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As North Carolina endures the absurd, never-ending ad blitz of a U.S. Senate campaign, here are two quick, must reads that explain: 1) just how far out of hand the wholesale sell-off of our democracy to the top 1% has gotten and 2) what we ought to be doing about it.

Number One is a great, interactive post from the the Center for Public Integrity entitled “Who’s buying the Senate?”  If you follow the link, you can check out a partial list if who is paying (sort of anyway) for the remarkable flood of thousands of junk TV ads (there have already been nearly 50,000 of them on TV  in North Carolina (not including local cable and many other media).

Meanwhile, Number Two is this editorial from yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch that tells you what we ought to be doing to rein in this situation and reclaim control of our democracy – namely, pass the “Democracy for All” amendment that would reestablish the constitutionality of limits on campaign finance.  The editorial is entitled “While America sleeps, plutocrats are stealing its government.” To quote:

Thanks to a series of wretched decisions by the Supreme Court, effective political speech now belongs only to those who can afford it. What’s more, donors can easily keep their names secret.

The court has ruled that money is a form of speech that cannot be abridged. But as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote so succinctly in 2000, upholding Missouri’s campaign finance limits, “Money is property; it is not speech….”

Given the sordid record of the Rehnquist and Roberts courts on campaign finance issues, Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado saw the obvious solution as amending the Constitution to make it clear that democracy is not plutocracy. But that requires the cooperation of the party that benefits from the status quo. When Mr. Udall needed a Republican co-author for an op-ed commentary about his amendment, he had to go Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who retired from the Senate in 1997.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other agents of the plutocrats are couching the vote on SJR 19 as a free-speech issue. Mr. McConnell appears to think that the public will be fooled, or that it doesn’t care. He went along with Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., plans to spend this week debating the amendment.

Don’t be fooled. This is not about free speech rights. It is about property rights, specifically whether those with the most property should have the biggest say in the way government is run. Without enough money to hire consultants and staff and to barrage voters with television ads, candidates for federal and statewide offices — and increasingly, local offices — have virtually no chance of being elected.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Commentary

fuzzy-math-300x225In case you missed it, one of this morning’s “must reads” is a story posted late yesterday by WRAL reporter Mark Binker about the ongoing controversy over North Carolina’s muddled and troubled new teacher pay plan.  As Binker reports:

When Gov. Pat McCrory wrote to welcome teachers back to the classroom, he touted a “substantial” pay raise that amounted to “an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers.”

That might have been exciting news, except that legislative leaders have been touting a 7 percent average pay raise for more than a month now. House Speaker Thom Tillis trumpets that 7 percent figures as “simple math” in a recent campaign ad for his U.S. Senate campaign.

For educators like Michelle Pettey, a first-grade teacher at Wake County’s Brier Creek Elementary School, that “simple math” doesn’t add up; 5.5 percent doesn’t equal 7 percent and neither number matches the smaller-than-expected pay bump that showed up in her first paycheck of the year.

“No teacher can figure out what happened,” said Pettey, a teacher with 16 years in the classroom who said her actual raise worked out to be something like 1.39 percent over last year’s salary. The single mom whose own kinds are in the school system says she has friends outside the profession who ask her why teachers are complaining about a 7 percent raise.

According to Binker’s story, the confusing new plan has even left one of the state’s most powerful politicians — Senate Rules Committee chairman Tom Apodaca — confused.

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Commentary

Thom_Tillis_official_portraitWhen I last posted about the Senate debate between Speaker Thom Tillis and Sen. Kay Hagan I had listened to the exchange on radio but I had not yet watched the video. Watching television coverage of the debate one could hardly miss that Tillis was, once again, wearing a blue lapel pin from the science and advocacy organization Autism Speaks.

The pin highlights an important question that the media and voters should be asking Tillis: Where does he stand on minimum coverage requirements for insurance?

The primary argument Tillis pushes against the Affordable Care Act and Sen. Hagan is that the health law set a new floor for health insurance benefits. That’s why some plans were initially cancelled. It’s why some plans cost more than before the enactment of reform. But for the Autism community setting minimum standards for insurance was one of the most important parts of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, Autism Speaks and the Autism Society are still doing critical work to ensure that insurance companies are adhering to these new mandates.

Moreover, Tillis personally advocated for a bill expanding on the minimum requirements set by the ACA by mandating insurance coverage for the diagnoses and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Assuming that Tillis was sincere in his support of new insurance requirements it’s difficult to see how he could object to the health reform law establishing similar mandates. And if he supports minimum requirements in general but opposes specific coverage mandates in the ACA then he should specify which services he would make optional for insurance companies. Would he say that insurers can go back to not covering pregnancy? What about prescription drugs?

The answers to these questions cut to the core of the Speaker’s opposition to health reform and voters need to know where he stands.

Commentary
Tillis Hagan

Photo: WRAL.com

There’s been a great deal of discussion in the media and elsewhere in recent days about the issue of sexism in politics and, in particular, whether it was just a friendly and appropriate sign of progress or a sexist and disrespectful bit of backsliding for North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis to repeatedly refer to his opponent, Senator Kay Hagan, as “Kay” during their first debate.

One staffer at the John Locke Foundation attacked reporter Laura Leslie of WRAL last week and accused her of “helping to keep the false narrative alive.” The staffer then went on to say the following:

“What Leslie fails to mention in her story is that Hagan and Tillis were colleagues in the N.C. General Assembly for several years, which makes the first-name basis very understandable, and not a show of disrespect.”

A fact check, however, raises some doubts about the Locke staffer’s claims — at least the part about Hagan and Tillis being old buddies. Speaker Tillis began his service in the House of Representaives in 2007. This means he and Hagan were only in Raleigh at the same time for one term — during which he was  a backbencher in the House GOP minority from Mecklenburg County and she was a powerful Senate Appropriations chair from Guilford County who was running for the U.S. Senate (she was. of course, elected in 2008).

The bottom line: While it’s certainly possible that the two had friendly interactions during that brief window, it would have been quite unusual given normal General Assembly dynamics. Moreover, it’s simply untrue that they were “colleagues in the the N.C. General Assembly for several years.”

Commentary

As expected health care played a major role in the first debate between Sen. Hagan and Speaker Tillis.

Tillis took two major lines of attack against Sen. Hagan on health care: he chastised Hagan for saying that people could keep the insurance plan they like, and he criticized the policy of setting minimum standards for insurance plans. He also mentioned at the end of the debate that people will pay 11 percent more for insurance next year but that was a strange sidebar claim with no evidence to support it. Insurance policies are not yet posted and have not even completed regulatory review.

On the first point Tillis chose his words carefully. Koch brother groups in North Carolina keep claiming that thousands of people in the state lost their insurance. The Tillis camp apparently realizes that this is a ridiculous assertion. So Tillis said that thousands of people received cancellation notices from their insurance company. This thrust was parried by Hagan when she pointed out that the plans were continued when she and other members of Congress pressured the Obama Administration to keep the policies in place. She also noted that insurers continued selling non-compliant insurance plans to consumers after the Affordable Care Act was signed without adequately explaining that the policies would have to change after 2014.

On the second point Tillis argued that people should be able to purchase any insurance plan they want without regulations on what is covered. The Affordable Care Act imposes some standards on insurance policies. Hagan didn’t spent much time responding to this charge, although she could have noted that his push for mandating that insurance cover Autism treatments directly contradicts his criticism of health reform. The problem with deregulating insurance is twofold. Read More