Monday, July 29, 2013

New York Times vs NC GOP, Round 2

Even though the North Carolina legislature has adjourned, they haven't lost their place in the national spotlight.  The editorial board of the New York Times takes yet another look at the General Assembly's antics in a blog post from this weekend entitled "North Carolina: First in Voter Suppression":

"Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina didn’t like our recent editorial that criticized the state for abandoning its traditions of racial equality, strong public schools, and economic fairness. He wrote a letter to the editor saying he was leading the state to a 'powerful comeback.'

"That’s demonstrably untrue when it comes to the economy and the schools. But as yesterday’s events in the state capital showed, one thing is making a comeback: an old habit of suppressing the votes of minorities, young people and the poor, all in the hopes of preserving Republican power."

You can read the full blog post here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A shocking grab from the needy

From Jean Blish Siers, Charlotte Area Coordinator for the Society of St. Andrew (and wife of Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers):

In 1984, the North Carolina legislature passed a law allowing farmers to receive a tax credit for up to 10 percent of the value of gleaned crops donated to charities.  So it is with profound disappointment that I learned of a small line in the tax bill Gov. McCrory signed into law this week:  As of Jan. 1, 2014, the gleaning tax credit will cease to exist.  While poverty and hunger increase in our communities, it is shocking that Gov. McCrory and the legislature would take away this incentive to care for the neediest among us.

Everyone pretty well acknowledges that the spring and summer of 2013 have been tough for farmers in North Carolina:  A long, cool spring kept crops from growing and producing well.  Weeks of rain kept farmers from fields, slowing harvest, and delaying plantings, as well as literally washing crops out of the ground or blighting them.And yet, just in July, farmers in the counties surrounding Charlotte have donated approximately 60,000 pounds (yes, that is 30 tons!) of good, edible produce through the Society of St. Andrew, the Gleaners.  Those crops were distributed to area hunger agencies, feeding the approximately one-fifth of area residents who are food insecure, meaning there are times during the week when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. This includes children and senior citizens, the most vulnerable of our neighbors. 

Children and school groups, Sunday school classes and Scout troops, individuals and families all give of their time to pick produce in the heat and in the cold.  People offer their time to drive their trucks to fields and deliver the produce to hunger agencies.  All of us who participate in these events come away with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that a common sense idea – saving produce that would otherwise go to waste and taking it to those in need – is working in our community. 

None of it would be possible, though, without farmers.  These are men and women who work hard every day but take time to call Society of St. Andrew; they allow us in their fields to gather what is left.  Sometimes it’s produce that is already harvested but which they can’t sell at market – too big, too small, too ripe.  It takes time from their days to have us on their farms and in their coolers.  They help us load the trucks.  They offer tips on raising squash and tomatoes while they do it.  They are generous beyond belief.

No farmer raises a crop to see it go to waste.  The tax credit was a way the state could offer a small incentive for farmers to work with Society of St. Andrew and other gleaning agencies to feed the most vulnerable among us.  I hope that the legislature can see the folly of discouraging something so basic and decent.

For more information on the Society of St. Andrews, visit

Conservatives' poll: Voters not happy with GOP legislature

Findings from a Civitas Institute poll released this week show North Carolinians giving thumbs up to many of the tax changes coming from the Republican-controlled N.C. legislature. The flash poll from the group calling itself "North Carolina's conservative voice" was done July 17-18 and polled 603 N.C. registered voters. But the same poll showed respondents dissatisfied with the legislature, particularly legislative Republicans.

On tax changes:

- Sixty-five percent approved of cutting the state personal income tax for all NC taxpayers to a flat 5.75 percent rate; 23 percent disapproved.

- Sixty-four percent approved of increasing the standard deduction; 20 percent disapproved.

- Fifty-two percent approved of a cut in corporate taxes from 6.9 percent to 5 percent in two years, and down to 3 percent in the next two years if certain fiscal benchmarks are reached; 33 percent disapproved.

The biggest approval rating though came for issues that Republican legislative leaders initially fought against. Lawmakers had pressed to tax Social Security benefits and take away deductions for charitable giving. After loud public protests, those changes did not become part of the budget bills. In the Civitas poll, 84 percent of respondents approved of leaving charitable contributions fully deductible and not taxing Social Security benefits; just 8 percent disapproved.

On political leadership, respondents weren't very happy with legislative leaders. Thirty-nine percent gave the General Assembly unfavorable marks, with 25 percent favorable and 26 percent neutral.

On legislative Republicans, 40 percent viewed them unfavorably, 32 percent favorably and 20 percent neutral. Of legislative Democrats, 33 percent viewed them favorably and 33 percent viewed them unfavorably with 27 percent neutral.

Of GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, 37 percent viewed him favorably and 30 percent unfavorably, with 21 percent neutral.

The poll included 30 percent of people identifying as Republican, 43 percent as Democrats and 24 percent independent. On political ideology, 35 percent identified as conservative, 41 percent as moderate, and 16 percent as liberal.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Six months after threat, McCrory embraces Blue Line

Gov. Pat McCrory will be in Charlotte Thursday for the groundbreaking on the Blue Line Extension, six months after he told city officials that crucial state funding for the light rail line could be in jeopardy if they moved forward with a streetcar.

The Observer's Steve Harrison reported then that Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx was outraged over what he considered a threat. Without the state's $299 million contribution to the line's $1.1 billion cost, the Blue Line could not be extended nine miles from uptown to UNC Charlotte.

McCrory told City Attorney Bob Hagemann and deputy manager Ron Kimble then that "if the streetcar project were to go forward as currently proposed, future State funding for the Blue Line Extension could be at risk," the two said in a memo to the City Council.

Since then, City Manager Ron Carlee devised a way to pay for the streetcar without directly using property taxes, a plan the City Council adopted last month.

McCrory had supported a long-term capital plan that included the streetcar when he was mayor, but opposed using property taxes to pay for it. He was a key leader in getting the initial leg of light rail built, and his spokesman said in January that he was not threatening city officials and remained a light rail supporter.

Apparently Carlee's plan satisfied McCrory, and the governor will join federal and local officials for the 10 a.m. groundbreaking. The line, with state money flowing, is scheduled to open in 2017.

-- Taylor Batten

Protesters more popular than McCrory, lawmakers

Here's something that will likely stick in the craw of N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and his fellow Republicans in the legislature who've mocked and lampooned the Moral Monday protesters. N.C. residents like the protesters way more than they like the lawmakers.

That's according to a survey by Public Policy Polling released Tuesday. The poll shows 47 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of the folks getting arrested protesting the General Assembly's actions; 40 percent had an unfavorable opinion. By a 47/41 margin, respondents said they have a higher opinion of the protesters than they do of the General Assembly. Only 20 percent approved of the job the legislature is doing. Democrats had a higher favorable rating than Republicans - 40 percent approval vs the GOP's 35 percent aproval rating. (The GOP's unfavorables were at 55 percent to the Dems 45 percent.)

Compare that to McCrory's falling approval ratings: For the first time since taking office, the pollsters found that McCrory has a negative approval rating this month. Only 40 percent of voters are happy with the job he's doing to 49 percent who disapprove. Only 68 percent of people who voted for McCrory last fall continue to approve of his job performance.

"Unhappiness over the abortion bill seems to be driving a lot of the increased unhappiness with the Republicans in state government this month," writes Tom Jensen of PPP. "Only 34 percent of voters support the proposal to 47percent who are opposed. They're even more unhappy with the process- 80 percent think it's inappropriate to combine abortion legislation with bills about motorcycle safety or Sharia Law."

Also, the poll showed dissatisfaction about these issues:

Transparency - Only 19 percent think the legislature is transparent in how it conducts its business to 51 percent who believe it is not. By a 48/33 margin, respondents thought that McCrory should veto the abortion law, including a 51/37 margin with independents.

Unemployment - 55 percent of respondents are unhappy with the legislation that resulted in 70,000 North Carolinians losing their unemployment benefits earlier this month to only 29 percent who are supportive of it.

Fracking - 76 percent of respondents say companies engaged in fracking in North Carolina should have to disclose all the chemicals they inject into the ground with only 13% opposed. Republicans in the State Senate have been trying to exempt them from having to do so. There's a strong bipartisan consensus (81/13 among independents, 80/9 among Democrats, 68/18 among Republicans) that disclosure should be required.

One funny note North Carolina voters across party lines agreed on one thing: 78 percent support mandatory drug testing for members of the General Assembly; 12 percent opposed. That included independents (84/11), Republicans (83/9), and Democrats (70/15) alike.

The poll included 45 percent Democrats, 35 percent Republicans and 20 percent independents. It included 30 percent of people identified themselves as liberal, 43 percent who identified themselves as conservative and 26 percent who identified as moderate.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

N.C. Republican chairman mocks New York Times

Claude Pope, the chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, is biting back at the New York Times. The Times ran an editorial last week titled "The Decline of North Carolina" that decried the Republican legislature's policies. Pope responds with an open letter to the Times editorial board, "thanking" them for gracing us with their "political wisdom from on high."

Here's Pope's letter:

Thank you, New York Times. We southern hillbillies are always honored when the Old Gray Lady’s beacons of intelligence bestow their political wisdom from on high.
And why shouldn’t we be eager to heed your advice on critical legislative matters pending in the Tar Heel State?
After all, you’ve stood courageously against some of humanity’s most imminent threats – like soda. Does the thought of hiking taxes on North Carolina’s job creators make your Ivy League hearts flutter as fast as a new tax on Dr. Pepper? It must. Why else would you be so serious about leaving the unemployed stuck in poverty, instead of helping them climb out of it by creating new jobs?
You’re one of the world’s most ardent advocates of diversity and tolerance. Except the ideological kind, of course. Remember 1956? That’s the last time you endorsed a Republican presidential candidate.
That’s right: Carter, Dukakis, Mondale – all met your elite editorial standards. So it’s understandable you felt the need to traipse into this General Assembly’s business, with no mention of the Democrat disaster that preceded it.
If you had ever stepped foot in North Carolina, you’d know the carnage you describe is actually a massive rebuilding and clean-up effort. Your ideological soul mates sunk this state into a financial hole larger than your collective egos.
No wonder the liberals here swoon over your every word. What you oracles of knowledge lack in humility, you certainly make up for in fair-mindedness, and accuracy.
Although, your “demolition derby” of hyperbole did miss the mark on our legislative agenda. The voter ID laws we’re “rushing” through have actually been in the works since January. The convicted death row inmates you defend – those guilty of some of our state’s most egregious, violent crimes – already have an avenue to prove discrimination, one that doesn’t rely on faulty political science research.
What was it, exactly, about North Carolina that you found so “farsighted”? Was it double-digit unemployment? Horrendous dropout rates? Declining wages? The highest taxes in the Southeast?
And spend more money for better education, you say? How’s that working for your public schools, NYC? Still poorly-performing, and poverty stricken?
Oh, and thanks for all the revenue. The “grotesque” policies you decry are bringing North Carolina more residents from New York than any other state in the nation. 
Thanks again, New York Times. We aspire one day to live in a state as progressive, clean and friendly as your city. And to live in a world as enlightened as your editorial board.

Friday, July 12, 2013

North Carolina: America's partisan frontline?

This week the New York Times took on the N.C. legislature, putting the national spotlight on controversial moves that have brought out hundreds of protesters to the General Assembly in Raleigh. Its editorial, "The Decline of North Carolina," has drawn more than a 1,000 comments from North Carolinians and others across the nation.

But the week before The Atlantic had already turned its attention to Tar Heel state politics. In a piece called, "How North Carolina Became the Wisconsin of 2013", writer David Graham declares North Carolina "the frontline in America's partisan battle."

He goes on to say: "Nowhere is the battle between liberal and conservative visions of government fiercer than North Carolina. From the environment to guns, abortion to campaign finance, religion to taxes, Raleigh has become a battleground that resembles Madison, Wisconsin, in 2011."

The piece and other laments about North Carolina prompted a defense of N.C. GOP lawmakers from Grover Norquist and Patrick Gleason of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform to Reuters on Friday called "North Carolina as the new Wisconsin." The two wrote "North Carolina Republicans should only hope their situation plays out similarly to what transpired in the Badger State. Since Walker signed these reforms, the state’s unemployment rate has dropped from 7.6 percent to 7 percent..."

North Carolina's jobless rate has taken a bigger dip - from 9.7 percent last year to 8.8 percent this year - without the tax changes being proposed by Republicans lawmakers.

"Liberal pundits will try to portray what is happening in North Carolina as dysfunction. But it is the opposite. Washington politicians and political commentators bemoan the lack of compromise there. If they want to see what compromise looks like, however, they should watch Raleigh -  where Republicans are now compromising on how much tax relief to provide and how best to cut government waste."

Graham's piece in The Atlantic has a different take:

"Just as Wisconsinites seemed shocked that their state could become so polarized, North Carolina seems like an unlikely candidate for such fierce political clashes. North Carolinians like to boast that their state is "a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit." Until recently, it was certainly an oasis of political calm between Virginia -- a fast-changing purple state fighting battles over transvaginal ultrasounds -- and South Carolina, home of outspoken conservatives like Jim DeMint and Joe Wilson. The Tar Heel State was more moderate. For most of the last century, Democrats controlled the governorship, and they also tended to control the state legislature. Meanwhile, the state voted for a Republican in every presidential election from 1980 to 2004. In 2008, a major push by Barack Obama won him the state by a tiny margin, and it seemed that North Carolina, like Virginia, might be an emerging purple or even bluish state.

"Then in the 2010 election, Republicans took control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since 1870. Two years later, Republican Pat McCrory won the governorship (incumbent Governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, opted not to run in the face of almost certain defeat). Obama, meanwhile, failed to hold the state in the 2012 presidential race, even after Democrats staged their nominating convention in Charlotte.

That's where our story begins: when the Republicans took over Raleigh. McCrory seems like an unexpected man to oversee a dramatic rightward shift. He was the more centrist GOP contender for the gubernatorial nomination in 2008 (he lost to Perdue, barely) and had spent 14 years as mayor of Charlotte, earning a reputation as a moderate. But the combination of Republican control of both the governorship and the legislature has emboldened the GOP to take up a slew of conservative priorities. Central to the push is Art Pope, a wealthy businessman and political benefactor who is sometimes described as North Carolina's answer to the Koch brothers, and whom McCrory appointed as state budget director. Pope and his associates spent $2.2 million in state races in the 2010 cycle alone, Jane Mayer reported in 2011."

"While much of North Carolina remains conservative -- as the 2012 election showed -- there is a strong concentration of much more left-leaning voters in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, and they've reacted angrily to the push. In a series of weekly demonstrations named "Moral Mondays," protestors have descended on the state legislature to show their displeasure and, often, be arrested: nearly 500 people have been arrested since the first such rally on April 29.

"Unlike the Madison contretemps, which centered around one major issue -- Gov. Scott Walker's drive to strip public employees of collective-bargaining rights, and protestors push to stop him -- the battle in North Carolina is more of a multifront war featuring a large number of skirmishes."

For the rest, go to The Atlantic.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The hypocrisy of the latest airport bill

We can't believe this even needs to be said: Whatever the best governance of the Charlotte airport may be, those who want to seize control of it from the city are, thanks to legislation being debated today, now guilty of blatant hypocrisy.

Advocates of handing airport control to an independent authority have said Charlotte Douglas needs to be protected from city meddling. They were especially wary of the city trying to get its hands on airport revenues for other uses. There was enough smoke to think that the city might have at least been exploring such moves, and it shouldn't.

Now, the latest version of the General Assembly's airport bill, on the House floor today, would allow surrounding governments to receive Charlotte airport money for their own airports. So we don't want Charlotte getting its grubby hands on airport money, but we're OK with that money going to Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln and Union counties?

As Republican City Council member Warren Cooksey said, "That boggles my mind."

Stan Campbell, who has been working with legislators on the authority bill, said last month that keeping Charlotte airport money at the Charlotte airport was vital. "The fact they're looking to scam money out of the airport shows how important it is to get it out of the hands of these guys," Campbell said about the City Council.

Campbell said he worried the city intends to raid the airport to fund projects such as a streetcar. The only way to protect it is to establish an authority, he argued.

"I think they're just pretending to lay low, and when everybody turns their back, they'll do it again," he said.

Now Senate Bill 81, being debated on the House floor this morning, allows Charlotte airport money to be spent in five surrounding counties. Campbell said he is not concerned that revenue from Charlotte Douglas would be diverted to those counties. But it's right there in black and white in Section 6.(a) that it could. And it doesn't say the authority has to take over the regional airports to help them here and there. It's not hard to imagine that, with $678 million in cash reserves last year, an independent authority holding the purse strings could spread some good cheer to well-placed advocates around the region. Particularly with half the authority coming from regional counties, as the bill requires.

Advocates of an authority still haven't made the case that one of the world's best-run airports needs fundamental governance changes. And they sure haven't made the case that while airport revenues need to be protected from the City Council, they should be a piggy bank for our neighbors.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

North Carolinians: What's happening to our state?

By 4 p.m., more than 1200 people had commented on the New York Times' website to its editorial, "The Decline of North Carolina." Most of commenters agreed with the Times' lament, a lament the Observer editorial board has shared. But some did not. Here is some of what North Carolinians and former North Carolinians had to say:

J. Maron, Raleigh, NC: "I'm a native Tar Heel. These days I feel as if I'm watching the death of someone I've loved intensely all my life. Such sadness."

S R Bray, Charlotte, NC: "As a resident of Charlotte, NC I can say that Pat McCrory was useless as a mayor when it came to the needs of the people....  Now he is destroying our education system and trampling on the rights of the disabled. And the whole while he sits in front of the TV cameras with an insipid grin. These are bad times in a state that is looking more foolish and bigoted every day."

Emily, Raleigh: "I'm embarrassed to live in NC right now. I'll be joining my fellow liberal North Carolinians on Monday to protest."

sandstone, NC: "Keep an eye on NC. It is an excellent model, in spite of criticism by welfare statists, of how to reverse runaway spending initiated by prior government officials that sought popularity for their generosity with NC citizen's money who then became addicted to receiving handouts. Cutting a spoiled child's allowance is never popular. The NC approach could, however, be a model for the federal government that is in the same predicament."

Gary B, Asheville: I moved to Asheville from Budapest, Hungary a few years ago because it seemed like a very progressive and forward looking place. The fact that a prominent republican labeled it a 'cesspool of sin' only strengthened that opinion. It is, indeed, a pool of progressive thinking in a cesspool of backward thinking. I have voiced my opinion, I have voted... now I have sold my business and I'm getting out of North Carolina. I will not live and work in a state that hates its citizens as NC does... 

Richard Genz, Asheville NC: "I was one of 120 arrested at the Legislative Building in Raleigh a couple of weeks ago, in a nonviolent Moral Monday protest led by Rev. Barber of the NAACP.In my city, Asheville, the GOP is in the process of seizing control of our city-owned water supply. They want to hand it over to a county board that's more developer-friendly. This high-handed move was rejected by 85.5 percent of Asheville voters in a referendum. Yet the seizure appears nearly inevitable under a state legal framework that neuters local governments. A similar assault is being launched on the City of Greenville NC. Add respect for local decision-making to the long list of Republican hypocrisies."

CA, Chapel Hill, NC : "I'm saddened by the stereotypes some are wielding to explain what's happening in NC, saying we asked for this. Current polling in NC shows that less than 20% of people in the state approve of what the legislature is doing....My state is part of the story of the demographic change that is going to force the GOP to change their spots or resign themselves to irrelevance. That's why the current Republican government is in such a hurry. They have convinced themselves that if they can just suppress the vote enough they can hang on for a few more years. I don't know if Moral Monday can make a difference, but I'm going to keep trying... "

Jim, North Carolina: "Sad to say, it is every bit as bad as you report. Moreover, In enlightened and sensible environmental protection, for which North Carolina in recent years prided itself and to which I devoted the last part of my career in North Carolina government, the current legislative and administrative policies are equally shortsighted, unwise and reactionary."

buchshot, North Carolina: Yikes! The other side has been in control just six months out of the last 150 years, and the NY Times is already announcing a decline of the Great State of North Carolina. Let's give them a chance.

sam ogilvie, wilkesboro: "A quick study of the history of North Carolina reveals that our most influential leaders, men like Archie Davis, John Medlin, Judge James B. McMillan, Harlan Boyles, Bill Friday, Terry Sanford, and James Hunt, Jr., have been social progressives who toiled for the common good, yet fiscally responsible, down-to-earth, yet strong intellectuals with vision, creative, yet unassuming and approachable. In effect, they embodied our state's motto, "To be, rather than to seem(to be). I am confident that such leaders will emerge again, and, hopefully, many of them will be females and minorities that these men worked tirelessly to clear the way for. We've come too far to go back now. Please don't count us out just yet."

Micoz, Charlotte: "Only a decade ago, North Carolina was among the most prosperous of states with a roaring economy and widespread opportunity. The deep plunge into liberalism led by its Democratic legislature and governors left it a wreck of wild spending, state debt, and government regulation. North Carolina is reversing its trend toward increased entitlements as the solution to hard economic times. It is attempting to stop wild, unaffordable spending and to reform the tax structure to encourage entrepreneurship and enterprise... Will it work? We'll see... North Carolina could become an amazing part of a Republican renaissance. We already know where the philosophy of liberal Democrats leads, don't we? To exactly the mess North Carolina is now in.

Jim Murphy, Rutherfordton, NC: "To watch my state slide so quickly into disarray pains me. Our legislators dismiss our complaints and do as they please. We are being sold off to corporate interests and no amount of outcry can stop it. The saddest part? The people hardest hit by the policies and decisions of the current crop of legislators will gladly vote for them again."

Frizbane Manley,Winchester, Virginia: "Grew Up In Hendersonville, NC. You can’t blame this on a few hundred legislators and their staffs. This travesty is the will of the citizens of the Old North State. Luther Hodges and Terry Sanford are turning over in their graves.How sad."

SJ, Arlington, VA: "As someone who grew up in North Carolina, I would argue that the state's Democratic Party, which has enjoyed the majority of governorships over the last several decades, grew complacent and ran a series of lackluster candidates, particularly the previous governor Bev Perdue. This is not to justify what the Republicans have done; their wholesale dismantling of the state government is going to be a long term disaster for the state. Yet their climb to power is less about some sort of massive ideological shift in the public and more backlash against a NC Democratic Party that has been weak in engaging the public on issues."

Ashleigh, Raleigh, NC: "I moved to Raleigh almost a year ago. At the time I didn't know much about the states politics but I knew it was beautiful and growing, and the metro areas seemed pretty progressive. Now, I'm embarrassed to say I made the decision to move here... If I hadn't found a great job here, I would be seriously considering moving again.... 

N.C. legislature's antics go national

The N.C. legislature's antics over the past six months are well-known in these parts. While editorial boards across the state are grateful for the fodder, we have cringed to see some of the ways the General Assembly has been rolling back years of progress that had separated North Carolina from much of the South.

Now, that dismantling is on a very national stage. The lead editorial in today's New York Times is headlined "The Decline of North Carolina." It takes what we and others have been writing about for months and amplifies it to a national audience of millions.

The Times editorial board says the legislature is imposing "grotesque damage" on the state, particularly to the least fortunate among us. It says N.C. government has become a "demolition derby" with Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislature and the governor's mansion. It concludes: "North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build."

North Carolinians have known this for sometime, and its reflected in polls that show the legislature with extremely low approval ratings. Now the rest of the country is talking about us as well.

The full Times editorial: 

The Decline of North Carolina

Every Monday since April, thousands of North Carolina residents have gathered at the State Capitol to protest the grotesque damage that a new Republican majority has been doing to a tradition of caring for the least fortunate. Nearly 700 people have been arrested in the “Moral Monday” demonstrations, as they are known. But the bad news keeps on coming from the Legislature, and pretty soon a single day of the week may not be enough to contain the outrage.
In January, after the election of Pat McCrory as governor, Republicans took control of both the executive and legislative branches for the first time since Reconstruction. Since then, state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.
The cruelest decision by lawmakers went into effect last week: ending federal unemployment benefits for 70,000 residents. Another 100,000 will lose their checks in a few months. Those still receiving benefits will find that they have been cut by a third, to a maximum of $350 weekly from $535, and the length of time they can receive benefits has been slashed from 26 weeks to as few as 12 weeks.
The state has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, and many Republicans insulted workers by blaming their joblessness on generous benefits. In fact, though, North Carolina is the only state that has lost long-term federal benefits, because it did not want to pay back $2.5 billion it owed to Washington for the program. The State Chamber of Commerce argued that cutting weekly benefits would be better than forcing businesses to pay more in taxes to pay off the debt, and lawmakers blindly went along, dropping out of the federal program.
At the same time, the state is also making it harder for future generations of workers to get jobs, cutting back sharply on spending for public schools. Though North Carolina has been growing rapidly, it is spending less on schools now than it did in 2007, ranking 46th in the nation in per-capita education dollars. Teacher pay is falling, 10,000 prekindergarten slots are scheduled to be removed, and even services to disabled children are being chopped.
“We are losing ground,” Superintendent June Atkinson said recently, warning of a teacher exodus after lawmakers proposed ending extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees, cutting teacher assistants and removing limits on class sizes.
Republicans repealed the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that was the first in the country to give death-row inmates a chance to prove they were victims of discrimination. They have refused to expand Medicaid and want to cut income taxes for the rich while raising sales taxes on everyone else. The Senate passed a bill that would close most of the state’s abortion clinics.
And, naturally, the Legislature is rushing to impose voter ID requirements and cut back on early voting and Sunday voting, which have been popular among Democratic voters. One particularly transparent move would end a tax deduction for dependents if students vote at college instead of their hometowns, a blatant effort to reduce Democratic voting strength in college towns like Chapel Hill and Durham.
North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Who's at the front of the line to replace Mel Watt?

It's far from a sure thing that Rep. Mel Watt will get confirmed as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Republicans have made it clear they don't like the nomination, which means they'll likely use procedural maneuvers to require 60 votes, not just a majority, for Watt to get confirmed. That's a high hill to climb. 

So consider Public Policy Polling's latest NC-12 survey a just-in-case kind of thing. The poll, released earlier Tuesday, shows N.C. Sen. Malcom Graham as the frontrunner to replace Watt. Graham got 31 percent of the vote, ahead of Alma Adams, who at 22 perceent was the only other candidate in double digits. Attorney George Battle III, who announced his candidacy this week, is tied with N.C. Rep Beverly Earle at 8 percent, followed by N.C. Rep Marcus Brandon at 5 percent, former Mecklenburg commissioner Harold Cogdell and N.C. Rep. Rodney Moore at 3 percent. All are Democrats except Cogdell, who is an independent.

Graham has the advantage of name recognition in Mecklenburg County thanks to his time in Raleigh, his six years on the Charlotte City Council and ties to Johnson C. Smith University. He's the only candidate that more than half the respondents knew recognized. Earle, Cogdell and Battle aren't far behind, however. And that's what campaigns are for.

The path to avoid the N.C. abortion bill

Looks like a path has been cleared that would allow Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis a way to avoid - for now - the taint of a bill that would restrict abortions for women in North Carolina.

In comments to the House Health Committee this morning, N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos told lawmakers that hasty legislation isn't the best way to ensure the health of women and safety of abortion clinics. The best way involves study - and staffing.

House Bill 695, which was sprung on the state just before the July 4 holiday, is similar to measures in other states that circumvent the law with provisions designed to put abortion clinics out of business. 
Wos said that her staff needs time to discern the implications of the bill, which places costly and restrictive mandates on abortion clinics and doctors. Wos also indicated that she'd love for those clinics to be more frequently inspected, but that it's impossible to do with an HHS staff of only 10.

The message: If health and safety really are the issue for lawmakers, then how about putting some time and money where your concern is?

McCrory hinted at some of the same in remarks to reporters Monday, saying the bill was complicated and required study to sift out which regulations actually improved health and safety - and which were merely designed to restrict abortion.

Taking that time would allow McCrory, for now, a way to honor a vow he made as a candidate last October not to sign abortion restrictions into law. Tillis, who has a 2014 run for the U.S. Senate to consider, surely doesn't want to be the House Speaker who allowed such a bill to pass. 

Wos, a McCrory appointee, gave her boss and the Speaker some political cover this morning. Tillis now has a cabinet-level rationale to stop HB695 from coming to a House vote.

Update, 1:34 p.m.: Republican Rep. Ruth Samuelson is doing her best to block any escape route Tillis and McCrory might have. At the end of Monday's meeting, she announced that HB695 was a good bill and that its sponsors would talk with Health and Human Services before passing it. That talk might delay passage of the bill some, but Samuelson said she hopes for a vote before the session adjourns. 

Peter St. Onge   

Monday, July 8, 2013

A comeback for John Edwards?

So this Eliot Spitzer thing has us thinking. If the disgraced former New York governor can run for New York City comptroller, and if the revealing Tweeter Anthony Weiner can run for mayor of New York City, why can't scandal-plagued North Carolinians make their own comebacks?

Spitzer told the New York Times he's "hopeful there will be forgiveness" five years after he resigned in a prostitution scandal. Weiner, who tweeted his private parts to unsuspecting women, is near the top of the polls. Come to think of it, we have an example closer to home: Mark Sanford is back in Congress despite his hike with a mistress along the Appalachian Trail.

It's all enough to make John Edwards' head spin. So who around Charlotte and North Carolina might be emboldened by Spitzer's and Weiner's moves? Here are five possibilities:

1. John Edwards. Sure, the former U.S. senator and presidential candidate impregnated his campaign videographer despite his wife's battle with (ultimately fatal) cancer, then lied about the affair repeatedly. He still has white teeth, we assume. Spitzer plans to self-finance his campaign, something Edwards could pull off as well.

2. Jim Black. The former speaker of the N.C. House has paid his debt to society -- more than three years in prison -- after admitting to taking bribes. And there is an opening coming up in the N.C. Speaker's office...

3. Warren Turner. The former Charlotte City Council member was defeated in 2011 after sexual harassment allegations and after being fired from his job as a state probation officer. But the state reinstated him to the probation job last year and gave him back pay. Filing for his old District 3 seat is currently open.

4. Paula Broadwell. Her affair with David Petraeus brought down the CIA director and four-star general, and had the national media camped out outside her Dilworth home last fall. Before that, insiders were talking about her as a potential U.S. Senate candidate. She said in May that she has "remorse for the harm (and) sadness that this has caused in my family..." and "I'm not focused on the past." So what's in her future?

5. Andrew Reyes. He was elected chairman of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party in 1999 and was a candidate for the board of county commissioners. That was before he was convicted of embezzling $3.6 million, bank fraud and tax evasion and served three years. Ancient history by now, right?

OK, so some comebacks are more believable than others. Who do you think could soon be on the comeback trail?

-- Taylor Batten