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Phil BergerNorth Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger was once a semi-reasonable guy. Conservative? Certainly. But during the first several years of his tenure in Raleigh, Berger mostly came across in a way you might expect from a middle-aged, small town, Republican lawyer: Traditional and pro-business, but pleasant, intelligent and friendly enough. Though progressives seldom found themselves agreeing with Berger, he was someone who with whom a person could have a discussion (and maybe even find some common ground).

Something happened in recent years, however, to the old Phil Berger. Especially since he became Senate leader and developed ambitions for higher office (either for himself or his kid), the old, semi-friendly small town lawyer has been replaced by a meaner, edgier, much more reactionary Phil Berger. Sometimes you almost feel as if you’re watching someone trying to play a role. His policies and policy statements are uniformly reactionary and harsh while those of his staff members are frequently even more extreme.

For a case in point, check out this story in today’s Fayetteville Observer. Read More

Phil BergerWRAL has video of all 36 minutes of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s surprisingly far-ranging press conference today and today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File will have a thorough analysis shortly.

For those looking for some preliminary quick takeaways, however, here were a few of the highlights/low-lights:

Berger has decided to go all in with the far right agenda and appears to see it as his pathway to seeking the GOP nomination to take on Kay Hagan in 2014. Moreover, his legislative “agenda” was/is an utterly predictable recitation of Locke Foundation/Civitas/Art Pope priorities: Read More

 
State Budget graphic

What the heck is going on at the General Assembly? To observe this morning’s kangaroo session of the Senate Appropriations Committee (currently recessed) is a little like watching/listening to the student council at a small high school make its budget for the coming year.

First, the Senators dispensed with decades of common sense practice by eliminating subcommittee consideration of the budget and then the group raced through a list of speakers who’ve been charged with the task of talking like tobacco auctioneers to to make their comments fit the absurd couple of minutes they’ve been allotted.

Now the committee chairs Read More

Do you hear that sound? It could be Charlotte’s plan for the Blue Line Extension coming to a screeching halt as a result of the Senate budget proposal for transportation, which would eliminate the Public Transportation Division’s New Starts & Regional Capital Grant Program and $29 million in state appropriations. New Starts is a grant program that allocates federal transportation resources for mass transit capital projects—such as light rail and bus rapid transit—and requires local and state matching appropriations. The proposal may cause Charlotte to lose out on $534.6 million in federal funding for the Blue Line Extension if state funds are not available to cover the required 25 percent match. Read More

 

Send in the mirrors.  Obviously there’s a shortage, judging by the lawmakers and district attorneys who acknowledge racial bias in the justice system in neighboring counties, but never in theirs.

The North Carolina Racial Justice Act, which simply allows defendants in capital trials to present another piece of evidence that race was a significant factor in their case, is up for a concurrence vote in the Senate today.  

Senators are being asked to restore the bill’s original intent of securing fairness in the ultimate punishment. It strips out amendments inserted by Senators eager for the state to resume executions, and whom still voted against the bill even after their amendments were added. 

The Racial Justice Act has been subjected to a cruel, years-long political game among legislators wary that their votes might make them vulnerable in an election year.  But more than most questions put before our lawmakers, this bill is about life and death judgments. Lawmakers have long ignored racial prejudices and assumptions that are typically unspoken and infinitely present in capital sentencing.

In the last year, three innocent black men were released from death row. It’s bad enough that those men served a combined 41 years in prison on death row, but they would have been executed without the state’s court-imposed moratorium on the death penalty.

Today blacks make up 20 percent of the state’s population but 60 percent of those on death row.

It’ll take Senators willing to put away the politics for a day, and who have the conviction to take a hard look in the mirror before voting, to push percentages like that into the history of another era.

 

 

For more information on the NC Racial Justice Act – Senate Bill 461, please visit www.ncmoratorium.org.

NC Racial Justice Act Video 

To contact a Senator to urge support for the bill, link to

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1576/t/6273/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=27713

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Carolina Justice Policy Center is a partner group of the NC Coalition for a Moratorium on Executions.

Death Row Exonerees Levon 'Bo' Jones, Jonathon Hoffman, Glen Edward Chapman & Prison Exoneree Darryl Hunt

Death Row Exonerees