Defending Democracy, News, Voting

Sen. Burr: Russians continue use of social media to influence, divide Americans (video)

Three months before November’s mid-term elections, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged that foreign operators are using social media to divide Americans, spread disinformation and undermine U.S. elections.

Republican Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the committee, said it was a complex problem that Congress must take every bit as seriously as terrorism:

“…it’s also the case that social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of how we exchange ideas and stay connected. It binds us as a community, and gives voice to the voiceless.

This was never about election, it is about the integrity of our society.

So how do you keep the good, while getting rid of the bad?”

Senators also on Wednesday rejected an amendment (50-47) that would have earmarked $250 million for election security.

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis was among those voting against the appropriation, which needed 60 ‘Yea’ votes to advance.

Senator Burr was recorded as having not voted.

Click below to hear Burr’s opening remarks Wednesday morning before the Senate Intelligence Committee:

 

 

Commentary, Environment, News, Voting

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Powerful new hog trial testimony puts Smithfield back on the defensive
By Lisa Sorg

As a former police officer and firefighter, Wesley Sewell has encountered odors so putrid that they would make most people retch. He’s even ranked the smells. No. 1 “is when I had to remove burning bodies from a plane crash,” Sewell told a jury in a federal hog nuisance trial yesterday. No. 2 “is when I had to remove a person from their home who had been dead a week on the toilet. Hog feces is number three, or at least in the top five.”

Sewell is not a plaintiff, but was subpoenaed as a witness in the most recent lawsuit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown. [Read more…]

2. Fearing suppression, voting rights advocates make case for early voting sites in letters to county boards
By Melissa Boughton

Early voting in North Carolina is a big deal with a big turnout, but advocates are bracing for a negative impact this year after some last minute legislative wheeling and dealing.

To help minimize the damage, the ACLU of North Carolina and Democracy NC teamed up to inform county boards of elections of the effects of Senate Bill 325 and House Bill 335 and to make recommendations for consideration as they adopt early voting plans. [Read more...]

3. Just say ‘no’: The easiest way to push back against NC’s rogue General Assembly is to vote against all six proposed constitutional amendments
By Rob Schofield

Like Congress and most modern American state legislatures, the North Carolina General Assembly is not a popular or respected body. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling asked voters their opinion of the General Assembly earlier this year and the results were fairly dismal. It found that less than one-in-five North Carolina voters (19%) approved of the job the legislature was doing, while more than half (51%) disapproved. [Read more]

4. Plea deal offers glimpse into rampant bail industry fraud
By Joe Killian

When Sarah Jessenia Lopez plead guilty in May to attempted notary fraud related to bail bonding, it was not earth shattering. After all, fraud and criminality in North Carolina’s for-profit bail industry has been rampant for years.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance regulates the bail industry. Between 2009 and 2016, its criminal investigators made more than 1,500 arrests related to insurance and bail bonding fraud alone. There have been more than 750 criminal convictions with more than 250 cases currently pending in court. But a close examination of Lopez’s plea deal reveals details that could reverberate throughout the already troubled industry and contribute to the final dismantling of one of the state’s largest and most powerful bail surety companies. [Read more]

5. N.C. General Assembly has failed to act, but the time to stop Chemours’ pollution is now
By Billy Ball

“How long before we say enough is enough?” state lawmaker Ted Davis Jr. asked his colleagues in the N.C. House in February. “How much more is Chemours going to get away with before something is done?”

Chances are the Wilmington Republican, whose constituents are right to be worried about the Delaware-based chemical company’s discharges into the Cape Fear River, is asking the same questions today as pressure mounts on Chemours practically everywhere outside of the North Carolina General Assembly. [Read more]

6. Cartoonist John Cole: It’s getting deep… [Read more…]

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News, Voting

Republican senator to critic of GOP’s controversial voting reforms: “Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

Sen. Rick Horner, R-Johnson, Nash, Wilson

“Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

A Republican North Carolina senator had this to say in an email late Thursday to one woman’s criticism of surprise, GOP-led voting reforms unveiled at the legislature this week.

On Friday, Policy Watch obtained a copy of the terse email exchange, in which Sen. Rick Horner, a one-term Republican who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, took a Raleigh woman to task.

Horner was firing back at Joanne Rohde of Raleigh, who blasted GOP legislators for their efforts to overhaul early voting and voter ID laws late in the short session.

Rohde is not one of Horner’s constituents, but her email—which was timestamped at 10:59 p.m. Thursday—was directed to all of the state’s Senators. Horner’s reply was sent at 11:06 p.m. Thursday.

From Rohde’s email:

Our State Legislature is the poster child of hollowing out Democracy from within.  Shame on those of you promoting legislation that thwarts the intent of the Supreme Court ruling.  Shame on those of you limiting our basic right to vote.  Shame for sneaking around in the middle of the night changing laws without public discourse.

You think no one is watching, or no one cares; or maybe you just think [you’re] untouchable.  But you’re wrong.  Not only will I cast my vote against those working against our democratic principles, but I will spend my weekends knocking on doors and making calls to make sure that as many citizens as possible know what you’re doing.  And I assure you, I’m not alone.

It appears the lawmaker copied all of his Senate colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, on the response. It’s unclear whether that was intentional or unintentional.

Horner couldn’t be immediately reached for an interview Friday afternoon.

Voting rights advocates are fired up over new Republican proposals to nix a major early voting day and revive voter ID requirements.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the voter ID bill Monday, which would put it to voters to decide whether the state requires mandatory photo IDs at the polls, an idea that’s been widely denounced for its potential impact on minority voters.

Two years ago, a federal court shot down the GOP’s 2013 voter ID law, writing that it targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision.”

The new legislation is awaiting review in a House elections committee.

Meanwhile, GOP legislators in the House gutted a 2017 tax cut bill from the Senate this week, reintroducing the measure as “The Uniform & Expanded Early Voting Act.”

The bill’s sparked fierce criticism because it would do away with early voting on the Saturday before Election Day, a particularly popular day.

The legislation swept through the state House Thursday and Friday amid often bitter debate. After its approval Friday morning, state Senate lawmakers placed it on their calendar for a possible vote Friday.

[Update: The Senate approved the House-amended bill Friday afternoon. Horner voted to approve the proposal. It’s now bound for Gov. Roy Cooper.]

Commentary, Voting

Unlike North Carolina, some states are making voter participation easier instead of suppressing it

Most of the voting rights news lately has not been very encouraging. State legislative leaders are promising to bring up another photo ID bill in one of the series of special legislative sessions likely to be held this summer and fall.

The last effort at enacting a photo ID requirement was part of the massive voter suppression law struck down by federal courts who said it targeted minority voters with “surgical precision.”

Things are even scarier in Washington, where President Trump’s absurd election commission held its first meeting this week with its vice-chairman Kris Kobach from Kansas refusing to admit that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election.

The meeting’s coda was an MSNBC television interview in which Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican who is the panel’s vice chairman and de facto head, was asked, “Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three to five million votes because of voter fraud?” He replied: “We will probably never know the answer to that question. Because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.”

But some states are not playing the dangerous voter suppression game. In fact, the Governor of Rhode Island this week signed legislation that automatically registers people to vote when they are getting a driver’s license or renewing one, unless they choose to opt out.

Steve Benen over at the Rachel Maddow Blog points out that the signature means nine states now have automatic registration and Illinois will soon become the 10th.

Not too long ago there was a consensus that the more people who participated in the Democratic process the better. The folks on the Right don’t think so anymore. Sadly, now their goal is to keep putting barriers to voting in front of people who are not likely to support them.

Environment, News, Voting

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Is North Carolina stuck in an abusive relationship?
Behavior of state leaders, state policy community raise warning flags

The last seven years in North Carolina politics and policy have been extraordinary. In a very short period of time, a once moderate state has been transformed into a kind of laboratory for far right policies and a testing ground for what we are coming to know now as Trumpism. On issue after issue, state legislative leaders have aggressively pursued an ultra-conservative agenda that seeks to radically remake the state’s social contract.

What’s more, this has not been a happy or buoyant transformation. Rather than being predicated on a positive or hopeful new vision of society, the conservative revolution in North Carolina has mostly been a counter-revolution. Even today, a point at which they enjoy veto-proof majorities and can realistically contemplate an entire decade in power, conservative legislative leaders premise most of their actions and policies more on an angry rejection of past supposed transgressions by Democrats than a coherent articulation of what they want to build. [Read more….]

2. School districts prepare for another year of class size controversy

When North Carolina legislators pushed through their $23 billion budget plan in June, it included one key, last-minute insertion in a separate technical corrections bill.

State lawmakers wrote that it’s their “intent” to use data collected this year from school districts to fund a new allotment for arts and physical education teachers beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

Given the well-documented consternation this year over a public school funding crisis spurred by lawmakers’ demands that schools reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, it’s an important, albeit tentative, promise. [Read more….]

3. Unlikely bedfellows rally to oppose seismic air gun testing, offshore drilling near the North Carolina coast

The Atlantic Ocean has never been a silent place, what with the whales and their jabbering, the dolphins and their mating calls. The underwater sound waves of earthquakes, volcanoes and waves are background noise, akin to the hum of air conditioners in the summertime.

But over time, the noise beneath the sea grew louder, at times, even deafening. First, the ships. And over the centuries, trans-Atlantic cable, Navy sonar, submarines, even bombs.

And now, the air guns. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering allowing energy companies to fire seismic air guns up and down the Atlantic Coast in search of oil and gas. [Read more…]

*** Editor’s note to the above story: The National Marine Fisheries Service has extended the public comment period on seismic testing to July 21.

4. Gerrymandering, the courts and the next election in North Carolina: All of your burning questions answered

It’s been a little over a month since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 28 state North Carolina House and Senate districts were racially gerrymandered but lawmakers have yet to draw new maps.

In the last month, there’s been some back-and-forth in the courts over North Carolina v. Covington, numerous headlines about the case and several rallies calling for immediate action from the legislature.

The case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, where a three-judge panel will oversee the redrawing of the illegally gerrymandered maps and decide whether special elections before the regularly scheduled 2018 elections will be a proper remedy for the constitutional violations at hand.  [Read more…]

*** Bonus infographic:  Download our special timeline on gerrymandering in North Carolina
*** Bonus read: Federal three-judge panel poised to make decision in racial gerrymandering case

5. NC’s response to opioid crisis is too little, too late says lawmaker with personal expertise

Opioid overdoses took 1,200 lives in North Carolina last year – part of an 800 percent increase since 1999 whose body count has now surpassed 12,000.

So when lawmakers approved the final state budget late last month, many expected the bipartisan concern would lead to significant funding to combat the opiate problem.

But while the budget did improve funding for the state’s Controlled Substances Reporting System and funneled $10 million in federal grants to treatment services, it was well under what Gov. Roy Cooper called for in his suggested budget and only about half of what was called for in the bi-partisan Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.

N.C. Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) said she was disappointed – but not necessarily surprised. [Read more…]