Sen. Josh Stein Debates NC Voting Restrictions

Sen. Josh Stein, Democrat from Wake County, is considered a rising star in the Democratic party. His debate with Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) on the legality, fairness, and the necessity of voting restrictions in North Carolina spanned the final three days of the Senate's 2013 session, culminating in the passage of the most restrictive voting law in the United States, HB 589, which awaits a signature by Gov. Pat McCrory (R). McCrory has said he has not read the legislation but intends to sign it.

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"We are not enemies, but friends."

LINCOLN1.jpgLet's remember that it's okay if we disagree. We are not meant to create uniformity in America. Diversity makes us strong.

We do, however, need a process that is truly representative of We the People so that we feel that our voices have been heard. That process is failing us and many Americans from all sides are feeling strangled and fed up. That process must include not only transparency, fair and clean elections, it must include opportunities for the public to be part of the deliberation. 

Tragically, we keep going to war with each other over specific policies and we leave the battlefields wounded and bitterly angry with each other. This prevents us from uniting as We the People to restore self-governance.

How about if we focused on improving the representative process? Most people don't feel represented given our current process. 

We must learn from the lessons of the past. As Lincoln implored us to do in 1861 in his Inaugural Address, we must be friends, not enemies. 
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
We must call on the better angels of our nature and insist on reason, civility, tolerance, compassion and democracy. We must recognize and value each other as We the People. If we are fractured and don't value each other, our governments and corporations will feel no pressure to value us.
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Voting Restrictions in North Carolina — 6 Arrested

The-House-Votes-sm.jpg11:32 pm July 25:  The North Carolina House voted to accept the changes made by the Senate to HB 589, originally a Voter ID bill. The vote was on party line, with every Republican voting for it and every Democrat voting against it.

During more than two hours of debate, only one Republican stood up to defend the bill as amended by the Senate. Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) had been credited by many, including us, for holding three extensive hearings to get public and expert input on the voter ID bill. I was curious to see how he would respond to the host of voting restrictions added to his bill by Senate Republicans (see below). He defended them vigorously, but I couldn't help but wonder, "If Rep. Lewis had wanted all these measures that make it harder to vote, why hadn't he put them in the bill in the first place?"  

Those Democrats who had voted the bill out of the House earlier in the session — I counted three, but it could have been two (it's been a long day) — said that they appreciated the care that was taken in the House version to enact a Voter ID law without, in their opinion, unduly disenfranchising poor, elderly, disabled, and minority voters. But, they each said they could not vote to concur with the Senate version due to the changes that were made to the Voter ID provisions, and, due to the other restrictions that were added. 

As the vote was being recorded, several of the Democrats held hands in a circle in deference to the civil rights struggle to expand the right to vote, most of them having expressed their belief that a tragic setback was taking place before their eyes, one they were helpless to prevent. During the debate, African American, Native American, and female representatives recalled civil rights struggles, including struggles in their own lives and in their parents' lives. Toward the end of the debate, Rep. Becky Carney (D-Mecklenburg) begged her Republican colleagues to consider the emotion being expressed by some of the older Democratic representatives who had fought in the civil rights movement such as Rep. Henry M. Michaux, Jr (D-Durham). In general, Democrats seemed to be asking their more conservative colleagues to consider the judgement of history.

Unlike in the Senate chamber, which was combative and included many interruptions ("Would Sen. ___ yield for a question?" "Not at this time."), Democrats spoke to their colleagues in a way that was familial, even gentle and caring at times. And, for two hours, the Republicans were silent, replying only with their eyes. Many listened intently, while others stared down at their phones and computers. Whereas in the Senate, I filmed several Republicans rolling their eyes when the rights of minorities were mentioned, in the House, I felt as if the sorrow to my left was shared among (at least) some of the members on my right.

Listening to the Democrats' pleas, it was almost as if two school children, secretly friends during after-school hours, were being challenged by a bully on the playground who was victimizing one thanks to the silent consent of the other. "Why won't you stand up for me," they seemed to be saying, "my secret friend?" House Democrats implored their Republican colleagues to reject the Senate's 44 pages of additional regulations, stand by version they had crafted in the House, and send it back to the Senate for more consideration.

Marcus-Brandon-sm.jpg"Why would you let their principles overcome your principles, and what you know is right and what you know is wrong?" Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) said.

The House will be in session until midnight, and then reconvene at 9 am for other, less controversial business. We filmed some interviews on the House floor and the Senate floor during recesses, and are hanging around to see if we can grab one or two more when the House adjourns.  [We did get two more interviews after the session ended not long after midnight. In all, we interviewed 3 Republicans (including Senate Majority Leader Berger and Rep. Lewis) and 3 Democrats (including Rep. Michaux).] 

8:02 pm July 25:  HB 589 is now being debated on the North Carolina House floor.  The House unanimously voted to accept the two, bipartisan amendments that came back from the Senate.  Prior to that, a party-line vote defeated a motion by Democrats to delay debate in order to study the nearly 44 additional pages that were added by the Senate to what had been a Voter ID bill, only.

House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) announced that debate would be limited to 2 hours. 90 minutes allotted to the minority, and 30 minutes allotted to the majority. Because HB 589 was already passed out of the House, this is a concurrence vote — a vote to agree to the 44 pages added to the bill by the Senate (see below).
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is marching from the General Assembly building to the office of Gov. McCrory (R) in order to demand that he veto the Motorcycle Safety (abortion restriction) bill that passed the Senate about an hour ago.
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"Thankful Tuesday" rally - GOP response to Moral Monday

Thankful-Tuesday-md.jpgOn July 16, 2013, the Republican party of North Carolina and the Moccasin Creek Minutemen hosted a rally to respond to the ongoing Moral Monday protests, and, to thank Republican lawmakers for many of the same policies that Moral Monday participants gather to criticize.

North Carolina residents who attended the "Thankful Tuesday" rally told us they did so to show that there is public support for the NC Republican party's legislative agenda. All seemed concerned and frustrated by the narrative of sustained public outcry over the past 3 months led by the Moral Monday movement. Although some in the conservative community warned that a rally in response to Moral Monday could backfire, organizers went forward with the event, which they said they put together in only a week. Dozens of lawmakers and lobbyists attended, many of them taking the stage to address a crowd of over 100.

We were glad to be able to document a new speech by Glen Bradley, a "Ron Paul Republican" whom Story of America first interviewed back in January. Bradley served one term in the North Carolina House before being gerrymandered out of office, he says, by fellow Republicans who felt he did not stay sufficiently on script.

The topics of Bradley's speech did indeed diverge from the slate of issues put forth by Americans for Prosperity and Right to Life lobbyists, and by Bradley's former colleagues in the General Assembly. He was introduced with an interesting quip that revealed the fact that North Carolina Republican party had to be consulted for permission before Bradley was invited to speak.

This video contains excerpts from remarks by Dallas Woodhouse of the anti-tax lobbying institution, Americans for Prosperity, and by Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life:

Woodhouse used a football analogy to argue that the existing tax code, as well as environmental laws and safety regulations that limit the profits of corporations in North Carolina, were a losing playbook to be blamed on Democrats. The new playbook being pursued by the Republican party, he said, would put North Carolina "back in the game" by lowering taxes and weakening regulations.

Holt focused on a host of new abortion restrictions, which she said had never been possible until this group of lawmakers were elected in the last two cycles.

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Epic Debate in NC Senate on Sharia Law/Abortion Bill 7/3/13

Note: There are two videos about what happened Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at the NC General Assembly when the Senate voted on HB 695 "Faith, Family and Freedom Protection Act": One documenting what happened inside the Senate chamber and one documenting what happened outside the Senate chamber after the vote. 

As they near the close of the 2013 session, North Carolina Republican senators pulled together a bill (HB 695 "The Faith, Family and Freedom Protection Act) that combines a law prohibiting the recognition of Sharia law in family courts with dramatic restrictions on abortion access.

On July 3rd, with less than 14 hours of notice given to the public, the NC Senate passionately debated and then voted for the bil. along party lines and passed the bill. 

Twitter and Facebook exploded with outrage. Between 8pm on July 2nd and 9am on July 3rd, NARAL and Planned Parenthood led the online mobilization. Hundreds of men and women showed up at the General Assembly to witness and protest. Wearing pink and purple in solidarity against the bill, they were armed with smart phones, sharing their comments and images on the web. 

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