Sunday, September 24, 2023

"Jackass" With a Cell Phone


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 23, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 22, 2023

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


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

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

Because secrecy is next to godliness? 

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

Ah! Because secrecy is essential for authoritarianism.

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Did Phil Berger Pull a Muscle Over Casino Gambling?


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

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

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

Another Bomb Shell About the Corruption in Rockingham County


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Bad Non-Budget Provisions Slipped Into the Budget

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

Paul Newby

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

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

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

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

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


Berger Gives Up on Casino Gambling


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

The compromise budget will not include casino gambling enablement.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Gambling Tied to Medicaid -- Democrats Refuse To Go Along


NCSenate Minority Leader
Dan Blue

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

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

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

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

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


Faculty Dissatisfaction with AppState Chancellor


Stella Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2023

"Here's How We Deliver for the Gambling Industry: We Get the Democrats To Pass It!"


Jason Saine
Because Berger can't get casino gambling past the Republicans in the NC House, the NC House leaders -- mainly Jason Saine, as the chief budget writer, who is also a loyal lieutenant to Tim Moore -- put forth a new "compromise" that ties the passage of casino gambling to the long-promised implementation of Medicaid expansion to hundreds of thousands, in a blatant attempt to seduce enough Democrats into voting for the gambling industry, since rank and file Republicans won't. (This is the only hard news source I've seen about this rogue and naked maneuver, and the article focuses more on Gov. Cooper's denouncement of the thing than the thing itself. Cooper called the bill "a brutally dishonest backroom deal.")

The casino plan and Medicaid expansion would then be in one bill together, separate from the actual budget, a source from both parties told CBS 17....

So far, Democrats have not received many details about the plan. The details they have seen were described as “garbled” by one Democrat who spoke to CBS 17 Saturday.

Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) who is a top budget writer in the House confirmed the proposal, rumors of which began Friday night. Saine also said votes for the budget and the combined Medicaid/casino bill would take place on Wednesday and Thursday.

So stand by for a coliseum spectacle if Democrats jump on board enough to give Phil Berger his wet dream.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Fright Is the Mother of Invention


When you vote, it scares some folks.”
--Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking to students at NC A&T, Sept. 16, 2023

Rep. Zenger

Here's one now, so frightened he makes a serious suggestion to take away voting rights from college students in North Carolina -- more specifically, students at AppState -- that would violate the Supreme Court's ruling from 1979, Symm v. United States. College students have the constitutional right to vote where they go to school.

But Rep. Jeff Zenger (Forsyth, Dist. 74) said he got an idea from his daughter, a student at AppState, who complained to him that college students voting in local elections made her feel yucky. "When they vote for Senate and vote for President, that’s great," Zenger said his daughter said. "But what isn’t fair is that they vote in the local elections. The problem is that the college students don’t understand the issues of the local politics and the local people."

"Don't understand the issues"? Is there a test for that? Doesn't understand the issues worse than, say, local high school graduates who did not go away to college and who don't know the three branches of government? There are uninformed people everywhere, and all of them have the right to vote in local elections. So far.

So Rep. Zenger, who likes ideas that cripple the student vote, proposes putting it into North Carolina law that any college student claimed as a dependent by parents must vote where those parents live. Heaping on the heads of college students (who are already not supposed to know their asses from a handsaw) new hurdles and confusion that come with voting by mail -- already made more difficult by Zenger's pals in the General Assembly. Yeah, that's the ticket!

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Rotten Dictator of Rockingham County


I love a good toppling of dominos, and this story has them lined up. (Details here from Colin Campbell, writing for WUNC.)

See, a gambling casino developer named The Cordish Companies had an eye on a new location in rural Rockingham County, and they needed (1) a law legalizing commercial, non-Indian gambling casinos in North Carolina and (2) they needed a large tract of land that could be rezoned especially for them.

Guess who thought he could get both? Why, Senate Prez Pro Tem Phil Berger, who represents Rockingham County in the state senate and who set out very determined to slip casino enabling language into the NC budget. (He already got the property rezoned -- his own son sits on the all-Republican county commish that approved the rezoning.) But the second part of Berger's scheme looks dead for the moment, or at least seriously wounded -- because the House Freedom Caucus says "no" to putting casinos in the budget. 

Look what else Berger's got up to because of that casino:

So Wednesday (this week), Phil Berger gets the Senate to vote to de-annex almost 1,000 acres of the little town of Summerfield in Guildford County, pop. 11,000, a bedroom community suburb of Greensboro that has stringent zoning laws about development. Berger takes the land away from Summerfield and gives it to Guildford County. "The de-annexation bill was requested by developer David Couch, who wants to build apartments and other housing" on at least some of those 1,000 acres. The track happens to lie 10 miles from the casino site. Who wouldn't notice it was going to be high-density housing for the hundreds of low-wage workers a gambling casino will need -- the dealers, floor-walkers, servers, security, and maintenance workers. Exactly the kind of development that an upscale suburban bedroom community like Summerfield would reject -- and, yes, it's a class thing. (NOTE: Berger has constantly pumped up the idea of the casino as a great job-creator for local people. But it's sobering to know that the "Average Casino Dealer Salary" in North Carolina -- Eastern Band Cherokee casino and the Catawba Two Kings casino -- currently: $27,429 per annum, or $13.79 an hour.)

Whether the de-annexation of Summerfield benefits David Couch is yet to be known, as he will now have to negotiate with Guildford County. Maybe their development laws are more lenient. The House still has to pass this piece of corruption, and maybe the same Freedom Caucus that's already stood up to Berger might be morally offended enough to do it again. Whether or not de-annexaction ultimately helps Couch, it sure enough punishes Summerfield, as only Berger is capable of engineering.

Last domino: The lobbyists pushing the de-annexation bill for David Couch also work for The Cordish Companies. They're all in it together.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Mark Harris, Going Full Trumpist


Tuesday was a busy news day in North Carolina. Kyle Ingram reported:

Mark Harris, whose 2018 congressional campaign was at the center of a ballot-harvesting scandal ending in a new election and felony indictments for an operative who worked for him, announced his campaign for Congress on Tuesday. 

Harris’s own son gave bombshell testimony at 2019 state hearings called to investigate election fraud, where Harris himself called for a new election. 

Yet in his campaign announcement, Harris cast doubt on the decision to reverse his apparent win. “After seeing first hand the manufactured scandal that resulted in the Democrat controlled State Board of Elections not certifying our victory in 2018, I am one of the few people who truly understands the extremes Democrats will go to in order to advance their woke, leftist agenda,” he said in a statement.


It's now Republican boilerplate, partially rewritten to fit Rev. Harris: Not only does election fraud thrive (even in races that Republicans win), but an investigation by the State Board of Elections never happened and if it did, it was totally the product of the other Party's invention.

Harris says he's running in NC8, the seat currently help by Dan Bishop, who plans to abandon it to run for Attorney General. But the boundaries of NC8 will probably change when the Republicans get around to gerrymandering themselves into perpetual power, which will happen as late in the fall as possible, to give Democrats little time to recruit candidates in new House and Senate districts.

Will Mark Harris have a miraculous resurrection? He believes so apparently. He wouldn't be saying "woke" otherwise. He's got the correct hymnal in his hands.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

We Live in Interesting Times


Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan posted this yesterday morning:

Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan, who just stepped down from the court last week, has entered the Democratic primary for governor in 2024. 

His candidacy upends a primary that thus far had just one candidate, Attorney General Josh Stein — long considered the heir apparent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. 

But Morgan says he has a better chance of winning the general election.

Full disclosure: I've given money to the Josh Stein campaign. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Raleigh Freedom Caucus -- Tough Gristle for Phil Berger?


A tweet this morning by Travis Fain of WRAL arrested my forward motion:

People who know aren’t saying it yet, so stay tuned, but today feels like the day a $30 billion state budget and massive healthcare initiative fall apart over gambling bills that no one outside the #NCGA has been allowed to read.

And here I had been thinking that House Speaker Tim Moore's statement last week -- that adding the legalization of more gambling casinos to the budget bill didn't have sufficient support among House Republicans to pass -- ended the matter for this term.

Apparently, not. Fain reported late yesterday afternoon:

Closed-door negotiations to expand legalized gambling in North Carolina continued at the statehouse Monday afternoon with no clarity on whether that language – which lawmakers have not released to the public – will be included in a $30 billion state budget that may pass the General Assembly this week.

The gambling issue has delayed that budget, which includes tax cuts and as-yet-undisclosed raises for teachers and state employees. Budget passage would also trigger Medicaid expansion, extending taxpayer-funded health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people in the state and representing a multi-billion-dollar boost for the hospital industry.

Leadership wants to add authorization for four new casinos, as well as statewide legalization for slot-machine-style terminals often called video poker machines. Including this in the budget would let lawmakers avoid single-issue votes on stand-alone gambling bills.

The key subject-verb: "Leadership wants." Especially Senate boss Phil Berger, who naturally welcomes what could be a $500 billion development bonanza for his county of Rockingham, with all the deep-pocketed influencers of legislation who would come along with the "development money," pushing piles of it themselves.

But who marches into Berger's office yesterday but the dozen-and-a-half Freedom Caucus members from the House, the most conservative and reactionary members of Berger's own party, who we have to speculate were telling Berger "no way" to legalizing casinos via the budget. They're part of the Republican caucus in the House that Speaker Moore has already said hates casinos.

Berger "has said repeatedly that the gambling legislation he supports will only move forward as part of the budget." Apparently, the Freedom Caucus isn't buying it, which perhaps led Berger to comment to reporter Fain after the meeting that the collapse of budget negotiations could inevitably also end porkpie projects in several districts of individual members -- and if you don't see that as a threat, you don't think like a politico (lucky you!).

When the Freedom Caucus members came out of Berger's office an hour after they went in, they were clammed up and unsmiling. They went immediately into a Republican House Caucus meeting, which Fain says started at 3:30 and was "still going at 6:00."

Photo Travis Fain

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Odds Against Any New Gambling Casinos in NC

Mark Walker, a Republican candidate for
governor, speaks at rally against gambling casinos

So ... are new gambling parlors now dead in the General Assembly?

In a NandO story last Thursday, House Speaker Tim Moore announced that “there are not 61 Republicans willing to vote for the budget if it includes gaming.” "In an email to the House Republican Caucus sent Wednesday night, Moore said Republicans would not pass a state budget that didn’t have at least 61 House GOP votes, a majority of the 120-member House."

On the Senate side, President Pro Tem Phil Berger reiterated that a standalone casino bill sanctioning new non-Indian gambling establishments was "not likely to pass this session."

So perhaps the building opposition of citizens in four target counties, and elsewhere, had some effect.

Friday, September 08, 2023

McCrory Wants Bank Audits of Republican Political Consultants


A few days ago, I remarked on the NandO investigative piece that uncovered all the PPP (COVID-protection) loans that professional political consultants of both parties applied for, received, and for which they were blessed with loan forgiveness. I focused entirely on Democratic political consultant Morgan Jackson.  

Ex-Gov. Pat McCrory read the same article, and on his WBT radio show yesterday morning he ranted about the Republican consultants outed by Danielle Battaglia's reporting. “Some are questioning whether it was illegal that they asked for those loans,” McCrory said on air. “Me included.” Then he started naming names, and the violators on his mind were mainly Republican (he did mention the Democrats too, being "bipartisan" to a fault, so McCrory's "toe-stepping" celebrity is still intact):

“These are the former state directors of the Republican Party, who are now political consultants, who asked for money. Former state senators who asked for money. Former aides to [Senate President Pro Tem] Phil Berger, former campaign or current campaign people for [Gov.] Roy Cooper and [Attorney General] Josh Stein and [Rep.] Dan Bishop. It’s Republican and Democrat. It’s bipartisan.”

After the show Danielle Battaglia, asked McCrory if he zeroed in on those particular Republicans "for personal reasons" -- since he was known to have clashed with them in the past -- McCrory answered that those people had “done Machiavellian things against me,” so, yes, I believe Battaglia got an answer to her question.

McCrory demanded that US attorneys get involved -- yes! -- and he called for "an audit to be done on their income to see if they actually met the loan’s criteria. He later told The N&O he believes the SBA would be in charge of auditing the businesses."

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Don't Read Polls


This morning, Thomas Mills on was taking up the thorny subject of Biden's bad polling and the incipient panic spreading among Democratic Party activists -- he was defending Biden -- and he wrote a paragraph that I immediately copied down for its historic wisdom:

Is 82 too old to run for president? Maybe, but nobody is going to challenge him. There’s no cabal of Democratic insiders who could edge him out. The party is a loose coalition of interest groups, not a small group of power brokers. The infighting in the party is legendary and often leads to Democrats getting defined by extremes that actually have little power but get a lot of lip service. As Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

Factions. Madison warned us about them. But in the Democratic Party, they're essential DNA and maybe too its potential strength -- when and if the factions unite for a cause. Trump's running for president again, and Mark Robinson's running for governor -- that could be the cause.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Update on Commercial Gambling in North Carolina


Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan reported today (italics added):

House Republicans had a nearly four-hour caucus meeting Tuesday to make final determinations on whether or not to legalize up to four new casinos and include that in the budget. It has been discussed by lawmakers as being part of the budget or a separate bill, but there doesn’t seem to be enough consensus in the caucus for it to pass. 

Moore told reporters after the House session on Tuesday that House Republicans are still counting the votes they might have in their caucus for legalizing casinos and other gaming issues.

The Wheel of Fortune


The following headline first appeared in the NandO on August 31st -- last Thursday -- but I didn't clap my eyes on it until yesterday: "How US allowed pandemic relief to go to NC companies involved in politics and lobbying." Whoa, Nelly! How did that get past me?

And it was well worth reading, too! Danielle Battaglia reports on a number of political consulting "shops" in North Carolina, both Republican and Democrat, that on-the-face-of-it violated longstanding Federal Small Business Admin rules to get their hands on sizable chunks of what turned out to be "free money" -- big loans under the COVID-inspired Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), loans that got forgiven:

When Congress authorized the PPP loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration to help companies harmed by shutdowns as COVID-19 spread, a longstanding Small Business Administration rule still applied that excluded those primarily engaged in lobbying or political activities from applying for agency loans. It was believed that federal tax money should not be invested into those activities. 

The rules allowed some firms in those industries to apply, but only if lobbying or political activity were not their “primary” lines of work. [Italics added]

A good part of Battaglia's long article includes quotes from various high-ranking political operatives arguing that their loans were perfectly legal and aboveboard because only 49.5% of their paid work is actual politics -- something like that. Something hilarious. But I'm less interested in that argument -- because the underlying SBA rule against political activity seems arbitrary -- than I am in the professional details of someone who looms large in my world.

The Democratic consultants exposed by Battaglia, primarily "the Governor's man" Morgan Jackson, have remained largely anonymous to the general public. They're the invisible hands of any government that's politically constituted. They guide policy and decide on personnel at all the levels that matter, from who gets to be on the State Board of Elections to how a statewide campaign for governor will be run.

Morgan Jackson is the Democrat's guy. So I want to know about him, and Danielle Battaglia scratched my itch. Everything below is 100% the reporting of Battaglia:

On April 27, 2020, Nexus Strategies received an $82,747 PPP loan, later forgiven with interest. Scott Falmlen and Morgan Jackson, partners at Nexus Strategies, that year worked with campaigns in North Carolina for Democratic candidates such as Joe Biden, Gov. Roy Cooper and failed U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham.

Jackson said most of their business is based in public affairs, not politics.

“I’m not sure how you differentiate from advising a sitting governor, and politics,” said Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

Hall added that Nexus does a lot of compliance work for Democratic campaigns.

In 2019, Nexus Strategies was registered with the North Carolina secretary of state’s office as doing “Political/Government Affairs Consulting.” After 2019, the company registered as “Political/Public Affairs Consulting.”

The firm received its PPP loan after listing the company under the category of “all other professional, scientific, and technical.” Nexus Strategies said in its application that it employed four people. Three of the four employee profiles on its website highlight their work in politics.

On the Nexus website, Falmlen’s profile states he is active in public service and advising elected officials and policy makers at the federal, state and local levels.

Jackson’s profile lists him as “a veteran of a number of high profile political and public policy efforts” and that he has served in senior roles for presidential, gubernatorial and congressional candidates. It also states that he advises government officials from the governor to legislative leaders and everyone in between. He stresses that he’s a longtime adviser to Cooper.

Jackson said his organization was within its rights to apply. “We qualified due to the fact that the majority of our business is derived from public affairs and communications and not from political consulting,” Jackson told McClatchy.

Jackson had told The Charlotte Observer for a story in May 2020 that the company would not be applying for the loan.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

First They Count the Money; Then They Gamble


Despite an uprising of sorts by Rockingham County citizens upset about the rezoning of 192 acres for a new commercial gambling parlor, the Rockingham Commission voted unanimously on August 21 to approve the rezoning. One of those voting was Kevin Berger, Senate boss Phil Berger's son. The Bergers stand to gain from the deal:

Bob Hall, former executive director of Democracy NC and a longtime campaign funding watchdog, recently released his analysis of political contributions related to gambling. 

A news release announcing Hall’s findings said that “during the first half of 2023, while state legislators debated legalizing various forms of gambling and marijuana use, they also collected $530,000 in campaign contributions from political donors tied to those activities.” And that’s just for six months. 

Prior to January, Hall reported, lawmakers received $885,000 from a network of video gambling backers, with some of the donations potentially illegally bundled. Gambling interests also have their lobbyists descending on the General Assembly with the fervor of casino executives wooing high rollers. Hall’s review found that “38 gambling-related businesses and associations – including 29 based outside North Carolina – are paying 71 different lobbyists to promote their agenda this year to 170 state legislators.” (Ned Barnett in the NandO)

They don't even try to hide the corruption. And we the voting citizens just accept the pay-to-play world as the new not new reality of politicians lining their pockets. Which makes us something less than a shining light on the hill.

Monday, September 04, 2023

The Next Really Bad, Truly Awful Elections Bill in North Carolina


Senate Bill 749, "An Act To Revise the State Board of Elections," is another Republican power grab, denying the governor any -- as in no -- appointment power to the SBOE (and that's not even the worst part). Instead, this is who will get to appoint the new eight-member state board:

President of the Senate (Phil Berger) gets to appoint 2

Speaker of the House (Tim Moore) gets to appoint 2

Minority Leader of the Senate (Dan Blue) gets to appoint 2

Minority Leader of the House (Robert T. Reives II) gets to appoint 2

These same four people will also be burdened with appointing one member each to every single county BOE in the state come next June. So you get the plan? Four-to-4 on the SBOE; 2-to-2 on county BOEs. Everybody appointed by politicos. Can you spell deadlock? How about clusterfuck?

And what does S749 say about deadlocks? What are the remedies? In only two very specific types of deadlock -- the failure of boards to agree on their own chair -- Berger/Moore give themselves extraordinary power. If a local BOE can't agree on a chair, Berger-Moore gets to swoop in and take control:

If for any reason a chair is not elected within 30 days after new appointees take the prescribed oath or within 30 days of the occurrence of a vacancy in the office of the chair, the office of chair may be filled by legislative appointment in accordance with G.S. 120-121 as if the chair is a member of a board or commission. If the vacancy occurs in an odd-numbered year, the appointment is made upon the recommendation of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. If the vacancy occurs in an even-numbered year, the appointment is made upon the recommendation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Same thing if the SBOE can't get majority agreement on a new Executive Director.

What about deadlocks over entire voting plans by county -- the setting of hours, the placement of early voting sites, the handling of challenges? Deadlocks over those highly contentious issues, since they involve something as crucial as ballot access itself, ought to happen, must happen, when one side has a plan that will disadvantage voters of color and young people. The greatest fear on the left is weak board members who just want to get along, so they go along, and through their shocking innocence allow the suppression of the right to vote.

The Republicans tout S749 as "no partisan control of voting." and doesn't it sound just so splendidly bi-partisan, with equal numbers from both parties singing Kum ba yah in the best of all possible worlds? If the Republican messaging machine is good at anything it's goodest at pulling the wool. They want deadlocks. They don't mind a little court action since they own the state's judiciary too. 

S749 has passed the Senate and is moving in the House. It will pass. It will be vetoed. The veto will be overridden. The governor will sue.

The Republicans had this very same power-grab twice rejected in court and again by VOTERS, when they put a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot in 2018 seeking the same outcome that S749 provides.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

News From Trump-Era School Boards: The Wilmington Censorship Case


So this is happening in Wilmington. Friday morning the New Hanover School Board convened for a hearing on whether Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, written by Jason Reynolds, adapted from the work of Ibram X. Kendi, should be permanently banned from any school reading list.

WHQR, public media in Wilmington, reported:

Since January, a parent, Katie Gates, has been pushing to ban the book and now, after her request was denied in two different appeals, the school board is deciding its fate. When Gates first complained, her daughter had been assigned Stamped as part of an Advanced Placement course. Since then, her daughter accepted an alternative assignment and has since completed the course, but Gates has continued to pursue getting the book removed....

...the board will determine whether the challenge to the book has “merit” and whether that book should be “retained, removed from the New Hanover County Schools entirely, whether it should be removed to another school level, or whether its availability should be restricted.”

I haven't read Stamped. I rely on an honest broker like Wiley Cash to school me: 

The book is a “remix” of Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning created for readers ages 12 and up.

While the book reveals the genesis of racist ideology in America and suggests ways to combat it, Gates characterized it as “embracing dangerous ideologies.” In her complaint, Gates challenged the book through a number of inaccurate “facts,” contending that Thomas Jefferson freed his enslaved people and that the Bible was not used to justify slavery.

In the piece that Cash wrote for The Assembly, he concludes that "the fix" may already be in since two of the board members, including the chair, colluded with Katie Gates: "Much of the board’s public wrestling with this decision appears to be theatrical. Gates and two conservative members of the school board seemingly laid the groundwork for the decision—to be made sometime this fall—months ago. Emails WHQR obtained reveal close coordination between Gates and school board member Josie Barnhart and Chair Pat Bradford."

Cash's interest comes from a personal place:

"I’m a parent of two young children who attend New Hanover County schools, and I’m deeply invested in ensuring that they learn the true complexity of American history. As a North Carolina native who was educated in the state’s public schools, I did not."

For example, Cash writes, he didn't know about the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, a brutal white supremacist coup, until he was in graduate school taking a class on North Carolina literature at UNC-Greensboro. (Many of the rest of us didn't learn about Wilmington until 2020, when Wilmington's Lie came out and won the Pulitzer.) It would be well worth paying the measly subscription price to get Wiley Cash's full essay, for his discussion of Charles W. Chestnutt is well worth the effort.

The board voted Friday 4-3 to temporarily ban the book from the high school curriculum but retain it in high school libraries until the board can update its policy to allow a “balanced” book to be added to the AP course.

Friday, September 01, 2023

Democratic Primary in 2024 for A.G. Might Get Interesting


Alexander H. Jones has written a strong endorsement for the just retired NC Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan to run for the office of Attorney General, not Governor as has been speculated Morgan was considering. Jones makes the point that the first announced Democratic candidate for the job is a little known ex-Marine lawyer from Fayetteville, Col. Tim Dunn. There's now a second Democrat in the race, Duplin County attorney Charles Ingram. Morgan's getting into the primary will make him the instant frontrunner.

Jones writes, "Mike Morgan would be one of the most highly-qualified candidates ever to run for Attorney General in North Carolina. He has served as a jurist at every level of the state courts, culminating in a tenure on the High Court during one of the most significant progressive terms in recent state history."

Whoever wins a Democratic primary will likely be running against current Congressman Dan Bishop, whom Jones also characterizes: "Bishop represents the most pernicious strand of politics that exists in America. While it would be very strong to employ the descriptor 'fascist,' Dan Bishop has allied himself with genuine forces of neo-fascism in national politics. He started his AG’s campaign by stoking lurid fears about crime in 'Asheville' (decoded: gay) and 'especially Charlotte' (decoded: multiracial). At a minimum he would create a climate of hysteria among many whites that seemed to justify an extreme response by law enforcement to an imagined epidemic of urban disorder."