Thursday, June 29, 2023

We Won! (But We Still Lose)


Paul Newby

The people of North Carolina won in Moore v. Harper. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a state legislature can't do anything it dreams up about elections and voting without facing judicial review. But our continuing problem in North Carolina is more basic than the ability to have judicial review of gerrymandering, because we have a state Supreme Court that's more permissive than hippy parents in the 1960s. Our Supremes have already signaled that it has no interest in reviewing -- and heavens no! Never forbidding -- whatever Berger/Moore wants to do with gerrymandering and ballot access.

Chief Justice Paul Newby leads a solid 5-2 partisan gang on the NC Supreme Court. In April they proved their allegiance by reversing an earlier decision that found partisan gerrymandering illegal in North Carolina. No, no, no, Newby and his pals said. Partisan gerrymandering is perfectly legal, and we really regret our previous colleagues' busybody interference in the business of the General Assembly.

So we're all trapped and waiting, like teenagers in a cabin in the woods in the last reel of a slasher flick, waiting for the next round of redistricting of all congressional and General Assembly seats that the Republicans have promised we'll see in September ... or maybe October ... or at the latest November, because candidates will have to file to run in those new districts by December 4, 2023. What are the odds that Republicans will wait to the last minute to let Democrats know the full extent of their disenfranchisement, while favored Republican candidates will be very much in the know?

This is only part of the reason I trust the gods will eventually punish Berger/Moore, because nothing attracts divine retribution like arrogance.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Who Is John Bell?


I watched all of Dawn Vaughan's interview with NC House Majority Leader John Bell because he's a Republican lawmaker -- and a powerful one -- about whom I have known very little. And it's time we got to know these cats who are imposing so much bullshit on us, now that they can override the governor's veto.

From the "Under the Dome" podcast, you might want to peg John Bell as 100% pure-Dee good-ole-boy -- aw-shucksing and never meaning any harm -- someone you would want with you on a cold morning in a duck blind. But there's obviously intelligence and cunning in that country boy, because though he doesn't seek the camera nor preach, he has made sure the bullet trains run on time ... to achieve all the regressive, hard-right laws the General Assembly has passed already this session (not to mention previous sessions, going all the way back to Bell's election as Majority Leader in 2016). I'm not going to name them all, but the harsh rules affecting women and children who don't conform, and the power grabs aimed at the guv, and the targeting of the freedom to vote -- that's more than enough to settle his tea!

Bell was elected to the House in 2012. First, he had to get through a primary with a very powerful lawmaker named Stephen LaRoque (who was about to be indicted for stealing Federal money and attempting to launder it), beating LaRoque by only 39 votes. That's a measure of how much the Republican voters of House District 10 liked their lawmakers a little bit shady, or adept at skimming. Two months after losing so barely that May primary, LaRoque was under indictment and would eventually do time. (Because he had better lawyers than you do, he ended up only being convicted of "aiding and abetting theft.")

So that's the guy that John Bell went on to easily outshine in the House. Quickly, by 2014, in his first term, Bell won an election to be Majority Whip, and then two years after that, he got elected by his caucus to be Majority Leader. He has skills. And some troubling ideas. He's a big opponent of wind energy, because someone once told him that low-flying military aircraft might hit a windmill, and Bell is religiously protective of the Seymour Johnson AFB outside Goldsboro (in Bell's district). He supports Ron DeSantis for president because he likes what DeSantis has done to Florida. (No kidding! That's what Bell told Dawn Vaughan.) Bell opposes expanding Medicaid coverage. But -- did we say "good-ole-boy"? -- he voted to allow state universities to sell beer on game days.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

BREAKING: US Supremes Rule in Moore v. Harper


From Politico:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rebuffed a legal theory that argued that state legislatures have the authority to set election rules with little oversight from state courts, a major decision [in Moore v. Harper] that turns away a conservative push to empower state legislatures.

By a 6-3 vote, the court rejected the “independent state legislature” theory in a case about North Carolina’s congressional map. The once-fringe legal theory broadly argued that state courts have little — or no — authority to question state legislatures on election laws for federal contests.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the court’s opinion, joined by the three liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, along with two conservatives, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

In doing so, the nation’s top court maintained the power of state courts to review election laws under state constitutions, while urging federal courts to “not abandon their own duty to exercise judicial review.”

The Man Who Didn't Get Hanged


Former vice president Mike Pence is making abortion a central plank in his presidential bid. “The cause of life is the calling of our lifetime,” he said Friday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in Washington. Pence said he favored a national law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks into a pregnancy as a “minimum national standard.” He also said that Republicans should not relent until every state has restricted the right to abortion and that national law is in place.

--Dan Balz 

So instead of the MAGA noose, he's gonna hang himself on this issue. Can't say I wish him "Good Luck with that!" But in its other sense, "Good luck with that!" 

Monday, June 26, 2023

Are the Alito Five Capable of Regret?


Linda Greenhouse, long-time Supreme Court reporter and an expert on its history, titled an opinion piece, "Is There Any Twinge of Regret Among the Anti-Abortion Justices?" After a lengthy discussion of all the personalities among the Alito Five and the wealth of history and legal precedents and arguments contained in an avalanche of friend-of-the-court briefs filed in the matter of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Org., Greenhouse concludes her essay bluntly:

So no, I don’t think the Dobbs justices are sorry. They did what they were put there to do, what they wanted to do, and they were quite explicit in washing their hands of the consequences.

The consequences? You may be oblivious to the mounting numbers of women in extremis, with potential fatalities resulting from gone-wrong pregnancies, untreated because doctors in anti-abortion states are now terrified of new rules:

A report titled “Care Post-Roe: Documenting cases of poor-quality care since the Dobbs decision,” published in mid-May by teams of experts from the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Texas at Austin, ... consists largely of excerpts from submissions by 50 health care providers, many of whom felt, as one wrote, that “our hands are tied” as they waited anxiously for their patients’ conditions to deteriorate to the point where the pregnancy could be terminated within the narrow exceptions permitted by the state laws. When doctors turned women away, their next encounter was sometimes in the emergency room or intensive care unit as the patient lay bleeding or even near death.

Unable to get an abortion in their own home states, many women are fleeing to neighboring states, and paying the fare (which ain't light). Chaos has added to the misery fourfold, which moved Greenhouse to consider whether Alito, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas, or Coney Barrett felt even a glimmer of regret for overturning what had been for 50 years a basic right of women.


On the way to that not surprising conclusion, Greenhouse gets into Court history about when regret over a decision leads to a reversal. She recounts the interesting reversal in 1942 of a previous decision in 1940 that allowed school systems to enforce rules for demonstrating patriotism, expelling students who didn't salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1942, the West Virginia Board of Education required public schools to include salutes to the flag by teachers and students as a mandatory part of school activities. The children in a family of Jehovah's Witnesses refused to perform the salute and were sent home from school for non-compliance. The case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, ended up with the Supremes, who had previously, just three years before, ruled that school systems could penalize children for not saluting the flag, actually expel students. But in 1942, the Court reversed itself.

Three men on the Court had voted in 1940 to allow for the expulsion of non-saluting children, and the same three voted to change their minds in 1942, admitting openly that they had been wrong. They regretted the chaos and misery for Jehovah Witness families and tried to correct it. 

But these guys in 2023? Greenhouse concludes that regret isn't a part of their makeup. They're too busy enjoying their status as billionaire accessories, riding the boat but not steering it.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Mark Robinson, In Mufti and Out


I watched the video that Politico put up of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson's speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition convention yesterday (in which he preached warfare and total obeisance to the warrior king Donald Trump), which made me more acutely aware of the personality switcheroo that Robinson started trotting out the night he gave a pre-taped rebuttal to Gov. Cooper's state-of-the-state address back in March -- a coached and stage-managed personality remake wherein Robinson seemed less the bombastic preacherman ready to dictate everybody's behavior than a policy wonk arguing the law. That's the new Mark Robinson, at least while he's in North Carolina. But on the national stage he's still the overbearing, holier-than-thou authoritarian.

Back in March, via pre-taped video, Robinson talked calmly. None of his signature shouted exhortation, and he even eschewed the politics of division and anger. Or at least claimed he did. That's the new Robinson in campaign mode for governor, as though independent voters are gonna buy that act. The real Mark Robinson, whose delivery is like every hellfire preacher I heard growing up, always laying down markers about other people's behavior and quoting scripture as a flail to unholy backs -- I don't want that anywhere near the governor's office. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Super-Christians Offer Testosterone Booster Shots


Nearer, my God, to Thee

Nearer to Thee

E'en though it be a cross

That raiseth me

--19th Century Christian hymn 

At the Faith & Freedom Coalition's annual conference yesterday in DeeCee, founder Ralph Reed announced that his 14-year-old religious pressure org was there "to give our candidates a little bit of a testosterone booster shot," because some Republican office-holders and wannabes were showing visible nerves about banning abortion. Don't be shocked or even amused by Reed's metaphor, because he was merely preaching the New Testament Gospel. The First Epistle of Peter the Apostle, supposedly written from Rome by St. Peter hisownself and addressed to new Christian converts suffering persecution, contained an intriguing suggestion to "gird up the loins of your mind," by which you're supposed to envision men in jock straps (so to speak) and thereby ready for battle. I heard that phrase "gird up your loins" (never with the rest of it: "of your mind") in many a sermon wherein we were harangued to keep the faith even unto death. Life is a battle against the forces of Satan, and you best be girded for it.

I understand evangelicals. I was raised as one. I was raised understanding that worldly people needed saving, that hell is very real, and that God is watching me like a chicken hawk. Yes, evangelical, and therefore brave enough to gird up my loins and march over to our neighbor lady's house to "witness" to her about the saving grace of Jesus. She was known to us for disappearing into a whiskey bottle about every 6 months, and I thought in my budding Christian arrogance that I could save her. Or I ought to at least try. Didn't happen. I was a total washout as a litigator of other people's behavior.

I was not only evangelical but also Pentecostal, which put me in a stark minority among my Baptist school mates. Most of them weren't particularly religious in any overt sense, while I was, and couldn't partake (or wasn't supposed to) of certain pleasures of the mid-'60s, like dancing, like movies (especially the drive-in variety), like any music but hymns. My mama didn't even like me watching TV, which caused me to spend more time at my friends' houses.

As evangelical Pentecostals, we felt persecuted because we did energetic stuff in our services that other denominations didn't do, and we knew they made fun of us. If you feel persecuted, it's a salve for your hurt feelings to also and simultaneously feel superior to the rest of the world, at least in the arena you've chosen for yourself. Yes, evangelicals judge (and rather harshly) everyone else. 

But we differed from the Ralph Reed evangelicals in that we tended to withdraw from the world. We certainly never engaged in politics (except once to protest the activities at a dance hall directly across the street from our church building). The new evangelical project of the Faith & Freedom Coalition and other such groups is the opposite of separation from the sinful world but rather its intended conquering. The government is the target for conquest, and rest assured -- it's a crusade. Reed is all about the drawn sword and talks blithely and without a hint of irony about dosing Republican politicians with testosterone. "Takes a real man to get a girl pregnant, and to keep her that way!"

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Ted Davis, Rationalizing His Veto-Override Vote


NC House member Ted Davis, Republican from the coast, recently took a starring role as one of the four Republican legislators targeted for pressure by Gov. Roy Cooper because they had once promised not to monkey with North Carolina's 20-week abortion limit and yet were on the verge of voting to overturn the guv's veto and therefore monkey big-time with things they shouldn't be monkeying with. (The other three targets: Tricia Cotham, John Ray Bradford, and Michael Lee.)

Ted Davis spoke to a reporter recently about why he personally “took a walk” during the initial vote on passage of the abortion bill. He ducked out on the vote, he said, "because he was doing what he told voters he would do — supporting keeping the 20-week law in place," so his principled stand for abortion rights meant sneaking off.

But why come back to the chamber another day and vote to override the veto of the very bill you didn't want to be caught supporting? Davis's rationalization is both hilarious and illustrative of situational ethics, coastal-style:

“I view the veto as an entirely different matter. That’s not voting on the bill. That’s voting on whether or not you support Roy Cooper, and Roy Cooper’s veto. I don’t support Roy Cooper, and I do not support his veto, and that’s why I voted to override.”

Suddenly realizing (perhaps?) the stupidity of what he just said, he added rather plaintively, “And if they want to use that against me, that’s fine. It is what it is.”

Indeed it is.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Whistling Through the Graveyard


“I frankly -- I just I don’t think that this law is going to be that big of a determining factor in next year’s election." 

--Stephen Wiley, director, North Carolina House Republican Caucus


I can't help noticing that Republican lawmakers in Raleigh keep returning defensively to how their new highly unpopular abortion ban was actually an amazingly moderate compromise between the Republican Hard Right and the Republican Less Hard Right. "Why Lordy!" the whining goes, "Republican women more moderate on the law won some concessions, so whaddya want, anyway? We listened to the women!" (The fact that those particular women are also made to wear the Republican pro-life straitjacket might temper our appreciation for any "moderation." The ultimate goal is clear, no matter how incrementally you approach it.)


When Stephen Wiley, who's a big deal as campaign operative for the entire NC House Republican Caucus, told a reporter that the abortion law will fizzle as a 2024 campaign issue, he nevertheless left the door open a crack: “I think there’s going to be some people who are motivated by it. Whether that’s a significant number or not, I think remains to be seen.” Duh.


Wiley said the presidential race is the biggest factor determining the "tenor" of the 2024 election, especially if the Republican nominee is Trump. “Donald Trump is not within anyone’s realm of normalcy." By which I think he dreads the chaos that's likely to characterize 2024 (not to mention the rest of 2023).

Monday, June 19, 2023

The NCGOP's Negative Perplex


Paul Shumaker. 
Photo Al Drago for CQ/Rollcall

Last Thursday, Brant Clifton boldly published what was probably a confidential memo from Capitol Communications' President Paul Shumaker, the current and reigning Republican political consultant who put Thom Tillis in the Senate and kept him there -- an official memorandum to "Interested Parties" analyzing new polling and coming to the conclusion that Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson's negatives will be a loser on the ticket for governor, and that Robinson and Trump's negatives together would be even worse. (Okay, he didn't say that last part out loud, but that conclusion is inescapable based on his numbers.)

This is the link to the complete Shumaker memo. I'm not going to reprint the full text here, though I'm tempted to, because it's long, choked with very interesting polling (Shumaker is an arithmetic guy, which explains why he wins so much), and probably wasn't written for general distribution. But I recommend you read it if you're a politico.

The curious thing is that hyper-conservative Brant Clifton has denigrated Mark Robinson, or pointed out his weaknesses and flaws, several times now in his Daily Haymaker blog. That corner of the hard-Right seems to be rallying to Dale Folwell for governor. But in a 3-way race, Robinson still wins.

Here's Paul Shumaker's page on the Capitol Communications website, if you want to know the full scope of his success and influence.

Rollcall 2016 article, "Meet the 'Data Guy' Behind North Carolina Republicans"

Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Problem with Aileen

She’s both an inexperienced judge and a judge who has previously indicated that she thinks the former president is subject to special rules, so who knows what she will do with those issues?” 

--Julie O’Sullivan, Georgetown University professor of law and former federal prosecutor



Judge Aileen M. Cannon

It's been revealed that Federal Judge Aileen Cannon has run a courtroom trial only four times previous to USA v. Donald J. Trump, for a total of 14 hours of courtroom experience. Lawyers who appeared before her told the NYTimes that Judge Cannon is "demonstrably inexperienced and can bristle when her actions are questioned or unexpected issues arise." 

In other words, whatever you do, don't sneak up on her!


Judge Cannon shocked legal experts across the ideological divide by disrupting the Trump classified documents investigation with bizarre rulings favorable to Trump, arguing that Mr. Trump gets special protections as a former president that regular targets of the FBI don't enjoy ("11th Circuit Vacates Cannon’s Order to Appoint a Special Master in Mar-a-lago Investigation").


Trump appointed Aileen Cannon to the Federal bench shortly after he lost reelection in November of 2020. She had not served previously as any kind of judge. Now she's very much his kind of judge.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Tricia Cotham Pulls a Muscle While Forswearing


Tricia Cotham is now denying that she ever said she had an abortion. But there's tape.

Steve Harrison reported the 2015 Cotham speech on the NC House floor, for WFAE:

When she gave that speech, she was a member of the Democratic Party and had been in the state House since 2007. She made it clear that she and her doctor decided to terminate her pregnancy because her life and the life of her child were in danger.

“My first pregnancy ended in an induced physician-assisted miscarriage, while I served in this chamber,” she said.

Cotham emphasized again that it was not a natural miscarriage.

“It’s not the type of miscarriage that we often think of where you lose the baby completely and it’s over,” Cotham said. “That’s not what happened. My doctor told me that my pregnancy would likely not be viable and that if I did not take swift medical action my life and any hope of future babies would be in severe danger. I trusted my doctor and her medical expertise.”

She then went into detail about how painful the procedure was. She finished her speech by saying that lawmakers should have no place in such decisions.

“This decision was up to me,” she said. “My husband. My doctor. And my God. It was not up to any of you in this chamber.”

Her passionate speech drew national attention. Time magazine featured it in a story about women lawmakers discussing their own abortions. It quoted Cotham as saying she wrote the speech so “somebody out there could maybe not feel shamed.”

Tricia Cotham, Now

In an interview last weekend at the North Carolina Republican Party convention in Greensboro with WBT radio’s Brett Jensen, Cotham said it was false that she had an abortion. In a 30-second comment on the issue, she characterized what happened to her as a natural miscarriage.

“I think the hardest thing and the most unfortunate — deeply personal — and this is deeply wrong,” Cotham said. “I had a miscarriage, and a miscarriage in medical terms is called a spontaneous abortion. And instead of saying — first of all — they should not be talking about my miscarriage, that is just very painful and wrong — but they are repeating this message that I had an abortion. And that is false. And that is completely frustrating and they keep on doing it and that’s below the belt.”

Boy howdy! Her new teammates demand she deny the truth. Or ... it's a live possibility ... she was lying in 2015 to impress both her Democratic friends and her Republican antagonists. Either way, it ain't a good look for her.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Depend on the Southern Baptists


There is a movement in the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that is often a bellwether for evangelical America, to purge women from its leadership.

-- "Southern Baptists Move to Purge Churches With Female Pastors," NYTimes

Rick Warren

No one seems to know exactly how many Southern Baptist churches have female pastors, associate pastors, sub-pastors, youth pastors, etc. Some estimates go as high as 2,000 different churches. Five of those churches, including the famous Saddleback Church in Southern California (made famous by founding pastor Rick Warren and his bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life), have been expelled from the denomination. Warren had retired as pastor and named a husband and wife team as his replacements, a dangerous precedent that the fundamentalists can't countenance:

The right wing of the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in America, is now — like conservatives more broadly — cracking down on what it sees as dangerous liberal drift. Most people in the denomination have long believed that the office of head pastor should be reserved for men. But an ultraconservative faction with a loud online presence is going further, pressing for ideological purity and arguing that female pastors are a precursor to acceptance of homosexuality and sexual immorality.

Wow. Whatever else, Southern Baptists are now not only tops in membership but tops at driving away young people. 

The annual Southern Baptist Convention is going on this week in New Orleans, and a proposed amendment to the S.B.C. constitution would further restrict the role of women. The amendment sez a church can be Southern Baptist only if it “does not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”

Tops at driving away educated women too, especially at a time when the whole church is under federal investigation for concealing and allowing widespread pastoral sexual abuse.

What's the polemical temperature of the "messengers" at the convention this week in New Orleans?

On Tuesday night, Mr. [Rick] Warren made that appeal [to have Saddleback Church reinstated in the denomination] from the floor of the convention to more than 12,000 delegates who would vote on whether to readmit his church.

“If doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are considered sin, we all get kicked out!” he said, noting that the S.B.C.’s theological statement is 4,032 words. “Saddleback disagrees with one word,” he said. “That’s 99.99999999 percent in agreement! Isn’t that close enough?”

The crowd shouted back at him, “No!”

The trumpian psyche in religion. But by their fruits you shall know them. Perhaps not incidentally, yesterday the Convention voted against allowing back into the denomination Saddleback Church and one other in Louisville that had allowed the ordaining of women.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

It's About Damn Time


J. B. Pritzker

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed into law a bill that he says will make Illinois the first state in the nation to outlaw book bans.

Illinois public libraries that restrict or ban materials because of “partisan or doctrinal” disapproval will be ineligible for state funding as of Jan. 1, 2024, when the new law goes into effect....

WBEZ --“Book bans are about censorship, marginalizing people, marginalizing ideas and facts,” Pritzker declared at the Harold Washington Library, the crown jewel of Chicago’s public library system. “Regimes ban books, not democracies.”

NYTimes -- “While certain hypocritical governors are banning books written by L.G.B.T.Q. authors, but then claiming censorship when the media fact-checks them, we are showing the nation what it really looks like to stand up for liberty,” Mr. Pritzker, a Democrat, said...

Governor Pritzker appeared to call out, though not by name, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who has staked his 2024 presidential candidacy in part on his status as a driver of Conservative policies addressing cultural issues.

Governor DeSantis supported state laws aimed, at least in part, at limiting access to some reading materials in public schools. Books targeted to be removed have dealt primarily with L.G.B.T.Q. and social justice themes, with some groups objecting to materials on gender and sexuality in books that schoolchildren could read.

Other states, including Georgia and Kentucky, have followed suit with laws that could make it easier to lodge complaints about specific books and influence library or education boards, according to EveryLibrary, a political action committee that advocates for increased public library funding and tracks proposed book regulation laws across the country.

“Libraries are not in the book banning business, but they are becoming sites of censorship by groups that are oftentimes not even reading the books,” Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association, said in an interview.

Efforts to censor books doubled in 2022 over the previous year, according to a report of the library association, which counted 1,269 attempts to remove books and other reading materials....

...the “vast majority” of materials targeted for removal are about or are written by people of color or members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

Even librarians have found themselves targeted by groups seeking to pull materials from shelves. Many have been “chased out” of their jobs, according to Ms. Hall. The association’s fund to support librarians facing job losses, she said, is constantly depleted.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Republican Power-Grab Aimed at State Board of Elections


Phil Berger and other Republican
senators at their press conference

Using the trumpian meme of "election integrity" as their excuse, Republican leaders in the NC Senate unveiled S749 yesterday at a press conference in Raleigh, proposing to seize the power the governor has had to appoint members of the State Board of Elections (SBOE) and distribute it to themselves and other members of the General Assembly.

Here's the key part: In a theatrical feint toward "equity" on the SBOE, S749 would put four Republican appointments and four Democratic appointments head-to-head to reach ... what? Stalemate. And who gets to decide when there's 4-4 ties on key issues? Why, the legislators get to step in. Natch.

It's as naked a power grab as we've seen (and we've seen plenty in the last dozen years!).

Their smokescreen is "bipartisanship" but the result will be chaos and gridlock. Senate Majority Leader Paul Newton (whom we wrote about yesterday, down-column) sounded all pious about how "fair" his new law will be: “It’s incontrovertible that we’re living in a time of severe partisan polarization, and that affects voters’ perception of election fairness. When you have an elections board that’s controlled by one party, roughly half of the voters are going to question and doubt the fairness of the elections — and, in some cases, the outcome.”

Translation: Republicans believe that the only time they lose elections is when the Democrats use massive fraud. That's their fantasy. And now they're writing laws to fulfill that delusion.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Valorizing of Paul Newton


"Dreamy" Paul Newton, looking all
visionary and non-ideological.
Photo Cornell Watson, for The Assembly

I just got a dose of learning from Tim Funk, who has published a lengthy profile of Paul Newton, Majority Leader of the NC Senate, and the man who has his hand in a lot of bad legislation, though (duly noted) Tim Funk really wants to believe that Newton is basically a good guy trapped in a morality play that emphasizes punishment more than charity. According to Funk, Newton "can seem uncomfortable" with hardball partisanship. In other words, he's a conflicted basic good guy -- competent, talented at leadership, and sincerely religious while not partisan about it, a sometime closet moderate in a Party that doesn't tolerate moderation. 

It's all interesting, and I'm pleased to know something about an important NC politician, though I'm not buying. I'm not buying that goodguyism compensates anywhere near enough for the accompanying oppression.

I didn't know a thing about Paul Newton, had never written about him or bothered to look into his career (which, according to Funk) has been an ascendant rocket, especially since 2016.

The Paul Newton Story

He had a privileged childhood in Eden, N.C. (significantly, the home also of President Pro Tem Phil Berger). Paul was the son of a Fieldcrest fabric company executive and an artist mother ... who divorced when Paul was 10. Paul stayed with his mother and sisters in Greensboro, but Newton told Funk that in the eighth grade, he announced to his mother: “I love you, Mom. [But] I’m a boy. I feel like I should grow up with my dad.” 

"So he returned to Eden," Tim Funk writes, and that's the last we learn about Newton's growing up. Funk leaves questions hanging, like bait in the forest. What was life with Dad like? Funk won't say or doesn't know. Where did Newton's antipathy toward public schools come from? He and his wife homeschooled all four of their children. Was Newton himself ever homeschooled?

Paul Newton is a lawyer, trained at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hired by Duke Energy in 1990 to manage the company’s largest lawsuit up to that time, against Westinghouse Electric for the cracking of steam-generator tubing in its nuclear plants. Westinghouse agreed to a big settlement with Duke, but Paul Newton's skill as a lawyer went unknown except among insiders.

By early 2014, when Duke spilled about a billion tons of coal ash into the Dan River, Newton had risen at Duke to president of North Carolina operations, and he took charge of managing the Dan River crisis -- and largely defused it -- and earned the respect and admiration of Phil Berger, who eventually urged Newton to run for the NC Senate (in Dist. 36, Cabarrus County), for the seat being vacated by the disgraced Fletcher Hartsell. That was 2016. Newton won the seat easily (propelled generously by Duke Energy money) and has won reelection three times more, never with less than 56% of the vote, and he steadily rose in party leadership to his current job as majority leader.

Paul Newton as majority leader
He rose in GOP leadership despite what Funk paints as a lack of strong ideology. Here's a memory told about Newton while he was in law school:

Newton would buy a copy of the Raleigh News & Observer every day from a rack near the law school, pull out the sports section, and toss the rest in the trash. [Newton's friend who retold this anecdote], now a retired attorney in Spartanburg, South Carolina, would retrieve the other sections and say, “Paul, would you at least read the headlines?”

Jim Blaine, Phil Berger's chief of staff and a smart political cookie, told Funk that Newton "is not a political operator. Arguably, if he has a weakness, it’s his political instincts.” An example of those poor instincts: Blaine says that Newton hatched a nutty plan to run against Mark Robinson in the 2024 primary for governor -- not to beat him but to "steel him," give Robinson real campaign experience before the big contest against Josh Stein in the fall. So Newton wanted to throw himself on a sword in order to prepare a man who's clearly unqualified. Interesting. But duly noted: Newton really does have his eye on the governorship.

In addition to his majority leader role, Newton also chairs the Senate's Redistricting and Elections Committee, which means his fingerprints are all over the current pending legislation to suppress and disallow certain voters. Newton has the gall to say he only wants to strengthen "election integrity without constraining the freedom to vote."

For a Republican who's supposedly non-ideological, that dunderheadedness certainly serves the ideology of his pals.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

They Eat Their Own


The Republicans at their state convention yesterday in Greensboro voted to censure senior Senator Thom Tillis because he had not been sufficiently mean to the queers. No, seriously. Delegates -- we don't know how many of the 1,800, because the press was barred -- said "you're not welcome in the Republican Party because you supported gay marriage." (Tillis pushed a bill to codify same-sex and interracial marriage, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year.) Plus some other stuff about not being mean enough to immigrants. 

On a thread started by DemsParty Chair Anderson Clayton, someone tweeted, "When Thom Tillis fails their test for a 'real Republican,' you know their party has gone off a cliff."

Because reporters were barred, the only eye-witness source I have is extreme-MAGA blogger Brant Clifton (unreliable and prone to exaggeration, as he is). Clifton sez that the meeting was raucous and contentious because Party Chair Michael Whatley's lieutenants ran it with an iron fist. Motions of "no confidence" and "vacate the chair" were shouted out from the floor, "but were quickly dispensed with via parliamentary means by Whatley’s convention managers."

Whatley won reelection as party chair, incidently, against a determined faction of extreme-MAGA bullies who considered Whatley as big a weak loser as Thom Tillis. Anger at the convention boiled over mainly among the supporters of the insurgent MAGA candidate John Kane, who also ran and whose bitch against Whatley was that he wasn't a big enough election-denier. Kane boiled everything down to "election integrity," which was his shorthand for "every election that goes against us must be fradulent; therefore, we must crack down on people who are balloting ... to prevent fraud." It's simple logic, invented to cover crimes against democracy.

Michael Whatley

Whatley seemed to play into challenger Kane's hands by devising an electronic method of voting, with no paper trail, which the Kane adherants immediately condemned as potentially fraudulent, and when the electronic system went suddenly dark in the middle of voting, the Kane delegates erupted and chaos ensued. 

In his speech to the convention prior to the voting, Kane said (according to Brant Clifton),

“Everyone in this room knows the cardinal rule of election integrity is there's a PAPER TRAIL. Machines have issues, sometimes unintentional, sometimes intentional [there it is! the suggestion of fraud]. As we get ready to vote for our Party leadership today it will all be done electronically. No paper trail.

This simple election was 100% under the control of Chairman Michael Whatley and he broke the cardinal rule of election integrity. Here today, just like the elections in our State, Michael Whatley doesn’t think we have a voter integrity problem. I do."

Here's what I can't figure out: Why a convention of true-believers would censure the senator and still elect establishmentarian Michael Whatley with 60%-plus of the vote. It must come down to Whatley's term coinciding with Republican dominance at the ballot box: Two successful Senate races, a sweep of the judiciary, total dominance of both houses of the General Assembly, and a trophy party-switcher to put on display. 

Whatever else you say about Whatley, he's totally lacking the trumpist edge of aggressive nastiness. Plus Donald J. Trump re-endorsed him for the chair at the start of the convention, and Mike Pence praised him as the best state party chair in the nation.


State Party Chair Anderson Clayton tweeted a thread:

It’s ironic that the NCGOP can get away with criticizing my party on bullying ["bullying" had been Tricia Cotham's big excuse for leaving the Democrats], meanwhile, they just silenced their *senior* United States Senator over his support of a person’s freedom to love who they love. Which party is the party of freedom again? Not the NCGOP —

It’s ridiculous to still have the fight over basic human rights. And yet the NCGOP continues to fight against the LGBTQIA+ community and their existence. Guess what? Queer folks ain’t going anywhere! But we can make sure y’all do come next November. Folks who support attacking and persecuting our own citizens for being gay, trans, bisexual, gender-nonconforming, or don’t fit into the boxes defined by the right wing extremists in our state, do NOT belong in positions of power. We’re here to make sure everyone in North Carolina can call this state home.

We deserve a North Carolina that is diverse, welcoming, & accepting of all who live here, grow up here, or grow old here. But under the extreme NCGOP agenda, our folks continue to be attacked. I refuse to stand for it, & Democrats will always fight for rights for ALL NC’ians.

Former Republican Governor Pat McCrory condemned the convention:

“It’s time also for all NC state and federal elected republicans to stand with Thom and publicly voice their opposition to the action taken at our convention.”

One Republican state senator, Bobby Hanig from the coast, took up McCrory's challenge and emphasized Uncle Thom's practical advantages:

“I believe that a mob mentality doesn’t do us any good. Senator Tillis does a lot for North Carolina, he does a lot for the coastal communities, so why would I want to make him mad?”

The Hill also quoted State Sen. Jim Burgin of Harnett County, who said the vote to censure Tillis "sets a dangerous precedent and does not allow enough flexibility for individual interpretation of party values."

Burgin questioned whether his own vote last month for North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban would similarly put him at risk of being censured because it’s out of line with the Republican platform, which states that life begins at conception.

“I don’t think we need to be attacking our own,” he said. “You don’t shoot your own elephants.”

Friday, June 09, 2023

"Just Talk"?! Say It Ain't So, Dan!


" that the dust has settled, those threats seem to largely have just been talk."
--Nicole Lafond, writing in Talking Points Memo about the fizzling of far-right threats against Kevin McCarthy

The Freedom Caucus met for the first time Monday night (June 5) since the debt ceiling deal passed the House. Guess who wasn't there. Dan Bishop, who had become the most visible, the most pugnacious, the most threatening member of the Freedom Caucus, who on camera raised his hand at a Freedom Caucus press conference (May 30th) that he was willing to "vacate the Speakership" over the deal that Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with President Biden. 

What? Dan didn't show up at the meeting of the group that has propelled him to headliner Fox News status? Did he not want to face his colleagues and have them know just how big a paper tiger he actually is? For as soon as that debt ceiling deal passed the House, Bishop went as silent (one might even say passive) about the future of Kevin McCarthy and the direction of the Republican caucus. Turned out, Dan Bishop's threat didn't cut it; the Freedom Caucus didn't matter, for the debt ceiling deal passed easily without them. 

But on Tuesday this week, the Freedom Caucus struck back. They banded together and refused to approve the rules governing a clutch of non-controversial bills, essentially shutting down the House. McCarthy adjourned the body until next Monday. First time since 2002 that the House failed to approve rules for debate, and it's all about the debt ceiling deal with Biden. The Freedom Caucus rejects any legislation that will require Democratic votes to pass.

But Dan Bishop is not front-and-center for once.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Backstabber Tricia Cotham Rewrites History


"I'm still the same person," said Tricia Cotham on the floor of the NC House Tuesday, in an apparent impromptu interview with a few reporters including Kyle Ingram of the News and Observer.

Make that "the same person" so long as that person is clinically schizophrenic. Last year she told Planned Parenthood in a questionnaire that she would “oppose any legislation that seeks to restrict abortion access” and then, a few months later, proudly voted for new abortion restrictions as a newly minted Republican.

Her previous strong support for abortion rights has been documented extensively, but on Tuesday in her rare moment of speaking to the press, she claimed that she's not changed her mind at all, that the new abortion law is really a generous favor for women, and that the criticisms of her actions are just the manipulations of Democrats needing to raise campaign money.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the NC Senate filed a symbolic bill ("symbolic" because it has no chance of passing) that would mandate a special election in a district where the incumbent suddenly switched parties. They titled the proposed law “The Voter Fraud Protection Act.” Because if there was ever a political fraud perpetrated on voters, it was Cotham's abandonment of all her stated values, surpassed only by the prevarication she's capable of when talking to the press.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Mark Robinson: "Poor, Poor Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby!"


Media Matters unearthed two different 2018 recordings of Mark Robinson (before he became our lieutenant governor) proposing elaborate conspiracy theories that the two most notorious sexual predators of the last century -- Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby -- were actually innocent victims of a plot to destroy them for their “so-called sexual crimes.” Robinson called on his followers to “stand up against” the supposed “plot to build up a climate of fear, to shut people's mouths.”

That's where I lose the thread of Robinson's logic. Silence them from saying what? Didn't realize that Weinstein ever had political opinions that ran counter to progressive ideals. I know that Bill Cosby had become a bitter critic of Black liberation, and I rather suspect that Robinson's outburst depended heavily on his identifying with Cosby's condemnation of "immorality" among contemporary young Blacks. Pot, kettle ... you know, but Robinson doesn't see the irony.

In one of the recordings posted on the Media Matters site, Robinson plays history professor, accusing “the left” of creating “a climate of fear” and employing Stalinist tactics, comparing the accusations against Weinstein and Cosby to when Stalin “arrested some of his top generals and top leaders” and “threw them in gulags .… So that the common man would be really afraid.”

Follow that logic. Prosecuting Weinstein and Cosby is meant to create a climate of fear in "the common man" about speaking up against ... tyrannical government? When were Weinstein and Cosby ever anti-tyrant? And who's the current Stalin in Robinson's analogy?

Or does he mean that prosecuting sex crimes among the rich and powerful spreads panic among "common" garden-variety sexual scoundrels, and does Mark Robinson have a guilty conscience? His attitude toward women is very much documented. Just last year, Robinson also made headlines when he declared in a speech, “We are called to be led by men,” not women.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The Cleta Mitchell Nexus


Last Friday, WRAL's investigative reporter Will Doran broke the story that election-denying Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who was heavily involved with Trump in trying to overturn the 2020 election result and who is on record saying that Republicans have to do something to make it harder for college students to vote ("Top GOP lawyer decries ease of campus voting in private pitch to RNC") -- that Cleta Mitchell met privately with GOP lawmakers in Raleigh before they released the text of their new voter suppression law. Doran made the case effectively that Mitchell got pretty much what she wanted in the new law for making absentee voting harder, while GOP leaders hotly denied that Mitchell had any hand in writing the new law. In fact, Senate boss Phil Berger admitted that the mere association of Mitchell could hurt the public perception of the new law -- if it were true, which it is not, proclaimed Berger, and why wouldn't we believe him?

We assume the Republican lawmakers didn't have Mitchell in for tea and grooming tips. We also know, from Berger's reaction to the leaked documents that revealed the Mitchell meeting, that the Republicans are nervous about a further riled-up electorate which is already riled up about women's rights.

When reporter Doran asked Berger if he was concerned about public perception that a trumpist as notorious as Cleta Mitchell had a hand in drafting new voter legislation, Berger answered, “If it were true, yeah. I understand that she and other people have said some things that folks are concerned about. I can assure that she has not had any role in the drafting of the legislation.”

Why Is Cleta Mitchell Notorious?

Take a gander at her Wikipedia listing. She trails a long history of hyper-conservative activism, but the following is probably the source of Berger's angst in seeing her name associated with his new voting law:

On January 2, 2021, she participated in the hour-long telephone conversation between Trump and Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump pressured Raffensperger to investigate unsupported claims disputing the results of the 2020 presidential election based on doctored videos and unsubstantiated rumors from right-wing media. Following that telephone call, Mitchell accused Raffensperger of saying things "that are simply not correct" about the presidential results in Georgia. Two days later, after Mitchell's participation in the call was reported, the law firm of Foley & Lardner (where Mitchell was a partner) released a statement saying that the law firm's policy was not to represent parties seeking to contest the results of the 2020 election; that the firm was "aware of, and concerned by" Mitchell's participation in the telephone call; and that the firm was "working to understand her involvement more thoroughly." Mitchell resigned from Foley & Lardner the next day. The firm said that Mitchell "concluded that her departure was in the firm's best interests, as well as in her own personal best interests." Mitchell blamed her resignation on a purported "massive pressure campaign" allegedly launched by leftist groups on social media.


Monday, June 05, 2023

Not Just Women But Non-College Women


Out this morning, news of a new poll of non-college women in North Carolina about abortion rights. Carolina Forward polled non-college women exclusively, and the results suggest that the rural wall against Democrats might crack a little for women facing life decisions that the Republican Party wants to take completely away from them:

When asked the following general questions about abortion and Senate Bill 20, non-college female voters responded:

  • How important are candidate positions on abortion when deciding who to vote for: Very important = 61%
  • Abortion should beLegal in all cases/Legal in most case = 65%
  • When, if ever, do you think access to abortion should be limited: No restrictions/< 20 weeks = 61%
  • Lowering the current abortion week guideline from 20 weeks to 12 weeks: Strongly oppose = 51%
  • Would you vote for a state legislative candidate that supported SB 20: Much more likely to oppose = 53%

What's it going to take for statewide Democratic candidates -- let alone the local candidates for NC House and Senate seats -- to make abortion rights the number one issue in North Carolina?

Friday, June 02, 2023

The New GOP Voting Law: Gumming the Works, Slowing the Process


The main takeaways from S747, "Election Law Changes":

Gone: the 3-day "grace period" for getting your mail-in ballot to count. Under Ralph Hise's new proposed law, if your ballot isn't in the hands of your local Board of Elections office by the evening of Election Day, it'll get tossed.

The new law will make same-day-registrants vote a provisional ballot, a more time-consuming process that will slow up lines to vote.

The proposed new law will require local elections boards to acquire and use signature verification software for absentee ballots. It would require signature verifications for mail-in ballots — in addition to the current rules that also require two witnesses. We're seeking clarification if signature verification is only for mail-in absentee ballots or would also include those who are voting during early voting (which is also technically "absentee" voting). Since a voter now has to present ID at the time of voting, and they are directly signing their Authorization to Vote form upon check-in, why would signature verification be required as an added step? But it would be very much "on brand" for the Republicans to gum up the works further and sow confusion.

Signature verification for absentee balloting is probably of some concern for elderly voters, who tend disproportionately to favor absentee-by-mail and whose handwriting undergoes major changes through aging.

One major change that will surely be of use to election deniers: any registered voter in a county can now challenge any other voter. They do not have to be from the challenged voter's precinct.

Hise and the boys continue to cry "voter fraud" and "election integrity" as reasons for making voting harder. Voter fraud is rare; a 2016 audit by North Carolina officials found just two cases of voter impersonation in that year’s elections, out of 4.8 million ballots cast. When voter fraud has been a major issue in North Carolina, ironically, it's been voter fraud by Republicans: In 2018 North Carolina had to re-do a Congressional election because a campaign consultant for the Republican candidate was accused of submitting hundreds of fraudulent mail-in ballots. McCrae Dowless, the accused fixer, died last year while awaiting trial.

Sen. Ralph Hise Drops His New Voter Suppression Law


Sen. Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine is now our Senator for Watauga County, and he's an accomplished vote suppressor. His proposed new voting law dropped last night, and we'll all be studying it in the days ahead.

Here's the link if you want to take a look:

Thursday, June 01, 2023

New Voter Suppression Laws Coming for North Carolina


Will Doran, for WRAL:

Student voters will be
a major target for suppression

The 2024 elections in North Carolina could be conducted under far stricter rules under a proposal being crafted behind closed doors by Republican lawmakers — with input from a lawyer best known for assisting in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Republican operatives and state lawmakers expect a massive package of laws — affecting everything from voter ID to early voting, mail-in ballots, voter registration rules and more — to be filed in the coming days.

“From talking to leaders in the House and Senate, it appears they’re going to bundle all these meritorious changes … and put them in an omnibus bill,” Jim Womack, a longtime GOP politician and party insider familiar with Republican leaders’ thinking on the issue, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “This is something my group has been pushing for.”

Womack’s group is the Election Integrity Network, whose state chapter he runs with Cleta Mitchell, a former lawyer for then-President Donald Trump. She and Womack have met with high-ranking Republican lawmakers in recent weeks, pushing their goals for changes to election laws ahead of the 2024 elections. They say their changes will add security to elections and give people more faith that future results aren’t rigged.

“The biggest issue across the nation is distrust in elections,” Womack said. “And it’s not just conservatives. It is more with conservatives, but it’s both sides.”

Mitchell was one of several lawyers heavily involved in Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election results — including the famous call she, Trump and others made to Georgia election officials when Trump pressured the officials to “find” enough votes to let him win the state instead of his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, who actually won. A Georgia grand jury has been investigating the incident and whether to charge Trump criminally.

In recent months, she has made national news for her efforts in conservative circles to make it harder for younger people to vote in 2024, including by shortening the time available for voting and by restricting polling places on college campuses.