Friday, May 30, 2014

The passing of an old friend

The cause of death was ruled, dismissively, as "old age." But anyone who saw the puddle of dark liquid pooling under the body would have known otherwise.

Sure, she was no spring chicken, but without the fatal blow she sustained, she could have rolled right along for who knows how many more years.

I sure do miss her now. Sure, she had gotten cranky in recent years. She had the ailments that come with a lot of mileage. She had creaky bones. She smelled bad. On her grumpiest days, she'd make strange sounds. Plus, the bills to take care of her were mounting all the time.

But she had been with me for so long, and I was always comfortable with her despite her flaws. She'd go anywhere with me. She took me on trips to the beach, and to more Duke basketball and football games than I can count. She even drove my wife and me home from the hospital after our first daughter was born, and again two years later when our second was born. We felt safe with her on those drives, knowing she'd help protect these miracles who had come into our lives. We would take her to the Anne Springs Close Greenway and she was great with having our two big Weimaraners come along with us, even when they'd come back wet and muddy.

There was nothing all that special about my 2000 Chevy Tahoe, I guess. She was just so familiar to me. I knew how to press her buttons. I was with her for years longer than any other. She was always there, ready to go, never demanding much.

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I replaced her with another before she was even fully gone. This new one and I are still getting to know each other. But she's a lot like the recently departed, and I have a good feeling that we're going to grow old together.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, May 29, 2014

No property tax cut? That's OK

Six years after the recession prompted big cuts to schools, parks and libraries, Mecklenburg County is back on sound financial footing and wisely reinvesting in those and other areas.

County Manager Dena Diorio, who took the job in January, unveiled her first recommended budget today. It's a starting point, not an ending one, but appears to make smart, strategic investments in essential county services.

The highlights:

  • The property tax rate remains the same.
  • $26.8 million more to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, a 7.4 percent hike. That includes 2 percent raises for locally funded staff but not raises for teachers, which primarily is the state's responsibility.
  • Increased spending on parks and libraries, which were slashed in the downturn.
  • Substantial new hiring in the Department of Social Services, and funding to hire 33 more school nurses and three nurse supervisors, ensuring at least one nurse in every school.
  • Bulking up code enforcement with 24 new positions, and internal audit, with two new auditor positions.
  • 2 percent raises for county staff.
  • More money for the Charlotte Regional Partnership and the local film commission.
Diorio said development (and thus property tax) and sales tax collections are rebounding, putting the county on better financial footing than it was even before the recession. Guidelines call for the county to have 28 percent of prior year revenue in its piggy bank; the county is now at 40 percent and growing, allowing for the new spending.

The obvious question is whether some of this largesse should be returned to taxpayers in the form of a property tax cut. We haven't crunched the numbers, but it appears that any responsible rate reduction would put only a small amount back in taxpayers' pockets.

We won't believe the legislature will pass a reasonable teacher-pay plan until it happens, but Diorio is right not to get out ahead of legislators on that front. We do wonder whether the Charlotte Regional Partnership has earned more county money at a time when state changes put its role in flux and there is talk of redundancy in economic development efforts locally.

Overall, though, given all the services county residents demand -- including great schools, pleasant parks and modest help for the lowest-income residents -- Diorio seems to be off to a strong start.

-- Taylor Batten 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Shame on North Carolina: Raise legislator pay!

North Carolina's pay for legislators is an embarrassment. Some even have to take other jobs just to make ends meet! It's true they don't meet 12 months a year, but think of all the work they have to do after hours -- going to cocktail parties, dinners and sporting events, for example.

How can our great state compete for the best talent when legislators can just cross the line to another state and make thousands more? Did you know starting legislators in Alaska make $50,400 a year, plus a hefty per diem? For goodness' sake, we pay our legislators only $4,000 more than Mississippi!

Do we not value what these people do? How can we find it acceptable that our children are taught about politics from people who make less than sanitation workers? An entry-level legislator has to work for years to see any bump in pay. Why, they have to work their way up all the way to majority or minority leader to get a $3,000 raise. No wonder they don't feel appreciated.

It's true that legislators don't go into this field to get rich. It's their passion for the work; nothing is more rewarding than that moment that they see that light go on in a campaign donor's eyes and they know they've made a connection. That's what it's all about.

Still, do they not deserve a living wage, for all they do? Thankfully, there is finally a push being made to do right by the people we entrust our public policies to each day. Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, is taking a courageous stand: He has proposed a bill that would nearly triple legislators' pay, from $13,951 to $36,000. They would, of course, maintain their expense allowance of $559 a month and their per diem of $104 a day when they are in session.

But with legislators being so vital to our future, we propose an even better approach than across-the-board raises. It includes a menu of options (though some might not go over well with the legislators' union):

  • Instead of giving a raise to everyone, we will give a raise only to starting legislators. Those in their first term will get a 5 percent bump, but all others will remain flat.

  • Legislators will give up their tenure, er, safe seats. But in return, the top 25 percent of legislators will get a $500 per year pay bump. Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger will decide which legislators are among the best 25 percent.

  • We don't want to reward the bad legislators, only the good ones. So we will institute a pay-for-performance merit raise structure. Only those legislators whose constituents score well on civics tests will be eligible for a raise.

  • Every legislator will get a letter grade from his or her constituents. Those who are awarded A's will get raises. All others will not. This will create incentives for our legislators to do their best.

  • Any legislator who earns a Masters in Public Policy will not be awarded extra pay.

North Carolina was once a state where a legislator could get a fine meal every night and put it on the lobbyist's tab. No more. It's time we show how much we care.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bill would nearly triple N.C. lawmakers' pay - no joke

The state may be short of cash to give school teachers a raise but Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, thinks there should be enough to give his legislative colleagues a big bump in pay.

In a bill filed today, Brawley proposes that the pay of members of the General Assembly be increased to $36,000 a year starting with the 2015 legislative session.

Brawley and his colleagues in the House currently earn an annual salary of $13,951 with a monthly expense allowance of $559.

Brawley himself won't benefit if House Bill 1176 gets adopted. He lost recently in the primary to John Fraley.

Brawley though isn't the only lawmaker looking at the pay issue. In South Carolina recently s the state Senate approved boosting their legislative salaries. But public sentiment is running strongly against it with even S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley critical of the idea.

Some S.C. lawmakers would  see raises up to "192 percent" with the senate bill that's proposed, according to watchdog groups. Lawmakers would get $12,000 more in pay - added to the $10,400 a year salary and their $12,000 a year annual expense pay for a new total of over $34,000. The raises would cost the state over $2 million annually. Observers speculated that if such a bill passed the House, Haley would veto it and there would not be the votes to override her veto.

No price-tag has been put on Brawley's bill but it could be higher given lawmakers' lower starting point. N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory hasn't commented on it.

Brawley apparently feels strongly that lawmakers aren't compensated enough for their part-time work. Last year, he introduced legislation to allow legislators and legislative employees to accept gifts from lobbyists.

Brawley didn't forget teachers. Also on Wednesday, he filed a bill that would allow each county to increase property taxes by one-cent for teacher compensation.

Brawley doesn't appear to be in the good graces of the GOP legislative leadership though so neither bill could see much support. On Wednesday, he was either ousted or dropped out of the House Republican caucus.

Brawley said a "vote of no confidence" was called at a meeting of the House Republican caucus on Tuesday which "effectively, removed me from the caucus."

Majority Leader Edgar Starnes disputes that, saying that Brawley "voluntarily" removed himself from participation in future meetings of the caucus, meetings where lawmakers plot strategy and debate issues considered too sensitive for public exposure. Caucus meetings aren't subject to the state's open meetings laws. Brawley has ticked off legislative leaders by publicly exposing what has gone on in some of those meetings.

Will the N.C. legislature legalize pot?

Will North Carolina become the first Southern state to legalize marijuana?

Mecklenburg Rep. Kelly Alexander is urging his fellow lawmakers to do so - for medical purposes.

Alexander filed a bill Tuesday to allow the use of medical marijuana in the Tar Heel state. Rep. Carla Cunningham, a registered nurse, also of Mecklenburg is co-sponsor. Both are Democrats.

House Bill 1161 is called the Medical cannabis protection act, and is "an act to amend the North Carolina Constitution to legalize the medical use of cannabis.

If the bill passes, it would be placed on the ballot as a referendum for voters to approve or reject. The proposal says "this act shall be submitted to the qualified voters of the State at a statewide general election to be held on November 4, 2014, which election shall be conducted under the laws then governing elections in the State... If a majority of the votes cast on the question are in favor... the amendment becomes effective December 1, 2014."

"Cannabis is a substance that does have medical applications that are provable," Charlotte's WSOC TV quotes Alexander as saying.

Alexander said hearing about people who struggle with chronic pain, specifically veterans, is a big reason for his push.

He also said the state could make big money -- anywhere from $100 to $200 million in tax revenue.

That money could help the state address numerous needs, Alexander said. "Salary increases for teachers,” he noted.

This fall, Alaska and Florida are the latest states set to offer voters the chance to legalize pot. Will North Carolina join them?

If it was left up to young people, that would be a safe bet. A Pew Research Center poll from February showed 70 percent of people between 18 and 29 years old believe marijuana should be legalized.

That is compared to 32 percent of people 65 and older who support it.

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado and Washington state.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Swearing on N.C. highways? %$@# yeah!

Lots going on during the first full week of the N.C. General Assembly's "short session." On the agenda today: A House vote on restricting how much cities and towns can charge for business privilege taxes, plus a Senate look at fracking that includes a controversial provision that would make it a felony to disclose the chemicals a company is using. The Senate also is considering a bill that would restrict how cities and towns can conduct inspections and enforce local ordinances. This ongoing theft of local government control, of course, is brought to you by the party of local control.

None of which is what many people are talking about today. Instead, the early buzz is about a provision in a new regulatory reform bill that would get rid of a ban on cursing on state highways. That's right, you can now peel the paint on the car next to you with a worry-free stream of expletives. 

That ban, according to a news release from Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, is a century old, but it excludes Pitt and Swain counties. How did that come to be? Apparently, legislators wanted there to be two places, one in the east and one in the west, where North Carolinians could go to let it fly. In 1973, when a pair of state legislators proposed removing Swain from the exemption, Swain native and Buncombe County Rep. Herbert Hyde gave an impassioned (but curse-free) speech imploring the House to keep things as they were.

"There ought to be a refuge," Hyde said, "somewhere a man can go and when he is really provoked that he can say something with impunity."  

The rest of the bill does some substantial things, including clarifying that off-duty medical professionals giving aid are protected under the Good Samaritan law. There's also a worrisome provision that would waive civil penalties on anyone who self-discloses a threat to the environment. That's a potential loophole for environmental offenders; we'll know more when we get a closer look at the bill.

But at the top of the list on the news release? Oddly, it's the cursing and a scrapping of a ban on outside burning of logs over 6 inches. We're all for eliminating antiquated, unenforced regulations, but this is what we're trumpeting as "improving the state's climate for job growth"?

Maybe cursing is a legislative trend we just hadn't recognized.

Peter St. Onge

Monday, May 19, 2014

Should Thom Tillis resign?

Like many North Carolina editorial boards, the folks at the Raleigh News & Observer wrote last week about what they'd like to see from the General Assembly's "short session" that began Wednesday. Tucked near the bottom of the editorial was this:

Meanwhile, this session will have another money problem. Though Thom Tillis is running for the U.S. Senate and raising money from special interests, the House speaker is going to remain in charge. He’ll be gone a lot on the campaign trail, and he’ll be milking special interest groups that might have proposals before the General Assembly for contributions.
While raising funds for a federal campaign while serving in the legislature is legal, it is not appropriate. Tillis should have resigned the speaker’s post long ago.

Read more here:
Naturally, this caught the eye of Sen. Kay Hagan's campaign, which emailed media this morning a link to the N&O editorial, declaring "Second major NC paper asks Tillis to resign."

Who was the first? Well, that would be us. In an editorial last July, we noted that Thom Tillis was missing important legislative debate while traveling to raise money for his U.S. Senate campaign against Hagan. His absence was also troubling on another level, we wrote:

Besides missing important House business, Tillis’ moonlighting has the look of the pay-to-play politics that Republicans decried among Democrats for so long. A superPAC for Tillis raised $70,000 from George A. Sywassink, R. Doyle Parrish and W.G. Champion Mitchell, newly released records show. Tillis’ House named all three to the UNC Board of Governors recently, including Sywassink after declaring there had been a vote-tallying error the first time around.

State law bars legislators from raising money from lobbyists during the legislative session, but the ban doesn’t apply to federal candidates like Tillis. So he can attend a fundraiser hosted by Royce Everette, a major consumer finance lender, days after the legislature approved a bill raising interest rates and fees for Everette’s industry.

Read more here:

All of which led us to go one step further than the N&O, which suggested that he resign the House Speaker's post. Tillis, we said, "should give up his Speaker's gavel, resign from his House seat and give his full energy to his Senate bid, unencumbered by such distractions as running the state."

(We should note, as we did in that 2013 editorial, that Hagan raised money for her 2008 Senate campaign even as she co-chaired the state Senate Appropriations Committee.)

We don't expect Tillis to resign for the good of his constituents and the General Assembly. But should he do so for his campaign against Hagan? It's no secret that Tillis alienated the N.C. moderates he needs with the far right agenda he helped pushed as House Speaker, especially in the past two years. If Republicans in Raleigh have more of the same in mind for the short session, Tillis will have a harder time finding his way back to the center in his campaign.

To that end, however, Tillis might be better off holding on to the Speaker's gavel and maintaining some control over the legislative agenda. That way he can keep his fellow Republicans somewhat in check - and perhaps even play the moderate on an issue or two.

We'll have to wait to find out. Tillis isn't in Raleigh for at least some of the first day of the first full week of the session. According to the N&O, he's in Washington raising money at the offices of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

Peter St. Onge 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

We need more black male teachers like me

Mario Shaw is a 7th grade teacher at Charlotte's Ranson Middle School and a Teach for America product. With the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling this Saturday, Shaw wanted to reflect on where things stand today on inequalities in public education.

Perhaps his most important point: Black males make up only 2 percent of U.S. teachers, leaving very few role models for many of the nation's struggling youth.

Here is Shaw's take:

This week marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board ending “separate but equal” in education. As a seventh grade teacher, I look forward to discussing the occasion with my students. As an African American man – part of just the 2 percent of American teachers who identify as black men – the topic hits home.

In ending legal segregation in school, the justices aimed to bring America closer to its unfulfilled promise of educational opportunity for all. Six decades later, that victory has been partial, at best. Our schools remain deeply segregated by race and income, with opportunity gaps to match.
The inequalities driving these disparities are complex and deep. But that doesn’t mean we’re without hope. With all the challenges, my work in the classroom leads me to believe in what’s possible. This begins with ensuring we’re developing a teaching force as diverse as the students we teach.

 As a teacher, I’m responsible for ensuring that my kids thrive academically. But as an African American male teacher – one of just a few at my school – my responsibilities don’t end here. Many of my students have never had a teacher who looks like them standing at blackboard. Depending on their family situations, some have literally no black male role models in their lives.

In this reality, the choices I make carry incredible weight – from the way I dress, to how I handle an argument. The pressure can feel overwhelming at times. But I’m proud to have it on my shoulders.

 We need to encourage more black men to lead in the classroom. My own decision was informed by my experience in school. As hard as I’d worked to get there, I arrived at college behind. As the first in my family to go to college, I had to look beyond my immediate network for help. During this time, I volunteered with the Upward Bound program, where I supported 15 black high school boys and began to recognize the importance of mentorship. From there, I joined Teach For America, an organization committed to taking concrete steps to draw more African American male educators to our highest-need classrooms.

Having regular access to teachers of color makes a difference for my kids. Every day, as we read and explore, I contribute to the breaking down of the powerful stereotypes about my identity. As a successful, educated black man, I offer a counter to the media’s portrayal of violence and victimization. Now, we must work to inspire more black men to teach, offer targeted supports to those who do, and celebrate the proud contribution these individuals make with students who deserve the inspiration needed to take the world by storm.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Don't linger, pundits tell N.C. lawmakers

The N.C. Legislature's short session gets under way today and here's what some pundits and others are saying:

From the Raleigh News & Observer:"The session is going to be short, but not sweet," says the newspaper's editorial board. Expect lawmakers to fix a $445 million shortfall that unwise tax cuts they made last year contributed to by "cash in the state’s rainy day fund and rifling through the budget for any surplus dollars like a man searching his couch for loose change. But of course that’s not recurring money, so it will be a one-time solution. And the tax cuts will likely create more problems by forcing another round of cuts in state programs and departments that have been starved for funds since the start of the Great Recession," the board wrote.

From the Greensboro News & Record:
Greensboro's editorial board had a list of what lawmakers should do - give teachers pay raises, enact stricter coal ash rules, etc. But they also had a list of what lawmakers should NOT do. Among them: Don't continue the legislature's "assault on local governments:Proposals have been floated to override local tree ordinances and cap business privilege license fees as well as property tax hikes. A provision in a fracking bill would bar local governments from taking any regulatory actions in regard to natural-gas extraction operations. In most local matters, the state does not know best — but this legislature too often overrules local decision-making. It should stop." Also, don't "linger: The less time in session, the better."
From the Daily Reflector of Greenville:

The editorial board said "one of the most important budget adjustments (lawmakers) will consider is for improving teacher salaries." The writers noted the myriad of other items legislators must consider and said: "Some political pundits doubt lawmakers will work through all of those and other issues before Independence Day. Some believe a projected budget shortfall of $445 million this year, combined with shortfalls expected for next year, will make tax cuts implemented last year unsustainable in light of the governor’s recommended education spending. Republican lawmakers must fully realize that how they respond to... raising teacher salaries, and for reversing some unpopular legislative changes affecting teachers and schools, will go far in setting the tone for the November midterm elections.
Approving the measures will be expensive, both in terms of revenue and the GOP-led General Assembly’s conservative political agenda. Anything less, however, will be more costly for the future of North Carolina."

Pundits from conservative-leaning groups such as Barry Smith of the Carolina Journal and liberal leaning groups such as Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Justice Center weighed in with their thoughts.

Our editorial board outlined our own list for lawmakers in "Session Blueprint" as well as providing space for four groups to offer their perspectives. We hope policymakers don't get sidetracked and focus their limited time and needed energies on ideological non-essentials.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

N.C. senator to Charlotte teacher: You've got it made

Gov. Pat McCrory’s promising teacher pay plan seems like a no-brainer, if you're an N.C. legislator. Doing so makes you a political hero. You've given a long-overdue pay bump to the people who teach most all of your constituents' children. You've helped move toward making those salaries competitive with neighboring states, which maintains the high level of education in North Carolina that businesses like to use as a recruiting tool. Plus, you've taken an issue out of the media that, rightly or wrongly, has made Republicans look meaner than the Democrats who also let teacher pay go unattended.

And yet, here comes Sen. David Curtis to show that the governor's plan isn't going to sail through the Republican-led General Assembly.

Curtis, a Republican from Denver, responded Monday to an email a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher, Sarah Wiles, sent to N.C. lawmakers. Wiles' email wasn't very different from what teachers have been saying for the past year about their poor pay. It was passionate but not rude, pointed but not surly. But Curtis, perhaps by accident or perhaps out of anger, hit “reply to all” when he wrote his response, which pretty much guaranteed that a lot of North Carolina would be reading it within 24 hours.

Here's the response:

From: Sen. David Curtis
Date: May 12, 2014 at 9:46:57
Dear Sarah,
I have given your e-mail titled “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher” some thought, and these are my ideas.  A teacher has an incredible influence on students–for good or for bad. My teachers, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders had a great influence on my decision to go to college which was not a family tradition. My concern is that your students are picking up on your attitude toward the teaching profession. Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer:
1.    You expect to make a lot more than you made as a teacher because everyone knows how poorly compensated teachers are.
2.    You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher
3.    You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.  If he objects, explain to him that a judge has ruled that the taxpayers of North Carolina must provide this benefit to every public school teacher. Surely your new employer wants to give better benefits than the benefits you received as a poorly compensated teacher.
4.    Your potential employer may tell you that he has heard that most North Carolina workers make less than the national average because we are a low cost-of-living- state, private sector workers making 87% of the national average and teachers making 85% of the national average.  Tell him that may be true, but to keep that confidential because the teachers union has convinced parents that teachers are grossly undercompensated based on a flawed teachers union survey of teacher pay.
I support the teacher pay raise but am very concerned that the teachers union has successfully presented to the public a deceptive view of total teacher compensation that is simply not consistent with the facts.
Senator David Curtis

A few thoughts:

First, David Curtis represents a district that is safely Republican, as do many N.C. Republicans, thanks to our state's gerrymandered districts. It's not hard to imagine his near-certainty of re-election helping to remove any inhibition Curtis might have felt before hitting the send button on his  arrogant, condescending email.
Speaking of imagining, we can construct the same kind of employer/employee make-believe that Curtis did. Imagine you're an employer, Sen. Curtis, and you have an employee in front of you who  performs a critical job. But she hasn't received the raises she expected for several years, and that's caused her to make less than people doing the same thing in neighboring states with equally low costs of living (and retirement plans, too). She makes so little, in fact, that despite her having "paid" summers off, she has to hunt seasonal low-paying work to begin to make ends meet. Yet, apparently, you'd prefer she appreciate all her blessings and keep hanging around.

These are the arguments you'll likely hear from Republicans this week when the short session begins in Raleigh.  Some want to do as little as possible for public education, so they'll mention the fictional "teachers union," and they'll pretend, like Curtis, that N.C.'s abysmally low teacher pay is a product of union spin. The difference, this time, is that other Republicans, including the governor and strong thinkers like Rep. Rob Bryan of Charlotte, understand otherwise. The plan they've crafted is not perfect, but it's a strong step toward paying teachers better. That's not only the right thing to do for North Carolina, but it will quiet a statewide furor that's been bad for the GOP. 

Peter St. Onge

Monday, May 12, 2014

N.C. lawmakers guilty of voter fraud?!!

Will Democratic N.C. House members Duane Hall and Rodney Moore, and Republican colleagues Rep. Charles Jeter and Sen. Ronald Rabin be investigated for voter fraud? Democracy North Carolina presented documentation Monday that it says shows all four had duplicate voter registrations in other states - what Republican lawmakers say is an indication of voter fraud.

Moore and Jeter are from Mecklenburg County. Rabin is from Hartnett and Hall is from Wake.

Duplicate registrations were a trigger for a current state investigation. The state board of elections is looking at possible voter fraud involving 765 voters with the same name, date of birth, and last 4 digits of their social security number.

Hall, Moore, Jeter and Rabin all have active voter registrations with the same first and last name and the same date of birth in other states, Democracy NC officials said. ABC news affiliate WTVD in Raleigh reported that the group said it is using the examples to make the argument that there are thousands of North Carolinians who moved to the state, and simply forgot to cancel their old voter registration or who just happen to share the same name and date of birth as a voter in another state.

Said the group's executive director Bob Hall: "The hysteria about voter fraud is being used to justify restrictions that do not improve the fairness or security of our election system. They just reduce the access to our voting system for people who are occasional voters."

WRAL reported Jeter had a different view. He acknowledged there could be, as in his case, innocent reasons why people showed up as registered in two states. But he said: "The argument from some of my colleagues is there are probably nefariousness reasons as well." He said the situation pointed to problems within the election system.

Jeter said that he had been a registered voter in his home state of South Carolina before moving to North Carolina. The fact that he could be shown as an active voter in both places "is a primary example of why there needs to be voter ID."

Meanwhile over the weekend, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was quoted in the New York Times as acknowledging the GOP hysteria, as Bob Hall called it, in the push for stricter voter ID laws, saying the Republican Party was alienating and insulting African-Americans. In a Times story headlined, "Paul diverges from his party over voter ID", he quoted as saying: "Everybody's gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing." Paul, who has presidential aspirations, said in the interview Friday. "I think it's wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue, because it's offending people."

It's not just offending people. It's wrong.

- Fannie Flono

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Debunking Tillis' Hagan-Obamacare ploy

We were going to let this go, but since Thom Tillis can't, we can't.

Tillis and the national Republicans who helped him win North Carolina's U.S. Senate nomination repeatedly charged that Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan cast the "deciding vote" on Obamacare.

"When the president bullied his way into a takeover of our health care system, Kay Hagan cast the deciding vote," Tillis said Tuesday night after winning the nomination.

Sen. Rand Paul, in uniting behind Tillis after supporting rival Greg Brannon, used the same line: "Now that the primary is over, it is time for our side to unite to defeat the Democrat who cast the deciding vote for Obamacare, Kay Hagan, in November."

The same allegation is leveled against Hagan throughout the conservative blogosphere.

At least three problems here:
1. Hagan cast the 22nd "aye" vote, out of 60. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the last Democrat to commit to voting for it.
2. It's really impossible to pinpoint any one person as the "deciding vote." There were 60 votes for the Affordable Care Act. Every one of them was the "deciding" vote, in a way, because it would have failed without any one of them.
3. If Hagan cast the deciding vote, how did Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida also do so? And Sen. Claire McCaskill? And Sen. Jon Tester? And Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio?

You get the idea. Any Democrat who Republicans are trying to topple cast "the deciding vote" on health care reform, according to the GOP playbook. Google "who cast the deciding vote for Obamacare" and you'll see that Republicans are using this tactic across the country.

You can love Obamacare or you can hate Obamacare. You can vote for or against Hagan because of it. But you shouldn't fall for Tillis' ruse that Hagan was "the deciding vote."

UPDATE: An alert reader, to use Dave Barry's term, points out that Hagan has also been fudging on Obamacare. She ran an ad highlighting Tillis calling Obamacare "a great idea." But Hagan clearly takes the quote out of context.

Tillis has repeatedly bashed Obamacare. In an interview with Bill LuMaye in February, he talked about needing to get rid of most of it, and called it "a great idea that can't be paid for." Hagan's campaign clipped out just three words of a long interview in which Tillis clearly advocated against Obamacare.

As you learned long ago, you have to have your truth detector on when watching or listening to campaign ads from most politicians.

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Everyone is watching N.C. today

If you haven't heard, North Carolina's U.S. Senate race - particularly the Republican primary today - is kind of a big deal. So says just about every national media outlet writing on politics this week. 

Our Jim Morrill explains what's at stake today as well as anyone (as usual) but other pundits and politicos are weighing in on the Senate race - and one other N.C. race. 

The Atlantic's Josh Kraushaar and James Oliphant say electability is trumping purity in North Carolina, which is exactly what the GOP establishment hoped for with its backing of N.C. House speaker Thom Tillis: 

Tillis is the prototype of an establishment candidate. The onetime PricewaterhouseCoopers partner-turned-ladder-climbing-state-legislative-leader is a Republican donor's dream, and he's got the fundraising results to prove it. He has ties to Wall Street and the business community, political experience, and a strategist's sensibility: He led the successful GOP effort to retake the General Assembly in 2010, giving Republicans unified control of state government for the first time in more than a century. And Tillis is disciplined. He is consistently on message, never straying into dangerous waters. In short, Tillis, with his pragmatic streak and country-club credentials, represents just about everything Tea Partiers rose up to oppose.

Politico, which also has its eye on N.C., wonders about the viability of the tea party after today. NBC, in this video segment, calls it a "proxy fight in North Carolina." The Washington Post confidently says it has everything you need to know about N.C. races.
Roll Call looks at the N.C. Senate race from a slightly wider angle - what the outcome might say about potential presidential hopefuls in 2016. Alexis Levinson and Emily Cahn write:
All three of the major candidates in the North Carolina Senate race have been endorsed by Republicans openly mulling 2016 presidential bids: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush backed Tillis, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee supported Harris, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., endorsed Brannon.
Of course, none of their presidential ambitions will be destroyed because they backed a losing candidate in a Senate primary. But the results are an indicator of their influence — especially for Paul, who made a last minute trip to the Tar Heel State on Monday to boost Brannon. If Harris beats Brannon for second place, that doesn’t look great for Paul. But if Brannon makes the runoff and spends the next two months bashing Tillis, Paul could get blame if Tillis — who will likely emerge victorious in a runoff — is weakened from those attacks before the general election.

The New York Times, which joins the others in glancing at our U.S. Senate race, also is interested in the race for N.C. Supreme Court. Specifically, the NYT's Erik Eckholm looks at the impact of outside money and the abhorrent political ad running against Justice Robin Hudson.
Writes Eckholm: 
As notable as the ad’s content and frequency, though, is its source. It was created and aired not by one of Justice Hudson’s two opponents in Tuesday’s primary election, but by a group that had just received $650,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, which pools donations from corporations and individuals to promote conservatives in state politics and is now broadening its scope to target judicial races...
The costly and fierce primary shows how the revolution in financing political campaigns, with the surging role of “super PACs” and other groups financed by corporations, unions and other interests, has entered what was the quieter arena of judicial elections.

That's not a good thing, we think.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cracking down on campaign sign scofflaws

A couple of weeks ago, on the first day of early voting, a number of candidates were breaking the law. Dozens of their campaign signs were littering the roadways in violation of the campaign sign ordinances.

Drivers on Providence Road, for instance, were distracted by signs placed every few feet in the median between lanes. U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis and U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger appeared to have the most, but signs supporting several other candidates were placed there, too.

Many of those signs violated state law and signs on other roads violated a Charlotte ordinance. The local ordinance says that signs shall not be placed in the public right-of-way or on public property, and defines public property as within 11 feet of the edge of the pavement of any road. It specifies that signs can not be placed in traffic medians. State law bans signs from being placed within three feet of state-owned roads.

The fines for violating the ordinance are steep: $100 per sign for the first five signs, $500 per sign for the next five; and $1000 per sign for every sign over 10. Given how many signs were placed around town illegally, that would have cost candidates many thousands of dollars.

Perhaps that's why the signs are gone now. Drive along Providence Road today and the traffic median is just a beautiful stretch of well-manicured green grass. Our thanks to the city's code enforcement department or NC DOT for, we presume, enforcing the law, getting those rogue signs cleaned up and making the morning commute at least a little more pleasant.