Commentary

Editorial calls for independent investigation of 9th Congressional District.

In case you missed it yesterday, a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com argued persuasively that it’s time for Gov. Cooper and Attorney General Stein to launch a new and independent investigation into the electoral malfeasance in 9th Congressional District. This is the conclusion from the editorial:

The silence has been deafening from federal prosecutors. While the current U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon has boasted of indicting 19 non-U.S. citizens with illegal voting in the state, there has been NO WORD on what if anything was done in response to [elections official Kim] Strach’s two-year-old plea….

Why didn’t state elections officials and these prosecutors, knowing there was REAL potential for election troubles, issue warnings to local elections officials? Why didn’t they make it a special point of highly visible emphasis to instruct local elections boards on proper handling of absentee ballots?

If merely a fraction of the energy that’s been put into the less-than-necessary-but-nice voter ID distraction, was directed to assuring absentee ballots were properly handled, North Carolina might have been able to certify the ONLY congressional election in the nation that remains unresolved.

This is no small matter. It should not wait until state or federal prosecutors get around to completing work on an investigation.

It would be nice if we could count on, and trust the General Assembly to look into this matter. But legislative leaders are more motivated to gain partisan advantage than assuring every eligible voter can vote, voting is not manipulated or abused, and all votes are fairly counted.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein need to bring together an independent, non-partisan panel to look into why there was no action to investigate the voting irregularities in Bladen and other southeastern North Carolina counties, identify REAL problems with current voting procedures and recommend common sense solutions to make sure our elections are clean and fair.

Commentary

The Faces of Poverty – a special interview with UNC Law Professor Gene Nichol

As we wind down the year, we look back at some of the newsmakers of 2018 who have lifted their voice to build a better North Carolina. Earlier this month, we were honored to sit down with Gene Nichol for an extended interview in which we discussed his new book; “The Faces of Poverty: Stories From Our Invisible Citizens”

Click below to hear the full podcast that aired last week on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Rob Schofield:

Nichol is Boyd Tinsley distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina. He was director of the UNC Poverty Center (2008-2015). Since 2015, his research has been supported by the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, News

This year in review: Lawmakers can do better for NC families, kids

Meléndez’ daughter Isabella Pabon (Provided by the Pabon family)

The end of the year is near, and as we reflect on the biggest news, it’s also important to highlight what stories were near and dear to our heart.

There were two meaningful stories that I covered this year — one about the struggles that people go through in North Carolina while trying to start a family, and the other about children caught up in a justice system that often doesn’t have their best interest in mind.

I started working on “Modern families unprotected by outdated NC laws” after receiving a tip about same sex couples who weren’t being treated the same as heterosexual couples when going through an adoption process at a local clerk’s office.
I was surprised at how quickly people opened up to me about their experiences starting a family, but I was even more astonished at just how archaic North Carolina’s parentage laws are.

“Who is defined as a parent has already changed,” said Jennifer Tharrington, a Raleigh attorney at the law firm Haas Tharrington. “The model of two married heterosexual parents living with their genetic offspring applies to less than half of the families living in the United States right now, yet all of our statutes were drafted to primarily accommodate that family model. We need to shift.”

There’s a certain privilege that comes with not only being in a heterosexual relationship and considering having kids, but with also being a person who doesn’t have fertility issues. We tend to not think about the things that don’t affect us until they do, but recognizing other individuals’ plights helps us in making this world a better place for everyone. It can also connect policy makers to a world that they may not be educated about to make the shift that needs to be made.

The bravery, vulnerability and honestly shared by those people who spoke to me about their experiences stuck with me, and hopefully with others.

For example, Giselle Meléndez shared with me that she had five miscarriages, went through three In Vitro Fertilization cycles and had to wait five years before finally becoming a mother. And that was only half of her battle — the legal struggles that came with using a surrogate were expensive and agonizing.

Meléndez said it was well worth the struggle for her family, but such legal issues are unnecessary in these modern times, and likely prevent a number of people from actualizing their dreams of becoming parents.

A step in the right direction in updating the laws would be for North Carolina lawmakers to adopt the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA), which was updated last summer and provides states with a uniform legal framework for establishing parent-child relationships.

*****

The other story that really tugged at my heartstrings this year was one about how state law enforcement officials don’t have any idea about how many children are in adult jails.

I started looking into the issue after attending a gathering outside the Durham County Detention Facility in honor of Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, who hanged herself last year from her cell window. She was 17 years old and had been housed with adults for more than a year after being charged with murder.

Youth advocates and community members gathered last week outside the Durham County Detention Facility to remember the life of Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, a teen who committed suicide while housed there last year. They also called for policy changes to prevent such a situation. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

“We are here today as a group, as a unit, to celebrate and remember the life of Niecey,” said Ethan Ashley, who is a board member for the National Juvenile Justice Network. “But the truth of the matter is that no young person – and the data is very clear, the research is very clear, the lived experiences of young people is very clear – should be in adult prisons.”

When I tried to find other kids like Niecey who were locked up in adult jails, I hit roadblock after roadblock. It turned out the last year that statewide information was made available about kids in adult jails was in 2013, when the N.C. Department of Public Safety (DPS) still kept track of county detention facility data.

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association is tasked now with keeping those statistics, including how many jails still house juveniles and adults together, where they are located and how many children are locked up every year with adults. Policy Watch requested the information from the Sheriffs’ Association, but Executive Vice President and General Counsel Eddie Caldwell said his group would not gather it because it is not staffed at a capacity to do so.

This came as a shock to me, but not those who worked in the juvenile justice world. Ultimately, it became an opportunity to educate the general public, and particularly lawmakers, because if we can’t do better by our kids, what are we doing?

Commentary

Happy Holidays from NC Policy Watch

As the end of the year draws near, the NC Policy Watch team wants to express its gratitude to the thousands of loyal readers, listeners and viewers who have helped make this our most successful and impactful year ever. We pledge to redouble our efforts in 2019 to shine a light on (and help make sense of) the issues that matter in today’s challenging policy environment.

If you’d like to support our work with an end-of-the-year gift, we’d be honored and appreciative. Click here for more information.

Although Policy Watch will be publishing on a reduced schedule the next few days, we will still feature updates and reviews of 2018 over on the main Policy Watch site and here on The Progressive Pulse so please check back regularly.

Commentary, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

PLEASE NOTE: NC Policy Watch will not be sending daily emails next week, but we will continue to feature new content on the main Policy Watch website and The Progressive Pulse blog. Happy Holidays!

1. Meeting Gov. Cooper’s climate change mandate will take more than just turning out the lights. It will require a new way of thinking.

About five years ago, before the public widely knew that the world’s greenhouse gas emissions were tipping the climate over the point of no return, Alex Johnson, Durham’s urban forester, was weighing what trees to plant to replace the mass die-off of the city’s willow oaks. Those oaks, planted around the same time more than 80 years ago, were reaching the end of their natural lifespan at the same time. But Johnson knew that climate change would alter what species could survive protracted droughts, flash flooding and hotter summers.

Although at the time Durham lay within Hardiness Zone 7b, Johnson said, it might be more prudent to replant for Hardiness Zone 8 — a warmer climate. [Read more…]

** BONUS READS:

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2. GOP wants to shield investigations from public scrutiny; Cooper won’t go along

Governor calls on lawmakers to “fix” elections bill that would expand secrecy

“Democracy dies in darkness” isn’t a new phrase but it’s certainly one that has gotten a lot of attention during the Trump era. North Carolina Republicans, though, are apparently working from a different playbook, and they want to shut the lights off completely.

House Bill 1029, which is currently sitting on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, would make all State Board of Elections investigations confidential, effectively shutting the door to any public scrutiny, particularly when it comes to campaign finance violations. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Lawsuit filed as soon as voter ID becomes law in NC

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3. Documents: Federal prosecutors knew of Bladen County voting allegations, but took no action

Voting rights advocates say GOP priorities drove Trump appointee to ignore allegations, focus resources elsewhere

The State Board of Elections compiled evidence and interviews detailing a systematic ballot fraud operation in Bladen County two years ago, well before the current controversy that seems likely to force a new election in the 9th Congressional District race.

The board forwarded their information and a detailed summary to state and federal prosecutors, according to 278 pages on multiple investigations released by the state board this week.

No prosecutions resulted. [Read more…]

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4. In District 9, investigators should heed the truth, not the clock

Hope you made a wish on that shooting star.

I’m talking about that fleeting moment last week, when Democrats and reluctant Republicans seemed to agree on the need for a new election in North Carolina’s mud-varnished 9th Congressional District.

The Earth shook and the seas parted as politicos from both parties appeared to join hands, perhaps taking in the gathering evidence that a Republican operative may have hacked our election apparatus, piloting an alleged spider web of a get-out-the-vote campaign or perhaps more appropriately, a get-the-vote-out campaign, accused of illegally handling – or, worst-case scenario, destroying – thousands of absentee ballots. [Read more…]

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5. The GOP’s cynical electoral game playing rolls on

One can imagine a scenario in which it might be possible to take North Carolina Republican leaders seriously when they argue that a strict voter ID law is necessary to protect the “integrity” of North Carolina elections. If, for instance, those same leaders had long evinced support for rigorous integrity and transparency in all other key electoral circumstances – say, with respect to the way voting districts are drawn and the ways in which investigations of electoral and campaign finance malfeasance are conducted – the demands for voter ID would ring a lot less hollow.

To be clear, they would still be wrong; strict voter ID will not, ultimately, enhance the integrity of our elections. But at least Republicans and their conservative ideological allies could have maintained a colorable claim of intellectual honesty and consistency. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Trump’s biggest con job? Last year’s tax cuts have been an economic dud in North Carolina

6. This week’s editorial cartoon: