Redistricting Maps: Fair and Legal

Representative David Lewis

Representative David Lewis

The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday upheld the earlier, unanimous ruling of a majority-Democrat judicial panel that congressional and legislative redistricting maps passed by the General Assembly in 2011 meet all applicable standards of federal and state law. The court rejected claims made by left-leaning special interest groups and paid activists during a 2013 July hearing on the maps.

The court affirmed the decision by stating, “We agree with the unanimous three-judge panel that the General Assembly’s enacted plans do not violate plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. We hold that the enacted House and Senate plans satisfy state and federal constitutional and statutory requirements. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court.”

Representative David Lewis and Senator Bob Rucho, who chaired the legislative committees that oversaw the drawing of the 2011 redistricting maps, released the following statement on Friday:

“Today’s decision confirms that our redistricting process and maps are what we have said all along: fair and legal. We are proud to have broken the cycle set by previous legislatures that repeatedly saw their maps tossed out by the courts as illegal. We hope today’s decision will finally put to rest the hyper-partisan rhetoric parroted by our opponents out of political spite.”

In ruling in favor of the North Carolina General Assembly, the court stated that, “the maps enacted by the duly elected General Assembly also represent an equally legitimate understanding of legislative districts that will function for the good of the whole.”

On the issue of whether the maps offered by the special interests groups were “more legal” the court wrote, “Not only is plaintiffs’ argument inconsistent with our holding in Pender County, this flawed approach adversely affects the first step of the process required by [law], the formation of VRA districts. As a result, plaintiffs’ maps are distorted ab initio and the distortion is compounded at each subsequent step.”

Representative David Lewis and Senator Bob Rucho chaired the legislative committees that oversaw the drawing of the 2011 redistricting maps in North Carolina.

Representative Lewis has served six terms in the General Assembly and is the incoming chairman of the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House (usually just called the “Rules Committee”) — undoubtedly the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives.

Senator Rucho has served seven terms in the General Assembly and he currently serves on twenty different committees.

Help! Help! I’m being Repressed!

Help! Help! I'm being repressed!No, not really — we’re just being silly. But John Hood has the serious scoop in today’s guest post:

Suppression Claim Takes Hit

Liberals are desperate to prove that North Carolina’s new election law constitutes the second coming of Jim Crow-era voter suppression. Their desperation reflects three desires.

First, they want to win a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, which included provisions that changed the early-voting calendar, ended the practice of registering and voting on the same day, required that voters cast their ballots in their own precincts, and (by 2016) instituted a photo ID requirement in order to vote.

The Left’s second desire is to challenge the policy decisions of the Republican-led General Assembly not in civil court but in the court of public opinion, by arguing that they are fruits of a poisoned tree (that is, voter suppression). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, many liberals want to pretend they are refighting the movement for civil rights. It makes them feel noble and powerful.

I suspect they’ll need to find another means of self-glorification, however, because the “voter suppression” bandwagon just lost another wheel. Even before the 2014 midterms, when most of the new rules took effect for the first time, there was ample reason to believe that North Carolina electoral participation wouldn’t be much affected by the changes. Statistical correlations between, say, the number of days of early voting and voter turnout are hard to come by.

Now that the state board of elections has released the latest turnout data, the Left’s weak argument has become a nonsensical one. In North Carolina, voter participation was higher in 2014 than it was in 2010, the last midterm election. More than 2.9 million voted this year, accounting for 44.3 percent of registered voters. In 2010, 43.3 percent of registered voters turned out.

Because voter registration rates are higher than they used to be, you can’t meaningfully compare current turnout rates among registered voters to those from elections back in time. The relevant statistic to use is turnout as a percentage of the voting-aged population. Using the new board of elections data and population estimates from University of Florida scholar Michael McDonald, I found that North Carolina’s turnout was 38.2 percent of the voting-aged population in 2014 — the second-highest rate of vote participation in a midterm election since the advent of true two-party competition in North Carolina in the early 1970s (before that time, general-election turnouts were sometimes weak because the real action was in the spring Democratic primary).

Not only did voter participation rise rather than fall this year, but it also changed in ways that might have been expected to benefit Democratic candidates rather than damage them. Black voters, the vast majority of whom vote reliably Democratic, made up 21.4 percent of the electorate in 2014, up from 20.1 percent in 2010. Young voters, also disproportionately Democratic, also voted at higher rates this year than they did four years ago.

Obviously there is no sure way to tell how many more North Carolinians might have voted in 2014 under the old rules but were deterred from voting under the new ones. (The folks at Democracy North Carolina took a stab at it a couple of weeks ago but risibly assumed what they were claiming to prove, by using 2010 data for out-of-precinct votes and same-day registrations as baseline estimates for 2014.) Given the paucity of empirical support for the Left’s claims from the electoral experiences of other states, however, I think it is reasonable to draw the following conclusions from the available data.

There was no significant “voter suppression” in 2014. The vast majority of voters who wanted to vote cast their ballots without incident. Voter participation rose, especially among those groups supposedly suppressed. To compress the early voting calendar by offering more sites and hours during fewer days appears to have, if anything, increased the rate at which North Carolinians used early voting. And to the extent some voters were confused or frustrated by the new rules, elections officials and voter-education groups seem to have done a good job answering questions and addressing concerns.

In a rational world, the experience of actual voters in 2014 would settle the question. Unfortunately, we do not reside there.

The preceding article was written by John Hood, chairman of the John Locke Foundation. It was first published on Wednesday, December 17 and reappears here with permission.

Sunday Morning Music: The Clefs

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This morning we’re treated to the UNC Clef Hangers and their host David Venable performing the holiday classic “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The talented lads appeared earlier this month on Mr. Venable’s In the Kitchen with David, the QVC network’s most-watched show.

Mr. Venable is himself a UNC alumnus and a founding member of the Clefs, the oldest a cappella group at UNC Chapel Hill. Other former members of the group include American Idol finalist Anoop Desai (who hails from Cary), singer/songwriter Brendan James, and Broadway star Kevin Massey.

From their website:

“…Since the group’s inception, it has released 16 professionally-produced, studio albums, with the most recent album, “The Mallard.” Songs from Elevation, Breeze, Facing Clarence, Time Out, and Twist have been featured on a total of seven Best of Collegiate A Cappella Compilation CD’s. In 2004, The Clef Hangers received their first Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award (CARA) for “Best Soloist” in the song “Easy,” featured on Breeze. Since then, the Clefs have won two CARA’s for “Best Male Collegiate Song” with “My Love” on Time Out and “Ain’t Nothing Wrong” on Twist. In addition, Twist has received runner-up CARA’s for “Best Male Collegiate Album,” “Best Male Collegiate Song” (“Nude”), and “Best Male Collegiate Arrangement” (“Boondocks”). The Clefs have received numerous other CARA nominations and runner-ups.”

“Since their first tour to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1980, the Clefs have performed for audiences in Spain, France, Scotland, Jamaica, Greece, Italy, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, and many other locations. During a tour to New York City, they performed for the nation on the television show “Good Morning America.” In the spring of 2002, they were personally invited by Chancellor James Moeser to sing at Commencement, a tradition that has continued ever since. The Clef Hangers perform for a packed Memorial Hall every year during their fall and spring concerts, which sometimes feature special guests like Dean Smith and Roy Williams. You can catch the Clef Hangers at their annual fall and spring concerts or at a variety of performances throughout the academic year in Chapel Hill, across the state of North Carolina, and beyond.”

Channing Mitzell, president of the Clef Hangers, spoke recently to Trey Flowers of The Daily Tar Heel about the group’s appearance on the program. Read that interview here.

All of the UNC Clef Hangers’ music, including their Christmas album “Carols from the Hill,” is available for purchase and download on their iTunes page. CDs are available for purchase with a secure online order form. To book the Clef Hangers for a live performance or to audition for the group, click here.

An Early Christmas Present

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Governor Pat McCrory posted some festive news this afternoon by way of a YouTube video. According to data released Friday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina saw the largest percentage drop in unemployment in the entire nation last month as employers added more than 16,000 new jobs across the state. With this continued steady job growth, our state’s unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in November – the lowest level in more than six years.

“Due to smart economic policies enacted by Republican officials over the past four years – reducing wasteful government spending, lowering taxes and returning sanity back to our state’s regulatory climate – North Carolina is setting an example for the rest of the nation on how to combat unemployment,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) in a statement.

North Carolina has added 176,000 new jobs since Pat McCrory became governor in January of 2013, continuing a nearly unbroken drop in the state’s unemployment rate since Republicans assumed control of the General Assembly a year before. In October,  The Cato Institute gave North Carolina top marks on its Fiscal Report Card.

Protecting Children at Bus Stops

Hasani Wesley, 11 years-old, was killed two years ago today in a tragic accident at a school bus stop. Photo courtesy of the Wesley Family.

An accident this morning in Transylvania County is the latest in a troubling number of incidents involving motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses. In a tragic coincidence, it was two years ago today that Hasani Wesley, an 11 year-old child from Forsyth County, was struck and killed by an automobile while he was waiting at a bus stop on his way to school.

Thankfully, none of the children hit this morning in Brevard were killed, although two were airlifted to a nearby hospital and one sustained serious injures.

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, there have been 13 fatalities statewide caused by illegal school-bus passing incidents since 1998 and there were more than 1,300 misdemeanor charges for passing a stopped school bus in 2012. There were 3 felony charges statewide, two for striking a person and one for causing death.1

Students who take the bus to school are most vulnerable when they are outside the bus in the “danger zone.” Derek Graham, Transportation Services Section Chief for DPI, said that “the most dangerous part of the school bus ride is when students are boarding and exiting the bus. Once students are on the bus, it is by far the safest way for them to travel to and from school.”2

North Carolina law requires motorists to stop while a school bus has an extended stop-arm and flashing red lights, and remain stopped until the bus retracts the arm and begins moving. However, not every driver obeys the law when encountering a stopped school bus. Motorists can be very blatant in disobeying the law. Quite often, they will pull up behind the bus and go around the stop arm. Or, as they approach the bus in the oncoming lane, they will disregard the flashing red lights and continue driving.

During a one-day count in 2012, North Carolina school bus drivers witnessed 3,196 vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses at 2,299 bus stops. These violations occurred while the buses were stopped, stop-arm extended with flashing red lights, and children were in the process of embarking or disembarking buses.3

“The problem is persisting,” said Mr. Graham. “Three-thousand times a day or more during the school year a motorist illegally passes a stopped school bus in North Carolina.”4

These tragedies have prompted the General Assembly to address the recurrent problem of drivers failing to stop when a school bus is picking up or dropping off students.

Last year, the General Assembly passed the The Hasani N. Wesley Students School Bus Safety Act — named after the child from Kernersville who was killed two years ago — which set a minimum fine of $500 (among other penalties) for drivers who pass a stopped bus and in certain circumstances, offenders will lose their licenses if they hit someone. The legislature also provided $1.38 million to expand a program that enables at least two school buses in nearly every school district to be equipped with stop-arm camera systems. To date, 482 school buses have been equipped with stop-arm cameras, with more to come as revenues from violations are collected.5

“My son should be here, but his life was cut short due to this preventable issue,” said Odina Wesley, Hasani’s mother. “Something needs to done differently for the safety of our children. Hopefully, if the safety laws are more punitive people will pay attention. “They need to take heed that these are our babies out here.”6

“There is no excuse for any child to ever be hurt or killed by someone passing a stopped school bus,” said Watauga County Schools Transportation Director Jeff Lyons. “I hope the additional penalties will help people realize that passing a stopped school bus is a serious threat to our children and a serious crime to boot. Safety is always the number one priority for our bus drivers. It should also be the number one priority for every driver on the road.”7


Throwback Thursday: Eugenics

Peak of the Eugenics Program in North Carolina, July 1946-June 1968. Source: WFAE Charlotte 90.7 FM

Today’s post sheds light on a shameful episode in our state’s history — the practice of forced sterilization of thousands of innocent people at the hands of government authorities — and what was finally done about it.

The surgeries were performed by order of state government to prevent poor people and mentally or physically disadvantaged people from having children; for nearly half a century, North Carolina was one of 33 states to carry out the practice. It’s taken many years (and Republican control of the legislature) but last year, we became the first state in the nation to actually pay reparations to living victims of state-sponsored sterilization programs.

The following post, first published on August 13, 2014, was written by Representative Skip Stam and Ms. Amy O’Neill. Representative Stam is the Speaker Pro Tempore of the North Carolina House of Representatives and holds a Bachelor of Science degree (with High Honor) from Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice and a Juris Doctor degree from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law. He practices law with the Apex firm of Stam and Danchi, PLLC. Amy O’Neal holds a B.A. in Government from Campbell University where she graduated summa cum laude. She is currently working as Representative Stam’s Research Assistant while completing coursework to earn a dual degree (JD and Master of Public Administration) at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For more information on the program’s background and the historic efforts the General Assembly made to right this egregious wrong, be sure to listen to this excellent interview on WFAE 90.7 FM with Speaker (now Senator-elect) Tills, former Representative Larry Womble, and Elaine Riddick, a victim of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program.

Eugenics in North Carolina

By: Rep. Paul Stam and Amy O’Neal1

The Roots of the Eugenics Movement

Today the thought of sterilizing someone against his or her will seems preposterous. However, such a practice was endorsed in the early 20th century by many well-known and well- respected philanthropists like the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Kelloggs, and the Harrimans.2 How was this possible?

The answer: the eugenics movement. In the 1880s Sir Francis Galton, a British polymath, coined the term “eugenics” which literally means “well-born.” Eugenics became a “science” that cited genetics as the main reason for promiscuity, criminal behavior, destitution, feeble-mindedness, and more. Two solutions became popular for ridding society of such behaviors: positive and negative eugenics.3 Positive eugenics encouraged the healthiest, ablest, and fit to have more children. Negative eugenics discouraged the weakest, least able, and unfit of the population from having children — even if discouraging was accomplished through coercion or manipulation.


A Look at the State Budget

2014-2015 Certified State Budget of North Carolina
This year, North Carolina’s state government will spend over $21 billion of your tax dollars. That’s a lot of money. But where does it all go? Here’s a breakdown (click on the graphic above for a high-resolution image):

Budget Category % of Budget
Health & Human Services 37.43%
Public Education 32.79%
Natural & Economic Resources 8.96%
Transportation 7.86%
Justice & Public Safety 5.55%
General Government 5.07%
Debt Service 1.83%
Reserves & Transfers 0.44%
Capital Improvement 0.07%

As you can see, over 70% of state spending falls within two general categories: Health & Human Services programs (primarily Medicaid) and public education — which includes K-12 public schools, the university system, and our state’s 57 community colleges.

The largest component of state education spending is on K-12 — $8.1 billion will be spent this year on K-12 alone, and 90% of that will be spent on teacher, administrator and staff salaries.

For some perspective, a stack of $100 bills worth $8.1 billion would reach five and half miles up in the sky  — that’s 23 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of one another in $100 bills. And for what it’s worth, $8.1 billion in $100 bills weighs about 90 tons.

So there’s that.


Gee, Bob! The Republican-controlled General Assembly and Governor McCrory sure have made it more convenient to get my drivers license here in North Carolina. And come to think of it, Bob, that means I'll already have one of the many forms of acceptable photo identification in my purse — just in case I want to vote in the 2016 elections! So much for that silly argument about disenfranchisement, huh Bob?Thanks to a new law passed by the General Assembly this year, folks with North Carolina drivers licenses will be able to renew them without having to schlep down to the DMV and wait in line.

A provision of the Appropriations Act of 2014 (Section 34.8) will allow people to renew their licenses remotely — through a website, by mail or over the telephone. Remote renewal is intended to make the driver’s license renewal process more convenient.

To qualify for remote renewal, the driver must possess a valid “Class C” license (that’s the kind of drivers license that most people have) issued to them when they were at least 18 years old, they must currently reside at the address shown on their license, and their drivers license can’t have any restrictions (with the exception of the “corrective lenses” restriction).

The best part? Drivers won’t be required to take a new picture or have to pass any additional pesky DMV exams.

The change is the latest in a series of reforms passed by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory which are designed to reduce wait times and improve the customer experience at the DMV.

The last time Republicans were in charge of both the state legislature and the governor’s office at the same time in North Carolina was in 1870, prior to the invention of the automobile.

Healthcare in the Budget

Sarah Curry

The following is a guest post by Sarah Curry of the John Locke Foundation:

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is made up of thirty divisions and offices, which are categorized under four broad areas: health, human services, administration, and support. In addition, the department oversees fourteen facilities including developmental centers, psychiatric hospitals, and alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers, among others.

Last year the General Assembly enacted a $5.1 billion general fund budget for DHHS, but that isn’t the total cost of health services in North Carolina. Some of the health programs are funded through other means, the main artery being the federal government. If we take total expenditures for DHHS in fiscal year 2014-15, the amount is closer to $19 billion, with 17,403 full-time equivalent employees statewide. Out of the large departmental budget, there are three divisions that account for most of the budget: (1) the Medical Assistance, more commonly referred to as Medicaid, $13.8 billion, (2) the Social Services, $1.7 billion, and (3) the Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, $1.4 billion. Below is a breakdown of the eleven divisions within the department and their expenditures under the FY 2014-15 budget.

Health & Human Services Expenditures Percent
Central Management $152,152,679 0.80%
Aging & Adult Services $115,311,763 0.61%
Blind & Deaf/Hard of Hearing Services $32,639,127 0.17%
Child Development and Early Education $667,998,042 3.52%
Health Services Regulation $65,399,275 0.34%
Medicaid $13,769,876,232 72.56%
Mental Health, Dev. Disabilities, Substance Abuse $1,364,706,219 7.19%
NC Health Choice $174,711,677 0.92%
Public Health $827,356,675 4.36%
Social Services $1,668,936,436 8.79%
Vocational Rehabilitation $138,503,086 0.73%
TOTAL $18,977,591,211 100%

Medicaid, a health insurance program for low-income individuals and families, is the largest expenditure within DHHS and was the focus of much of this past year’s state budget debate. Making up 73 percent of total expenditures within the department, and having an $81.7 million shortfall last year despite conscious efforts to avoid another shortfall, set the stage for legislators to plan for reform.  The legislature passed a law requiring the department to consult with stakeholder groups, study and recommend options for a Medicaid reform plan intended to provide greater budget predictability. Lacking reliable data for the 2014-15 fiscal year due to the implementation of a new computer system, unachieved budget reductions from the prior year, and more requirements from the Affordable Care Act, the legislature established a $186 million reserve fund for another potential Medicaid shortfall.

The second largest expenditure within the agency is the Division of Social Services, which works in the areas of adult services, childcare, child support, energy assistance, financial assistance, food and nutrition services, health coverage, child welfare, and public assistance fraud. These programs are authorized by and substantially paid for through the federal government. North Carolina has been given the responsibility of creating these programs at the state level and overseeing the implementation and support of these programs in each county.  At the bottom of the umbrella are the local social service departments, each located in one of the state’s 100 counties, that deliver services to citizens.

According to a report from the Fiscal Research Division, the major budget changes that occurred in the Division of Social Services were to childcare subsidies and child protective services. Previously, childcare subsidies were given to families at 75 percent of State Median Income.  Now families are eligible at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level for children ages 0-5 and special needs children, and at 133 percent for children aged 6-12. There was no change to eligibility for children in foster care and those receiving child protective or child welfare services. These children will continue to receive assistance without any income level requirement. Most families, while receiving childcare services, are required to pay a co-payment. The new law has set co-payments at 10 percent of the family’s income, regardless if it is on a part- or full-time basis. Child Protective Services received $7.3 million to reduce investigative workers’ caseloads as well as $4.5 million for Child Welfare In-Home Services to help parents learn more effective parenting skills.

Overall, the Department of Health and Human Services makes up a large portion of our state’s budget, nearly a quarter of General Fund expenditures. If we take a look at the state’s budget in 1980 and then compare to today’s budget allocations, Health and Human Services spending has increased over 260 percent, even when accounting for inflation. During the Easley administration, Health and Human Services became the state government’s largest expenditure. Since 2005, the DHHS budget has been consistently higher than education appropriations, historically the largest expenditure in state government.

The preceding article, written by Sarah Curry, and was first published by the John Locke Foundation on October 14, 2014 and reappears here with permission. Ms. Curry is Director of Fiscal Policy Studies at the John Locke Foundation. For more articles regarding Medicaid on Speaker Tillis’s website, click here.

And Up Through the Ground…

Jed ClampittA provision of the Regulatory Reform Act of 2014 further protects people who are buying and selling property by requiring that a new disclosure form regarding mineral, oil, and gas rights be included during real estate transactions. The legislation was signed into law this past September.

With the exciting prospect of oil and gas exploration starting in North Carolina next year (as authorized by the General Assembly with the passage into law of the Energy Modernization Act), there has been renewed interest among homeowners in protecting ownership of their property rights. Real estate can contain a number of property rights, including surface land, buildings, low-level air rights, and below-ground mineral and other rights (e.g. natural gas, oil, water, geothermal and precious metals).

In certain parts of the state, a drilling operation could set up shop to tap deposits of natural gas deep within the ground — but without certain legal protections in place, homeowners who have already surrendered their mineral rights could have the natural gas extracted from under their property and get nothing for it.

With that concern in mind, legislators have reinforced real estate disclosure laws by requiring sellers of residential property to conspicuously declare the status of mineral rights in real estate contracts. The changes are meant to help home buyers clearly understand landowner rights so they can make informed decisions about their property.

It’s not known at this point how much untapped wealth lies under the ground of North Carolina’s property owners, but according to a June 2014 study, the present value of untapped oil and gas below sections of land in Boulder County, Colorado — totaling just one square mile — is estimated to be between $1 billion and $2 billion. And oil and gas prices have certainly increased since Jed Clampett (a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed) discovered oil underneath his land some forty years ago.

The new language required in disclosure statement explicitly makes reference to oil and gas and mineral rights. The seller must ensure that the buyer is fully aware of the status of the oil and gas and mineral rights of the property being transferred, and the buyer must attest in writing to the fact that they have been informed of each of the following:

  1. Mineral rights were severed from the property by a previous owner.
  2. Seller has severed the mineral rights from the property.
  3. Seller intends to sever the mineral rights from the property prior to transfer of title to Buyer.
  4. Oil and gas rights were severed from the property by a previous owner.
  5. Seller has severed the oil and gas rights from the property.
  6. Seller intends to sever the oil and gas rights from the property prior to transfer of title to Buyer.

Perhaps most importantly, the new law requires the seller to make these disclosures no later than the time the buyer makes an offer to purchase the home.