Commentary

Two fine essays sum up the dreadful state of affairs at the General Assembly

In case you missed them, a pair of fine essays — one a weekend Charlotte Observer/News & Observer editorial and the other an op-ed by UNC law professor Gene Nichol that was featured in this morning’s N&O — do a great job of capturing the toxic essence of the 2019 General Assembly.

After pointing out the destructive folly of Trump’s giveaway to corporate America at the national level, the two McClatchy editorial boards put it this way in “The verdict is in on NC tax cuts. They’re not working.”:

This umpteenth example of the false promise of trickle-down economics raises anew questions about North Carolina’s aggressive cutting of corporate taxes. The Republican-led General Assembly started phasing in tax cuts in 2013 that now cost about $3.6 billion a year in lost revenue. The estate tax was eliminated and the progressive income tax was reduced to a flat tax, but the most dramatic cut was a reduction in the corporate tax rate. Since 2013 it has been reduced from a high of 6.9 percent — then the highest in the Southeast — to 2.5 percent today. Among 44 states that have a corporate tax, North Carolina’s is the lowest.

What has been the effect? State employees, teachers and state services have certainly felt the reduction in state revenue. But the boom that was supposed to come with making the state more “business friendly” hasn’t happened. The economy has grown as the state’s population has increased and the national economic recovery has lifted all states, but North Carolina’s mix of tax cuts and spending austerity has produced more pain than gain.

Michael Mazerov, senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute based in Washington, D.C., analyzed data for North Carolina’s job growth and overall economic growth since passage of the tax cuts. His conclusion: “Looking back to when (the cuts) started at the end of 2013, the state has underperformed most of its neighbors in terms of overall economic growth as measured by GDP.”

“…The bottom line is that North Carolina, like Kansas before it, has shown that cutting taxes does not have much, if any, positive impact on job creation,” Mazerov said.

Gene Nichol

Jeff Jackson

Nichol’s essay (“The arrogance of abusive power in NC”) is an indictment of the abusive behavior that Republican leaders have made their trademark in running state government in recent years. In it, he lauds the recent speech of Democratic state senator Jeff Jackson, who challenged Republicans to have an “up or down” vote on a budget veto override and who was then responded to with churlish — even juvenile — behavior from his GOP colleagues in the Senate. Here’s the conclusion:

“Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman of Randolph County then rose, with a sneer on his face, asking “for a moment of personal privilege.” Facing Jackson, Tillman said:

“I might expect some criticism about calling the vote from many people. But you’d be the last one to advise me on that. I don’t believe we need your advice on when to call the vote. We’ll call the vote at the right time. I hope you’ll miss it. But nevertheless we’ll call it.”

When Tillman said “I hope you’ll miss it” the Republican senators erupted in derisive laughter. Jackson stood tall. The Republicans oozed slime. Sen. Berger deemed Jackson’s opposition to vote manipulation “infantile.” Watch the tape. Decide which camp disgusts.

It might be helpful to recall that this Republican General Assembly has repeatedly been found by every kind of court in the land – federal, state, trial, appellate, Republican, Democrat and bi-partisan – to have boldly and deliberately abused its power and prerogative. Judges have consistently determined that Republican leaders have lied about proffered justifications for their constitutionally violative schemes. On the House side, they misled and cheated their Democratic colleagues to get an override vote. And both chambers have forced Tar Heel taxpayers to pay millions of dollars to defend their illicit ventures in federal and state tribunals. Yet they remain, apparently, unchastened.

Tillman’s profane arrogance is, of course, his own. His leader, and his Republican colleagues, no doubt, enjoyed sharing the fun. But this dishonorable train wreck demeans us all, not just the Republican senators who demonstrated how despicable they can be.

We can’t allow the nation to believe, one minute longer, that this represents North Carolina.”

Commentary

Congressman Dan Bishop should be held to account for his shameful and possibly illegal act

The behavior of President Trump’s Republican defenders in Congress is beginning to resemble less and less that of a legitimate political party and more what one would expect from of a group of juvenile gang members egging each other on to more and more outrageous acts. The latest disgraceful example comes courtesy of newbie North Carolina congressman, Dan Bishop (pictured at left).

As Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer reported yesterday evening:

U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop apparently became the first member of Congress to divulge the purported name of the whistleblower whose memo sparked the House impeachment inquiry.

The Charlotte Republican published the name in a Monday tweet.

Bishop was responding to a tweet from someone who said Republicans should refer to the person as “the leaker” or “the deep state spy in the White House.”

“100%. I refuse to cower before the authoritarian intimidation campaign. He’s not Voldemort,” Bishop replied, alluding to the Harry Potter villain who’s rarely named. “And he’s not a bona fide whistleblower. Even if he were, he wouldn’t be entitled to secrecy.”

He went on to tweet the name of a person he called “a deep state conspirator.”

Make no mistake: this is a serious and dangerous act on Bishop’s part. The whistleblower in question has already received multiple death threats. What’s more, Bishop’s action quite arguably violates federal law. As the website Charlotte Stories reported yesterday:

If the name Bishop tweeted out is determined to be the actual name of the whistleblower, there’s a chance he could be found guilty of violating one or more of the following:

  • A 1982 amendment to the National Security Act of 1947 that makes it a crime to intentionally disclose “any information identifying” a covert intelligence agent.
  • Section 1505 of the US Obstruction of Justice code, which makes it a crime if someone “corruptly, or by threats or force … influences, obstructs, or impedes … the due and proper administration of the law.”
  • Section 1513 of the US Obstruction of Justice code, which makes it a crime to retaliate against someone “for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense.”

Federal law protecting whistleblowers is a vital bipartisan statutory scheme that goes to the very essence of a functioning democracy. By blatantly and shamefully violating such a law, Bishop is undermining the very legitimacy of American government and abetting the cause of lawless despotism.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Mark Meadows’ predictably dishonest response to impeachment hearings

It’s increasingly remarkable (and a testament to the troubled state of American politics) that supposedly intelligent and responsible people can continue to hear the details of the remarkable behavior of President Trump and his minions in the Ukraine scandal and still profess to think that there’s no “there” there. Take North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows.

As USA Today reported yesterday, Meadows (pictured at left) was his usual irresponsible and unpatriotic self in attempting to defend Trump:

After hearing for hours from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of State, Rep. Mark Meadows, one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill, left the hearing to do damage control.

The North Carolina Republican dismissed a new revelation by Taylor, that one of his staff members overheard the president ask specifically about investigations in Ukraine, and called the hours of public testimony boring….

“There’s nothing here. I mean, I can tell you in the room…more yawning going on than there is aha moments and I can tell you for a lot of us, we were probably checking our Twitter feed more than we were paying attention to some of the testimony,” Meadows said.

Think about that for a moment. Faced with the solemn duty of examining whether the president of the United States engaged in illegal, even quasi-treasonous behavior in selling out the country and its foreign policy objectives for personal gain, Meadows — a man sworn to uphold the Constitution — claimed he didn’t even pay attention to the proceedings.

It was stunning and embarrassing statement.

Of course, it’s also almost assuredly untrue. Meadows and his people were listening carefully. Had anything specific emerged from the hearings that would have genuinely tended to exonerate Trump or undermine any of the witnesses, you can be sure Meadows would have been all over it.

The problem for Meadows and his allies is that the witnesses were extremely powerful and credible. As the astute Charles Pierce accurately observed:

Make no mistake. If the hearings on Tuesday were a criminal trial, the jury wouldn’t have been out long enough to order lunch. The President* of the United States ran a cheap-assed, third-rate shakedown of the new president of an embattled ally for the purpose of enlisting the new president of the embattled ally in the ratfcking of the 2020 election. Both of those are crimes. Putting them together is a third crime.

Left with no facts or law to pound on, Meadows was thus reduced to pounding on the table and appealing to the worst instincts of his misguided far right followers by, in effect, urging them to tune out the impeachment hearings altogether.

Unfortunately for Meadows and Trump, the segment of Americans willing to fall for his “nothing-to-see-here” shtick is declining rapidly.

Commentary, News

League of Women Voters: NC congressional redistricting process remains flawed

Criticism of the congressional redistricting process that’s been taking place at the General Assembly in recent days continues to grow — particularly around the issues of transparency and opportunities for public input.

The group issued the following statement this morning:

The League of Women Voters of Wake County (LWV-Wake) has carefully monitored every day of the current congressional redistricting process. League of Women Voters of Wake County president Dianna Wynn says “We have concerns with the lack of full transparency and the nominal role public input has played in the process. Contrary to how redistricting is repeatedly approached in this state, voting maps are not for politicians. These are the people’s maps, and the people of North Carolina should have a greater voice in this process.”

The committee provided an online portal for public comment. During the legislative redistricting process, LWV-Wake requested that public comments be made public on the website. We appreciate that comments are now viewable as part of the current process. The portal, however, was insufficiently publicized to voters. Furthermore, we do not know if committee members bothered to consider the public’s concerns throughout the process. The public must be assured that their comments are not going into a virtual black hole, never to be seriously reviewed or considered by our elected officials.

LWV-Wake president Dianna Wynn says “I don’t know if committee members reviewed the comments submitted by the public. I did–I read them all. North Carolina voters want a much more transparent process and an end to gerrymandering.” If committee members read the public’s comments, they will find that voters want:

  • No incumbent protection drawn into the maps.
  • No use of partisan information.
  • No disadvantaging communities of color.
  • More public hearings across the state before and after map drawing.
  • More notice prior to a committee meeting.
  • And the voters want maps drawn by some form of nonpartisan commission and not by politicians driven by self-interest.

We appreciate the addition of an audio component to the live-streamed video of the computer terminals. This is something LWV-Wake requested during the last round of legislative redistricting. However, it is impossible for a voter at her computer across the state to simultaneously watch, as well as listen to, what is happening on four computer terminals. We encourage the General Assembly to explore better options for transparent map drawing that allows the public to see and hear the entire process as it occurs.

Finally, the League of Women Voters has long contended that political data should not be part of the process. We have no assurance that committee members or staff did not consult political data outside the room at any point during the last several days. Dianna Wynn says “We suspect that knowledge of political leanings in different parts of the state was considered, which is certainly counter to the spirit of an impartial map-drawing process.

The League of Women Voters of Wake County is a grassroots nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging citizens’ participation in government and understanding of important issues through education and advocacy. The League of Women Voters does not endorse or oppose political parties or candidates for office. Learn more at www.lwvwake.org.

Commentary, Education

Editorial: The path to creating better readers in our schools is not about quick fixes

Be sure to check out the lead editorial this morning on WRAL.com. As “Only determined focus, from statehouse to schoolhouse, will fix lagging reading scores” points out, it’s long past time for state political leaders and policymakers to get past their affinity for addressing the state’s educational needs with quick fixes and doing things on the cheap.

This is from the conclusion:

The inability to significantly increase the portion of students who, by the time they are in the fourth grade, have the basic skills to be good learners, represents a lack of determination and focus at the local level of education on up….

This is a crisis. Our education leaders – from the principals’ office and the local school board to the state Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction – must act. It is their constitutional duty to give every child an equal opportunity for a quality education.

Our courts ruled – more than 22 years ago in the landmark Leandro case – that the state failed in that obligation. Even with a court order, our leaders have fallen so short of their duty that the courts again are preparing to issue fresh directives. At the same time Gov. Roy Cooper’s has a commission working in parallel so the state is poised to move when the court acts.

Our leaders need to engage more directly with those who REALLY know about the challenges students face. They cannot tolerate failure on the current scale.

Good managers, when faced with failures to perform in their organizations, first turn to those on the front lines. Why aren’t they able to accomplish their tasks? Do they lack the materials or time? Do they lack the training? Are their efforts spread too thin (in school, too many students per class, lack of teacher assistants)?

Passing the blame and embracing ethereal fads isn’t teaching any more kids to read.

It is time for officials from the schoolhouse to the statehouse to focus on classrooms – get good teachers in them and give them the environment and tools to do the job.

Amen to that.