Big haul expected for caucus fundraiser

Paying –> playing.

Democracy NC keeps the heat on:

Caucus Fundraisers on Eve of Session,
New Records Set in 2012 Election

On the eve of tomorrow’s General Assembly session, you might think legislators are meetings with their constituents, discussing their concerns about what state government should do. Well, that’s not exactly what you get in today’s General Assembly, where many seats cost more than $250,000 to win and money is always on the mind.

Tonight, the NC Republican House Caucus will hold a gala fundraiser at the Cardinal Club with tickets from $150 to $10,000. Because of ethics rules, lobbyists are not allowed to contribute to a legislator’s campaign committees, but they can give to party organizations. The invitation to tonight’s event makes it plain: “Lobbyists registered in North Carolina are not prohibited from contributing to the NC Republican House Caucus.” The underlying message is also clear: Pay up if you want to be a serious player in the session this year.

Other caucuses are doing the same, and have long done so, from both parties. The caucus accounts within the political parties allow legislative leaders to suck in special-interest money all year long and also develop solidarity and discipline among legislators. Each caucus member is expected to donate something from their campaign, and chairs of major committees are expected to put in more, if they want to keep their positions. The millions in the caucus fund then gets spent in several hotly contested races that help the members keep or retake their majority status and power.

As the Democracy North Carolina chart shows, the caucus money system was perfected by Senate Democrats Marc Basnight and Tony Rand, but in their first effort as the incumbent majority, the GOP House and Senate caucuses have broken all records for the amounts of money pulled in and then spent on target races. An article in today’s Charlotte Observer helps explains how the system works.

Turnout in NC in 2012

A really in-depth look at what happened in the last election. Plenty to chew on.

Via Democracy NC:

Analysis of 30 Subgroups of Voters in Each NC County
Profiles Who Participated in the 2012 Election

A detailed analysis of the 4.5 million North Carolina voters participating in last year’s election shows that Republicans turned out their members at a higher rate than Democrats in 65 of the 100 counties.

On the other hand, the percent of black voters who cast a ballot exceeded the turnout rate for registered whites in 64 counties — and 85% of African-American voters are registered as Democrats.

The statewide gap in participation rates for the major parties was 3 percentage points — 73% of registered Republicans voted, compared to 70% of Democrats. But in 21 counties (mostly west of I-85), Republicans outperformed Democrats by more than 7 points; and in 13 counties (mostly in the east), Democrats outdid Republicans by more than 5 percentage points.

More women voted than men in every single county, and seniors over age 65 outnumbered young voters ages 18 to 25 in all but four counties, each with major universities — Orange, Watauga, Pitt and Durham. Young voters had the lowest participation rate of any age group, except in college counties like Jackson, Pasquotank, Scotland and Guilford and in several eastern counties where African Americans are the majority of voters, including Hertford, Northampton, Bertie and Edgecombe.

The voter participation analysis by the nonpartisan election reform group Democracy North Carolina is based on data provided by the counties to the State Board of Elections. (Some figures are adjusted to account for differences in time delays in data collection and posting on the Board’s website.)

Statewide, 68% of the state’s 6.6 million registered voters cast ballots in 2012, but there’s a wide gap in the turnout rate between the best and worst performing counties. Chatham County, where 76% of registered voters cast ballots, ranked first in turnout — as it did in 2008 — while the military-dependent Onslow County ranked last, with a 53% turnout rate.

“It’s fascinating to see all the variations in performance among age, gender, race and party groups in the counties,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina. “Our state has a long history of low participation, going back to the days of the literacy tests and poll tax. Studying high and low performing groups in counties can help communities improve participation and civic life.”

The two groups with the most enthusiasm to vote in 2012 were African-American women and white Republicans; they each posted a 74% turnout rate, well ahead of the 68% statewide rate. “The presidential election was a polarizing, emotional experience for core supporters of both major candidates,” said Hall. “Candidates, parties and interest groups invested in mobilizing voters and helped them understand that their vote was important for themselves and for society.”

Hall said the split results in the 10 counties with the highest turnout reflects North Carolina’s swing state status: Five went for Republican Mitt Romney (Davie, Person, Moore, Greene and Beaufort) and five went for Democrat Barack Obama (Chatham, Warren, Wake, Granville and Hertford).

Although voters unaffiliated with a political party now outnumber registered Democrats or Republicans in 42 counties, they are less engaged and voted at a lower level than members of the major parties in 97 of the 100 counties (the exceptions are Avery, Bertie and Mitchell). Statewide, 60% of unaffiliated voters cast ballots compared to 70% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans.

The impact of the criminal justice system on the African-American community also shows up in the voting data, Hall said. Women cast 54% of the white votes in 2012, but a remarkable 61% of the black votes, largely because so many black men have been convicted of a felony. North Carolina temporarily suspends a person’s right to vote while the person serves a felony sentence, but Hall said many people believe the suspension is permanent. “This is one more area where education is critical and where barriers have a real impact on participation,” he said.

For the county details of who voted, see this spreadsheet:

For an overview of statewide turnout, see:

2012 Voter Turnout for NC Counties — Some Examples

Chatham, Warren, Wake and Davie: Counties with the highest voter turnout

Onslow, Swain, Robeson and Hoke: Counties with the lowest voter turnout

Warren, Chatham, Wake and Greene: Counties with highest turnout among women

Edgecombe, Wilson, Vance, Pitt and Cumberland: Counties with the largest gap in turnout between women and men

Wake, Chatham, Moore and Davie: Counties with highest turnout for seniors

Cherokee, Gates, Hyde and Robeson: Counties with lowest turnout for seniors

Onslow, Brunswick, Transylvania and Polk: Counties with largest gap between turnout of old and young voters

Warren, Chatham, Person and Granville: Counties with highest turnout for African-American voters

Hoke, Richmond, Gates, Cleveland and Cumberland: Counties where black turnout most exceeds white turnout

Davie, Wake, Johnston and Moore: Counties with highest Republican turnout

Chowan, Nash, Mecklenburg and Buncombe: Counties with the smallest gap between turnout for Republicans and Democrats

Rowan, Forsyth, Harnett and Haywood: Counties with the smallest turnout gap between Republican men and African-American women

Graham, Randolph and Sampson: Counties where Republican turnout exceeded turnout of Unaffiliated voters by more than 20 percentage points

Cross-posted at the Carolina Mercury

The horse race

Been immersed in the horse race coverage. As we start early voting in NC and get closer to Election Day, the speculating goes up to 11. The national pundit corps is starting to troll deeper into state media for clues.
So, the venerable Rob Christensen puts up a post on Under the Dome which says the Romney folks are confident about NC and are sending staff from NC to Ohio. And Politico is all “Boom! NC is over says the N&O.” Of course, their headline, Is NC Cooked?, include the all-important question mark, but it’s out there.
I’m not going to blame Rob, because he’s doing his job, although there is no indication that he knows for an absolute fact that the Romney folks are confident. They might just have decided that they can’t risk losing Ohio and are pouring resources into it, which seems to be the case from everything else I’ve read.
Also, i just the love term “site-leading report.”
The full story, which arrived this am in the N&O is a little more nuanced. The Romney folks are citing a widening lead in the polls. You’d think someone at the N&O would have this page bookmarked. Note that McCain led in the polls all the way up until the votes were counted. Mason-Dixon has McCain up by 3 points going into November.

Mitt, Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan

One of the things that’s struck me about the difference between this presidential campaign and the last 40 or so has been the lack of war talk. If ever there was an indication that the realities of war-without-end has ground out nearly all the enthusiasm in the country for foreign military ventures, it’s that candidates are not crisscrossing the land rattling sabers and promising death to somebody, a staple of national politics in almost every country.

In peacetime this usually meant questioning a candidate’s readiness to be commander-in-chief and, in the case of men of a certain age, whether or not they actually served. This was taken to great heights in the 1992 campaign during which Bill Clinton’s opposition to the Vietnam war was a major part of the GOP’s strategy to paint him as irresponsible, unpatriotic and unready – a cleaned up hippie in a suit.

Here in North Carolina, a state that’s home to huge numbers of active and retired military folks, issues of war and peace are important and personal. People here want to hear specifics, not just lofty rhetoric about staying strong. Staying strong as defined over the past decade has put a hell of a burden on communities throughout this state, especially in the base towns of eastern NC. In these places, it’s been endless war with all the sacrifice and hardship that entails. They have a right to a little more attention. It’s a shame that the pending sequester of roughly $500 million in military spending over 10 years, a crude tool employed during last year’s even cruder political joust over the debt ceiling, is getting more attention in this election cycle than those wounded or killed on the battlefield and their loved ones back home.

Somehow the other night, in the most important speech of his life, the man who wants to be commander-in-chief failed to mention the sacrifices of the past decade or even give a nod to the tens of thousands serving today in a hostile places around the globe. He did not say “Afghanistan,” a nation this country invaded and currently occupies along with our NATO allies. And, with the erasure of George W. Bush from the history of the Republican Party almost complete, he dared not mention Iraq.

Mr. Romney is going to have to change that if he wants to reap the votes that are waiting for him in the 910 area code and elsewhere in the state. And he’s going to have to offer something tangible alongside the talk about preserving freedom around the world. There’s a price to that in human terms and when he travels to the base towns of North Carolina, he’ll have to meet some of the people who have paid dearly. He’ll have to look them in they eye and talk about where and when and why. He’ll have to talk VA and benefits and PTSD. He won’t just be able to talk tough about Syria and Iran, he’ll have to talk about the realities of Afghanistan and the consequences of Iraq. He’ll have to provide some proof that he won’t just restaff the DOD and his cabinet with the same people who sent millions overseas to fight without a clear objective and a way out.

And if there is a just God, he’ll have to talk about Vietnam. He’ll explain how it was that he stayed out of service in Vietnam at the same time he protested in favor of the war and others being drafted to fight it. When he visits Fayetteville or Havelock, he won’t be able to sell the idea that his time in France during the war was tough because of anti-Vietnam sentiment. He’ll have to talk about it because of his own history and also because it taught this country a harsh lesson about war and commitment. Many North Carolinians who fought in that war have sons and daughters and grandkids in uniform today. They deserve to know something of what the future holds and they deserve to know from any candidate for president, especially one who was able to serve at the time, what lessons he learned from ‘Nam.

Further reading:
Digby – QOTD: Gloria Borger
Mediaite – CNN Airs The Most Ridiculous Statement I’ve Ever Seen On Television

Buzzfeed – Mitt Romney, Student Protester
UK Telegraph – Mitt Romney’s life as a poor Mormon missionary in France questioned

The NC trend is less Democrats, more reliable Democratic voters

Registration numbers have been a focus of late, especially in the battleground states.
I can’t speak for how the numbers work in other states, but I do know that if you think that lower numbers of Democrats in North Carolina mean less Democratic votes, you’d be wrong.
The quirky trend of the Old North State for the past two decades or so is that the people migrating here tend to be more reliable Democratic voters than the natives. There was a very good Public Policy Polling study of this in 2008 and what they found holds today. It’s also likely accelerating. The most recent PPP look at the presidential race has the president leading his challenger by a huge margin among the people who have been here ten years or less.

From this month’s Exile on Jones Street Column in the Indy, which came out this week:

Following the rout of 2010, GOP strategists maintained that Obama’s win in North Carolina was an anomaly driven by unusually high turnout. They pointed to a drop in Democratic registrations.

But as the PPP study points out, the people moving here, even independents, are proving to be more reliable Democratic voters than the natives. Born and bred Tar Heels came of age in what was historically a one-party state; if you wanted a say in legislative or county commissioner races, you registered as a Democrat so you could vote in the primary.

That same dynamic identified in 2008 is at play this year. The recent PPP poll on the presidential race notes that Obama and Romney are tied 47-47 for the native vote. The president’s lead can be attributed to an edge among non-native voters, including a 66-to-27-percent lead among those who’ve been here less than 10 years.

There’s a lot of things to note in the registration outlook and the demographic changes, but one that gets little mention is that all the recruiting the state is doing and the new jobs coming to the state – our rapid growth over the past 30 years – is starting to have a real impact on out politics.

The session boilt down and a look into the future

Always a joy to try and wrap up a legislative session in 1200 or so words. This month’s Indy column is just that, with a focus on the last day or so of the short session and what the future portends.

Independent Weekly: A summer of mayhem courtesy of the N.C. Legislature

For an example of the damage an unchecked majority can do when it moves in lockstep, consider the last 30 or so hours of the recent session of the North Carolina General Assembly.

During the homestretch in Raleigh, the Legislature gutted racial justice legislation, defunded Planned Parenthood again, thumbed its nose at forced sterilization survivors and climate-change science, doled out dozens of anti-regulatory favors and not only fast-tracked fracking, but also packed a new board to oversee it with people very friendly to the oil and gas industry.

Some Further Thoughts
I’ve been trying to think through what next year’s session will look like. The election of 2012 should mean a few more Democrats in both the House and Senate, especially if turnout gets to 2008 levels. After that, there’s a major fork in the path of prediction depending on whether Dalton or McCrory wins the race for governor. That’s going to dictate a lot of what happens in the session. By far, the most chaotic outcome would be a McCrory win along with a tightening of the minority/majority margin in the House. You have some big egos and ambitious people in the mix and once you add the possibility that Tillis and Berger are looking at a challenge to Hagan, you’ve got extra volatility. It’s a scenario that could lead to some big initiatives, most likely in education and tax policy, if the players decide to scratch each others’ backs for pet projects.

A Dalton win, even with a sizable gain in the legislature, yields something more like the grind it out style we’re seeing now. North Carolina has a traditionally weak governorship and even with a veto, it’s still pretty much the General Assembly’s world that we’re all living in. It has not been pretty, but even a few more Democratic votes means a lot more breathing room against overrides. Primaries and retirements reduced the number of likely defections. That said, I think we’ll see Dalton walk a fine line on vetoes, taking out some of the social policy sure to be introduced should Stam and Company continue to hold sway, but preferring to cut deals on economic issues and any bill with the word “jobs” in the title.

Right now, I do not see much of a chance for a Democratic takeover of either the NC House or Senate. The House is likely to get closer and maybe even very close, but just around the corner is the mid-term election of 2014. As I’ve said many times, I think that’s where we’ll see the effects of redistricting and the consolidation of GOP electoral strength that began in 2010. Without big turnout and with the strong possibility that Voter ID and further voting restrictions could be in place, 2014 is another 2010 in the making, this time with redrawn districts enhancing the GOP’s chances.

HAVA funds go missing

One of the biggest devils in the details of the budget compromise hammered out between the NC House and Senate is the missing match for the Help America Vote Act funds. The state is missing out on $4 million in federal dollars to help with election work. Previous versions of the budget included a 660K match needed to get the funds. Instead, there’s actually a cut in funding in the new budget for the Board of Elections.
I just can’t imagine any way a reasonable person could see this as anything but vote suppression.

Here’s Bob Hall from Democracy NC on the matter:

From Democracy North Carolina — June 21, 2012

Do Republican Leaders Want An Election Melt-Down in NC?

Something very strange happened in the final version of the State Budget that House and Senate leaders rolled out yesterday. It eliminates provisions in earlier versions passed by the House and Senate to provide about $600,000 that would automatically release over $4 million in federal funds for improving North Carolina’s election system for 2012.

The $4 million from the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is already in a North Carolina bank account, frozen until matching State money is appropriated. The federal funds could be used to pay for voting machine maintenance, software and upgrades, poll workers training, and Early Voting locations. But apparently the legislative leaders decided they would rather starve local election boards than free up money that could open more Early Voting sites for the 2012 election!

County election boards already must pay more than $5 million to operate the second primary in July. Without the HAVA funds, they must get their county commissioners to pay annual machine maintenance fees that add up to $3 million statewide, beginning July 1. In addition, they face the headache of administering the November elections with new district maps, including hundreds of split precincts that complicate ballots and add to voter confusion and delays.

The warning signs are here: The lack of proper poll worker training and equipment failure led to a large number of voters getting the wrong ballots in the May primary!

Starving NC elections is an extremely partisan decision that affects all voters. It sends the message that Republican leaders in the General Assembly are determined to make voting a privilege for the few rather than a fundamental right for all citizens.

It didn’t have to be this way, and for a time everything pointed to a reasonable approach for releasing the $4 million in federal funds.

In a February letter and then in an April resolution, the bipartisan Election Boards Association of North Carolina asked the General Assembly to appropriate the roughly $660,000 of Maintenance of Effort (MOE) State funding needed to free up $4.1 million of Title II HAVA funds.

The House version of the budget, approved in May, included $663,936 for the MOE – see pages 10 and 103:

The Senate version included $563,936 with a provision that the State Board of Elections could use money from another account to make up any difference needed to hit the right level of MOE funding. See the Senate version, pages 10 and 84:

But when the two sides came together behind closed doors, the General Assembly leaders apparently argued about whether some of this money would go for purposes they didn’t like — so they just cut it out!

The final House/Senate Conference Report actually includes a $102,000 reduction in funding for the State Board of Elections and left the Title II money frozen, except for a small portion to improve compliance with disability access. Look for SBOE funding on page 10 and page 94 of this PDF document:

Why are legislative leaders so determined to throw a monkey wrench into North Carolina’s election system in the busiest, most intense election cycle in our history?