In wake of court ruling, good-government supporters call for redistricting reform

In a 4-2 ruling on Friday, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld congressional and legislative voting maps created in 2011 by the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly.

This was the latest in a number of lawsuits over the years related to voting maps designed by whichever party controlled the legislature when the decennial redistricting process arrived. For decades, the Democratic majority faced litigation over the maps it created, as has the Republican majority that more recently came to power.

“Since 1980, there have been nearly three dozen lawsuits surrounding the way our state’s voting maps are drawn,” Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said in the wake of Friday’s court ruling. “Both political parties have used the power of redistricting to craft voting maps that favor their own side, depriving voters of a real choice on Election Day and leading to costly battles in the courts.”

In 2014, nearly half of the state’s 170 legislative races were uncontested, a result that redistricting reform advocates say is due to gerrymandered districts that heavily favor one party or the other.

The average margin of victory for N.C. House candidates with an opponent this year was a staggering 25 percent. State Senate races were only slightly more competitive, with an average margin of victory of 22 percent.

Recently, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory expressed his own concerns about the vast majority of legislative districts lacking competition.

“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election makes all of our jobs difficult, especially the executive branch,” McCrory told WFAE radio in November. “I have to represent the whole state. Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, tend to now represent a more monolithic population.”

The Republican-led N.C. House passed a measure in 2011 with bipartisan support that would have taken redistricting authority out of the hands of lawmakers and given it to nonpartisan legislative staff. However, that bill stalled in the N.C. Senate.

A poll last year found 70 percent of voters in favor of that reform measure, including 73 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of unaffiliated voters.

“North Carolina’s system of drawing voting maps continues to be highly dysfunctional and deeply partisan,” Phillips said. “Fortunately, North Carolina can enact sensible, bipartisan reform that would make redistricting truly fair and impartial, protecting the right of voters to have a voice in who represents them.”

Reform advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will take up redistricting reform once again when they return for a new session in January.

The complete court ruling can be read here.


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Posted in 2014 legislative session, Redistricting | 1 Comment

Gov. McCrory appoints Horne to Superior Court

The office of Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday announced the appointment of Chief District Court Judge R. Gregory Horne to the Superior Court.

Horne will fill a vacancy created by the upcoming retirement of Senior Resident Superior Court Judge C. Philip Ginn in District 24, which covers Madison, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery and Watauga counties. Ginn is stepping down from the bench on Dec. 31.

“Judge Horne has spent most of his legal career in public service, first as an assistant district attorney, and for the past 10 years, as a District Court judge,” McCrory said. “His dedication, professionalism and thorough knowledge of North Carolina law will make him a tremendous asset to the Superior Court bench.”

Former Chief Justice Sarah Parker named Horne as chief District Court judge for the 24th District in April. Prior to becoming chief judge he served as a District Court judge since 2004 and was last elected to his seat in 2012, running that year without opposition.

Horne was an assistant district attorney in the 24th District for four years before leaving to join the private sector, working as an attorney with the Law Offices of Kelly Johnson and before that with the Law Offices of Jim Deal.

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McCrory makes appointments to boards on accountants, exterminators, home inspectors, more

The office of Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday announced appointments to boards on public accountants, home inspectors, exterminators and inmate rights, along with the N.C. Global TransPark Authority and the Governor’s Western Residence.

One appointment was made to the N.C. Global TransPark Authority, an independent state agency that operates the Global TransPark, a 2,500 acre industrial and airport site in Eastern North Carolina. The term length is four years.

• Mark Lesnau (Wayne County) – Lesnau is president and CEO of N.C. Community Federal Credit Union in Goldsboro.

Three members were named to the Governor’s Western Residence board of directors, which provides support to the state in the use and maintenance of the governor’s residence in Asheville. The term length is at the pleasure of the governor.

• Sara Bissette (Buncombe County) – Bissette serves on the YMCA of Western North Carolina board of directors.

• Nancy Miller (Buncombe County)- Miller is an independent brand partner at Nerium International.

• Leigh Ruhl (Buncombe County) – Ruhl is a major gifts officer for the Mission Healthcare Foundation.

One member was named to the N.C. Inmate Grievance Resolution Board, which investigates matters involving complaints filed by prison inmates. The term length is four years.

• James Foster (Cabarrus County) – Foster is the judicial District 19-A state bar councilor.

One member was named to the State Board of Certified Public Accountant Examiners, responsible for granting and annually renewing certificates of qualification to CPAs and CPA firms who meet the legal requirements. The term length is three years.

• Murchison “Bo” Biggs (Robeson County) – Biggs serves as chief financial officer, comptroller and secretary-treasurer of K.M. Biggs, Inc. in Lumberton.

One appointment was named to the N.C. Geographic Information Coordinating Council, which develops policies regarding the utilization of geographic information, GIS systems and other related technologies. The term length is three years.

• Hunter Robinson (Wake County) – Robinson is the chief information officer for the N.C. Office of State Auditor. This is a reappointment to the council.

One member was named to the N.C. Home Inspector Licensure Board, tasked with regulating the licensing and regulation of those who perform home inspections. The term length is four years.

• Waverly Sawyer (Camden County) – Sawyer is president of Sawyer & Associates Realty and Construction. This is a reappointment to the board.

One appointment was made to the Structural Pest Control Committee, which approves applications for structural pest control licenses. The term length is four years.

• Phillip Clegg (Durham County) – Clegg is president of Clegg’s Termite & Pest Control, LLC.

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Decker to step down as N.C. commerce secretary

Photo: Governor’s Office

Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday announced that state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker will leave her post at the end of the month. She will be replaced by John Skvarla, who is currently head of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

A native of Rutherfordton, Decker was selected by McCrory as his commerce secretary upon taking office in January 2013. During her tenure she oversaw the launch of NCWorks, “a one-stop online resource for job seekers and employers in North Carolina,” and the creation of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, a nonprofit corporation focused on recruiting businesses to the state.

In announcing Decker’s departure, McCrory praised her two-year stint at the helm of the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“Sharon’s business acumen, knowledge of the private sector and results-oriented attitude are what made her one of the best at what she does and she will be greatly missed,” McCrory said. “She will leave a legacy of jobs and a legacy as being one of the best salesmen North Carolina has ever seen.”

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McCrory makes appointments to boards on optometry, podiatry and electrolysis

The office of Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday announced appointments to boards covering opticians, optometry, electrolysis, podiatry and aging.

Five members were named to the State Board of Opticians, which administers and enforces the licensing of opticians in North Carolina. The term length is three years.​

• William Brock (Gaston County) – Brock is a licensed optician with the National Vision Center (Walmart). He is a reappointment.

• Debra Newell (Wake County) – Newell is president of Focal Point Marketing Inc.

• Linda Miller (Beaufort County) – Miller is the owner of Miller Optical Management Inc.

• Jennifer Hawkins (Wake County) – Hawkins is owner and CEO of The Optical Dispensary. She is a reappointment.

• William Fischer (Dare County) – Fischer is a building and electrical contractor. He is a reappointment.

One appointment was made to the State Board of Examiners in Optometry, responsible for the licensing of optometrists in North Carolina. The term length is five years. ​

• Dr. Andrew Cook Jr. (Wake County) – Cook is owner of Garner Family Eye Care. He is a reappointment.

Two members were named to the N.C. Board of Electrolysis Examiners, tasked overseeing the licensing of electrologists. The term length is three years.

• Dr. Girish Munavalli (Mecklenburg County) – Munavalli is the medical director and founder of Dermatology, Laser & Vein Specialists of the Carolinas. He is a reappointment.

• Beth Rountree (Henderson County) – Rountree is a licensed real estate agent.

Two appointments were made to the State Board of Podiatry Examiners, which is responsible for licensing podiatrists in North Carolina. The term length is three years.

• Dr. William O’Neill (Iredell County) – O’Neill is a podiatrist and past president of the North Carolina Foot & Ankle Society.

• Tanzy Wallace (Cleveland County) – Wallace is a minister who recently completed an assignment with the NC DHHS/NC Fast program as a staff development specialist, offering onsite support at the Cleveland County DSS.

One member was named to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging, ​which considers the needs for new state programs in the field of aging and makes recommendations to the governor and secretary of Health and Human Services. The term length is four years.

• Bruce Thoreson (Durham County) – Thoreson is a retired U.S. Marine Corps major.

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Rep. Tim Moore designated as next N.C. House speaker

North Carolina House Republicans have chosen Rep. Tim Moore of Cleveland County as their pick to be the next speaker of that chamber.

The selection of Moore at a meeting of the Republican House majority on Saturday virtually ensures he will succeed outgoing Speaker Thom Tillis when the full chamber officially votes on the post after convening in mid-January. He will preside over a Republican caucus that shrank by three seats after this year’s election, but which still holds a veto-proof, super majority.

An attorney from Kings Mountain, Moore was first elected to the state House in 2002 and re-elected to a seventh term this fall. He previously served as the rules committee chair, a post that saw him sometimes cut off Democratic debate on legislation.

Moore will take the reins from Tillis, who held the speakership for two terms before winning a seat in the U.S. Senate this November.

“I’d like to congratulate Speaker-Designee Moore and the rest of the House members who will assume important leadership roles this session,” Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said. “I look forward to working with both the House and Senate to find solutions that strengthen our state and build on the accomplishments we’ve made in the past two years.”

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who heads a chamber that has on occasion clashed with the Tillis-led House, also congratulated Moore on his selection.

“I congratulate Speaker-Designee Tim Moore and the other newly selected House leaders for receiving a vote of confidence and support from their colleagues and look forward to working closely together to continue making North Carolina a better place to live, work and raise a family,” Berger said.

Also on Saturday, House Republicans chose Rep. Mike Hager as majority leader. He is entering his third term representing District 112 in Burke and Rutherford counties. Hager beat out four other candidates for the majority-leader post.

“This was a tough decision for our caucus with the well qualified candidates seeking this position,” Hager said. “I am looking forward to coming together as a caucus and getting started in January.”

Rep. Marilyn Avila of Wake County was named deputy leader. Rep. John Bell of Wayne County, who will begin just his second term in the House, was chosen as majority whip. Rep. Paul Stam of Wake County was re-elected as speaker pro tempore. Rep. Charles Jeter of Mecklenburg County was named Republican conference leader.

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While they lead in voter registration, women are still underrepresented in the N.C. legislature

Although women comprise 54 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, just 24 percent of this year’s 170 winning legislative candidates were female.

When the next legislative session begins in January, 13 of the state’s 50 senators will be women, an increase of three from the past session. At the same time, the number of women in the N.C. House will fall by one, to 27 out of 120 members.

In 2015, eight Democratic women will serve alongside five female Republicans in the Senate. In the House, there will be 15 female Democrats and 12 female Republicans.

While the number of female legislators lags far behind the state’s female population, so too does the number of women who ran this year for the General Assembly. Of the 81 Senate candidates, just 27 percent were women. Meanwhile, women accounted for just 24 percent of the 181 House candidates.

A study conducted by FairVote in December of 2013 found that North Carolina’s legislature ranked 32nd in the nation when it came to gender parity, a status largely unchanged by this year’s election.


Low pay could keep potential legislative candidates away & reduce choice on Election Day

McCrory: Gerrymandered legislative districts make my job tougher

No big changes for N.C. politics after this year’s vote


Posted in 2015 legislative session | Leave a comment

Former governors Hunt & Martin join McCrory in lawsuit against legislature

Photo: Governor’s office

Gov. Pat McCrory is being joined by former governors Jim Martin, a fellow Republican, and Jim Hunt, a Democrat, in asking North Carolina’s courts to declare that commissions created by the GOP-led legislature are an unconstitutional incursion into executive-branch authority.

“These commissions make government less accountable to the will of the people,” said McCrory. “Citizens and voters must be able to distinguish which branch of government is responsible for making the laws and which branch is responsible for carrying out the laws and operating state government.”

In a press release on Thursday, the governor’s office pointed to the proposed Board of the Department of Medical Benefits, the Social Services Commission and the Coal Ash Commission as examples of “unaccountable commissions.”

According to the governor’s office, McCrory “made repeated efforts to avoid this lawsuit, including asking Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger to join him in asking for an advisory opinion from the N.C. Supreme Court.” But while Forest agreed to the governor’s invitation, Berger and Tillis declined the offer.

“The disagreement among the two branches is not acrimonious, but it is of fundamental importance,” McCrory said. “I have too much respect for North Carolina’s Constitution to allow the growing encroachment of the legislative branch into the responsibilities the people of North Carolina have vested in the executive branch.”

Berger and Tillis issued a response to the governor’s lawsuit, noting that McCrory did not veto either bill that created the commissions in question.

“The General Assembly’s right to appoint members to independent boards is far from new and has long been upheld by our state Supreme Court,” Berger and Tillis said in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, the governor’s costly and time-consuming lawsuit to ensure he picks the majority of regulatory board members ignores history and detracts from their important work.”


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Posted in 2014 legislative session, Governor | Leave a comment

‘Moral Monday’ organizers vow to continue movement in wake of GOP wins

In the aftermath of an election that saw Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis win a high-profile U.S. Senate contest and the GOP retain a legislative super-majority, organizers of the progressive “Moral Monday” movement say they are not deterred.

“This is not a one-election movement,” said Rev. William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Barber has led the grassroots protest movement that began in the spring of 2013 in response to what demonstrators said were extreme policies being pushed by the GOP-controlled legislature and supported by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Those protests resulted in hundreds of arrests and drew national attention to North Carolina politics. However, the movement did not translate into widespread losses for the Republican Party in this year’s elections. Instead, while four Republican House incumbents lost their races, the GOP maintained its firm control on both legislative chambers and Tillis beat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by a slim 1.7 points.

“This narrow victory by Speaker Tillis is not a validation of what he, the legislature and the governor have done. It’s actually kind of a repudiation – especially when you have the power of state government, engage in voter suppression, and have deep money pockets, but can only eke out a narrow victory in a statewide election,” Barber said. “What may seem to be victories now may turn into real losses in 2016 and beyond.”

Barber pointed to changes in the state’s voting laws, including the repeal of same-day registration and a reduction of early voting days, as potentially playing a role in the outcome of this year’s elections.

“North Carolina’s voters were, for the first time, voting under one of the harshest new election laws in the country – a law that Tillis helped to craft,” Barber said. “While it is too early to assess the impact of the law this year, the Election Protection hotline and other voter-protection volunteers reported what appeared to be widespread problems both with voter registration and with voters being told they were in the wrong precinct.”

Still, Barber said strong turnout by voters, especially African-American voters, was a “moral victory.”

“This massive turnout, in the face of every voter suppression trick they could throw at us, is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who ordinarily would pass up the off-election year vote,” Barber said. “We add this to a growing list of moral victories out of the state of North Carolina and in struggles all across this nation.”

In addition to criticizing Republican leaders, Barber had some choice words for Democratic candidates both in North Carolina and nationally, who he said unwisely distanced themselves from President Barack Obama.

“In races large and small, from Senate seats, to the governors’ mansions to statewide offices, many Democrats distanced themselves from the positive policies of President Obama,” Barber said. “When you run for cover, it effectively allows Republicans to run away from a disastrous record.”

Ultimately, Barber said the “Moral Monday” movement would not recede anytime soon, with a rally planned for Feb. 14 and more protests coming with the 2015 legislative session.

“We will continue the struggle in the courts, in the streets, in the legislature,” Barber said.

Posted in 2015 legislative session, N.C. Legislature | Tagged | Leave a comment

McCrory: Gerrymandered legislative districts make my job tougher

Photo: governor’s office

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory sat down with Mike Collins of WFAE radio in Charlotte on Friday for a wide-ranging, hour-long interview, which is definitely worth a listen for North Carolina political watchers.

In the wake of Tuesday’s vote, which saw nearly half of all winning state legislative candidates elected without opposition, McCrory’s comment to WFAE about gerrymandered districts was illuminating.

“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election makes all of our jobs difficult, especially the executive branch,” McCrory said. “I have to represent the whole state. Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, tend to now represent a more monolithic population.”

While McCrory expressed concern about a lack of competition and partisan balance in legislative districts, he stopped short of supporting any particular fix for the problem. But McCrory’s statement does highlight a stark difference in political calculus between state lawmakers and the governor’s office.

House members represent districts with a population of about 80,000. Members of the Senate come from districts of roughly 190,000 residents. McCrory governs a population of nearly 10 million North Carolinians.

The governor faces a statewide electorate where Democrats outnumber Republicans, while the number of independent voters is on the rise. Meanwhile state lawmakers face an electorate largely stacked in their favor, thus the widespread dearth of competition in legislative races and little motivation to move to the center.

That disparity in political realities has led to some tension between the Republican-led legislature and the governor. As McCrory told WFAE, “I’m a conservative, but there are people that are more conservative than me in the legislature representing their districts of North Carolina.”

Among other highlights:

McCrory said that even after Thom Tillis’ U.S. Senate win and the GOP holding its super majority in the legislature, North Carolina remains a politically divided state. “I don’t think it’s time for we as Republicans to spike the ball in the end zone. We’ve got to understand our differences and try to find viable solutions to very complex problems.”

The governor defended the state’s more restrictive voting laws, which include a repeal of same-day registration and a reduction of early voting days (while maintaining the same number of early voting hours), contending that they “may have even helped the turnout.”

McCrory expressed concern about attack ads in North Carolina politics, including a spot that ran this year criticizing him for his handling of a coal ash spill. He said that he did not air a single negative ad during his runs for governor in 2008 or 2012, a claim that opponents are likely to explore.

The governor said his top three priorities for the upcoming legislative session, which kicks off in mid-January, are Medicaid reform, energy exploration and career opportunities for teachers.

He said he has “not closed the door” on Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.

McCrory said the state wouldn’t know if it has a revenue shortfall or surplus until April, May or June. “We base our future revenue on assumptions, and we hope our assumptions are correct. If they’re not, I have a very tough job ahead of me.”

The governor said North Carolina “can’t afford” to compete directly with Georgia when it comes to recruiting film production, saying that neighboring state essentially pays film companies to make movies there. He pointed to film grants in the latest state budget and said he is looking for a more long-term, sustainable way to promote the film industry in North Carolina.

Listen to the full interview here.

Posted in 2014 legislative session, 2015 legislative session, Governor, Redistricting | Tagged , | Leave a comment