t look broken anymore, does it? Where, then, is the expansion initiative, which would bring billions of federal dollars to North Carolina, insure hundreds of thousands of residents without coverage and likely save some rural hospitals from shutting down?”

Commentary

Medicaid expansionFor years now, poor and working North Carolinians who would benefit greatly from Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act have been held hostage as Governor McCrory procrastinated and offered excuses. First, the Guv claimed that the Medicaid system itself was “broken” and in need of repair before it could be expanded. Then, he claimed that it would be inappropriate to act until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the ACA itself.

Today, McCrory is running out of excuses. The Supreme Court took care of the constitutionality question a few weeks ago and yesterday, McCrory himself laid Excuse #1 to rest.

According to a statement from the Governor’s office, Medicaid is now in the black:

“The Department of Health and Human Services reported today that the North Carolina Medicaid program ended the 2014-15 state fiscal year with $130.7 million cash on hand. This is the second consecutive year the Medicaid program has finished with cash on hand.”

What’s more, that surplus is more than enough to cover state costs of implementing expansion. As a December 2014 study from health policy wonks at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University reported (see page 15), expansion will actually save the state more than $300 million over the next five years. In 2020, however, there will be a modest net cost to the state of $91.7 million.

The obvious takeaway? Even if the state flushed away the savings that expansion will bring between now and 2020, it can easily cover the modest bump in costs in 2020 merely by socking away the current surplus.

Not surprisingly, however, the Guv is already moving the goalposts. Read More