Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dan Soucek Among Those Caught Skimming Money From Campaign Funds

The Raleigh News&Observer has blown the whistle on seven members of the NC General Assembly for paying themselves out of campaign funds without itemizing how those payments constitute reimbursements for legitimate campaign expenses and are not merely being used for personal expenses, which is against the law.

Senator Dan Soucek of Watauga County is on the list along with Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville; Rep. Kelly Hastings of Cleveland County; Rep. Hugh Blackwell of Morganton; Rep. Rob Bryan of Charlotte; Rep. Julia Howard of Mocksville; and Sen. Warren Daniel of Morganton. All are Republicans.

The News&Observer investigation found that "most legislators meticulously detail expenses they pay with campaign donations. Meal charges list the date, amount and the name of the restaurant. Travel expenses usually list where the legislator went and why."

Those details are missing from the Soucek reports and from the other six. Instead, the seven legislators paid themselves thousands of dollars for “expenses related to holding public office,” a deliberately vague description which frustrates the intent of campaign finance law and masks what the money is really going for.

Soucek says "nearly all for mileage and cellphone bills."

"Mileage"? Gosh, don't we remember how the Republicans went after the late Steve Goss for mileage reimbursements during his tenure in the state Senate.

"Cellphone bills"? Calls to whom, Senator?

Friday, November 27, 2015


Get his best-selling book: "Art of the Heel."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Halloween Is Past, But McCrory Now Putting on the Mask of a Right-Wing Culture Warrior

Tyler Dukes's analysis of the sudden change of topic and tone by Governor Squishy.

Suddenly, where people go to the bathroom -- in the state of Virginia -- is of consuming concern.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fissure Between Republicans on the Wake County Board of Elections

This is actually significant news ... when one of two Republicans (who dominate all the boards of elections in the state) splits with his Republican chairman and votes with the Democratic minority member to make voting easier for the people ... that's significant news.

WRAL was there last night at the Wake County Board of Elections meeting and took down a very telling blow-by-blow. Which is only part of what makes WRAL the indispensable source for North Carolina political news.

Brian Ratledge
Issue The First: Sunday voting, much favored and much utilized by our black citizens. The Wake Board Chairman, Republican Brian Ratledge, hates Sunday voting, but what he said was "It's not something I've been in support of in the past." Beyond that penetrating rationale, Mr. Ratledge couldn't say why Sunday voting was so needful of elimination.

Republicans in the audience came to his aid: Mike Hinton said he is "adamantly opposed" to Sunday voting: "It seems that our government has taken the path of removing responsibility from the citizen and providing convenience."

"Providing convenience." Imagine that! If there's one thing your run-of-the-mill Republican is going to come down hard on, it's voting convenience.

Republican Bill Bryson took the bluenose route, pulling his skirts of righteousness sharply around him: "Our people need to rest on Sunday."

"Our people." No need to ask whose people Mr. Bryson was claiming as "ours."

Issue The Second: An Early Voting site in a predominantly black neighborhood. Republican Chairman Brian Ratledge opposed restoring Early Voting to the Chavis Community Center (located on Martin Luther King Blvd. and named for a 19th-century free black preacher, so go figure!), even though in 2012 the Chavis Community Center had the 3rd highest Early Voting turnout in the 2012 General Elections.

But they're black, and the Republican Chair of the Wake County Board of Elections will be damned and go to hell before he enables those people over "our people."

Chair Ratledge: If voters in southeast Raleigh didn't want to pay to park to vote downtown, they could take public transit." Seriously? (Let 'em also eat cake?)

The Democratic member of the board, Mark Ezzell, pushed back: "A couple of years ago, when you mentioned this option, I opted to ride the bus to see how easy that was. It took me three hours. It is not reasonable to expect that the people who have traditionally voted at Chavis are going to be able to get down to the Board of Elections."

Bottomline: Hearing from the public -- many other people spoke in favor of Sunday voting and in favor of restoring Early Voting to the Chavis Community Center -- the other Republican member of the board voted with Mark Ezzell. So there's that. And according to the WRAL report, Chair Ratledge won't appeal the decision to the State Board of Elections.

Josh Howard
Speaking of the State Board of Elections ... also happening yesterday, the Republican Chair of the State Board of Elections, Josh Howard, who has always led the Republican majority in voting against Democratic appeals of Early Voting plans in Watauga County, resigned his seat. From quotes to the press, he seems to want us to believe that he's going out in a blaze of glory. We think he's just going out in a blaze.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

First Trial Balloon: A Possible Republican Challenger for Governor Squishy

Robert Brawley! The Iredell thorn-in-the-cheek to former NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, sez he's now considering a primary against the terminally inept McCrory.

Brawley's current banner is opposition to adding toll lanes to I-77 north of Charlotte, a project pushed by Mr. Tillis.

Oh, Brawley knows Tillis and has every reason to hate his guts. Tillis fired Brawley as chair of the Finance Committee in the NC House and appears to have had a heavy hand in making sure that Brawley was primaried for his Iredell County House seat in 2014, which Brawley indeed lost. Brawley had charged that Tillis loves money more than he loves the truth. Tillis implied that Brawley is mentally unstable.

Our favorite factoid about Robert Brawley involves a bill he introduced in the General Assembly in 2013 to lift the ban on lobbyists' gifts to lawmakers. Brawley, who has served in the General Assembly off and on since the early 1980s, remembered the good old days with the good old boys, enjoying drinks and expensive dinners and golf trips, and thought it would be a good idea to bring back the fun times. That bill quickly died.

Now Brawley's deal is the I-77 toll lanes. According to the News&Observer, Brawley had been planning a rematch against the dude who beat him out for the NC House, Republican John Fraley, but yesterday, Brawley was noticeably inflated by all the support he was hearing and said he might just challenge McCrory for the governorship.

Where does McCrory stand on toll lanes on I-77? He stands exactly where he stands on every other issue where he's afraid someone might not like him -- especially the money guys -- if he takes a stand. He stands nowhere. He dodges. He is the inartful dodger.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brawley, may we buy you a drink?

Monday, November 23, 2015

I'm Always Thankful for the Constitution, But Did the Founding Fathers Ultimately Fail Us?

Gouverneur Morris
Through the muggy summer of 1787, up to 55 delegates from the 13 original colonies met in the State House in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation, which were weak and weren't working. Once they were in the room together, they locked the doors and closed the windows and began to innovate. What finally emerged in September was a new Constitution for the "Union of States."

Some of the men in that room were outraged at the novel direction things were taking. They were openly and red-facedly opposed to the whole new enterprise, and some of them -- like feisty little Ellbridge Gerry -- refused to sign the finished document. They had their reasons. They were afraid of the power being given a central government; many were disturbed there was no Bill of Rights (which would come very quickly after ratification); a handful hated that the text did not condemn and outlaw slavery; some were outraged that God was not mentioned, credited, and coopted. They were nervous. They were trying something wholly untested before, and they had plenty of skin in the game.

But not bare skin in that hot room. They wore heavy wool garments, and the windows were closed (to prevent easedropping) during the hottest, muggiest, most punishing months of a Philadelphia summer. Their passions rose as high as the temperature, and they shouted at one another and insulted one another, but eventually passed by majority votes some 23 "resolves," including the wholly unheard-of idea of "three branches of government."

On September 8, 1787, they gave those 23 resolutions to the "Committee of Style and Arrangement," for the purpose of turning those statements into a text that was sufficiently explicit enough to function and sufficiently vague enough to breathe into the future.

The Committee was mainly young. Alexander Hamilton was 30 years old; Rufus King, 32; Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, 35; James Madison of Virginia, 36. The oldest member, Dr. William Samuel Johnson, the president of Columbia College, was 60, so he was named chair of the committee.

But Gouverneur Morris really wrote the thing. His Preamble still rings: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

By agreement of the Constitutional Convention, ratification by at least nine states would be required via state conventions. As those conventions started to take place, beginning in Pennsylvania, vocal opposition to the whole project ranged from ferocious to sometimes violent throughout the 13 former colonies of the Crown. In Pennsylvania, before a ratification convention could even be planned, 19 anti-Constitutionalists ("Antifeds") locked themselves up in a Philadelphia house, depriving the state assembly of a quorum. A mob of Pennsylvania "Feds," pro-Constitutionalists, broke down the door of the house and forcibly carted two of the abstainers to the meeting, thus establishing a quorum. Later, after Pennsylvania ratified the document, Antifeds, armed with clubs, attacked and beat one of the original signers, James Wilson, almost to death.

A Baptist preacher in North Carolina, a candidate for the state's ratification convention, told a meeting of frontier parishioners to fear a central government: "…an army of 50,000 or perhaps 100,000 men will … sally forth [from the Capitol] and enslave the people, who will be gradually disarmed." Sound familiar?

Some of the ratification votes were perilously close. In Pennsylvania, the margin for ratification was comfortable enough -- 46-23. But in Massachusetts, with a whopping 355 convention delegates elbowing each other with Puritan malice, ratification passed by only 19 votes, 187-168. New Hampshire ratified by a vote of 57-46. Virginia came in at 89-79, with fiery old Patrick Henry setting fire to the air and leading the Antifeds in very stiff opposition.

Eventually, even New York and Rhode Island joined the Union, New York by a vote of 30-27 (holy crap!). Rhode Island had been the bitch state all along, had stubbornly refused to even send delegates to Philadelphia in the first place, but Rhode Island finally capitulated and joined the other 13 on May 29, 1790, almost three full years after the original composition of the document in the City of Brotherly Love.

Like the *woman said, "miracle at Philadelphia."

George Mason, the Virginia planter and a member of the Constitutional Convention, did not sign the final document. He feared the form of government would produce a noxious oligarchy. I fear he was right, but perhaps not for the reasons he foresaw.

Rich men are in the way of owning this government, but I think not because of some inherent flaw in our founding document. Cannot I blame the Supreme Court for (1) describing corporations as corpuscles with the unalienable rights of men and women and (2) equating money with speech? If our government has become the wholly owned subsidiary of men like the Kochs, of men like Art Pope, of operatives like Karl Rove, can I not condemn the five bespoke men on the Supreme Court who have enabled the purchase?

How could James Madison and the other Philadelphia brethren foresee the perversions of money in their grand design? Even George Mason did not prophesy a Supreme Court majority that would exercise its biases with such broad destruction of democracy.

They invented the Supreme Court as a check and balance on the Congress. But where is the check and balance on a partisan majority on the Court? Through the election of presidents, who must appoint the judges? Through the election of a Congress with the courage to rise against money and erect effective barriers?

Maybe a new revolution will come against the power of wealth, but maybe not in my limited lifetime.

*Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pay-to-Play Is a Hard Habit To Break

Mr. Graeme Keith Sr., who's been in the news a lot lately for getting the governor to intervene for him in a contract renewal -- I've donated to your campaign, and now it's time for me to get something in return -- also had great good fortune after contributing over $30,000 to former Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. Keith, in fact, got his very first prison maintenance contract from Sheriff Pendergraph -- a no-bid contract, at that -- which is now worth some $7 million a year.

That's a lot of sweeping, presumably, but also a very good return on the investment. (And incidentally, McCrory went cheap. Pendergraph, not so much. He also got another $86,000 out of Keith for "consulting services.")
"The decision to award the contract without competitive bidding was not in the best interest of taxpayers, according to contracting expert Paul Light. Seeking bids from competing companies helps ensure that the public gets the best possible deal, experts say....
"The two sheriffs who succeeded Pendergraph – Chipp Bailey and Irwin Carmichael – have kept the contract in place. Those sheriffs also got campaign contributions from officials with The Keith Corp."

That's What Having No Moral Core Will Get You

Pat McCrory, in the fall of 2008: “In North Carolina, ‘it’s time for a change’ is not just a campaign slogan…it’s a necessity. As governor, I will shake up state government by establishing a culture of honesty, integrity and transparency. Corruption and fraud will not be tolerated. Public service will be conducted ethically and without undue favor.” (Hattip: NCPolicyWatch)

You've discredited yourself, Governor.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Erosion of Boone's Single-Family Neighborhoods

Last night at its regular meeting, the Boone Town Council voted 2-2 on an ordinance amendment to allow for "planned developments" in every zoning area of Town. Mayor Rennie Brantz broke the tie by voting for the text amendments (about which, more below), siding with Council members Lynne Mason and Quint David and against members Loretta Clawson and Fred Hay.

This was Quint David's last meeting on the council, since he did not seek reelection (neither did Fred Hay). Mason and Clawson recently won reelection to four-year terms and are now well established and also sharply contrasted for differing visions of Boone's future.

Mason has been leading to make Boone friendlier to big developments and to seek a lot more New River water to sell to those developers, both inside and outside the city limits. Clawson has long been a champion of Boone's endangered single-family neighborhoods, but she's about to be even more out-numbered on the Council.

Jen Teague and Charlotte Mizelle, both elected to two-year terms earlier this month, have firmly aligned themselves with Mason and will hold a solid three-person majority. They could and probably will cement that majority when they appoint a new Council member to serve out Rennie Brantz's term (Brantz was elected Mayor, leaving his remaining time on Council to be filled by appointment).

New Rules for "Planned Developments"
The text amendments voted through last night by Mason, David, and Brantz effectively eliminate the requirement that developers follow the Town's minimal zoning standards, like setbacks, buffers, parking, etc., as long as they promise a "Planned Development," a promise that can be as empty as smoke.

The amendments allow for any use to go anywhere in town. A meeting is now required between neighborhoods and the developer to share neighborhood concerns, but the new rules do not allow for any conditions to be placed on the development other than those agreed to by the developer. There's your smoke, and how's that for the future of neighborhoods in the town of Boone?

The amendments greatly increase the power and authority of the planning administrator to approve big developments and greatly reduces a neighborhood's ability to challenge those developments. The Board of Adjustment, which ordinarily provides a judicial process for challenges and for imposing conditions on new developments, is taken out of the process altogether. The Town Council can deny a Planned Development proposal, but only on narrow grounds that do not include taking into consideration neighborhood concerns.

The removal of the Board of Adjustment, with its quasi-judicial process that can be challenged/sustained in court, paves the way for closed-door bargaining, cronyism, and the specter of favoritism.

It's just sad maddening that recently reelected Council members placed "protecting our neighborhoods" at the top of their campaign platforms when it's obvious they didn't mean a word of it. Do they think we're not paying attention?