As expected, the Democratic Party gained some seats in the North Carolina General Assembly in Tuesday’s election – but not enough to overcome the GOP’s veto-proof majority in either house.
It was a foregone conclusion that Republicans would retain their majorities in the State House and Senate; the GOP entered Tuesday’s election with a 77-43 advantage in the House and a 33-17 edge in the Senate, and very few of those 170 total districts were competitive in this cycle. (Many candidates ran unopposed.) But Democrats were hoping to gain enough seats to end the Republican veto-proof “supermajority”: as long as the GOP holds more than 60 percent of the seats in both houses, a united party can override any gubernatorial veto.
According to the State Board of Elections, Democrats did pick up three net seats in the House to cut the GOP’s advantage to 74-46 – but they needed at least three more gains to overcome the supermajority. In the Senate, Democrats actually dropped one seat, giving Republicans a 34-16 edge.http://chapelboro.com/2014-election-central/dems-gain-ncga-gop-keeps-supermajority/
Pat McCrory is unpopular and the North Carolina General Assembly is extremely unpopular – but it doesn’t look like there will be much of a shakeup in Raleigh when North Carolinians go to vote this November.
That’s the upshot of the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, released last week.
Governor McCrory’s approval rating is only 39 percent and his disapproval rating is 45 percent – marking the 12th month in a row that McCrory has been in negative territory. PPP director Tom Jensen says that may be because voters see McCrory as a weak governor: only 27 percent believe he’s calling the shots in Raleigh, while 43 percent think the General Assembly is in control. (And voters don’t see that as a good thing: only 18 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the NCGA is doing.)
But voters disapprove of Democrats in the NCGA as much as they disapprove of Republicans – so even though the NCGA is in Republican hands, there doesn’t appear to be a groundswell of support for Democrats yet. Republicans actually lead a generic legislative ballot 43-41, which Jensen says would give the GOP essentially the same majority for the next two years that it enjoys today. (That’s in spite of the fact that most of the policies being passed in the House and Senate are themselves unpopular as well.)
Tom Jensen joined Aaron Keck on the Tuesday afternoon news to discuss the poll.
As for the 2016 election, Jensen says to expect some close races: McCrory currently holds a 44-42 lead over attorney general Roy Cooper, the presumptive Democratic challenger (owing partly to Cooper’s low name recognition, Jensen says), while Hillary Clinton leads the most likely Republican candidates in the presidential race by equally narrow margins.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/nc-gop-unpopular-danger/
With the NC General Assembly in session and Independence Day around the corner, Carrboro mayor Lydia Lavelle joined WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the air Wednesday to talk about advocacy efforts and event planning.
Town clerk Cathy Wilson was in Raleigh Wednesday, meeting with elected officials on state-level issues with local effects in Carrboro – and Tuesday was “Equality Lobby Day” at the NCGA, as representatives from Equality NC met with elected representatives to promote LGBT issues at the state level. Lavelle met with those advocates later in the day, she says, to discuss how to promote those same issues in individual municipalities.
On an unrelated (or perhaps semi-related) note, Lavelle also mentioned Wednesday that plans were in the works for a Fourth of July event at Carrboro’s Town Hall – featuring a public reading of Frederick Douglass’s famous 1852 Independence Day oration, “The Meaning of July Fourth to the Negro” (also known as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”).
Listen to Lavelle’s conversation with Aaron Keck below.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/lavelle-talks-local-advocacy-fourth-july/
The North Carolina General Assembly is meeting in “short session” this year – but there’s been no shortness of controversy.
At the center of debate last week was the budget proposal released by State Senate Republicans, which includes more than $400 million for a significant hike in teacher salaries – but that raise comes (among other things) at the expense of massive cuts to teacher assistants in grades 2 and 3.
Already facing a multi-million-dollar shortfall, officials at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools say the Senate’s proposal would likely force the district to make even more cuts than they were initially planning – unless they can persuade County Commissioners to dig even deeper into the pool of local money. (Fully funding the budget requests of both the county’s districts would almost certainly necessitate a tax increase, though, which County Commissioners and county staff have been reluctant to impose.)
Meanwhile – though it hasn’t received as much media attention – local municipalities across the state are also contending with the repeal of a business privilege tax, which the AP reports could cost municipalities a total of $62 million statewide. Governor Pat McCrory signed the repeal on Thursday.
With those and other issues in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board member James Barrett to the studio on Thursday, for a pair of conversations about the local impact of recent actions at the NCGA.
Last week’s “Moral Monday” demonstration at the General Assembly took a surprising turn when fifteen protestors occupied the office of House Speaker Thom Tillis – and refused to leave until he agreed to meet with them.
Nearly twelve hours later, 14 of the demonstrators were arrested. (The fifteenth had gone home.) They never did meet with Tillis, but the sit-in drew a great deal of public attention – all from an action that appears to have been spontaneous and unplanned.
Orange County resident Mark Marcoplos has been active in the Moral Monday movement since its inception last year; he was one of hundreds of arrestees last summer. He was there last Tuesday as well to observe the sit-in – and he says as far as he could tell, even movement leader Rev. William Barber was unaware the 15 demonstrators were about to do what they did. Otherwise, he says, the demonstrators’ tactic (so far) has been to follow the new rules established by the state legislature for public behavior in the capitol – while calling attention to the fact that they’re observing them. (WCHL’s Aaron Keck called that approach “conspicuous obedience.”)
Marcoplos and Keck sat down for a conversation on the WCHL Afternoon News on Wednesday, the day after the demonstration.
When asked what was next for the movement, Marcoplos deferred – but Rev. Barber said this week that demonstrators would be challenging the new rules directly in future protests.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/one-knew-going/
Local elected officials say they’ll have to cut services, especially in the school systems, to make up for the budget cuts, which County Commissioner Penny Rich says were done to hurt the local governments.
“We know that the state is purposefully taking money away from school systems to make us suffer,” Rich says. “It’s not to make something better; it’s to make us suffer and to make us spend our money.”
Budget discussions between Orange County and the schools systems begin Tuesday.
Chapel-Carrboro school board member James Barrett says these cuts are moves by legislators that go against what the state constitution says is our foundation.
“Our state constitution is very clear that the responsibility of providing a sound education for all of our students lies in the general assembly, and they are passing on that,” Barrett says.
While raising taxes increases the amount of money going out of a household budget, former Mayor of Carrboro and Register of Deeds candidate Mark Chilton says cuts to the state budget have done more harm.
“There (are) a lot of households whose household budgets have been hit hard by the legislature as well,” Chilton says. “Up until a few months ago, I was working in the nonprofit sector, and every day seeing people come into our office who were single moms who were just barely scabbing it together with whatever resources they could find. We’re seeing the resources available declining rapidly. It puts people in some very tough situations.”
Federal cuts piled on the state cuts with things like reduced food stamp funding healthcare benefits. Rich adds that the cuts are sending more people below the poverty line.
“We turn more people in our county into working poor, instead of knowing that we can help them get above that,” Rich says. “We talked a little bit about public education, but it’s also (about) higher education. I have a son who’s at App State: the first semester, his food plan was not taxed; the second semester, his food plan was taxed. How are we helping our families in North Carolina let their kids get higher education?”
Chapel Hill Town Council member Ed Harrison says the General Assembly cut off the legs of the local governments when it not only cut the budget, but it also reduced the authority of the governing bodies.
“For a city or town, particularly, because we do not have home rule—nor do counties—that’s been the major impact, because we entered the session without having home rule and the General Assembly majority just piled on higher and deeper,” Harrison says. “They took away what little authority we thought we had, in some cases. For instance, in the City of Durham case, the ability to control who gets their water and sewer.”
What’s the solution? Council member Lee Storrow says the move that Raleigh is making now is just for show.
“In Orange County and across the state, local governments are having to find ways to increase revenue or increase taxes,” Storrow says. “ So it’s easy to say, at a superficial level, ‘look how great it is that we haven’t raised taxes’, but they’re just passing the buck onto local leaders and local governing bodies.”
He says with state and local elections right around the corner, there are places where Democrats can sneak in and take back part of the legislature.
“I appreciate the importance of finding creative solutions, and that’s incredibly valuable,” Storrow says. “But if we want to maintain the values that we care about in Orange County and in North Carolina, we are going to have to do work to support candidates who are in winnable districts, who can help move the legislature in a different direction.”
Rich says until that’s accomplished, the local governments have to show whatever support they can to those who are taking hits from the budget cuts.
“It’s really important that we get behind these people and they should know that we’re going to be there for them, even though monies are cut,” Rich says. “Can we set up some public-private partnerships? Can we get someone to donate paint? Can we support something like that? So, the money is the most important, but if we can’t give them money, we’ll be there for them to direct them to the right people that can help them with donated good.”
***Listen to the Raleigh to Orange Forum Hour***
Click here for all of the 2014 Community Forum stories.http://chapelboro.com/news/2014-community-forum/take-back-budget/
CHAPEL HILL – Orange County has seen a great deal of recent political turnover, with a newer, younger generation of legislators and community leaders emerging to replace the old.
But how do those new leaders navigate the political realm? How do they make a difference, in institutions still dominated by older legislators and older ways?
“I walk in, first of all, as a student – a student of the game,” says newly appointed State House Representative Graig Meyer. “How am I going to play this game? What do I need to learn? Who do I need to align myself with? Who do I need to emulate? Who do I need to stay away from?”
First-term Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils agrees, adding that finding one’s place involves not only the need to learn how to play the game – but also the chance to elevate the discourse.
“One of the things that I found myself doing – while not intending, necessarily, to do it – was to come to the role with a kind of posture of wanting to demonstrate how to disagree well,” he says. “I think that, in itself, has value.”
Other young or first-term legislators agree that ‘being the new guy’ also offers a rare opportunity to shake things up.
“I think all of us who are new elected officials have one opportunity, which is to really see how things have been done and to ask questions about why,” says first-term County Commissioner Mark Dorosin. “Why do you do something like this? Why is it like this? And maybe that’s the right way to do it, but you have the opportunity to say, ‘Explain it to me – and in doing so, explain it to the constituents.'”
Fellow first-termer Renee Price agrees. “If I have to say something that’s going to ruffle somebody’s feathers, I’m sorry,” she says. “Well, no, I’m not sorry, really.”
And first-term Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer says she can also take advantage of her status as a demographic outsider as well.
“I’m an immigrant,” she says, “so sometimes I can say things that other people are too embarrassed or have been told all their lives you can’t say in polite company.”
Palmer, Price, Dorosin and Seils all occupy seats on elected boards that serve Orange County alone – so all four can say their own values adhere fairly closely to those of their fellow board members.
Not so Meyer, a Democrat in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. “I just drove back from Raleigh,” he says, “and I was in an education policy hearing…(and) most of the people in the General Assembly don’t know a darn thing about education. And I cannot believe they’re making some of the decisions that they’re making.”
Among other things, he says, those decisions include a continued reluctance to raise teacher pay – and, on Thursday, a task force recommendation to eliminate the Common Core standards.
Those moves and others have left him frustrated, Meyer says – and it can be no less frustrating for new and young officials seeking to make change in Chapel Hill. But despite the frustration, Meyer says it’s possible to be hopeful for the future, simply by looking back to the recent past.
“On the days that I’m mad and angry – and today sitting in chambers was one of the worst days that I’ve had – I tend to think about Terry Sanford and Bill Friday,” he says. “Those gentlemen came out of World War II together…and they decided that they were going to fight racial segregation and build the prosperity of this state based on having a strong public education system.
“And there is no reason why today’s leaders shouldn’t be able to come together around the same goal of building our long-term prosperity on a well-educated populace and the ability to stand up against the continued existence of institutionalized racism and other forms of inequity.”
And it’s that hope that sustains local leaders – young and old and newcomer and veteran alike – as they continue to push for change.
“Change is hard,” says Dorosin. “It’s very frustrating. But, you know, every day you start to push the rock up the hill – and you hope that today, it gets all the way to the top.”
And in the end, Renee Price says, that activism pays off in its impact on people.
“There’s something very interesting that happens, I think every single time I’ve had a meeting (where) I’ve been frustrated,” she says. “The next day someone will call me up, or they’ll see me in the grocery store, and they’ll just say ‘thank you.’
“And you know…it makes it worth it.”
Dorosin, Price, Meyer, Seils and Palmer made those comments in the “Tomorrow’s Newsmakers” panel of the 2014 WCHL Community Forum.http://chapelboro.com/news/2014-community-forum/new-young-leaders-learning-disagree-well/
CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro educators are rejecting the changes to teacher tenure mandated by the General Assembly, and they want school board members to do the same.
Deborah Gerhardt was one of 40 parents and teachers who came out to Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meeting to demand the board condemn the state-mandated changes to teacher tenure.
“I am basically here to plead with you to stand behind the parents and the teachers in this district and help us to voice how horrible we think this law is and how insulting it is to our teachers,” Gerhardt told the school board.
Wearing red to show support for education, the crowd asked the district’s elected leaders to take a firm stand against the new state law that will do away with career status for teachers, instead offering four year contracts and a $500 bonus to 25 percent of teachers while the rest get year-to-year contracts.
In an effort to sidestep the competitive aspect of the new law while still complying with the mandate, Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators offered qualified teachers the option of volunteering for the new contracts instead of being ranked by school officials.
Human Resources Director Arasi Adkins said this opt-in policy would prevent teachers from feeling like they were vying against their peers for job security and extra pay. Superintendent Tom Forcella agreed, noting district teachers help craft the policy.
“Our opt-in model, I think, makes a statement in and of itself that we don’t agree with this particular law and the whole concept of merit pay.” said Forcella. “
But teachers throughout the district have resoundingly rejected the proposal. Adkins said of the 800 educators eligible to opt in, only 10 decided to do so.
Instead, the parents and teachers at the meeting said they want the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system to join the growing number of school districts that are protesting the loss of teacher tenure.
The Guilford County and Durham County school boards have each voted to join a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the changes from being implemented, while the Wake County school board adopted a three-page resolution asking the legislature to repeal the new law.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members said they stand behind the districts teachers, but worry that joining the lawsuit could have unintended consequences, as the legislature could choose to appoint new board members if the district did not comply with state law.
“Unfortunately, in this state, the legislature holds all the power,” said board member Mike Kelley. “The local governments, including school boards, have none that isn’t granted to them by the legislature, and the legislature can take that away at any time.”
Kelley and other board members urged the audience to focus on voter outreach to change the make-up of the General Assembly.
School board members also indicated they would consider a resolution condemning the new state law while still offering four-year contracts to the handful of teachers who opt in. The board could consider that measure at its next meeting on March 20.
Each year on the second Saturday in February, the North Carolina NAACP holds a march called “Historic Thousands on Jones Street”—“HK on J” for short.
Usually it draws a few thousand people. But this year, tens of thousands converged on Raleigh—hundreds from Orange County alone—for what became the largest civil rights rally in recent U.S. history. All to carry on a movement that’s still less than a year old—and showing no signs of slowing down.
Listen to the full report (in two parts), from WCHL’s Aaron Keck with comments from 13 Orange County residents and elected officials.
They came by the hundreds from Orange County, by the thousands and the tens of thousands from across the state and across the South—and they all came with a purpose that was both widely varied and steadfastly united.
“I marched for social justice,” said Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier.
“I marched because I believe in a moral politics,” said newly appointed State Representative Graig Meyer.
“I marched because I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” said Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle.
“I loved what Rev. Barber said about ‘everybody wants a moral universe,'” said Alicia Stemper, “and I marched to make my statement that I too want to live in a moral North Carolina.”
“I marched because I’m a strong proponent of social and environmental justice, education–I’m an educator–and for universal health care coverage and access to health care,” said Carrboro Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell.
“I marched for the values that OC holds dear: education, (the) environment, equity, women’s rights, voting rights, (and) the rights of people to be represented by their state government in a real way,” said Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs.
And County Commissioner Penny Rich said she marched for a lot of things. “I marched mainly for women,” she said, “(and) I also marched for education…I marched because I believe in equal rights for equal love…I marched because I think it’s important that municipalities and counties maintain their own rights to govern…
“(And) I marched because, as a parent of two boys in North Carolina, it’s my job to make sure that their home is always someplace they want to come home to, and not move away from.”
They called it the “Moral March,” a continuation of the weekly “Moral Monday” demonstrations that galvanized progressives against the GOP-led General Assembly last year. Organizers expected about 10,000 to show—but as more and more busloads kept coming in, it became quickly apparent the final tally would be much higher.
Ashley Melzer was on hand to take pictures for Planned Parenthood. “When I first got up to the parking deck, there was no one there,” she said. “(But) when it got to be 10:30 or 11:00, all of a sudden there were people on every level, looking out (and) waving flags, everywhere.”
On the street, Town Council member Sally Greene arrived on one of two buses sent by the Community Church of Chapel Hill. “There were Unitarians from all over the country there,” she said. “We got over to Raleigh and emerged from the buses, and all of these banners that the Unitarians were carrying were orange banners with their slogan of ‘Standing on the Side of Love.'”
Randee Haven-O’Donnell was lucky enough to find a spot near the front. “There were hordes of people, crowds and crowds of people behind us,” she said. “There was a real sense of togetherness.”
Further back, Allison DeMarco was a veteran of several “HK on J” rallies—but never anything like this. “There were lots of people around us, young and old, and from all over–I saw buses from Goldsboro, there was a guy behind me who was coming down from Hertford–so it was really neat to see all these people gathering together,” she said.
For Annette Stone of Carrboro, the rally was a family experience. “My daughter was with me,” she said. “When I said what I was doing, she said ‘I want to be there too.'”
And Graig Meyer had meetings in Orange County that morning—but made it to Raleigh just in time.
“When I got to Fayetteville Street and saw the marchers coming the other way, and how many of them there were–it was a big blast of excitement in my face,” he said. “It was pretty amazing.”
I spoke with more than a dozen Orange County residents this weekend, regular folks and elected officials and everyone in between. They’d all been to Raleigh. They’d all come back energized. They all had their own unique experiences and their own unique reasons for marching—but in keeping with the intended spirit of the “Moral Monday” movement, they said those differences only made the whole experience stronger.
That’s a sentiment Ashley Melzer shared with County Commissioner Penny Rich and Town Council member Lee Storrow.
“(I was impressed by) all these different organizations working together, and all these different people: there were babies, there were old people, seeing a rabbi speak, and then an imam, and then hearing the reverend, people of different faiths,” said Melzer. Rich noted the wide variety of interest groups on hand: “I saw Carolina Jews for Justice, the NAACP, the teachers, (and) the women’s groups,” she said.
Storrow agreed, adding that the feeling of “collectively working together was, I thought, really empowering and really energizing.”
That in fact is the idea–at least according to the leader of the movement, NAACP state chapter president Rev. William Barber, whose speech on Saturday focused on the connections between all the disparate issues that have moved progressives to take to the streets.
“Reverend Barber speaks so eloquently of all the issues, in a way that encourages everybody from all walks of life to participate,” said County Commissioner Pelissier.
Carrboro Mayor Lavelle agreed. “(Rev. Barber’s speech) practically made your heart stop,” she said. “He spoke quite a bit about how this wasn’t necessarily a Democratic or a Republican issue, this wasn’t necessarily a conservative-versus-liberal issue, this wasn’t an us-versus-them issue, this was a North Carolina issue.”
Lavelle was only one of many Orange County elected officials on hand Saturday. Orange County’s elected officials have been vocal in support of the “Moral Monday” movement from the beginning, and Saturday was no exception: the crowd at “HK on J” included several Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members, Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens, a majority of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, nearly half the Chapel Hill Town Council, and nearly all of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
County Commissioner Barry Jacobs and Carrboro Alderman Michelle Johnson both said they felt duty-bound as elected officials to be there.
“We all know that we’re under assault from a state legislature and a governor who have very little respect for many of the values we hold dear in Orange County,” Jacobs said, “and it was good to see people actually go to the streets in Raleigh, as part of a larger group, to say that we stood with our fellows.”
Johnson concurred. “The way that things are being run–this isn’t the way that I want to represent the folks that elected me,” she said. “And I feel like it’s imperative for me to be connected to a movement that’s bringing light to what’s really happening.”
Those elected officials joined hundreds of other Orange County residents, amidst a crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands. How large was the crowd? It’s always difficult to say. A press release from the NAACP estimated the crowd at 80,000-100,000, but that number’s likely inflated; Melzer says she estimated the crowd to be about 25,000-30,000, and Meyer said he guessed about 40,000.
One thing is certain: it was a larger crowd than anyone expected, and far more than any previous “HK on J” march had ever drawn. An article in The Nation magazine called it the largest civil rights march the South had seen since the 1960s. And maybe even that’s an understatement. To put the estimates into perspective: the famous Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965 peaked at 25,000.
“I think for every person there, each person probably represented two or three other people who had a work commitment or a kid’s soccer game or wanted to be there and couldn’t,” observes Alicia Stemper, who was also in attendance Saturday (with her partner Lavelle). “So just the sheer numbers (were) impressive.”
Regardless of the actual attendance figures, Saturday’s event was truly historic—and Orange County residents played a major role. Whether the movement will have an effect on actual policy in North Carolina remains to be seen, of course—but everyone I spoke to said they’re hopeful that a change is going to come.
“We sent a message to the State House, and we also sent a message to one another,” said Greene. “It was like no other experience to be in a crowd of that size.”
Lavelle too says the march has her feeling optimistic, in spite of everything. “Even though there’s so much despair in North Carolina about what’s been happening…surely there are people in the General Assembly who see some of the very valid points that we’re making,” she said. “And I felt like it was a demonstration that had to happen–that it was one of those days that was just really, really important.”http://chapelboro.com/news/state-news/moral-march-draws-tens-thousands/
ORANGE COUNTY – Orange County Commissioners will discuss how actions by the General Assembly will impact voters when the board meets Tuesday.
The recently passed House Bill 589 contains a host of revisions to state election laws. Orange County Elections Director Tracy Reams will update the board on how the bill will change the way elections are held this year and in years to come.
The new bill ends preregistration for 16 year-olds, but starting October 1, the board of elections will assemble bi-partisan teams to help with absentee ballots in hospitals and nursing homes.
The county board of elections will also begin sharing information about how to get a photo ID for use when voting in future elections. Photo ID will be mandatory by 2016.
County commissioners will also review the progress of the Rogers Road Task Force and review the operation agreement for the Rogers Road Community Center.
The board meets at 7:00 p.m. in the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.