Posts by Rob Schofield

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Commentary

Their masters speak: Now we know why conservatives are now opposing proposed constitutional amendment

As reported in this space last week, a growing group of North Carolina Republican legislators have been having a change of heart about a constitutional amendment that they voted in June and August to put on the fall ballot. The power-grabbing amendment would seize the Governor’s power to fill judicial vacancies and hand it to legislative leaders. Now we know (or, at least, can make some strong inferences) as to what’s behind the flip-flop: the Koch Brothers have spoken.

Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

The North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity — one of the most prominent political organizations in the country — is coming out against a Republican effort to limit governors’ power to appoint judges.

The group started by the billionaire Koch brothers planned to launch what it said will be a six-figure ad campaign on Monday urging people to vote against one of the six proposed constitutional amendments that the Republican-controlled General Assembly put on the November ballot.

“The amendment is nothing more than a political power grab that would grant more authority to special interests and politicians, opening the door to partisan court packing while weakening our constitutional right to select our own judges,” state director Chris McCoy said in a prepared statement. “That is bad for voters and bad for our courts.

“We’re strongly urging all North Carolinians to reject this backdoor effort that would lead to manipulation and cronyism in an institution that must remain fair, independent and impartial.”

Good for AFP. One only wishes that the Koch empire had issued its directive to GOP lawmakers a little earlier in the game as it would undoubtedly have spared us from even having to deal with the darned thing.
Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: Wake up, North Carolina!

This weekend’s best editorial comes from the Winston-Salem Journal. In “North Carolina must take climate change seriously,” the Journal calls on all of us to take immediate action in the aftermath of Hurricanes Florence and Michael:

“It’s folly to ignore solid science about climate change when warming is already having noticeable effects, as the recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made more clear than ever. Among its dire projections, we can expect more frequent major hurricanes that, like Florence, are difficult to predict and extremely wet.

It’s folly, in other words, to continue the policies adopted in 2012, when the legislature passed a law ordering state and local agencies to disregard scientific models showing expected sea-level rise when setting coastal development policies. As a result, coastal development has boomed.

North Carolina could help slow climate change by adopting progressive policies such as encouraging clean cars and alternative power sources. The state also can be smarter about planning for the probability of major storms and flooding.

The full extent of the environmental damage from Florence will be discovered as we see how badly the state’s rivers, sounds and ground water have been polluted. Once again, despite warnings and calls for reform, lagoons on industrial farms flooded or failed, releasing hog wastes. Industrial chicken farms also flooded.

Then there’s coal ash, and the slow pace at which Duke Energy and the state are moving to close storage ponds, even after the massive spill in 2014 from an old Duke plant into the Dan River at Eden. Hurricane Matthew two years ago sent toxins from a coal-ash pond near Goldsboro into the Neuse River. Florence flooded a coal-ash pond near Wilmington, and environmental groups are questioning state regulators’ assessments of the damage….

One of the most disturbing aspects of all this is that North Carolina has failed to learn lessons in the past. Hurricane Floyd stalled and rained over eastern North Carolina for days, flooding areas not in floodplains and sending millions of gallons of toxic hog waste, plus carcasses, into rivers. That was 19 years ago.

Even if we do everything possible in North Carolina, it might not be enough. Climate change is a global problem that requires a global response. Unfortunately, the current administration, by seeking to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and weakening environmental regulations, seems determined to make matters worse.

But we’ve still got to do everything we can, including voting for candidates who take the problem seriously.

Florence won’t be the last destructive hurricane to hit the state. We need to be smarter before the next time.”

Commentary, News

Momentum against all six constitutional amendments continues to grow

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

A group of Triangle mayors and council members are the latest political leaders to oppose six constitutional amendments on the ballot Nov. 6.

On Thursday, Common Cause NC and Local Progress released a letter signed by mayors of five cities: Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Holly Springs, and Morrisville. The groups will hold a press conference Friday in Raleigh with more local officials who are expected to support the letter.

The letter states, as local elected officials, they are aware of the “potentially damaging impact of the legislature’s proposed six constitutional amendments on the ballot this November.”

“The tax amendment and several others would have major impacts on the local level. We are at a critical juncture in the future of North Carolina,” it states….

“Passing any of these six amendments furthers the partisan divide and makes it even more difficult for our state to make the progress it needs to serve all the people of North Carolina so we can meet our potential,” Morrisville Mayor T.J. Cawley said in the announcement.

The full list of signers will include elected officials in Raleigh, Wake County and Orange County, and will be announced Friday, said Justin Guillory of Stop Deceptive Amendments, a group opposing the amendments.

And this is from the letter:

“The proposed amendment to lower the cap on income taxes has the potential to shift even more money from education to tax breaks for the wealthy. North Carolina has already fallen behind in meeting the needs of its citizens. The limits on current state revenue have put pressure on local budgets and have required local officials to either cut vital services or raise property taxes. Property tax rates have been raised in 74 of 100 counties since 2012. capping the tax rate will also limit North Carolina’s ability to respond to future unforeseen needs, such as responding to a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence or another recession.”

The press event will take place today at 10:30 in downtown Raleigh. For more information go to: https://stopdeceptiveamendments.com/.

Commentary, News

Second thoughts: Now it’s three GOP lawmakers who oppose judicial appointments amendment

As we reported in this space yesterday, Republican Senator Wesley Meredith has done an about-face on the proposed constitutional amendment that would take the power to fill judicial vacancies from the Governor and, for all practical purposes, give it to legislative leaders. Meredith’s explanation was lame and confusing, but he made it clear that he now opposes the amendment that he voted on multiple occasions to place on the ballot.

Now comes word that Meredith has been joined by two additional flip-flopping fellow GOP’ers. Justin Guillory of the advocacy group “Stop the Deceptive Amendments” explains:

Three Republican state legislators come out against the judicial vacancy amendment

RALEIGH—Stop Deceptive Amendments today thanked three Republican state legislators who are now publicly opposed to the judicial vacancy amendment.

  • Sen. Rick Horner (R – Johnston, Nash, Wilson) announced his opposition to the judicial vacancy and elections board amendments at a candidate forum.
  • Rep. Chuck McGrady (R – Henderson) explained his opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment and tax cap amendments on his website.
  • Sen. Wesley Meredith (R – Cumberland) announced his opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment at a candidate forum. (Video here at 23:45).

These three Republican lawmakers join former Republican Governors Pat McCrory and Jim Martin and former Republican Chief Justices Rhoda Billings and I. Beverly Lake in opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment.

In addition to growing Republican opposition, for the first time a poll found the judicial vacancy amendment losing among voters. The new poll from Spectrum News and SurveyUSA found the amendment losing 35%-36%.

“The momentum to defeat this misleading and dangerous amendment is growing by the day,” said Justin Guillory from Stop Deceptive Amendments. “Bipartisan opposition to the judicial vacancy amendment proves this is a bad idea that will permanently alter our constitutional system of checks and balances.”

For more, visit stopdeceptiveamendments.com.

Commentary

Editorial: Ag Commish Troxler needs to explain request for farm aid blank check

As Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg explained yesterday morning, state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has some rather grand plans for aiding farmers with state money in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

Troxler, a Republican, asked lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources yesterday for the $250 million to immediately fund the NC Farmer Recovery Reinvestment Program. The only requirements thus far are that the money would help the “underinsured and uninsurable” in 35 federally declared disaster areas with crops, livestock and poultry losses; and that a farmer must use the funds to continue in agriculture, including obtaining financing.

As Sorg’s story went on to explain, the request was met with sympathy, but  some skepticism from lawmakers. Basically, lawmakers said, if we’re going to fork out that kind of dough, you’re going to need to come forward with something more than the vague plan Troxler outlined on Monday. At the time, Troxler said “We have a draft in our minds of what it would look like.”

An editorial in today’s Fayetteville Observer echoes the sympathetic but skeptical reaction that Troxler’s proposal received:

There is no question that our farmers need help, and that it’s not just charity — agriculture is one of this state’s big industries and we can’t afford to lose it, or even see it greatly diminished. Those $1.1 billion in losses translate to a total economic impact of about $2.8 billion.

But to some of the lawmakers who listened to Troxler’s plea this week, the Farmer Recovery Reinvestment Program sounded risky — it almost boils down to loading trucks with bushels of money and sending them out to spread the funds across the state’s farmland. It comes up short on details like oversight, accountability and programs with specific goals and purposes. How will the farmers be chosen? How will the program prevent waste and fraud? Those questions need to be answered.

Even some farmers were skeptical. “You could make good headlines,” said Duplin County farmer Morris Murphy, “but if the money is not put in the right places, it won’t solve the problems we have as farmers.” It could end up, Murphy said, “a government fiasco.”

“Fundamentally I’m not opposed to it,” chief budget writer Chuck McGrady told Troxler. The Henderson County Republican said “I just don’t know if I have enough substance right now to just buy into it.” Brent Jackson — a Senate budget writer, a Sampson County Republican and a farmer — agreed and asked Troxler to provide much more information before the General Assembly reconvenes next week to consider further aid for flooding victims.

Given the magnitude of the state’s farm losses, the size of Troxler’s request isn’t out of line. But the commissioner also has to know his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly are a fiscally conservative bunch and won’t hand him a blank check. He’s got a lot of work to do, and fast. But the state’s farmers are depending on him to design a responsible farm disaster aid program and get it back to our lawmakers next week.

Indeed.

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