It’s Labor Day and the campaigns are in full swing. This week in CIB:
Campaign Watch: Sierra Club Endorses Morgan; Coal Ash, Climate Change Become Issues in Governor’s Race
Just in time for the traditional Labor Day “start” of the general election, the environment is drawing increased attention in key statewide contests.
Sierra Club Endorses Morgan: The campaign of Judge Michael Morgan announced last week that he has received the endorsement of the NC Chapter of the Sierra Club in the sole contest for a state Supreme Court seat on the ballot this fall. Morgan, an experienced state Superior Court judge in Wake County, is running for the seat currently held by Associate Justice Robert Edmunds. The Sierra Club had previously announced its endorsement of Morgan for the special primary election held June 7.
The seven-member NC Supreme Court is currently divided politically between three Democrats and four Republicans (including Edmunds). The Edmunds seat is regarded as the potential “swing vote” on the interpretation of a number of policy issues potentially before the Court, including various environmental laws and disputes. The NC General Assembly had sought to shield Edmunds’ seat from a contested election with multiple candidates, but that effort failed earlier this year. A state Appeals Court panel ruled that the NC state constitution requires that court seats be subject to elections in which there is an open filing opportunity for more than one candidate. The Appeals Court struck down as unconstitutional the so-called “retention election” in which the only vote would have been for or against the retention of Edmunds. On appeal to the NC Supreme Court, that decision was upheld on a 3-3 split vote, with Edmunds abstaining due to the personal conflict of interest.
A number of state political and policy observers call the Morgan-Edmunds judicial contest the second-most important one in North Carolina this year, behind only the race for governor.
Coal Ash, Climate Change Become Issues in Governor’s Race: Two environmental hot topics have hit the news in connection with the contest for NC governor.
First, the issue of the McCrory Administration’s political interference with public warnings about toxic well water is the subject of a new ad by the Roy Cooper campaign. The ad points to attacks on the state toxicologist and the resignation in protest by the state epidemiologist.
Second, Cooper called last week for North Carolina to convene a range of stakeholder groups to write a consensus plan for meeting the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan. That plan is a key part of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Obama Administration’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are pushing climate change. Cooper issued that call, and criticized the McCrory Administration and state lawmakers for their decision to instead fight the Clean Power Plan in court, at an event in Asheville. The event itself was held to announce the endorsement of Cooper for governor by the political arm of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).
Judicial Watch: Voter Suppression Law Will Not Be in Effect this Fall
The 2013 state law imposing a voter photo identification requirement and eliminating popular voting tools will NOT be in effect for this fall’s general elections in North Carolina. As a result, NC voters can continue to take advantage of extended early voting days, same-day registration and voting during the early voting period, and ‘out-of-precinct’ voting in which voters who accidentally go to the wrong precinct on election day will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted.
Voters also will not be required to show a photo identification before they can vote. Instead, the same rules regarding identification that have been in place without problems for multiple election cycles will remain in place. (Voters must state their address and sign an affirmation that it is their place of residence and they are who they say they are. Voter identity fraud is essentially non-existent in North Carolina.)
All these pre-existing voter rules, which helped to drive a large increase in voting participation in North Carolina for the past several election cycles, will be in place because of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals earlier this summer. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over cases from North Carolina, struck down the 2013 voting changes law passed by the state legislature. The Court ruled that the law was passed with discriminatory intent against African-American voters, who disproportionately use those voting tools, and thus violated federal law.
North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory sought an ’emergency’ order from the U.S. Supreme Court to put the Appeals Court’s ruling on hold until after this election. Last week, the Supreme Court failed to grant that hold, on a four-to-four tie vote. (There is one vacancy on the normally nine-member Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate leadership has refused for months to hold confirmation hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacant seat of the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.)
Despite the victories in court for early voting, some county boards of election are trying to cut back on early voting hours and polling places. County plans have all been submitted to the State Board of Elections (SBOE), which will determine which plans to approve soon. Today (Monday, September 5) is the last day for public comments to the SBOE on these county early voting plans. Comments can be submitted online until 5 p.m. today. Support is needed for broad early voting hours and polling places. Take action using this link.
Legislative Watch: New Environmental Center Gets Interim Director
As reported over the past three weeks, a special environmental policy center is to be set up at UNC-Chapel Hill, created and funded by the state legislature through a previously little-noticed provision buried in the state budget bill. Of particular concern, the science and energy policy advisor to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is rumored to be a leading candidate for the director’s post of the center, to be called the “North Carolina Policy Collaboratory.”
Last week, the university announced that its chief sustainability officer, Brad Ives, would act as interim director and lead the process of hiring permanent staff. Others at the university continued to express concern regarding the unusual political process used to create the new center, and the prospect that it would be used to produce politically convenient results instead of sound science.
That concern is shared more broadly around our state, including by editorial observers. For example, the Wilmington Star-News last week called for keeping politics out of science in our state and our state university system.
That sounds like a great idea to us.
Coast Watch: Red Wolf Recovery Program in Jeopardy
Restoration of the endangered red wolf to part of its historic natural range in coastal North Carolina has been an ongoing flagship species recovery effort for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) since 1987. After an initial successful period, the program has fallen on hard times and is now in jeopardy of cancellation and failure. Lawsuits are in progress, political attacks have grown, and a key USFWS decision may be announced any day. See environmental reporter Lisa Sorg’s article for a brief history of the program and its challenges here.
Conservationists: Conservation Achievement Awards
NCLCV is a sponsor of the NC Wildlife Federation’s (NCWF) annual Conservation Achievement Awards dinner this Saturday evening, September 10, in Cary. NCWF presents these awards each year to recognize the contributions of leaders and citizens across our state to the protection of our air, water, land, and wildlife resources. For a list and summary of this year’s honorees, click here. For more information on the program, including tickets, see here.
That’s our report for this week.