Ever since Massachusetts Governor Elbrige Gerry signed a bill in 1812 that redistricted the map of Boston in the shape of a salamander to the benefit of his Democratic Party, we've been stuck with dominant political parties legally tilting elections in their favor. Just recently the courts handed NC Republican legislators a smack down, ruling their redistricting unconstitutional, which meant we all went back to the polls in June, to recast primary ballots that were made invalid. Everybody knows gerrymandering goes on, but nobody ever bothers to fix this legal rigging, because the minority parties don't have the legislative votes, and when they regain the majority, they can't wait to turn the tables to their own benefit. We just live with it...just like we are living with the fact that since 2011, there has been such a disadvantage, that in some districts no Democrats bothered to run, simply because there was no point in wasting the effort; the votes just weren't there anymore due to gerrymandering.
Unsatisfied with one method of rigging the vote, our Republican controlled GA set about disenfranchising demographics which typically vote Democratic, under the guise of protecting elections from voter fraud, with voter ID requirements. Never mind that there is virtually no 'in person" voter fraud, never mind that the undocumented immigrants who supposedly threatened the integrity of the vote shun any situation where their identity might be scrutinized, never mind that citizens who have voted all of their lives would be denied their civic duty, never mind that young voters would be discouraged from taking part in the political process, never mind that minorities would disproportionately lose their right to choose who would represent their interests...just never mind, if the Republicans couldn't have their votes, they would legislate that right into oblivion, so they could remain in power.
And now, even though it may seem a minor transgression by comparison, our Republican controlled legislature has stooped to an all time low with SB677. For one race only, for an advantage of 5% or less, they have changed the position on the ballot to favor Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger's son, by insuring that Phil Berger, Jr. will appear at the top of the ballot in the Court of Appeals race. It would appear, that having been defeated in his bid for the 2014 - 6th Congressional Seat, Berger Sr. and his Republican cronies want to give Junior the slot on the ballot that would normally be reserved for the incumbent, Linda Stephens, who happens to be a Democrat.
Here's the section of the bill: "Order of Candidates for Judge of Court of Appeals on General Election Official Ballot.- Candidates for Judge of the Court of Appeals on a general election official ballot shall appear in the following order: (1) Candidates registered with political parties that reflect five percent (5%) of statewide voter registration, according to the most recent statistical report published by the State Board of Elections, in alphabetical order by party beginning with the party whose nominee for Governor received the most votes in the most recent gubernatorial election within alphabetical order within the party. (2) Candidates registered with other political parties in alphabetical order within the party. (3) Unaffiliated candidates in alphabetical order."
Now, this may seem like a silly thing to be alarmed by, but not only do we have our legislature participating in apparent nepotism, they are also seeking to gain advantage in a judicial race. The courts are where the constitutionality of much of their legislation since 2010 has been ruled against, time and again. What happens when they manage to stack the courts the way that redistricting has stacked the legislature? What recourse will be left to us when the balance of government is permanently tilted to cheat half the population out of representation? Don't let them get away with this latest effort to stack the deck.
VOTE LINDA STEPHENS, COURT OF APPEALS in the GENERAL ELECTION!
She's well respected, has the experience, and a great record for fairness.
At the height of negative public opinion over the Dan River Coal Ash Spill, it appeared that our General Assembly actually might make some meaningful legislation to require the clean-up of Duke Energy's less than responsible handling of waste that threatens water supplies in numerous locations all over the state. Senate Bill 71 required study of the problem, removal of coal ash from leaking storage ponds and effective containment at other sites, a commission to oversee the implementation of the clean up, and specific deadlines for accomplishing clean up, which was vetoed by Gov. McCrory. Two years after the fact, public furor has dropped from a boil to a simmer and the House has been quietly gutting SB 71 with their "flexible" revision, HB630.
Previously, Duke Energy would have been required to begin removal of coal ash from leaking unlined basins as soon as possible, with "intermediate risk" impoundments to be closed "as soon as practicable, but no later than Dec 31, 2024, with closing plans submitted no later than Dec. 31, 2017, "low risk" impoundments to be closed no later than Dec.31, 2029, with plans submitted no later than Dec 31, 2018", with limitations on variances of those deadlines not to exceed three years. All of this was to transpire through the DEQ, with oversight by a Commission set up specifically for that purpose. But, with HB630, not only have these deadlines been pushed into the future, Duke Energy has been gifted with wiggle room to delay closures of leaking basins and the special oversight commission has been dispense with entirely. "The General Assembly authorizes the Secretary to grant variance to extend any deadlines under this act, on the Secretary's own motion or that of the impoundment owner on the basis that compliance with the deadline cannot be achieved by application of best available technology found to be economically reasonable at the time and would produce serious hardship without equal or greater benefit to the public." Of course it has been Duke Energy's contention from the beginning, that they could not meet the SB71 deadlines and that removal of coal ash would be too expensive.
So where does that leave us? Well, environmental groups claim that HB630 would allow leaking coal ash ponds to be reclassified and "capped in place" if the leaks are repaired, which would allow Duke Energy to leave coal ash in unlined ponds, rather than remove the coal ash from sites near threatened water sources, as long as they meet new water supply requirements. ("The Department may grant an impoundment owner an extension of time, not to exceed one year to establish permanent water supplies as required by this section, if the Department determines that it is feasible for the impoundment owner to establish a permanent water supply for a household by October 15, 2018, based on limitations arising from local government resources including limitations on water supply capacity and staffing limitations for permitting and construction activities.") It is astonishing that the provision of an alternate water source could mean the reclassification of "high risk" basins to "intermediate" or "low" risk, which have much later deadlines for clean-up. In addition, "...any impoundment classified as intermediate or low-risk that is located at a site which an ash benefication project is installed, operating and processing 300,000 tons of ash annually from the impoundment, shall be closed no later than December 31, 2029." While it is a good thing that coal ash might be used, rather than disposed of, this still means that 'intermediate risk" locations could gain a 5 year extension for closure. And, while minor in comparison, "Combustion residual surface impoundment fee shall be 0.022% of the NC jurisdictional revenues of each public utility with a coal ash combustion residual surface impoundment." This is a reduction from .03%.
Sounds like the GA wants to hand Duke Energy a sweetheart of a deal, while the residents near coal ash ponds continue to worry about the threat of contamination.
Governor McCrory has just signed into law, the opportunity for Duke Energy to drain unlined coal ash ponds that have been leaking into local water sources and "cap in place", if they provide alternative water sources for neighboring residents by late 2018, rather than remove the coal ash as was expected by the general public, based on recommendations from studies and the promises of the original Senate Bill 71, which McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee, refused to sign.
Rather than protect our precious water resources, the GA and McCrory have chosen to protect Duke Energy's profit margin. Perhaps they consider future disasters as business opportunities for lawyers, clean-up crews and bottled water companies.