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Lawmakers Set to Introduce Bipartisan Redistricting Reform

A plan for redistricting in North Carolina is once again being put forward by state lawmakers.

A bipartisan group of legislators, from the House and Senate, held a press conference at noon on Tuesday. The purpose was to put forward a proposal to change how voting maps are drawn in the Tar Heel state.

The debate over redistricting in North Carolina has raged on for more than a century. For years Democrats controlled the state legislature, and they drew maps that were favorable to the election of more Democrats. And that was deemed legal by the court system.

During that time, Republicans, and some Democrats, repeatedly called for lawmakers to conceive of a more fair system for how the maps are drawn. Now that Republicans are in control of the state House and Senate, the roles have reversed.

But long-time Republican House Representative Skip Stam says he will introduce a bill that calls for an independent commission to draw the voting maps in the state.

“The idea is that, in constructing districts, the people with the most at stake,” he says, “are probably ones who shouldn’t be doing the details.”

Stam’s proposal would be enacted before the next maps are drawn in 2021.

Stam says an opportunity has presented itself that may be the best chance for the bill to actually pass into law, because there is no pending litigation regarding the current maps.

Republican Representative Charlie Jeter says he and Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson will also be introducing a bill concerning redistricting.

“Our bill won’t go into effect until after the 2030 election cycle, in large part because it grandfathers everyone out,” he says. “To some degree, I think this is about getting the bill passed.”

Democratic Representative Grier Martin says his district, because it is heavily Democratic, is a prime example of what is causing some voters to stay home from the polls.

Martin adds passing a bipartisan redistricting bill would be a big step toward restoring North Carolinians faith in the state government.

Republican Representative John Hardister echoes the sentiment of many conservative leaders at the press conference, saying gerrymandering districts is bad policy – regardless of which party benefits.

“Many Republicans, including myself, advocated for redistricting reform when Democrats were in the majority,” he says. “It was the right thing to do then, and it’s still the right thing to do today.”

John Hood, with the conservative Pope Foundation, says the policy should move forward because it benefits the residents of North Carolina.

“It’s important for all of us in North Carolina to get the policy right,” he says. “I’m sure that redistricting reformers would welcome additional alternatives; as long as they were consistent with the principal that neutral rules should be our tactic, and competitive elections should be our end.”

Voters were the topic of conversation as well for Chris Fitzsimon of the progressive organization NC Policy Watch.

“This is not all the complicated,” he says. “The idea is to create a system where voters choose their politicians, instead of the other way around.”

Even with the bipartisan backing of this bill, it is not set in stone that it will move forward. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has previously said he would not consider the legislation while litigation was ongoing.

Mitch Kokai is the Director of Communication for the conservative John Locke Foundation, and he says – even though the litigation has reached a conclusion – there is no guarantee Senator Berger will bring the legislation before the Senate, regardless of what the House does.

“[Berger] hasn’t come out and said ‘heck no, we’re never going to do it,’” Kokai says. “But he also hasn’t come out and said ‘oh yes, we’re going to go along with this now.’”

Ellie Kinnaird represented Orange and Chatham Counties in the North Carolina Senate, as a Democrat, from 1997 – 2013, and she recalls trying to pass a redistricting campaign when her fellow Democrats were in control of the House and Senate.

“I introduced a bill, under the Democrats, for an independent redistricting campaign,” she says. “They thought they were going to be in power forever, why would they do it? I introduced it under the Republicans, and the same thing happened.

“So, I’m very encouraged that the House, last term, actually did pass an independent redistricting bill. But I’m afraid that Mr. Berger will never relent in the Senate. He will not let that go through.”

Kinnaird adds, as long as large donors are allowed to bring about campaigns similar to what North Carolinians saw with the US Senate race between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan, she is not expecting anything to change.

“The money is going to be crucial,” she says. “As the money pours in, it just solidifies the system.

“I don’t see any hope for the near future for North Carolina. I think that, frankly, it’s going to take 49 states enacting it before we enact it.”

The next North Carolina voting maps will be drawn in 2021, following the 2020 census. Whether they will be drawn with a partisan pen or through the eyes of an independent committee remains to be seen.

WCHL has requested a statement from Senator Phil Berger following the press conference but have not received a response at this time.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/lawmakers-set-introduce-bipartisan-redistricting-reform/

20 Arrested At Moral Monday

RALEIGH — Nearly 20 people were arrested outside the doors of the state Senate chamber at the North Carolina General Assembly, two days after a judge struck down building rules regarding demonstrations.

Hundreds of protesters streamed into the second and third-floor rotunda of the Legislative Building Monday, taking full advantage of a ruling in Wake County Superior Court regarding rules enacted this year. The group celebrated the court decision with loud singing, chanting and shouting just before the Senate met.

The arrests during the weekly “Moral Monday” rally focused on collective bargaining and raising the minimum wage.

One protester who was arrested said she hopes state senators hear voices like hers who have to struggle to make ends meet as a single mom working at a fast-food restaurant.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/20-arrested-moral-monday/

GOP, Obama Line Up Behind Modest Budget Deal

WASHINGTON — Top Republicans and President Barack Obama are lining up behind a modest but hard-won bipartisan budget agreement that seeks to replace a portion of tough spending cuts facing the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

The deal to ease those cuts for two years is aimed less at chipping away at the nation’s $17 trillion national debt than it is at trying to help a dysfunctional Capitol stop lurching from crisis to crisis.

It would set the stage for action in January on a $1 trillion-plus spending bill for the current budget year.

The measure unveiled by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate counterpart Patty Murray of Washington blends $85 billion in spending cuts and fees to replace $63 billion in cuts to agency budgets over the coming two years.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/gop-obama-line-behind-modest-budget-deal/

Sen. Hagan Approval Slipping in Wake of Obamacare Web Launch

Raleigh – The failed launch of the Obamacare website is acting like gravity for the approval ratings of democrats in Washington D.C.

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Senator Kay Hagan’s approval ratings are changing, but Public Policy Polling Analyst Jim Williams says they’re not going the direction the Hagan administration would prefer.

“We had found Kay Hagan with a small, but consistent lead throughout most of this year,” Williams says, “We’re finding now that it’s really kind of crept into a statistical tie at this point.”

The poll shows Hagan in a dead heat with her prospective 2014 opponents; coming in no more than three points ahead of state House Speaker Tom Tillis, Heather Grant, and Rev. Mark Harris. And she’s trailing one point behind Greg Brannon.

So what’s the force behind the trend?

“That stems probably from the botched roll out of the Obamacare website,” says Williams.

The website has been a nightmare for the faces of the Democratic Party since healthcare.gov opened its marketplace for federal health insurance on October 1.

“Obama’s approval rating in September was 48 percent approve, 29 percent disapprove,” Williams says, “Now it’s down to 43 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove.”

Williams says North Carolinians have responded negatively to the health care plan they were already skeptical of in the first place.

“Obamacare has never been particularly popular in North Carolina, but now only 38 percent of voters say they approve of it, compared to 48 percent who disapprove,” Williams says.

“Even worse 69 percent of voters say its rollout has been unsuccessful so far.”

The 2014 senate election is still a year away. Williams says there’s a large group of undecided voters who could come to Hagan’s rescue.

“The race is sort of unformed as far as the senate race,” Williams says, “A lot of the folks who either are running or may run are not well-known to the voters yet; so that’s why you’re seeing high numbers of undecided voters.”

Senator Hagan originally supported the Affordable Care Act. But she announced Tuesday that she is asking for an investigation of the failed website launch.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/sen-hagan-approval-slipping-in-wake-of-obamacare-web-launch/

State Democratic Party Chair Pleased with Election Results

North Carolina – Voter turnout this election year was low, but that won’t stop members of the Democratic Party from making bold predictions about their opponents’ futures.

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Randy Voller is the Chair of the North Carolina State Democratic Party, and he says he and his party’s supporters should be pleased with last week’s election results.

“We pretty much swept all the races across the state, and in the big cities,” Voller says.

Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham, and Sanford are a few cities included on his list of successes for the Democratic Party in this year’s municipal elections. So what went right for the candidates dressed in blue?

“Tuesday night was a referendum on what the mood of the electorate is in our cities,” Voller says, “The mood was to elect democrats and democrat city counsels across the state, especially in our bigger cities from Asheville to Wilmington.”

Voller says that mood was set by both federal and state government actions and events.He says the government shutdown and structural issues nationally had an effect on this election.

But Voller says events closer to home, within North Carolina’s state government, had a heavy influence on voters’ decisions as well.

“I think the interference in local control by the general assembly probably was on a lot of people’s minds,” Voller says, “There are a number of places where the general assembly got involved in local issues which traditionally they would not have done.”

Voller says he thinks the results in this election are foreshadowing future setbacks for opponents of the Democratic Party.

“I think what happened in Charlotte, where the republicans invested heavily and lost, is a bell-weather for 2014,” Voller says. And he has a message for voters not following his flock.

“If your stance is, ‘I don’t believe in government, or government doesn’t work, or we should privatize government,’ you’re probably on the defense right now,” Voller says.

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/democratic-party-chair-pleased-with-election-results/

NC Budget Deletes Education Earmarks For Lottery

RALEIGH – The North Carolina budget sought by Senate Republicans would eliminate the law that lays out how the state lottery’s net proceeds should be distributed for education.

The spending plan set for a floor vote Wednesday deletes what the General Assembly intended for profits when the North Carolina lottery law passed in 2005. Half is supposed to go toward class-size reduction and pre-kindergarten, with 40 percent for school construction and the rest for college scholarships for needy students.

Budget-writer Sen. Pete Brunstetter said Tuesday legislators have altered the distribution annually to meet their needs, so it makes sense to eliminate language no one follows.

The proposed budget would still distribute lottery profits to those programs. Brunstetter says he doesn’t believe Republican colleagues are inclined to spend the money on non-education needs.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/nc-budget-deletes-education-earmarks-for-lottery/