Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Tea Leaves Are There for Reading

"In a closed-door [Republican] party lunch last week, veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz advised Republican senators to not disavow the president, but to put some daylight between themselves and Trump, according to two people familiar with his presentation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private remarks. Luntz also warned that this November’s congressional results could be similar to the 2006 midterms, when Democrats wrested control of both chambers away from the GOP after President George W. Bush’s popularity fell as a result of the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina. Luntz did not respond to a request for comment."

"Daylight." Explains why Sen. Thom Tillis has disappeared his allegiance to Trump in his TV ads. He's rather showcasing his humble roots in a trailer park. Shades of Virginia Foxx-ism!

“Republicans in the Senate might be trying to disappear Donald Trump from their campaign ads, but they can’t erase their records in Washington of enabling the White House’s attacks on health care in the middle of a pandemic or their refusal to hold the president accountable as he divides a nation in crisis,” said Stewart Boss, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

ReOpenNC Wants Governor Cooper Impeached

The notoriously reckless Reopen NC co-founder Ashley Smith, who does not live in Boone (as far as we know), is circulating a petition calling on state lawmakers to impeach Gov. Roy Cooper because he issued shutdown orders restricting commercial activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition cites a lack of concurrence from the Council of State -- Republican members Dan Forest, Dale Folwell, Cherie Berry, Steve Troxler, and Mark Johnson, who apparently liked better the cavalier refusal to take the coronavirus seriously, like the governors of Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Ashley Smith's petition for impeachment accuses the governor of infringing on North Carolinians' rights of free speech and the enjoyment of the fruits of their labor.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is already suing Governor Cooper over the same issue.

Impeachment would have to begin in the NC House. Republican House Speaker Tim Moore "did not return requests for comment on the petition. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office said it would be out of turn for Berger to comment, given that any impeachment proceedings would have to start in the House."

In other words, don't hold your breath, Ashley Smith.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Jacksonville Not Looking So Sunny After All

Trump threw a snit when Governor Roy Cooper refused to guarantee a full arena in Charlotte for Twitterman's re-coronation at the end of August, so Trump moved south to Jacksonville, which at the time was touting a 15,000-seat arena and a Republican mayor and a Republican governor who would be wide-open to a Trump mass rally.

But not so fast there. That was then. Now Florida is experiencing one of the worst spikes in virus infections, and its governor's poll numbers -- along with Trump's -- are sagging noticeably in the Sunshine State.

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally, refused to say whether he would lift a rule mandating that indoor gatherings stay under 50 percent capacity — which would hold the Jacksonville convention to 7,500 people. Plus Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry issued a mandatory mask order last week.

What a bummer, if Trump has to look down on just a half-capacity auditorium of people wearing masks, or not wearing masks in defiant solidarity with the stupidest and most dangerous one-term president in American history.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Un-Trumping North Carolina: Democrat Ronnie Chatterji, Running for State Treasurer

Ronnie Chatterji
ran in the March Democratic primary against two other strong Democrats. When I researched them all before voting, I was impressed by their individual credentials. It's a technical job, managing North Carolina's financial portfolio and its health-care system. They all looked qualified to me. And to a lot of other primary voters, too:

March 3rd primary vote totals:

Ronnie Chatterji 411,732 -- 35.81%
Dimple Ajmera 390,888 -- 33.99%
Matt Leatherman 347,226 -- 30.20%

I ended up voting for Dimple Ajmera -- primarily because of what I considered her stronger base in Mecklenburg County -- but I looked hard at Chatterji. I'm grateful now for the profile did on Chatterji last March (reproduced here without all the internal links):

Chatterji is a 42-year-old Gen-X-er who lives in Durham. He’s an economist and tenured professor in the Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He served on the White House Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama and he has offered economic advice to a number of other presidential and senatorial campaigns. He’s also an appointee of Governor Roy Cooper to the Entrepreneurial Council.

Chatterji has authored several op-ed pieces in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and writes widely for management and policy audiences with several recent pieces in Harvard Business Review and for the Brookings Institution. His new book, co-authored with Michael Lenox, is “Can Business Save the Earth?” (Stanford University Press).

If elected treasurer, Chatterji promises to “invest responsibly in companies that expand opportunities across our state. We can lead the fight to protect our environment and increase equity. We can expand access to financial services for all North Carolinians. We can make our healthcare system a model for the nation. The Treasurer can do so much for our state and I am ready to get to work.”

Highly qualified, and he has adorable kids: 

Incumbent Republican Treasurer Dale R. Folwell

Folwell is an old political hand from Forsyth County. He served several years on the Forsyth School Board before being elected to represent NC House Dist. 74 in 2004, and after the 2010 Tea Party takeover, he rose to be Number Two in the House as Speaker Pro Tempore under Speaker Thom Tillis. (House Dist. 74, incidentally, is the seat that Winston-Salem City Councilman Dan Besse is running for now -- a ripe prospect for flipping.) Folwell tried to move up to lieutenant governor in the elections of 2012, but he finished third in the primary against the eventual winner, Dan Forest. In 2013 he was appointed by Gov. McCrory to head the state's Division of Employment Security. By 2016 he was running for state treasurer against Democrat Dan Blue III:

General Election of 2016:

Dale R. Folwell 2,373,022 -- 52.70%
Dan Blue III 2,129,762 -- 47.30%

In the House, Folwell was a standard-issue conservative in perfect step with the Tea Party takeover. In 2009, Civitas Action rated him the most conservative member of the House. He kissed the Koch ring by loyally attending American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meetings. He was a hawk for new hurdles on voting and helped get through anti-gay marriage and bathroom monitor bills that did so verrry much to improve North Carolina's economic standing in the free world -- then had the gall to run for treasurer.

He's been the most vocal opponent of one of Governor Cooper's executive orders, banning city-owned utility providers from disconnecting or fining non-paying customers during the COVID pandemic -- a humane provision, with so many out of work, to keep victimized workers from being thrown out on the street. But every good deed, it seems, has a worm in the bud: Some city-owned utilities could literally go bankrupt because of non-payment. That's the situation in Elizabeth City, incidentally, which was in desperate straits under the governor's order. Some 30% of its customers weren’t paying their utility bills. Without a waiver, the city would go broke in the fall, and its customers could end up paying a 10% to 46% hike in electric rates, according to Richard Olson, Elizabeth City's city manager (as told to the conservative Carolina Journal). 

Elizabeth City therefore applied to the state for a waiver to Gov. Cooper's order, and after waiting two weeks for any sort of reply, announced that they had no choice but to defy the governor and start charging again for in arrears utilities on July 1st. Immediately, the state got off the dime and granted the waiver. Folwell wants that waiver extended to all other such utilities, and he's demanding a face-to-face meeting of the Council of State today to debate the issue and force a vote. Unclear whether the Council of State can actually override the governor, but it can certainly cause trouble.

Both Folwell's and the governor's are rational positions, and both have merit. People shouldn't be thrown out of their homes during a state emergency which cost them their jobs. Cities shouldn't have to go bankrupt, either, which might actually lead to higher utility rates for all customers. It's a merciless dilemma, and I'm glad I don't have to make that decision.

I can agree with some issues Folwell has been strong on. His statement on hospital pricing transparency: "...I’m calling on all North Carolina hospitals to be transparent and to publish their pricing so consumers can make informed decisions regarding health care. I’m also calling for the United States Department of Justice and the North Carolina Department of Justice, on behalf of the State Health Plan, to recover the potentially hundreds of millions overcharged to consumers by hospital management from this illegal activity.”

Pricing transparency is perhaps another brick in Folwell's wall against spending on social programs, especially on healthcare, especially for some 720,000 state employees, both retired and active now. In January of 2019, and as administrator of the state's Health Care Plan, Folwell proposed cutting spending some $300 million on health care for state workers, a move which Partners for Innovation in Health Care claimed would "ration care and access, jeopardize the quality of care, cripple local operations and services in every single healthcare system across the state and cause employee layoffs." For his part, Folwell pointed to the hidden and even deceptive prices charged by hospitals, usually in concert with insurance companies.

Late last March, just as COVID-19 was getting a foothold in North Carolina, Folwell was diagnosed with a serious case of the virus and spent five days in hospital recovering. Despite that experience, Folwell has been one of the more vocal members of the Council of State -- along with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest -- to push back against the governor's various shutdown orders.

He's definitely a mixed bag sort of treasurer. While I can appreciate his thinking on some issues, I'm holding his days in the NC House against him.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Dan Forest Doesn't Know What He's Talking About

So Dan Forest, running for governor of North Carolina like he had a clue, showed up Saturday among 500 mainly unmasked supporters in Henderson County and said words, some of which were these:

"There have been multiple comprehensive studies at the deepest level held to scientific standards in controlled environments that have all said for decades, masks do not work with viruses. That's why we've never used a mask for a coronavirus before, ever."

In the great Trump tradition, that's just ignorant. Also dangerous. Rob McMillan reports that many cities in the 1918 flu pandemic mandated masks and fined people who didn't wear them. There's plenty of visual archival evidence too (see below).

Dan Forest is a idiot. Also a ass.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Un-Trumping North Carolina: The Statewide Judge Races

Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court (Seat 1) Democrat Cheri Beasley (Beasley appointed Chief by Gov. Roy Cooper in February 2019, following the retirement of Mark Martin

Beasley is the first Black woman to serve as Chief Justice in North Carolina, following a long career as a district court judge in Cumberland Co., then as a judge on the NC Court of Appeals (elected 2008 as the first Black woman elected statewide to any office), and then as an associate justice on the Supreme Court (appointed to fill out an unexpired term in 2012 and elected to a full term in her own right in 2014).

Beasley's opponent, Associate Supreme Court Justice Republican Paul Newby, has made a name for himself as the most nakedly partisan Republican judge on the high court.

Associate Justice of the NC Supreme Court (Seat 2) Democrat Lucy Inman, for an open seat

Open because Associate Justice Paul Newby is running against Cheri Beasley for Chief.

In 2010, Inman was appointed to the superior court as a special judge by Governor Bev Perdue. She won election to the Court of Appeals in 2014, defeating District Court Judge Bill Southern in a race to replace retiring Judge Robert C. Hunter. Interestingly, she is the great-granddaughter of Josephus Daniels, the editor of the Raleigh News and Observer at the turn of the last century and an avowed white supremacist, whose statue was recently removed from a Raleigh park with the assent of his descendants.

Her opponent, NC Court of Appeals Justice Republican Phil Berger Jr., has been pushed up the ladder of political advancement by his daddy, Phil Berger Sr., the boss of the NC Senate, and is a kind of poster child of nepotistic thumb-on-the-scales special dealing.

Associate Justice of the NC Supreme Court (Seat 4) Democrat Mark A. Davis (appointed March 2019 to fill out Cheri Beasley's term after she was elevated to Chief)

Davis earned his J.D. degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law where he was a member of the North Carolina Law Review. Davis was appointed by Governor Beverly Perdue to serve on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, taking office in January 2013. He was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by Judge Cheri Beasley's appointment to the North Carolina Supreme Court. 

His opponent, Republican Tamara Barringer, is an attorney educated at UNC-Chapel Hill and was an NC state senator from 2012 until she was defeated in the 2018 Blue Wave election by Democrat Sam Searcy.

Associate Justice of the NC Court of Appeals (Seat 4) Democrat Tricia Shields, for an open seat

Open because Associate Justice and Democrat Linda McGee retired.

Shields was born in Elizabeth City. She earned a bachelor's degree from Wake Forest University in 1982 and her law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1985. Shields' professional experience includes serving as a law clerk with the North Carolina Court of Appeals. She worked with litigation firm Bailey and Dixon, international law firm Troutman Sanders, LLP, and litigation firm Hedrick, Gardener, Kincheloe, and Garofalo. Shields has also served as an adjunct faculty member at the Campbell Law School, teaching trial advocacy. She has been associated with the Wake County Bar Association and the North Carolina Bar Association. Shields also served as a member of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys and acted as its president from 2011 to 2012.

Her opponent, Republican April C. Wood, is a district court judge from Lexington. She was first elected to the district court in 2002 and serves as the Davie County truancy judge and is a certified juvenile court judge.

Associate Justice of the NC Court of Appeals (Seat 5), Democrat Lora Christine Cubbage, for an open seat

Open because Associate Justice and Democrat Wanda Bryant retired.

Lora Cubbage was born and raised in Shenandoah, Va. After relocating to Greensboro, NC, she worked for 17 years as a barber before returning to school at the age of 29 at NC A&T. After earning her degree there, she went on to law school at UNC-Chapel Hill. She's served as an Assistant District Attorney in Guildford County, an Assistant Attorney General in Raleigh, as both a district court judge and (currently) a superior court judge in District 18A (Guilford County).
Her opponent, Republican Fred Gore

Associate Justice of the NC Court of Appeals (Seat 6), Democrat Gray Styers

Styers is a partner at the large corporate law firm of Fox Rothschild, helping businesses develop strategies for navigating government regulation and public policy issues. He began his legal career as a judicial clerk for Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He serves as chair of the North Carolina Museum of History Associates, has chaired the Wake County Industrial and Pollution Control Facilities Financing Authority since 2000 and has been a member of the Board of Visitors of Wake Forest University's School of Divinity since 2012. He has also served on the Government Affairs Board for the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and is active in the Kiwanis Club of Raleigh, the North Carolina Supreme Court Historical Society and the Regional Transportation Alliance. He is a member of Raleigh Moravian Church and has served in various roles with the Moravian Church of America, Southern Province. In 2014, he was elected to serve as President of the Wake County Bar Association and the Tenth Judicial District Bar.

His opponent, Republican Chris Dillon, incumbent since he won his election to the seat in 2012, is running for a second term on the court.

Associate Justice of the NC Court of Appeals (Seat 7), Democrat Reuben F. Young (appointed in April 2019 by Gov. Cooper to replace retiring Justice Bob Hunter)

At the time of his appointment to the court, Young was Chief Deputy Secretary for Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. He previously served for five years as a Special North Carolina Superior Court Judge and, before that, as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Young also served as Chief Legal Counsel in the Office of the Governor under Mike Easley. Young received his undergraduate degree from Howard University and his law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law.

His opponent, Republican Jeff Carpenter, is Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for Union County.  He is a former North Carolina state trooper and trial attorney. He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the superior court bench in Union County by Governor Pat McCrory in 2016. Carpenter was subsequently elected to an 8-year term in November of 2016.

Associate Justice of the NC Court of Appeals (Seat 13), Democrat Chris Brook (appointed in April 2019 by Gov. Cooper to replace Justice Mark Davis, whom Cooper had appointed to the Supreme Court) 

At the time of his appointment, Brook was the top lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, with no judicial experience. He is a UNC-Chapel Hill law school graduate and previously worked as an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Brooke became ACLU legal director in 2012. He was prominently involved in litigation successfully challenging North Carolina’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, and he sought to overturn the state’s Republican-approved “bathroom bill,” as well as a replacement measure.

His opponent, Republican Jefferson G. Griffin, was born and raised in Nash County. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2003. After graduating from UNC, he earned his United States Coast Guard captain’s license and worked as a charter fisherman on the North Carolina coast. In 2008, Griffin graduated from North Carolina Central School of Law and began practicing law in Kinston. In 2010, Griffin joined the Wake County District Attorney’s Office, and in 2015, he was appointed by Governor McCrory to be a district court judge in Wake County. He was elected to a four-year term in the 2016 general election in Wake County. He also serves as a Captain in the North Carolina Army National Guard as a JAG Officer. 

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Trumpism's Achilles Heel -- Disaffected Republicans

The 30-second ad below will run on Fox News on Saturday during Trump's July 4th Salute to America. It features the face of former NC House member and Matthews, NC mayor, Shawn LeMond, saying, “The Republican Party that I knew and loved was an honorable party. What’s taken over our party is wrong. And as a Republican, as a Christian, we simply cannot allow this man to be re-elected.” (SORRY! Every attempt to embed the ad into this post screwed the hell out of the text. See the ad here.)

The ad was produced by a group calling itself Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT). Their website is not forthcoming about who they are -- the names of individuals leading this effort -- but it contains a calvacade -- dozens and freakin' dozens -- of Republican testimonials about loss of faith in Trump, from all over the country. A bracing stew of discontent.

RVAT was founded in May 2020 as an auxillary PAC to Defending America, the brainchild of Bill Kristol and a small group of oher disaffected conservatives (Mona Charen, Linda Chavez, et al.) and veteran Republican campaign operatives (Sarah Longwell, Tim Miller). RVAT appears to have been created to target specifically North Carolina, along with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and Florida, with anti-Trump ads aimed at white college-educated suburban voters (Wikipedia).

Meanwhile, other conservative Republicans have been organizing other expressions of disgust, including Judge Bob Orr in North Carolina who helped launch a whole new would-be National Republican Party in the fall of 2019. Republicans for the Rule of Law and The Lincoln Project also sprang up.Yet another group, Republicans for a New President, plans to bring all the disaffected together in Charlotte for "an alternate convention" to Trump's renomination in Jacksonville. The website for Republicans for a New President also does not list its members, the names of its organizers, but says it's "A Project of Stand Up Republic." Stand Up Republic is a 501(c)(4) launched in January 2017 by Evan McMillan, a 2016 independent candidate for president.

Anyway, all these guys and gals are planning to get together August 24-27 in Charlotte for "The Convention on Founding Principles," a convocation of all the #NeverTrumpers, the location obviously chosen because the Republican National Convention was supposed to be there. After Roy Cooper pissed off Donald Trump, and the RNC moved itself to Jacksonville, Republicans for a New President didn't move. They stuck with Charlotte (though much of their "convention" is now likely to be "virtual"). The question: Can they get noticed enough? Get out a message? Present a salutary contrast to Trump's mob on the issue of COVID-prevention. Influence the election?

Trump continues to say (believe?) that 95% of Republicans love his ass, but the truth is he's been shedding Republican support at an accelerating pace. While early in the year some polls found Trump with 90% support among registered Republicans, by May a Rasmussen poll could find only 70% of Republicans enthusiastic about Trump's reelection. Some 23% explicitly wanted someone else to run for president. A Pew Research poll this week gives Trump 78% of the Republican Vote, down from 85% in March. (For comparison, George W. Bush was down to 75% support among Republicans by the end of his term.)

GOP strategist Larry Shaheen of Mecklenburg County said that ads like the one above are "not designed to move Republicans. They're designed to make the Unaffiliateds in urban areas more comfortable not voting for Trump and voting for Biden." That's Trumpism's Achilles heel, the independents.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Did a Republican Primary in Colorado Open a Door for an Insurgent Democrat?

Yesterday, a gun-totin', conspiracy-theory-promotin', COVID-denying political novice named Lauren Boebert beat a five-term Republican incumbent (and suspected "moderate") named Scott Tipton in the 3rd Congressional District of Colorado. Trump had endorsed Tipton but quickly pivoted to praise Boebert for her win.

Boebert, a young 33-year-old, is the owner of Shooter's Grill in Rifle, Colorado, and if you sense an almost mythic piling up of firearm references, you wouldn't be wrong. Boebert enjoys posing with a handgun strapped to her thigh, and she reportedly encourages her wait staff to wear sidearms too. She's popular with white men. She defied COVID restrictions and kept her restaurant open despite state-wide orders, until the local sheriff got a cease and desist order against her. She likes the QAnon conspiracy movement for promoting the belief that "deep-state traitors" are Trump's biggest problem -- not his abyssmal ignorance, his imperial arrogance, or his obvious subservience to Vladimir Putin.

Oh, she's a spectacle all right. In a state that has imposed new gun restrictions following mass killings, she's a cheerleader for assault rifles. At a town hall meeting in Aurora, she yelled at Beto O'Rourke about his pledge to outlaw them. That made the news too.

But the 3rd Congressional District of Colorado seems like safe ground for Boebert's theatrical gun cosplay. It's rated "Solid Republican" by Cook's Political Report. It's a huge swath of western Colorado containing ranches, farms, mountains, and lots of guns.

But Boebert's surprising win in the primary yesterday sent me looking for the Democratic candidate in the race -- Diane Mitsch Bush -- and whether she might be exactly the right antidote to the self-parody of a restaurant owner who knows no embarrassment.

Diane Mitsch Bush
Bush served a term as a Routt County commissioner before being elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 2012, serving until late 2017 when she resigned to mount a campaign against incumbent Scott Tipton for the 3rd CD. She got almost 44% of the vote in that 2018 congressional campaign, which is a solid base to build on. She's experienced and by now pretty well known as a level-headed, informed public servant.

She offers many stark policy contrasts to Boebert, not least of which is her stand on guns. In 2013, Bush voted for universal background checks and magazine limits in Colorado. She continues to support universal background checks, long-term assault weapons ban, and a ban on purchasing bump stocks. She also supports funding for national research for gun use, safety, and violence prevention through the Center for Disease Control. A number of violence prevention groups have recognized her for her record on combating gun violence, including Colorado Ceasefire, Moms Demand Action, and LEAP Forward.

Guns may become THE campaign issue in the Colorado Third. Boebert's dress-up accessorizing may determine that. But another issue that could play even stronger is health-care, especially in the context of the Trump admin's total bungling of the pandemic response. Boebert's cavalier refusal to protect her customers and her staff from the threat may play hard against her.