Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. New analysis indicates that toxics were present in Wilmington drinking water at extreme levels


Tests of samples collected between 2014 and 2016 reveal sky-high PFAS readings

Astronomical concentrations of toxic compounds commonly known as PFAS were present in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, years before researchers had the technology to detect them.

According to a new analysis of preserved samples from 2014 to 2016, PFAS that contain an ether molecule were found at concentrations of at least as high as 130,000 parts per trillion near Lock and Dam No. 1, near the drinking water intake for the City of Wilmington. The contamination originated at the Chemours/DuPont facility more than 80 miles upstream.

The samples at Lock and Dam No. 1 were taken in 2015 near by NC State and EPA researchers. But only now, with advanced technology, can scientists more accurately measure the concentrations of PFAS in water. [Read more...]

 

2. Superintendent candidates focus on racial equity at Raleigh education forum

As the proud owner of a new restaurant, Leonardo Williams surely had other things to do this past Saturday.

But there he was, taking notes and listening closely to six state superintendent candidates who want to replace Mark Johnson in the November 2020 general election.

For the record, Johnson has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

Williams, a former educator and two-time Teacher of the Year in Durham who still has more than a passing interest in educational issues because of his work as a consultant, explained that the superintendent’s race will be the most important statewide race on the ballot.

He said the winner of the election — he’s betting it’ll be one of the six announced candidates present Saturday — will be charged with the important work of slowing what he sees as an attempt by the Republican-led General Assembly to privatize public schools. [Read more…]

 

3. Equality advocates express concern, determination to fight on as high court weighs LGBTQ discrimination

This week, five years after a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up an issue that, for some, could be even more consequential for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.

The nation’s highest court heard opening arguments Tuesday in three cases that could decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or status as transgender people.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, said that while the community has been fighting for employment protection in all states for decades, it is daunting to have it before the current Supreme Court.

“For me personally, it’s creating a great deal of anxiety to have this issue in the hands of the court with its current makeup,” Johnson said. [Read more…]

 

4. Latest Supreme Court battle a reminder that true LGBTQ equality is far from won

“The struggle for gay rights is over,” the writer James Kirchick wrote in The Atlantic in June. And just like that, you could almost smell the smoldering keyboards across the country.

I loathe sports metaphors, but if we were playing football, this headline still smacks of celebrating a touchdown on the opposing team’s 20-yard-line.

Yet it’s safe to assume Kirchick – a Brookings Institute fellow and openly gay reporter who, in 2007, won the National Gay and Lesbian Journalist Association’s award for “Journalist of the Year” – revels in a robust debate, else he wouldn’t pen such a provocative piece. That piece, it should be noted, is more nuanced and thoughtful than the headline.

(Indeed, I’m convinced he enjoys a good dust-up after watching Kirchick’s glorious trolling of the Russian propaganda network RT in 2016, in which he donned rainbow suspenders and dismantled the Kremlin’s anti-gay laws before the network booted him.)[Read more…]

5. It’s up to the court now: A redistricting update after the final round of filings

It’s a strikingly familiar tale in North Carolina: voters are waiting with bated breath for a court to either approve legislatively-drawn remedial House and Senate maps or to assign the job to a neutral third-party to correct unconstitutional gerrymandering issues.

Republicans drew the 2017 legislative maps to entrench themselves in political power and dilute the Democratic vote, a three-judge panel ruled in September. The panel gave lawmakers another bite at the apple to draw districts without partisan considerations ahead of the 2020 election.

Now there is a battle over whether legislators followed the court’s instructions or just ended up creating another unconstitutional scheme that continues to disadvantage voters.

The political stakes are high – 2020 is a Census year, so whichever party is elected to the majority will control the next cycle of redistricting, likely with some partisan intent if history gives any indication. [Read more…]

 

6. Legislature pushes another troubling attack on voting and immigrants

Sometimes you have to wonder if there isn’t a very specific chapter in the political playbook of Donald Trump’s modern American right that includes the following entries under the heading “default strategies”:

A. Attack immigrants
B. Restrict voting rights
C. If possible, combine strategies a and b

After all, any political movement that would, a) stubbornly stand by a president who proposes to employ tactics reminiscent of the East German Stasi in dealing with border crossing immigrants and, b) host “how to” confabs in which architects and defenders of some of the most notorious gerrymanders and voter suppression schemes in U.S. history hold forth for politicians from across the country, is doing little to disguise its objectives.

By almost every indication, the right sees the demographic wave that is headed squarely in its direction over the next few decades and is scrambling madly to do everything its leaders can think of to hold back the tide. [Read more…]

 

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News

New poll: Trump trails leading Democratic rivals in North Carolina, voters divided on impeachment

The latest numbers from Public Policy Polling find that more than half  (51%) of North Carolina voters disapprove of the job President Donald Trump is doing, with five leading Democratic candidates besting him in a head-to-head match-up.

Here’s how the numbers break down, according to the latest state poll:

Joe Biden has a 5 point advantage at 51-46, Elizabeth Warren has a 3 point advantage at 49-46, and Bernie Sanders is up 50-47. Trump and Kamala Harris tie at 47, and Trump has a slight advantage over Pete Buttigieg at 47-46. It’s notable that regardless of the Democrat he’s tested against, Trump always polls at 46-47% in North Carolina.

On the issue of impeachment, North Carolinians who were surveyed were equally divided. Here’s how the pollsters at PPP explain those findings:

48% of voters support impeaching Trump, with an equal 48% opposed. At this point disapproval for Trump and support for impeaching Trump have become almost the same thing- only 7% of voters who disapprove of Trump are opposed to impeaching him.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis has made his support for President Trump clear over the last few months, and likewise Trump has offered his endorsement to Tillis. But this latest poll shows that partnership has done little to help North Carolina’s junior Senator.

Thom Tillis continues to be quite unpopular, with only 22% of voters approving of the job he’s doing to 44% who disapprove. In addition to being broadly unpopular with Democrats (9/59) and independents (22/48), he continues to have tepid numbers within his own party. Just 40% of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing to 22% who disapprove, which is why he’s having to beat back a primary challenge from Garland Tucker.

Read the full poll results here, including how state issues like Medicaid expansion and nonpartisan redistricting fare with voters.

Commentary

Live in a county where the polls are open today? You still have time to do your civic duty.

It’s easy to focus on Washington politics and often forget about the impact local offices have on our daily lives — but that would be a mistake.

More than two dozen counties have local elections today and the polls are open until 7:30pm.

In November 2015, researchers from Democracy NC identified 69 cities in our state where the mayor or a town council member won their election by five or fewer votes.

In other words, your vote really does matter.

Need more motivation? Read today’s editorial from Capitol Broadcasting Company.

There are 110 local elections being held today in 24 counties around North Carolina. In Fayetteville, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Cary, voters will be picking mayors and city council members. They’ll be doing the same from Elizabeth City in Pasquotank County in the east to Flat Rock and Fletcher in Henderson County in the west.

Candidates have been working to rouse interest. The last few days there’s hardly a mailbox in cities holding elections that haven’t been filled with vote-for-me post cards and candidate solicitations.

If you haven’t had a candidate or campaign worker knock on your door, it’s because you haven’t been home. And it’s likely you’ve been greeted by a candidate at some community event or shopping venue.

Still, voters were hardly breaking the doors down at early voting sites in the Triangle: 18,039 in Wake County; 6,484 in Durham County and 6,387 in Orange County.

But that need not be a predictor of final turnout. Polls are open today from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

Voters who don’t make it to the polls are telling the rest of us who do: “Go ahead, we’ll trust you to make choices for us. We’ll be happy with the decisions you make and promise not to complain a bit if local governments do things we don’t like.”

We may like our neighbors – but do we really trust ALL of them with our votes?

Want to know where to vote? Just click HERE and you can look it up.

Do you need a photo ID to vote? No – that law doesn’t go into effect until 2020. Got other questions? You can reach the State Board of Elections at 866-522-4723. There’s also information available at the State Board’s website.

There’s no better way for citizens to get a message to public officials than by voting.

Do it today. It’s your right, and obligation.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. How a Trump attack on the federal “Waters of the United States” rule imperils the waters of North Carolina

This is the second of a three-part series  about a commonly used method of environmental protection for wetlands and streams called “compensatory mitigation.”

This a place where the Atlantic Ocean begins: A yawning storm pipe draped by kudzu about a half-mile south of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Little more than a murky ditch, the shallow stream winds south, beneath the American Tobacco Trail bridge, behind a strip mall, and past two gas stations, to Forest Hills Park.

To illustrate the connections between Durham’s lowly downtown ditch to the coast, if you floated a paper boat from the headwaters in Forest Hills, its 150-mile journey would run south through Third Fork Creek, which in turn merges with New Hope Creek, which flows into Jordan Lake, a drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people. The boat would skim over the dam and into the Cape Fear River, which travels through southeastern North Carolina and spills into the Atlantic south of Wilmington.[Read more…]

2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg reviews her remarkable life, battles for gender equality in Raleigh appearance

Veteran justice laments politicization of Supreme Court confirmation process, expresses optimism about the future

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to a crowd of mostly women Monday in Raleigh, recalled when so many opportunities were off limits for her gender.

“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s Garment District, which my mother was, and a Supreme Court justice?” she asked. “And my answer is, one generation.”

The audience burst into applause. More than 1,600 people attended the conversation with Ginsburg as part of Meredith College’s Lillian Parker Wallace lecture series in Raleigh.

“As bleak as things may seem, I have seen so many changes in my lifetime, opportunities opened for people of whatever race, religion, and finally, gender,” said the 86-year-old.[Read more…]

3. Five simple truths about the Medicaid expansion debate

Prescription to apply for health insurance with personal computing tablet and stethoscope.

Medicaid expansion is back on the table at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Sort of.

Maybe.

The latest maddening and semi-hopeful development in this seemingly never ending saga arose in the aftermath of the September 11 budget veto override debacle when House Speaker Tim Moore announced that he would fulfill “a promise” to revive the GOP version of the proposal now that the House was “finished” with the budget.

Last week, the measure – House Bill 655 – was approved by the House Health Committee on a voice vote and forwarded on to the House Rules Committee. The same committee had already taken the same action on a very similar version of the proposal back in July in a 25-6 vote.[Read more…]

4. National civil rights group calls on Forest to withdraw from event featuring anti-Muslim speakers


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest to withdraw from headlining an event featuring several controversial anti-Islamic speakers.

Forest’s top-billing at such an event sends a dangerous message, said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw.

“By sharing the stage with anti-Muslim speakers, the lieutenant governor would legitimize the bigoted views espoused by the speakers and delegitimize the Republican Party’s claim of supporting religious freedom for all,” McCaw said. “Lieutenant Governor Forest should immediately withdraw from this event and reaffirm his commitment to representing all North Carolinians regardless of faith or background.”

The group, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is responding to Forest’s planned speech to the The American Renewal Project’s “North Carolina Renewal Project” event. The event takes place next week, Oct. 3-4, at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel.

Forest has not responded to requests for comment from Policy Watch.[Read more…]

5. Burr, Tillis stick with Trump as Senate passes another resolution to block border emergency declaration


The U.S. Senate voted again on Wednesday to block President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the southern U.S. border.

The Senate voted 54-41 to end the declaration, delivering a rebuke that’s likely to be symbolic. Both chambers of Congress already voted to block the resolution, but the effort failed after the U.S. House failed to override Trump’s veto in March. The White House is expected to veto the resolution again.

Eleven Republicans joined Senate Democrats this week in voting to block Trump from circumventing Congress to obtain funding for a controversial border wall. The National Emergencies Act allows Democrats to seek a vote on repealing the emergency declaration every six months. The resolution disapproval requires a simple majority to pass the Senate.[Read more…]

6. In 2019, with student debt and tuition soaring, is UNC still the university of the people?

“I speak for all of us who could not afford to go to Duke,” Charles Kuralt once declared in 1993, in that inimitable oaken voice, during the UNC system’s bicentennial celebration.

Kuralt, speaking to an august assemblage that included former President Bill Clinton and then North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, was in the midst of one of the regal monologues the famous newsman was lauded for in his 22 years at CBS News.

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?” he boomed. “It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls, or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming. … No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the university of the people.”

Kuralt, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and Wilmington native, earned a place in a generation of UNC commercials for that dedication. You can also catch Kuralt’s folksy love letter to Chapel Hill at any UNC sporting event, although the kum-ba-yah has an oddly dissonant sound in 2019.

Today, it is difficult to imagine many institutions of higher education in North Carolina, much less in the United States, can reasonably claim to be the “university of the people” anymore, unless we are to change the definition of “the people.” [Read more…]

7. Does NC adequately prepare and test its teachers?


National education advocate says state is falling short but local experts tell a different story

Kate Walsh, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has a reputation for being provocative.

She lived up to that billing this month during a visit to North Carolina to discuss strategies for improving college and university teacher prep programs.

In North Carolina, there are 52 such programs approved by the State Board of Education (SBE). They include private and public universities and colleges as well as smaller programs created by school districts and nonprofits to feed the teacher pipeline. [Read more…]

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News

A familiar face tapped to take Dan Bishop’s seat in the NC Senate

As former Senator Dan Bishop heads to Congress, Mecklenburg County Republicans have turned to former House Representative Rob Bryan to represent the people of the 39th district.

Bryan currently serves on the UNC Board of Governors. He also advocated for a controversial charter school takeover plan of struggling public schools during his previous stint in the legislature.

Here’s more on Bryan’s selection from the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill:

Former state Rep. Rob Bryan could soon be Senator Bryan.

“I’m excited to serve the people living in the 39th,” Bryan told the Observer. “I look forward to being back in the legislature and working on issues important to the district.”

Bryan, a former two-term House member, serves on the UNC Board of Governors and once chaired the Mecklenburg Republican Party. He’s an attorney who left a job as chief development officer for Cardinal Innovations health care in May and now runs his own consulting company.

GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Forest Thursday endorsed Bryan for the seat.

In a statement, state GOP Chairman Michael Whatley said, “Bryan has a proven conservative record as a state House member and will undoubtedly bring the same effective leadership to the Senate on behalf of his constituents.”

Bryan will serve out Bishop’s term through 2020 in southeast Mecklenburg District 39.

But lawmakers just drew new districts that would put him in Senate District 37, which is currently held by Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson.

If a panel of judges approves the districts, Bryan would have to file in the new district in December and could face Jackson, who’s expected to run for re-election.