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Absentee voting by mail has started, ballot request deadline is Feb 25. Get all the details here.

Lt. Gov. Dan “I'm so racist racism falls out of my mouth every time I open it” Forest strikes again: he called those who sued to block the voter ID law (which disproportionately disenfranchises people of color) racist. Let me state that with fewer parenthetical clauses: Dan Forest said all those who opposed the racist voter ID law, including the NCNAACP, were racist.

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Further, he claimed, “the only reason anyone would oppose the voter ID law would be because they 'stand for fraud.'” Voter fraud is diminishingly rare anyway, and there's little evidence that voter ID laws prevent what little of it there is. Which is it, Dan? Are you worried about voter fraud, or are you worried about people of color using their right to vote to ensure you never gain elected office again?

It bears repeating that the legislative districts will be redrawn-- again-- after data from this year's census has returned. We should not ever have to bear a repetition of the agonizingly chaotic and confusing conflict that preceded the current set of maps (for a recap on that fiasco, read up here). But we might have to, according to the conservative Carolina Journal, and on this, they're correct: “Absent a clear standard defining 'extreme' unconstitutional mapmaking, North Carolina could face another decade of prolonged courtroom fights. No one should desire that outcome.”

They're right in warning against another decade of legal back-and-forth on redistricting, but they miss the mark with the solution they offer: “Reform ought to take place in the halls of the state Legislative Building, not in a courtroom.”

Put bluntly, no. What happened in the halls and chambers of the state Legislative Building is what got us here in the first place. It's a built-in conflict of interest to have the party in power redraw the districts. The courts aren't the answer, but neither is the legislature. The only way to redraw our districts in the fairest, most non-partisan way is through an independent citizen's redistricting commission. Developing and establishing one should be a priority for 2020 and beyond.

This week's "Monday by the Numbers" by NC Policy Watch is anything but simple math: NCPW follows the various trails of money in and around the Silent Sam fiasco. Note the bottom two figures, and go freshly motivated to the polls next month.

There's always another shoe to drop, I suppose: shortly after we learned Duke agreed to clean up all of their coal ash sites in North Carolina, we are reminded that Duke Energy asked for a rate increase. They filed their original petition with the NC Utilities Commission last September, which was before the landmark agreement. But in hearings scheduled for March, they will likely ask for further rate increases instead of allowing the cleanup to eat into their profit. A public hearing will be held 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at the Macon County Courthouse, 5 West Main Street in Franklin. You can also submit a written comment via this portal. Tell Duke, as many times as it takes, that we are not responsible for its mistakes!

Hopefully, Duke will follow through with their cleanup promises even though the EPA has recently rolled back rules on how companies can store coal ash. Trump's EPA will allow companies to obtain permits to store coal ash in unlined ponds of the same kind Duke recently promised to abandon for safer storage methods.

We might have to deal with more coal ash, but thanks to several North Carolina lawmakers in the US House, we'll begin seeing fewer Per- and polyfluoroakyl substances (PFAS), the carcinogens produced by Chemours and other companies and dumped into our water for over 50 years. The US House passed the PFAS Action Act of 2019, which “was co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina’s 8th District. Hudson also succeeded in amending the bill to ensure that portions specifically address the GenX chemical.”

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Nationwide, the future of coal is looking dimmer and dimmer: in 2019, coal-fired power plants shut down at the second-fastest pace on record. Use the action item at the bottom of NCLCV's article to keep the pressure on your legislators.

If you watched the gun-rights rally in Richmond earlier this week thinking “I'm so glad it wasn't in North Carolina”, you weren't the only one, but I caution you not to take that as a foregone conclusion. North Carolina has plenty of its own “gun sanctuaries”, and more are set to come. These designations, they say, are “largely symbolic”, but anyone who's followed the Silent Sam fiasco knows how easily and quickly symbolism can blur into real-world actions and consequences. Ask yourself: had you ever heard of a gun sanctuary before there were “sanctuary cities” that welcomed immigrants and limited cooperation with national immigration authorities?

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Four days before the Richmond rally, the NC House Republican caucus signed a letter supporting Virginia's gun sanctuaries. The letter compared several gun-control bills in the Virginia legislature to tyranny by its government and encouraged North Carolina to establish more gun sanctuaries, because this is totally about us exercising our Constitutional rights and totally not about white fear and the consolidation of right-wing authoritarian power.

Even though we saw no movement on a budget, thus on healthcare reform, during the NCGA's one-day session last week, the pressure on Republican lawmakers to stop being so f****** stubborn will only grow with each passing day. Some local Republicans have already flipped.

“Graham County, in the mountains of western North Carolina, is among the state's most conservative areas – about 80 percent of voters backed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election – yet the county commissioners unanimously support Medicaid expansion.”

Graham has good reason to: the people living there are “an hour from the nearest hospital, hours away from specialists, in a medical hotspot for Medicaid spending.”

Alamance and McDowell counties also are governed by Republicans who support Medicaid expansion.

Pressure on state lawmakers is coming from within, and it's also coming from without: Kansas, another largely red state, has expanded Medicaid. Its first-term Democratic governor and its Republican Senate majority leader struck a bargain kin to the ones already struck in Louisiana and Kentucky. There is only thing stopping North Carolina from doing the same, and that thing's name is Phil Berger.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has come and gone; even so, the lessons we must learn from his legacy become more and more urgent with each passing year. I'm not talking about the script-fonted quotes about love and peace pasted next to noble-looking airbrushed photos of him on Facebook. I'm talking about the lessons he tried to teach us that got him marked and killed. I'm talking about the anti-racist, anti-capitalist radical activist who had no patience for “the white moderate” and who demanded “a radical redistribution of political and economic power”, who once said "a riot is the language of the unheard", who tried to teach us that if the choice is peace or justice, you choose justice. Keep these lessons close in the coming months.

Tags: (ICYMI, NCGA, 2020 elections, voter ID, redistricting, silent sam, Duke Energy, gun control, medicaid expansion, Martin Luther King Jr.)

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