Sunday, September 24, 2023

"Jackass" With a Cell Phone


I follow The Tennessee Holler ("Always Yell the Truth!"), which is the liveliest progressive citizen journalism anywhere and a great source on what's really happening in the corridors of power in Tennessee state government. That's just next door to Watauga County, and we ought to keep up with the neighbors. 

It's hard to imagine a more nakedly obvious bunch of control freaks than the Republican caucus in both NC House and Senate, but the Republicans in the Tennessee state legislature run a competitive race for "poster child of white dickishness," particularly in ousting two Black reps from their seats for being uppity, and more recently twiddling thumbs during the special session called by the governor to consider gun reforms in the wake of the Covenent School shooting, which happened almost exactly a year ago. The Holler has been there in the legislative building with iPhone and microphone to record some of the most galvanizing displays of conservative arrogance ever recorded anywhere.

The creator and pretty much sole reporter for The Holler, Justin Kanew, got the full press profile by reporter Alejandro Ramirez. Kanew's background as a screenwriter in Los Angeles and a staffer for National Lampoon obviously conditioned him for the smart-aleckiness he has on display covering the legislature. He came back Tennessee from the West Coast in 2016 and almost immediately ran for a congressional seat in 2018 as a Democrat, galvanized by the first years of the Trump administration, but he got whipped for Congress. He then hatched the idea and started The Holler in 2019 as a platform where he could get his aggressions out and crusade for progressive causes. He has the reputation of confronting Republican lawmakers assertively, even rudely at times, shouting questions at their backs when they run away from him. "He's a jackass," one bigwig said (our jackass, I thought, and we need more).

Ramirez samples Kanew's reportorial style: During the special session this year called by the (also Republican) governor to pass gun reform measures to help preclude more school massacres, large crowds of gun reform advocates including parents of Covenant students, converged on Nashville to protest the inaction of the legislature. The Republican supermajority ordered State Troopers to block off access to one of the public galleries, and water fountains were turned off despite the summer heat, Kanew took himself to social media with a photo of state troopers blocking access to the House chamber with a bold caption: “Today at the Capitol is by far the most un-American fascistic day we have seen, by far.” That Instagram post went on to receive more than 2,800 likes in one hour.

Ramirez reports that The Holler had two major scoops in 2023: "The first — and more salacious — was exposing Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s flirty emojis on racy photos of a young gay man. The second was a leaked recording of a closed-door House Republican meeting following the expulsion hearings of the Tennessee Three, which was full of infighting."

He's a muck-raker, no doubt, but we need muck-rakers, especially in the current climate of authoritarian over-reach where more power is the only thing that satisfies their everlasting thirst to punish. "His confrontations can feel more performative than informative," writes Ramirez. So what? 'Tis the age of performance, and the truth has to go social to prove it exists.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Arch Conservative Suggests Dan Bishop as A.G. Might Enable Phil Berger's Ambitions


Saw it first on that the only rival Republican remaining in the Attorney General primary race, Tom Murry, was dropping out of the race and leaving a clear path for Rep. Dan Bishop to run unopposed. Murry was a member of the NCHouse from 2010 until he was ousted on Democrat Gale Adcock in 2014. He's an attorney (and, odd factoid, also a pharmacist). DailyHaymaker sez Tom Murry is now thinking of a State Appeals Court race. 

Never mind that Dan Bishop has the power to clear the field for himself -- Tom Murry is just another victim of his ambition -- it's the subsidiary things DailyHaymaker sez about Bishop (and just incidentally about Phil Berger) that got my attention. (DailyHaymaker is on the far right and prints lots of unverifiable rumors about its long list of enemies, particularly establishment "RINOs.")

DailyHaymaker's profile of Bishop: "In DC, he has fought as part of the House Freedom Caucus. In the wake of the GOP takeover of the US House, Bishop made some noise about getting to the bottom of the J6 mess and the overall weaponization of the federal bureaucracy against Biden political opponents. Bishop was a leader in the 15-round speaker vote back in January that led to some concessions by RINOs to appease conservatives and clear the way for Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Bishop had been making a name for himself as a national conservative leader and a potential 2026 opponent for horrid Thom Tillis." (All  accurate, including the "horrid Thom Tillis" part!) 

Here's the passage about Berger that depends on unverifiable rumor:

We spoke with a source very close to Bishop’s political operation. This source was excited about an alleged promise by senator Phil Berger to “take care of and look after” Bishop once he’s elected AG. In light of recent reports around the sleazy casino deal currently being batted around Raleigh, that does not come across as comforting or “exciting” news. I, like many others, would love to see an independent-minded conservative running the show at NC DOJ. Not one controlled from a corner office on Jones Street.

Couldn't agree more. And it certainly wouldn't be beneath Berger's dignity to do special pleading for his special friends in the gambling industry with the man who might become the chief law enforcer of the state.

Friday, September 22, 2023

These People Are Not What They Think They Are -- They Are What They Hide


"A legislator, while in office or after leaving office, shall not be required to reveal or to consent to reveal any document, supporting document, drafting request, or information request made or received by that legislator while a legislator." 

--A paragraph slipped into the new state budget (reporting of Travis Fain)

Because secrecy is next to godliness? 

The NC Open Government Coalition said of this particular provision that it "codifies a broad, sweeping legislative privilege that exempts members of the General Assembly from the public records law in its entirety."

Ah! Because secrecy is essential for authoritarianism.

The Republicans also erased an existing state law that makes communications behind redistricting decisions public once the process has wrapped up -- so voters can know which Democratic (or recalcitrant Republican) legislators were fingered for double-bunking or for simple elimination via partisan packing.

A pack of creeps in Raleigh mean to have it all their way. And they assume that the governor will sign the budget bill because he wants Medicaid expansion more than he hates the other shit, so Republicans take the opportunity to slip in all sorts of other mischief.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Did Phil Berger Pull a Muscle Over Casino Gambling?


Public Policy Polling was out this morning with a new opinion poll on the popularity of Phil Berger in his own district of Rockingham (and a tiny part of Guilford), specifically his standing among fellow Republicans following his balls-to-the-walls maneuvering to get commercial gambling establishments into the North Carolina budget bill. The poll found 60% of likely Republican primary voters in Berger’s district oppose the legalization of casino gambling and some 41% disapprove of Berger’s job performance compared to 26% who approve. How is he breathing underwater?

“When asked if they would vote to re-elect Senator Berger or if someone new should be given a chance, just 30% said they would vote to re-elect him while 45% said it was time for someone else,” writes Jim Williams, of Public Policy Polling, in a memo.

Is there any Republican willing to challenge him? And how likely is it that a new Republican leader would prove to be as corruptly authoritarian as Berger?

Another Bomb Shell About the Corruption in Rockingham County


More great reporting by Travis Fain for WRAL that unravels evidence that in Rockingham County more people than just the Berger family had been maneuvering for months to get in tight with the gambling industry.

So it came to pass that like magic the Rockingham County Commission amended its development ordinance back in June, removing a special use permit requirement for electronic gaming operations and amending the definition of “highway commercial” so that it would allow "any activity licensed by the state." With hindsight, that move was merely a necessary but very quiet step in helping gambling casino owners get a foothold in Rockingham County before anyone knew what was happening.

Fain found out that "few noticed" the ordinance amendment. "No one spoke at a public hearing on the issue. But the vote became crucial in August [21st] when the board of commissioners voted to rezone the 192-acre plot next to a summer camp for children with special needs as 'highway commercial'.” Phil Berger's own son Kevin sits on the CoCommish, and it sure enough looks like a secret plan was well underway to advantage a particular Maryland casino developer. 

Fain's bit of intel suggests a grand plan, months in the making and implementation, to get commercial gambling seated at the table as quietly and with the least sweat possible. Because it's simply not a good look for any respectable politician to be manhandling the process for something as iffy as big-time gambling in a rural county.

We can say that now that Berger's big scheme is dead -- for the moment. It will undoubtedly come back to life eventually, like a zombie.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Bad Non-Budget Provisions Slipped Into the Budget

Indebted to Billy Corriher for highlighting bad partisan provisions in the new proposed state budget (HB 259), the latest one, the new compromise that drops consideration of gambling and restores Medicaid expansion. But it is far from a "clean" bill, for it contains plenty of real doozie time-bombs that Billy Corriher noticed. And in coming days there will likely be additional hair-raising discoveries -- like this provision that Corriher highlighted on how the Judicial Standards Commission will be constituted:

Paul Newby

Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls is currently fending off this same commission, which says it's investigating her because she criticized the court for a lack of diversity. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby would get six appointments to the commission, hisownself, if you were wondering where the partisan advantage lay. Newby, operating on the high octane of self-righteousness, can be capable of purges. 

Billy Corriher predicts about this provision, "It’ll lead to more investigations of judges the GOP doesn’t like."

Corriher also points out that Paul Newby is specifically singled out for longevity in the budget bill: "[It] raises the retirement age for appellate judges. This’ll keep Paul Newby on the bench for a few more years, so he can continue to pack the Judicial Standards Commission to target Dem judges."

Corriher: "The budget also allows lawmakers to pick 10 Superior Court judges for 8-year terms.... They’d control these judgeships forever, not the voters." Say what? Corriher supplies the evidence:

Corriher: "The bill eliminates the right to appeal to the NC Supreme Court if there’s a dissent at the Court of Appeals."


Berger Gives Up on Casino Gambling


The news came late last night that Phil Berger, Senate President Pro Tem and chief lobbyist for new casino gambling, had given up on his grand scheme because he could get neither House Republicans nor General Assembly Democrats to go along, no matter the incentives he dreamed up.

The compromise budget will not include casino gambling enablement.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Gambling Tied to Medicaid -- Democrats Refuse To Go Along


NCSenate Minority Leader
Dan Blue

The rank politics that Senate leader Phil Berger is trying to pull to get casino gambling seems for the moment to have united the Democrats against him. The ploy to bind up gambling with Medicaid expansion, in a bid to get Democrats to vote for what House Republicans hate, has not won over Senate Democrats. According to reporting by WRAL, all 20 Democrats in the Senate signed a letter vowing to vote against any legislative attempt to tie gambling to Medicaid. Also 40 of the 48 Democrats in the House also signed a similar letter blasting Republicans for "cynically using health care as a political bargaining chip" to get casinos — "but also indicated they could come around if Republicans were willing to now include them in budget negotiations."

The Democrats' letter sounded more hardcore and contained this brutal analysis of Berger's brazenness: "It's straining the imagination to conjure a scenario where 11 million people would be held hostage for the bidding of a Maryland casino developer, but that's where we are today."

But ... uh-oh to the House Democrats who "indicated they could come around" (and what about those eight who didn't sign the pledge?). Any time Democrats signal that they just want to get along, they tend to get steamrolled. Caving sometimes seems to be their favorite outdoor activity, which the smug and chuckling Republicans call compromise.

"Republicans reneged on the original Medicaid deal, and coupling this suspicious backroom casino plan with the passage of Medicaid expansion has rightfully outraged many Democratic legislators," Cooper spokesman Jordan Monaghan said. "The Governor has spoken to Sen. Berger, Sen. Blue, and Rep. Reives as recently as today, and shared that there do not appear to be enough Democratic votes to help Republican supermajorities pass their casino deal at this time."

State government continues to be funded under spending levels approved in the previous budget, but the impasse is delaying raises for state workers and billions in new spending for government projects ranging from road repairs to school safety improvements. It's also holding up the implementation of Medicaid expansion, which would provide health insurance to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.


Faculty Dissatisfaction with AppState Chancellor


Stella Anderson

At Appalachian State University, the Chair of the Faculty Senate has always gotten time at the first general faculty meeting each fall to address the entire faculty, with the administration present, to report on problems and on-going activities that affect what is actually mandated in the operational Code for the university system, in short, something called "shared governance" (which implies input by the faculty).

The Chair of the Faculty Senate this year, Stella Anderson, had her 10-minute address ready, but she got cut off the program by Chancellor Everts. (Maybe the chancellor had gotten wind of some of the complaints Anderson intended to air.) Not only did Everts unilaterally end last Friday the tradition of the Faculty Senate Chair getting time at the podium, but she also cut out traditional addresses by the chair of the staff council and the president of the Student Government Association. In other words, nobody actually hopeful for and dependent on the promise of "shared governance" was allowed to speak. Only the Chancellor.

So shut out of that general assembly, Stella Anderson recorded her speech on video and published that on YouTube (titling it ominously "Breaking With Traditions"), and in the calmest tones, supported by a slide show, she recited an extensive laundry list of grievances about the chancellor's "lack of adherence to system policy," including the high-handed rewriting of the Faculty Handbook that ignored faculty input and which simply redounded to more power for the bosses and less for the faculty.

Anderson's bottomline: "There is nothing more fundamental to faculty when it comes to shared governance than the policies that affect faculty employment. There is no greater 'test' of shared governance than work done in drafting and revising [university] policies." 

The current reputation of Chancellor Sheri Everts on campus seems to have hit what may be rock-bottom. The consensus holds that she is breaking a trust.