Monday, December 10, 2018

Democratic Race for Lieutenant Governor Shaping Up

There are now two Democratic candidates who'll be running for NC Lt. Gov., and there'll probably be more before we get to December 2, 2019, the opening of filing for the 2020 general elections.

First, Cal Cunningham. And now Terry Van Duyn. She's currently Democratic Whip in the NC Senate, representing Buncombe County.

Betting on Beto?

NYTimes gives Beto O'Rourke of Texas the star treatment this morning. If he runs for president, as many expect he will, he'll seriously scramble a whole bunch of fat eggs that are already in other candidates' baskets.

He's a star, no doubt. We liked his chances against Ted Cruz and followed his campaign all year. The fact that he lost -- narrowly -- doesn't seem to have slowed down the presidential boomlet around him, but the Times assesses his other liabilities:
Mr. O’Rourke would surely have vulnerabilities in a primary, including an absence of signature policy feats or a centerpiece issue to date. In his Senate race, he was often disinclined to go negative, frustrating some Democrats who believe he wasted a chance to defeat Mr. Cruz, and he struggled at times in some traditional formats like televised debates. He is, by admission and design, not the political brawler some Democrats might crave against a president they loathe. And his candidacy would not be history-making like Mr. Obama’s nor many of his likely peers’ in the field, in an election when many activists may want a female or nonwhite nominee.
Yes, white male, when there are several alternatives to that demographic who are considering a run, including Kamala Harris. Not a political brawler might be the bigger problem.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Wild Life in Bladen County -- Soon To Be a Book, Or a Major Motion Picture?

More things that stagger the mind and begger the imagination in Bladen County (thanks to the reporting of Joe Bruno):

Jens Lutz.
1. Jens Lutz, the vice chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections, suddenly resigned yesterday, holding a pat of butter in his mouth that refused to melt. He said his resignation had nothing whatsoever to do with the absentee ballot fraud investigation. Then wrote in his resignation letter to Kim Strach at the state Board of Elections (SBOE) that it was the investigation, because his family was taking it hard and Democrats were yelling at him about "compromise." (There's the first narrative hole: What compromise?)

SIDE NOTE: The Bladen Director of Elections, Cynthia Shaw, had already packed up her office and left like smoke a week ago, opting to take extended sick leave until her retirement in January.)

2. In 2014 Jens Lutz formed a political consulting LLC ("Politico Management Services") with chief fraud suspect McCrae Dowless. Both were registered Democrats at the time. (Lutz had served a term as chair of the Bladen Co. Democrats.) He admitted that some of Politico Management Services' clients may be subjects of the on-going investigation, so he wouldn't name them.

3. Lutz told Joe Bruno of WSOC that he began to get suspicious about Dowless: “No one knew how he operated,” Lutz said. “He was a very secretive person. Nobody knew what he did. They knew he was productive .... I do everything by the book. Once I see something is not 100 percent, I would rather not be a part of it. There were several people aware of what I was doing and at the time McCrae was a Democrat, I was a Democrat." ("Aware of what I was doing" ... ? Another noticeable hole in Lutz's story.) But then Lutz told Bruno that everything he learned to make him a member of the local Board of Elections, he learned from Dowless. No kidding.

4. Asked if anyone on or in the Bladen County Board of Elections, especially office staff, had collaborated with Dowless on the absentee ballots, Lutz said he didn't know, but then began to talk about the absence of any security at the elections office (opening more speculation). The elections board shares space with Veterans Services, and that other staff of workers has complete access to the elections space all day and night. There's an interior scanning camera on the elections side that hasn't worked in 9 years, according to Lutz, and there's no alarm system. (Somebody needs to run for County Commission down there and make the Elections Office fiasco a major campaign issue.)

5. "Lutz says he notified the SBOE about suspicious activity after the board of elections received reports from people getting absentee ballots and not requesting them. 'That’s a pretty big red flag,' ” Lutz said. Then he offered a theory of the crime that seems based on insider info: “Let’s just say somebody from previous elections [has] a database that they kept, and they got copies of the absentee requests with vital information from the voter on it. Then this person can use that, if they are skilled enough, to copy people’s signatures."

NOTE: Absentee ballot requests are public. It's the copying of voter signatures that would be illegal.

6. Lutz has knowledge of the process: “If you are savvy at this operation, you would know the time it takes [for the absentee ballot to get] from the post office to their house,” Lutz said. “All of the sudden, you show up at a person’s house and say, ‘Hey, I am here for your absentee ballot.’ No. 1, it stuns them that you know it is there, and they are apt to give it to you. They may think you are an official.” That may be the most believable thing Lutz said in his interview: unsophisticated people who know little to nothing about legal processes for voting are apt to consent when the culture is all about social niceness and accommodation. “A lot of people don’t know the election laws, and they don’t understand the procedures of this,” Lutz said. “If they are presented with someone who knows more than they do, they seem to succumb to that person.”

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Thom Goolsby Takes a Stand for Silent Sam

While administrators at UNC fear violence if they force Silent Sam back up on his plinth in the middle of campus (see last item, down-column), some hard-ass Republicans on the Board of Governors relish the idea of actually provoking a little violence, figuring it'll help their conservative brand with the Trumpists. And it would, too.

UNC BOG member Thom Goolsby of Wilmington issued a three-minute video denouncing the cowardice of the Board of Trustees -- to put Sam away in a separate building ... what the Holy Land o' Lakes Christ is that? It takes Goolsby over three minutes, because a two-minute video just wouldn't accommodate the full boil of his outrage.

Put that Civil War-glorifying statue back up on its pedestal at the entrance to campus and dare the hippies and anarchists and eggheads to come tear it down. Beat some pointy heads into a flatter pancake, if you have to, and force those Generation Z children to honor the sacred heritage of the rebellious South. "Clearly the law does not contemplate allowing criminal actors to dictate the placement of historic objects," Goolsby intones, a Cicero with a hard-on for Carthage.

"Goolsby implored people to call each member of the UNC Board of Governors and Board of Trustees demanding Silent Sam’s return to its original place" (WECT). But don't call Thom Goolsby. He's already a lead-pipe cinch for the hard-line. He contributed his bit to getting rid of UNC President Margaret Spellings, and when he was a state senator, he wanted to see executions restarted to thin out the housing on Death Row. Nice guy.

When You Hear "Thought Police," Better Get Your Hardhat

North Carolina Public Radio was reporting late yesterday that some "dozens" of Chapel Hill faculty are organizing a protest against the university's latest plan for getting rid of Silent Sam, that Rorschach Test for white power and "the Lost Cause" that fell on its face back on August 21. UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and her Board of Trustees proposed building a special $6 million "Center" to house Sam, where he can be properly "interpreted." Faculty objected (the faculty assembly voted overwhelmingly against it, in a toothless resolution), but in the main, faculty want the statue saved but put somewhere else, off that campus, like on a Civil War Battlefield or in a famous historic cemetery (others have suggested a hog waste lagoon).

Forget the faculty. Students -- many, many students -- see the plan as a tone-deaf preservation of the imagery (and hence the intent) of white supremacy. So how do faculty, inspired by students, plan to protest? By withholding grades this month at the end of the semester ... until Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees rethink their plan, and recant it. Withhold grades? Big deal? Well, yes, and UNC administrators are warning of "possible legal ramifications, including student lawsuits. Withholding grades could also cause issues for students graduating later this month."

For the big bosses, the overriding issue about returning Silent Sam to campus (al fresco), out in the open where students can gather to protest him, is the potential for violence, like what brought down Sam in August. Any time a student gets hurt on a public campus, you got much larger potential liabilities. So the admin decided to pay the money, build Sam a safe place where crowds can't gather to protest him -- and potentially turn violent -- and hope that manner of hallowing Civil War relics will placate the reactionaries. Sam gets his own reliquary, and maybe in 30 years his shiny bronze rifle will still get dusted.

The new building for Silent Sam was only part of the formal proposal by the UNC Board of Trustees.  Someone smart got quickly to reading "the appendices" to the Silent Sam plan, and that someone was AppState history professor Michael Behrent (hattip MM). What he found is classic over-reaction by rulers -- a proposal for militarizing all the campuses of the UNC system with a swat team -- "a mobile force platoon" is the verbatim language -- of 40 (yes!) specially hired and trained university white hats with batons, arriving ready to restore order.

Carol Folt with some UNC trustees
The Age of Trump: backward to authoritarianism.

Mobile Force Platoon was proposed by a "safety panel," a veritable “who’s who” of prominent police and military officials, who came up with this modest proposal at the request of the Board of Trustees (from Michael Behrent):
“...that the UNC Police acquire greater capabilities in the area of crowd control, protest management and intelligence gathering.” To this end, the panel calls for, as a way of addressing “large protests that involve unlawful behavior,” a “mobile force be developed at the UNC System level (to be shared by all System institutions).”
Would they arrive by helicopter, blowing dust into angry student faces? Or by big black van, an opaque wagon of retribution and backlash?

The item about "intelligence gathering" ought to raise neck-hairs, if not hackles. That means spying and with spying comes provocative incitement, followed by various punishments meant to clamp down on opinion. It's a bad idea.

Friday, December 07, 2018

So ... There Are No Second Acts in American Lives?

So Dan McCready yesterday withdrew his concession to Mark Harris in the NC-9 congressional race, and with NCGOP Exec. Dir. Dallas Woodhouse collapsing like a white dwarf live last night on "All In With Chris Hayes" on MSNBC, a re-do of that election is becoming more and more likely.

Still not a peep out of Rev. Mark Harris -- no denial, no apology, no Trump-like "I hardly know the man" -- just silence that becomes more pregnant by the hour.

And this morning, this headline about the Reverend in the NYTimes: "North Carolina Republican Owes $34,310 for Disputed Absentee Ballot and Turnout Work, Records Show."

Not only hole up in his bunker but owing money too for the very thing he's in trouble for.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Is That Gun Smoking?

Nate Silver is "coming in hot" (as Jesse Presnell just said on Facebook) on the absentee ballot scandal in the NC-9. Silver posted on Twitter this morning: "We're changing our rating on this race to Lean Prison."

Pastor Harris
Nate Silver was referencing new reporting by Joe Bruno that (again) links Rev. Mark Harris directly, personally, to suspected fraudster Leslie McCrae Dowless, reporting that 2017 Charlotte City Council candidate Pete Givens said he was personally introduced to Dowless by his pastor, Mark Harris: "Mark told me about this guy's process ... that he had a process." So Givens apparently hired Dowless to help him out in last year's Charlotte City Council race, paid him $800 in "consulting" fees, but Givens lost. "The Dowless process" maybe depends on a more rural landscape to work properly.

Harris's direct involvement with Dowless was first suggested way back three days ago in the Charlotte Observer -- an article I completely missed even though Billy Ball referred to it and reprinted it at the Progressive Pulse, and I should have noticed.

I believe that when the activity of McCrae Dowless first surfaced in the news, the Harris campaign wanted to imply that they had nothing to do with his hiring, that it was campaign consultants at the Red Dome Group that hired him. Perhaps so, but Harris knew him and recommended him and gave $400,000+ to the Red Dome Group to marshall their troops for the fight. Those troops included Dowlass, and Mark Harris was bound to know.

The Reverend is staying very quiet about all of this. If he's issued any public statement, I haven't seen it, and can't find it. Though I've searched. His Twitter feed contains nothing in the way of comment, though he did tweet on November 30 that "there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race," a position he's incidentally very wrong about. He's never mentioned Dowless nor the scandal that has erupted, though he's ever more central to it.

Dallas Woodhouse.
Photo Harry Lynch News and Observer
Subpoenas have begun to fly, one of them issued by the SBOE to the Mark Harris campaign. Also one to the Red Dome Group. The SBOE so far hasn't subpoenaed the NCGOP, but they should because Dallas Woodhouse at the NCGOP also hired Red Dome with "state money" that can't be legally spent on federal campaigns, so shouldn't we know if any of that NCGOP money went to subsidize "the Dowless process"? Especially as Dallas Woodhouse has a history of bragging about laundering money through his party treasurer.

NC's Biggest Export Product: Republican Sour Grapes

Tim Moore and Phil Berger,
celebrating their own b.o.
If it ain't gerrymandered -- like a whole state can't be gerrymandered -- then Republican chances tank for winning an election in the Age of Twitterman. Which is why right now in Wisconsin and Michigan, lame-duck Republican legislatures are quickly rewriting the rules to snatch democracy out of the hands of the voters. They got the roadmap for how to do that from Phil Berger and Tim Moore, North Carolina's proudest politicians with teeth on edge. Sour grapes after losing an election will do that to you.

The cure for sour grapes -- at least in North Carolina -- has been a raft of Federal and state Superior Court judges who apparently take antacids. (Just yesterday, another Wake County Superior Court judge struck down another of their power-grabs.) The judges practice logic, common sense, and adherence to the constitution[s] and have neutralized many of Berger/Moore's most radical steps, with maybe more to come. Berger/Moore have counter-attacked with more acid -- "activist judges, legislating from the bench!" Yada, yada, yada, so pop another Gelusel.

The mass public protests we're seeing right now in Wisconsin and Michigan, aimed at Republican over-reach, those protests happened too in Raleigh in December of 2016, reactions to Berger/Moore's stripping of power from Roy Cooper a month before he could even take office. Majority Republican leges in the upper-Midwest are copying us in the craft of nullifying elections (but let it be recorded that Southerners were first!), and they're getting a dose of citizen protest that they've richly earned. In December of 2016, with Christmas looming in Raleigh, citizens began to mass on Jones Street for the special session Berger/Moore called, and naturally arrests were made. I believe the uproar reached the national media (but not like today, perhaps, in Wisconsin and Michigan). One particular NC Democrat (and citizen) published an editorial promising a stiff fight: "We're coming for you, NCGOP. You will be exposed. You will lose."

On the whole, they have lost, at least in North Carolina. (Stand by for legal action in Wisconsin and Michigan too.) But conservative radicalism doesn't always die like a bonfire doused with water. They keep sparking and threatening to roar back to life. We know from experience: Splash! a Democrat becomes governor in January 2017. Republicans grab power. Splash! Splash! and Splash! courts begin examining and overturning much of the December 2016 power-grab. Republicans continue to insulate themselves from accountability. Splash! Republicans lose their House and Senate supermajorities on November 6th. So we hold our breath as they convene yet another Special Session ... because even back on their heels, even off-balance, they still have a habit of overreach.

In the voter photo ID bill (H 1115 -- "Let North Carolina Vote Act") now moving through the NC House -- the enabling legislation for the constitutional pig-in-a-poke the people bought on November 6 without knowing its contents -- the ineffable Larry Pittman tried to amend the bill to eliminate college student IDs as acceptable forms of identification for voting, but that was rejected. That was yesterday.

On Tuesday, Gerry Cohen picked up on language added to the bill that appears aimed at out-of-state college students, mandating that they should be formally put on notice that they must declare their "intent to remain" in North Carolina (for the rest of their lives?). Gerry Cohen, who used to be a professional writer of laws for and in the General Assembly, commented, "What?"

In a completely separate legislative initiative, Berger/Moore are also and once again rewriting the state Board of Elections (SBOE) with H 1117, bending to the judges. So they're restoring the SBOE to 3-2 Democratic/Republican composition and county BOEs to 2-1 Dems to Repubs, but they say the local county BOEs must be chaired by Republicans in even-numbered years. Odd. Since the 3-judge panel that threw out their first rewriting of the BOEs specifically ordered, "You can't mandate a chair of a county board not of the governor's party." At least, that's my understanding.

(Not sure what difference it makes anyway. If a local board is 2-1 Democratic-Republican -- at least through the end of Roy Cooper's term in office -- the two Dems can overrule a Republican chair. Plus any two board members can call a meeting. The hitch will come with under-informed and unprepared weak Democrats appointed to county boards. Some of them think compromise -- any compromise -- is a golden mean to be prized, but no compromise that tampers with people's access to the ballot is good. Forsyth County Democrats on the Forsyth BOE compromised away an early voting site on the campus of Winston-Salem State, thus contributing to a poor showing on November 6th, compared to other NC urban counties.)

What will they think up next? Could be anything. They haven't announced an end-time for this present Special Session. Could be anything, but it will be something.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

How Republicans in the General Assembly Take Care of Republicans Leaving the General Assembly

Justin Burr
Huge props to Republicans in the General Assembly for continuing to feather their own nests faster than a flock of hyper-active pigeons. One of their number loses his job in the General Assembly, and the brethren rush to boost the pay for a state job he wants and which he apparently has an inside track to get. Smells like pigeon poop, even with all the feathers.

The member of the NC House suddenly out of a job -- he lost his Republican primary back in May -- is Lex Luthor understudy Justin Burr of Stanley County, who until recently was chair of the House Special Committee on Judicial Redistricting, which means he was trying to redraw judicial districts so that African-American judges would be cut in half and Republicans would have a better shot at winning judgeships. It was a plot worthy of a power-mad supervillain. But alas. A nice old small-town pharmacist knocked Burr out in the May primary.

The state job Justin Burr is angling for? Executive Director of something called the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council, which as far as we can tell, would be not inconsistent with cheerleading at the campfire and encouraging s'mores for everyone. It's a mighty shallow website the council offers to this inquiring mind, and as it turns out, the Executive Director would be the sole employee of an advisory council that is a shell with no innards.

Travis Fain reports that the position of executive director was created by the General Assembly last year but has so far gone unfilled. Justin Burr noticed after he lost his May primary that there was a juicy state position going unfilled -- salary at the time ... $74,000 -- so Burr applied and was interviewed in June.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but immediately after that interview, the proposed salary was boosted to $119,000, and then the Office of State Human Resources got involved and down-graded the proposed salary to a maximum of $88,221, noting that "this position was vacant and, upon review, was determined to be more appropriately classified as a Program Development Coordinator," a classification typically used for positions in "small programs with a small staff and/or limited scope." Small staff? How about zero staff!

Justin Burr's scope has always been larger than small potatoes, so with the help of Rep. David Lewis, who runs the powerful House Rules Committee and who knows a thing or three about manipulating laws to the benefit of Republicans, has slipped it through that the council's members get to set Justin Burr's salary. Wait, what? There's an Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council with members? Overseeing an "agency" with so far no employees? Who's on this council and how did they get there?

According to Travis Fain -- because their website is wholly blank on the matter -- the membership of this council is appointed by "legislative leadership" (that would be Berger/Moore), by the Secretary of Agriculture (Republican Steve Troxler), and by the governor, which suggests a Republican dominated council that's being empowered to set the salary sufficiently high to please Justin Burr.

And now everything is perfectly clear.