Saturday, December 29, 2018

What's Happening Right Now in Raleigh: "Game of Groans"

You know how many transformations the state Board of Elections (SBOE) has gone through since the Republicans seized power, each change either an attempt to seize more power or an attempt to lessen the sting of a negative court decision. Same for local county boards, currently at an impasse with 2 Dems and 2 Rs.

The most recent new legislation will take all boards of election back to majorities "of the party of the governor," with 5 members on both the SBOE and all county boards (majority of 3 Dems on each).

The problem has been down in the 9th Congressional District, where the putative election of Reverend Mark Harris has not been certified because of an investigation into ballot fraud. In the meantime the previous composition of the SBOE, which is holding Harris's certification, was supposed to expire weeks ago -- the 4 Dems, 4 Rs, 1 Unaffiliated iteration (with both Stella Anderson and Four Eggers of Watauga County representing the major parties). The 3-judge panel which ruled the current iteration unconstitutional had extended the life of the board twice, to give it time to rule in the Harris case.

Apparently, late this week, the 3-judge panel ran out of patience and refused to extend its stay for the dissolution of the 4-4-1 SBOE. The staff at the SBOE yesterday (a little after 3 pm) sent out this announcement:
Today at noon the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement ceased to exist after the three-judge panel in Cooper IV refused to extend the stay. The parties to the lawsuit had unanimously requested that the court extend the stay to allow the Board to conclude its investigation into irregularities affecting the 9th Congressional District.

Effective January 31, Session Law 2018-146 establishes a five-member State Board of Elections and eight-member Ethics Commission. Once appointed, County boards of elections will be made up of five members.

The governor and legislature appear to disagree on what happens to the board in the meantime. It is our view that the agencies go back to the way they were in 2016, prior to the legal changes that were struck down. This means the governor could appoint five board members from lists provided by the parties. These board members would serve until January 31. [emphasis added]

What this means is that for the moment county boards of elections do not have appointed members and therefore may not meet or conduct business.
We understand that Governor Cooper intends to appoint a 5-member SBOE on Monday that will conclude the Reverend Harris circus and that he has invited the two parties to make nominations immediately. We understand that Dallas Woodhouse and his GOP gang are claiming the governor has no such power (didn't Berger/Moore take all his power away, and if they missed this little piece, it was merely an oversight). So the Republicans might sue, and they might lose. We expect they will.

FOOTNOTE: The ballot fraud investigation in the NC-9 has become ever more Byzantine, and I gave up a long time ago summarizing every new piece of news about it. The SBOE hearing on the case is scheduled for January 11th, and I may be there to witness it. I suspect a lot of other people will be there too.

FOOTNOTE: The Rev. Mark Harris campaign yesterday filed in Wake Superior Court an emergency petition to certify his election. That won't work, as the courts can't take that power from the body endowed with it, and the Democrats in the US House have no intention whatsoever to seat Harris until the investigation into fraud is complete.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Kamala Harris Would Make a Hell of a Chief Executive

I've been impressed by Sen. Kamala Harris since I watched her dismantle Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- "You're making me nervous," he whined at her on June 13, 2017. Mr. Chicken who couldn't remember scratch is gone, but Senator Harris has risen as a possible presidential contender.

She's obviously a skilled prosecutor and has the history of study and public office to prove it. She got her law degree from the University of California's Hastings College of Law and got her feet wet as an attorney for the City of San Francisco, then ran successfully for district attorney of the city and county of San Francisco in 2003. In 2009, Harris wrote Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer in which (according to Wikipedia) "she looked at criminal justice from an economic perspective and attempted to reduce temptation and access for criminals" (the love of filthy lucre being the root of all evil, yes and amen!).

She ain't no bleeding heart: "While Harris was the San Francisco District Attorney, the overall felony conviction rate rose from 52% in 2003 to 67% in 2006, the highest in a decade .... convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006." Conviction rate for homicides went up too, though Harris is strong against the death penalty. Life in prison for cold-blooded murderers is adequate for her.

In 2010, Harris ran for and was elected Attorney General of California, winning the Democratic primary in a crowded field. She got more than twice the votes as her nearest competitor. She was reelected attorney general in 2014. After Senator Barbara Boxer announced her retirement, Harris ran for her Senate seat and won in 2016. She's in her first term.

She is in every way imaginable the very image of the new America. Child of immigrants from Jamaica and India, well educated and instinctually smart, she's a crusader. She participated in a suit against five big California banks over the sub-prime mortgage crisis and secured over $12 billion in debt reduction for bamboozled homeowners.

She has an interesting history with DJT's Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin: In 2013, she did not prosecute his bank OneWest despite evidence "suggestive of widespread misconduct," according to a leaked memo from the Department of Justice. In 2017, Harris said that her office's decision to not prosecute Mnuchin was based on "following the facts and the evidence ... like any other case." Here's where eyebrows really started going north: In 2016, Mnuchin donated $2,000 to Harris's senate campaign. Then this inexplicably happened: as senator, Harris voted against the confirmation of Mnuchin to become Twitterman's Secretary of the Treasury.

If she runs for president, that curious history will be mined. Anyone as involved in public policy implementation as Kamala Harris will have loads of decisions subject to investigation and opposition research ... if she runs for president. (She's supposed to announce her decision early in 2019.)

Here's more of Harris as a senator on the Judiciary Committee, questioning Rod Rosenstein about protecting the independence of special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation -- all more than relevant now in light of the temporary head of the Department of Justice that Twitterman put in Sessions' place and in light of the dude Twitterman has nominated as his permanent replacement for Attorney General of the United States.

I'd pay money to see her in a debate with the biggest damned ignorant fool on the planet (and you know who I'm talking about!).

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Deeper Dive Into Sherrod Brown

Senator Sherrod Brown's wife Connie Schultz said she thinks her husband should run against DJT in 2020 “because Sherrod’s onto him. Sherrod is who these voters thought Trump was.”

These voters ... Trump Democrats, workers in fading industrial towns, forgotten citizens longing for someone to carry their torch instead of water for Wall Street.

Sherrod Brown has a much longer history than Twitterman of getting his hands dirty fighting free trade deals that dump on working people. While still a member of the US House in 2005, representing the 13th Congressional District of Ohio, Brown led the fight against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which finally passed by one measly vote despite Sherrod's best efforts. He doesn't mind the label "progressive populist."

He's got intellectual muscle behind his populism (unlike Twitterman). He wrote a book in 2004, Myths of Free Trade, which "provides a front-row seat to the Washington spectacle of corporate lobbying and political intimidation that keeps the free-trade mantra alive as American policy, despite all the evidence of its failure." Brown argued that it was labor activism that built the US middle class, and free trade agreements -- he opposed NAFTA -- have torn the fabric of middle-class prosperity.

Brown has especially criticized free trade with China. In 2011 -- well before Trump started breaking the furniture -- Sherrod co-authored and sponsored a bill that would officially declare China a currency manipulator and require the Department of Commerce to impose countervailing duties on Chinese imports. In January of this year, Brown expressed support for Trump's decision to impose tariffs on washing machine imports.

Brown opposed the 2017 Republican tax bill because it overwhelmingly benefitted the rich and powerful corporations, and he seriously got Senator Orrin Hatch's goat, who also happened to wield the gavel at the time, which gave him the advantage:

Brown was seriously considered for the vice presidential slot by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and there were informed voices urging her to make that choice:
Brown is Bernie [Sanders] without the bombast, a bold progressive voice who understands that the Democratic Party has always stood for the interests of the disenfranchised, disparaged and downtrodden; like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, he can articulate the woes and frustrations of the put-upon middle class, and coherently explain how progressive policies can redress those grievances. The selection of Brown could accomplish two mutually important goals for Clinton: he could appeal to the more rational members of Sanders’s fan club while also attracting support from working-class voters who might respond to populist appeals, but who haven’t swallowed the last drop of Donald Trump’s Kool-Aid.
In May of last year Brown published his definition of populism in USA Today. It was also an implicit indictment of Twitterman's divisive bullying:
Populism doesn’t preach hate. Populism preaches hope — hope that all workers will have the opportunity to build better lives for their families....

...populism values work and it respects the people who do it — every last one of them. Our society doesn’t value work the way we once did; Americans work harder and have less to show for it.
If you want to call yourself a populist, you better be ready to stick up for the little guy — whether she punches a time clock or earns tips. Whether she works in a call center or a hospital or on a factory floor. Whether he is a contract worker or a temp.
And you better be willing to be straight with the people you serve. A true populist tells the truth, because she respects people’s intelligence.
Of course we’ve always had cynical politicians. They — and the media that cover them too — often confuse popularity with populism. Populism and popularity may share the same Latin root, but not the same political home. An opportunist politician divides people and kowtows to the powerful. He spreads blame instead of solutions, and lies about bringing back an idyllic past that never was. And he often treats those with less power and privilege with disdain.
(Won't pause here to note that Sherrod Brown values work while our president values golfing and sitting on his big butt watching Fox News and tweeting other peoples' opinions.)

Sherrod Brown has a long history of elective office: eight years in the Ohio House of Reps (and the youngest member elected to that body), eight years as Ohio Secretary of State, 14 years in the US House of Reps, and now recently reelected to his third term in the US Senate. That long string of public offices means lots of individual votes and actions that will be mined for negative details that can be used against him, and he'll be called "a career politician," you can bet!

I think he's got grit, and I don't see him blowing in the wind. Beto O'Rourke's got grit too, but I worry that his recent starring role as Ted Cruz's nemesis may have inflated his ego past his capacity to listen to sage advice. Dunno. We'll find out soon.

Trump's US Attorney in Eastern District of NC Implicated

US Attorney Robert Higdon,
After the 2016 general elections, the NC State Board of Elections (SBOE) forwarded almost 300 pages of evidence of absentee ballot fraud in Bladen County to US Attorney for the Eastern District Robert Higdon. In 2016, two years ago.

Higdon did nothing about that evidence. Instead, he chose to prosecute 19 non-citizens who mistakenly voted because they thought they could. Honest mistakes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law while elaborate schemes for illegally harvesting absentee ballots that benefit Republican candidates ... well, yawn.

Joe Killian at NC Policy Watch reports that Bob Hall, former executive director of Democracy NC, accuses US Attorney Higdon of following "the Republican Party line on election fraud. That means pursuing cases that advance the GOP narrative of supposedly rampant voter fraud by non-citizens and convicted felons, Hall said, while essentially ignoring much more complicated and statistically prevalent fraud – like absentee ballot tampering.
“If the election rigging operation in Bladen County looked like it involved a group of non-citizens voting, Higdon would have deployed the FBI in a heartbeat,” Hall said. “Imagine what his office would have done if he had reports of white conservative voters being victimized by a multi-year ballot stealing operation led by Black operatives. Instead, the reports his office received from the State Board of Elections pointed to the reverse scenario, which wasn’t Higdon’s priority and why the FBI only recently got involved.”
Earlier this year Higdon’s office issued subpoenas on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the North Carolina elections board and more than 40 county boards in the eastern third of the state. The move led voting rights advocates to ask why federal investigators and prosecutors seemed to be concentrating so heavily on non-citizens when so much evidence of absentee ballot fraud had been served up for years by the state board of elections.
The pending likelihood of a mandated new election in the North Carolina 9th Congressional District has blown Mr. Higdon's cover, and we trust that the January 11th SBOE hearing into ballot fraud will expose everything to the sanitizing light.

Friday, December 21, 2018

I'm Liking Sherrod Brown More and More, Because I Freaking LOVE His Wife

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has a voice that puts me in a check-writing trance. It's a whiskey and cigarettes voice, a school of hard knocks voice, a voice that suggests truth and vision gained the old-fashioned way ... via hard, instructive experience. He's thinking about running for president, and I'm thinking about supporting him.

He's what Beto O'Rourke can become if he lasts -- a seasoned warrior for the working man. Where Beto is callow youth, Sherrod Brown is grizzled veteran. It's all in what you think the working-class middle-of-the-country will support in 2020.

Connie Schultz
But Sherrod's wife, Connie Schultz ... hoo boy!
She’s not just a spouse who’s a journalist. She’s a spouse who’s a journalist who’s a liberal feminist columnist who’s won a Pulitzer Prize and teaches journalism at her alma mater at Kent State University. She’s a spouse who’s a journalist who’s a liberal feminist columnist who’s won a Pulitzer Prize and who is a Christian who actually practices her faith. She’s a spouse who’s a journalist who’s a liberal feminist columnist who’s won a Pulitzer Prize who is a Christian and who also packs a blue-collar backstory as the Ashtabula-born-and-bred-daughter of a maintenance mechanic and a nurse’s aide. She has working-class cred, a powerful platform and opinions she is utterly unafraid to express. And she’s all these things at a moment when the current president is unceasing with his anti-press invective. 
“I am the woman he hates,” Schultz said....
That's taken from a stunning profile of Connie Schultz in Politico, which you should read. It might make you like Sherrod Brown because he loves Connie Schultz too.

Senator Sherrod Brown
Sherrod wrote her a flirtatious 2002 email after reading one of her columns in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He compared her to Barbara Kingsolver, which shows he reads and reads the right people. Barbara Kingsolver is our neighbor over the mountain in the fields of Meadowview, Virginia, where she's joint owner of the Harvest Table Restaurant, which cooks up dishes from produce produced on Kingsolver's own farm. You should drop everything to visit that restaurant.

I loved Barbara Kingsolver before I loved Connie Schultz, but love pulls everything even and every level seeks its own water. Both these amazing women make me think there's still some hope on this morning in America when everything else appears to be whirling apart.

The men who love such women and married them despite their brilliance ... such a man might deserve to be president of these United States!

New Federal Legal Action Against the Voter Photo ID Law

The North Carolina NAACP and six of its local branches sued in federal court yesterday to stop the new voter photo ID law. Federal court. The lawsuit on Wednesday by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice was filed in state court. Coming at this thing from two different avenues.

We're told that the state's constitution is more definitive about voter rights than the US Constitution, but we'll take whatever relief we can get.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Legal Challenge to the New NC Voter Photo ID Law -- Holmes v. Moore

The Republicans (with the help of some Democrats) over-rode Governor Cooper's veto of the voter photo ID bill yesterday, and "within minutes" the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) filed suit in Wake Superior Court to stop it. The group also filed a motion for a temporary injunction to halt the implementation of the law until the merits of the case can be heard.

The SCSJ -- if you don't remember -- also successfully challenged the state’s 2013 voter law which was ultimately struck down by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The lawsuit filed yesterday alleges the new law violates multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution:
➽ It purposefully discriminates against and disproportionately impacts African-American and American-Indian qualified voters, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause in Article 1, § 19;
➽ It unduly burdens the fundamental right to vote, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause in Article 1, § 19;
➽ It creates separate classes of voters, treated differently with respect to their access to the fundamental right to vote, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause in Article 1, § 19;
➽ It imposes a cost on voting, in violation of the Free Elections Clause in Article I, § 10;
➽ It imposes a property requirement for voting, in violation of the Property Qualifications Clause in Article I, § 10; and, 
➽ It impedes voters’ ability to engage in political expression and speech by casting a ballot, in violation of their Right of Assembly and Petition and Freedom of Speech as afforded by Article I, §§ 12 and 14.

In a statement, Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the SCSJ, said, “The North Carolina Constitution provides numerous and inviolable protections for the fundamental right to vote of all its citizens. Just because the North Carolina Constitution now authorizes, with exceptions, the presentation of a picture ID when voting does not mean those other longstanding protections can be ignored or violated. It is the legislature’s duty to balance competing demands in the State Constitution. It has failed miserably in its exercise of balancing the new ID constitutional amendment, which explicitly allows for exceptions, with the numerous other state constitutional demands that have been interpreted to aggressively protect the right to vote. Any legislative scheme that requires voters to present ID when voting must have fail-safe measures to ensure that not one single eligible voter is disenfranchised. Our State Constitution demands it. This legislation does not do that. It simply replicates a scheme that we know disenfranchised approximately 1,400 voters in the March 2016 primaries.”

The complaint will be known to history as Holmes v. Moore, though there are several plaintiffs and several defendants besides NC House Speaker Tim Moore. Here's the actual complaint. The details about the various plaintiffs reveals one of the worst flaws about the new law -- how it will impact college students at private schools:
Plaintiff Shakoya Carrie Brown is a registered voter residing in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Ms. Brown is a 20-year-old African-American woman attending college at Johnson C. Smith University, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in Charlotte. She has been registered and voting in North Carolina since she arrived at college in 2016. She is originally from Florida, and in terms of photo ID, has only a Florida driver’s license and her student ID from Johnson C. Smith University. She does not own a car in the State of North Carolina.
Her student ID from Johnson C. Smith University includes no expiration date and would not comply with Senate Bill 824 [the voter photo ID bill]. Because her university is a small, private school, and because Senate Bill 824 made no appropriations to assist universities or community colleges in bringing their student IDs into compliance with Senate Bill 824, she has serious concerns about the burden that this law will create on her university and whether her university will have the resources necessary to alter the form of its issued student IDs to become compliant with the terms outlined in Senate Bill 824. Ms. Brown fears that she will be forced to vote provisionally or be disenfranchised because of the challenged bill.
The entire complaint is packed with detail and makes for riveting reading.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Year-End Drama in Raleigh (We're Pulling for the Governor, Natch!)

Berger/Moore Continue Their Dickishness While They Still Have That Veto-Proof Majority

So the Republican bosses in the General Assembly called another special session in Raleigh after the November elections -- their last window of opportunity, because, come January, Governor Roy Cooper will begin having his vetoes sustained.

Berger/Moore called legislators back to town, they said, to enact the legislation for voter photo IDs, but of course they had other mischief in mind. They always do.


The 1st part -- requiring a primary before a special election in the 9th Congressional District -- is already being panned as unconstitutional by a Republican former conservative justice of the NC Supreme Court.

Part 2, returning the elections and ethics boards to their former configuration, bows to court decisions. Berger/Moore had tried jiggering the board of elections to frustrate the governor, but their attempt to take the governor's power was ruled unconstitutional. So under H 1029, the state Board of Elections will return to a 3-2 configuration of Democrats and Republicans, and county boards will also move to 5 members with that same partisan weighting. Ethics will go back to its own corner, separate and apart. So, fine. It's about effing time.

The last part of the bill title above -- "to make other changes" -- contains the turd that offends Governor Cooper and should offend all of us. Berger/Moore want to conceal -- make secret and confidential -- investigations of election law violations committed by members of the their own body of self-dealers, the General Assembly. Say what?
...the section [of H1029] that makes campaign finance investigations private reeks of politicians protecting their own hides. State elections officials tell the Observer editorial board that the bill appears to prevent investigations and their findings from ever becoming public, short of criminal court proceedings. The board conducted more than 200 investigations in 2018. While many of those were minor, many were not, and it appears all, including those in which legislators had to pay a fine (unless it’s appealed), would have been kept secret under this bill.

Governor Cooper to Berger/Moore: "Kiss my grits!"

Cooper read that part of the bill and said, "No way." Then at a press conference yesterday, he said, “This bill makes it harder to root out corruption in elections and campaign finance. It actually provides more protections for politicians and others who violate campaign finance laws .... All of these new provisions operate to obscure the truth rather than shine a light on it." The rest of the bill was okay with Cooper. It was that last part: "Fix it this week and I’ll sign it,” Cooper offered. "Otherwise, I'll veto it."

Berger/Moore to Cooper: "So veto it, Bitch!"

The Republicans figured he'd veto, but as long as they have their super-majority, they can override him quicker than a mountain cloudbank overrides Deep Gap. "But just do it now! Chop-chop!" Berger/Moore started screaming, "because ... because Christmas is coming and we all need to go trim our trees." The real reason is the expiration date on their ability to bully, and if they have to come back next week, they may lose members for the override vote (too much nog?), and well, Berger/Moore are just outraged that Cooper might play out his clock on vetoing the damn thing.

Charles Jeter
All of which made former Republican legislator Charles Jeter chortle: “The NCGA made the decision of the time of year to force these issues, not the Governor. If they didn’t want to come back next week, they should’ve waited until next year. They chose this, not Cooper.”

While he was in the General Assembly and under the big thumb of Berger/Moore, Charles Jeter would never have uttered such a thought. Now he says it out loud. I appreciate the truth of what Jeter said while having little respect for his brand of moral convenience.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Run-Down on All Four NC Races To Be Settled Following a Public Hearing on January 11

The State Board of Elections has set a Raleigh hearing for 10 a.m. on January 11, 2019, to settle the following election results mainly in Bladen County (one notorious already, the others less so):
The proceedings affect the final certification of results in four contests in the 2018 general election:
(1) U.S. Representative for North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District;
(2) Seat 2 on the District Court in Judicial District 16B;
(3) Bladen County Commissioner District 3; and
(4) Bladen Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor

(1) Involves Rev. Mark Harris v. Dan McCready, featuring the peerless Leslie McCrae Dowless and a cast of panic-stricken extras and hundreds of possibly fraudulent absentee ballots.

(2) Judicial District 16B is in Robeson County. The judgeship there was an open seat. On election night November 6th, Republican Jack Moody Jr. led Democrat Vanessa Burton by 77 votes. Then the provisional ballots were opened, researched, and counted. Burton received 312 votes from those provisional ballots to 149 for Moody. A recount was ordered and conducted. Going into this hearing, Burton leads Moody 15,382 votes to his 15,315.

Burton is an assistant district attorney in Robeson. Moody works as a public defender.

“The [SBOE] did not certify the results of that District Court race, as the apparent margin of victory in that contest represented fewer votes than those under review by this agency as it investigates absentee voting irregularities in the 9th Congressional District,” Patrick Gannon, a state Elections Board spokesman, wrote in an email. “There is not a separate investigation into the District Court contest,” Gannon wrote. “However, the results of the congressional district investigation could have some bearing on that contest.”

(3) The Bladen County Commission District 3 contest was between incumbent Democrat Russell Priest and Republican challenger Wayne Edge. Priest edged Edge 2,401 to 2,167 votes. The SBOE ordered the Bladen BOE not to certify this race, presumably because the winning margin is "within the threshold of the contested ballots" in the Mark Harris-Dan McCready race.

(4) The Bladen Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor race is technically non-partisan (though we suspect that every man's child in Bladen knows the parties of the contestants). Charles Gillespie is leading Tim Gause by 572 votes. The race was not certified for the same reason as (3) above.

NOTE: The peerless Leslie McCrae Dowless is a Bladen Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor already -- serving now as vice chair -- having been elected in the (also tainted) 2016 general election.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Weekend News That You Probably Already Knew

Federal Judge Reed O'Connor,
who threw out all of Obamacare
on Friday
1. A Texas federal judge finally caught that bus the Republicans have been chasing for years. "Yay!" tweeted Twitterman, we've finally done away with health insurance for millions of Americans! What a great day! “It was a big, big victory by a highly respected judge, highly, highly respected in Texas...."

Of course it would be Texas.

"If upheld on appeal, the decision could deprive an estimated 17 million Americans of their health insurance — including millions who gained coverage through the law’s expansion of Medicaid. Still others could see premiums skyrocket as price protections for pre-existing conditions lapse." (Stolberg, Pear, and Goodnough)

Now that you've caught that bus, Virginia Foxx, what are you gonna do with it?

"The decision puts Republicans in Congress into a political box. Most of them tried over and over to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And many of them survived the Democratic wave in midterm elections last month only by vowing to preserve the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions..." 

If Judge O'Connor's ruling stands -- and if will all ultimately be up to Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts and the other Supremes -- I wouldn't want to be a Republican running for reelection in 2020.

2. The North Carolina disease is catching and has spread. Alert the Centers for Disease Control!

Scott Walker, the defeated governor of Wisconsin, signed into law a last-minute power-grab to insure that the Democrat who replaces him will have considerably less power.

Berger/Moore are the proud parents!

3. In the first-ever "fact-checker" poll of American citizens, fewer than 3 in 10 Americans — including fewer than 4 in 10 Republicans — believe the lies that Trump has repeated over and over. (Kessler and Clement, et al.)

4. On Friday, the UNC Board of Governors voted to reject the proposal to build a $5.3-million new shrine to house Silent Sam. (AP)

Back to the drawing board, they said.

There's still a chance, in other words, that the hardline conservatives on the BOG will try to force Sam back up on his pedestal and down the throats of the students.

5. On Friday, NC Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the General Assembly's voter photo ID law, saying it's "a solution in search of a problem" and pointing out it would have done nothing to stop the absentee ballot fraud now exposed in the NC-9.

That's because Republicans aren't interested in actual election fraud, only in making it harder for some people to exercise their right to vote.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Dead Man Walking?

Rev. Mark Harris, who putatively won the 9th Congressional District race on November 6th, is fast becoming an untouchable in North Carolina Republican circles, except maybe with the Christian right (already inured to unethical behavior by "the Lord's anointed"). It's not that unusual in the South for congregations to rally protectively around their pastors accused of hinkiness, but political parties can be brutally realistic.

Harris has been a virtual stone wall, or at least a stone statue, since the absentee ballot fraud scandal erupted in Bladen (and now in adjoining counties too). The first Harris campaign defense appeared to be "it was Red Dome Group that hired Dowless, not us." And "we had no idea what was going on." The Reverend Harris's Twitter feed went dead after December 1. A week later, with more and more reporting on the wrongdoing in Bladen County and on McCrae Dowless and his curious history, Harris finally posted a denial video on his Twitter account on December 7th. It's not on his website, and it hasn't gotten a lot of play.

He sez, "alleged irregularities." Word choice is always such an interesting thing. "Irregularities," not crimes. "Alleged" -- also mighty important as a concept, and "alleged irregularities" leads directly to "if" ... as in, "If there's sufficient evidence of enough irregularities that they could have conceivably changed the election outcome, well then, we'll agree to a re-do." (That hedge -- "enough irregularities" -- won't stop shit, Pastor. Another special election in the 9th now seems inevitable. Even Dallas Woodhouse agrees.)

And by the way, "I was absolutely unaware of any wrong doing." That's a direct quote.

Two things:

A. According to new reporting in the WashPost, Harris was absolutely and actively aware:
North Carolina congressional candidate Mark Harris (R) directed the hiring of a campaign aide now at the center of an election-fraud investigation, according to three individuals familiar with the campaign, despite warnings that the operative may have used questionable tactics to deliver votes. 
Harris sought out the operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, after losing a 2016 election in which Dowless had helped one of Harris’s opponents win an overwhelming share of the mail-in vote in a key county.
B. Harris's "election" has become such a scandal, the NCGOP is trying to dump his ass. The elections law overhaul that passed through the General Assembly yesterday contains a special provision: If a new election is ordered in the CD-9, then there must also be a primary -- the full shebang, brethren and sistern! And what clearer message could the NCGOP send to Mark Harris? "We're gonna defenestrate you from the priory."

There's already talk about who will run in a Republican primary for the special election that's coming. Robert Pittenger, the incumbent Mark Harris defeated in the May 2018 primary (now also tainted by the scandal), is not saying "no." Pat McCrory's name has come up, but we thought he wanted to be governor again. According to Politico, "Matthew Ridenhour, considered a rising star in the local GOP, is weighing a challenge. The ex-Marine recently served as a Mecklenburg County commissioner but lost reelection last month." Some of the Republican members of the General Assembly who lost their seats in November might have been contenders, and might be anyway.

On the Democratic side, Dan McCready is getting ready for the re-mix. I like his chances.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

GOP Virtue in the Age of Twitterman

Reverend Mark Harris’s first primary run in 2016 against incumbent Republican Representative Robert Pittenger failed, in part, because of his trouncing in absentee-by-mail voting. In a race where each of his rivals accrued at least 411 absentee-by-mail votes, Harris had just 195. He lost by 134 votes. That was before his campaign hired Leslie McCrae Dowless for the 2018 primary against Pittenger.

“I’m sure as he was planning his campaign this time, he probably calculated that he needed a strong grass-roots showing,” said Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, which supported the insurgent bids by Rev. Harris in both 2016 and 2018. “As far as I can tell, Mark definitely learned some things as he went through his first two campaigns, but he’s always been a good candidate as far as his appreciation for what’s right and what’s truthful and what’s virtuous.”

And all the people said, "Amen! And pass the collection plate."

Rev. Harris still ain't talking about election fraud.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Rounding Out the Cast for the Movie "Absence of Ballots; Or, Bladen Runner"

Completely forgot about three other key roles in our movie version of election fraud in the NC 9th Congressional District (see the rest of the cast in the last post down-column):

NC Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse needs an especially accomplished thespian to capture the arrogance underlaid by mounting panic. There's only one actor for it (though he's a little old) ... Al Pacino. He can suck all the oxygen out of any room, he can weld iron with his voice, and he can veer from snarling aggression to self-flagellating consternation in the same short scene. (The press conference Woodhouse gave immediately after the scandal broke was an amazing show of grating aggression aimed at both the State Board of Elections and the NC DemsParty, yet two days later he was admitting that he had to throw up he was so upset by what was becoming public about the activities of McCrae Dowless (Steve Buscemi).) Pacino can play a bully, including one who gets tapped in the forehead and falls to vomiting. First draft of the movie features Woodhouse infrequently -- a side character -- but the finished plot may take a third-act twist that will fully engage the talents of Mr. Pacino.

Red Dome Group founder Andy Yates, the man who hired McCrae Dowless and who became hard to get hold of as this scandal unfolded. He appears on his company website as a chuckling hobbit -- here's a photo of the real Mr. Yates. That infectious good humor  may be and probably is a useful mask for a calculating horse-trader. The real Andy Yates has had a paid hand in many campaigns as a Republican consultant/operative, and he appears to be successful. His biggest contract ever was with the Mark Harris (Bruce Greenwood) campaign this year (some $500,00 counting the May primary, which included money to hire the very talented McCrae Dowless (Steve Buscemi). Whattayathink? Kevin James ("Paul Blart, Mall Cop") for this part? He's a professional actor. He might well play both jolly fatboy and sly schemer simultaneously. Should we give him a chance at a serious role with a potentially deep dark side? (The Secretary of State's Office administratively dissolved the Red Dome’s incorporation as of August 2017 for failure to file required annual reports. Yates himself bought $2,000 in "sponsorship advertising" at the Annual Leadership luncheon put on by the nonprofit NC Free Enterprise Foundation (NCFEF). Red Dome Group failed to show up for the luncheon on December 5th, and NCFEF director Jonathan Kappler said he didn't expect he'd ever see the money. Red Dome's world appears to be collapsing. Carolyn Justice, who was listed on the website as Red Dome's "lead consultant," told the Charlotte Observer that she had no idea who McCrae Dowless was "because I did not work on the Harris campaign." Her name and photograph has now disappeared from the Red Dome website. The only thing Yates has said to the press about the whole election fraud scandal: "I had no idea what McCrae Dowless was doing for his money."

NC State Board of Elections Chair Joshua Malcolm. I really can't see anybody in this part but Sir Ben Kingsley. Smart, relentless, calculating in his own right, he's the character that blew up the certification of Mark Harris in the first place and launched the investigation that may yet end with a brand-new election (including primary). He can be tough. He knows the law. He knows the ever-loving history of Bladen County, and he's already acquainted with Mr. Dowless (Steve Buscemi). He's playing chess all the time. He has a low and reassuring voice, but he can cut to the quick like a striking mamba. Beware his formal politeness if you're a character in his cross-hairs. He also likes to deal. This essential character part in our movie will grow, especially in the inevitable climactic hearing by the SBOE either to certify Mark Harris or hold a new election. Think of Sir Ben Kingsley presiding at that hearing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Absence of Ballots" Or "Bladen Runner"

Gerry Cohen, Nan Fulcher, and probably others have been pitching movie titles for the inevitable and longed-for filming of the (lightly fictionalized) NC9 absentee ballot scandal. I'm going a step further (because I'm semi-snowed-in and fighting boredom) with some prospective casting.

For the pivotal role of Leslie McCrae Dowless, I can't see anyone else but Steve Buscemi. Buscemi can communicate intimidation and toxic disdain like no other actor, and he rarely gets the lead in any movie he's in. He needs this break. He can play strong and he can play weak, and I believe we'll need that kind of range for the Dowless part.

The key part of Reverend Mark Harris needs an actor with enough corruptible unctuousness to be convincing as pastor to his flock while succumbing to the temptation to cheat. First, I thought (naturally!) of Reverend Lovejoy on The Simpsons, but I'm afraid he wouldn't have the range to do the harder scenes of political trimming. The scene where Harris agrees to the hiring of Steve Buscemi for his dirty work might be too much for a mere cartoon. Who could play both calculating and pious? Maybe Bruce Greenwood, one of the most under-appreciated character actors working in films.

Young reporter Joe Bruno, who is really the lead, the hero, the dust buster. Both callow and relentless, a surprising bulldog for the truth. He's tall and lanky and might seem at first to be tissue-thin, but he's got sinew. I have to go with Zach Woods, best known right now probably for "Silicon Valley." He's been mainly cast in nebbishy comic parts, but I think he needs a chance to strut his stuff. He could play those scenes where he surprises himself at how enterprising he can be at getting the story. He's almost embarrassed by his own success.

Killer angel from the state Board of Elections, Kim Strach. There's no one else for this part but Parker Posey, who can play fashion plate with an iron spine better than anyone. She can smile and push the knife in simultaneously. At the moment this part is mighty thin but will grow in importance and gravitas as the investigation reaches a boil.

The almost forgotten victim of all the corruption, Dan McCready, has been the hardest part to cast. Both boy scout and father of three. Both scrubbed innocence and brave Marine. I briefly considered Michael Cera, who can play innocent, but you'd never buy him as a Marine (plus his career appears to have moved into eclipse). I finally decided on Ansel Elgort, of "Baby Driver" fame, who has the right smile for it and who you could imagine toting a rifle.

This Man Is Dumber'n He Looks

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) issued a statement yesterday saying that “serving as Chief of Staff [to Twitterman] would be an incredible honor.” He's lusting for it but trying to cover his ardor with a bridesmaid's blushing surprise: “It is not something I have been campaigning for,” Meadows told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill, adding that his phone “blew up” after the Ayers news broke. “The president has a good list of candidates. I’m honored to be one of those.”

"The Ayers news." Twitterman had his heart set on Nick Ayers, the 36-year-old political hotshot currently about to exit from his job as Vice President Pence's chief of staff, but Ayers turned down the job. Turned it down flat, making him possibly the smartest man in the current White House. And Trump doesn't have a "plan B" for filling the job. We hear he's frustrated and pissed at Ayers for jilting him.

According to the WashPost, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin turned the job down. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney turned the job down. And U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer turned the job down. All three of them obviously have working brains. Apparently, Meadows doesn't.

What would he lose if he took the job? He's chair of the House Freedom Caucus, which means he has some power, although he had more with a Republican Speaker than he'll have with Nancy Pelosi. As Chief of Staff to Twitterman he may imagine he'll have all the power in the world, but he would be mistaken. He will have boarded the bus to Palookaville, as previous chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and  General John Kelly might tell him if he asked.

But he should definitely take the job for the betterment of North Carolina. He'll be out of the House of Representatives and someone else will be appointed to the 11th Congressional District seat. Among the ranks of possible Republican replacements in the 11th is not one normal human being, so it'll be another extremist who'll take the seat temporarily. And then we'll have a special election, and in the Age of Trump, special elections have become one of our favorite forms of entertainment.

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.