Commentary

Cooper should stick to his guns on latest GOP election law scam

As Melissa Boughton reported yesterday in the post immediately below, Gov. Roy Cooper has told the General Assembly to fix the election law bill they sent to him last week to remove a provision that would add a new level of secrecy to Board of Elections investigations.

Legislative Republicans — particularly Sen. Phil Berger — have issued fairly unhinged statements in response to Cooper’s stance, but the Guv should stick to his guns. As a Charlotte Observer editorial rightfully pointed out last week, the last thing our state needs right now is more secrecy in the enforcement of state election laws:

In October, state elections officials held a public hearing about Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte. They detailed what their investigation had found: that Moore had failed to report more than $141,000 in campaign contributions and expenditures, including nearly $25,000 in ATM withdrawals.

They referred his case to Mecklenburg DA Spencer Merriweather. Moore lost his reelection bid to Nasif Majeed, at least in part because of questions the Observer had raised about his campaign finances.

Now, a bill sits on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk that would have protected Moore and other elected officials being investigated for campaign finance irregularities. The legislation would make such inquiries confidential. Had this law been in place this year, the Board of Elections could not have disclosed what they found about Moore, or even that he was being investigated, and he could have been reelected by voters kept in the dark.

This is misguided public policy and Cooper should veto it.

After noting that the rest of the bill includes necessary changes, the editorial concludes this way:

But the section that makes campaign finance investigations private reeks of politicians protecting their own hides. State elections officials tell the Observer editorial board that the bill appears to prevent investigations and their findings from ever becoming public, short of criminal court proceedings. The board conducted more than 200 investigations in 2018. While many of those were minor, many were not, and it appears all, including those in which legislators had to pay a fine (unless it’s appealed), would have been kept secret under this bill.

Rep. David Lewis, who helped shepherd the legislation through the House, said in an email to the editorial board Friday that it is designed to protect candidates from any overly partisan board of elections. The board has a long history, however, of going after wrongdoers of both parties.

Cooper should use his veto, and insist on a clean bill that doesn’t include this provision.

Amen.

Commentary

Grinch remark spurs schoolteacher to provide Sen. Bill Rabon a lesson in Dr. Seuss

As Melissa Boughton reported yesterday in the post below, Republican Sen. Bill Rabon attacked Gov. Cooper yesterday for not moving fast enough to suit Rabon on some bills that he and his buddies at the legislature had sent over to the mansion as a kind of early Christmas gift. Rabon thinks Cooper is acting like the Grinch in the famous Dr. Seuss Christmas story because his failure to act immediately on the GOP bills is supposedly keeping some legislative staffers and journalists from getting on with their end-of-year vacations.

Setting aside the absurdity of the GOP attack — as Raleigh’s News & Observer reported, even former Republican state Rep. Charles Jeter pointed out that it is his fellow Republicans who are responsible for the end-of-year session that’s infringing on the holidays — Rabon and the Senate crew might want tread carefully when attempting to cite Dr. Seuss as a source. As one of the legislature’s most frequent and insightful critics, Forsyth County school teacher Stuart Egan, noted yesterday on his blog, Caffeinated Rage, Seuss had a lot more to say in his books about people like Rabon and his fellow conservatives than he did about governors who take their time in carefully considering rushed legislation.  This is from “Sen. Bill Rabon’s Seussian Problem”:

If Sen. Bill Rabon is going to start using Seussian allusions, then he might want to make sure he’s read more than one Seuss book….

The irony of what Rabon said concerning Cooper’s “lack” of action almost amounts to the hubris displayed by King Derwin in Bartholomew and the Ooblek. Here is a man who as part of a lame duck special session called for to address matters that could have been handled in the next scheduled legislative session calling someone a “grinch” because he is being “partisan.”

But maybe if Sen. Rabon wants to use Seuss as a means to describe what is happening in North Carolina, he could at least open up some more of Seuss’s books. He could think of it as a remedy for an ailment of ignorance much like juice of the flower found on the Zinniga-Zanniga tree.

Egan then goes on to examine five of Seuss’s books — with the help from a 2009 article in the magazine Mental Floss by author Stacy Conradt — that show the kind of pontificating blowhards that Seuss usually skewered in his stories. Each of the stories — The LoraxGreen Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who, Oh the Places You’ll Go and The Big Brag is about speaking truth to destructive and know-it-all powers that be — people who are all strongly reminiscent of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly.

As Egan notes in conclusion after urging Rabon to catch up on his Seuss:

Maybe in the time that Cooper is allowed to legally weigh what is best for North Caroline, Sen. Rabon could catch up on more Seuss.

And even realize that the Grinch does do the right thing in the end. For everybody.

Commentary

One Texas judge says the ACA is unconstitutional: What you need to know

Before anyone gets too panicked about the weekend ruling by a Texas federal judge named Reed O’Connor that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, they should check out an article from Vox.com by Sarah Kiff, entitled Federal court rules Obamacare unconstitutional — but the law stands for now.” This is from the article:

O’Connor’s decision will almost certainly be appealed up to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which could ultimately send the case to the Supreme Court. It is not entirely clear yet what the ruling will mean for current Obamacare enrollees — or those currently signing up, as the program’s open enrollment period ends at midnight on Saturday.

Legal experts on the left and the right believe the arguments being made by Republican-led states are, on their face, uncompelling and unlikely to succeed in overturning the Affordable Care Act.

At the same time, there is a history of lawsuits that most legal experts thought were unpersuasive nonetheless putting ACA in mortal danger — first the lawsuit against the individual mandate and then the challenge to insurance subsidies.

With this first victory, it becomes a more real possibility that this lawsuit could end up in that category.

After explaining who the parties are to the litigation (the Trump administration is not defending the law, and it’s a group of state attorney general who are handling that) Kiff concludes this way:

If the Trump administration’s argument were to prevail, insurers could once again be able to flat-out deny Americans insurance based on their health status. No amount of federal subsidies would protect them. Medicaid expansion would remain, but the private insurance market would no longer guarantee coverage to every American.

Because the Trump administration is not defending the Affordable Care Act in this case, a group of pro-Obamacare attorneys general from 16 states and the District of Columbia swooped in to take over the case.

They argue that Congress clearly understood what it was doing when it reduced the individual mandate penalty to zero dollars. Their intent was to get rid of the penalty but leave the rest of the law standing, and that the courts ought to respect that.

Most legal experts, it’s worth noting, are skeptical of the arguments made in this case — even those that have worked on other legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. They say that it willfully ignores the intent of the 2017 Congress, which zeroed out the individual mandate penalty without touching the rest of the Affordable Care Act.

”They are asking the court to evaluate the current law on the basis of what the law used to be,” Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University who supported previous Obamacare challenges, has told Vox. “That whole analysis just doesn’t apply or work anymore.”

Commentary

Another editorial pleads with Burr, Tillis to end ideological attack on federal courts

Sen. Thom Tillis, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Richard Burr

As Clayton Henkel noted yesterday, the Winston-Salem Journal published a strong editorial blasting Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis for supporting Donald Trump’s “woefully bad” nominee for federal judge in North Carolina’s Eastern District, Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr, This morning, a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com offers a follow-up in which it takes the two senators to task for their general approach to advancing Trump judicial nominees.

In “Burr, Tillis must set higher standards for judicial nominees,” it’s noted that the two senators’ ideological crusade has led them stoop so low as to even support three court nominees rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

It is extremely rare for a presidential nominee to receive a “not qualified” rating — just six of Trump’s 159 picks. But Burr and Tillis have voted for three who have come to the Senate for roll calls.

Two of those, most recently Jonathan Kobes in the Eight Judicial District Court of Appeals and earlier Stephen Grasz (of the same district appeals court) got critical votes from Burr and Tillis that provided the margin of victory. Grasz was approved 50-48 while Kobes, who won approval earlier this week, was approved 51-50 – with Vice President Mike Pence casting the history-making tie-breaker vote.

Kobes, who was general counsel to U.S. Sen. Mike Round, R-.S.D., couldn’t provide examples of his legal writing that were “reflective of complex legal analysis, knowledge of the law, or ability to write about complex matters in a clear and cogent manner – qualities that are essential for a circuit court judge,” said Paul T. Moxley, chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

What defense is there to support a nominee the ABA deems unqualified? It is not an ideology issue. It is not that these nominees possess some unique qualification that somehow the ABA is overlooking (other than chummy connections with powerful Republicans).

Mere competence is not an excessive qualification for a lifetime appointment to critical job.

When it comes to administering justice, Burr and Tillis aren’t doing the job for the North Carolinians who put them in office. They need to demand more of judicial nominees than a pleasingly partisan resume and fealty to Donald Trump.

Commentary

Editorial explains the single best thing state lawmakers could do during lame duck session

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com, which explains the single best thing that the General Assembly could do before year’s end. After explaining that the state’s profitable corporations are about to receive yet another unnecessary tax cut in the New Year, “N.C. has greater needs than more corporate tax cuts” puts it this way:

In the next fiscal year, North Carolina’s corporations will likely pay about $598 million in income taxes. That is less than half the $1.4 billion they paid during the 2013-14 budget year.

Here’s the math. Right now, the income tax rate for corporations is 3 percent. Based on current collections, total taxable corporate revenue for the 2018-19 budget year will be about $23.9 billion resulting in income taxes collected at about $718 million.

On the first of the new year, the corporate tax rate drops to 2.5 percent. At that new rate, with the same taxable revenues, corporations will pay $598 million in state income taxes — $120 million less. That’s enough money for a 2 percent increase in public school teacher pay.

Corporate incomes tax collections are on track to drop 56 percent in the last five budget years. At the same time sales tax collections – taxes that fall disproportionately on those who struggle the most to pay them – will be increasing 32 percent.

Two years ago Gov. Roy Cooper rightly vetoed the budget bill containing these overly generous tax cuts. He called it a plan that “fails to fund promised teacher salary increases in future years along, with funding for early childhood education, community colleges and universities.”

The legislature then didn’t heed his call for “capping tax cuts so they benefit the middle class (and) investing more in public education.”

Gov. Cooper should renew his call to stop this latest tax cut before the legislative session ends. He needs, at a minimum, to call for suspension of the automatic corporate income tax cut. Better yet, he should call for its repeal.

Further, N.C. Chamber of Commerce President David Fountain of Duke Energy, should issue a statement saying that the Chamber, recognizing the critical unmet needs of the state, urges the legislature to repeal the additional tax cut. He knows the state’s corporations don’t need it and as good corporate citizens, businesses recognize they must do their part.

Neglect of the basic needs of citizens to cut corporate taxes is nothing short of malfeasance on the part of the legislature.

Legislators need to repeal this lavish tax cut now and focus on doing the jobs citizens expect done – educating children, maintaining an infrastructure that helps the state prosper, assure all citizens have access to health care and that they enjoy safe and clean communities.