Thursday, May 24, 2018

NC General Assembly Dictatorship: What's Afoot in Raleigh

Indebted to Senator Jeff Jackson of Charlotte for keeping us informed about the overlords:

UPDATE: Legislative leadership just invoked the nuclear option with respect to the budget.
For the first time in modern history, it appears our budget will be passed as a conference report instead of a regular bill.
Why does this matter? Because a conference report gets to skip over the committee process and isn't subject to any amendments.

That means that whenever we see the budget -- and it's still being written behind closed doors -- it's essentially final.

And we're hearing the budget vote will be as soon as next week, so without having seen a single line of it, it's basically done.

You only pull a move like this if you are so entrenched in power that you're ok with openly insulting every taxpayer in the state.

Think of it like driving over your neighbor's mailbox while giving them a thumbs up. You only do something like that if you've become totally detached from what people think of you.

If you're a fiscal hawk, you should be especially concerned by the fact that this budget will spend $23 billion of your tax money without anyone being able to publicly question or amend a single letter of it.

Ultimately, this is about teachers. Republicans know that Democrats are going to offer amendments to raise teacher pay and Republicans don't want to be on record voting against that. So they're going to torpedo the whole process to avoid publicly saying "No" to teachers.
 Add this to your list of reasons why voting this November is absolutely essential.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

'Year of the Woman' Just Got More Interesting

Stacey Abrams is the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia following yesterday's primary. That's just short of astounding for the Peach State, and for any other state in or out of the traditional South, because she won her primary over a white woman with over 70% of the vote.

Abrams is 44 years old, a graduate of Yale Law School, and a leader of the minority Democrats in the Georgia legislature. She's also the successful writer of novels, which she produces under the non de plume Selena Montgomery. (Who's the last Georgia politician who also wrote novels? Yes, you're right: Newt Gingrich.)

“We are writing the next chapter of Georgia’s history, where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one is uninspired,” she said at her victory party last night in Atlanta. And she quoted the book of Esther: “We were born for such a time as this.”


Amy McGrath, the first Marine woman to fly an F-18 fighter jet and a candidate I've been very excited about, upset the odds and beat the DCCC's pick in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District. Lexington's two-term mayor Jim Gray had been the anointed-by-Washington candidate to take the district, and he was soundly defeated. McGrath goes on now to face a weak Republican incumbent, and she's already leading him in the polls.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Truth Behind Those Republican Graphs on School Spending

Photo Chuck Liddy, newsobserver
Totally stolen from Thomas Mills at PoliticsNC:
To look at GOP graphs explaining public education funding, you’d think that the legislature didn’t start paying for public schools until 2008. Every one begins with a downward trend for two years and then a dramatic upswing when Republicans took control. Like Oz the All Powerful, they don’t want you to pull back the curtain and see what’s really going on.
In the decade before the Republicans took over state government, Democrats funded public education substantially better on virtually every metric. The only time they didn’t give educators a raise was when the economy tanked and revenue dried up during Bush’s Great Recession. Democrats froze pay in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Republicans did the same in 2011-12.
The difference, though, is that Democrats had a goal to keep up with the national average, even if they fell short. In contrast, Republicans came into office criticizing teachers and calling our schools broken, implying that teachers were somehow responsible. The schools weren’t broken, even if they were struggling like the rest of the country in the midst of the Great Recession.
So what did Republicans do? They started “reforming,” their euphemism for cutting. They eliminated teacher assistants from classrooms. They reduced funding for basic school supplies like textbooks. They shifted funding from traditional schools to charters and private schools without requiring the same level of accountability. Per pupil funding and teacher pay plummeted compared to other states in the region and country.
Republicans claimed they’ve reformed our schools without any significant improvement in outcomes. Schools in more prosperous areas continue to perform very well while those in poorer areas still struggle. Republican reforms are more about ideology than outcomes. They want schools to do more with less, since they believe all government programs are wasteful. They want their conservative evangelical base to have the option to send their children to religious schools and are willing to subsidize them with government funds. And they want to keep cutting taxes for the wealthy instead of making investments in public education.
In 1992, Jim Hunt became a governor with a mission. He wanted to improve public schools and provide children with the tools to succeed. He started Smart Start to better prepare children from disadvantaged families for first grade. He made a commitment to get teacher pay to the national average. He substantially reduced class size, especially in elementary schools. He wanted to reduce the dropout rate to produce more high school graduates. His goal-oriented philosophy drove the Democratic agenda for the next sixteen years.
Republicans have a different goal. They want to shrink the size of government, cut taxes and reduce regulation. They care less about the big picture of society than they do individual rights. The GOP doesn’t want to pull back the curtain to show the progress North Carolina made under Democrats from 1992 until the Great Recession hit in 2007. They want to pretend that history began with the crash and their mediocre investments in public schools are more substantial than they really are.

Things That Clarify the Mind

Being up for reelection to the NC General Assembly and having tens of thousands of aroused public school teachers in the streets of Raleigh as you show up for work -- that convergence on Wednesday may already have had a salutary effect.

For example, Jonathan Jordan has been in the local press twice since Wednesday (here and here) saying soothing things about public education and about helping "our schools." He even already voted, along with every single Republican in the NC House -- not 24 hours after the convening of their session -- for a small step toward getting more school psychologists into action (a "reciprocity bill" to accept psychology training certificates from other states). Good move, but there's going to have to be a lot more including the redirection of state tax money.

Weatherman Ray Russell
Are Republicans in the General Assembly rattled? You bet they are. Collective expression and united action are still salient in our democracy, especially when a segment as beloved as public school teachers are the ones expressing sudden solidarity. A Republican member of the House called them "thugs" to his personal detriment.

So look for Jonathan Jordan to veer "moderate" for awhile. He has something to fear from his November opponent, Ray Russell, who has made education funding one of his issues and who has been raising money. The winds are not at Jordan's back. Public school teachers may not constitute a substantial voting bloc, but the people who admire them and who know how they've been treated do, and a sizable one.

Even out of office, Pat McCrory can't stop himself from becoming comedy gold.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Republican Voters in NC House District 67 Say "No, Thanks"

Justin Burr

I've been too wrapped up in gardening work to even notice that NC House Rep. Justin Burr of Stanly County lost his primary race to an unknown. Whaaa? Justin Burr is the Lex Luthor look-alike and act-alike who most recently was the chief sponsor of the attempt to turn the North Carolina judiciary into a partisan tool for Republicans.

Stanley County pharmacist Wayne Sasser beat the six-term Burr easily with 56% of the vote, running on only two issues -- the opioid crisis and getting broadband into rural areas -- and no campaign infrastructure to speak of. He comes across as a kindly older gentleman, and Justin Burr was not.

House District 67 is rated strong Republican, and Wayne Sasser is going to be its next rep in Raleigh. There's a Democrat -- Karen Webster -- on the ballot, but as far as I can tell, she's just a name on the ballot and otherwise wholly invisible. Too bad! Since, if there ever was a year for more surprises than just seeing Justin Burr lose his primary, this is the year. But you can't win an election if you don't run.

North Carolina Public School Teachers Take Raleigh

The North Carolina General Assembly reconvenes today in Raleigh, and when the House and Senate sessions open at high noon, the legislators will be met by thousands of North Carolina public school teachers protesting salaries and working conditions. The NC Association of Educators is predicting 20,000 in the streets. The Progressive Pulse guesses 15,000. At least 10,000 teachers have requested personal days, which caused at least 38 school systems to suspend classes school-wide (which is what conservatives will seize on to discredit the teachers).

Phil Berger, Tim Moore, and their boys have dribbled a little salary money over the ranks -- so little, so late. Public school teacher salaries are still 16% below national averages. As Berger/Moore gave a little, they "balanced" that actual stinginess with more punishment for teachers in other ways -- cutting support staff (teacher assistants, school nurses, counselors) and cutting supplies (so teachers have to buy their own) and forcing more kids into classrooms (because nothing says learnin' like a restless herd).

Justin Parmenter, a seventh grade language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County school system, gathered some statistics to prove it's not about "money-grubbing" (another favorite conservative slur against teachers).

North Carolina's population has increased more than 10% since Berger/Moore/Republicans took over everything in Raleigh, and the balloon hit school class size. ("Can we get 12 more desks in here?") Berger/Moore/Republicans dealt with increased school population by cutting teacher assistants. Well over 7,000 teacher assistants lost their jobs under the new Raleigh regime. Parmenter assembled a gallery of other horrors:

  • 30 kindergarten students in a library class with no assistant (Mecklenburg)
  • 31 high school students in Honors Chemistry.  The teacher reports that ‘labs are terrifying.’ (Cabarrus)  
  • 37 fifth graders in a trailer (Winston-Salem/Forsyth)
  • 37 8th grade math students in an Exceptional Children/Inclusion class (Cabarrus)
  • 38 10th-12th graders in AP German class, no planning period (Guilford)
  • 39 freshmen through seniors, Math 4 (Union)
  • 40 high school students in a trailer for Math 3, Title 1 (Mecklenburg)
  • 42 students in Math 2 (New Hanover)
  • 43, 8th graders in healthful living. Only have 40 desks, when all are present, one sits at teacher’s desk, the other two sit on the floor (Wake)
  • 44 students American History I (Onslow)
  • 45 kids in physical science.  The majority of them have taken the class before, class includes many students with learning disabilities and students classified as seriously emotionally disabled.  (Mecklenburg)
It's not just teacher assistants. It's school nurses and counselors. "It’s recommended that social workers be provided at a ratio of 1:400. Our ratio is 1:1427. The suggested ratio of psychologists per student is 1:700. This year our ratio is 1:1857. Nurses should be available at a ratio of 1:750, but we are currently at 1:2315 – with many schools forced to have parent volunteers staff the nurse’s office rather than leave it empty."

Earlier this week, Berger communicated a veiled threat to teachers: “Teacher strikes are illegal in N.C.,” Berger told the state government news service. “And in some respects what we’re seeing looks like a work slowdown, and looks like a fairly typical union activity, and the people of North Carolina don’t support that sort of action.” A Republican lawmaker called organizers "thugs." But last night, Berger/Moore hastily called a press conference and announced a 6.2 percent salary increase for teachers this year, which was actually old news. The budget the Republicans passed in 2017 included the 6.2% raise for some teachers to go into effect in 2018. Governor Cooper has asked for 8%, with at least 5% guaranteed to every teacher. “Instead of prioritizing tax cuts for corporations and those earning more than $200,000, legislators should give real raises to all teachers,” said Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley. “Making education the top priority means more textbooks and classrooms, not more tax cuts for those already at the top.”

I don't think the teachers gathering in Raleigh today are going to be bought off so easily. And I don't think Berger knows anything but dictatorial authoritarianism, so this movement and the reaction to it will be worth watching.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Where We Stand on a Maymead Asphalt Plant on the Scenic Byway

Guest Post by Erwin
Many of you reading this are not aware of the current status of all things asphalt in Watauga and Ashe Counties, so I hope to provide a succinct update and perhaps an opinion or two thrown in as well.
As a member of the group High Country WATCH, which has led the opposition to the proposed Maymead plant on the scenic byway, as well as the proposed Radford plant near Hardin Park School,  I sometimes have a hard time believing this fight has been going on for over three years now.  The appeal by Radford is due to be heard in Superior Court sometime this year,  and a decision by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the Maymead case is likely due in the next two months.  In a split vote, the Ashe County Planning Board actually approved the Radford permit for a plant near Glendale Springs,  a location which is also very near a summer camp for terminally ill children.  I have not heard of any further appeal in that case.
We have always believed that if the particulars of the Maymead case got a fair and thorough hearing that the facts would speak loudly, and Maymead would have to go home without being allowed to put that blight of heavy industry on the last somewhat pristine gateway to our community. Having attended the Watauga Board of Adjustments marathon and the two day Superior Court hearing,  I can testify that the fair hearing is yet to be had. One example: The superior court judge came to court without having read the briefs, and after the first day he said he would try to read them that evening. Instead, he came to court the next day and proceeded to spend 10 minutes telling the court about the new movie ("Arrival") he had gone to see instead.  
A few days before the Appeals Court was scheduled to hear the Maymead case this spring, their lead attorney asked for a continuance claiming he had the flu. That request was denied, and guess who showed up two days later with no symptoms. The surmise is that he didn’t like one of the judges on the panel and was hoping a delay would result in a panel of judges more favorable to Maymead.
So we continue to wait, continue to fundraise ($70,000 has been spent so far on legal fees), continue to hope. In all likelihood, the Maymead case will not be a unanimous decision either way and will end up at the NC Supreme Court. There are also other options including the possibilities of being sent back to the local Board of Adjustments or back to Superior Court. I believe Maymead thought they could wear us down, spend us down, and we would finally give up. We actually almost have, several times, but the continued support of this community has held us together, barely,  and what? Ain’t gonna quit now.
A shout out to our legal team, Davis and Whitlock of Asheville, who has stuck with us with greatly reduced rates and tireless research, as well as Watauga County, whose supporting brief in the Appeals Court stage has been a potential game changer.
One of the very best results of this whole process has been that every residence in Watauga County is now much better protected from high impact industry because of the increased setback rules in the amended HILU ordinance.  If the county had had the foresight to pass some common sense land-use legislation long ago, like most growing counties, the majority of land-use arguments would never come up. And without that in place, they will keep coming up, so keep your eyes open and help us be a watchdog for responsible development.
www.highcountrywatch, on Facebook, and to contribute to funding for the Maymead case,

Monday, May 14, 2018

DD Adams and the Prospects of Beating Virginia Foxx

DD Adams won the Democratic nomination for the US House on May 8th. She's the eighth Democrat to take on incumbent Republican Virginia Foxx. Foxx has rolled seven Democrats already, since her first election in 2004. DD Adams could be the eighth. At least, that's what Republicans assume. Foxx's campaign war chest, her good constituent services, and her image as a good old baptist grandma with a reputation for stinginess -- that persona gets Foxx reelected.

Plus -- let's just get this over with -- DD Adams is African American in a House district where even registered Democrats wouldn't vote for Obama in 2008 because of the Civil War. I know it, you know it, we all know it. So how in the world could Adams ever win it?

Foxx was last reelected in 2016 with 207,625 votes against Josh Brannon's 147,887. That's her highest vote tally ever:
96,000 votes -- that's all she got in her first reelection contest in 2006 against Roger Sharpe
190,000 - 200,000 votes -- presidential years, always winning easily
140,000 votes -- non-presidential years, her standard tally, which also gets her reelected easily, but she's never had all of Forsyth County before
(You can look up the numbers too, same as me, at the State Board of Elections site)
In other words, Foxx's hardcore base is somewhere between 96,000 and 140,000 voters. In presidential years, another 60,000-80,000 Republicans show up and vote for her, but they don't pay that much attention, and what the hell! Vote for Foxx cause she's on the ballot and registered R and we hear that she doesn't like the guvmint spending money. Those Republicans show up in presidential years, but they may not this year. They usually don't in non-presidential years.

So let's say only Foxx's hardcore base -- up to 140,000 voters -- turns out for her in the non-presidential year of 2018 -- why, Forsyth and Watauga alone could elect Adams, if Democratic enthusiasm is still running high and Republican, running low, and if Adams can pull a substantial proportion of unaffiliated votes:
Forsyth County 
104,381 registered Dems
76,486 registered Unaffiliated
(Republicans number 75,734)
Watauga County
12,137 registered Dems
19,000 registered Unaffiliated
(Republicans number 14,036)

More likely: Adams needs Democratic support in all the rural counties.With heavy turn-out in Forsyth and Watauga and with respectable support in the other counties, she could have a shot at winning. Yes, she could.

Adams won the primary against Jenny Marshall, who ran a very organized and energetic campaign, by carrying Forsyth County, alone. Marshall carried every other county in the 5th District. Forsyth gave Adams the nomination because they know her -- she's been on the Winston-Salem City Council since 2009 -- and they like her for her performance, and they like her for this job. I like her too. She's got courage and forthrightness and a stout heart, and she brings a damn good presence that makes her a riveting speaker, and people who meet her tend to support her. I've talked with her twice now. I'm taken with her charisma.

The people in the rural counties don't know her yet. So she's got to go to Alleghany County and to Yadkinville and to East Bend and to North Wilkesboro, and to the deepest recesses of Stokes County, and to the furthest fish frys in Avery and Alexander, and everywhere else in between, and put that courage of hers on display. As the angel announcing good tidings said, "Be not afraid!" She's got to put herself in the rural counties to break the chains of the Civil War, or at least weaken them and make 2018 a genuine race.