Charlotte, Greensboro editorials: Only one path forward on GOP gerrymandering

Another day, another pair of strong editorials blasting North Carolina’s outrageously gerrymandered legislative maps and demanding a permanent, nonpartisan fix.

After noting that a recent court order demanding new state legislative districts in 2017 will probably provide a little improvement, but not much, the Charlotte Observer puts is this way:

“There’s a better way. This past session, 63 N.C. House members – both Republicans and Democrats – co-sponsored House Bill 92, which would have established a nonpartisan Redistricting Commission whose members would be chosen by both parties. Those 63 House members made up a majority, but the bill never made it to a vote.

Similar redistricting reform efforts have been supported in the past by Republicans, including N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger. But whenever a party takes control, the prospect of reform suddenly becomes less appealing to its members.

Tuesday’s federal court ruling won’t change that, even if it does provide an incremental improvement in racial gerrymandering. Our best hope: That someday, enough lawmakers will see the greater good of redistricting reform instead of their own small self-interest.”

“Those impacts [of gerrymandering] are clear. One is that voters are denied the opportunity to choose representatives in truly competitive contests.

Another is the fixed outcomes. Here, the gerrymandering is intended to saddle a Democratic county with mostly Republican representation in Raleigh. Democratic candidates received an average of about 60 percent of the vote in Guilford County, yet Republicans won five of nine legislative seats. It’s simply a matter of arranging districts so that votes are apportioned to elect more Republicans than Democrats. It’s clever, effective and undemocratic.

This pattern was repeated in the state’s other urban counties.

The legislature must take seriously the court’s order and draw fair, balanced districts that allow minority voters a reasonable chance to elect candidates of their choice, without packing overwhelming numbers of them into a few districts.

Ideally, elections next November will see full slates of candidates vying in competitive contests — and no more 100 percent victory margins.

Unfortunately, experience suggests that partisan lawmakers still will try to stack the deck to the greatest extent they can manage. Ultimately, redistricting should be undertaken by a nonpartisan commission given the responsibility of drawing balanced districts that serve the best interests of voters, not of the politicians. There has been bipartisan interest in the state House to do this; opposition has come from the state Senate.

Senators should soften their stance and, for once, do something that advances democracy rather than denies it.”

Greensboro Police Chief attends White House discussion on “21st Century Policing”

Last week Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott and two staffers attended a White House briefing and discussion on “21st Century Policing.”

Scott told the News & Record the Aug. 16 seminar was “an opportunity for us to broaden our horizons.”

You may remember that the Greensboro Police Department, the center of a number of controversies over the years, was featured in a New York Greensboro Police Chief Wayne ScottTimes piece on racial disparities in policing last year.

According to a Times analysis, black drivers in Greensboro were more likely to be pulled over for routine traffic violations.

They were also more than twice as likely to be searched when pulled over, despite white drivers being found to have contraband more often during searches.

Black drivers also were also found to be four times more likely to be charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer — a charge so ubiquitous that some police departments discourage its use unless an incident involves other, more serious crimes.

The analysis also showed black drivers were five times more likely to be charged for possession of small amounts of marijuana, despite studies showing marijuana use is virtually the same among black and white people.

The Times story led the Greensboro police department to take a number of steps that decreased the racial disparities in traffic stops in just a month.

The city has also been struggling with how to use police body cameras – and what to do with the footage they capture.

Great news from Greensboro as city adopts paid parental leave policy for city workers

There was great news in Greensboro last night as North Carolina’s third largest city moved into the 21st Century (the 20th in other advanced parts of the world) in an important area of public policy: leave for new parents. The good people at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, report:

Greensboro City Council Passes Paid Parental Leave Policy To Help Greensboro’s Working Families
Working people, advocates push City Council to offer city workers up to six weeks’ paid parental leave

On the heels of securing a landmark minimum wage hike for city workers that went into effect last fall, a coalition of working people and community advocates—including Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO—came together at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to successfully advance a measure establishing a new paid parental leave policy for city workers.

The Paid Parental Leave ordinance, passed by a vote of 9 to 0, offers up to six weeks of paid parental leave to men, women and same-sex couples employed by the City of Greensboro for at least one year who welcome a new member into their families through birth, fostering or adoption. Currently, working families employed by the city may access benefits from the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which only provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave for eligible recipients.

“This ordinance is the right thing to do to help narrow the gender pay gap for Greensboro’s dedicated employees and improve the vitality and economy of our city overall,” said Councilman Jamal Fox, who introduced the ordinance. “Our city workers are professionals committed to Greensboro’s success—they shouldn’t have to choose between bonding with their child and paying their bills.”

Leading up to the vote, Working America members met with City Council members and wrote letters to the editor in support of adopting the ordinance. Additionally, working families and allies—including Working America members—packed the room to offer testimony in favor of the policy during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Greensboro continues to lead the way in creating smart, family-friendly policies that address troubling disparities and acknowledge today’s diverse family structures,” said Working America North Carolina State Director Carolyn Smith. “By raising wages and granting access to paid time off to city workers to care for new additions to their families, Greensboro continues to serve as a model to municipalities throughout the south for improving standards for working families.”

While paid parental leave policies are growing in popularity, most working Americans still lack access to paid family leave. According to a recent Associated Press analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12 percent of working people in the United States have access to paid leave through their jobs. A recent report from the North Carolina Justice Center asserts that in North Carolina alone, a staggering 1.2 million working people in the private sector do not have access to any earned paid leave.

Obviously, last night’s action is just a small step given that the vast majority of North Carolina workers still enjoy no such benefit. That said, it’s an important one and should add momentum to the effort to make such policies universal in modern America.

Greensboro teacher to address Philadelphia convention tonight

Dave WilsDave Wils doesn’t want to think about the viewing audience when he takes the stage at 8 p.m. tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The Wells Fargo Center holds just a shade under 20,000, but given live streaming of the convention and video on C-SPAN, mixed with the occasional coverage for the less renowned speakers on the national news networks, millions could hear this Guilford County teacher’s speech on student debt Thursday night.

Wils, a North Carolina Democratic delegate and eighth-grade social studies teacher at The Academy at Lincoln—a Greensboro public school—knows this is his biggest stage ever.

A New Bern native who migrated to Michigan for his education before returning to begin teaching in Greensboro almost three years ago, Wils knows student debt well. His wife is in school obtaining her degree right now.

“Student debt, especially with a teacher’s salary in North Carolina, is not the best combination,” he told Policy Watch Thursday morning. “My wife being in school, we’re going to assume more debt. It’s a problem, and Hillary (Clinton) has a plan to help ease that burden for my generation as well as take that burden almost entirely away for future generations.”

We talked to Wils about his experience this week in Philadelphia, and about the tumultuous political climate for educators in North Carolina today.

Policy Watch: What’s it like up there in Philadelphia right now?

Dave Wils: “It’s electric, it’s electric. I was joking around that I’m just going to be crying red, white and blue for the next several months. The sessions have been great….The speakers have been phenomenal. The city has been great. Yesterday we did some touring of the city’s history. Just being here in our nation’s birthplace and nominating our first woman president from a major political party, I get to say I was here when that happened. And not only that, I get to say I spoke when it happened. That’s just really cool.”

PW: What do you hope people take away from tonight’s talk?

DW: “There are people out there who are doing the right thing, going to school working hard, but they aren’t able to get ahead because of the rising cost of college attendance and the increase in student debt. It’s doubled in the last decade to $1.2 trillion, and that’s just an obscene amount of money.

I’m not going to mention that our parents didn’t have to pay that much for college, but I hope that’s implied. The deal is we’re out there busting our tails, doing what we love to do, being public servants, and because of the amount of debt we had to go into to do these jobs, it’s a double-edged sword. We wouldn’t be where we are without college, but we also wouldn’t be so much in debt without college either. Having the job that I want is part of the American dream, but also being able to start a family in the house that I want, that’s another part of it. Student debt is certainly hindering me from being able to accomplish those goals.”

PW: Can you talk about what it’s like to be a teacher in North Carolina today? Read more

Raleigh joins Wilmington, Winston-Salem, Asheville and Greensboro – all calling for the repeal of House Bill 2 (w/ video)

The Raleigh City Council has joined the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce in calling for the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal House Bill 2.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane read the following statement at Tuesday’s meeting:

“On March 28th, I issued a statement with your support following the passage of the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, better known as HB2, reiterating Raleigh’s continued commitment to being open to everyone, treating everyone with dignity and respect, and providing support to our businesses, citizens and visitors.

Since then, there has been much debate statewide and nationally regarding HB2; while here in Raleigh, we’ve been focused on the local impact. Over the past few weeks, we have heard from many community groups and individual citizens about their concerns that HB2 does not reflect Raleigh’s values. We’ve also heard from businesses, conventions, conferences, employment recruiters and others about the negative economic impact of HB2. The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau has indicated there are currently 16 Raleigh events at risk totaling an estimated $28 million in visitor spending, this is in addition to $3.2 million in confirmed losses through event cancellations and downsizing. Additionally, just today, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce issued a statement in opposition to HB2 and calling for its repeal.”

The Greater Raleigh Chamber made it clear in its own statement the city’s image was being being tarnished on the national stage:

HB2 has already harmed business growth in Wake County and the state of North Carolina’s reputation. This legislation is a threat to our mission as an organization devoted to growing our region’s economy. Our state has been represented negatively in more than 5,300 media outlets across the United States with nearly 8 billion impressions.

Raleigh’s stance came one day after the Winston-Salem City Council passed a resolution calling on legislators to reconsider the impact of the LGBT law in the short session.

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Earlier this month, Asheville City Council called on the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal House Bill 2 “at the earliest opportunity.”

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Greensboro passed its own resolution on April 5th:

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Update to our earlier post:

Wilmington’s City Council has also gone one record in calling for a repeal of HB2. Here’s an excerpt from their resolution:

“Therefore, be it resolved that the City of Wilmington reaffirms its support of diversity and inclusion and the ability of local government officials to protect and advance those ideals and respectfully requests that the NC General Assembly rescind House Bill 2 during the 2016 Legislative Short Session.”