Not a moment too soon, Attorney General Roy Cooper offered his opinion of Amendment 1 on his campaign website. (Cooper is unopposed for re-election.)
The Attorney General is the state's lawyer.
Early voting in the May 8 primary election has been underway since last week.
“I am writing you today to let you know I am voting against Amendment One in next month's primary elections on May 8th. I believe it is unclear, unwise and unnecessary. Amending our constitution demands careful deliberation along with precise language - both are missing here. Amendment One's lack of clarity will also result in a significant amount of litigation on many issues which will be decided by courts for years to come. This should be avoided. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Attorney General and letting me share my thoughts with you about this issue.”
This little film by Mimi Schiffman is a gem. It's about Isak. 12, and his "big happy family." A sister, a dog and two moms. It's also, of course, about Amendment 1. "Love is just when you know you want to be with someone, and a world where everything's right," Isak says.
One of the moms, Tanja Atkins, was our general manager at the Indy for years and is much-missed. I loved this piece a little more when I first saw it on Huffington Post for knowing Tanja and Connie and who they are. But see if you don't love it too.
Great work by Schiffman and, with a credit for art direction, Isak Atkins-Pearcy.
Reps. Rosa Gill and Darren Jackson, both D-Wake, have Democratic primary challengers this year. Gill's opponent (again) is Bernard Allen II. Jackson is up against Don Mial and Michael Slawter. Today, Gill and Jackson were two of the 10 candidates statewide endorsed by the N.C. League of Conservation Voters PAC in primary races. Gill and Jackson received the group's Green Tie award in 2011 and were among the legislators with the best — according to the NCLVC scorecard — voting records in 2012.
Gill is running for the second time in District 33 (Southeast Raleigh). She was appointed to this seat in 2009, filling a vacancy. A retired teacher, she served on the Wake County Board of Education for 10 years.
Jackson, similarly, is running for the second time in District 39 (eastern Wake) after taking the seats by appointment in 2009. He's a practicing attorney.
The endorsements were announced by NCLCV Board President Nina Szlosberg-Landis. She said NCLCV "helps elect lawmakers that share our values of protecting this great state and then holds them accountable for their votes once elected."
The takeaway about Amendment 1 and the real Public Policy Polling results: "The amendment is still favored for passage," says PPP director Tom Jensen, "but it's looking like less and less of a sure thing."
The PPP survey, taken before the anti-Amendment 1 TV ads hit the air yesterday, found that Amendment 1 favored by a 54-40 percent margin among likely voters, but the margin's been cut in half since October and cut from 20 points to 14 in the last four weeks.
"There is some reason to think a huge upset in two weeks is within the realm of possibility," Jensen says.
53% of voters in the state support either gay marriage or civil unions, with only 44% opposed to any recognition for same sex couples.
The proposed amendment would ban both gay marriage and civil unions, but voters continue to be confused about that. Just 36% correctly identify that it would ban both while 26% think it bans only gay marriage, 10% think it actually legalizes gay marriage, and 27% admit that they don't know what it does.
When voters are informed that the proposed amendment would preclude both marriage and civil unions for gay couples only 38% continue to support it with 46% in opposition. (emphasis mine)
The rest of Jensen's story:
Voters obviously will be more tuned into the amendment debate over the final two weeks of the campaign than they have been to date, particularly as the against side's tv ads hit the air, and it seems quite possible that as voters become more and more informed about the amendment they will continue to move more and more against it.
The main movement over the last month has been with Democratic voters. Previously they were almost evenly divided on the amendment but now they're moving against it with only 38% still in support and 56% opposed. A big part of that is a shift among black voters. They still support it by a 51/39 margin, but that's well down from 61/30 on our a poll a month ago.
The other thing that really stands out in these numbers is the views of young people. Only 31% of voters under 30 now say they support the amendment, with 62% in opposition.
As Thom Tillis has said, regardless of what happens on this vote in two weeks, the tide is strongly turning. Seniors meanwhile are nearly the mirror image of young people on the issue, supporting the amendment 63/31.
There's a new survey out tonight from Public Policy Polling, and it shows Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former Congressman Bob Etheridge in a statistical tie with two weeks to go in the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Etheridge had a double-digit lead, but it's gone, thanks to TV ads Dalton's been running. (I don't think the Indy's endorsement of Dalton was worth 10 points statewide, but hey ....)
Still, about 40 percent of likely voters remain undecided, with 26 percent for Dalton, 25 percent for Etheridge, and 5 percent or less for Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, and a trio of other, unknown candidates.
For Lieutenant Governor on the Democratic side, former Rep. Linda Coleman leads Sen. Eric Mansfield by 28-16 percent, but more than half the electorate are undecided.
PPP also surveyed the Amendment 1 referendum. Results won't be out until tomorrow, but leading opponent Pam Spaulding of Durham (and Pam's House Blend fame) tweeted earlier today that she's expecting good news — and she does have good sources. Amendment 1, the marriage discrimination amendment, was ahead in PPP's March 29 poll by an almost 3-to-2 margin.
PPP did release its results in the Labor Commissioner and state Treasurer races. Incumbent Treasurer Janet Cowell looks safe in the latter. In the former, the labor race is quite a mess.
We're a big state, so mounting a statewide TV advertising campaign is expensive — and until today the campaign against Amendment 1 couldn't afford it. But with two weeks and a day until the May 8 primary (and with early voting already under way), it's now or never. The good news is, it's now. Two anti-Amendment 1 ads went up this morning in every TV market, and time's been purchased to keep them on the air statewide for the next two weeks.
The other news is, the campaign needs a lot more money fast to buy enough time to make these ads work. More on the subject of money and tactics below.
[Update, 4/24: The new PPP survey shows Amendment 1 favored for passage by 14 points, but the margin is down and the momentum is with the opponents. Get the message out that the amendment would bar recognition of same-gender marriages and also civil unions and the margin swings the other way, with voters opposed by 8 points.]
The two ads underline the campaign's strategy of not attacking Amendment 1 head-on, with a message that it's time for equal rights for gays, but rather of ambushing it with arguments that Amendment 1 will hurt children and put victims of domestic violence in jeopardy.
Notice, for example, that the first ad glosses over the question whether the parents of the child who could lose health-insurance coverage are gay or straight — all we know from the ad is that the parents are unmarried:
According to the campaign, the mom in the ad is real — not an actress — and.
"Melissa," our first ad, highlights the harms of Amendment One and the danger that it will take health care away from North Carolinians. Melissa, along with her partner Libby, have a five year old daughter. Melissa and her daughter are covered under the city of Durham's domestic partnership benefits plan. If the amendment passes, they are afraid of what will happen if their daughter loses health care as experts believe that she will.
Durham is one of nine local governments in North Carolina (Durham County is another, and three more are in Orange County) that provide health insurance benefits on an equal basis to: 1) married employees and their families, and 2) gay partners and their families.
The nine governments would almost certainly be barred (Amendment 1's sponsors say they'd be barred) from continuing these domestic-partner benefits under Amendment 1 — though the many private employers that offer such benefits would not be impacted.
The second ad: The issue of whether Amendment 1 could undermine the state's domestic violence laws is hotly disputed by the amendment's backers. But the anti-Amendment 1 team argues that it's possible (and it should be noted that the woman in the ad is real ... and she clearly thinks Amendment 1 is dangerous):
"Consequences," our second ad, tells the story of a domestic violence surviver. She is afraid that a court would decide that her situation is no longer classified as domestic violence and her protective order could be put in jeopardy.
I must say, I'm not a big fan of the campaign's messaging. I think the clearest, and therefore strongest argument against Amendment 1 is that it would preclude the state — "we, the people," acting through our elected representatives — from ever changing the marriage laws to recognize same-sex unions, whether as "marriages" or "civil unions" or some other name that means marriage. It is, in short, undemocratic, in the same awful way the original U.S. Constitution was used to put slavery beyond the reach of the people or Congress to abolish.
The "unintended harms" approach that the anti-Amendment 1 side has adopted instead, it seems to me, is a way of not saying that the intended harm is to marginalize and discriminate against LGBT citizens.
On the other hand, I do understand — having had it explained to me a half-dozen times now — why the campaign named itself the Coalition to Protect NC Families, and why it's taken this pro-children, pro-women, but not pro-gay approach.
The ruling today in the Marcus Robinson case, the first appeal to be decided by a trial court under the Racial Justice Act, made national news. North Carolinians dealt a blow to racism. Still, not every North Carolinian acknowledges what the statistics tell us is obvious: That racism in NC death penalty cases, and in particular in the jury selection procession, is real, pervasive and undeniable. I was struck by this statement by Robinson's prosecutors, quoted in The New York Times —
“They do not have evidence of purposeful discrimination,” Rob Thompson, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County, said in his closing arguments. “They do not have some secret society of prosecutors maniacally plotting to remove people from juries. They do not have any of that because there is no such evidence. It doesn’t exist. They have numbers.”
Only numbers? How about a crushing load of numbers embedded in a long, terrible history of racist practice? What Thompson is saying is, sure, we exclude more black jurors, and sure, we sentence more black convicts to death; but hey, don't go by the numbers, go by what we say, because we'd never do a racist thing.
And just now, the Rev. William Barber of the state NAACP sent a statement, which captures the reality of this case, and where North Carolina is today with capital punishment, far better than I can. Very much worth your while to read it all the way through:
Statement Reflecting on First Racial Justice Act Decision
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President
North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP
First, allow me, on behalf of the National, State, and Local units of the NAACP to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Eric Tornbloom. Many NAACP members, their families, and friends, have been victims of similar violence. I know how deep his loss is felt, and I ask that we take a moment to pray for him and his family.
It is fitting that, on Sunday, April 22nd, we mark the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in McCleskey v. Kemp. That decision ruled a defendant cannot rely upon statistical evidence of systemic racial bias to prove his death sentence was unconstitutional, no matter how strong that evidence may be. Those of us who have tried to breathe life into the words "Equal Protection Under the Law" have marked April 22nd as one of the lowest points in our long quest for equality and justice. But today, almost 25 years later, because of the persistent, diligent, grass-roots struggle of literally hundreds of thousands of people of good will in North Carolina who fought for, passed, and then worked to implement North Carolina's historic Racial Justice Act, we now have the first finding of racial discrimination in the prosecution of a defendant on Death Row. This decision will automatically change Mr. Marcus Robinson's sentence to life without parole. . According to the law, and verified by an analysis made by the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, this is a final judgment
We take this moment to remind prosecutors and their staffs that the Racial Justice Act mentions the idea of training program, to help weed out racial bias as they exercise their broad discretion in capital cases. We encourage the Association of District Attorneys to take advantage of such training to drain some of the unconscious and conscious racial bias out of our courthouses.
This major decision in the long struggle against racism in southern courthouses prompts me to comment on the connections between the McClesky decision a quarter century ago and this first decision under our historic Racial Justice Act. When justice appears to value some victims less than others, it does not deserve the name 'justice.' Those of us who have been paying attention know this problem did not begin with the admitted denial by the McClesky v. Kemp decision 25 years ago. Over a century ago, the NAACP was founded to bring to the nation's attention the use of vigilante lynchings of Black men who were rumored to have committed crimes against whites. As the NAACP began to win the struggle for national public opinion against lynching, southern states quickly moved the lynching tree inside their all-white courthouses, and changed the name to capital punishment. Official lynchings became the norm in southern courthouses against any Black man accused of raping a White woman, although it was practically unheard of to bring a capital case against a White man accused of raping a Black woman.
History books and professors, the media, and the New South apologists kept this well-known fact under the sheets until after World War II. To Kill a Mockingbird, the book and the movie, helped to challenge this denial in the early 1960's. The obscene racial disparities that were accepted across the South in the application of the death penalty became a major embarrassment during the cold war, as case after case of unofficial capital punishment, such as Emmitt Till in 1955, and official capital punishment was brought to light by the NAACP and other civil rights groups. In 1972 the Supreme Court effectively stopped the death penalty for all crimes, but only a few years later, what became known as the Nixon court, reinstated the costly and race-based practice in 1976.
In 1987, Jack Boger, now the Dean of the UNC School of Law, brought the case of Warren McClesky to the Supreme Court, arguing that racial considerations played a part in his client's receiving the death penalty. The Court wrote that such considerations were so embedded in our courthouses they were an "inevitable part" of our system of justice, and therefore statistical evidence of systemic racial bias could not be used to overturn a death sentence. Who cares, the Court told Mr. McClesky and his young advocate, Jack Boger, whether defendants convicted of murdering White victims were over four times more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants who were charged with murdering a Black person? Who cares if study after study showed the best predictor of who lives and who dies in southern courts has nothing to do with the content or context of the crime, but everything to do with the color of the victim's skin.
Obviously, the answer to this riddle is not to execute more defendants who have been convicted of killing Black people. The answer is to focus on the cowardly fallacy that underlay the McCleskey decision — that there is nothing we can do about the endemic racism in the southern criminal justice system because it is an "inevitable part" of it. We believe that racism need not be inevitable, and that truth will win out. Today, almost 25 years after the Supreme Court implied racial considerations were an inevitable part of Southern Justice, another Court, following carefully the guidelines set for us by the Racial Justice Act, said No. It is not an inevitable part. We will face the racial considerations in our system, and we can face the truth in the South. This decision reveals the lie of the inevitability premise.
In the past few years at least five Black men were released or barely missed death row because brave media reporters; hard-working, underpaid lawyers; and the NAACP have proven that N.C. prosecutors had tried or convicted the wrong man! Today another Black man has successfully presented evidence that showed his sentence was polluted by racial considerations. Each of these revelations strike the public consciousness like the hammer of justice. Each revelation helps more of us face the hard truth about our criminal justice system.
Each of these revelations lead to a broader, deeper commitment to the truth that the simplest way, the surest way, the safest way, to be sure the 'inevitable" racial considerations the Supreme Court mentioned 25 years ago play no part in the decision of who lives and who dies, is to repeal capital punishment. The NAACP has studied this question for 103 years. The question helped start our organization. It is a question we have never wavered about. It is part of our 14 Point People's Agenda. Repeal the Death Penalty. Save money. Save our souls. Save and reform our criminal justice system. Repeal the Death Penalty.
[Update 2, 6:30 p.m.: The NAACP's William Barber issued an eloquent statement late this afternoon on the importance of this decision as a strike against the fallacy that racial bias in capital cases is "inevitable" and there's nothing to be done. I copied it into a second post you can read here.]
[Update 1: People of Faith Against the Death Penalty called the outcome a huge victory for justice. I've added their statement below.]
Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that prosecutors in North Carolina capital murder cases intentionally discriminated against eligible black jurors in the period 1990-2010, producing racial bias in cases where black defendants were convicted and sentenced to death — rather than receiving a life sentence. The statistical evidence of bias was valid and inexplicable except as the intentional result of prosecutors not wanting black jurors, the judge said. Further, the explanations of prosecutors in rebuttal not only didn't rebut the statistical evidence; some of what they said was so unbelievable that it tended to reinforce, for him, the fact that bias was present.
From the Center:
April 20, 2012 Ruling on Lead NC Racial Justice Act Case
· The lead case applying the historic and ground-breaking NC Racial Justice Act (RJA) concluded today with a judicial finding of race discrimination in the operation of the death penalty in North Carolina.
· North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks found that prosecutors deliberately excluded qualified black jurors from jury service in death row inmate Marcus Robinson’s case, in Cumberland County, and throughout the state.
· As directed by the law, the Court stated that parole eligibility was not an option under the Racial Justice Act, and resentenced Marcus Robinson to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
· In enacting the RJA, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue made clear that the state of North Carolina rejects the influence of race discrimination in the administration of the death penalty. The RJA represents a landmark reform in North Carolina, a state which has long been a leader in forward-thinking criminal justice policies.
· With today’s ruling, North Carolina continues its leading role as a state willing to honestly and fairly examine the affect of race in its criminal justice system.
· A Michigan State University study of jury selection practices in North Carolina capital cases between 1990 and 2010 was introduced as evidence in the hearing. Judge Weeks found it to be a valid, highly reliable, statistical study. The results of the study, with remarkable consistency across time and jurisdictions, show that race is highly correlated with decisions on striking jurors in North Carolina.
· The ruling and the findings of the MSU study are consistent with every major study of jury selection in capital cases done in the United States.
· Following this ruling, the NC Racial Justice Act allows for a fresh start by permitting prosecutors to remedy race discrimination through in depth training programs.
· This decision marks a new day for justice in North Carolina where the justice system acknowledges past discrimination and respects the rights of persons of all races to serve on juries.
FAYETTEVILLE, NC — Today's decision in a North Carolina courtroom marks a huge victory for justice, for the people of North Carolina, for the South and the country as a whole.
Judge Gregory Weeks has ruled under the NC Racial Justice Act that death row prisoner Marcus Robinson succeeded in showing that racial bias had influenced his death sentence. The RJA is the country's only law that allows judges to consider statistics when determining whether racial bias affected capital cases.
"Jim Crow never died," said Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. "He just put on a suit and a robe and prosecuted and tried death penalty cases for decades. That changed today."
The existence of the Racial Justice Act and the ruling by Judge Weeks today amount to a historic acknowledgement that race influences our courts.
Race and geography — if the case is in a former Confederate state — have remained the greatest predictors of who gets the death penalty in the United States. Southern juries and the prosecutors who routinely bar black jurors from serving on capital juries have clearly valued the lives of white victims more than the lives of non-white victims.
If the movement to abolish the death penalty is one of the outgrowths of the civil rights movement, than today's victory is another important step for civil and human rights in America. As has been said many times, the American courtroom is the place in America least affected by the civil rights movement.
Judge Weeks decision today amounts to an admission that the legacies of Jim Crow, of lynchings, and of slavery have persisted and must be dealt with honestly.
This historic victory for justice would not have come about if not for the courage and persistence of ordinary North Carolina citizens who challenged these legacies of discrimination and demanded passage of the RJA.
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty mobilized 50,000 North Carolinians to sign petitions calling for a moratorium on executions and reforms such as the RJA. PFADP organized more than 1,000 NC congregations, local governments, businesses and community groups to pass resolutions. PFADP generated endorsements for the RJA by 700 religious leaders. PFADP sponsored community forums and press conferences across the state. PFADP will continue to work in coalition with groups across North Carolina to maintain support for this important law.
The RJA has so far withstood numerous attempts to repeal it. These attempts to send us back in time to Old South justice will not stop any time soon.
Sunday will mark the 25th anniversary of the dreaded McCleskey v. Kemp 1987 Supreme Court decision that allowed these legacies of racism and discrimination to persist in capital cases. PFADP urges all North Carolinians to continue to work to make North Carolina and the country hold fast to a new sense of justice and fairness.
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1994 and based in Carrboro, NC.
[Update: Parker is stepping down as party chairman. He's asked the party staff to call a meeting of the executive council — about 40 folks, he said — to choose a new chair. It will be a.s.a.p., probably on May 12. When they choose, he won't be a candidate, he said. This was at the end of long presentation by Parker about the facts in the case, which supported his view that he followed the law in dealing with an employee who alleged sexual harassment by former executive director Jay Parmley, but who had little or nothing to back up his allegation.The employee, later terminated, got a small severance payoff in return for signing a non-disclosure agreement. Parker wouldn't say how much the employee was paid; he said the severance agreement barred him from doing so.
[Paying the employee anything set the wheels in motion for Parker's inexorable fall. Parker acknowledged that paying him (while Parmley stayed — because there was no cause to push him out, Parker said) wasn't a good political decision.
[But Parker maintained that it was the only decision he could make given the law, the rules governing the party's insurance coverage, and the fact that the party's attorney, John Wallace, was advising that the complaining employee be paid something on his way out the door. "A tempest created by the press in a teapot," Parker called it. But he also recognized that, it's politics, none of the top Democratic officials in the state, from Gov. Bev Perdue on down, had his back on this, and consequently he had to go. So he will.]
This just in —
Raleigh, NC—Media are invited to a press conference with North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman David Parker at 1pm EST in the grand ballroom of the North Carolina Democratic Party Headquarters. Chairman David Parker will make a statement and then take questions from the media.
The grand ballroom? Really? Sounds like a monarch about to be overthrown ...
Can Parker survive all this? He says he's done nothing wrong. But that's not the standard that applies to this job.
He obviously needs to tell his side ("I did nothing wrong") and have an editorial or two commiserate about his fate ("He did nothing wrong. Still, ...").
After that, it's hard to — cliche alert — see a way forward for him.
Anyway, the grand ballroom is a two-minute walk from my house. So here goes.
The Indy's primary election endorsements are out today. You'll read that in the House District 38 Democratic race, we endorsed Lee Sartain. The endorsement includes a comment about one of Sartain's opponents, Abeni El-Amin, and a television program she hosted that appeared on one of Raleigh's public cable-access (RTN) channels before it was pulled by the city as a violation of the rule against using RTN to promote political candidates. Our endorsement says that El-Amin showed poor judgment.
I wanted to put the program up here so viewers could see it first-hand. It pretty much spoke for itself. But I see now that the link below, which was sent to me two weeks ago, no longer works; the program's been removed from YouTube by the producer, obviously. (The picture above, btw, is a screen shot of the producer's "CarolinaExposed" webpage from last week — when it featured the program with a link to it.)
The program, 28:00 long, contained a brief video segment from a Trayvon Martin protest in Raleigh a few weeks ago. (Ostensibly, the program was "dedicated" to Trayvon Martin's memory.) But 90 percent of it was a campaign infomercial for El-Amin. She appeared at the beginning as the host, introducing her candidacy, and after the Martin protest footage was shown, the remaining 20 minutes-plus consisted of footage from El-Amin's campaign kickoff event in Raleigh. She was on camera talking about herself for most of that time.
When I spoke to her about the program, El-Amin said she wasn't the producer and had nothing to do with putting hit on the cable-access system. A campaign volunteer, she said, is also a community producer for the RTN system as a hobby. El-Amin was the program's host, however, and the show was all about her. And she did plug it on her Facebook page — at least twice — including a message to watch "Now!!" when it first aired Wednesday, April 4 at 10 p.m. Her previous FB message, on April 3, linked to the program on YouTube: "You have got to see this," it said.
After it aired April 4, Sartain complained, and RTN's manager, Karyn Thomas, pulled it out of three additional time slots for which it had been scheduled. Thomas said she doesn't preview programs if they're brought in, as this one was, by folks who are regular RTN producers. When Sartain complained, Thomas did look at it, and the program clearly violated RTN's policy against programs pitching a political candidate or campaign.
Candidates are obviously anxious to promote themselves. How they do it can reflect well or badly on them. This program reflected poorly on El-Amin, not just because it didn't belong on a cable-access channel but also because it mixed up the terrible tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death with El-Amin's desire to be elected. In that sense, it might've worked to have a program with one minute of her and 27 minutes on the Martin case. But doing it the other way around was pretty offensive.