President Spellings: What Should Her Agenda Be For UNC?

2016 has been a tumultuous year for UNC – with protests still ongoing against new system president Margaret Spellings, even before she’s had a chance to get into the job.

Will she be able to do her job, with those demonstrations continuing? What do university leaders see as being her agenda as system president? And what do they think she can – and should – try to accomplish?

“I think she’s absolutely going to be able to do her job,” said UNC-Chapel Hill faculty chair Bruce Cairns at last week’s WCHL Community Forum.

Cairns added that he doesn’t expect Spellings to pursue an agenda much removed from what we’ve seen before. “When you listen to President Spellings talk about what she would like to see happen,” he said, “I think it’s really about allowing us to continue to be a great public university system.”

But what agenda should Margaret Spellings be pursuing as system president? What should she be trying to do?

UNC senior Hayley Fowler is a reporter for the Daily Tar Heel who’s been following the controversy from the beginning; she says Spellings needs to assure students that they do have a voice in how the university is run.

“I think for students, it’s becoming increasingly important that she continue to build their trust and reach out to them personally,” she says. “The students that have been protesting don’t feel that they have a voice and they haven’t had access to the Board of Governors or Margaret Spellings herself…

“I think they’re working on opening that line of communication and dialogue, and that’s something that should be a priority moving forward, if they want to engage students in the conversation.”

But it’s not just students who want to build stronger relationships. Durham Tech president Bill Ingram says there’s also an expectation that Spellings should be working to build closer ties between the UNC system and North Carolina’s community colleges.

“She’s not the only new higher-education leader in North Carolina – Jimmie Williamson will be the new community college system president on July 1,” Ingram says. “Her ability to work with Dr. Williamson and others, and for her to encourage relationships between the (UNC) campuses and the community colleges, will be essential to her success.”

Even if Spellings is able to forge those relationships, it’s not likely the protests and demonstrations will be going away anytime soon. Many in the UNC system say they see Spellings’ appointment as political – Republicans on the Board of Governors selecting one of their own – and that concern is never going to go away, regardless of what Spellings does or doesn’t do on the job.

But is a political appointment necessarily a bad thing? John Locke Foundation communications director Mitch Kokai says there may be a benefit to having a Republican as UNC system president, even if the university’s agenda doesn’t change.

“Margaret Spellings comes in as someone that the Republicans who run the General Assembly will listen to,” he says. “I think a lot of folks (in the NCGA) saw Tom Ross as part of the Democratic establishment…(and) there was always a level of distrust that they won’t have with Margaret Spellings…

“And so I think she may come in, not even have any major, drastic differences in what she wants to see for the UNC system – but you’ll see doors be opened more often, just because of her pedigree.”

Kokai, Ingram, Fowler and Cairns made those comments during the “Higher Education” panel of the WCHL Community Forum. Revisit the entire forum here.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/spellings-what-should-her-agenda-be-for-unc

PPP: North Carolinians Not Fans Of House Bill 2

North Carolina is getting a bad rap around the country (and the world) for passing House Bill 2.

But while the state may support the law, the state’s residents think differently.

That’s the finding of Public Policy Polling‘s latest survey of North Carolina voters, released earlier this week. Only 36 percent of North Carolinians say they support HB2, while 45 percent say they’re opposed. Predictably, this splits along party lines – Democrats are against it by a 63-20 margin, while Republicans are in favor by a 56-24 margin. (Independent voters oppose the bill by a 46-33 margin, mirroring the state as a whole.)

But PPP director Tom Jensen says even those partisan numbers are striking: up until recently, he says, Republicans had been more united in their opposition to LGBT rights than Democrats were in their support – that was the case in the Amendment 1 debate, for instance – but that now appears to have changed.

Get more numbers from PPP’s House Bill 2 survey.

Voters also generally agree that House Bill 2’s effects have been generally negative. Only 37 percent say it has made the state safer (44 percent say it hasn’t); only 22 percent say the bill has helped improve North Carolina’s national reputation; and only 11 percent of North Carolinians think the bill is having a positive impact on the state’s economy. (To put that last number into perspective, 12 percent of North Carolinians in the same survey said they disapprove of Harriet Tubman.)

Tom Jensen spoke this week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

 

Jensen says the HB2 debate is also affecting other races on the 2016 ballot. The gubernatorial race hasn’t changed much – Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Roy Cooper are still in a statistical tie – but Cooper now leads McCrory for the first time in three months (though only by a single point, 43-42). Democrats lead Republicans on a generic General Assembly ballot, 45-42 – not nearly enough to retake the majority, but possibly enough to overcome the GOP’s veto-proof majority in both houses of the state legislature.

House Bill 2 is a state issue, but Jensen says the race for U.S. Senate is also tightening: Republican incumbent Richard Burr now leads Democratic challenger Deborah Ross by only four points, 40-36. (Ross is still an unknown quantity among North Carolinians: 65 percent of voters still have no opinion of her either way. Remarkably, this means there are more North Carolinians who say they want Ross to be their Senator than there are who say they’ve formed an opinion about her.)

And North Carolina is still likely to be a battleground state in the presidential race. In hypothetical matchups, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tied 44-44, and Clinton leads Ted Cruz 45-40. (This isn’t the only state where Cruz is less popular than Trump: that wasn’t the case anywhere until recently, but Jensen says it’s a growing trend.) Should Bernie Sanders pull out the Democratic nomination, he polls three points better than Clinton: Sanders leads Trump 46-43 and Cruz 46-38.

Get more numbers from PPP’s survey of national races here.

Finally, on the U.S. Treasury’s recent decision to put Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson: a majority of North Carolinians approve of both Tubman (60%) and Jackson (51%), but more North Carolinians would prefer Jackson stay on the 20 by a 44-39 margin.

(That number, though, is skewed by one particular demographic: voters who approve of Donald Trump. Trump supporters prefer Jackson to Tubman, 75-13.)

http://chapelboro.com/featured/ppp-north-carolinians-not-happy-with-house-bill-2

What We’re Saying About HB2

It’s said that in Chapel Hill there are four opinions for every three people, and this month every single one of those opinions has had something to do with House Bill 2.

What have our local residents and community leaders been saying?

On March 24, the NCGA passed House Bill 2. Shortly after the State House voted, State Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Chapel Hill) returned to town and spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL.

 

Ashley DeSena is a Republican and a former candidate for Hillsborough Board of Commissioners. On Friday, March 25, she and Aaron discussed the bill. (DeSena opposes both HB2 and the original Charlotte ordinance that triggered the whole debate in the first place.)

 

Jeff Danner is an engineer who writes Chapelboro’s “Common Science” column. On the air with Aaron, he argued that a truly “data-driven” approach would have steered policymakers away from a law like HB2.

 

And with the General Assembly returning to session on April 25, State Rep. Graig Meyer made a return appearance to WCHL to talk about what he’s heard from constituents and what he expects to happen in Raleigh.

 

Visit this page to hear what Mayors Pam Hemminger (of Chapel Hill), Lydia Lavelle (of Carrboro), and Tom Stevens (of Hillsborough) have had to say about HB2 and the local fallout.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/what-were-saying-about-hb2

Don’t Forget Everything the General Assembly Did Before HB2

You’ve heard some of my commentaries here on WCHL about our General Assembly in Raleigh on the crazy bills that have been voted on and signed by our governor.

Pat McCrory has gutted unemployment benefits by 36 percent, while giving his cabinet members, campaign donors and paid election workers an eight percent raise.  Telling us that this would attract the best and brightest to run our state.

We have seen this divide and conquer strategy used in other states turning the public against our teachers and it works.

Requiring unfunded criminal background checks and drug testing on the unemployed without a jobs bill even being drawn up by a single committee.  The house is prepared to end a state tax credit for low income working families while repealing the estate tax that would benefit only 123 people.  You heard that right.  Only 123 individuals in the whole state of North Carolina and raises the taxes on almost a million in our state.

This alone will cost us $52 million.  Attacking the college students who want to vote here in Orange County where they live and pay taxes and not where their parents live.  Passing a voter ID bill that will cost us up to $18 million to fund to defeat the problem of in-person voter fraud that can’t be found.

Just when you thought you had seen it all and nothing else would be worse, you think I’m being silly?  Try keeping up the crazy train that’s in Raleigh.

 

— Wiley Post

http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/dont-forget-general-assembly-hb2

Facts And Myths (That McCrory Forgot) About House Bill 2

On Wednesday, March 23, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2, in response to a Charlotte ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lawmakers who supported the bill insisted they only wanted to overturn one part of that ordinance – people were worried it would lead to men in dresses barging into the ladies’ room – but the actual bill they passed was much, much broader.

To put it mildly, there has been a bit of a backlash. Dozens of businesses have publicly denounced the bill. The NCAA is hinting that it might not host championship events in North Carolina anymore. The NBA suggested it might move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. The mayor of San Francisco just banned town staff from traveling here on the public dime. And on and on.

So now Republicans are in damage control mode. On Friday, Governor Pat McCrory released a statement called “Myths vs. Facts,” in the form of a frequently-asked-questions page, to counter some of the criticisms. (They really want to make sure this gets out. We at WCHL have received this same statement three times already, from three different state departments. Others have reported receiving it as many as eight times.)

You can read it here.

Give him credit! McCrory’s FAQ page gets a couple things wrong – for instance, he says “nothing changes in North Carolina cities,” which isn’t right, and he says the bill doesn’t “take away existing protections for individuals in North Carolina,” though in fact it does – but in general, most of what’s there is technically correct.

Only thing is, he forgot a few questions.

So let’s take care of that.

1. Now that House Bill 2 has passed, is it legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in North Carolina?

Yes. Sections 3.1 and 3.3 of the bill prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, and biological sex. (Section 3.1 also bans discrimination on the basis of age or disability, but only when it comes to employment practices.) Sexual orientation is not included as a category, so it is, in fact, legal now to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Here’s the full text of the bill, if you want to read it for yourself.

2. What does that mean in practice?

You can be fired for being gay. You can be demoted for being gay. Employers can refuse to hire you for being gay. They can refuse to promote you for being gay. Businesses can refuse to serve you for being gay.

3. If someone wants to discriminate against gays and lesbians, do they have to claim a “sincere religious objection,” like in the Indiana law last year that caused such a fuss?

No. State law allows people to discriminate against gays and lesbians for any reason they like.

4. Was that just an oversight?

No. A State House member proposed amending the bill to include sexual orientation as a protected category, but the House explicitly decided not to do so.

5. Is this a change from before?

Not on the state level. But there were local ordinances in towns and counties across the state that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – and House Bill 2 “supersedes and preempts” those local laws, so they all got wiped out overnight.

6. Can local governments pass new ordinances banning discrimination?

No. House Bill 2 explicitly forbids them from doing so. (Local governments are free to decide how they want to hire and fire their own employees, but that’s it.)

7. Are there other categories that are no longer protected?

Yes. Orange County, for instance, had an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of veteran status and familial status, but that’s been wiped out too.

8. So you can be discriminated against for being a veteran now?

Not quite. There is a federal law that bans discrimination against military veterans, so you’re still covered there. If you do experience discrimination for that reason, though, you can’t seek redress at the state level – you have to go through the federal system, which is harder and costlier.

9. Rrgh! Okay, how about Republicans? Is it legal to discriminate against Republicans?

All right, smart-aleck.

10. No, seriously. Can I ban Republicans from eating in my restaurant?

Well…actually, yes. But not because of House Bill 2. Party affiliation has never been a protected class, so technically you’ve always been able to do that.

11. Has anyone tried doing that?

Not to my knowledge. But I think if you ask a Republican, they’ll tell you half of Carrboro’s been doing it for decades.

12. Ha ha.

Hey, you try being a Republican in Carrboro.

13. All right, back to being serious. House Bill 2 bans discrimination on the basis of…what again?

Race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex, and sometimes age and disability.

14. Okay, suppose I get discriminated against for my religion. I can still sue, right?

No.

15. WHAT?!

According to sections 3.2 and 3.3 of the bill, “no person may bring any civil action” if they experience discrimination, even when it comes to the categories where discrimination is explicitly banned. So no, you’re not allowed to sue in state court.

16. That’s bul!&@%*!

Hey, watch it, bub.

17. Are there any other states that do that?

Yes. Mississippi.

18. Literally the only other state is Mississippi?

Yes. North Carolina and Mississippi are now the only states in the US that do not allow you to sue in state court if you experience discrimination.

19. Sigh. Okay, so what can I do?

Well, you can still sue in federal court, if it’s a category that’s covered by federal law. But again, that’s much harder and way more expensive.

20. Is there anything I can do on the state level?

Yes. House Bill 2 authorizes the state’s Human Relations Commission to “receive, investigate, and conciliate complaints of discrimination in public accommodations.” So if you experience discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Human Relations Commission.

21. Didn’t the General Assembly try to eliminate the Human Relations Commission just last year?

Yes, they did.

22. Unbelievable.

Look, why are you focusing on all this discrimination stuff? This bill is about sickos in bathrooms, remember?

23. Okay, fine. Let’s go there. What exactly is House Bill 2 supposed to protect us from?

House Bill 2 protects us from sexual predators who might claim to be “transgender” in order to go into women’s restrooms and commit acts of peeping or even assault.

24. Isn’t there already a law against peeping and assault?

Yes. But sexual predators can’t be trusted to obey the law.

25. But they can be trusted to obey this one?

That’s the idea.

26. So, evil people will break all kinds of laws, but they’ll obey a little sign on the door. Isn’t that basically the same dumb logic conservatives rail against when we talk about gun-free school zones?

Hey, you liberals are being inconsistent too, you know.

27. Fair enough. There are already more than 200 cities in the US that allow people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, like Charlotte was trying to do. Has this been an issue in any of those cities?

No. There was one guy in Seattle who went into a women’s locker room, apparently as a form of protest (he was dressed as a man and never claimed to be transgender), but other than that, there have been zero reported incidents.

28. So all this is because people are worried that something might happen, even though it’s never happened in 200 other cities?

Yes.

29. Great. Okay, so let’s talk about enforcement. If all these people want to use the restroom, where will they have to go?

House Bill 2

 

Biologically, those are all women. House Bill 2 requires them to use the ladies’ room.

30. Wait, really? House Bill 2 requires all of these people…

House Bill 2

 

…to use the ladies‘ room?

Yes. But there is a caveat. If you have a sex change, you can go through the process of having your birth certificate altered. So if those people have had their birth certificates altered, they can use the men’s room.

Think You Can Enforce House Bill 2? Take This Easy Quiz!

 

31. But if they haven’t? They’d be required to use the ladies’ room?

Yes. For your safety and protection.

32. So House Bill 2 requires us to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender listed on our birth certificate. Are we supposed to carry our birth certificates around now?

Of course not.

33. So how are we planning on enforcing this?

They didn’t really think that far ahead.

34. Okay, say I’m a woman, and I’m out with my six-year-old son, and one of us has to use the restroom. Can I bring my son in the women’s room?

Yes. As long as your son is under seven, you can bring him into the women’s room.

35. Glad they thought of that, at least.

Oh, they actually didn’t. The original bill didn’t have that exception. It was added as an amendment after a state legislator brought it up.

36. What if my son is eight years old?

Then he’ll have to go into the men’s room by himself, or else wait outside alone while you use the women’s room.

37. I have to leave my son standing there alone outside a public bathroom?

Yes. For his safety and protection.

38. Why did they make seven the cutoff age, anyway?

Why are you asking so many questions?

39. This all seems ridiculous.

Look, we need this to protect privacy. Women have the right to privacy, you know.

40. Women have the right to privacy?

Don’t you go making this a birth control thing.

41. Is House Bill 2 even constitutional?

Good question. In Romer v. Evans (1996), the Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law that banned local governments from protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. That’s because the law treated gays and lesbians unequally, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The justices said Colorado only needed to provide a “rational basis” for the unequal treatment, but they couldn’t find one.

House Bill 2 basically does the exact same thing that Colorado’s law does, so there’s a chance the Supreme Court will rule the same way. On the other hand, Colorado’s law explicitly singled out gays and lesbians by name, whereas House Bill 2 just omits them from a list of protected classes. So the Court may rule differently here. (Two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, also have similar laws that ban local governments from protecting gays and lesbians.)

Either way, there will definitely be a lot of litigation over this, and the state will have to pay a lot of money to defend it in court.

42. My tax dollars, you mean.

Naturally.

43. Is there anything good about this bill?

Why yes. House Bill 2 establishes a uniform statewide anti-discrimination policy, so the law is now exactly the same from city to city.

44. What’s the benefit of that?

Meh.

45. What else does the bill do?

Glad you asked. We’ve covered Part 1, which deals with bathrooms, and Part 3, the anti-discrimination stuff. I haven’t even mentioned Part 2, which bans local governments from passing living wage ordinances or regulating hours, benefits, and a bunch of other stuff.

46. “Bunch of other stuff”?

Yes, “such as the wage levels of employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, benefits, leave, or well-being of minors in the workforce.”

47. What does any of that have to do with sickos in bathrooms?

Nothing.

48. Is House Bill 2 more sweeping than expected?

No. Let’s be honest, we all knew they were going to do this.

49. Will the General Assembly ever call a special session to bring teacher salaries up to the national average?

Ha! Good one.

50. Anything else I need to know?

Yes. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.

 

EDIT: Thanks for all your comments! I’ve edited the FAQ list to fix one error: a reader pointed out that HB2 actually does make an exception (sections 1.2d and 1.3d) for caregivers who enter an opposite-gender restroom to assist someone with a disability.

Another reader noted that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that the federal ban on sex-based discrimination also includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – so if you’re fired for being gay or transgender, you can (currently) file a claim on the federal level with the EEOC. That’s a matter of statutory interpretation, though, not the law itself: federal law still doesn’t specify sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories, so the EEOC could change its interpretation at a later date (say, with the next presidential administration). This is also a subject of ongoing litigation, so a court could overrule the EEOC in the future too.

In any event, the EEOC only covers employment – so regardless of how they happen to interpret the law, businesses can still refuse to serve you for being gay, anywhere in the state of North Carolina.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/facts-and-myths-that-mccrory-forgot-about-house-bill-2

Think You Can Enforce House Bill 2? Take This Easy Quiz!

On Wednesday, March 23, the North Carolina General Assembly rushed back to session and passed House Bill 2, a law designed to overturn Charlotte’s recent anti-discrimination ordinance.

What does it do? Well, among other things, the bill makes it legal to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and military veterans; it bans cities from regulating child labor; and it prohibits you from suing in state court if you’re discriminated against. (Instead you’ll have to go through the state’s Human Relations Commission, which the GA nearly eliminated just last year.)

(Read the bill for yourself if you think I’m exaggerating.)

But forget all that! The real purpose of House Bill 2 is to protect your safety – by prohibiting men from going into women’s restrooms, and by keeping women out of the men’s room. That was the thing that got everyone upset about Charlotte’s ordinance, after all – one provision that would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity, rather than their “actual” biological sex.

And I mean a lot of people were upset about that. What? Men dressing up as women, going into the women’s room? And Charlotte wants to allow that? Outrageous!

And the NCGA heard your outcry. So now we have House Bill 2, which requires everyone to use the bathroom that corresponds to their “biological sex,” or the gender that’s listed on their birth certificate.

Makes sense, right?

Problem solved? Easy fix?

Let’s find out!

NC State Patrol badge

You are hereby deputized as an agent of the North Carolina State Bathroom Patrol! Your job is to enforce House Bill 2 – by steering the men to the men’s room and the women to the women’s room. Remember, we’re talking biological sex here: it’s not what you look like or how you dress, it’s the gender on your birth certificate that matters.

Ready?

All right, ten people are heading your way. No time to check birth certificates, but this should be easy. All you have to do is separate the men from the women. Go!

Ben Jordan

Janet Mock

Ines Rau

Brooklyn Beckham

Jamie Raines 1

Margaret Trudeau

Ben Melzer

Amal Clooney

Aydian Dowling

Jamie Raines 2

 

Time’s up! Any trouble?

If House Bill 2 makes any sense at all as a public safety measure, this quiz should have been super easy. Men are men and women are women, right?

Well, as it happens, this quiz was super easy. Turns out, the boys and girls had already separated themselves!

The top four photos are all biological men. First guy up there in the denim shirt is male model Ben Jordan. Looking good! Right under Jordan is New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock, followed by internationally-renowned model Ines Rau. They’re both transgender women. The guy in the bumblebee shirt is Brooklyn Beckham, son of David and Victoria. One hundred percent man right there!

The bottom six photos are all biological women. In the red hoodie is YouTube celebrity Jamie Raines, aka “Jammidodger.” After that is former Canadian first lady Margaret Trudeau, the mother of current Canadian PM Justin. That steamy-looking tough guy underneath Trudeau? That’s transgender fitness model Ben Melzer. Better make sure to send him to the women’s room, right? After Melzer is a woman you might recognize, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. (Maybe you know her better as George Clooney’s wife.) Following Clooney is another fitness model, Aydian Dowling; last year he became the first trans man to make the cover of Men’s Health magazine. And finally – time warp! That last picture is actually YouTube celebrity Jamie Raines again, after his transition from female to male.

So!

How’d you do?

If House Bill 2 makes sense, then you should have gotten 10 out of 10, no problem. The underlying assumption behind House Bill 2 is that men and women are profoundly different, totally easy to tell apart, and there are no blurry lines or fluidity between the genders at all.

But I bet you didn’t get 10 out of 10, did you?

And even the ones you got right, I bet a couple of those were lucky guesses?

That’s the problem with the “biological sex” approach. House Bill 2, and the lawmakers behind it, don’t really believe there’s any such thing as being “transgender.” It’s men and women, they think, and that’s it.

Trouble is, there is such a thing as being transgender.

There are blurry lines.

There is fluidity.

And if we ignore that fact – as House Bill 2 does – then all of a sudden we find ourselves waking up in a state that forces sexy supermodel Ines Rau to go into the bathroom with a bunch of guys…and sends muscle-bear Ben Melzer into the women’s room to hang out with the ladies.

Because that’s what House Bill 2 does, y’all. And that’s the best thing it has going for it.

Good morning.

 

 

(Photo Credits:  Ben Jordan via W Magazine, Janet Mock via janetmock.com, Ines Rau via Oob Magazine, Brooklyn Beckham via Man About Town, Jamie Raines via YouTube, Margaret Trudeau via Arlen Redekop/Vancouver Sun, Ben Melzer via Instagram, Amal Clooney via Jason Merritt, Aydian Dowling via Men’s Health, and Jamie Raines via YouTube.)

http://chapelboro.com/featured/think-youve-got-what-it-takes-to-enforce-house-bill-2-take-this-easy-quiz

Redistricting Reform: State…And Local

Last week – following the most recent craziness in the General Assembly – I posted a long piece on Chapelboro calling for redistricting reform at the state level.

(Upshot: rather than letting state legislators draw our legislative district lines every 10 years, we should take the power out of their hands and give it to an independent, nonpartisan commission. State legislators have a personal and partisan interest in drawing the lines to favor themselves and their party – so let’s put the power in the hands of people who don’t have a personal interest, so they can focus on what’s best for North Carolinians as a whole.)

The state legislature hasn’t acted, naturally – doing so would require them to give up some of their own power, and that’s a hard thing for anyone to do – but there is definitely widespread support for redistricting reform across party lines. Democrats, Republicans, and independents all favor it by wide margins.

It’s something we ought to do.

But while we’re on the subject…

How about redistricting reform at the local level too?

We’ve got an election this year for four open seats on the Orange County Board of Commissioners…and if you don’t know, we’ve got a pretty complicated system for electing them.

Time was, all of the seats on the Board were at-large seats, meaning everyone in the county voted for every seat. (This is still how we do it for our town boards.)

But that was unfair to residents of northern Orange County: because most of Orange County’s population was concentrated in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, the entire board invariably wound up being comprised of Chapel Hill/Carrboro folks who represented Chapel Hill/Carrboro interests and weren’t as concerned with rural issues. Agriculture? Solid waste? Rural bus routes? Residents in northern Orange didn’t have much of a voice.

So last decade, the county changed its election system. Orange County divided itself into two districts, split along roughly the same line as the county’s two school districts: Chapel Hill and Carrboro in District 1, the rest of the county in District 2. Now we have seven county commissioners: two of them are still at-large, elected by everybody, but there are three commissioners who specifically represent District 1 and two who specifically represent District 2.

Sort of.

Thing is, the county didn’t go all the way when it split into districts. Residents of District 1 and 2 get to choose their own party nominees in the primary election – but in the November general election, it’s still all at-large. Everybody votes in all seven races, regardless of where in the county they live.

Why is this?

It’s better today than it was before: once upon a time the entire board was Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and today folks in northern Orange do have two spots on the board reserved for them. It’s a step in the right direction. (And this year it doesn’t really matter: since all the candidates are Democrats, all of this year’s races are going to be decided in the primary anyway.)

But should Orange County go all the way? Let District 1 and District 2 elect their own representatives in the primary and the general election? There’s something to be said for the at-large system – our elected officials really ought to be considering the needs and interests of everyone in the county, no matter what – but it’s undeniably true that certain issues affect northern and southern Orange County differently, and that will be the case no matter how we elect our representatives. Should both districts have their own independent say?

I spoke with Orange County conservative Ashley DeSena this week, and both of us agreed on the need for state and local reform. Listen to our conversation.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/redistricting-reform-state-and-local

“End Gerrymandering Now”

See what happens? The General Assembly comes back in session for one week and now we’ve got a Congressman living in somebody else’s district, two different dates for two different primaries, a whole new filing period for an election cycle that began months ago, and a new set of Congressional district lines that resolves almost none of the problems that started this whole fiasco in the first place.

Isn’t it time for North Carolina to end gerrymandering forever?

In case you haven’t been following the saga – or in case all the rapid developments have left you utterly confused – here’s where we are today.

  • Earlier this month, a three-judge panel ruled that state lawmakers had violated the U.S. Constitution when they redrew North Carolina’s Congressional district lines in 2011. Trying to maximize the number of GOP-controlled districts, lawmakers “packed” black voters together into two districts, the 1st and the 12th. That’s a violation of the 15th Amendment, which bans racial discrimination.
  • The judges ordered lawmakers to redraw the district lines before the next election – namely, the March 15 primary. Because the primary was barely a month away, the judges gave lawmakers a two-week deadline: the districts had to be redrawn by February 19.
  • Lawmakers asked the judges for a stay – arguing, in essence, that it would be better to have an unconstitutional election than to go through the chaos of a last-second redraw. (Especially since some voters have already mailed in their absentee ballots.) But the judges said no: unconstitutional elections are unconstitutional elections, and they can’t be allowed to proceed, chaos or no chaos.
  • Lawmakers appealed to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts for a stay. Roberts waited more than a week to respond, but on Friday he denied the appeal. (The full Supreme Court could still decide to hear the case – though that’s not likely – but either way, Roberts’ denial means the lower court ruling must be followed for now.)
  • Facing a rapidly approaching deadline, Governor Pat McCrory called the General Assembly back into session this week for a last-second redraw. After two days of hearings, lawmakers unveiled a new map on Thursday – drawn, this time, by officials who were purposely ignoring racial statistics – and officially approved it on Friday.
  • But the new map does, indeed, create chaos. The 12th district, which used to snake down I-85 from Greensboro to Charlotte, is now just a block of Mecklenburg County, with an entirely different set of voters. Republican Congressman George Holding represents the 13th district, but his home got reassigned to David Price’s district, the heavily Democratic 4th. (Technically Holding could still run in the 13th district – you don’t have to live in the district you represent – but the redrawn 13th is so far away from his home that it actually makes more sense for him to run in the 2nd district, which would pit him in a primary against fellow Republican Renee Ellmers.) Numerous other candidates now no longer live in the districts they’ve been campaigning in – and nearly all the candidates are upset because they’ve wasted time and money trying to win over voters who’ve just been abruptly moved to some other district.
  • And although officials did meet the court’s deadline, lawmakers realized there’s not enough time to print new ballots, re-educate residents, and take care of absentee voters in time for a March 15 primary – so the GA also passed a bill creating a second primary on June 7, just for the U.S. Congressional races. (Congressional candidates will have to re-file for office, beginning on March 16.)
  • Oh, and by the way, all the old Congressional races are still going to be on the March 15 ballot too – just in case the Supreme Court steps in and overturns the lower court between March and June. So have fun with that.

 

So, to sum up: you now have two primaries to vote in, not just one. There’s a good chance you just got moved to a new district, for the second time in five years. Candidates who’ve already spent thousands of dollars running for office now have to go back to square one and start again. One incumbent who represents District A now lives in District B and is planning to run in District C. Naturally lawmakers blamed the judges for all this, but the court wouldn’t have stepped in at all if the GA hadn’t drawn the map in such a cockamamie way in the first place.

Oh, and there’s almost certainly going to be another lawsuit challenging this map too, so we may have to do this all over again in two years.

Here’s what the old map looked like. Check out that ridiculous 12th district! You could throw a bowling ball in district 8 and it would land in district 5.

NC Congressional District Maps

Here’s the new map, looking better with a revised 12th…but still a crazy-shaped 4th, and a 13th that’s magically leaped from east of Raleigh to west of Greensboro. There are two sitting members of Congress who now live in the 13th, and neither one of them is the guy who actually represents that district.

Proposed Congressional District Map.

Proposed Congressional District Map.

 

Still with me?

Ready for the best part?

For all the scurrying and last-second maneuvering this week, lawmakers did absolutely nothing to fix the one problem that caused all this chaos in the first place.

In fact they explicitly went out of their way to avoid doing so.

On Friday, while details were still being finalized, I spoke with NC Central School of Law professor (and Carrboro Mayor) Lydia Lavelle. Here’s our conversation.

 

The issue that started this whole mess is partisan gerrymandering. Why, in 2011, did the General Assembly vote to approve a plan that packed black voters into two districts? Because the GA was controlled by Republicans, and they were trying to create as many Republican-majority districts as possible. This is not speculation: we know this is true because they said it was true. (And Democrats did the same thing when they controlled the GA. We’ve been through this exact same fiasco three decades in a row.)

The 15th Amendment bans racial gerrymandering, but the Constitution doesn’t explicitly forbid states from privileging one party over another – so naturally, just about every state does it. If Party A controls the state legislature, lawmakers draw the district lines to “pack” Party B’s voters together into as few districts as possible. They’re really good at it, too. When Republicans got to redraw North Carolina’s lines after the 2010 census, they packed Democrats together so effectively that in 2012, the GOP won nine of the state’s 13 Congressional seats even though Democrats got more votes overall.

Partisan gerrymandering makes an absolute mockery of democracy. Everybody knows it and everybody freely admits it. But as long as there’s no law against it – and as long as state lawmakers are in charge of drawing their own district lines – they have every incentive to keep doing it, in order to keep themselves and their party in power.

And because partisan lines are often racial lines too – blacks tend to vote Democratic, whites tend to vote Republican – then every time the GOP tries to pack Democrats into one or two districts, they’re going to end up packing black voters into one or two districts as well. Which means more lawsuits, more uncertainty, and more chaos. Every. Single. Time.

(This is true no matter which party controls the process, by the way. Democrats ran the show when the 2000 census came in, and the resulting legal fight didn’t wrap up until 2009.)

Did the GOP learn its lesson? Good Lord, of course not. This week, when the GA asked lawmakers to draw a new map, they also directed those lawmakers to make sure to preserve that 10-3 Republican majority. (Seriously, they took a vote on it and everything.) One Republican this week said he was only supporting a 10-3 GOP majority because there didn’t seem to be a way to make it 11-2. (Seriously, he said that in public.)

This is completely bonkers.

Is there a way to fix it?

Yes, as it turns out. It’s actually really easy: partisan gerrymandering exists because state lawmakers have the power to draw their own district lines – so the way to fix the problem is simply to give that power to somebody else.

There is a proposal on the table to create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. Every ten years, after each new census, this commission would be in charge of redrawing the boundaries for North Carolina’s State House, State Senate, and U.S. House districts.

No partisan bias. No inadvertent racial discrimination.

Fourteen other states already do it this way.

In North Carolina, the push for independent redistricting is being led by the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. Earlier this week, I spoke with the Coalition’s director, Jane Pinsky.

 

Do North Carolinians support this plan?

Yes, they do. A survey from Public Policy Polling, just released this week, found that 59 percent of North Carolina voters support an independent redistricting commission – compared with only 9 percent who oppose it. Voters across the political spectrum are all in favor: 65 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents, and 54 percent of Republicans all approve this plan. (Only 6 percent of Democrats, 12 percent of independents, and 11 percent of Republicans are opposed.)

Just how unpopular is partisan redistricting? Last year, PPP found that more North Carolinians actually approve of man-eating sharks than the current redistricting system.

Okay, so how about state legislators? Do they support this plan?

Yes they do too, as it turns out. Even though it would mean they’d have to give up power, there’s actually fairly strong support for independent redistricting in the General Assembly, among Democrats and Republicans alike. Naturally support for reform is always greater among the minority party – Democrats tend to be more in favor of it today, while Republicans were more supportive back when the Dems were in control. But high-ranking Republicans, including Skip Stam, joined high-ranking Democrats together on the podium last year at a much-ballyhooed press conference to renew the push for redistricting reform – and in 2011 the State House actually approved a reform bill.

How about think tanks? Liberal? Conservative?

Yep, they all support it too. That press conference last year had people together from NC Policy Watch (liberal), the Pope Foundation (conservative) and the John Locke Foundation (conservative/libertarian). All in favor.

So why don’t we have an independent redistricting commission?

This guy:

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina General Assembly

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina General Assembly

This is State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. He’s in charge of deciding which bills get brought up for a vote on the Senate floor – and he has made it clear that he has no intention of letting the Senate vote on this.

(And after this week? He said he hasn’t changed his mind. But you knew that already.)

So after all that, here’s where we stand: total electoral chaos in North Carolina that’s only just now beginning to subside…two primaries scheduled in the next four months…a completely redrawn Congressional map for the second time this decade…candidates scrambling to file to run in all new districts…the looming prospect of another round of lawsuits…and an easy solution that North Carolinians overwhelmingly want, which lawmakers flatly refuse to consider.

It’s good to see, when it comes to legislative incompetence, Raleigh is still managing to keep pace with Washington.

If you want to know more about the fight to end gerrymandering (partisan, racial, or otherwise) and enact real redistricting reform, visit EndGerrymanderingNow.org.

http://chapelboro.com/news/end-gerrymandering-now

NC General Assembly Adopts New Congressional Maps

***UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the request to stay the federal court’s ruling regarding the new Congressional maps.***

North Carolina voters will likely head to the polls three times in 2016.

The March 15 primary is quickly approaching and North Carolina lawmakers have been in session this week redrawing Congressional maps after a federal court ruled the 2011 renderings were unconstitutional.

The state House and Senate have now approved new Congressional districts, which they say comply with the law. Opponents of the new districts say that the new drawings are still illegal because they pack black voters into certain districts.

Leaders in the North Carolina legislature have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the federal court mandate, but the nation’s high court has yet to respond.

Friday was the deadline issued by the federal court for new districts to be approved.

Since district maps do not have to be approved by Governor Pat McCrory, the new renderings became law upon the approval from both the House and the Senate.

The new districts have altered the shape and range of nearly all of North Carolina’s 13 districts, leaving those running for the U.S. House of Representatives scrambling.

The March 15 primary will be held and voters will cast their ballots in the party races for President, Senate, Governor and local elections.

Voters will be asked to go back to the polls in the Congressional primary on June 7, if a stay is not granted.

If a stay is not issued by the March 15 primary, a second filing period will be opened to file for the U.S. House of Representatives. If the U.S. Supreme Court issues a stay, all races will be held during the March 15 primary.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/nc-general-assembly-adopts-new-maps

PPP: Sharks Bad, But Partisan Redistricting Worse

The numbers are in: more North Carolinians approve of sharks than oppose redistricting reform or background checks for gun purchases.

That’s the result of the latest state survey from Public Policy Polling. PPP pollsters asked about sharks in the wake of this summer’s spike in shark attacks. Most North Carolinians don’t have an opinion about sharks one way or another, but 15 percent say they see them favorably (versus 22 percent who don’t like them).

Compare that to our views on universal background checks for gun purchases: 86 percent of NC voters say they support them, against only 10 percent who are opposed.

North Carolinians are almost equally sold on the proposal to put a nonpartisan committee in charge of redrawing legislative district lines. More voters are undecided on this one, but those who have made up their minds are almost all in favor of it: 55 percent support nonpartisan redistricting, while only 10 percent, again, are opposed.

(According to the survey, both nonpartisan redistricting and background checks enjoy widespread support across party lines. In fact, Republican voters are less likely to oppose nonpartisan redistricting than Democrats are – even though nonpartisan redistricting would presumably benefit Democrats at a time when the GOP controls the legislature.)

PPP director Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

 

Other results from the PPP survey:

Republicans are evenly split, but in general, most North Carolinans (by a 54-28 margin) say that states should go along with Supreme Court decisions, like them or not (rather than resist, as some state and local officials are trying to do with same-sex marriage).

North Carolinians are more split on the Confederate flag: 38 percent support continuing to fly it; 48 percent are opposed.

The General Assembly remains unpopular, with only 20 percent approving – but voters disapprove of Democratic legislators just as much as Republicans. Democrats lead the generic ballot, 46-42, but that’s a smaller lead than they held at this point two years ago – and not nearly big enough to have any hope of retaking control of the GA.

And back to sharks: notwithstanding the scary headlines, the vast majority (82%) of North Carolinians who typically travel to the beach say the recent wave of shark attacks will have no impact on their travel plans. (Interestingly, there is a partisan divide here: 20 percent of Democrats say they’re less likely to go into the water, versus only 9 percent of Republicans. PPP director Tom Jensen says he has no idea why that is.)

Full details at PublicPolicyPolling.com.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/ppp-sharks-bad-but-partisan-redistricting-worse