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Latest N.C. Supreme Court rulings defy pundits’ partisan projections

Fri, 2018-12-28 04:02

Much recent political commentary about North Carolina’s Supreme Court focuses on the 5-2 majority that Democrats will gain in January.

But two of the final decisions the court handed down in 2018 remind us that its decision-making process defies simple partisan calculations. Both decisions were unanimous.

In the first case, Silver v. Halifax County Board of Commissioners, all seven members of the state’s highest court endorsed an opinion clarifying that state government — not a particular county — is “solely responsible for guarding and preserving the right of every child in North Carolina to receive a sound basic education.” The state constitution guarantees that right.

The court rejected arguments put forward by attorneys Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix, whose names generated statewide publicity last year. The University of North Carolina fired Dorosin and Haddix in 2017 as it shut down the UNC-Chapel Hill law school’s controversial civil rights center. Critics had blasted the center’s ties to left-of-center political causes.

In the Silver case, Dorosin, Haddix, and their plaintiffs wanted state courts to force Halifax County commissioners to increase funding for local schools. None of the state Supreme Court’s current members — four Democrats and three Republicans — endorsed the idea.

“In effect, plaintiffs say county governments would thus be allowed to abandon their fiscal responsibility regarding education with impunity and pass their alleged constitutional duties along to the State,” according to the Supreme Court opinion. “This is not the case. Plaintiffs’ line of reasoning is arguably sound only if one presupposes that counties have such constitutional duties in the first place, and we have determined that they do not.”

It’s worth noting that Justice Barbara Jackson wrote those words. A registered Republican, Jackson lost her re-election bid on Nov. 6. Thus Silver is likely her last written majority opinion for the state’s highest court. Every one of her colleagues endorsed it.

There’s no sign that the case generated any partisan infighting among the justices. The court’s current Democratic majority took no steps to delay a ruling until a fifth Democrat could replace Jackson in January.

Unanimity also characterizes the second opinion worth noting in this space. It’s the latest Cooper v. Berger ruling, part of an ongoing legal battle pitting Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper against Senate leader Phil Berger and his fellow Republican legislative leaders.

In this case, all seven Supreme Court justices agreed that legislators have the power to confirm Cooper’s Cabinet appointments.

The decision included a notable comment on legislative power. “[U]nlike the powers of Congress in the federal model, the General Assembly has the power to legislate on all matters unless the constitution prohibits it from doing so,” according to the unanimous opinion. “Thus, the General Assembly need not identify the constitutional source of its power when it enacts statutes. In fact, in most instances, there will be no particular grant of constitutional authority on which the General Assembly will rely. It will instead rely on its general power to legislate, which it retains as an arm of the people.”

As in the Silver case, a Republican is responsible for these words. Chief Justice Mark Martin wrote them. None of the high court’s four current Democrats dissented.

The unanimous agreement in both Silver and Cooper reminds us that very few state Supreme Court cases have led to divisions along party lines.

Over the past two years, with Democrats holding a 4-3 majority on the state’s highest court, just 13 of 155 cases (8 percent) have yielded 4-3 splits on the results. Just three cases (2 percent) have pitted the court’s four Democrats against its three Republicans. (One caveat: In a March 2018 case, the justices reached unanimity on the result, with the Democrats and Republicans disagreeing about the legal reasoning.)

As both Silver and Cooper demonstrate, the seven justices have been much more likely to reach unanimous conclusions. Over the past year, 77 of 97 cases (79 percent) produced zero dissenting votes. Another seven cases involved a lone dissenter.

Party labels fail to dictate whether justices are likely to reach agreement on a case. It’s true that Martin and fellow Republican Paul Newby have been most likely to agree, in 94 of 96 cases (98 percent). It’s also true that Martin and Democrat Cheri Beasley have been the pair least likely to agree. Yet they still have endorsed the same results in 79 of 96 cases (82 percent).

Meanwhile, Democratic Justice Sam Ervin IV agreed most often this year with the Republican Jackson. He also agreed more often with Newby than with any of his Democratic colleagues.

The three Republican justices wrote 25 of the 62 authored majority opinions, including five of the seven opinions representing 4-3 split decisions. One would hardly expect that volume of Republican writing for the court’s majority if Democratic justices had decided to play partisan games with their rulings.

None of these statistics guarantees that the court’s current collegiality will continue into the new year. Democratic Justice-elect Anita Earls has spent much of her career pursuing left-of-center “social justice” causes. Particularly in the often-litigated redistricting arena, Earls has longstanding ties to partisans fighting Republican legislators’ disputed electoral maps.

But hers is a single vote. Until Earls joins her six new colleagues behind closed doors to debate the merits of particular cases, no one can say for certain how that vote will affect others.

Evidence from the past two years — including the recent Silver and Cooper rulings — suggests the outcome might not match Democratic partisans’ hopes or Republican partisans’ fears.

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.

Categories: Public Policy

Do politicians really want to lead?

Wed, 2018-12-26 01:01

As another year draws to a close, a year of Democratic resurgence in both national and local politics, I offer this challenge to incumbent and newly elected lawmakers alike. Do you really want to be leaders? Or do you just want to be politicians?

A mastery of politics is required to lead effectively, I grant you. No more how high your ideals and how ambitious your goals may be, you have to win elections and cultivate alliances in order to fashion public policy. But only some effective politicians prove to be effective leaders.

In Washington, there is an obvious test of seriousness that, alas, few would-be leaders have been passing lately. Will Congress and the Trump administration do anything of consequence to address the most consequential issue we face, fiscal irresponsibility?

The federal budget is wildly, recklessly out of whack. Its massive annual deficits will add trillions more to the federal debt in the coming years. Democrats blame the tax cuts enacted by the Republican Congress in 2017. It’s certainly the case that the reductions in personal and corporate income taxes, while growth-enhancing, will lead to lower federal revenues that would otherwise have been collected, at least in the near future. I believe the tax cuts should have been fully offset by budget cuts.

But Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility didn’t begin in 2017, and has little do with the nickel-and-dime stuff we usually hear about on cable networks and talk shows. Nearly three-quarters of what the federal government does can be described as transfer payments. It collects revenue from income and payroll taxes and then sends checks either to households (for Social Security, pensions, and welfare) or to health care providers (for Medicare and Medicaid).

The federal government has promised more outflow than can be financed with the projected inflow. Progressives say they want to make up the difference with massive tax hikes — indeed, most want to expand Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare programs even more — while conservatives say they want to control expenditures.

In truth, neither group seems to have the courage of their purported convictions. Few have offered anything approaching a viable plan for balancing the budget. When progressives claim only the “wealthy” will pay for their grandiose schemes and conservatives claim they can bring spending into line by targeting only “waste, fraud, and abuse,” both groups are offering us a governing fantasy, not a governing philosophy. They are being unserious.

Here in North Carolina, the dividing line between politician and leader runs directly through the largest-single function of state government: financing education. Democrats have promised vastly larger expenditures for preschool, elementary, secondary, and higher education than the Republican-led General Assembly has yet appropriated. The money can’t come from borrowing, and the desired amount is too large to be financed by economizing elsewhere in the budget.

Either explicitly or implicitly, Democrats are calling for major tax increases — in the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars a year. Will Gov. Roy Cooper include them in his upcoming 2019-21 budget proposal? Will Democrats list themselves as sponsors of such a tax hike in the 2019 session? Will the Republicans who have themselves promised much-higher spending levels be willing to sign on, as well?

I expect few such profiles in courage. Rather, I think some will be tempted to construct a kind of collusive settlement in the long-running Leandro litigation that would yield an order by the North Carolina Supreme Court to increase state spending — and, in effect, to raise taxes. This would be a thoroughly political gambit, not an exercise of leadership, and provoke a constitutional crisis.

If they would truly lead, then policymakers of both parties should be looking for mutually agreeable ways to increase the productivity of the tax dollars North Carolinians already pay into education. States such as Florida, Indiana, and Texas have higher-performing school systems as well as tax burdens comparable or even lower than ours. It can be done.

Will serious leaders step forward in 2019?

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Categories: Public Policy

Public won’t accept green taxes

Mon, 2018-12-24 01:01

I know that environmental activists don’t want to hear this, but a core component of their preferred strategy for combatting global warming — substantially raising the price of fossil fuels through higher taxes — is not going to happen.

Whatever the public’s views may be about the causes and effects of climate change, most people don’t think gas prices and electric rates are too low. While modest price increases to cover higher production costs, or modestly higher taxes to fund road and bridge construction, may not provoke a massive backlash, the dramatic hikes in prices that environmental groups want to discourage the use of fossil fuels are just politically unsustainable.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at recent events in two left-leaning political constituencies: the state of Washington and the country of France.

In November, even as Washington Democrats were winning most of the competitive races in that state, 56 percent of Washington voters said no to a ballot proposition that would have imposed a carbon tax to combat global warming. The tax would have started at $15 a metric ton and then increased $2 a year until the state’s goals for greenhouse-gas emissions were met.

After a previous carbon-tax scheme failed in 2016, activists had retooled the plan to draw more support. The 2018 initiative exempted some key employers in Washington State, such as paper plants, to mute opposition from labor unions. It promised to spend the proceeds on renewable-energy projects to create jobs. And if the truth be told, as costly as the proposed tax would have been for Washington consumers, it was far lower than the price hike most scholars believe would be necessary truly to shift energy markets away from fossil fuels.

But Washington’s voters said no, anyway. They didn’t judge any environmental benefits that might flow from the carbon tax in the long run to be worth the cost, and they didn’t trust that the resulting revenue would have been spent effectively. The voters were right on both counts.

In France, the recent revolt against green taxes played out not in polling places but on the streets. The “yellow vest” movement began as opposition to higher “green taxes” on gasoline and diesel, with hundreds of thousands ultimately turning out in protests that produced widespread economic disruptions, political disaster for President Emmanuel Macron and his coalition, and even several tragic deaths. In response, Macron has walked back scheduled hikes in motor-fuels taxes and may soon be forced to go further than that.

It is important to understand that in neither case can the opposition be characterized as tea-party conservatives or climate-change skeptics. There aren’t enough such voters in Washington to have defeated the carbon tax multiple times. In France, the yellow-vest protestors are advancing a range of demands, including traditionally left-wing fare such as raising minimum wages and enhancing government pensions.

If activists can’t find the votes to jack up green taxes enough to matter in places such as Washington and France, you can be sure they will fall far short in North Carolina, where public opposition to tax increases of any kind is broader and deeper.

A few weeks ago, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in North Carolina 40 percent by the year 2025. Cooper’s target is quite a bit less than initially meets the eye, since the 40 percent reduction is from the 2005 baseline, not from 2018. Our emissions have already fallen by 25 percent since 2005, so Cooper’s real goal is an additional 15 percent.

While North Carolina has been tipping the scales heavily in favor of renewables, that’s not the main reason emissions have declined. Wind and solar remain a very small part of our energy mix. The big stories are gains in energy efficiency plus a large-scale replacement of coal-fired power plants with electricity from cleaner-burning natural gas.

Activists still dream of carbon taxes and a massive abandonment of fossil fuels. Once they awaken, a realistic conversation may be possible.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Categories: Public Policy

The real winner in the Apple sweepstakes: North Carolina

Fri, 2018-12-21 01:22

Was Apple’s choice of Austin, Texas, over the Research Triangle for its new, $1 billion campus a win or a loss for North Carolina? 

The answer isn’t as obvious as local boosters would have you believe. Sure, the sudden infusion of capital investment and (eventually) high-paying, high-skilled jobs would have been a boon for the immediate area. But there was a price tag, as my John Locke Foundation colleague Jon Sanders noted: massive tax incentives. 

They included: 

  • Refunds of as much as 90 percent of the company’s withholding taxes for new hires for 40 years
  • Tax-funded water, sewer, and rail hookups
  • Local property tax exemptions for 30 years

Offering these massive giveaways wasn’t enough to reel Apple in. The rejection led to a rare joint statement from Gov. Roy Cooper, Senate leader Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore: 

“We’re on pace to add thousands of good-paying jobs this year with more expected next year. There’s no better place to find a top-tier IT workforce and legislative leaders have worked closely with the administration to attract large employers and technology companies like Apple. We’ll keep doing everything we can to bring more good jobs to North Carolina,” they said. 

By “doing everything we can,” with taxpayer handouts, the state’s leaders are implicitly rejecting the policies which have boosted North Carolina’s standing as one of the nation’s best places to do business — lower taxes at a single rate; streamlined regulations; increased spending on education which rewards improved classroom performance; highway spending intended to move people and products more efficiently; cutting debt and increasing savings. 

In November, Forbes named North Carolina the nation’s No. 1 state for business. We earned that designation even though Apple didn’t come here, Amazon passed us by for its second corporate headquarters, and we still haven’t secured the elusive auto assembly plant. 

Conservative legislative leaders have championed growth-based policies to contrast themselves from the political favoritism and pay-to-play games of previous regimes. 

Embracing policies that instead pick winners and losers with special giveaways undercuts that progress. 

As Sanders points out, 99.6 percent of businesses in North Carolina are small businesses. They stand to gain nothing, and perhaps wind up net losers, if policymakers consciously craft deals to benefit headline-grabbing megacompanies and shift the costs to entrepreneurs who are already here. 

So, if our state is such a boon for businesses, why did Apple go elsewhere? It turns out our incentive package was less important than other advantages Austin had and we didn’t. 

An existing relationship with the company, with more than 5,000 employees already there, certainly gave Austin a leg up. Apple was comfortable with the local culture and clearly liked it enough to make another major investment there. 

It also helped that Austin-area developers had a 130-plus-acre site, which would be perfect for a standalone, expandable corporate campus. The location is close enough to the downtown area to let employees and clients enjoy the city’s amenities, but separate, so that employees won’t have to navigate as much downtown congestion as they might have at an urban campus in the Research Triangle. 

Finally, business executives admit economic incentives aren’t really that important when they’re deciding where to relocate or reinvest. Sanders cited an article from Economic Development Quarterly, in which researchers asked executives from 150 companies that received economic incentives and 465 companies that didn’t to rank factors that mattered to them in determining a region’s business climate. 

Nineteen were named. State and local economic incentives ranked 15th and 16th. (Mass transit ranked even lower — sorry, light-rail fans.) 

Executives are much more swayed by access to skilled labor, a light regulatory and tax burden, a solid university and community college system, housing costs, major airports, and workforce training programs. 

Incentives may make a slight difference at the margins, but a state or region has to get many other policies and practices right before tax-funded handouts gain notice. 

Once our elected officials and economic development boosters figure this out, and insist on improving the factors that really attract and retain businesses and employees, North Carolina can show it doesn’t need to bribe people and entrepreneurs with tax dollars to move here.

Categories: Public Policy

Economic impact studies: How special interests tell public interest stories

Thu, 2018-12-20 04:00

Question 1: When are special interest subsidies not special interest subsidies?

Answer: When the special interests hire consultants to do an economic impact study.

Question 2: How often do economic impact studies show that the special interest subsidy will be good for the economy?

Answer: Always.

Economic impact studies have become part of the standard tool kit used by nearly every special interest pleader begging state and local officials to (please, please, please) transfer wealth from workers, entrepreneurs, and taxpayers to themselves. The film industry, sports teams, the renewable energy industry, and many other corporate welfare recipients, pay consultants to tell them not only what they want to hear but, more important, what they want the public to hear; namely how great the subsidies will be for those who are being fleeced.

Sure, those film “incentives” or subsidies for a new football stadium are going to make the film industry or the NFL team owners a lot of money, but pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. What these industries really care about is that they are going to make all of you out there in the community better off. And to prove this, everyone from local politicians to the local media is told to look at those impressive numbers from the industry-paid economic impact study. Thousands of jobs will be created and hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of dollars will be generated for the community. It’s the proverbial win-win. The beauty of an economic impact study is how it demonstrates that Peter can be robbed to pay Paul and, magically, both Paul and Peter are made better off.

So, here’s the dirty little secret about economic impact studies. They are designed so they can only give one kind of result — positive. The possibility that any subsidy or special project could generate negative results for the economy, i.e., lose jobs, reduce incomes, or shrink GDP, is ruled out by design. I have explained why this is in several other publications. But the more-lengthy arguments that I’ve made elsewhere can be boiled down to one simple point: The studies all assume none of the resources being used — labor, land, steal, electricity, etc. — would be employed in any other productive activities if the subsidized companies or industries weren’t using them.

If a 10-acre plot weren’t being used for a subsidized solar power plant it wouldn’t be used to grow soybeans or sweet potatoes. It would be just lying there idle. And if the workers used to install the solar panels weren’t hired to do that job, they would be in the unemployment lines. These are the kinds of assumptions that are implicit in constructing the studies meant to convince the public that these subsidies are really for their own good.

There are no job losses, no wage reductions, and no GDP losses to calculate and subtract from the gains. So, the question that all of these studies are asking is, How good will the special interest subsidy be for the economy? Not whether it will be good or bad.

The answer to this question comes through all of the ripple effects from the subsidy, sometimes called multiplier or secondary effects. This has to do with how the subsidies work their way through the economy once they’re handed over to the special interest. Again, all of these effects are assumed to be positive for the same reason as discussed above. None of the resources being used would be employed in any other productive activity if it weren’t for the subsidy. How large the total impact ends up being has everything to do with these rippling effects. Often, they are assumed to be 10, 15, or even 20 times the amount of the original subsidy. The bigger the ripple effect, the better off the special interest subsidies are making everyone.

The numbers the typical economic impact study generates have no meaningful economic content. They cannot intelligently inform debates over whether any particular project or subsidy would be worthwhile. As a general rule, the public and politicians should never view economic impact studies as anything more than an attempt by special interests to manipulate public opinion for their own benefit.

Dr. Roy Cordato is resident scholar at the John Locke Foundation.

Categories: Public Policy

Trade views are hard to measure

Wed, 2018-12-19 01:01

There has always been a robust political debate between advocates of free trade and advocates of manipulating the terms of trade to protect special interests. But the partisan affiliations of these two factions have fluctuated over time.

Consider these examples from contemporary politics. As North Carolina-based trade attorney Scott Lincicome pointed out in a recent Cato Institute paper, Republicans expressed mostly positive views about free trade during the presidency of George W. Bush, who pushed for more free-trade agreements, while Democrats expressed mostly negative views, from rank-and-file voters all the way up to presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But during Obama’s second term, when he was seeking support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership to expand free trade around the Pacific Rim, “these views flipped,” Lincicome observed, “with Democrats embracing trade and Republicans becoming trade skeptics.”

This isn’t merely an oppositional effect, a pro-trade White House vs. a party out of power. It’s a cuing effect. One of the few political issues about which Donald Trump has been consistent throughout his decades in the public eye is his criticism of free-trade policies. Not coincidentally, Republicans have been more likely than Democrats since the rise of Trump to endorse tariffs — despite the indisputable fact that tariffs are tax increases, not typical GOP fare.

One way you can tell this is a “follow the leader” dynamic, not a fundamental change in values, is that when pollsters ask a series of questions, rather than just one, most GOP-leaning voters seem to support Trump’s tariffs as well as free-trade agreements. They either see no contradiction — believing that the tariffs are merely a negotiating tactic, not a long-term policy choice — or they feel no obligation to reconcile their partisan loyalties with their policy preferences.

That’s not to say there haven’t been more sweeping partisan realignments in the past. During the early decades of the republic, the party we now know as the Democrats — originally named the Republicans, or Democratic-Republicans — tended to defend free trade. They were opposed on the issue first by the Federalists, then by the Whigs, and eventually by the Republicans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Still, each party contained dissenters. Democratic presidents such as Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Grover Cleveland faced off repeatedly with protectionist members of their own party, often from industrial areas where both factory owners and workers sought protection from foreign competitors. At the same time, the Whig and Republican parties contained a fair number of free traders, ranging from agricultural interests and consumer advocates to urban professionals and anti-corruption crusaders.

During the latter decades of the 20th century, however, the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan and his presidential and congressional successors made a clear turn towards free trade (some wearing Adam Smith neckties to their Capitol Hill or West Wing offices just in case the point wasn’t clear) while Democrats with close ties to organized labor became increasingly protectionist.

There has always been an ardently protectionist faction in our politics, an equally committed free-trade faction, and a “malleable middle,” as Lincicome put it, “whose views depend on the political moment.” The latter group mixes generally positive feelings about the benefits of international trade with caution about national sovereignty and suspicion of foreign actors such as China.

The most recent poll of North Carolina voters on the topic, I think, was a High Point University survey in October. Asked whether “in general” they thought “free trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries have been a good thing or a bad thing for the United States,” 54 percent said good, 24 percent said bad, and 23 percent weren’t sure.

But only a third of respondents said they had heard “a lot” about Trump’s tariffs, only 18 percent said they were worried “a lot” about the tariffs costing them money, and most said they had yet to see any impact on their household budgets.

Public opinion about trade is both important and hard to measure. Interpret with care.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Categories: Public Policy

Headline reminds us about critical difference between charter, district schools

Tue, 2018-12-18 04:02

Plans to shutter Raleigh’s Hope Charter Leadership Academy generated a story in the Dec. 11, 2018, edition of the Raleigh News & Observer.

It’s hard to feel good about the following headline: “Charter school closing due to poor performance.”

But this observer has to admit to at least one positive reaction while reading the sad news spelled out in the Dec. 11 edition of the Raleigh News and Observer. While contemplating the story of Hope Charter Leadership Academy’s struggles, I couldn’t help but think: This is what’s supposed to happen to a charter school that underperforms.

The demise of Hope Charter, located near downtown Raleigh, offers a sharp contrast to traditional district schools that fail year after year. In almost every case, those schools continue to operate with no threat of closing. While Hope Charter students and families must seek other educational options, many of their counterparts in failing schools across the state remain stuck with the status quo.

Short of a shutdown, even efforts to shake up operations of a failing district school tend to face an uphill battle. Witness the protracted fights over placing two elementary schools — one in Robeson County and the other in Wayne — in the state’s relatively new Innovative School District. That district targets the state’s worst-performing district schools. It allows them to continue operating under new management.

Imagine the outcry if state or local education officials had recommended an alternative: shuttering those schools completely. It’s safe to say that option would not have proceeded as smoothly as the process that will lead Hope Charter to close its doors.

Charter school advocates often point to good news associated with these publicly funded schools that operate outside the control of traditional school systems. And they have strong evidence on their side.

The John Locke Foundation’s K-12 education expert, Terry Stoops, noted this fall that a higher percentage of charter schools (42 percent) earned A and B grades from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in 2017-18 than their district school counterparts (35 percent). Charter schools made up 7.8 percent of those higher-grade schools, even though charters represent just 6.6 percent of the more than 2,500 graded public schools statewide.

On the other end of the scale, eight charter schools (5 percent) earned F grades, while 83 (4 percent) of their traditional district school counterparts failed to make the grade. Charters represented 8.8 percent of all failing schools, according to the state’s grading system.

One major difference, of course, is that each failing charter school faces the threat of following Hope Charter’s path to closing. Few, if any, of the dozens of failing district schools are likely to hear any suggestion that they shut down.

The prospect of closing forces struggling charter schools to innovate or disappear.

Innovation remains a realistic option. Ask Richard Vinroot, the former Charlotte mayor and Republican candidate for governor. Vinroot shared with state lawmakers this spring the story of Sugar Creek, the charter school he helped start in Mecklenburg County.

Sugar Creek’s early performance results fell well short of Vinroot’s expectations. He conveyed his concerns to school director Cheryl Turner. “Our numbers were exactly like the poor schools at [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools] — no different,” Vinroot said. “We had no gym. No playground. I said, ‘Cheryl, we need to shut this darn thing down. Why are we taking kids in our school who aren’t doing any better than anywhere else? We need to shut it down.’”

As Vinroot recounted during his April legislative presentation, Turner asked for another year to find a way to boost the school’s performance. Two decades later, a school that started with about a quarter of its students meeting grade-level proficiency boosted that total to 60 percent.

In 2016-17, Sugar Creek’s African-American students scored 12 points higher on standardized tests than their CMS peers and 19 points higher than African-American students statewide. Sugar Creek’s Hispanic students scored 19 points higher than those in the surrounding school district and 21 points higher than the statewide average. Among all economically disadvantaged students, Sugar Creek topped CMS by 18 points and the statewide average by 21.

The school eventually expanded into high school grades. All 30 members of its first graduating class were expected to go on to college. As the school compiled these achievements, 94 percent of Sugar Creek students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, Vinroot said.

It would be great to see repeat performances of Sugar Creek’s success story. State leaders would be wise to give new charter schools sufficient time to mirror Turner’s impressive turnaround.

But some charter schools won’t make it. Those that can’t find the key to success should shut down. Just as the top-performing charters offer examples for other schools to emulate, the shuttered charters should provide evidence of education approaches to avoid in the future.

Yes, it’s sad to read about a “Charter school closing due to poor performance.” But that’s a better headline to see than “Charter school lingers on despite repeated poor performance.”

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.

Categories: Public Policy

Fraud claims should trouble conservatives

Mon, 2018-12-17 01:01

While the term “whataboutism” may be relatively new — coined within the last few decades, and newly prominent in the age of Donald Trump — the logical fallacy it denotes is as ancient as politics itself.

The rhetorical trick goes something like this. A political leader or group is accused of doing something wrong. In response, a defender tries to change the subject. “You say President Trump lies,” for example, “but what about when President Obama said that under the Affordable Care Act, people could keep their health plans if they wanted? He wasn’t telling the truth, and you didn’t go after him!”

As it happens, Obama wasn’t telling the truth about that, as he and anyone else involved in health policy must surely have known. I lost my own health plan because of the Affordable Care Act.

But that example does not establish a defense of Trump’s dishonesty. In fact, to grant that it is wrong in principle for politicians to tell falsehoods is obviously to strengthen the case against any particular politician telling falsehoods, not to weaken it.

Indeed, whataboutism is formally known as tu quoque (“you also” in Latin), the appeal to hypocrisy. Hypocrites may deserve all sorts of scorn. But their inconsistency doesn’t disprove the value of the ethical standard they are violating. It’s a separate infraction, one might say.

Consider the election-fraud allegations in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Operatives working for the campaign of Republican Mark Harris allegedly went beyond the legal distribution and collection of absentee-ballot requests and illegally “harvested” the absentee ballots themselves, opening up the possibility that the ballots were tampered with or discarded in ways that benefited Harris.

Republicans have variously responded by pointing out that there are also credible allegations of ballot harvesting and other questionable tactics by Democratic operatives in Bladen County this year; that the key Harris contractor in question, McCrae Dowless, had also done absentee-ballot work for Democrats in recent election cycles; that his 2018 tactics may have been motivated by a broad perception that previous Democratic election fraud had never been seriously investigated, much less punished; and that Democrats in states such as California have actually fought to legalize and expand the use of ballot harvesting, which they used to great effect in defeating Republicans in 2018.

These are all correct statements, as far as I can tell. If made to provide context, and to challenge the absurd overstatements and “guilt by association” claims made against all North Carolina Republicans in the aftermath of the 9th District fiasco, they are warranted. But to the extent these claims have devolved into whataboutism, they fail. If Dowless did what is alleged, and Harris exercised poor judgment at the very least in hiring and incentivizing the Dowless crew, then they deserve what may be coming to them. That others may also deserve criticism or consequences for their own choices doesn’t change that.

If it is to stand for anything at all other than short-term electoral victories or “owning the libs,” the conservative movement must stand for standards, for the rule of law as well as for rules that may be tacit and lack the force of law yet make it possible for people with differing interests, values, and political beliefs to coexist in relative peace and security.

It’s not easy to defend rules when they feel inconvenient, delay immediate gratification, or provoke hypocrisy. The Silent Sam controversy at UNC-Chapel Hill is a case in point. Wherever you think the statue should ultimately reside, do you really want to live in a society where people think they can take the law into their own hands if they conclude that following the rules will not immediately get them what they want?

If you believe that the “other side” is being unreasonable or hypocritical, by all means call them out. But don’t lapse into whataboutism. Don’t let explanations become excuses. And don’t call people chumps for following the rules — particularly if your goal is to advance conservatism.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Categories: Public Policy

Why incentives’ sway didn’t bring Apple our way

Fri, 2018-12-14 01:49

Apple surprised the business world Thursday with an announcement it was investing $1 billion in a new campus in Austin, Texas. The announcement also included news of new sites in Seattle, San Diego, and Culver City, California, and expansions in Pittsburgh, New York, and Boulder, Colorado.

It also dashed hopes in Raleigh and the Research Triangle Park of securing the new campus, although expansion here is still possible. Which is just as well, since state and local leaders had already promised away the net benefits and then some of having a major Apple operation here.

Without such an exorbitant incentives package, a new Apple campus here would have been a net positive for the area. Usually growth more than pays for itself, which is why community boosters and leaders have always wanted growing, vibrant communities. But North Carolina’s “transformative” corporate welfare is such that it would’ve made the growing pains from the Apple project — paying for more needs in schools, roads, housing, police and fire protection, labor, etc. — fall on current residents and businesses, not also the newcomer.

Further, as attested to by the Amazon and Apple decisions, having super-mega-incentives in place for “transformative” projects is unnecessary. Economic research suggests that big corporation relocations are made for long-term business reasons, not predicated on government incentives, which tend to be much less actual incentive than mere cherry on top. This means Apple chose Austin instead of Raleigh or RTP for business reasons, not for lack of incentives.

Does that mean Raleigh, RTP, or North Carolina at large is not attractive to business? Cut to the chase: North Carolina lost again, so does that mean we’re losers?

Not in the slightest. Losing out two huge, headline-hungry big corporations’ projects is no more an indicator of the overall health of the state’s economy than would be capturing those projects with monster incentives. Don’t forget: 99.6 percent of businesses in North Carolina are small businesses. What are we doing in terms of incentivizing them to relocate here, expand, and grow?

To incentivize the 0.4 percent here, we have to adopt economic development policies at the expense of the 99.6 percent. If we want to chase everyone, then we should adopt economic growth policies.

The difference is essentially who gets to control private resources: the state reallocating them to a favored few (“economic development”), or the owners of those resources given greater freedom (via lighter tax and regulatory burdens) to direct them to areas they perceive as the most profitable.

Recent (and baffling) incentives expansions aside, in the last decade, North Carolina policymakers have adopted economic growth policies. We’ve witnessed impressive results from it. We’ve achieved the kind of economy any state wants to have. North Carolina’s leaders cut taxes, spending, and red tape, and now North Carolina is hailed by the Tax Foundation as a national model for tax reform. Last month Forbes named North Carolina the No. 1 state for business.

Even executives at corporations taking incentives from the State of North Carolina can think of many, many other factors they’d rather see before targeted incentives. According to research published in 2015 in Economic Development Quarterly, those include skilled labor, low regulations, low taxes, low costs of living, and good transportation infrastructure.

Researchers G. Jason Jolley, Mandee Foushee Lancaster, and Jiang Gao, surveyed executives from 150 companies that received economic development incentives from North Carolina and 465 companies that did not. Among other things, they found that out of a list of 19 important factors for North Carolina’s business climate, both groups of executives ranked state and local economic development tax incentives 15th and 16th. The only things they found less important than tax incentives were being able to access low-cost labor, mass transit infrastructure, and availability of unskilled labor.

Put another way, asked how important tax incentives were, North Carolina business executives said they could name 14 things more important to the state’s business climate:

  1. skilled labor
  2. state regulatory burden
  3. state corporate tax rate
  4. local property tax rates
  5. community colleges
  6. state personal income tax rate
  7. highways
  8. information technology infrastructure
  9. four-year colleges and universities
  10. housing costs
  11. environmental regulations
  12. land prices
  13. workforce training programs
  14. major airports

As if to drive home the point, executives of incentivized companies were asked which was better, for North Carolina to give “select incentives to certain businesses” or to “reduce taxes affecting business taxpayers and their owners.” Only one out of five (21.7 percent) said select incentives were better.

Twin disappointments from Amazon and Apple should not tempt state and local policymakers to draw the wrong conclusion, that we still didn’t offer enough by way of government tax incentives and other special treatment. Instead, they should renew interest into what would make relocation, expansion, and growth here a good business decision for them as well as the 99.6 percent of smaller businesses, the unsung heroes of the state’s economy who create jobs and fill tax coffers without fanfare.

Sometimes that means refocusing on empirically sound policies which help ensure skilled labor, low regulations, low taxes, low costs of living, and good transportation infrastructure. Sometimes it means simply understanding you win some, you lose some.

But it never means sparing no expense to “win” the few — and lose the unsung.

Jon Sanders (@jonpsanders) is director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation.

Categories: Public Policy

For America, it’s closer to morning than midnight 

Thu, 2018-12-13 04:00

Clearly, 2018 was a Democratic year, as it should have been given a Republican was in the White House. The Democrats picked up 40 seats in the House and seven governorships. The Republicans’ veto-proof “super majorities” were broken in both chambers of the General Assembly. It wasn’t quite the “blue wave” Democrats were hoping for and, indeed, Republicans have strengthened their position in the U.S. Senate. But there is little doubt which party “won” the election.   

Enough time has now elapsed for us to ruminate on the midterms’ depiction of American politics more broadly. I think there are two particularly important takeaways. The first concerns the state of the parties. A glance at the Electoral College map from recent presidential contests reveals whole swaths of the country to be red or blue — the Northeast and West Coast are solidly Democratic, the South and much of “flyover country” Republican. Many observers have argued our parties are regional, not national.   

To some extent, the results of 2018 continued the trend. There will be only one Democratic senator from the South in the next 116th Congress, and the GOP will have no representatives among the House’s New England delegation. But if you dig deeper into the data, there is evidence Democrats are awakening in red states and Republicans in blue ones.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates snagged back mansions in the Trump states of Michigan and Wisconsin and secured an unlikely victory in Kansas. Democrat Joe Manchin easily won re-election to the Senate in West Virginia “coal country.” Very popular Republican governors were returned in Maryland and Massachusetts, and the party almost scored upsets in Connecticut and Oregon. In fact, near misses tell much of the story. Democratic gubernatorial candidates came close in Georgia and Florida and, the new darling of the left, Beto O’Rourke, gave Ted Cruz a huge fright in ruby red Texas’ Senate race.      

The results suggest a party label can be a burden in hostile parts of the country, but it need not be a death sentence. Smart candidates with the right message and an appealing biography can win just about anywhere. Republican governors Charlie Baker and Larry Hogan have persuaded liberals in Northeastern states that sound management and fiscal responsibility are desirable qualities in chief executives. Democrats recruited intelligently for many contests, persuading accomplished and experienced women, minorities, and veterans to run. The party’s biggest challenge will be keeping some new House members with extreme leftist agendas in check. Giving power to them will greatly tarnish the party’s national reputation. 

My second observation is of the campaigns’ deep pessimism. Democrats talked of Trump’s America, a dystopic world of creeping authoritarianism, growing racism and sexism, and rampant corruption. Republicans, most notably the president himself, projected a similarly dark image of American values and prosperity lost forever to the forces of socialism, rampant immigration, and divisive identity politics.   

I understand why the parties chose such negative messages. It is much easier to demonize opponents than provide reasons why you should govern. Describing an unknowable future is straightforward, explaining a complex reality significantly more difficult.   

Yet the narrative of decline was odd. We have our problems, to be sure, but important macroeconomic indicators are positive — growth is accelerating after a decade of near-stagnation, inflation is low but wages growing, and unemployment is non-existent. The employment and incomes data have been particularly strong for the working class, a claim we were unable to make during the Obama years. China’s economy is still less than two-thirds the size of ours and is slowing appreciably.   

The United States is not at war. The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have wound down and international terrorism — at least its direct threat on the U.S. mainland — seems to have abated.  The growth in the immigrant population has nearly leveled off after brisk acceleration between 1980 and 2010. Those who come are increasingly educated.      

Violent and property crime continue at historic lows. Racial and religious violence grabs headlines now and again, but FBI data show it has declined over the past 20 years and surveys suggest we are becoming more tolerant toward one another — except when we think of fellow citizens in partisan terms.         

Americans were an optimistic people, with boundless confidence in their abilities and more than capable of overcoming challenges the world threw at them.  They are individualistic but want unity and a sense of collective purpose. Despite — or perhaps because of — all the gloom, I think we are hungry for leadership that feeds these desires and recognizes our strengths. We got a glimpse of this in the nostalgia invoked by President George H.W. Bush’s passing.   

In truth, it is closer to morning than midnight in America. And I believe happy political warriors, like another former president, Ronald Reagan, can still win. This is something President Trump and his Democratic adversaries should keep in mind as they prepare for 2020.  

 Andy Taylor is a professor of political science at the School of International and Public Affairs at N.C. State University. He does not speak for the university.

Categories: Public Policy

Temper power with responsibility

Wed, 2018-12-12 01:01

Are you frustrated with our political dialogue at the moment? If your answer is no, you are in a distinct minority in North Carolina and beyond.

For example, in an October poll conducted by High Point University, more than two-thirds of North Carolinians said that people were “more divided than usual,” with an even-higher share (77 percent) agreeing that “most people have little patience with people who disagree with them.” Most of us seem quite worried about escalating levels of rancor, personal attacks, and politically motivated violence.

Except for the violence part (so far, at least), this broad public sentiment about declining civility in political discourse is to some extent a self-indictment. If most of us agree that our politics is broken, and that most people are having trouble separating their partisan disagreements from their personal relationships, it is mathematically impossible for the problem to be confined only to “those people” on the other side of the fence. Virtually everyone is implicated to some extent.

Is there a way out? No — by which I mean there is no single, sweeping solution to such a complex problem. The causes are many and difficult to disentangle. But certainly one solution must be to improve the conduct of our political leaders.

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg debate here. On the one hand, we know that politicians are self-interested to a significant extent, as are all human beings. They want to gain election, win reelection, and boost their stature by exercising power to advance their political agendas.

If we the people have become more polarized, more vitriolic, and more easily distracted, politicians may see it as serving their interest to ridicule dissenters, attack adversaries, and turn up the decibel level on their political rhetoric to attract, keep, and wield the support of their electoral constituencies.

But the causal arrow could point the other direction — with we the people, as political followers, tending to adopt the priorities, temperament, and positions of the political leaders from whom we take our cues. This model happens to have a great deal of empirical support. In his book Follow the Leader, for example, political scientist Gabriel Lenz provide many cases in which voters tend to adapt their sentiments to those of their leaders, rather than the reverse. This fact gives politicians “considerable freedom,” Lenz concluded.

That’s actually good news! It means that at least part of the solution will arise from convincing current and prospect political leaders to take responsibility for the problem and start doing something about it.

I am involved in several projects intended to do just that here in our state. The North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership (IOPL) focuses on the “front end” of the leadership pipeline. Each semester, IOPL provides rigorous training for North Carolinians who aspire to serve in elective or appointive office.

Another training initiative, affiliated with the John Locke Foundation, includes but is not limited to would-be politicians. The E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders provides young North Carolinians a yearlong program of retreats, events, and experiential learning that emphasizes how to build teams of individuals with differing strengths and backgrounds.

For those already serving as leaders in our state — not only state and local officials but also leaders of companies, trade associations, nonprofits, educational institutions, and religious congregations who help to shape the debate on critical public issues — the North Carolina Leadership Forum (NCLF) convenes a series of meetings to study and debate such issues while also forming valuable personal relationships. Based at Duke University, NCLF promotes constructive engagement across political differences, rather than pursuing a futile attempt to wish or wash such differences away.

In the 1953 Disney version of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys joyfully sing “following the leader wherever he may go” to the mischievous title character. While voters may not be exactly “lost,” they do entrust a great deal of power to those who lead them. These and other programs are designed to temper that power with greater responsibility.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Categories: Public Policy

Clash between economic growth, development plays out in incentives debate

Tue, 2018-12-11 04:02

It’s a safe bet that state Rep. Jonathan Jordan agrees with Republican colleagues Bill Brawley, Susan Martin, and Scott Stone much more often than he agrees with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the incoming New York congresswoman and newly elevated champion of the political left.

But not on the issue of targeted tax incentives.

When the conservative Jordan quipped recently, “I’m agreeing with a democratic socialist,” he did more than generate a few chuckles on the floor of the N.C. House of Representatives. Jordan, R-Ashe, also exposed a key dividing line within today’s Republican Party.

Jordan’s comments emerged during the House’s Nov. 29 debate over Senate Bill 820. That measure increased the cap on the amount of money a company could collect for each job created in connection with a state Job Development Investment Grant. The cap had been set at $6,500 per job. S.B. 820 boosted the limit to $16,000.

The bill had sailed through the Senate in less than five minutes with a unanimous, bipartisan 43-0 vote. House critics offered more resistance.

“One of the biggest corporate welfare and crony capitalism bills I think I’ve ever seen.” That was Jordan’s opening salvo. He then launched into a critique of the measure that lasted longer than the entire Senate discussion of S.B. 820.

The increased cap represented “a 246 percent increase in the bounty or price that jobs are going for now,” Jordan said.

“We’re told that the state makes money on this deal,” he added. “If that’s the case, why don’t we put this in place for every job? The small businesses in your communities, when they create jobs, when the local electrician hires an assistant, when landscapers hire workers, restaurants hire workers — kitchen and service staff — where’s their $16,000 per job? They created jobs for our communities. But only the big guys get the money.”

Jordan continued to speak up for the “little guy.” “If you’re for this bill, then you’re against the 99 percent — the 99 percent of businesses in this state that produce employment, the small businesses who are getting nothing from this.”

Cue the reference to Ocasio-Cortez. She has attracted national attention for her criticism of New York’s decision to award targeted tax incentives for Amazon’s HQ2 project. “She tweeted: Amazon is a billion-dollar company,” Jordan reminded colleagues. “The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need more investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

Jordan agreed. He was happy to find common cause on the issue. “Left and right, they’re against this,” he said. “Taxpayers ought to be against this, too, giving away their money to corporations. How dare we? How dare we do that?”

Division over S.B. 820 didn’t break along party lines. After every Senate Democrat supported the measure, all but two House Democrats followed suit. The only Democrat who spoke during the House debate used less than two minutes. He supported raising the per-job incentive cap.

Meanwhile, several fellow Republicans challenged Jordan’s arguments. Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, contended that lawmakers already had settled the incentives debate. S.B. 820 dealt with details, not the fundamental issue of using or rejecting incentives.

“What we are changing is what is the amount per job that we can pay for a corporate headquarters or a high-skill facility, where wages are higher than about $150,000 a year,” Brawley said. “And while I’m not in danger of being recruited for a high six- or seven-figure job, I certainly think the state is helped by having those jobs come to North Carolina rather than Atlanta so that we can collect those taxes — not another state.”

Stone, R-Mecklenburg, compared the incentive change to a signing bonus he might offer a new hire at his business. “What difference does it make to the employees who are being paid a fair market value and are getting a fair deal already if we’re recruiting somebody from the outside to come and make our company better?”

Martin, R-Wilson, suggested that opposition to targeted incentives works only in theory. “Unfortunately, the incentives are required,” she said. “This is the time that we need to be competing for these opportunities. They’re not always available.”

North Carolina must pair some incentive with other positive changes lawmakers have made in state tax rates and the business climate, Martin said. “This is peanuts compared to the other pieces, but it does matter.”

Martin’s side prevailed, 39-21, among House Republicans voting on S.B. 820. But Jordan was not alone in speaking against the bill.

“For years, I heard Republicans complain about corporate welfare and how we ought to take over state government and get rid of that,” said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus. “Then we take control and take it over as our own. I’ve never understood that or been willing to be part of it.”

Forbes has rated us again as the best place in the country to do business,” Pittman continued. “A big part of that is how we’ve reduced taxes and regulations. What we need to do — the right way to handle things — is to keep doing that.”

Neither Jordan nor Pittman used this language, but both argued essentially for state policies promoting broad-based economic growth, as opposed to narrow, targeted economic development.

North Carolina should continue cutting corporate taxes for all businesses, not offer targeted breaks, Pittman said. “This is like reversing Robin Hood,” he said. “This is like being on Prince John’s side and robbing from the poor to give to the rich.”

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, rebutted Stone’s comparison of a targeted tax break to a private-sector signing bonus. “If you’re the employer, that’s your money,” he explained. “You can spend your money any way you like. But we’re not spending our money. We’re spending taxpayer money.”

Speciale reminded GOP colleagues of their promises to voters. “When you campaigned, you said, ‘I believe in smaller government, and I want to keep your money in your pocket, and corporate welfare is a bad idea,’” he said. “But I forget that this is the end of November. The election is over.”

While 2018 legislative elections are over, there’s no end in sight for the internal GOP debate over incentives.

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.

Categories: Public Policy

Take time to broaden the mind

Mon, 2018-12-10 01:01

In the January 1953 edition of the magazine If: Worlds of Science Fiction, a fan of the genre from Texas, Marilyn Venable, made her debut as an author. “Time Enough at Last,” Venable’s story of a bookish man who survives a nuclear holocaust, made such an impression that Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling chose it as the first story not written by himself to be adapted for the initial season of his pioneering television series.

In the famous last scene of the 1959 episode, Burgess Meredith’s character Henry Bemis discovers with delight a public library full of books. Before the nuclear disaster, both his employer and his wife had interfered with his reading habit. Now, Bemis says to himself, there will be “time enough at last” to indulge it. Then his thick glasses fall from his nose and shatter. The conclusion of the written story is, if anything, more powerful than the final moments of the TV episode:

“He bent down, clawing blindly and found, finally, their smashed remains. A minor, indirect destruction stemming from the sudden, wholesale smashing of a city. But the only one that greatly interested Henry Bemis. He stared down at the blurred page before him. He began to cry.”

I’m not prone to weeping. Still, I’ve felt a certain kinship with the fictional Henry Bemis at times. During the first 30 years of my career as a columnist, author, and think tank executive, I read virtually every day. But it was work. I enjoyed the subject matter. Still, given my professional and family responsibilities, I lacked the time to delve deeply into other subjects.

Or, perhaps more to the point, I failed to make the time. That changed a couple of years ago. With the encouragement of my wife and others, I enrolled in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The program I chose was originally called the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies. As I entered it, the name changed to the Master’s in Applied Arts and Sciences.

No, this was not a conspiracy to keep a conservative from mastering the study of liberals. In their original conception, the “liberal arts” referred to the various disciplines that helped one become a free and responsible human being (from the Latin liber). The modern term “liberal studies” is a bit broader, emphasizing science as well as art and an interdisciplinary process for educating the whole person.

Alas, the core subjects of liberal study are not a growth industry on today’s college campuses. From 2011 to 2017, the number of degrees awarded in history, religion, literature, philosophy, political science, liberal arts, and the humanities declined markedly — by 20 percent or more in some cases.

I understand why many young people gravitate towards technical degrees promising immediate financial payoffs. Whatever else might be done in response, one thing we can do is encourage precisely the path I chose: a pursuit of liberal studies later in life.

Of course, I could have just assigned myself readings in such varied topics as religious and intellectual history, world cinema, strategic planning, physics, and philanthropy. But I wouldn’t have known which texts to study, how to interpret them effectively, and how they fit into a larger context.

In the case of Henry Bemis, he couldn’t take advantage of his opportunity to read and learn because, without his glasses, his vision was too blurred. In my case, a figurative blurriness would have come from trying to go solo, from a lack of guidance and stimulation from professors and classmates.

I suppose one might say, then, that one applied science I sought to acquire from my UNC-Greensboro studies, just now completed, was that of “intellectual optometry.” By taking courses in multiple fields, with professors guiding me through a diverse set of sources and subjects, I gained proper lenses so I could discern underlying lessons about the human experience. Fortunately, I found the time to get my scholarly vision corrected — time enough at last.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Categories: Public Policy

N.C. government spends two years squabbling over board only to finish where it began

Fri, 2018-12-07 04:00

Here we are, two years later.

We’ve taken many, arduous, often tedious steps.

Only to return to where we began, having gone nowhere.

In late 2016, as Gov. Roy Cooper was preparing to take office, the General Assembly decided it would change the makeup of the Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

Republicans lost the governorship, so it’s tough to argue the move by GOP lawmakers wasn’t an attempt to accumulate power — while at the same time removing power from the new governor, a Democrat.

It didn’t work.

Maybe that’s something lawmakers should have known. Nonetheless, we traveled hundreds of figurative miles and spent tens of thousands of real dollars on a perpetual roundabout.

Starting, stopping, starting again. Wait your turn. Much like rush-hour traffic on Hillsborough Street.

Before state lawmakers’ first attempt in 2016 to merge the state elections and ethics boards, state elections were administered by a five-member board. The governor’s party held three seats. The other major political party held the other two seats.

Lawmakers’ first move — two years ago — was to create an eight-member board divided equally among Democratic and Republican appointees, the legislature picking all members.

Cooper challenged the move on grounds that it violated separation of powers, and he won.

Subsequent versions of the boards gave some power back to the governor and added a ninth, unaffiliated member, selected by the board.

The courts didn’t like those ideas, either. Any of them.

A proposed state constitutional amendment to preserve changes to the elections and ethics board failed in November. Although Superior Court decisions from October ruled the board unconstitutional, midterm election voting had already started, the court kept the board in place until Dec. 3.

So, back to start.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, on Dec. 3 introduced House Bill 1117, which would reconfigure and split the Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

One element would be a five-member board overseeing the administration of elections. As with the original elections board, the governor would have control over appointments. Three of the five members would come from the governor’s party; state leaders in the other major party would nominate candidates for the two remaining spots.

County election boards would return to three members instead of four, with no more than two members coming from the same party. In odd-numbered years, the chair would be a member of the political party with the highest number of registered party affiliates, currently the Democratic party. During even-numbered years, the chair would be a member of the political party with the second-highest number of registered party affiliates, now the Republican party.

The second element would be an eight-member bipartisan board addressing ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying. Half the members would be appointed by the governor; the other half by state lawmakers.

Back to start.

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan are making efforts to usurp power from the respective incoming governors, who are Democrats. National writers and pundits are comparing those efforts to similar moves by N.C. Republicans two years ago.

North Carolina “wrote the playbook” to undermine democracy, a headline on one national news website reads.

Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University, told Carolina Journal’s Lindsay Marchello that it looks as if lawmakers are abandoning their quest for a bipartisan board of elections and ethics.

“If you’re going back to what the [2016] status quo was, that seems as uncontroversial of a position as you possibly can get,” Taylor said.

So be it.

The fact lawmakers — and the governor, too — spent two years doing expensive circles isn’t lost on us. It won’t be lost on taxpayers and voters, either. We certainly don’t want more government, nor should we spend more time in court.

It’s time to, well, get real. At some point we must stop governing and fighting solely for the sake of partisan labels. This two-year quagmire over the elections and ethics board was much like a mirror, held up to all involved.

And they all looked very small.

Categories: Public Policy

George H.W. Bush: patriot, statesman, president. RIP

Thu, 2018-12-06 01:44

When I reflect on the “Greatest Generation,” I’m always amazed at the selflessness which characterized them. Men and women stood tall, rolled up their sleeves — and fought in Europe and the Pacific, saving the world from tyranny.

They knew the stakes, they understood their mission in combat or back home, and fought or worked to support the war effort.

President George H. W. Bush, who passed away Friday at 94, truly personified that generation.

Service to country may have been instilled in George by his father Prescott Bush. Prescott served in World War I and had a distinguished career in both politics and business.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, George enlisted in the Navy and became a naval aviator at age 18. After completing a 10-month course, Bush was assigned to a torpedo squadron as the photographic officer. Later in 1943 he was promoted to lieutenant and piloted one of four Grumman TBM Avengers that attacked Japanese installations in the Bonnin Islands, specifically the island of Chichijima.

During the mission, the Avengers encountered very intense anti-aircraft fire. Bush’s plane was hit by flak and his engine caught fire. But Bush and his two-man crew continued and released their bombs over the target, inflicting several damaging hits on the enemy. Still in peril, Bush flew several miles away from the island when one member of his crew bailed out of the plane. Sadly, the man’s parachute did not open.

As Avenger’s engine failed, it is unclear which member of Bush’s crew bailed out with him, as both crew members were lost in battle that day. It was reported that Bush waited at least four hours in a life raft while several fighters circled overhead until a lifeguard submarine rescued him. During 1944 Bush flew 58 combat missions, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Home from the war, he got married and got his college degree. After college he became a successful wildcatter in the oil business and was a millionaire by age 40. He went on to become a U.S. congressman from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and director of the CIA, before running in 1980 for president in the Republican Party primary and being nominated as Ronald Reagan’s running mate.

After the Reagan-Bush ticket won, Bush became one of President Reagan’s most trusted and able advisers. Never seeking the limelight, Bush gave advice privately to Reagan. And in Bush, Reagan found a loyal soldier and friend.

After being elected president in 1988, Bush successfully prosecuted the mission to bring to justice Manuel Noriega — the drug-dealing dictator of Panama. And in a mere 100 hours, the coalition led by Bush against Saddam Hussein pushed Iraq’s military out of Kuwait and back to Baghdad. Bush also presided as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire collapsed.

While in office, the county experienced a mild recession, but by mid-1992 the country had its lowest interest rates and inflation in years, even though unemployment was the highest it had been since 1984.

In the 1992 presidential election, Bush lost to Bill Clinton by a margin of 43-to-37 percent. Independent candidate Ross Perot got 19 percent of the popular vote, votes most political observers think cost Bush a second term.

But consider this:

What would a second-term Bush presidency have looked like?

For sure, Bush’s first concern would have been for the country, and as president he would have continued to conduct himself with honor and grace.

Every day we lose more of the “Greatest Generation,” and with the passing of America’s 41st president, we are reminded of their selflessness, patriotism, and love of country.

Marc Rotterman is host of “Front Row with Marc Rotterman,” a weekly public affairs program on UNC Public Television and the NC Channel.

Categories: Public Policy

Silent Sam to get a fort

Wed, 2018-12-05 01:01

In response to the toppling in August of the Confederate Monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chancellor Carol Folt and other UNC leaders have proposed a controversial solution: a new $5.3 million building on campus that will cost $800,000 a year to operate.

Some are outraged that Silent Sam will be returning to UNC at all, as one of the exhibits in the new University and History Education Center. Others, inclined to defend the state’s Civil War heritage, dislike the idea of relocating the monument to a less-traveled corner of the campus. And taxpayers across the political spectrum are aghast at the multi-million-dollar cost.

North Carolinians ought to be outraged at that price tag — and the reason for it.

As the new report outlining the proposal makes clear, UNC considers itself quite literally besieged by radicals — many motivated by causes far afield from racial comity or historical accuracy, such as anti-capitalist revolution — who are willing “to use violence to further their political goal,” as one official put it.

Returning Silent Sam to its pedestal, the UNC team concluded, would produce repeated clashes with violent protesters that would pose constant threats to life, limb, and property. The report further concluded that “the capability of the UNC-Chapel Hill Campus Police Department to prevent civil disorder and violence is very limited.”

Although this observation was made without criticism, as a general statement about the inadequacy of campus law enforcement across the country, it rings a bit hollow for anyone who watched the video of Silent Sam’s toppling. Police officers did nothing to stop what was essentially a slow-motion crime happening before their eyes. Indeed, they seemed intentionally to stand back from it.

Why? Again, the report offered some clues. For one thing, because state universities are open to the public and routinely the site of nonviolent protests of various kinds, normal campus operations are poorly suited to the task of combatting the likes of cadres of masked anarchists with ropes and torches. The “crowd control tactics generally employed by law enforcement” to handle such threats “are fraught with sensitivities over any use of force by police” in places such as Chapel Hill.

For another thing, the protesters in question didn’t just show up with demolition equipment. “There was obvious evidence of preplanning and tactics that were designed to instigate violence between protest groups or draw an overreaction from law enforcement,” the report stated. “Objects such as smoke bombs, poles, frozen water bottles, paint balloons and metal objects were used by demonstrators as weapons.”

You have likely heard and will continue to hear lots of discussion about Julian Carr’s appalling speech at Silent Sam’s unveiling, what historical artifacts mean to various audiences today, the role of the state legislature in limiting the relocation of monuments, and alternative ways the university could have used the millions of dollars it proposes to spend on the University and Education Center (a concept, by the way, that has been on the drawing board for years).

But the immediate issue is the rule of law itself. Those desiring an alternative home for Silent Sam, or none at all, had a range of reasonable options available. They could have continued to press lawmakers to change the controlling statutes. If they truly believed the continued existence of the monument created a hostile educational environment under federal law, they could have sued. Or they could have brought greater public attention to their cause by engaging in true civil disobedience, such as sitting or standing around the monument and inviting arrest.

Instead, a mob took the law into its own hands, committing crimes while endangering participants and bystanders alike. Law enforcement was either powerless, unmotivated, or not allowed to stop the mob.

Silent Sam’s proposed new home will not be a shrine, as some critics have labeled it. It will be a fortress, built to fend off physical attack. Does that anger you? It should. As should the attackers who created this mess.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Categories: Public Policy