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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NC Sen. Bob Rucho calls out lobbyists and breaks with fellow Republican leaders over taxes

The Republican leaders in North Carolina are currently engaged in a power struggle over taxes and budget with one conservative leader resigning from a powerful leadership position while calling out corruption. 

In North Carolina, the first time since the Reconstruction era, the Republican Party has super majority in both the House and the Senate of the General Assembly and there is a new Republican governor eager to prove himself on the national stage. It seems that the Republican Party of NC had seen this political situation as an historic opportunity to create a model of conservative reform for the nation.

Now, there is a bump in that aspiration and story. The House Republicans, Senate Republicans, uncompromising conservatives among Senate Republicans, and Republican Governor Pat McCrory are in fight over the budget and how to rewrite state tax laws. 

At the center of the fight is Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) who recently resigned as Co-Chair of the Senate Fiance Committee in protest. Sen. Rucho labored for over nine months to find a way to overhaul the current tax system so that it's in line with the conservative philosophy.

That philosophy is that taxes should be "low, simple and equal" according to Sen. Rucho. And, the best way to achieve this is through eliminating the income tax and taxing consumption including services, and closing all loopholes. As Rucho puts it this way, "Everyone should be treated the same. No one gets special treatment." 

Rucho contends that every one of the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee actually believes that this kind of massive overhaul of the tax system is needed and that the reason why that this is out of reach right now is entirely due to the influence of paid lobbyists representing powerful industries such as realtors and hospitals, i.e., corruption. 

When Senate leader Phil Berger introduced his own compromise tax plan on June 11th taking Rucho's plan off the table, Rucho resigned in a letter a few days later.

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3 arrested, Media Expelled from NC Governor's Office

The Raleigh State Capitol police expelled the media from the capitol dome on Wed. June 26, prior to arresting 3 men who refused to leave, and after Gov. Pat McCrory chose not to meet with a group of 50 North Carolina residents asking him to veto a slate of bills they see as mean-spirited and extreme.

3_unarrested.jpgThose arrested were Hudson Vaughan, Joshua Vincent, and Rob Stephens (field director for the NC NAACP). Story of America film directors Annabel Park and Eric Byler were shut out of the building, along with 2 local news crews, 2 citizen journalists, a print journalist, NAACP's staff videographer. 

About an hour later, with the 3 men still inside, Chief Glen B. Allen, the state capitol police chief, came out to speak to NAACP attorney Jamie Phillips. Members of the press, and about 20 of the protesters, had been waiting outside the capitol's north entrance after seeing a police officer park a car there, presumably to transport the detainees.

Chief Allen said he was trying to convince the men to leave on their own volition. He said that he would allow Phillips to come into the building to observe if it became necessary to arrest the men. He also said that he would allow the media to observe. 

However, after the arrests were made and the men were handcuffed, they were hurried to the south entrance of the capitol building in order to avoid the media. It seems clear to me that the decision to "un-arrest" the men and issue them citations instead was part of an effort to avoid media exposure. But Chief Allen told Phillips that it was for public safety reasons.

4 KEY MOMENTS

6:21 - Chief Allen says, "If the media is interested in staying, we'll let you know when we're about to do it. We'll bring them out, probably."

6:59 - The door to the state capitol opens and a head peeks out.

7:08 - Forward Together movement organizer Laurel Ashton receives a phone call alerting her that the 3 detainees are being ushered to the opposite side of the building.

7:25 - Rob Stephens explains it was the sight of the media waiting outside that caused them capitol police to remove their handcuffs and "un-arrest" them, issuing citations instead. This corroborates what our camera captured at 6:59, when the door opened and a head peeked out at the north entrance. Moments later, the detainees were released using the south entrance.

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