Free and Proper Elections

NCFPE Poltical Blog and News Tracker

Free and Proper Elections - NCFPE Poltical Blog and News Tracker

North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections

Welcome to the North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections Political Action Committee. There are two questions that we would like you and every other citizen of the great Tar Heel state of North Carolina to ask themselves. First, is the right to vote your conscience one of the citizens’ most basic rights inherent in our Republican form of government? Second, can any level of government rightfully abridge or deny it’s citizens the right to vote specifically based on political affiliation?

As a grass-roots group of concerned citizens in North Carolina, we feel that the answer is obvious. We believe that the right to vote one’s conscience is a valuable and inherent right that our servicemen and women have died to protect over the past two and one half centuries; the right to choose who represents you. So, in return, we strongly believe that that no level of government has any authority to abridge the citizen’s right to vote based on political affiliation. Yet, that is exactly what has continued to happen for over one hundred years now by our state’s policy makers.

In 1901, the state of North Carolina enacted the first ballot access law, along with the implementation of the state printed ballot (called the Australian Ballot). This first ballot access law was simply the definition of a political party recognized by the state. Yet, North Carolina started off with a bang, requiring parties to have garnered at least 50,000 votes in the 1900 General Election to remain a ballot-recognized party in the state, automatically establishing a Republican-Democratic duopoly from the beginning of the state-printed ballot.

Now, over 100 years after the implementation of the state-regulated ballot, North Carolina has revised its laws regulating who can and cannot get on the ballot numerous times and still we do not truly have free elections as required by the North Carolina State Constitution which reads in Article I Section 10: “All elections shall be free.” We ask ourselves why our representatives do not represent us, why they promise one thing on the campaign trail and then deliver nothing in office, why can we not trust them. We at the North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections, believe that it is a result of the unfair and restrictive ballot access laws which nearly ensure that only the two major parties have an equal chance on election day by making it nearly impossible to gain access to the ballot, allowing the two major parties to run unopposed by third party or unaffiliated candidates in most elections.

What people forget, and neglect to understand, is that in pre-1900 America, elections where generally free and equal; third political parties had a chance and they undertook important, meaningful roles in early-American politics. They served as agents of change and progress, ensuring that issues such as women’s suffrage and the abolishment of slavery were on the table, whereas the two major parties would have otherwise failed to act. Yet, since those grand old days when the citizens and political parties printed the ballots themselves and were able to vote their conscience, things have changed, but regretfully, not for the better.

Please help us to spread the word across the state of North Carolina about these unconstitutional statutes which deprive the citizens of their basic right to vote. The North Carolina citizen needs to be made aware of the problem of ballot access restrictions that have plagued freedom, and real political progress since 1901. We encourage everyone to look around the website, learn more about the ballot issue, and see what you can do to make North Carolina free again. For without freedom we are but pawns and slaves to government, and without the right to vote there is no freedom, just a privilege with the illusion of freedom.

The North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections is a Political Action Committee which will work to:

-Educate the people of North Carolina about the state’s unconstitutional and burdensome restrictions on third political parties and unaffiliated candidates.

-Push for change and progress in the North Carolina General Assembly and US Congress to free the ballot and level the playing field for all candidates.

-Inform the people of where their candidates for elected office stand on the ballot issue.

Doing right by Syria’s refugees

Against the toxic brew of fear and political opportunism that has enveloped America’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis stand principles of compassion and common sense. The N.C. Council of Churches is proud to embrace those principles and to support a clear-eyed yet generous policy toward the resettlement of refugees from Syria in this country. These are people who, at great peril, are fleeing even greater peril at the hands of the vicious Islamic State radicals seeking to rule large swaths of the Mideast. While a suitable response to the refugees’ plight of course calls for cooperation on a global scale, the Council believes we should be guided by Christian precepts of care for the needy and the dispossessed in welcoming a reasonable number of these war victims – for that’s what they are – to our nation and our state. How sad that so many of our elected leaders are willing to disregard not only the teachings of their own religion, the Christianity they flaunt when it serves their purposes, but also America’s secular traditions of welcome to those who need to find a port in the storms of life. No, this isn’t about throwing our borders wide open or failing to exercise sensible cautions about whom to admit. It’s about honoring the spirit of a country founded by immigrants and enriched by untold numbers of people who fled turmoil and danger abroad. That spirit has not always carried the day, but still it endures. Must the Statue of Liberty now be so callously mocked? President Obama has taken a prudent, measured and humane approach to the crisis. The U.S. would accept in the range of 10,000 refugees from Syria, out of a pool that totals in the millions. Naturally there is a screening process to guard against the possibility that America-hating terrorists might exploit the chance to come here in the guise of refugees and wreak havoc. That process is lengthy and, if past results are any sign, effective. Governors at the gates Several of the nation’s governors, including North Carolina’s Pat McCrory, have been quick to criticize the Obama policy as too risky. True, their opposition coalesced after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris in which dozens died. Fear that those awful scenes might be replayed somewhere in the U.S. obviously can’t be dismissed out of hand, and vigilance must be maintained. Yet when every prospective refugee is put through a months-long wringer of applications and background checks – and when so many of the refugees are women and children, unlikely terrorists to say the least – the governors’ concerns seem overblown. The same can be said about opposition to the refugee policy arising chiefly among Republicans in the U.S. House with some support from Democrats who also would rather surrender to unreasoning fears than balance safety with compassion – and also with pragmatism. Surely America cannot be a credible leader in the struggle against Islamic extremism if it acts as though every Muslim – even those for whom the notion of jihad against non-believers is a cruel perversion of Islam, even those fleeing for their lives – is just waiting for the chance to strap on a suicide vest and go “shopping” at an American mall. It’s hard to ignore the political calculations that may have gone into McCrory’s stance. He and his fellow Republicans think they’ve had a good day whenever they can find a bone to pick with the president, a Democrat who incites a particular kind of virulent dislike among many conservatives. And with McCrory looking ahead to a difficult re-election campaign, he could well be figuring that any refugee policy backed by Obama is one he’d be smart to attack. What a shame that Democratic state Attorney General Roy Cooper, McCrory’s likely opponent next year, couldn’t bring himself to call the governor out for his pandering and in fact took a position that boiled down to “Me too!” Our welcome mat North Carolina, with church-goers and other people of good will playing important roles, has been a leader in the resettlement of refugees from countries shadowed by war, violence and disaster. Our hospitality has been repaid as new residents have done what they needed to do to take their places as contributing members of their communities. There’s simply no reason to think that a modest number of Syrians settling here – after satisfying all the protocols of the Department of Homeland Security – pose any tangible threat or could not fit in just as well as many other refugees have done. McCrory actually wants the federal government not to channel any Syrians to North Carolina. Better that our governor should pledge his administration’s support in helping these refugees, like others before them, succeed in adapting to their new home. The N.C. Council of Churches has long emphasized fair, decent treatment of immigrants as a core Christian responsibility, drawing on Jesus’ teaching that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Refugees from violence, as opposed to those immigrants who can be called economic refugees, exert an even stronger claim on our aid and comfort. Using hypothetical risks of terrorism as a reason to exclude people fleeing war’s barbarities in a battle zone such as Syria simply plays to hate-tinged views that color the whole immigration debate, with anti-Hispanic sentiment being joined by anti-Muslim. At the national level, the group Faith in Public Life has summoned a broad call of opposition to the efforts of McCrory and other governors to derail Syrian refugee resettlement in their states. “Our elected officials have a responsibility to protect the nation, but turning away families who risk their lives to escape the destruction of war is unnecessary and wrong,” the group says. “America can prevent attacks without turning our backs on desperate refugees.” The group’s statement is signed by some 1,500 local faith leaders, including Jennifer Copeland, the N.C. Council’s executive director. It goes on to say, “We stand in support of public officials and faith communities who have answered the call to take in refugees. Our nation’s elected leaders, citizens and service agencies should follow these examples and uphold the values that make America a nation that people around the world have risked their lives to reach.” This is an effort in which North Carolinians should be glad to do their part. Steve Ford, former editorial page editor at Raleigh’s News & Observer, is now a Volunteer Program Associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches. ***Above image of Syrian refugee children by Russell Watkin is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Rucho’s revealing words about public schools

The most telling words spoken at this week’s meeting of the General Assembly‘s top oversight committee had nothing to do with the pay to play scandal in the McCrory Administration, the ridiculous process used by the UNC Board of Governors to give chancellors big raises, or the shameful pandering by the governor about Syrian refugees. Instead they came from Senator Bob Rucho during testimony by leaders of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools who were summoned to Raleigh to defend their efforts to lessen the stigmatizing effect of the A-F school grading system created by the General Assembly. Rucho scolded the officials for their efforts and then explained in no uncertain terms why the grading was developed in the first place. “What it was always designed to be is to show that the (public school) system has failed and we’re out fixing it,” Rucho said. It is hard to be any clearer than that. Rucho likes the A-F grading system because he thinks it shows that public schools have failed. But what it actually shows is where low-income kids go to school. School grades are determined by a formula with test scores counting for 80 percent and growth in scores for only 20 percent. That means schools that start out far behind, most often schools with high percentages of low-income students, have very little chance of earning a high grade regardless of how much they improve. That’s why 97 percent of schools that earned a D or F have a majority of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.   And it’s also why many advocates on the Right and Left have called for an adjustment in the formula so low-income schools who improve are not stigmatized with a failing grade. Rucho and the rest of the Senate leadership don’t want to hear that and they refused to consider House proposals this past legislative session to change the formula. Giving schools failing grades appears to be the objective. They bristled when the officials with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools explained that the sanctions for principals that come with the failing grades undermine efforts to help the students at the low-income schools. Why would a star principal ever move to a school that was struggling if he or she could be sanctioned if their new school didn’t get a higher letter grade in two years because of a formula that makes the improvement almost impossible? But that’s not the point, as an exchange between the local officials and Senator Chad Barefoot made clear. Barefoot wanted to know why the local school officials were bumping up some schools by one letter grade based on growth when that would make them ineligible for extra attention under the law. But as the officials told the committee, the schools do not lose any extra help from the state because there is none available. There are sanctions and stigmas for D and F schools in the law, not more funding or extra personnel. Listening to Senate leaders browbeat the school officials made the motivation clear. And so did Rucho’s additional comments that he wants parents to know “exactly what they are getting and then at some point give them an opportunity to choose where they want to educate their child.” In other words, expand the entirely unaccountable school voucher scheme that diverts public money to private and religious schools, which are not part of the grading system at all. No one knows how well students are performing. Or lower the bar for academic achievement for charter schools, an effort that is now underway. And on top of it all, underfund the same traditional public schools that Rucho is so certain are failing. End funding for 7,500 teacher assistants that help kids read, spend $500 less per pupil than in 2008 when adjusted for inflation, and refuse to give most veteran teachers a raise. That’s what Rucho and his colleagues have done, made it harder for teachers and schools to succeed so they can attack them when they struggle. And a proposal to turn some low-performing schools to over to for-profit charter companies is on the way. No wonder they are upset with the leaders of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and other education officials across the state who are still working every day to help kids learn and to make our traditional public schools better instead of dismantling them. Rucho simply can’t stand for that.

New report: Raising public employee wages helps balance budgets and boost the economy

When public sector workers can afford the basics, cities and local governments prosper Raising wages for municipal and county employees lets workers afford the basics, boosts the economy, and helps local governments balance their budgets, a new report finds. That’s why dozens of states and local communities across the nation have recognized that the federal minimum wage simply doesn’t pay enough for families to cover their everyday needs and have acted to establish better wages by enacting living wage policies. Municipal and county governments in North Carolina have already seized the opportunity to join this national movement and take positive action to raise wages for workers living in their communities. Local governments in Greensboro, Greenville, Asheville, Durham, and Wake County have all enacted living wage increases for their own public employees, while a dozen other municipal and county governments have wage floors well above the national minimum wage of $7.25. Also known as “living-wage” jobs, these economy-boosting jobs allow workers to earn enough to afford the basics—to put food on the table, pay the rent, put gas in the car, and cover childcare expenses. When that happens, workers help boost sales and profits for local businesses and, in turn, the entire economy, the report finds. “Despite recent state legislation that limits local government authority, cities and counties still have the opportunity to raise the wages of their own public employees,” said Allan Freyer, director of the Workers’ Rights Project at the NC Justice Center and co-author of the report. “At a time when most of the jobs we’re creating don’t pay workers enough to afford the basics, this strategy can play an important role in combatting wage stagnation by increasing the supply of jobs that pay a living wage and boost the economy.” The report also finds that: Most local governments recognize that current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour doesn’t provide workers with enough to afford the basics or boost the economy. As a result, many have enacted wage floors well above this minimum level (see charts for how your local government stacks up against everyone else). Yet even many of these wage floors still don’t allow workers to afford the basics according to the Living Income Standard, a conservative market-based measure of what it really takes to make ends meet in North Carolina. That’s why so many local governments are enacting “living wage” policies that explicitly allow their workers to earn enough. Unfortunately, years of state and local budget cuts have reduced the number of public employees by 14,000 since 2009 and driven down their wages to the point where City and County workers in North Carolina earn less than their private sector counterparts. Public employee wages have fallen by almost $2,800 per worker over this period. Because local government is usually one of the major employers in most counties across the state, this represents a major challenge for local communities, which are already experiencing the loss of economy-boosting jobs as the state’s manufacturing base continues to vanish. This challenging trend will only continue to hold down private sector wages, as the total supply of economy-boosting jobs in local communities remains depressed along with consumer spending. Household income is down $1,600 since 2009, and the majority of jobs created since then don’t pay enough to make ends meet. Raising wages for local government employees plays an important role in balancing local budgets in the long-term. Greater consumer spending improves sales tax revenue collections, while rising incomes contribute to higher home prices and higher property tax collections. In effect, broad-based economic growth achieved by rising wages also puts local governments on sounder fiscal footing, ensuring financial sustainability for public programs that promote vibrant communities such as housing, transportation, and social services. “Raising wages for public employees is good for local budgets and the economy,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “The choice to cut state taxes has held down public sector and private sector wages alike. Local government workers have seen their wages fall to nearly $2,800 less per year than before the Great Recession: this has held back their spending locally, limiting the economy’s ability to reach its full potential.” Click here to read “The power of wage policies: How raising public sector wages can promote living incomes and boost North Carolina’s economy.”

What would the Pat McCrory of 2008 think of the current culture of corruption in Raleigh?

A couple of weeks before the 2008 gubernatorial election, then candidate Pat McCrory released what his campaign described as a detailed reform plan to end the “culture of corruption” he said was a major problem under the previous Democratic administrations in Raleigh. The plan included a five-section-long executive order that he would issue if was elected and a seven-part legislative agenda. The introduction to the specific policy proposals included this promise. “In North Carolina, ‘it’s time for a change’ is not just a campaign slogan…it’s a necessity. As governor, I will shake up state government by establishing a culture of honesty, integrity and transparency. Corruption and fraud will not be tolerated. Public service will be conducted ethically and without undue favor.”  McCrory lost the 2008 election but returned to the theme in his successful 2012 campaign, often saying he was running to end the culture of corruption in Raleigh. Last month, the Raleigh News & Observer and Charlotte Observer reported that in 2014 Gov. McCrory called a meeting between campaign donor Graeme Keith, Sr. and administration officials to discuss Keith’s $3 million contract for prison maintenance that was set to expire at the end of the year. A memo of the meeting prepared by McCrory’s own appointees says that McCrory opened the meeting and then turned things over to Keith who reminded state officials that he had contributed money to politicians and expected something in return. McCrory claimed he was engaged in a side conversation and didn’t hear the remarks but most people at the meeting heard them, including McCrory’s Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry who said Keith mentioned his donations again in another meeting and a separate telephone conversation. The news accounts cited documents, text messages and on-the-record interviews showing that McCrory’s Budget Director Lee Roberts and Chief of Staff Thomas Stith pushed hard to get Keith’s contract renewed and it was, over the objections of Perry and other top officials in his department. The FBI is now investigating. So much for all that talk about undue favor and corruption not being tolerated. The News & Observer also reported recently that the Highway Patrol launched a crackdown in Surry County on trucks parking on the side of the road after another prominent donor to McCrory’s campaign with a winery in the area met with the governor and complained about it. Several media outlets reported in September that federal officials were investigating questionable personal services contracts and other administrative decisions in McCrory’s Department of Health and Human Services. McCrory has blamed the media and partisan Democrats for the scandals, though Democrats didn’t write the memos about the political contributions or issue the sketchy personal services contracts. McCrory’s own people did that. As for the media, candidate McCrory and his campaign frequently cited news accounts of investigations into the Democratic Administrations as evidence of the corruption he was going to eliminate. Media accounts of ethical problems in his administration are apparently different and motivated by an agenda to discredit him. McCrory’s 2008 proposal included a call for the creation of an Office of Open Government “to assure full and prompt compliance with N.C.’s open government and public record laws and to provide training to executive agencies on accountability and transparency.” Not only has no open government office been created, a group of media organizations (including NC Policy Watch’s parent organization, the N.C. Justice Center) has filed a lawsuit against the McCrory Administration for its failure to fulfill public record requests. Also in candidate McCrory’s 2008 policy platform was a plan for a news conference every two weeks where McCrory would take questions from reporters. No regular news conferences have been held and McCrory has recently adopted the practice of leaving public events out of side doors to avoid answering questions from journalists who attend. There’s plenty more worth remembering in candidate McCrory’s plan, like his pledge to veto any state budget that includes items added in private sessions and not included by the House or Senate during the regular budget process.  Virtually every budget McCrory has signed would qualify for a veto under that promise but he has signed every one of them. Legislative leaders violated their own rules and McCrory’s pledge this year by removing a provision from the final budget that had passed both the House and Senate that would have ended Graeme Keith’s private prison contract. That came after Keith called Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Add it all up and it turns out that contrary to McCrory’s claim otherwise seven years ago, the time for a change to clean up the culture of corruption was indeed just a campaign slogan. That’s what the 2008 version of Pat McCrory would say. Too bad he’s still not around.