Defending Democracy, Legislature, News

State lawmakers move to seize power over constitutional amendment captions

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett

North Carolina lawmakers wasted little time in filing, and approving, legislation Tuesday that would seize control over the captions that describe six controversial, constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall.

Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, co-sponsored House Bill 3 Tuesday, shortly after lawmakers rang in a special session that critics blasted as an attempt to defuse a bipartisan commission’s work on the captions in the coming days.

Lawmakers wrote the language for those amendments on the ballot, language that’s already been criticized for offering a particularly “rosy” depiction of their impacts, despite concerns about a much-criticized voter ID amendment and further power shifts from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to state legislators.

But a three-member commission, which includes two Democrats and one Republican, would be charged with authoring short descriptions that would be on the ballot and available to voters.

Lewis’ bill would instead change the captions to read “constitutional amendment,” while leaving the voting guide descriptions to the commission.

Minority party leaders like House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson slammed the hastily convened special session Tuesday, calling it “injurious” to the state.

“What changed between 2016?” Jackson told members of a state House rules committee Tuesday. “Why are we doing it at such a late date?”

The constitutional commission includes Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, as well as Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican.

That commission has laid out plans for public comment and a website in anticipation of meeting state election officials’ early August deadline for the caption language, but Lewis wrote in a letter to House Speaker Tim Moore over the weekend that he worried the commission would craft politicized captions intended to sway voters.

Lewis said the commission would still be charged with creating descriptions that would be available to voters, although that language would not be included on the ballot.

The bill passed the House and the Senate Tuesday afternoon on partisan lines, just hours after they were filed, and were sent to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.

Cooper’s expected to veto the bill, but GOP lawmakers have left themselves just enough time to override that veto in time to meet state election officials’ early August deadline.

Sen. Harry Brown, an eastern North Carolina Republican, argued Tuesday, without providing any evidence, that members of the commission would politicize the caption language.

“I would have to argue we think that’s what’s happening in the state,” Brown said.

But on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, Democrats noted the descriptions already drawn up by GOP lawmakers to describe the amendments this fall, particularly one that shifts judicial appointment powers from Cooper to the legislature, gloss over details that may lead voters to disapprove.

“If the makeup of this commission had two Republicans and one Democrat, we wouldn’t be here,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a Durham Democrat. “If perhaps (GOP candidate) Buck Newton had become attorney general… we wouldn’t be here. This is all political.”

[This is a developing story. Check back updates.]

Legislature, News, Trump Administration

“Don’t come back,” N.C. lawmaker tells Trump after Putin summit

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake

“Don’t come back,” a North Carolina legislator told President Donald Trump after his widely-criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday.

Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat and Afghanistan veteran in the U.S. Army Reserve, hammered the president in a much-shared Tweet Tuesday.


The tweet prompted a reaction from those on both the right and the left.

WRAL has more:

As of noon Tuesday, the viral post had more than 1,800 retweets and 4,500 likes.

“I guess it struck a nerve and resonated with folks,” Martin said.

He explained that he is not currently on active duty and is therefore not precluded by the Uniform Code from making disparaging comments about the Commander in Chief.

“This tweet was not at all in my capacity as a member of the U.S. Army,” he said.

Martin said Trump’s comments were particularly disturbing to “folks of my generation.”

“I came of age at the very end of the Cold War,” he explained. “As a cadet, I was learning Soviet tactics and Soviet weapons.”

He also noted that the vast majority of replies to his tweet expressed agreement, and many also urged Martin to take legislative action. As a state lawmaker, not a member of Congress, there’s little action he can take.

“That says to me that there’s a frustration in the public with both Democrats and Republicans who have condemned the president’s conduct in Finland,” he said, “but have not in the public’s view taken action they believe would be appropriate.”

Reached for comment on the tweet, North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse was uncharacteristically low-key.

“It’s over the top, as much of the commentary from the left about the president often is,” Woodhouse responded. “One can disagree with the president without calling for his exile.”

On Twitter, the disagreements, though few, were more vehement.

Legislature, News

Remember that weird aquarium that lawmakers funded? Here are the firms that want to build it.

The 1,300-acre Blake Farm in Scotts Hill in Pender County touts itself as a “master planned community with amenities that everyone is talking about.”

Everyone was certainly talking about it last October, when a budget and agency technical corrections bill introduced a last-minute, one-time and frankly, inexplicable $300,000 appropriation for another state aquarium just 78 miles from the one in Pine Knoll Shores and 57 from another in Kure Beach. A third state aquarium at Roanoke Island is 200 miles north, and a fourth at Jeanettes Pier is at Nags Head.

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources said it did not request the funding.

The three finalists are HH Architecture, headquartered in Raleigh; Bowman, Murray, Hemingway in Wilmington; and Lindsey Architecture based in Greensboro.

The development  is being constructed by the Trask Land Company, owned by Raiford Trask III, a campaign contributor primarily to Republican candidates. Trask has said that the shellfish and research would be the focus of the Blake Farm aquarium.

DNCR is in charge of requesting, evaluating and awarding contracts for the aquarium portion. It’s unclear how the department will finance occupancy and operations of the aquarium. This year’s budget contained $100,000 to repair the roof on the Fort Fisher Aquarium, but that was the only aquarium-related appropriation.

According to bid documents, HH Architecture has built a polar bear exhibit at the NC Zoo, in addition to nature centers, the NC State Dairy Museum and formulating park master plans. Bowman, Murray, Hemingway designed additions and renovations to the aquariums at Fort Fisher, Roanoke Island and Pine Knoll Shores. And Lindsey Architecture oversaw the “SciQuarium” at the Greensboro Science Center.

DNCR is expected to announce the winning firm later this summer.

HH Arch Aquarium Bid Sm by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

BMH Aquarium Bid Sm by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

Lindsey Aquarium Bid Sm by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

Commentary, Defending Democracy, Legislature, News

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Torrent of constitutional amendments provide exclamation points on a dreadful legislative session

A short-timer. In the military (and many civilian workplaces too) a short-timer is someone who is nearing the end of his or her term of service. Often, the term is used pejoratively to describe individuals who shirk new or difficult tasks as they cruise toward the exit door.

In the political realm, however, there are occasions in which short-timers pursue an opposite tack. Sometimes, when faced with the prospect of defeat in an upcoming election or, at least, a significant loss of power or status, short-timer politicians aim to enact as many new law and policy changes as they possibly can in the limited time they have remaining.

As the 2018 state legislative session careens this week toward what looks to be a wild and woolly conclusion, it’s hard not to see this latter scenario at work in Raleigh.

Simply put, if the predictions of most pollsters and pundits come true this fall, it’s extremely likely that Republicans will lose their supermajority control of the General Assembly in at least one, and quite possibly both, houses. If this happens, of course, their power to override gubernatorial vetoes and amend the constitution (both of which require 3/5 votes) will be dramatically reduced, along with their power to enact laws opposed by Democrats.[Read more…]

2. Voter ID amendment headed to ballot in November

Bonus reads:
* General Assembly passes two fixes to new early voting law

* Bad for North Carolina’s bottom line

3. Federal court hears challenge to HB2 successor law. Plaintiff: “We deserve safety”

4. PW exclusive: 25 years before SBI investigation, Duplin County was warned about Billy Houston’s consulting work

5. Federal authorities have yet to answer if families separated at border are in NC

6. Legislators wallow in special interest override of governor’s veto

This week’s editorial cartoon:

agriculture, Courts & the Law, Environment, Legislature

Shielding Murphy-Brown from nuisance lawsuits sparks a fracas in the streets, a battle in the courts and a struggle in the legislature

The band was in the middle of its set of oldies and country tunes when a bystander in the crowd of 500 people muttered, “Uh-oh. This could be trouble.”

Several husky men had gathered in front of the bandstand on the Bicentennial Mall in Raleigh yesterday afternoon, where farmers, their families, state officials including Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, and Smithfield Foods employees, had assembled for a rally. The men brandished preprinted signs that read “Stand up for NC Farm Families” and “NC Farms can feed stupid. NC Farms can’t fix stupid.”

They flanked another slighter man, whose hand-drawn sign defended migrant farmworkers, as well as neighbors of industrialized hog farms, many of whom have sued Smithfield over the stench, flies, buzzards and truck noise from these enormous operations.

“Your God is watching,” the sign read.

There was a scuffle, with hollering, shoving and pointing. A woman sandwiched herself between two men, trying to defuse the fight. The crowd jeered as a plainclothes police officer, accompanied by another officer in uniform, led the man with the hand-drawn sign, away.

Behind the stage, as the man recorded the interaction, police told him that he could not disrupt a gathering that had received a permit.

“I’m speaking out for the people of eastern North Carolina who have hog shit sprayed on their houses,” he yelled.

The rally occurred on the same day of Gov. Roy Cooper’s expected—and later delivered — veto of Senate Bill  711, the NC Farm Act, as well as the closing arguments in the second of more than a dozen nuisance suits filed in federal court. The common thread in all three events – the rally, the nuisance litigation and the bill – is Murphy-Brown/Smithfield Foods.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the world’s largest pork producer, and its lobbying arm, the NC Pork Council, are the bullies on the block. As has played out in the legislature and in court, it’s become apparent that they use legal maneuvers, a sophisticated public relations machine, political influence and occasionally, even intimidation, to maintain their hold over North Carolina.

In addition to their powerful greenwashing machine, both entities have wielded their considerable influence over the sponsors of Senate Bill 711, including Sen. Brent Jackson. Jackson openly acknowledged on the Senate floor and in committees that he filed the legislation explicitly in response to Smithfield/Murphy-Brown losing the first nuisance suit in federal court.

Through a variety of legal barriers, the NC Farm Act would all but eliminate the right of neighbors to sue Murphy-Brown for nuisance. The Farm Act’s purpose is at best to deter, and at worst, to punish anyone who dares to confront the company. The bill could be up for an override vote as early as Wednesday.

While Murphy-Brown has framed the nuisance suit issue as an attack against small farmers – thus the reason for the rally – the suits are not against the farmers. They are against Murphy-Brown.

Read more