WHO WILL TED BUDD REALLY BE WORKING FOR IN THE U.S. SENATE? When Republican Ted Budd takes his seat in the United States Senate next month who will he be representing? If you say North Carolina, don’t bet on it. The people who will really get his attention will be the handful of billionaires who, through dark money campaign operations and super political action committees (super PACs) , accounted for 85% of the $83.2 million raised and spent to get him elected. The folks behind these organizations have little connection to North Carolina or the needs of the state. Top donors to Club for Growth, that spent $11.7 million to get Budd elected, are billionaires Richard Uihlein, an Illinois packaging magnate and billionaire investment trading executive Jeff Yass of Pennsylvania. Other PACs are financed by Las Vegas hotel fortune heiresses and investment tycoons from New York and Miami. In politics, it’s a truism that: “You got to dance with them what brung you.” That means, as the great commentator Molly Ivins says: “When you get to public office, you vote with the folks who put you there. And that used to mean your constituents, the people who voted for you. But more and more what it means is you vote with the special interests who put up the money to get you to public office.” In the Senate, don’t look for Budd to be tripping the light fantastic with many partners who have tar on their heels -- $70 million is a very exclusive dance ticket. Bought and paid for. And the sad part is, NC voters were told who was buying these ads. At the end of every radio and TV ad, and at the bottom of every mailer. Maybe not the people, but the organizations. And a quick Google search would have answered the people question. But that is apparently expecting too much.
THE MISSING MIDDLE--IS CHAPEL HILL A COMMUNITY OR JUST A CAMPUS? There's great irony in the housing market of a college town. Generational homeowners supply run-down, roach-infested properties for an extortionate price, while deep-pocket developers monopolize residential zoning with large-scale complexes that price out the majority. UNC students can (and do) fill these single-family homes or sign on to a pricey apartment lease, temporarily enduring fiscal affliction and cramped living conditions – it's not bad for four years. But not everyone who resides in Chapel Hill is a college student. People live here… or, at least, have tried to. The median sale price of a Chapel Hill home is $525,000, an over 20 percent increase from 2021. It’s not affordable. It’s not sustainable. And it’s pricing out the people who make Chapel Hill more than a campus. The community has called for change – and legislators finally answered. That’s where House Bill 401 comes in. In March 2021, the N.C. General Assembly tried to pass a bill that would have made it possible to develop mixed-use housing without the lengthy process of changing zoning laws. It died in committee, but different municipalities tried their hand at addressing the housing dilemma in its stead. The Town of Chapel Hill proposed to amend the Land Use Management Ordinance to allow property owners to bypass antiquated restrictions to build all kinds of housing. The proposal focuses on removing density limitations, so a property owner could build a duplex instead of building another single-family home. This ordinance is a game changer for what’s called the missing "middle housing." Middle housing is a residential sector comprising a range of multifamily homes and complexes: duplexes, triplexes or even townhomes. It's housing with the community in mind. A big part of the problem has to do with definitions. Too many people see "middle class" as a tier just below the uber-wealthy. Mid 6 figure annual income. It's never been that, and still isn't that. But that's what people see when a home lists for $400,000 -- middle class. In reality, middle class housing is in the range of $150,000--$250,000 (max). Roughly $1,000 monthly mortgage/rent payment. NIMBY doesn't want that, but it's long past time we ignored such navel-gazing selfishness.
A LEGISLATURE ANSWERABLE TO NO ONE? If Phil Berger decides the legislature refuses to spend a dime on public schools – no court nor anyone else can force him and the legislators who follow his lead to do any different. Do courts even have the authority to determine whether the legislature has failed to adhere to the state and federal constitutions? Even when the state (including the legislature) has been found to be violating the law in failing its duty to uphold the State Constitution only the General Assembly can decide what different policies, if any, will be adopted to address the matter. Only the legislature can determine, and to what degree if any, the solution will be funded. That was the clear message from the legislature – and from the dissent – to the most recent state Supreme Court decision that DID order the state – including the legislature – to implement and fund a court-ordered remedial program to assure every child has access to a quality education. “First and foremost, education policy and funding are legislative responsibilities,” said the dissent from Phil Berger Jr. What recourse is there for anyone who might contend the state isn’t meeting its Constitutional obligation or that the legislature is responsible? The likely snooty answer from Berger and his followers is the election – like the one we just had. If constituents don’t like what legislators do, vote to replace them. Of course, thanks to hyper-partisan gerrymandering, that too can become an empty gesture. This is a legislature where nearly half of the Republicans just elected to the state Senate and House had no opposition on Election Day. I'm still angry about that. Partly angry at myself for not doing the candidate posts during the filing period, but also angry because THAT'S NOT MY JOB and should have been handled by the party and/or the caucuses. Serenity now...
CONGRESS PASSED A LAW THAT CUT CHILDHOOD POVERTY. BRING IT BACK: The 2021 expanded child tax credit reduced poverty among children, as it was designed to do when it was passed by the Congress during the pandemic and signed by President Biden. It dropped child poverty to a record low of 5.2%, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It also reduced child hunger. The expanded credit boosted the original version of the credit from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child below age 6 and $3,000 per child 6 through 17. It also made more parents eligible, with the exception of high-earners. It added a key option: Parents could take the credit in monthly payments of up to $300, where it could be put to immediate use paying for childcare, groceries or bills. (And yes, being middle-class earners, my wife and I do qualify for the credit, which we used for our two childrens’ after-school care expenses.) The tax credit extended to 35 million American families. Just one month after the credit expired last December, Nearly 4 million children fell into poverty. Many attempts to reduce poverty have been tried and many have failed. This one worked. I am a person of logic. To me, if we as a nation finally find a way to reduce poverty, one of our more entrenched social problems — especially among children — I say we take it. Instead, Congress walked away last December, unable to reach an agreement to extend the program. (Congress also walked away from universal free school lunches, which also helped millions of children — but that is a topic for another time.) As much as I hate to say it, we won't get another chance to fix this until January 2025. And that's *if* the voters do the right thing next time. But that stats that Myron listed above need to be remembered, and talked about, and maybe those voters will pay attention.
NC'S DUBIOUS "INDEPENDENT LEGISLATURE" THEORY COULD UNDERMINE DEMOCRACY: You’ve got to give the Republicans who control the North Carolina General Assembly this much: They don’t hide what they are up to when they draw the lines for congressional districts. Politically speaking, the state is one of the most evenly divided in the country, with Republicans, Democrats and independents accounting for roughly one-third each of its registered voters. But when state legislators were putting together a new map back in 2016, they designed it so GOP candidates would be a cinch to win 10 of the state’s 13 districts. One lawmaker, Rep. David Lewis, lamented that they hadn’t been able to figure out how to contort it even further to assure his party carried 11 of 13. “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” he said. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” Basically, the theory argues for a narrow and literal reading of the Constitution clause that says that times, places and manner of holding House and Senate elections “shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” The long-standing — and reasonable — interpretation is that election procedures put in place by a legislature, as with everything else it does, have to conform to state constitutions, which means they are subject to court review. But the proponents of an “independent” legislature essentially argue that state lawmakers should have an absolute power to run elections however they wish. “This extreme legal theory that is being proposed in Moore v. Harper would turn the system of checks and balances on its head,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, told me in an interview. “What they are seeking is unfettered and exclusive control over how federal elections are run in North Carolina. And if this case was to be decided in the Republicans’ favor, then you would be giving state legislatures across the country a ticket to manipulate these federal elections.” Taken to its logical end, argues the Brennan Center for Justice, the theory would mean that legislators could override state constitutional bans on gerrymandering that exist not only in North Carolina but also in Florida, Ohio and other states. It could also eliminate independent redistricting commissions in states that include Arizona, California and Michigan. The Brennan Center also raises a “nightmare scenario” — not unlike the scheme attempted by President Donald Trump and his allies after the 2020 election — in which a legislature unhappy with how the presidential election came out in its state could use the theory as a pretext to select an alternative slate of electors. BergerMoore doesn't give two shits about democracy. Their ideology is simple: whatever power you can grab for yourself is automatically legal and justified. There's another word for that: Totalitarianism.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
JUSTINE PRICE-O'NEIL: THANKFUL FOR THE MARRIAGE BILL: I’ll never forget the day same-sex couples won the freedom to marry in North Carolina, allowing my wife and I to finally be legally recognized. Just months before, we held our 2-year-old daughter and recorded our Massachusetts marriage license at the register of deeds in Raleigh, determined to show North Carolina that we deserved the same protections as any other loving couple. It hurt and worried us when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court reconsider marriage rights. It’s painful to think the legal status of our family of four could be up for debate, despite 71% of Americans supporting marriage equality. We were relieved Wednesday to see the U.S. Senate pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a bipartisan effort led in part by Sen. Thom Tillis and supported by Sen. Richard Burr. This bill will go a long way toward setting my wife and I — and thousands of North Carolina’s same-sex couples — at ease. We’re grateful for the support from both of our U.S. Senators. The jury is still out on why they did it, but I'm still glad they did it.
JUDITH LYNNE HANNA: BRING BACK ASSAULT RIFLE BAN: In his Nov. 28 op-ed, “A new type of reporter emerges: The ‘mass shooting correspondent’,” Greg Sargent wrote, “While shootings are obviously different from wars in all kinds of respects, and while reporters covering shootings don’t define themselves by this coverage as war correspondents do, the parallels are unmistakable.” Blood, maimed and dead bodies, innocent victims, surprise attacks, multiple venues (e.g., Colorado Springs; Charlottesville; Raleigh, N.C.; Memphis; Greenwood, Ind.; Highland Park, Ill.; Tulsa, and on and on), and traumatized family and friends of the victims. No one is safe from surprise carnage. Common is the weapon of choice used to commit the violence: an assault weapon with high-capacity magazines. Beneficiaries are the weapons manufacturers who sell these instruments of horror and politicians who accept support from them and the National Rifle Association. Opponents of the elimination of weapons of war at home are accomplices/enablers to murder and are, in fact, facilitators of domestic enemies. Our government’s role is to protect our citizens and not silently let lawlessness reign. We should follow the example of other countries that protect their citizens from gun violence by outlawing military weapons among civilians. Frankly, it's absurd that most conservatives believe the right to purchase an AR-15 is sacred, but the right to cast a vote needs to be closely scrutinized. WTAF.
FORMER AMBASSADOR PAMELA WHITE: EVIL IS TRIUMPHING IN HAITI, AND THE U.S. IS DOING LITTLE: In Haiti, children recovering from gunshot wounds are lying on cardboard beds outdoors. The Coast Guard intercepted more than 7,000 people from October 2021 through September (compared with 1,527 the previous 12 months) trying to escape hell on Earth. Rival gangs kill husbands in front of wives and rape mothers in front of their children. Cholera is raging and babies are dying. Streets are war zones. Nearly 20,000 people are facing imminent starvation. An additional 2.9 million are suffering acute malnutrition. Almost 2 million are suffering very acute malnutrition. If more food isn’t made available immediately, people will die. There is zero sense of urgency by the television media or politicians in the United States that our neighbor nation’s people are suffering unbearable hardships. The media, especially televised media, should report on Haiti’s crises. Show gang brutality, highlight people clinging to rafts made from rotted wood, make videos of dehydrated, choleric children fighting to live. We need to send in 2,000 armed law enforcers who can protect the people attempting to deliver aid. Send in a couple hundred at a time, over six months, with little fanfare. There seems to be talk behind closed doors of what cannot be done. Good men and women, stop doing nothing. Evil is triumphing. I am generally against armed intervention, even in failed states. But the suffering in Haiti is horrific, and it's not going to fix itself.