scharrison's blog

Ted Budd's hold on Congressional seat just got more tenuous

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His race against Kathy Manning is now a toss-up:

This matchup may be the biggest culture clash in the country: Budd is a gun store owner and first-term Freedom Caucus member who homeschools his children in rural Davie County. Wealthy Democratic philanthropist Kathy Manning was the chief fundraiser for Greensboro's $78 million performing arts center scheduled to open next year. If ever there was a race that's "all about that base," this is it.

It's also behaving like open seat: Budd remains relatively unknown and undefined after winning this seat in 2016 with just 20 percent of the vote in the crowded GOP primary and some help from the Club for Growth. And even though the district voted for President Trump 53 percent to 44 percent, Greensboro may be energized and there aren't compelling statewide races to turn out rural GOP voters.

If there's any single "key" to this race (and a lot of others) it's turnout. While Kathy Manning may not be the ideal candidate for progressives, her campaign is vigorous and well-funded. And at the end of the day, when you're running against an empty-suit demagogue who will likely have a lot of money pouring in during the final stretch, having the ability to ramp up your advertising at the last minute is critical. Also, people who pose with their gun while trying to sport a "warm and welcoming" smile are at least three sandwiches shy of a picnic. True story.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Here come the sludge

And this will be fouling the Neuse River for a long time to come:

Matthew Starr had paddled only a half mile of a stretch of Neuse River near Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro when he saw initial signs that something had gone very wrong. “There was exposed coal ash on trees, floating in the river, on the road,” said Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “There was coal ash lying on the ground. We scooped it up out of the water.”

Flooding from Hurricane Florence had drowned two inactive coal ash basins in five feet of water. The active basins, according to state regulators, were structurally sound, but the Half Mile Branch Creek, according to images published by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was flowing through the inactive basin complex, which is covered in trees and other vegetation. Cenospheres, hollow balls of silica and aluminum that are coal ash byproducts, were floating on the water. But cenospheres are not entirely innocuous; they often contain arsenic and lead, just like the coal they came from.

This is one of the coal ash sites Duke Energy was ordered to relocate, but in late 2016 they sought for and received approval to recycle that ash instead. In other words, it shouldn't have been there to leak out. At least not in the volume it did. But of course that "volume" is hard to quantify, since we can't trust Duke Energy to be honest about its reporting:

Tuesday Twitter roundup

Talk about getting it bass-ackwards:

This is a "balance of powers" argument, which (of course) fails to address the invasive elephant in the room: Republicans in the General Assembly have taken numerous steps to erode the powers of that Governor, taking away not only his "relevance" but also his ability to provide a counterpoint to their often regressive policies. And they've taken (or tried to take) similar steps with the NC Supreme Court since that majority flipped as well, not to mention what they've done to the lower courts. And yet John Hood would have us believe those same power-grabbing Republicans need to be re-elected to "contain" the other two branches. That's rather Trumpian, don't you think?

More on Florence voting difficulties: Out of county, out of luck?

Depending on the Statutes, this might be another Special Session need:

North Carolina’s robust early voting schedule this year should help, but that won’t be an option for voters who end up staying far from their home county. Current rules require you to use only the early voting sites in the county where you’re registered. State leaders should consider allowing voters from affected counties to cast provisional ballots across the state.

That likely creates a logistical hassle, but it would provide flexibility for people who might not be able to return to their home county just to vote.

And I just (before reading the above) sent a follow-up e-mail to the NC BOE suggesting this very thing. The truth is, with all these satellite early voting sites drawing information from the same state-wide database, there's no major technical challenge to allowing people to early vote out-of-county. But after a brief perusal of the Statutes in question, the General Assembly may need to add some wording to make that allowable. I've yet to see a "you must vote in your county" directive, but the chain of custody (voter to county, county to state) seems to preclude that.

Trump's tariffs will make Florence rebuilding up to 30% more costly

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Steering the ship of state right onto the reefs:

Homebuilders and contractors say the administration’s trade policy will add to the price increases that usually follow natural disasters. In addition to materials like lumber, steel and aluminum, the United States will impose tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports next week, including countertops, furniture and gypsum, a key ingredient in drywall. All told, some builders estimate that construction costs could be 20 to 30 percent higher than they would have been without these tariffs.

“We’re all going to pay the price for it in terms of higher construction costs,” said Alan Banks, president of the North Carolina Home Builders Association.

Of course Trump doesn't understand this, and neither do many of his supporters. Our town is going through a growth spurt, and I've had several NIMBY citizens ask me why we are in "such a rush" to approve new housing projects. When I tell them about the cost of building going up because of these tariffs, which will (probably) slow things down quite a bit in the near future, I usually get blank stares. One obviously Trump-supporting dude tried to make lemonade out of it by saying, "Good! My home will increase in value." When I asked him if he was thinking about selling, he said, "No! I love my house!" When I broke the news the only thing he would get out of the deal was higher property taxes, he wandered off with a vacant look on his face. Bless his little MAGA heart. And the tariff punishments just keep on coming:

Voting after Florence: Matthew problems on steroids

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The people who most need a new vision in NC government may lose their voice:

Hurricane Florence disrupted daily operations for local governments in North Carolina, including county boards of elections. It's the second time in two years that voting officials have had to improvise just weeks before a General Election. In Craven County, it's deja vu for Director of Elections Meloni Wray. She remembers when Hurricane Matthew hit her office in New Bern two years ago, less than a month before a major election. "The only difference is we didn't actually have our ballots here in-house," Wray said.

The state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement drafted this year's ballots later than usual because of multiple lawsuits against four of this year's six proposed constitutional amendments. It turns out that delay helped avoid what could have been a lot of soggy ballots.

That's kind of an up-beat assessment, but the reality is: If those absentee ballots had been mailed out prior to the storm, at least one leg of the journey would have been completed. As it stands now, post offices are closed, people have been displaced, and getting those absentee ballots into their hands in time is becoming somewhere between difficult and impossible. So early (out of precinct) voting is looking more and more like the only solution. But that means all those carefully-prepared and state-approved county voting plans won't be sufficient, for nearly a third of the state. Even if "scheduled" locations are operational by the time early voting begins, just getting to those places with all the road closures (1,100 right now) is going to be a challenge, to put it mildly. We need a new plan, stat.

Bravery in the face of male sexual privilege

Hat-tip to Annie Kiyonaga at the Daily Tarheel:

"I remember an eighth grade boy from Mater Dei, an all-boys Catholic middle school in our area, walking up to me and asking me to give him a blowjob. And I distinctly remember telling him to go fuck himself. I remember the adrenaline rush of standing up for myself, and the concurrent swell of queasiness I felt when I thought about this random boy, with his adolescent swagger, feeling entitled enough to ask me for something that I didn’t even fully understand yet. I remember feeling small and ridiculed, despite my big, confident refusal. I was 12."

Follow the link and read the whole thing, including the parade of sexist idiots trying their best to shut her up in the comments. This has been going on seemingly forever, but brave young women like Annie may hold the only key to stopping it, through exposing the disgusting underbelly of our society's biggest blind-spot.

Getting students back to school in Eastern NC a huge challenge

Even when schools reopen, you still have to get them there:

Bounds said school officials are eager to get students back to give them a dry, safe haven and a hot meal. While a couple of Scotland County's schools were without power or water this week, Bounds said the real limiting factor to restarting school is getting to students. Many roads in the area remain flooded or badly damaged.

Bounds said transportation will be the school's biggest challenge, forcing the school district to devise new bus schedules and bus routes. She said she expects that schools from her county all the way east to the coast are facing that same dilemma of how to reach students.

Even roads that appear to be just fine might be ticking time-bombs. From time to time we've seen part of a road collapse due to sinkholes and washouts, it happens several times a year across the state even without a monster storm like Florence. But roads have been collapsing (or on the verge of) in every county affected by the storm, even up in the Piedmont. But maybe even more dangerous for children than collapsing roads is the likelihood of persistent mold growth after their school has been reopened:

Challenges to mitigating flood damage in Lumber River area

When the levee breaks, we'll have no place to stay:

Robeson County’s “Resilient Redevelopment Plan,” conceived after Matthew, called for upgrades to the Lumber River levee and the construction of a floodgate where the levee opens for a railroad crossing. That would prevent what happened during the 2016 storm, when the river poured through the opening into largely low-income neighborhoods of south and west Lumberton. Hundreds of houses were damaged or destroyed.

But the construction of the floodgate requires coordinating with CSX, the freight company that owns the railroad track — or Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to force the issue by declaring eminent domain. Neither scenario has happened yet.

As you can see from the artist's rendering, this proposed floodgate would not only (temporarily) block off a road, but also a rail line. Which might seem a little crazy, until you consider that huge opening in the levee pretty much makes the levee itself almost useless. During Florence, National Guard troops tried to block it with sand bags, but that effort proved fruitless:

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