Urgent addendum: do you live in Bladen, Cumberland, Currituck, Durham, Franklin, Guilford, Lincoln, Moore, New Hanover, Pitt, Randlolph or Union Counties? The NC Board of Elections will debate and decide on your county's proposed early voting plan this Friday at 11am. Use this online portal to submit a comment that you want to protect weekend options for working voters (including Sunday voting), campus sites that work for students and local communities, and polling locations that are most convenient for historically-marginalized voters. Do it NOW! Thanks.

Candidate filing continues apace, merely days before the Dec 20th deadline! Aside from the two state districts (2ndand 6th) that flipped from red to blue in the redraw, there are several other districts whose elections could possibly unlock the Republicans’ vicegrip on power in both the state senate and house. I reported on one of them--Rep. Elmer Floyd’s district-- last week.

Appropriate or not, Governor Cooper sent an email to every teacher in the state two weeks ago, offering clarity of his position and actions in the ongoing budget fiasco. Then, last week. Lt. Gov. Dan “I’m so racist I believe diversity is what’s ruining America” Forest countered Gov. Cooper’s email with one of his own, purporting to use facts to “set the record straight”. He left out the important point that Gov. Cooper vetoed a bill which included teacher pay raises because he in fact wanted higher raises than the bill allowed. While I’m not a fan of the tactics-- public officials putting inappropriate political pressure on state employees—it is very clear who’s taking this seriously and who isn’t.

“…the Republicans have failed to pass a budget. It’s not Cooper[‘s] responsibility to do so, nor is he supposed to bend to the legislature[’s] will. It’s the GOP legislature’s fault teachers don’t have raises because they aren’t willing to compromise enough to pass a budget the governor will sign or that gets enough Democratic support to override a veto.”

When even the conservative thinktank Civitas Institute thinks you made a bad decision for politics in North Carolina, you really screwed the pooch. As Patti reported last week, the State Board of Elections voted to approve a sneaky bait-and-switchby ES&S, the company that supplies most of the voting machines in North Carolina. The SBOE had already, against the will of voting rights advocates, voted to approve voting machines from ES&S that printed out a barcode instead of hand-marked paper ballots, which are more secure and allow less margin for error. Just two weeks ago, ES&S notified the SBOE that they did not have enough of the machines they'd tested and certified, and asked the Board to approve another set of machines without testing and certifying them. The Republican members of the Board, along with its director Damon Circosta (a Democrat), voted to approve the machines. “North Carolina’s elections have just become that much less secure,” Civitas laments. I couldn't agree more.

The 2020 elections loom ever larger on the horizon, but November 2020 is not where our efforts should or will end, especially in the light of this reminder: districts will be redrawn again in 2021 (by the party in power) with updated census data. That party and their redraws (read: gerrymanders or lack thereof) could either exacerbate or ameliorate a trend that is already putting an accurate census count-- thus accurate representation at the national and state level-- at risk: rural losses. “The political maps of the past decade have favored rural voters, said Common Cause North Carolina Executive Director Bob Phillips. Rural voters tend to support Republicans, and the maps were drawn to cement Republicans’ power.” But that is changing as more and more people move to urban areas in North Carolina from rural areas and from out of state. The results of the 2020 census will likely give these urban areas more voting power, gerrymandering or not, and while this is good news for us, since urban areas and their residents shade more blue, we can't just let the rural areas shrink without being aware of and addressing the racial politics involved.

Rural North Carolina is far from homogeneously white. Republicans have known that for years, which is why they've tried so hard to gerrymander those non-white rural districts as much out of voting power as they could. True, it's difficult to get rural voters of any color to to agree on what they need or want, but remember what I said last week about reframing the ideals and goals of progressivism to relate to those who don't agree with us in all ways and draw them into our common vision? Collecting the sympathies of non-white rural folks (and maybe some white folks too) should be as much a part of our strategy in 2020 and beyond as any phone bank in Charlotte or voter registration drive in Durham.

Fortunately, NC Policy Watch and the Brennan Center have got us covered on a big piece of the post-2020 elections work: redistricting. Though North Carolina doesn't yet have an independent citizen-led redistricting commission, there are bills currently stalled in the NCGA that would, if passed, establish them. The Brennan Center has published a guide to help states do exactly this. Several states have already initiated redistricting reform using this guide. I know the new legislative session is still a couple weeks away, but I'm already working on draft emails to my legislators with the Brennan Center guide linked, and a reminder to make redistricting reform a top priority in the new session.

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Democrats at the national level are doing the same. Washington Post reports national Democratic leaders are “planning an unprecedented push to flip legislative chambers in at least seven states next year, a major strategic shift buoyed by the party’s successful seizure of Virginia’s state government in November. Democratic groups, labor unions and grass roots organizations say their strategy centers on funneling tens of millions of dollars into traditionally low-profile state legislative contests in an effort to create new routes for the party’s agenda and prepare for upcoming congressional redistricting. The party has largely focused on the top of the ballot during presidential election years, an approach that allowed Republicans to make gains in statehouses for decades.”

It's about dang time they caught on.

You know that thing when you see something that makes you want to laugh and rage-scream at the same time? Well, friends, I give you That Thing. I do not retract my agreement with Civitas on the issue of election security above, but I do call into vigorous question why they thought it was a good idea to put Pat McCrory on a poll for an office for which he isn't even running. Maybe they know something we don't, or maybe they wanted to prompt him to run. Since that writing, McCrory has slipped in “the polls”, but evidently not enough to discourage him. He hasn't made an announcement either way. He doesn't have a lot of time; filing ends this Friday. We can only hope he will stick in his radio chair and let the filing deadline pass him on by.

Have you ever played the NC Education Lottery? If you haven't, you'd be forgiven any skepticism about whether the money you spend actually goes back into education for North Carolinian children, because you'd be mostly correct. Now, the lottery seeks to swell its profits even more by allowing people to play the lottery online.

“If the current version of the lottery provides a license for the state to commit daily petty theft from the pockets of vulnerable people, the new proposal ($2,000 per week?!) ratchets things up to grand larceny. What’s next – placing online lottery terminals in check cashing outlets? What about public school teachers’ lounges and student restrooms? How about houses of worship? Of course, given that essentially any online product is now at the fingertips of anyone with a smartphone, that’s precisely what the new online gambling proposal would do.”

To put the above quote in context, the areas of the state from which the largest lottery sales come are usually always the most impoverished. This is “proof of one of the chief original and continuing critiques of the lottery – that it amounts to a highly regressive tax on people of low income.” Add this one to the list of things about which to email and call your legislators when the new session begins.

I've saved the “best” for last: the Silent Sam sham. On the one hand, this has grown into a bigger deal than I ever would have thought possible, but on the other, I'm glad it has, because it's shaken me out of a bit more of my privilege-born ignorance of just how completely our state is still controlled and funded by racism.

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For those of you who haven't been following along at home, the NCGA-appointed UNC Board of Governors has given the Silent Sam monument, which once stood in McCorkle Place (aka the North Quad) to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, along with a $2.5 million payout to house and keep the statue. UNC students, faculty, staff, and many other North Carolinians, have been protesting this decision and interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz's decision to let the settlement go forward. Between my post last week and now, quite a few revelations have occurred. First, and perhaps easiest to swallow (that's saying something), Guskiewicz's appointment is now official and permanent. The lesson? Let racists be racist, and you get a pretty sweet temp-to-perm job.

Chancellor Guskiewicz may have implicitly agreed with the decision, but some of the SCV evidently do not. In interviews they exposed “financial improprieties among SCV leadership, referenced intermingling with gangs and hate groups, and described threats and slurs that have been issued toward [SCV] members who raise questions [about the payout].” According to one member, the same man, Boyd Cathey, who helped SCV broker the deal with UNC leadership also led the effort to transition the SCV from a society based on heritage and history (disputed though it is) to an explicitly white supremacist one over the last decade. Kevin Stone, who leads the North Carolina chapter of the SCV, is also the leader of its more radical “mechanized cavalry”-- a motorcycle gang, basically, which has taken over the SCV and wishes to grow, according to SCV members. Stone “told members in a letter... that he [Stone] envisions using the payout also to build a new headquarters.”

But no, this is about protecting and cherishing North Carolina's rich history and heritage. It really is.

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No, it really is! Why else would the UNC BoG have paid out an additional $74,999 to the SCV in exchange for them not displaying “any Confederate flags, banners, or signs before, after, or in conjunction with any group event, meeting, or ceremony on the campus of or property controlled by the UNC System ... for five years”? Also, why that odd number? Because “when state institutions try to resolve potential litigation using public money they need approval from N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s office if the amount hits the $75,000 mark.”

Your blood boiling yet?

The folks at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “one of the largest charitable foundations in the world and a key funder of academic research,” sure had their hackles up. They pulled a $1.5 million grant from UNC as a direct result of the settlement. The grant, “according to foundation spokesperson Laura Washington, had been in development since the spring to 'support a campus-wide educational reckoning focusing on historical truth-telling and confronting the University’s entanglements with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and memorialization of the Confederacy.'” While I can absolutely sympathize with the Mellon Foundation's decision, this grant and the research it would have funded are sorely needed now more than ever, at a time when all of us are confronting the truest, filthiest depths of the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the memorialization of the Confederacy that still sully UNC's halls. Pulling this funding punishes exactly the people that don't need to punished-- students, faculty, researchers, and beneficiaries of the research-- and will likely have little, if any, real effect on what choices the UNC BoG makes going forward. I would not be surprised at all if other institutions pull their funding. Maybe if enough of them do it, the UNC BoG will see reason. We can hope.

So what now? How do we fix this? The good news is that we're already doing what is probably the best thing we can do: work at getting the Republican majority out of the state legislature. The UNC BoG is appointed by the NCGA, as we know. As above, so below: a Democratic majority will, hopefully, appoint a Democratic-leaning and more diverse BoG.

I know this post is long already, but I urge you to pocket, save, or bookmark this piece by Dr. Derrick Matthews. He speaks from a place of courage and exhaustion, rage and fear, balancing on the “terrifyingly thin line between white discomfort and Black death.” I am not black; I am not a man, but I am both alum and employee of UNC like him, and his words resonate with me quite profoundly. They should with you... even if you're a lifelong Duke fan. Dr. Matthews speaks for many of us: we're all exhausted; sometimes we believe everything we've done hasn't made a lick of difference. But we continue to rage and to make those in power hear our rage. Because we remain passionate, we remain supported by those around us, and we know right from wrong. We know our state deserves better.

Tags: (ICYMI, NCGA, 2020 elections, Gov. Cooper, budget, election security, redistricting, gerrymandering, nc education lottery, silent sam, NC BOG)

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