Hagan answers the call

Politico gives Kay Hagan props for taking phone calls as promised:

Kay Hagan picks up the phone

In what was a brave undertaking – and a lovely photo op – the North Carolina Democrat kept her word and answered the phones in her Washington office for about an hour and a half.

WRAL live coverage of Senate abortion law debate

The NC Senate takes up several issues in what could be the last day of the special session, including H854, which imposes a 24 hour waiting period and other restrictions and requirements on abortion.
It was just announced that Sen. Stan Bingham, who voted against the bill and was at the NCGA during the day, now has an excused absence. If he’s walked, it means the GOP probably has enough votes to override Governor Perdue’s veto. Twenty nine votes are needed.

Sea change

This month’s Exile on Jones Street column, published Wednesday July 20 in the Independent Weekly, is about the changes in public policy as a result of the recent session of the North Carolina General Assembly.

New laws and fewer rules spell major changes for the N.C. coast

We’re at the height of beach season and it’s full tilt vacationland up and down the strands. This is when most of us experience a little of life on the North Carolina coast.

It’s also harvest time, and the locals are concentrating on gathering those tourist dollars. Early summer has been a challenge. Wildfire season, which normally dies out in early June, lingered well into July, and massive fires inland have choked residents and visitors from Wrightsville Beach to Corolla.

The thick smoke from coastal wildfires rolled through Raleigh about the time the Legislature wrapped up a session that inflicted major changes on the policies and politics that shape the changing coastline. Wildfires are part of the ecology of the coastal plain, and the scorched pocosin will soon recover. The same recovery may not be true for the region if predictions about what was set in motion this session hold true.

The 2010 elections ushered in not just a Republican majority in the Legislature, but also a remade legislative delegation for coastal North Carolina; two key Senate seats and a handful of House seats went Republican for the first time.

The win spelled the end of an era when coastal policy was shaped mainly in the office of former Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, who retired for health reasons in January. In his 26 years in the Legislature, the Manteo Democrat was no great foe of coastal development, but he can be credited at least with trying to manage it and for attempting to balance the interests of traditional industries like fishing and tourism and the burgeoning build-out on the shore.

One of his signature issues was the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which dedicates $100 million each year for water quality and preservation throughout the state. The money has helped protect estuaries and shellfish habitats from the impact of coastal development.

What happened to the trust fund is indicative of the shift in priorities and a harbinger of the future for progressive environmental policies. To help cover the budget shortfall, the trust fund was first hit for $50 million annually in Gov. Bev Perdue’s proposed budget, then shaved further to $12.5 million by GOP budget writers in the Legislature–an 88.5 percent cut. The fund’s future is unclear, but the message to environmentalists is not.

Add the other fruits of the session–offshore drilling proposals, cuts to research, the approval of terminal groins (a kind of underwater jetty that reduces wave action)–and a rush to dismantle environmental regulation and enforcement: You can understand why longtime advocates for the coast worry that the Legislature has jeopardized years of progress in managing the formidable forces of both human and nature.

HUMAN FORCES: When the housing bubble burst, the rapidly growing areas along the state’s southeastern coast tallied some of the biggest losses. A News & Observer report in late February by Jay Price found that since 2006, near the height of the bubble, property values in Carteret and Brunswick counties had dropped by $12 billion–more than 25 percent. Waterfront and near-waterfront properties, the article says, plunged even more.

For now, the brakes are on development, but for environmental advocates like N.C. Coastal Federation Executive Director Todd Miller, there’s little doubt the economic forces that have reshaped the coastline for decades will soon resume their work.

Miller, who founded the federation in 1982, says plenty of projects are already in the pipeline. “We’re sitting on a 20-year supply of developments,” he says.

Under what rules these projects will be built and how their impacts will be monitored is now a question mark. “The worry is, are we going to have a facade of environmental protection, something that’s not real,” Miller says.

The passage of regulatory reform and limits on the crafting of new environmental rules, he says, will eliminate agencies’ ability to be agile in designing new regulations and redrafting old rules, many of which were implemented in the 1970s and ’80s.

“We won’t be able to adjust programs to deal with emerging demands,” he says. “That means the rules we have will have to suffice. If they’re found to be inadequate, it will be impossible to change them.”

The continued defunding of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, he says, will also severely impact its ability to handle demands of development, including long-term monitoring of storm water systems and other infrastructure.

“Going into this, what we had was not a panacea,” Miller says, “but the change is pretty severe.” Read more

Auditor report shows excessive OT at State Fair

State Auditor Beth Wood released an investigative audit of overtime at the State Fair, which is managed by the Department of Agriculture. The report cites excessive overtime and off hours working.
The State Fair, as you may recall, has a rather checkered past. So, watch this latest development closely.

The report contains an interesting response to the Ag Department’s response to the report in which Wood calls the department’s response misleading.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (Department) provided a response to our investigative report that we believe is misleading. While our report did not include a finding of fraud, it did include a finding of excessive and unjustified overtime hours. As noted in our report, overtime pay decreased from $23,143 to $14,698 over a four-year period after the Department hired an employee to assist the Facility Sales Director. However, the Department continued to pay for overtime even though the State Fair Manager said he was generally unaware of what the Facility Sales Director was working on outside of normal business hours.
The Department contends that the sales and marketing staff at the State Fairgrounds is significantly understaffed. However, in our opinion, the Department has no basis for this argument in the absence of a comprehensive evaluation of the Facility Sales Director’s work habits and relative efficiency. Thus, any increase in expenditures for staffing would be imprudent without performing this type of assessment.

New maps are worse for Dems

Why is it not surprising that the fix is worse than the original?
Via Roll Call:

The new map draws Democratic Reps. Brad Miller and David Price together into Price’s 4th district and puts Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell together in Kissell’s 8th district. The first version of the map did not pair any incumbents together and the latest, and likely final version, looks substantially different from that draft and the current map. Tar Heel State Republicans attributed the changes made to the new map largely to the requests of Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, an accusation he denied.

Have a look yourself at Congress 2.whatever

The Maps of Mid July

“Elections matter” although perhaps a little condescending is the best way to answer the questions you get when trying to explain the consequences of the newly redrawn state House and Senate districts and the process by which they were created.
Once the final tally came in on the evening of the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2010 this was inevitable. Elections matter and in this case they mattered greatly. As one political consultant put it to me recently, losing big ahead of a redistricting year is “like a hurricane coming ashore at high tide on a full moon.”
In any contest one side being able to set the rules of the game is an overwhelming advantage. Being able to change them midstream is even more advantageous. That’s the case here in North Carolina where the GOP led redistricting will reset the dynamics of the state’s legislative contests. At the same time there’s been a robust effort on the part of the party in power to rewrite as much of the state’s election code as they can get away with. Many of these bills are complex but their goal to reduce both the turnout and impact of votes from traditionally Democratic areas and constituencies is not. At this point, with the cards now on the table, no one could look at what is being done and declare it neutral.
That the attempt to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the Voter ID bill, the crudest of the vote suppression tools, is coming during a session dedicated to redistricting further underlines that this is a coordinate, partisan effort to consolidate and hold on to power.
The House and Senate maps released yesterday, just days ahead of the session, were full of tricks and traps for specific members of the opposition as well as a highly transparent overall effort to mitigate Democratic voter turnout.
Data from the maps show Democratic voters more tightly packed in their districts than Republicans. Totals of how each district leaned in past races is far out of line with the actual statewide results. The carving up of minority areas, the double-bunking of sitting Democratic legislators into one district and drawing specific legislators out of their districts are tried and true techniques to rig the outcome.
The courts will have their say on this and as they’ve done in the past when Democrats have similarly overreached require some reworking of the specifics, particularly in how the cities with large minority populations are sliced and diced.
Even after the courts get a hold of them and ask for a redrafting here and there the strategy and its consequences in 2012 and years later will be felt and the end result will be the same: for the next decade the state legislature will be more conservative than the state itself.
Statewide races for both state and national office won’t be greatly affected by the legislative maps (they will be affected by the some of the vote suppression efforts) so we’re likely to continue to see the state skew more for Democrats in those races, while the new districts help GOP candidates in races for U.S. Congress and the state House and Senate.
A big turnout in next year’s election could upset these dynamics, but in the non-presidential years the maps will favor the GOP. In 2016 and 2020, whether North Carolina is in play in the presidential contest and the general enthusiasm of the electorate will have a big effect on the makeup of the General Assembly. But in 2014 and 2018 the maps will set the stage for the GOP to win back what might have been lost in prior elections.
Election matter.