Archive for NC Legislature

Jun
28

Dead Men: Tell No Tallies

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The voter suppression people make Thom Tillis look sane. Yes, it’s come to this.

The head of the Voter Integrity Project (VIP-NC) was on Pete Kalliner’s show on Monday urging listeners to call their representatives to oppose this Tillis-sponsored bill that passed unanimously in the NC House (115-0).

AN ACT TO CLARIFY THAT A VOTER WHO CASTS A MAIL-IN ABSENTEE BALLOT OR AN IN-PERSON ONE-STOP EARLY VOTE AND DIES THEREAFTER MAY NOT HAVE THAT BALLOT CHALLENGED ON ACCOUNT OF DEATH

VIP-NC objects.

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First, there was slavery. This is something new, writes Charlie Pierce.

A few weeks back, I quoted this in the Citizen-Times:

“It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. I am not willing to defend them anymore.”

– retiring Wisconsin state Senator Dale Schultz, the sole Senate Republican to oppose early voting limits

Except that’s not all they are pouring their energy into.

Each week, Moral Monday groups in Raleigh protest legislation passed by political vandals bent on unmaking the 20th century in North Carolina. The vandals’ allies are at work attempting to do the same across the country, uprooting the systems put in place that built America into a superpower. Not weapons systems, but systems put in place by the people and for the people to make their lives just a little bit better.

Political vandals wearing flag pins and waving Gadsden flags consider those systems — the country everyday Americans built in the 20th century — an abomination, and believe themselves to be our betters, not “traditional” Americans. This week, Cynthis Greene shot back at NC Speaker Thom Tillis for saying so:

Let’s just be clear, Thom: I’m not interested in your brand of tradition; I’m interested in the best, most humane traditions of our state. And I think you need a history lesson: Our North Carolina was a state that opened some of the nation’s first public health departments and publicly funded libraries—signs that at least some people in government cared about public health and education.

Not that Tillis, his bosses, or his acolytes will hear any of it. They’re too busy trying to work around a legal inconvenience called the North Carolina constitution, as Gene Nichol observed last week:

When our legislators move beyond the enactment of preferred policies to restrict access to the courts, or breach judicial independence, or constrain rights of expression and petition, or trump local government prerogative, or tilt the electoral playing field, they alter the structure, balance and legitimacy of government. They declare: “There’s a new sheriff in town, it’s our way or the highway and we’ve widened the on-ramp.” Huey Long must be proud.

Indeed. Yet it is more than just arrogance, but a kind of religious fervor. What markets itself as political ideology has, in fact, become more like a political cult full of fundamentalist zeal lending “a new kind of systematized cruelty” to our politics, as Charlie Pierce put it over at Esquire:

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled — until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

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Jun
18

Moral Monday: June 16, 2014

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The work continues.

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Jun
10

Asheville Wins Water Lawsuit

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Photo by Gordon Smith.

Photo by Gordon Smith.

Wake County Superior Court ruled Monday in favor of the City of Asheville in its lawsuit opposing a state law transferring control of the city’s water system to a regional authority.
Asheville officials said Monday that Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. ruled state lawmakers last year violated the state constitution and failed to compensate for the cost of building the water system.

The Asheville Citizen-Times cites the mayor on the court ruling:

Mayor Esther Manheimer said that by taking the city’s position on four of the six legal points at issue, Manning’s ruling would be more difficult for the Court of Appeals to overturn. The decision does not address the two other points the city raised, that the law was an unlawful interference with the city’s contract with bondholders.

Manheimer called the ruling “great for Asheville.”

City legal staff certainly deserves a nod for all the hard work. But nobody worked longer hours and more doggedly on this fight — including all the round trips to Raleigh for hearings — than local activist Barry Summers.

But Summers and other opponents of a regionalized system had better be ready for the next round. The state will likely appeal the ruling. The law’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, called the court ruling “the first step in a very long journey.” And should the ruling stand, Moffitt might legislate again if he can find support among his colleagues for a more broadly written bill that puts more of their cities’ infrastructure in the crosshairs.

Unless Moffitt loses his House District 116 reelection bid this fall. A recent poll PPP poll released by his opponent, Brian Turner, showed Turner with a slight lead and 49 percent of voter with an unfavorable view of Moffitt.

Jun
02

Political Pushmi-Pullyu

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Hearing more anecdotes about rank-and-file Republicans seriously peeved with Raleigh and Thom Tillis. Guy I met last night has a Republican aunt in Wilkes Co. (Foxx territory) — retired 30-yr teacher. He’s never seen her hot like this — over cuts to teaching assistants and programs. And she’s not buying the GOP spin on teacher raises.

But will she hold her nose, throw the bums out, or just stay home this fall?

The GOP is pushing people towards Democrats, but are Democrats in Raleigh pulling? We’d better have more of a game plan for the fall than “we’re not them.” That won’t motivate Democratic turnout or crossover voters. Disgruntled voters need something affirmative to vote for.

What should it be?

Another day in Wake County Superior Court yesterday in the case of “Moffitt v. Asheville,” Judge Howard Manning Jr. presiding. Rep. Tim Moffitt and Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson were on hand for the hearing in the lawsuit challenging Moffitt’s “Regionalization of Public Utilities” law that forcibly transfers control of Asheville’s water system to a new regional authority.

Much hinges on whether or not Moffitt’s bill was deliberately written to evade the state’s constitutional ban in Article 2, Sec. 24 on enacting local legislation “relating to health, sanitation, and the abatement of nuisances.” Asheville activist Barry Summers was there to remind attendees — graphically — not of the water system’s history, but of the legislation’s.

While both McGrady and Moffitt watched the proceedings in court, Asheville’s attorney Dan Clodfelter disagreed with the state’s assertion that the bill was not local in nature. An attorney with the Charlotte-based law firm Moore and Van Allen, Clodfelter himself served as a state senator until last month, when he was named the mayor of Charlotte.

The bill does not specifically name the city of Asheville. But Clodfelter said it was clear that was lawmakers’ intent, rather than creating a statewide bill with a general set of principles to administer.

“Our constitution says what it says,” Manning said, indicating that the constitutional question was the crux of the case. Expect an appeal, however Manning rules.

Moffitt v. Asheville is a style of legal shenanigans we have seen emerge over the last decade from Wall Street to Jones Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. That is, to push the limits of the law to the breaking point and beyond, to knowingly step over the line and — using the law itself for cover — to arrogantly dare anyone to push back. If no one does, or if they do and fail, those who twist the law to their own ends succeed, and the boundary between the legal and the criminal moves again, and not in the direction of the public good. Rinse, repeat. Thus, torture becomes “enhanced interrogation,” fraudulent securities become top-rated investments, and public investments in schools, water systems, highways and airports slowly become the private wealth of oligarchs. Like watching an accident in which everything goes into slow motion, it is happening before our very eyes. Because it transpires in remote meeting rooms under color of law, we the people are not supposed to notice.

(Original post has been corrected. Rep. Nathan Ramsey was not in attendance Friday, but was cited in reporting as an original sponsor of the water bill.)

May
23

Friday Open Thread

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Friday, yes, but not without a little Moral Monday.

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May
22

Snip, Snip Here

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Snip, snip here
Snip, snip there
We serve the brothers Koch
That’s why we slash without a care
In the merry old land of Pope

This was the headline two weeks ago, as the governor’s structural deficit began to bite:

Budget disaster of gigantic proportions looms over North Carolina

Justifying the NCGOP’s ongoing war on cities, of course:

House approves tax on e-cigarettes and caps tax on local businesses

The $100 cap on local privilege taxes pitted supporters who wanted to cut the taxes on businesses against critics who worried about the millions that some cities and towns would lose for essential services, such as police, fire and public recreation.

And more, of course:

NCCAT, NC’s premier professional development center for teachers, faces the chopping block

I never put this in a front page post, so to repeat a comment from last June:

What we’re seeing is an extension of the GOP’s “defund the left” strategy of undermining the largest concentrations of manpower and funding that support Democrats. First they went after private-sector unions, then public-sector unions, and teachers, firefighters, trial lawyers, etc. Then with Voter ID they attacked seniors, college students and minorities.

Now, in NC they’re attacking cities. That’s where the large concentrations of Democratic votes are. So they are working to weaken them economically and politically. They’ve taken away control of Asheville’s airport. They’re working on Charlotte’s. They’ve forced district County Commission elections on Buncombe and will do the same with Asheville City Council. Collectively, Republicans in Raleigh are hoping to weaken the D’s hold and render the city irrelevant in future state and local elections. And with redistricting, they’ve isolated Asheville in House 114 and won’t even bother running candidates for now.

They’ve legislatively taken Asheville’s water system to blow a huge hole in the city budget, leaving the city with two choices: cut services or raise taxes. Prices for water and sewer will likely rise. After a couple of cycles, Republicans will be running candidates who blame the city’s troubles troubles on “mismanagement and waste” by Democrats and counting on voters to forget by then who precipitated the crisis in the first place.

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(Cross-posted from Thomas Mills’ Politics North Carolina.)

Guest blogger Gerrick Brenner is Executive Director of Progress NC .

How many Republican state lawmakers does it take to defend the GOP’s cuts to our public schools?  Apparently at a town hall meeting in his own district, House Rep. Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County knew he could not do it alone.

There was Moffitt Thursday night in a high school gym that was packed with about a thousand parents, teachers, and students.  They wanted answers on repeated decisions in Raleigh to cut public schools.  Many of these folks were Moffitt’s constituents. It was a chance for Moffitt to speak directly to voters on the hotest issue in state politics – public education. Instead, Moffitt brought in other seemingly anonymous GOP lawmakers from 150 miles away for help.  But Moffitt’s bullpen only made matters worse.

Virtually no one in this Asheville gym had ever heard of House Reps. Bill Brawley of Mecklenburg or Craig Horn of Union Counties.  No one had ever seen their names on a Buncombe County ballot.  But there they were, trying to carry water for Moffitt in front of an audience that was clearly agitated to hear Brawley claim the GOP had passed the largest education budget in state history.  People groaned. Brawley started lecturing in a condescending tone reserved only for politicians who don’t really care because they are speaking to someone else’s voters. No one was buying it. Some started heckling.

Rep. Horn came next and explained he was Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.  People were more interested in cuts to their children’s classrooms than the politician’s job title.  Horn rolled out a now familiar accounting claim that North Carolina is actually 10th in the nation in education spending if you don’t count local dollars. People shook their heads, and Horn finally admitted on some of the GOP decisions on education funding:  “We screwed up.  We’re going to fix it.”

Most in attendance had to wonder, “Just who are these guys?  Where did they come?  And why isn’t our own Representative leading this conversation on our public schools.”  Moffitt, of course, is the lawmaker who once said in a legislative committee in Raleigh:  “I’m very suspect of early childhood education.  I’m very suspect of education in general.”  This time, he hoped to import some politicians who are more seasoned at talking about schools.  Instead, all three looked like the GOP is out of answers.

Other local Republican lawmakers spoke after Moffitt, but they too sounded almost apologetic in the high school gym.  

Yes, Republicans will likely offer some kind of teacher pay raise in the short session, which starts this week.  But it’s likely too little and too late.  Their tax cuts have dug a $445M budget hole.  Any miserly one-time pay raise they offer for teachers will make hardly a dent in North Carolina’s embarrassing ranking of 46th in the nation in teacher pay.  And if lawmakers like Moffitt need to wheel in other politicians to explain the cuts to public schools, the voters and media will quickly come to see that the folks they send to Raleigh are not really engaged in a top priority. 

Apr
16

I-77 Widening: Ah, Privatization

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In case you missed it last Friday. This is NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis’ latest brainchild, one opposed by local businessmen, the Mecklenburg-area T-party, and contrary to his party’s own platform. (Emphasis mine):

Raleigh – The N.C. Department of Transportation announces the apparent successful bidder for its first Public-Private-Partnership (P3) contract to improve the traffic flow along 26 miles of I-77 in the Charlotte area, one of the most congested roadways in the state.

P3 contracts are an innovative way of leveraging new funding sources to lessen the financial impact to the state and help complete projects sooner through investments by a private firm. Following a required bidding process, and pending final review, it appears Cintra Infraestructures, S.A. will construct the I-77 project through a joint venture with F.A. Southeast, W.C. English, and the lead design firm of The Louis Berger Group.

Cintra, a world-wide leader in managed lanes projects, estimates the total project cost at $655 million. Cintra will invest the majority of that in return for toll revenue generated from the managed lanes. NCDOT will contribute $88 million for the project, which is significantly less than the $170 million it had projected.

Wow, that is innovative. The state’s estimated $170 million highway project will now cost $655 million, but only cost the state $88 million in tax dollars. (Update: To be clear, general-purpose lanes were estimated at about $500 million.)

Hmm, where will the Spain-based company, Cintra, make up the difference? Oh, right, by collecting tolls from drivers for next 50 years. But — now listen up — those 50 years of tolls paid to a foreign conglomerate are not taxes. So, Freedom!

Of course, Cintra will have to manage to stay in business if it means to collect. They’re about to go into default on their toll road in San Antonio after only a year in operation. This from last October:

Texas’ first foreign-owned toll road financed through a controversial public private partnership just got downgraded to junk bond status by Moody’s Investors Service. The Spain-based firm, Cintra (65% ownership), and San Antonio-based Zachry (35% ownership), known as SH 130 Concession Company opened the southern leg of State Highway 130 last November.

What innovations will aspiring Speaker of the House and Tillis’ fellow ALEC board member, Rep. Tim Moffitt, bring North Carolina, if re-elected? Maybe a PPP for the I-26 project in Buncombe County? Surely Moffitt will listen to his constituents more than Tillis? You think?