What’s in a name

Now that the General Assembly is preparing to head home, I’m wondering what to call this session. It was certainly historic. It was certainly partisan. And, it looks like it’s not going to be the only session in 2011.
The Historic Partisan First Session of 2011 seems a bit dull and isn’t descriptive enough. And to call it what it really was would take up a lot of space as in the Truly Awful, Spiteful, Mean-Spirited, Half-Cocked Ideas Filled ClusterF#%k of 2011. And yet, that still doesn’t capture it.
I’m at a loss. If you’re not too shellshocked, please send along your ideas for what to call this historic session.
The email is info (at) exileonjonesstreet (dot) com.
Or leave a comment here.


Burning the bridge to the 21st Century

This month’s print column in the Indy is a bit of a catch-all, written in the heat of the clusterf^%k at the end of the session.
The full column is here.
It starts like this:

The curtain seems close to falling on Act 1 of the 2011 session of the General Assembly, also known as The Great Undoing.

“Great” as in widespread. Throughout government, this session has shuttered programs, altered missions, rearranged agency departments and jettisoned thousands of state workers.

“Undoing” because what’s been done through the budget and other legislation isn’t just for the sake of belt-tightening or efficiency. The GOP leadership is on an ideological search-and-destroy mission to erase years of progress in education, elections, public health, the courts, environmental protections, consumer protections and, well, you name it.

This is a Legislature not content with turning back the clock (now the most overused metaphor in the history of state politics). They are ensuring that once we get to the past, we’re stuck there.

Last week, the pace quickened. Debates turned sloppy as House and Senate leaders whipped their chambers to pass dozens of bills before the crossover deadline: the cutoff for legislation to be passed by one chamber and still be viable.

Hammered through were sweeping new restrictions on abortion and abortion providers, including a 24-hour waiting period and mandatory sonograms, a ban on state and federal services for undocumented aliens that probably won’t survive a constitutional challenge, a return to 1970s-era rules on regulations and a Voter ID bill that The New York Times recently described as having “a whiff of Jim Crow.”

Shifting sands under Jones Street

Update: According to a tweet by WRAL’s NC Capitol, Bill Ownes says he’s going to vote for the override.

Sometime on Tuesday, we’re very likely to know the outcome of the vote to override Governor Bev Perdue’s veto of the state budget this past Sunday. Even if you’re a damn good at counting noses, you wouldn’t want to predict the outcome, but it’s safe to predict, maybe, that after briefly complaining about Perdue’s unwillingness to compromise, the GOP is intent on ramming through its plan.
The rule is three-fifth of those present. The Senate is a slam-dunk. With everyone attending, Democrats have a four vote margin in the House. If the so-called Party of Five – five Democrats who voted in favor of the budget – votes to override the veto, then as long as the GOP holds together the budget clears the last hurdle.
The reason so much of the above is conditional is because time and time again there have been strange moments in the North Carolina House of Representatives. If, for instance, three members of the Party of Five, return to the loving bosom of their party, then we go back to a negotiated solution. If two switch and one walks, then it gets complicated.
Already today, we’re hearing about a possible primary challenge to Rep. Jim Crawford and and the potential wavering of Rep. Bill Owens and Tim Spear. Reps. Dewey Hill and William Brisson have checked in as ‘yes’ votes on the override.
As always, ahead of the vote look for signs of sudden illnesses or family emergencies. This time around one thing not among the murmurs is word of any defecting Republicans, a sign of the change in the political landscape and the fact that redistricting, an effective tool in legislative arm-twisting, is still in flux.
My gut says that long and short term, an override is a win for the Governor. In the long run, she’s stood her ground, underlined the cuts and their impact and more effectively pinned the blame for them where they belong. (Nobody is buying that idea the GOP added state jobs.)
In the short term, Perdue has shored up her base and helped everyone forget for a moment the cuts she proposed earlier this year.
There’s a new poll out from PPP this morning showing that the budget is not a winner. Even Republicans are divided on it.

Cuts to education are at the center of voter opposition to the budget. Statewide only 36% of voters think that it’s most important to end the temporary one cent sales tax compared to 50% who think it’s more vital to minimize cuts to education spending. The numbers are similar in Berger’s district where 53% of voters think it’s more important to protect education vs. 36% who think it’s more important to roll back the sales tax and in Tillis’ where 51% side with education to 41% for reducing the sales tax.

Also stirring the pot is a well-timed visit by the POTUS and the Sunday N&O story of hefty raises handed out by House Speaker Thom Tillis to his top staff. Kinda surprising since the speaker has been around long enough to understand how that’s going to play. Hypocrisy resonates, always has.

The veto is effective because its gives more time for the impact of the cuts and the nasty little bits tucked in here and there in the budget to rise to the surface. Still, I expect the GOP to go for the double-down and stick to their current spin. You can imagine the commercials now about how many teaching jobs their budget created. A negotiated solution may be in their best interest and is undoubtedly in the best interest of the state, but it seems like this General Assembly leadership is either being guided directly by the same strategists as the national party or are desperately trying to mimic their ‘no prisoners’ strategy. Either way, you and I lose.

Chavis to run in primary against Party of Five’s Crawford?

A lot going on in the wake of the governor’s veto of the budget, including talk of Rev. Ben Chavis running against Rep. Crawford in next year’s primary. Jim Crawford, is one of a group of five House Democrats who supported the budget and may vote to override the veto.

Here’s a video of Chavis speaking in January of this year at the Martin Luther King Day service at First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill including remarks about the political challenges in North Carolina (near the end). Needless to say, he’d be a formidable adversary for anyone.

Four groins for the coast

Star-News is reporting that a deal has been struck to allow construction of four terminal groins on the coast.
Negotiations started with a wide gap between the House and Senate.

A conference committee had met at least two times in recent weeks to try to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation. The Senate voted earlier this session to allow two terminal groins at each inlet in the state. The House later backed a bill that would allow only three projects statewide.

“I understand the concerns,” said Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, who had pushed for the greater number. “I guess this was a good compromise in the end.”

Vote on ethics, election finance reporting merger passes 15-11

Long, testy debate on a bill moving around departments that deal with lobbying, ethics and campaign finance reporting ends in a close vote. Opponents say there wasn’t ample time to review how creating a new board and department to deal with the three functions would affect the work.
Lots of discussion on moving around IT people. The worry seems to be focused on moving campaign finance reporting out of the purview of the state Board of Elections.
I wonder how this is going to change the timeliness and accessibility of the reports. Since money is the mother’s milk of politics, reporting on money is the mother’s milk of campaign coverage. How the board that’s overseeing this work is appointed, how efficient it is and how responsive it is to the public is going to dictate how open and transparent our elections will be.
Shifting this around just prior to a monster election year seems like a case of terrifically bad timing – or worse.
Rep. Deborah Ross, who said the people in the department have raised concern about the measure, offered an amendment to make it a study bill, but that was soundly defeated. So, what’s the rush?

Here’s what Democracy NC had to say about it:

Shotgun Merger of Agencies Shields Officials from Scrutiny, Hundreds of Campaign Reports Are Already Not Audited

A nonpartisan watchdog group is sharply criticizing a proposal in the state Senate’s budget bill to merge and cut the funding for three agencies that now oversee the ethical conduct and campaign activities of state legislators, thousands of other public officials, and hundreds of lobbyists.
The proposal would combine the State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission and the lobbying regulation division of the Secretary of State’s office into a new agency by January 1, 2012, and put it under the control of General Assembly leaders. The newly created State Board of Elections and Ethics would have a smaller staff, less money and a nine-member board with six members appointed by legislative leaders and three by the governor.
“These are the agencies that guard the public’s trust in government. They hold officials accountable for the honest performance of their duties, and they’re already straining to do their jobs right with limited resources,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the Democracy North Carolina. “The way this merger is being pushed so rapidly, crammed inside a budget bill without a thorough study, is completely irresponsible and highly suspicious. You have to wonder if the Republicans are trying to cripple these agencies and throw them into a state of confusion during the upcoming election.”
The new agency would have 20 fewer positions (15 currently filled) and $1.4 million less a year* to register voters, administer elections, oversee the conduct of public officials and political appointees, regulate lobbying and campaign financing, and enforce more than a thousand pages of state law.
Hall said his concern over the merger was heightened after discovering one area where funding cuts are already blocking public accountability and transparency. A review by Democracy North Carolina of files at the State Board of Elections found that hundreds of campaign finance reports for candidates to the General Assembly in 2010 have not yet been audited, in violation of state law.
“The public has a right to know how money is moving through our election system, who’s cheating and who wants to buy influence,” said Hall. “More cutbacks and this shotgun merger will just shield politicians from scrutiny and reduce transparency, just the opposite of what Republicans promised.”
NC General Statute 163-278.24 says campaign reports must be examined “within four months after the date of each election” to “determine whether the statement conforms to law and to the truth.” Candidates file up to six reports during an election cycle to disclose details about their contributions and campaign spending. But due to budget cutbacks, the State Board of Elections has been forced to lay off clerical and other staff, leading to a large backlog of reports to analyze.
Democracy North Carolina discovered that 651 (44%) of the 1,492 reports filed by the winning and losing legislative candidates in the 2010 general election have not even been entered into a database for preliminary analysis by the Board of Elections staff, much less been audited for errors, missing information, and possible criminal violations.
Paper copies can be viewed through the Board’s website, but some are illegible and it’s impossible to perform the required audit until the information is keyed into the Board’s database. Getting the information from the disclosure reports into the Board’s database is the first step of the auditing process and also makes campaign contributions accessible in a searchable format on the Board’s website.
Hall noted that the Board’s database still does not contain any of the campaign reports for 2009 or 2010 for 49 of the 170 General Assembly winners, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown and House Majority Leader Paul Stam. Paper copies of the reports were submitted but they remain unprocessed.
Altogether, 405 of the 960 reports filed by the 170 legislative winners in 2010, or 42% of the reports, have not been entered into the database for processing and have not been audited.
In addition, hundreds of reports for political action committees (PACs) and local and state political parties have also not been entered into the Board’s electronic files for processing.
(You can view a committee’s report at http://www.app.sboe.state.nc.us/webapps/cf_rpt_search/ and see if the report is only an Image of the paper report or if the Data has been entered into the
Board’ s data file.)
“There’s a perception that record amounts of money flooded the General Assembly elections in 2010, but we still don’t have a handle on where it all came from, who deserves kudos for reporting accurately, and who’s violating the law by withholding information,” said Hall.
“The 2012 election will be unbelievably expensive, with hot national and state contests and more spending by secretive groups, corporations and unions following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” he said. “Some politicians, but not all are just as happy to keep us in the dark.”
Hall noted that many freshmen Republicans were elected on a promise to increase transparency in government, but they submitted their disclosures report in paper form only, rather than expedite the audit process by filing them electronically.
“Instead of crippling agencies charged with protecting honest government, more candidates should be required to file reports electronically to expedite the auditing process,” he said.

(full report pdf)

Let’s hear it for transparency

Updated: Strange version of a late Friday news dump but apparently the House Republicans held their strategy discussion with an open mike in the room that was broadcasting to the press room.

Mr. Binker has the audio at the end of his blog post, which features this splendid example of bipartisanship:

Stam emphasized that only Rep. Davis Lewis, a Harnett Republican and chairman of the Elections Committee, should speak to the redistricting provisions “because David can obfuscate more than anyone I know.”

Here’s the audio embed via the News & Record:

Some of the what was noted in the Under the Dome story:

House Speaker Thom Tillis reminded members not to talk about “Democrats,” but to counter individuals by name.

“This is not about Democrats, because we have Democrats voting for this budget,” he said. “Please, do not go after the Democrats. If you want to go after an individual member for saying something stupid, gut punch them. These five Democrats are going after her (Gov. Bev Perdue.) We’ll go after the governor; when we have a veto override.”

WRAL had this tidbit about redistricting strategy from the same meeting:

Stam explained that for redistricting, “The plan all along has been to submit this to the courts, rather than the Department of Justice, since this will be the first redistricting plan under the Voting Rights Act submitted to a DOJ controlled by Democrats, let alone Obama.”

(The DC Circuit Court, which is where the redistricting plan would go, is considered quite conservative.)

“Y’all need to be raising money for our outside counsel for after session adjourns,” Stam joked.

(More later, I’m sure)

In the Char-O Michael Biesecker (who should get the hat tip for this one) highlights the main reason we’ll see a rush for a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage:

Rep. Mark Hilton, a Catawba Republican, told members of his caucus in a closed-door meeting today that groups supporting a constitutional gay-marriage ban need a vote this year so they can organize their get-out-the-vote campaigns.

A shabby moment

I happened to be in the Senate gallery yesterday to witness the brief discussion on the state budget compromise worked out between the Senate and House leadership and the Gang of Five Democrats in the House.

The debate on the bill kicked off with a move by Democrats to sever a section that would extend the unemployment benefits that have been held hostage since early April by the GOP leadership.
The use of the now 47,000 people as a bargaining chip is awful enough, especially since there is no cost to the state to extend these benefits. The number of people losing their payments keeps increasing while this shameful behavior continues. During discussions, derision of the unemployed has been an unfortunate aspect of the rhetoric. During the debate yesterday, there was a particularly appalling example of the lack of respect shown to the unemployed and their families.

In a back and forth between Senator Malcolm Graham, who called for quick passage of a standalone bill on the benefits extension, and Rules Committee chair Senator Tom Apodaca, who insisted it stay in the budget, Graham noted the uncertainty faced by families. He listed their worries and among many was a concern about how they might be able to afford to send a child to a summer camp. In a truly callous display of hubris Apodaca said people who are unemployed shouldn’t even consider such a thing.

There are no doubt hundreds of thousands of North Carolina families whose breadwinners are employed, under-employed and unemployed that are struggling to make ends meet and trying to budget for summer camp. In recognition of the positive impact some of these camps have on children, many churches, schools and non-profits provide scholarships and subsidies to low and moderate income families. To say that the children from these families – including those having their lives turned upside down through political gamesmanship – don’t deserve access to camps is another example of the crass class warfare embraced by the current leadership.

The following two-minute exchange was captured by the folks at NC Policy Watch. Apodaca’s comment about camps is at the end. His office phone number is (919) 733-5745.