Ballot access reform bill still alive

An election bill that would dramatically lower the threshold for a new political party to gain and maintain ballot access in North Carolina may still be considered by the state General Assembly when it reconvenes in July. H.B. 32, The Electoral Freedom Act of 2011, passed the House in a bipartisan 68-49 vote, but the Senate adjourned before considering the measure.

The legislature will return in July primarily to deal with redistricting but may consider other matters, including election law bills.

“We’re hopeful that legislators will pass this bill when the return,” said Jordon M. Greene, president of Free the Vote North Carolina. His group is heading a coalition of political parties and public policy groups from across the political spectrum supporting the bill. The measure has backing from the Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties, Democracy NC, the John Locke Foundation and the N.C. League of Women Voters.

“Clearly there’s a broad base of support from across the political spectrum to offer voters more choice on the ballot. We hope the state Senate will consider this and take action,” Greene said. “It is past time that North Carolinians were given as much choice on the ballot as they do in the grocery store.”

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GOP vice chair endorses ballot access reform bill

The vice chairman of the N.C. Republican Party has endorsed passage of House Bill 32, the Electoral Freedom Act of 2011.

In a statement, Tim Johnson said, “House Bill 32, The Electoral Freedom Act of 2011, is a great opportunity to level the playing field and to give all citizens the equal opportunity to fully participate in the governing of our Republic.”

“As a Republican, I believe this party represents the best choice for Americans, but as a Republican I also believe allowing more political parties and individuals to participate in the electoral process will result in the best ideas and best people winning, and ensure that we’re not stuck with the status quo,” he said.

The bill will dramatically reduce the ballot access restrictions for new political parties and unaffiliated candidates. It would set at 10,000 the number of signatures a new party must collect to be listed on the ballot, or for an unaffiliated candidate to run for a statewide office, including governor, council of state or U.S. Senator.

“We welcome Mr. Johnson’s endorsement and thank him for his support of the individual’s right to self-government,” said Jordon M. Greene, president of Free the Vote North Carolina, the group that originated the bill. “This endorsement is further proof that the issue of free choice and ballot access reform goes beyond partisanship and is truly a matter of basic freedom and equality of opportunity.”

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Partisan redistricting lets politicians pick their voters

The last time the state General Assembly tried to come up with a redistricting plan, the state Supreme Court had to do if for them. That could happen again.

When the Republicans were in the minority, they proposed that an independent non-partisan group handle redistricting and the Democrats rebuffed the effort. Now the party roles and positions are reversed. What remains constant is that third parties and unaffiliated voters will probably still be left out of the process.

Having Democrats and Republicans draw up the new districts is like playing a Duke-Carolina football game where the players act as referees. “We’ve seen the ugly result when politicians get to draw their own districts,” said Libertarian state chair Barbara Howe. “Let someone who knows the game but doesn’t have any players on the field sort it out.”

Howe said she believes an independent group can draw new General Assembly districts that will limit splitting counties and also meet U.S. Department of Justice guidelines. Mike Smith, a Davidson County libertarian did just that in 2002, but the plan wasn’t even looked at by legislators.

Smith’s plan then focused on population, compactness and followed recognizable boundaries. He said then that he believed most voters were more interested in simplicity and uniformity than in trying to ensure that each district has roughly the same number of people in it.

“By sticking to county lines, our plan will put voters with similar interests together and increase the number of candidates they can choose from,” said Howe. “More voters would participate in elections if their representation was determined for their benefit, instead of for the sole benefit of incumbent politicians.”

When political parties draw up the districts, you in effect have a system where elected officials pick the voters rather than voters picking the elected officials. That is the exact opposite of what the founders of our nation intended.

“Electoral gerrymanders aren’t just opportunities for political mischief,” said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation. “They do real damage to self-government. When counties, municipalities, and other geographical communities are shredded into bits of thread and stitched into weird paisley designs on a map, it robs voters of basic information – who represents me? – and makes it harder to ensure effective legislative representation.”

The Locke Foundation and the N.C. Center for Government and Lobbying Reform favor an independent redistricting commission. But Hood said he believes the rules used for redistricting are more important that the process of redistricting.

He proposes that the two parties commit themselves to neutral, binding constraints such as compactness and respecting jurisdictional lines. Once the rules are in place, they should prepare and vote on the maps early in the legislative session. Finally, they should put these rules into a state constitutional amendment and submit it to the voters in 2012.

Rangel censure another incredible Congressional shame

The U.S. House of Representatives vote to censure Rep. Charles Rangel was a sham. After the members voted overwhelming, 333 to 79, for the resolution, they applauded the New York Democrat. Rangel told the House “I know in my heart I am not going to be judged by this Congress. I’ll be judged by my life in its entirety.”

The Harlem Democrat then went before the Washington DC press corps and engaged in a classic demonstration of what New Yorkers might call the “chutzpah defense. He denounced the two-year proceedings as “very, very, very, political” and claimed his actions did not rise to the level of corruption because “I did not curse out the speaker. I did not have sex with minors. I did not steal money.”

While Rangel admitted he “brought it on myself” he claimed he didn’t enrich himself and asserted the financial improprieties he was accused of were mere “bookkeeping errors.”

Apparently in Rangel’s world a Congressman who doesn’t pay his income taxes for 17 years, fails to pay taxes on rental income on a Dominican Republic villa he owns, or buys four rent-controlled apartments in New York City for well below market value and uses one as an office in violation of rent-control laws, is not subject to the same laws as ordinary citizens.

Rangel even invoked his military service during the Korean War in his plea for mercy. In Rangel’s World, it seems anyone who serves in the military, gets wounded or gets a medal is exempt from some laws.

To no one’s surprise, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, not only defended Rangel but also tried to get the censure downgraded to a reprimand. The Wilson Democrat asked the House to consider “mitigating circumstances” including Rangel’s military service and 40 years in Congress. Butterfield was the only ethics committee member to vote against censuring Rangel, and he voted against the resolution on the House floor.

Butterfield is one of several House members under investigation by the very committee he sits on suspicion of improperly retaining foreign travel per diem payments. In addition, during the 2010 campaign, his Republican opponent challenged Butterfield to return $4,000 in campaign contributions from Rangel.

Rep. Zoe Lofgreen, chair of the House ethics committee, noted that Rangel and other Democrats had promised the American people they would run the most ethical Congress in history. “We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” the California Democrat said. Another ethics committee member, Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said “The credibility of the House of Representatives before the American people.”

It certainly was. And once again, the actions of the House were incredible. The only positive thing about this mock trial might be that the censure resolution itself was probably one of the few bills House members could easily read it its entirety. The one-paragraph bill reads:

Resolved, That (1) Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York be censured; (2) Representative Charles B. Rangel forthwith present himself in the well of the House for the pronouncement of censure; (3) Representative Charles B. Rangel be censured with the public reading of this resolution by the Speaker; and (4) Representative Rangel pay restitution to the appropriate taxing authorities or the U.S. Treasury for any unpaid estimated taxes outlined in Exhibit 066 on income received from his property in the Dominican Republic and provide proof of payment to the Committee.

Shakeup state gov't with tax system reboot

Gov. Beverly Perdue has hinted at a “big announcement” of a shakeup in state government in early November, after the election of course. She has alluded to merging, eliminating and consolidating pieces of state government, but has provided no details.

The governor’s spokeswoman said that the state’s pending $3.5 to $4 billion budget shortfall offers an opportunity “to transform state government” by consolidating programs and agencies. There’s nothing like a few billion dollars to focus the attention of politicians.

It is telling that the governor, who campaigned on a pledge to clean up state government, hasn’t taken any steps to date to actually “reduce, reuse or recycle” any state programs or agencies, nor has she taken any decisive action to control the rampant incompetence, irresponsibility and corruption in the state agencies she is supposed to lead.

She has done exactly the opposite. Governor Perdue has actually rewarded bad behavior in her administration. She just gave the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest honor, to Col. Randy Glover who essentially was forced to resign as head of the state highway patrol in the midst of investigations into wrongdoing by patrol officers.

Leaders in the state mental health system, where people have died while in the supposed care of the State, have been shuffled into new jobs. A director who tried to get the state ferry division to take the radical step of actually operating with a written budget was fired.

Then there is the unnamed manager at the Employment Security Commission who had a subordinate illegally dub commercial DVDs, using state-purchased software that could break the security encryption. The subordinate was fired, but the manager is still on the payroll, drawing $91,320.

To add insult to injury, this illegal activity occurred in the same ESC section that for nearly a year failed to correct a computer program error they knew about, an error that caused the commission to either overpay or underpay people receiving unemployment benefits. Leaders in this agency actually had the audacity to claim they didn’t have the software needed to fix the error, even though they had the software capable of bootlegging DVDs.

To cover their own incompetence, they then demanded that the people they overpayed — people who had no jobs — give the money back. That is probably understandable. The ESC was just following the example set by the state Department of Revenue, which instituted a deliberate policy to refuse to give refunds to taxpayers who overpayed their income tax.

Of course, when the governor found out about these incidents (from the news media, not from those responsible, from her staff or even her own lawyer who was informed of the tax refund policy) she feigned dismay, claimed she “knew nothing,” and reversed the policies.

The governor’s spokeswoman dismissed the ESC computer issue by mischaracterizing it as a computer “glitch.” It was not a glitch. A computer glitch is a short-lived malfunction in a system, that cannot be diagnosed. The correct computer term is WAD – working as designed.

Our tax system is designed on the basic assumption and underlying premise that the money people earn does not belong to them but to the State. It is designed to take money from people who earn it and give the money to people who politicians think deserve it.

That’s why politicians talk about “paying for” tax cuts and claim that taxes are designed to insure that everyone pays “their fair share.” That’s why you have to pay a fee and get a license for the “privilege” of engaging in a home business. That’s why you have to get a “permit” in order to make improvements to your home.

Any shakeup in state government must begin with a reboot to restore the original libertarian operating system of government built on the core values that you own yourself, the money you earn is yours, and that you should be able to use your property and live your life as you see fit, so long as you harm no one.

State auditor behind on property taxes

State auditor is behind on her property taxes – State –

Beth Woods is late paying her property taxes. Is this a big deal? Is it as big a deal as Tony Rand using his influence to allow Blue Cross/Blue Shield to gouge the state for medical care given to prison inmates.

I think not.

Woods says she was just an “average citizen” who ran for office. She notes that she’s like everyone else, struggling with her finances.  She owes the tax on a $124,000 town home.

She might have a point. Maybe she is an average citizen.  The problem is, shouldn’t we expect even average citizens elected to office to behavior above average? Or are we to be governed by the lowest common denominator.