Commentary

Editorial: What Rep. David Lewis ought to be saying about Voter ID and next week’s legislative session

Rep. David Lewis

Be sure to check out the lead editorial on WRAL.com this morning (“Legislative leadership needs to heed ‘new sheriff’ in town”), which explains why GOP leaders at the General Assembly ought to be paying attention to recent election results. In particular, the editorial offers this very specific recommendation to the Republican House majority’s lead voter suppression champion, Rep. David Lewis:

Among the topics likely to come up during the session is implementation of the recently approved state Constitutional Amendment to require photo identification when citizens vote. Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, told a reporter what he expects his new law will include. He indicated it will be much like a failed 2013 voter ID law.

North Carolina citizens voted in favor of a picture voter ID. They DID NOT vote for a half-baked, quickly passed law that will do more to generate court challenges and legal fees than assure fair elections.

If Lewis wasn’t so tone-deaf to voters’ wishes, he should have said this:

“This is an important change. We’re not going to rush into it. We can use this short session to work WITH Gov. Roy Cooper, Democrats in the legislature and the citizens of North Carolina.

“We need an orderly process. We should hear from election law experts, local election officials who will implement the new requirements and North Carolina’s voters.

“We can go around the state, hold hearings and gather information on the challenges and best ways to implement this. During the long session we’ll have more information and time to be better able to put together a law that, I hope, works to make sure our elections are fair and NO ONE is denied their right to vote.”

That’s what Lewis and his fellow legislative leaders should do. It is what North Carolina voters just 14 days ago said they want them to do.

Will it be more of the same from Berger and Moore? We will know next week.

Commentary

Maddening, but predictable: Rep. Mark Meadows’ punishment for sexual harassment non-response released post-election

Rep. Mark Meadows

The Ethics Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a scathing 45-page report today in which it blasts North Carolina Congressman, Freedom Caucus leader and high-profile Trump supporter Mark Meadows for his “failure to take prompt and decisive action to deal with the alleged sexual harassment in his congressional office.” The case stemmed from Meadows’ failure to take adequate action to address the serial incidents of sexual harassment committed by his (now former) chief of staff, Kenny West in 2014 and 2015. West was removed from his position after the harassment came to light, but Meadows kept him on staff for months as a “senior advisor.” After later resigning, West continued to draw full salary and travel reimbursement for two months.

The committee ordered Meadows to pay $40,625.02 to the U.S. Treasury. Of course, the maddening and suspicious aspect of the committee’s action is that it didn’t come out until a Friday afternoon 10 days after Meadows was re-elected. While the language used and sentiment expressed in the report both seem appropriately scathing, the timing feels very much as if it was designed so as to minimize problems for Meadows. Here is the report conclusion:

The Committee takes allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination extremely seriously. Mr. West’s behavior toward the female employees in Representative Meadows’ office, regardless of whether or not a federal court would consider it sexual harassment under Title VII, has no place in the House of Representatives. In 2014, the Committee advised Members “to scrupulously avoid even the impression of a workplace tainted by sexism.” The Committee emphatically reiterates that message again today.

Representative Meadows could have and should have done more to ensure that his congressional office was free from discrimination or the perception of discrimination. While Representative Meadows did take some important immediate steps after learning of the allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. West , he did not do enough to address the allegations or to prevent potential further harassment or retaliation. His failure to take decisive action led to his retention of an employee who did not perform duties commensurate with his pay. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Committee decided to reprove Representative Meadows for his conduct in this matter. Additionally, the Committee concluded that Representative Meadows must reimburse the U.S. Treasury in the amount of $40,625.02 for Mr. West’s salary that was not commensurate with his work.

The Committee is conscious of the current climate, as the nation seeks a more full-throated societal condemnation of sexual harassment than what has been the norm of past generations. As representatives of the people, the House should be a leader in this national conversation. It is the Committee’s hope that this Report will not only hold Representative Meadows accountable for the inadequacy of his response to allegations of sexual harassment against someone under his supervision, but serve as a caution to the entire House community to be sensitive to the potential for sexual harassment and discrimination. Amid an evolving national conversation about sexual harassment, Members’ offices should serve as an example for the modern American workplace, and accordingly those offices should be professional and fair environments for all who work within them. Upon publication of this Report and Representative Meadows’ reimbursement of funds to the U.S. Treasury, the Committee considers the matter closed.

Click here to explore the report and related documents.
Commentary, News

NC Superintendent Mark Johnson launches another bogus PR scheme

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

North Carolina’s ethically challenged and frequently perplexed, but ever-self-promoting schools superintendent Mark Johnson is out with another superficial PR scheme that has nothing to do with advancing public education in our state and everything to do with trying to make Johnson look good. Johnson, who once purported to survey teachers via an online “poll” that included no way of assessing whether the respondents were actually teachers, is promoting another equally absurd “Parents’ Perspective Survey” about school testing.

Johnson distributed a mass email to parents today (he apparently obtained their emails from local public school system lists) that urges parents to respond to the “survey,” but that also features the prominent words in large type “Too Much Testing!” (how’s that for a fair and balanced poll?) and even offers the “chance to win $250 right before your holiday shopping.” You can see the email below.

Suffice it to say that this is a ridiculous and inappropriate scheme that ought to be beneath the dignity of supposedly serious public official entrusted with overseeing the education of the state’s children. The issue of whether North Carolina does too much testing of its students is certainly an important one, but one obviously can’t obtain legitimate results with such a preposterously slanted overture.

As the folks at the NC State polling operation Pack Poll tweeted this morning, Johnson’s scheme is “unethical” and “dishonest.” It may also be illegal if Johnson intends to bestow $250 on his contest winner from public funds. Of course, given Johnson’s recent flaunting of state ethics laws, such criticism is likely to bounce off the Superintendent—especially since it’s almost certain that his real intention here is not to survey parents, but to harvest email addresses for future political purposes. Here’s the bogus email:

 

Parents and caregivers,

As the State Superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools, I want you to know that your child’s success in school and beyond is our top priority. This school year, we want your input to make sure we are on the right track for students, parents, and teachers.

Today, we want to know your concerns about testing in school.

Too Much Testing!

Students, parents, and educators are concerned about too much testing. As both State Superintendent and a parent of a child in our public schools, I share your concerns.

We have already taken steps to reduce testing. Find out more by visiting this page

We have more work to do.

Please take our 5-minute survey on testing to tell us what you think.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

As an added incentive, after you take the survey, you can enter for a chance to win $250 right before your holiday shopping.

I will use your input to guide our work with state lawmakers and local school districts to reform the current system of over-testing.

We are working hard to improve our schools because every child should have the opportunity to go to safe and inviting schools, to work hard, and to succeed. Thank you for being a partner with us in this important mission.

 

 

 

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC
NCsuperintendent.com

Commentary

Winston-Salem Journal rightfully blasts Trump’s latest assault on a free press

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

Be sure to check out the lead editorial (“Attack on the free press”) in today’s edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. In it, the Journal editorialists do a fine job of explaining why the Trump White House’s recent ban on CNN reporter Jim Acosta is both wrong and unconstitutional (a position that even Fox News has endorsed). Here’ the conclusion:

No one in America, not even the president, is above the law. Neither is anyone too powerful or important to be held accountable.

Journalists who ask tough questions, and those who report news stories that don’t fit the administration’s line, are not “enemies of the people,” no matter how hard Trump tries to vilify them and whip up hatred of them.

There is, in truth, a fair amount of “fake news” circulating on social media and elsewhere, and it’s tough enough for citizens to sort out what information is valid, well-researched and from a reasonably objective and responsible source. When Trump routinely labels anything that doesn’t follow his script as “fake news,” he’s undermining the free press that is essential to a healthy democracy.

Within a few days of his banning Acosta, Trump loudly — and rudely —attacked three black women members of the White House press corps, saying one is a “loser,” another asked “stupid” questions and the third was asking a “racist” question. That only makes Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ reliance on an obviously doctored videotape portraying an altercation between Acosta and a press aide also makes matters worse. This clumsy and childish tactic is unworthy of any press professional.

Trump’s disregard for the First Amendment and his attacks on the press are not only self-serving, they’re dangerous. They’re reminiscent of banana republic dictators who demand fawning, state-run media and suppress any hint of criticism or tough questions.

We don’t expect that kind of behavior from the president of the United States. And we shouldn’t tolerate it.

Commentary

GOP assault on the courts continues

In case you harbored any illusions that the national outcry against Brett Kavanaugh might have done something to shame the Trump administration and/or its accomplices on Capitol Hill with respect to elevating extreme right-wing ideologues to the federal courts and abandoning traditional legislative process in doing so, think again.

Two disturbing examples from this week illustrate how, if anything, things continue to speed downhill. In the first, President Trump announced he would nominate a far-right ideologue from his Office of information and Regulatory Affairs named Neomi Rao to a lifetime appointment on the nation’s second most important court. This is from the Nan Aron, President of the Alliance for Justice:

Trump nominates a “slash and burn” deregulator

This nomination to a court that is second in importance only to the U.S. Supreme Court appears to be entirely consistent with this administration’s stated goal of using the justice system to eviscerate a whole host of legal protections for Americans. Neomi Rao seems to epitomize the Trump Administration’s slash-and-burn approach to deregulation. Given that the D.C. Circuit handles most of the litigation related to health, safety and civil rights issues in this country, AFJ will study Ms. Rao’s record and will urge the Senate to closely scrutinize her credentials for this key court. The nomination should not be fast-tracked by Senate Republicans or rushed to completion without careful vetting and examination — or the wellbeing of the American people will suffer.

In example #2, the Senate Judiciary Committee plunged ahead with a Third Circuit nomination, despite the strong opposition of both home state senators from the nominee’s state. This is the same committee that refused for years to advance Obama nominees in North Carolina in deference to the opposition of Sen. Richard Burr. Again, here’s Nan Aron:

Matey hearing an affront to home-state senators

Paul Matey’s hearing was held over the strong objections of his home-state senators, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, who were not meaningfully consulted on his nomination. This is an affront to these senators and to the people of New Jersey who elected them. It was especially troubling to watch the Chairman, Sen. Grassley, snap at Sen. Booker during today’s hearing in response to Booker’s reasonable request for a short meeting with Matey. No circuit court judge has ever been confirmed over the objections of both home-state senators. But Republicans seem committed to confirming this ally of former Governor Chris Christie, since partisan political ties seem to be the credential the Trump Administration most wants in federal judges. Meanwhile the GOP-led committee is intent on using this lame-duck session to continue blowing through every norm and rule that used to govern the confirmation process, jamming through more Trump judges with as little vetting and consultation as possible.

Read AFJ’s report on Matey here.