Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. PW exclusive: Durham’s new D.A. is breaking the mold

In a one-on-one interview, Satana Deberry explains how she’s transforming the prosecutor’s office in NC’s 6th largest county

When Satana Deberry was executive director of the North Carolina Housing Coalition, it was easy for her to see the ripple effects of interactions with the justice system.

A single arrest, a single plea, a single conviction for even a low level infraction could close doors to employment, housing and education, she said. That could lead to further arrests, perpetuating generational cycles of poverty.

So when she ran for District Attorney of Durham County last year, she said, it was to make serious change.

When she won, she set about doing just that.[Read more…]

===

2. Pork giant Murphy-Brown battling insurers over who should pay for hog nuisance verdicts

If you drive through eastern North Carolina some days, especially in the wet heat of a summer afternoon, you might become immersed in the stench of hog waste. Many farmers hail it as the smell of money. Some neighbors of the industrialized swine operations denounce it as the foul air of misery.

But for pork producing giant Murphy-Brown and ten of its insurance companies, the odor represents nearly $100 million in damages and legal fees from hog nuisance lawsuits that, as it stands today, somebody will have to pay.

The insurance companies, though, have refused to pay Murphy-Brown’s claims. They argue in part that the policies don’t cover damages related to hog waste because of a “pollution exclusion clause.” Murphy-Brown is now suing the companies (see the complaint at the bottom of this story), accusing them of breach of contract. [Read more…]

===
Commentary:

3. Legislative hypocrisy on “pork” (and we’re not talking about hog farms)

It may seem like ancient history, but there was a time not that long ago in North Carolina in which Republican legislators were out of power and, alongside conservative advocacy groups, passionately promoting a “change” platform that blasted the incumbent Democrats for: 1) gerrymandering elections for partisan gain; 2) abusing power at the General Assembly by not allowing adequate debate on controversial legislation; and 3) stuffing the state budget with pork barrel projects.

Those who’ve paid any attention at all to state politics in recent years are probably already aware how promises #1 and #2 turned out (not so well), but the issue of pork barrel spending can be a little tougher to ferret out and assess. Fortunately, at least two North Carolina news outlets have been looking into the matter in recent weeks and, have, not surprisingly, uncovered compelling evidence of more rank hypocrisy.

Consider the chart that WRAL.com published last Friday morning. In eight pages, the chart lists 530 separate items contained in the budget sent by lawmakers to Gov. Cooper last month that would direct a total $383 million to local projects over the next two fiscal years. [Read more…]

====

4. Board of Elections does a 180 on decision to delay certifying voting machines

The North Carolina State Board of Elections plans to move forward with certifying new voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections after a member mistakenly voted Monday night to delay the process to create stricter requirements out of concern for cyber security.

The reversal of course came as a surprise to voting rights advocates and citizens who had praised Board members last night for postponing certification in the name of voter integrity.

Board members had voted 3-2 for the postponement in order to adopt more stringent requirements for digital voting systems at a later meeting in mid-August (a meeting for which they would have provided 15 days’ notice to the public).

However, another meeting notice sent out Tuesday by the Board stated that the group planned to consider a motion this Thursday morning to “rescind [the] decision to notice meeting to amend NC Election Systems Certification Program.” [Read more…]

===

Commentary:

5. In the age of social media, Donald Trump’s bigotry blooms on the Internet

The notion that social media is a fun-house mirror, distorting our features beyond recognition, is not a new one.

But there is a case to be made, in our hyper-politicized country and state, that our social media feeds offer a more truthful image of us than we know. Perhaps it is that we only wish our social media feeds – so laden with animosity – were a misrepresentation. Perhaps the “fun-house mirror” characterization is a terribly optimistic one.

In that case, Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters are spending a lot of time gazing at their own reflections these days, and it appears, God help us all, that they like what they see.[Read more…]

===

6. Rowan County charter school seeks to sever agreement with Raleigh-based management firm

School’s board cites fiscal and operational concerns

Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School in the Rowan County town of East Spencer recently notified the state Charter School Advisory Board that it will part ways with its management firm – Raleigh-based Torchlight Academy Services (TAS) – after only one year due to poor fiscal and operational management.

Specifically, school officials say TAS failed to account for expenditures, pay operating costs, follow policies, rules and regulations and adhere to the curriculum adopted by the school’s governing board.

“Our board determined that it would be in the best interest of the school to move forward without TAS as our management company,” Tina Foxx Wallace, who chairs the school’s Board of Directors, said in an interview. [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

===

7. Listen to Policy Watch’s latest radio commentaries and newsmaker interviews

===

8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

agriculture, Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, Legislature

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

Commentary:

1. In the IStation saga, Mark Johnson’s failings get a big stage

If North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson ever fizzled in his lustrous perch in DPI’s corner office, his sharpest critics surmised, he would be failed by his extraordinarily limited bona fides.

After all, when it comes to Johnson’s background – two years in a Charlotte classroom via Teach for America, a stint as a corporate attorney, and a brief tenure as a school board member in Winston-Salem – there is simply not much to parse over.

“I mean, he has taught two years,” a flabbergasted June Atkinson marveled in 2016, with no small amount of condescension, when Johnson ousted her. “He’s never run an organization that has almost 900 people. He has never traveled to the 100 counties. He doesn’t have a background. So, it’s like, how do I teach or how do I help a person who is an infant in public education to become an adult overnight to be able to help public education in this state?”

The image conjured up by Atkinson’s damning assessment – that of an in-over-his-head novice – endures today among Johnson’s detractors.

But after IStation, after the iPads, after the supremely suspect rollout of the superintendent’s propagandizing website, perhaps we were wrong. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Monday numbers: A closer look at the depleted ranks at the Department of Public Instruction

===

2. NC Supreme Court justice publicly maligns colleagues, urges critics of America to “just leave” the country


State judicial code makes discipline unlikely for Justice Paul Newby

The only registered Republican on the state Supreme Court likely won’t face any consequences after publicly disparaging his fellow justices, urging a crowd to watch their work over the next 18 months for judicial activism, and telling people who don’t like America to “just leave.”

“Sue till you’re blue. Sue till you’re blue,” said Paul Newby during a speech in Wake County two weekends ago. “What do you think the most dangerous branch of government is? The judicial branch is the correct answer. Imagine seven AOC’s on the state Supreme Court.”

Newby, who has announced he will run for Chief Justice in 2020, was met with clapping and a loud “boo” from the crowd. He was referring to New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose initials have become a sort of Republican slur. [Read more…]

===
Commentary:

3. Unbecoming of a judge: NC Supreme Court justice’s Trump-like comments go too far

It’s no secret that the United States has a significant and growing problem when it comes to the matter of selecting judges. This problem was on vivid public display in 2016, when the Republican majority of the United States Senate refused to consider a highly qualified presidential nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court for nearly a full year on blatantly partisan grounds.

As troubling as the blockade of Merrick Garland and the subsequent flood of frequently unqualified ideologues advanced by President Donald Trump have been, however, the situation is arguably even more dire at the state level, where the phenomenon of judges running for election continues to give rise to all manner of problematic behavior – both by judicial candidates themselves and the forces supporting and opposing their candidacies.

As Policy Watch journalist Melissa Boughton reported yesterday, there was a new and troubling installment in this ongoing saga last week when North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby let loose with a startlingly partisan attack on his fellow justices during a speech to a Wake County Republican audience.[Read more…]

===

4. Hours wasted and a flip-flop on hemp in the Farm Act befuddles House committee

The NC Farm Act: Four months, seven editions, at least a dozen hours of committee hearings and legislative staff time, reams of paper, hundreds of miles of travel by the public, some from as far away as the mountains — and today the bill is back to its original Senate form.

“Why is the ag committee chair [Rep. Jimmy Dixon] taking a different position than earlier in the process?” Rep. Chuck McGrady said in the House Judiciary Committee this morning. “I’m confused.”[Read more…]

===

5. Activists to Congress: N.C. residents living ‘on bottled water and fear’ 

What did leading chemical corporations know about the health risks of PFAS, and when did they know it?

Members of Congress sought an answer to that question this week at a hearing on widespread public exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a dangerous class of chemicals that’s ubiquitous in North Carolina and other states. One lawmaker described PFAS as “the DDT of our era.”

California Rep. Harley Rouda, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform Environment Subcommittee, opened the hearing by accusing companies of withholding information from the public.

DuPont and other companies have long known about the negative health effects of PFAS, which are used in everyday products such as microwave popcorn bags and nonstick pans, Rouda said. [Read more…]

===

6. The budget, the veto and Medicaid

Democratic Senator who initially supported the budget says it’s time for the GOP to negotiate

The political stand-off over whether to expand Medicaid is stretching the state budget stalemate deep into summer with no end in site. But this week Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) said she’s worried about how the gridlock could hurt the 1.6 million low-income North Carolinians already using Medicaid and undermine planned changes to the system.

The current Medicaid program in North Carolina is complex and expensive, with the federal government paying $2 to every $1 the state contributes to its $14 billion annual cost. But the way that system works is set to undergo a significant change in November. [Read more…]

===

7. Partisan gerrymandering trial to conclude today after Thursday bombshell

A two-week long trial about whether Republican lawmakers violated the constitution when they drew voting maps to maximize their partisan advantage will come to an end today.

The Wake County Superior Court three-judge panel likely won’t make a decision for a least a few weeks after hearing mostly complex testimony from expert witnesses that delved deep into the weeds of North Carolina redistricting.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today with another expert witness, this time called to testify on behalf of the intervenors in Common Cause v. Lewis.

John Branch, an attorney for the intervenors — a group of Republican voters — commenced a direct examination of Michael Barber, an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University, late Thursday afternoon. [Read more…]

Bonus reads:
Did Hofeller draw NC maps before redistricting process? Judges throw out expert testimony showing he didn’t

===

8. After “A Decade Without a Raise” workers, elected officials call for raising minimum wage

Dayosha Davis works in fast food, lives in public housing in Durham and struggles to provide for her two children.

Child care starts at $250 a week, she said, which is difficult to afford on the $7.25 an hour minimum wage.

“Last year I enrolled my daughter in pre-school,” Davis said. “And I had to take her out of pre-school because I couldn’t continue to pay for her education, even with help from my mother. It was a hard pill to swallow.”

Wednesday marked 10 years since North Carolina last raised the minimum wage — from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour. [Read more…]

===

9. Listen to our latest radio interviews and micro-podcasts

===

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Higher Ed

ECU asserts itself as a ‘welcoming, accepting campus’ after Trump rally, ‘Send her back!’ chants

A presidential visit to a college campus is often a high honor – a chance to showcase the university in the best light on a national stage.

But East Carolina University finds itself in an awkward spot after President Donald Trump’s rally in Greenville last week, in which his supporters chanted ‘Send her back!’ directed at Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia.

In an open letter posted on ECU’s Facebook page, the University reiterates that it did not endorse the event and had no control over the content of the President’s speech.

ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach and seven vice chancellors, who signed onto the letter, go on to write:

Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach

East Carolina University attracts students, faculty and staff from all over the region, state, nation and world. For decades, people with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences have been proud to call themselves Pirates. A diverse campus allows us to pursue excellence in many ways and fields, to communicate effectively with a broad variety of audiences, and – according to our alumni – to be well prepared for the world after graduation.

ECU is indeed a welcoming and accepting campus that provides students, faculty and staff the opportunity and space to share their thoughts and views. We strive to create an environment where individuals feel wanted, welcomed, appreciated and valued, understanding that there will be times we disagree. That challenge, and sometimes conflict, builds resiliency and sharpens the intellect. That’s the beauty of living, learning and working at a great institution of higher education.

We encourage and welcome civil discourse on our campus. The U.S. Constitution allows the intellectual and individual freedom of expression that enables us to live our mission. These freedoms do not protect the right to hear and listen to only what is convenient and agreeable but do protect the right to be able to respond and express one’s own views. We will facilitate such conversations on the campus in the fall.

Read the full letter from East Carolina University leaders here.

President Trump has since said he ‘felt a little bit badly about it’ and that he began ‘speaking quickly’ to try to quiet the crowd:

 

News, Trump Administration

House condemns Trump’s ‘racist comments’, not a single NC Republican stands against the President

President Donald Trump (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

On Tuesday, the U.S. House voted (240-187) to formally condemn President Trump’s racist comments directed at members of Congress.

Earlier this week, Trump took to Twitter to attack four Congresswomen of color – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) – suggesting they ‘go back’ to the counties they came from.

Three of the women were born in the U.S. All were elected by voters in their respective states to serve in Congress.

The resolution reads in part that the House of Representatives:

“…strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color…”

Rep. Alma Adams

Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), one of the three North Carolina congressional representatives to vote for the resolution, has called Trump’s remarks “hateful and un-American.”

Ahead of the President’s “Keep America Great” rally in Greenville Wednesday evening, not a single Republican from the North Carolina’s House delegation voted to rebuke Trump.

In all, just four Republicans in the U.S. House – Reps. Susan Brooks of Indiana, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas, and Fred Upton of Michigan- voted with Democrats to support the condemnation.

Read the full resolution here.

See how the entire North Carolina delegation voted:
Yea
Rep. G.K. Butterfield – 1st District
Rep. David Price – 4th District
Rep. Alma Adams – 12th district

Nay
Rep. George Holding – 2nd District
Rep. Virginia Foxx – 5th District
Rep. Mark Walker – 6th District
Rep. David Rouzer – 7th District
Rep. Richard Hudson – 8th District
Rep. Patrick McHenry – 10th District
Rep. Mark Meadows – 11th District
Rep. Ted Budd – 13th District

North Carolina’s 3rd District & 9th District seats are currently vacant.

Defending Democracy, immigration

More calls to close migrant detention centers; UN Human Rights Chief ‘appalled’ by conditions

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on Monday calling the conditions of detention centers on the southern U.S. border degrading and appalling. Michelle Bachelet stressed that children should never be held in immigration detention or separated from their families. Here’s more from the UN Human Rights’ statement:

“Detaining a child even for short periods under good conditions can have a serious impact on their health and development – consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue.” The High Commissioner noted that immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child.

“States do have the sovereign prerogative to decide on the conditions of entry and stay of foreign nationals. But clearly, border management measures must comply with the State’s human rights obligations and should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants,” she added.

“In most of these cases, the migrants and refugees have embarked on perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger. When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions. This should never happen anywhere.”

Last week more than 300 people gathered outside the office of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis in Raleigh to demand he take a stand against the Trump administration’s detention policy.

Click below to listen to our interview with El Pueblo Political Director Moisés Serrano on the need to close these facilities, and what North Carolinians can do to make a difference:

This Friday (July 12th) fifteen vigils are planned across North Carolina at part of worldwide protests of the detention camps at the southern border.

Learn more about Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps here.

Local events include:

  • In Durham @ 7:00pm at CCB Plaza, 201 N Corcoran St, Durham
  • In Raleigh @ 7:00pm at Bicentennial Plaza, 1 E. Edenton Street, Raleigh
  • In Greensboro @ 6:30pm at Governmental Plaza 110 S Greene St, Greensboro