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.

Commentary

Analyst: Mark Meadows is a poor choice for Trump’s chief of staff

News reports indicate that North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows is in the running to be Donald Trump’s next chief of staff. Raleigh’s News & Observer reports, Meadows is interested in the job.

As veteran DC-watcher Ian Millhiser of Think Progress observed yesterday, however, there are some good reasons for everyone to be concerned if Meadows — a fire-beathing right-winger — is the pick. This is from “If Mark Meadows joins Trump as his new chief of staff, watch out”:

The danger of Meadows ending up as the White House Chief of Staff stems mainly from the fact that Donald Trump is neither especially bright nor especially interested in his job. Trump spends hours on something the White House defines as “executive time,” a euphemistic term for “the unstructured time Trump spends tweeting, phoning friends and watching television.” The best way to convince Trump to do something is to be the last person to talk to him before he has to make a decision.

Meanwhile, the chief of staff’s job is to be the gatekeeper to the president. An effective chief of staff could determine who Trump speaks with last on an entire range of issues.

Even without one of the architects of the 2013 shutdown at his side, Trump constantly threatens government shutdowns. As an arresting Washington Post headline noted last September, “Trump has threatened to shut down the government at least seven times in the past six weeks.” In the past, someone has talked him out of it. With Meadows as his top aide, an extended shutdown becomes much more likely….

The price of government shutdowns is high. According to S&P Global’s economists, “a shutdown would trim at least 0.2% points, or $6.5 billion, from real GDP growth for each week a shutdown lasts.” The same economic team estimates that the brief 2013 shutdown — which lasted from October 1 until October 17 of that year, “cost the US economy $24bn” and shaved “0.6% off of economic growth” in the quarter it took place.

A Chief of Staff Meadows is a recipe for an extended shutdown. And that, in turn, is a recipe for a recession in an election year. If Donald Trump wants to run for reelection in the midst of a recession that he single-handedly created, he runs the risk of leaving the White House forever in 2021.

Commentary

Calls mount for a new election in the 9th District

There were new and powerful editorials over the weekend that lent their voices to the growing chorus demanding a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

The Fayetteville Observer put it this way in “Start planning a new 9th District election”:

Given the growing evidence that some ballots were tampered with and others may have been dumped and never tallied, we’re expecting the new election. And some elected Republicans are calling for a broader investigation that includes previous elections and other districts, noting that the 9th in Bladen and Robeson counties isn’t the only place where we’ve seen anomalies in absentee ballot tallies in elections that go back at least to 2010.

State elections officials have gotten complaints about such activities in the past and have forwarded the information to local law enforcement and prosecutors. But no one has investigated. Now it appears we have a sufficiently egregious case that it can’t be ignored any longer.

Good. Keep the investigations rolling and give them all the staffing they need.

And meanwhile, let’s start planning 9th District Election 2.0.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer made a strong case that a new primary is necessary as well. After explaining that similar vote tampering may well have occurred in the GOP primary in which Mark Harris edged out incumbent Robert Pittenger, the Observer says this in “McCready-Harris re-do isn’t enough; start over entirely”:

So the results of the primary are as tainted as the results of the general election. The state board of elections plans to hold a hearing the week before Christmas and could order a new election. But here’s the catch: According to former General Assembly counsel Gerry Cohen, the state board can order only a new general election featuring the same three candidates. It cannot order a new primary because it already certified the primary’s results.

That leaves it up to the U.S. House to do the right thing. Republicans can’t do anything in their final weeks in the majority. Democrats take over the House on Jan. 3. They might be tempted to hold only a new general election (cloaked in a deference to state authorities) because it could help them politically. Harris has surely lost some popularity over this scandal, so a McCready-Harris rematch could be appetizing for Democrats.

But it’d be the wrong thing to do. The House, led by Democrats, on Jan. 3 should vacate the election results and order a new election with primaries. Pittenger, Harris and any other Republican would be able to file (and any Democrat). Only that would provide the entirely clean slate that 9th District voters deserve. Some have even floated the idea of just naming McCready the winner, an absurd idea.

Absent a new primary ordered by the U.S. House, the only way Pittenger or any Republican replaces Harris on the ballot is if Harris moves to another state. If that happens, Republican officials would name a replacement. But Harris would have to move, Cohen says; he can’t just decline the nomination.

(A new election could leave the seat open well into next summer, and that’s unfortunate. But Cohen reminds us that Republicans who decry a lack of representation in the 9th were silent when Rep. Mel Watt resigned from the 12th District seat in December 2013 and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory kept the seat open for 11 months rather than hold an election.)

The problems in this year’s 9th District election extended back to the primary. The response must as well.

Commentary

New election all but inevitable now in the 9th District

It’s increasingly clear that the November election results in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District cannot and will not stand. It was one thing when state officials were starting to raise questions about the outcome, but now that the issue has gone national, there is no way of putting the genie back in the bottle. Yesterday, one of the most powerful men in the incoming House of Representatives, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, made it clear that a new election must occur. This is from McClatchy reporters:

Clyburn said he “absolutely” opposed seating Harris on Jan. 3, when the new Congress convenes.

“I’m not too sure we ought not to subpoena (him), Clyburn said of Harris. “We need to find out whether or not Harris was involved in these discussions, and if he was, he ought to be disqualified as a candidate. So it’s not just about having a new election. We need to look at whether this man ought to be standing for election in this first place.”

Meanwhile, supposedly defeated candidate Dan McCready, who rescinded his concession yesterday, had the following conversation with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow:

MADDOW: At the moment, there is a lot of different ways to approach it.  It seems to me from the outside like bottom line, what happened here is that this is a professional operator.  There is a specific operator who works in Bladen County and maybe a couple of other counties in your congressional district who has made it his life’s work, who has made it his work for a number of election cycles now that for hire, he’ll stuff the ballot box.  He’ll rig the absentee ballot system and make sure that your opponents’ ballots never make into it the ballot box, and to make sure that a lot of suspiciously high number of ballots for you do get in there.  It seems like this was sort of voter fraud for hire.  Is that how you see it?

MCCREADY:  You know, I think it’s even worse, Rachel.  He’s not just an operator.  He is a criminal.  He’s a felon.  /// It’s  is amazing that my opponent Mark Harris went out and hired a convicted felon who was under investigation for absentee ballot fraud, to do his absentee ballot program.  And apparently he got what he paid for because Mark Harris didn’t just hire this felon, he actually recommended his services to other.”

Add to all of this the fact that national polling guru Nate Silver waggishly altered his assessment of the 9th from “leans Republican” to “leans prison” and that even GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse has all but conceded the necessity of a do-over, and it’s impossible to see how Harris could ever be seated. The real question at this point is, when there is a new election, will Woodhouse and other GOP leaders demand that Harris step aside and allow another candidate to emerge?

Right now, it’s hard to see how Harris remains viable.

Commentary

State’s two largest newspapers call for new election in 9th District

Raleigh’s News & Observer joined the Charlotte Observer today in calling for a new election in the 9th Congressional District that is truly fair, open and free from corruption. The extraordinary demand comes, of course, in light of the growing mountain of evidence that the November election (and quite possibly the May Republican primary) were hopelessly tainted by the appearance and reality of organized ballot fraud. The call comes on top of demands in the major Triad papers — the Winston-Salem Journal and Greensboro News & Record — that state elections officials conduct a full investigation before considering certifying last month’s results.

Here’s the editorial (a reprint of the one that originally appeared in the Observer) entitled “Hold a new election in NC’s tainted 9th District”:

Calling for a new election would be an enormously significant decision for the board. It should be done with the support of N.C. statutes and without a whiff of partisan politics. Republicans from Raleigh to Washington would surely howl; already, they’ve noted that the number of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County falls short of the overall margin of victory in the 9th.

This is true. But witnesses have said that their ballots, which were collected by individuals apparently working for ringleader McCrae Dowless, were never submitted to the county or state. There’s little certainty about how many ballots were wrongly tossed or destroyed in Bladen County (there were more than 1,500 that were requested but unreturned) or how much Dowless and his workers may have done the same in neighboring Robeson County, as reports suggest. It might have been enough to change the outcome of the race. It might not have been.

That possibility, however, triggers a statutory threshold for holding a new election. North Carolina General Statute 163A-1180 authorizes the Board of Elections to intervene and “take any other action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.” The board should call for a new NC-09 general election. The U.S. House can and should order a new primary, given that results show Harris winning a startling 96 percent of the Bladen absentee vote in his narrow 2018 primary victory over then incumbent Robert Pittenger.

Questions remain about how much Harris knew about the work being done on his behalf. Both he and his chief consultant, Andy Yates, contend they weren’t aware of any election fraud in the 9th District, but Dowless was well-known as a dicey figure in N.C. political circles. He’s a convicted felon who had been investigated for similar fraud in 2016, and he even was featured nationally in a This American Life episode. Harris, at the least, should have seen the smoke.

Voters in the 9th District deserve the confidence that their election was free from fraud. North Carolina statute supports it. The evidence already demands it. The Board of Elections should start the election over.