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.
Entitled, "AN ACT to require criminal background checks for teacher licensure and school personnel employment and for board members of nonprofits seeking initial approval to establish a charter schools", Senate Bill 867 appears to legislate the protection of students, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, as with many bills the current GA is busy churning out, hidden in plain sight, is the casual removal of rights. In this case, under Article 36A, non-violent, civil disobedience would become grounds for the removal of a teacher's license and the potential ruin of a career.
Over the past few years, budget cuts have caused any number of negative changes to our public education system. Many teachers have protested against the lack of text books, teaching materials, and even toilet paper; not to mention reductions in teaching assistants, loss of benefits, and lack of pay increases. Our state's education system, once worthy of envy, has fallen to the bottom of the heap in dollars spent per student, while a voucher system siphons off funds for private enterprise, that would otherwise have gone to public education. Even in this bill, only the "board members of nonprofits" will be subjected to the proposed law; instructors for charter schools would remain free from scrutiny. But, the real problem is this...public educators who have participated in protests against these legislated hardships and have been arrested for non-violent crimes of non-compliance, obstruction, trespass, etc., will now, retroactively, be at risk of losing their jobs and careers, for standing up for your kids' right to a decent education. Our General Assembly members have figured out a way to stifle opposition to their attacks on public education, by those who are most familiar with the adverse effects of their decisions.
It's not too late to ask our legislators to protect teachers from this hidden consequence of an otherwise reasonable law. It's not to late to extend the background check to personnel of charter schools, to make sure all students are likewise protected. There is no guarantee they will listen, but if we fail to call these issues to their attention and to give them feedback before they finalize this bill, then we have failed in our own civic responsibility. NC Senators and Representatives are only a phone call or an e-mail away. Whether you agree or disagree, make your voice heard.
What a handy piece of legislation HB3 is.
"A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT TO AMEND THE NORTH CAROLINA CONSTITUTION TO PROHIBIT CONDEMNATION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY EXCEPT FOR A PUBLIC USE; TO PROVIDE FOR THE PAYMENT OF JUST COMPENSATION WITH RIGHT OF TRIAL BY JURY IN ALL CONDEMNATION CASES; TO PROVIDE FOR TAXPAYER PROTECTIONS THAT ESTABLISH A STATE EMERGENCY SAVINGS RESERVE FUND; TO REDUCE THE MAXIMUM INCOME TAX RATE TO FIVE AND ONE-HALF PERCENT FROM TEN PERCENT; AND TO PROTECT THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO HUNT, FISH, AND HARVEST WILDLIFE."
Surely our General Assembly doesn't intend to roll all of these unrelated items into one dandy little referendum on the November general election ballots. If so, sandwiching a cap on tax rates, which benefit the wealthy and shift the tax burden onto those who have the least, through sales and property taxes to make up shortfalls in revenue, between items likely to appeal to most political persuasions, is a brilliant way to get liberals and conservatives alike, voting against their own best interests, when they choose to support either of the other subjects addressed in the bill.
Let's hope that a single amendment, bundling all three elements, is not what they have in mind. Referendum on changing our Constitution should address each change separately. Stay tuned to ncgov.org for further developments.
Constitutional Amendments passed by the Senate were not taken up by the House and will not be on the November General Election Ballot, though they may be reconsidered in 2017.
The U.S. Military is big business in North Carolina; the second largest, in fact. Our General Assembly is concerned that Wind Farms in the flight paths of training missions from the various military bases in our state might be cause for them to be slated for closure. To that end, legislation, which does not affect existing projects, or those currently under development, has been proposed to severely limit the locations of future projects in the eastern and central regions.
While this may seem to be a reasonable course of action on the surface, like so much current legislation, there is more to this bill (SB843) than meets the eye. In addition to limiting locations where wind farm projects may be built to a relatively small portion of the state, there are proposed restrictions applying to the solar industry as well. Citing "environmental risks", new start-ups would be required to generate no more than 35 decibels of noise (quieter than human speech)and have a 1-1/2 mile "safety barrier" away from neighboring property lines (that's 7,920 feet, compared to 200 feet for hazardous waste landfills, or 500 feet for pig waste lagoons). Curiously, fossil fuel powered hydroelectric plants would be exempt.
As if that were not enough to make new renewable energy less than competitive with traditional energy sources, a surety bond equal to 15% of the value of the facility and land would be required of new start-ups, in spite of the fact that the salvage values of the raw materials would exceed the costs of decommissioning and return of sites to original condition, as required.
When "Fracking" legislation allows for well sites in closer proximity to homes and water sources, at noise levels considerably higher, with no similar guarantees of return to original condition for sites, one might conclude a bit of hypocrisy in this latest assault on renewable energy. Hmmmm?
Apparently this Bill was allowed to die on the Senate floor, as the GA adjourned for their vacation, but may be resurrected in the next session.
The General Election in November of 2016 represents an opportunity for change. The negative impact of neo-conservative policy will continue in our county, state and nation, unless we get to the polls and elect candidates who will return balance to the decision making that has an effect on our daily lives. With voter ID disenfranchisement and Republican controlled redistricting, it has never been more important that we insure every opportunity for voters to get to the polls.
On Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at 4p.m., the Rockingham County Board of Elections will be meeting to discuss Early Voting Hours and Locations for the November 2016 General Elections. It is imperative that we contact the Board (336-342-8107), 240 Cherokee Camp Rd, Reidsville, NC 27320, to let them know that we want as many Early Voting Days as possible; including Saturdays and Sundays, to accommodate heavy turn-out for the Presidential Election as well as for proposed Amendments to the State Constitution.
By contacting and/or attending the June 21st meeting, you can help do your part to make sure all voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots this fall. (AND...While your in the neighborhood, come join us at 7.pm. on the 21st in the ADT Building, on the RCC Campus, in Wentworth for the RCDP meeting, where we will be discussing plans for getting out the vote and supporting Democratic Candidates for the general election.)
Despite Rockingham County Resident requests, our Board of Elections chose not to include any Sundays in the Early Voting Schedule.
After the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Republican Legislators had deliberately targeted the African American Community in order to Disenfranchise, the court ordered NC to Early Voting Expansion of 10 days., to counteract that violation of the 1965 Civil Rights Act.
When, again the RCBoE ignored resident requests to add at least one Sunday, the board could not reach the required unanimous decision for scheduling, which triggered the submission of majority and minority plans for expansion, to the State Board of Elections.
Acting on Republican Party directives to limit Expansion of Early Voting by days, hours, and location selection, the State Board approved the RCBoE Republican Plan (again despite residents requests for Sunday voting to the State Board) which limits Early Voting Expansion to the RCBoE Office in Wentworth, with no early morning hours, and abbreviated time on Saturday Nov. 5th.
It would appear that our Republican Officials have as little regard for the court system as they do for the Constitution. Don't let them get away with it...VOTE!
After refusing to hear the NC Treasurers reservations about capping the tax rate at 5.5% via an Amendment to the State Constitution, the Senate Finance Committee passed the SB-817 proposal to prevent future legislators from adjusting tax rates to suit the needs of the State.
The objections they did not hear ranged from potential loss of the State's AAA bond rating, shortfalls in the event of natural disasters, inability to deal with the effects of recession, continued reductions in funding available for public education and infrastructure, inevitable increases in property taxes, sales tax, and fees, which place more burden on those who have the least, while minimizing that of those with the most, and taking away NC citizen's right to decide how the needs of the state are to be met...even in an emergency.
Go to www.ncga.state.nc.us/Legislation/Legislation and search by number to read this proposal for yourself.
Our Republican controlled General Assembly is pulling out all the stops this election cycle. As if HB2 were not enough to bring out their voter base, now we have HB-1148, which will make it legal for nearly every Tarheel to pack heat with minimal regulation. This dandy piece of legislation has passed its first reading and includes an Amendment to the State Constitution, scheduled to appear on the November 2016 ballot.
That's right folks, soon anyone eligible to purchase a gun will be able to cart it around hidden, as long as they have a valid ID on their person.
It's a dry read, but if you want to know what our lawmakers are up to with this one, go to www.ncga.state.nc.us/Legislation/Legislation , search by the bill number, and read it for yourself.
Whether you like this idea or not, placing a Constitutional Amendment about guns on the ballot basically insures that every Republican in our county is going to vote this fall. This means that if you want to see more balance in government, instead of less, we need every Democrat doing everything possible to get our voter base to the polls too. This is not the time to sit back and let the few worker bees pull the load. It's time to take civic duty seriously; get to know and get behind those who represent your best interests. Everyone has something to offer, even if its only moral support. RCDP Meetings are the 2nd Tuesday of every month. Join us. There's lots to do.
For as long as there have been human beings, there have been some who identified with the gender they were not born to. Until recently most of us were oblivious to their existence, because they chose not to call attention to themselves for fear of retribution. Ignorance was bliss, but now we have HB2.
On the surface, HB2 (otherwise known as "The Bathroom Law") states that public facilities marked specifically for "male" or "female" use, cannot be used by anyone whose birth certificate gender does not match the sign on the door. This means that in order to be within the law, there will now be clearly masculine looking people using the "lady's" room and clearly feminine looking people using the "men's" room. It means that women who are not transgender, but look masculine by an accident of nature, or age, or an observer's paranoid or poor vision, will be accosted and physically ejected from public facilities, as has already happened. It means men who are not transgender, but look feminine by an accident of nature, or age, or an observer's paranoid or poor vision, will be physically accosted and ejected from public facilities, or worse. It means that the disabled, the elderly, or the very young, will no longer be entitled to the help they need, if their companion happens to be of the opposite sex. It means that a person carrying a weapon might be considered justified in the bodily harm of someone they think might be transgender, if their presence makes them feel threatened. And...it means that our state is involved in yet another law suit over the constitutionality of the current General Assembly's legislation. But, what most folks don't realize is that even if the "bathroom" portion of the law is overturned in the courts, there are two more issues which will remain on the books until they are repealed and they have absolutely nothing to do with gender identity and who pees where.
In addition to the obvious, HB2 strips NC citizens of the right to sue employers for discrimination in the workplace. Our legislators maintain that this is not the case, as that right is protected at the Federal level. However, what they won't admit, is that for the average worker defending one's rights is now out of reach. That is because the law removes the ability to sue in the lower courts which often do not require an attorney, cost far less to file, and take much less time to be heard, and the courts are nearby. In order to sue in Federal Court, the expense in money and time are nearly impossible requirements for all but people with a lot of money and knowledge. This means that an employer who discriminates based on race, national origin, gender, gender orientation, religion, disability, etc. is now protected from being sued; not because discrimination is legal, but because it has become so difficult for the victims of discrimination to afford standing up for their rights.
Also lurking in the background, is that HB2 removes local authority's (township, city, and county governments) ability to pass any law or regulation which goes beyond what state laws already cover. For instance, if a local government wanted to increase minimum wage, because the cost of living is higher than elsewhere in the state, this would not be allowed. If a citizens want to protect their property rights from forced pooling the state allows for fracking, their local government cannot pass any ordinance prohibiting that practice. If an industry started polluting local water sources by dumping chemicals into local water sources that is not already covered by state law, local government would be powerless to protect it's water supply, unless the state chose to pass legislation to cover a problem peculiar to a relatively small area. The purpose of this part of the law, is to take away the ability of local governments to regulate business in any way which exceeds state law, even if there is harm being done.
Even if the "bathroom portion of HB2 is overturned, these two portions of the law will stand. Our conservative dominated General Assembly and our Governor, who campaigned on the idea of less regulation and smaller, fiscally responsible government, have taken advantage of a localized, volatile, morality issue to mask a statewide power grab, which effectively takes citizen's rights and local authority away, while wasting millions of dollars on defending an indefensible discrimination law, in order to protect the bottom line of businesses, at the expense of the tax payer.
For those who still believe that HB2 is for the protection of their children, consider this...If our lawmakers were really serious about that, wouldn't they have made some provision for enforcement and penalty for violation of the law? This is a very poorly crafted piece of legislation, with loads of intended and unintended consequences. If you have any doubts about that, go to www.ncga.state.nc.us/Legislation/Legislation , where you can look up laws by number, and see for yourself.
(Please note, that Rockingham County's own Phil Berger (Republican) was instrumental in the passage of this travesty. He is running unopposed in the upcoming general election. If we don't like his policies, we Dems need to ask ourselves why.)
The year was 1961, when Kennedy made this statement in his first inaugural address. He inspired the nation to take part in the political system to make changes for the benefit of all...and they aspired to do just that. It was a time of great change. Today, we could easily substitute county for country and have those same words apply to the challenges that face us right here in Rockingham County. Because, without us all doing our part, nothing is going to change, except the continued slide backwards into neo-conservative regression.
Statistically Rockingham County should be overwhelmingly Democratic. But, we know that among registered voters that simply means that there are a lot of people who never changed their parties when their politics did, or there are a lot of democratic thinkers who aren't doers.
2016 represents a tipping point, not just for our county, or our state, but for the nation as a whole. In the balance, hangs the specter of a future with no voice for half of our citizens. Because if the GOP prevails, there will be little we can do to stop their assault on education, healthcare, social security, equal rights, justice, fair elections, and the protection of human and environmental resources. If we want change, it's time to ask ourselves what we can DO...and then DO IT!
Come join the Rockingham County Democratic Party and take an active part in changing all our lives for the better.