Biden Wants to Be FDR 2.0

Cooper’s budget dream + Fetzer’s textual relations + NCGA’s mad about voting + Trump fraud investigation busts + Durham Committee says a consultant was disrespected (by not getting a no-bid contract)

Thurs., March 25, 2021

Happy Thursday, friends. We are two months and five days into the Biden administration, and damned if it doesn’t feel like the news has slowed down, am I right? I’m sure things will go haywire soon enough, but I am enjoying what feels a bit like a mental health break.

  • Weather: Warmer, cloudy, chance of showers. High of 78. (And my wife wants to keep the heater on.)


Today’s Number: 87

Percentage of stories about COVID-19 that have appeared in U.S. major media outlets that were “negative” in tone, according to a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

  • By comparison, 50% of non-U.S. media stories and 64% of articles in scientific journals were negative.

  • “As evidenced by most viewed and most shared major media readers in the U.S. and U.K. strongly prefer negative stories about COVID-19, and negative stories in general. But the U.S. major media is more willing to satisfy this demand for negativity in both COVID and pre-COVID years.”


+TODAY’S TOP 4

1. Cooper’s Budget Pushes Medicaid, Teacher Raises

Fresh off relaxing COVID restrictions, Governor Cooper released his budget yesterday, a $27.3 billion proposal that, among other things, increases teacher pay by an average of 10%. Other features:

  • Restores pay bumps for teachers with master’s degrees.

  • Provides for a $15/hour minimum wage for school staff.

  • Give state employees a 5% pay raise.

  • 2% COLA raises each year for retired state employees.

  • Invests $78 million in early education and child development.

  • Commits $300 million to the environment and $100 million to clean energy.

  • Places a $4.7 billion bond on the November 2021 ballot for schools, UNC, health and safety projects, and parks, museums, and historic sites.

  • Expands Medicaid through funding the American Rescue Plan Act.

Cooper thinks he has a better shot at Medicaid expansion than two years ago, when the issue collapsed budget negotiations with the General Assembly altogether.

  • “Unlike the last budget cycle we had, I’ve had numerous conversations with both Republican and Democratic leadership. We’ve all agreed that everything is on the table—everything is up for negotiation.” (WRAL)

Yeah, but as the N&O points out, Cooper’s budget is usually more symbolic than meaningful:

  • “The state puts out a budget every two years — making minor adjustments in the year in between. The House and Senate take turns being the first to propose a budget. This year the Senate starts the process. But first, the governor offers his or her proposed budget.”

  • “While the governor’s budget has a wide range of funding goals, there are usually just a few issues that compromise may hinge on, often the amount of raises.”

In a press release, Speaker Tim Moore made clear that if they’re doing this dance, he intends to lead:

  • “While there are a number of shared priorities funded in the Governor’s budget proposal, North Carolina lawmakers will remain vigilant in our responsible financial management of the state and avoid irresponsible decisions that have harmed taxpayers in the past.”

  • “I look forward to reaching consensus on a state budget that works for all North Carolinians to avoid further vetoes by the Governor of valuable funds that taxpayers earned and communities deserve.”

Related: A bipartisan bill would end North Carolina’s insane practice of making teachers pay $50 to help hire a substitute whenever they take a personal day—as long as they provided a reason. If they didn’t, they’d be on the hook for the entire cost of the sub, which is well over $50. (N&O)

Also related: State Dems have filed a bill that would require every public school to employ a nurse. (N&O)

▶️ OTHER NCGA NEWS

  • Republican senators have introduced a bill that makes it a crime to “[engage] in conduct which disturbs the peace or order of an official meeting of a public body.”

    • As Charlotte reporter Nick Ochsner pointed out: “I’ve been accused of disrupting a public meeting when I’ve tried to stop illegally closed sessions... Would that now make me a criminal?”

    • The N&O’s Will Doran added: “Government officials love making ridiculous claims about non-verbal speech being disruptive, too. Especially school officials. So anytime a group of parents wears matching colored shirts to a school board meeting to make a point, would they become criminals too?”

  • Former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer, now a lobbyist, sent a text message telling buddies about a fundraiser he was throwing for House Majority Leader John Bell, likely the next Speaker. Only problem: that would be illegal. Lobbyists can’t host fundraisers while the legislature is in session or solicit contributions at any time—and Fetzer seemed to be doing both. He says it was a garbled text, or something.

    • The message: “I’m putting together a fundraiser for John Bell the night before the Garden Party on Thursday, April 8 from 5:30-7 at the Cape Fear Club (Men’s Club). As Tim Moore has stated he is not seeking another term in the House, John is the odds on favorite to be Speaker in 2023. We’ll be having dinner at Quanto Bosso across the street immediately following. Please let me know if you can join us.”

    • The explanation: “I dictated the text into my phone and just sent it. And I didn’t spell check it or anything so I think it just, the transmission got garbled. I wouldn’t have intentionally sent that.” (N&O)

    • Uh-huh.

  • Prosecutors have charged a 53-year-old from Jersey with tearing down two statues on a Confederate monument last June. (WRAL)


2. NCGA Still Miffed About Voting Settlement

In a legislative committee hearing yesterday, Senate Republicans read State Board of Elections director Karen Brinson Bell the riot act. Her sin: the SBE’s settlement with Democratic attorney Marc Elias six weeks before the election.

  • The settlement, which came amid a pandemic and Louis DeJoy’s best effort to sabotage the Postal Service, counted absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrived up to six days afterward. It also allowed absentee voters to send their ballot without a witness’s signature.

  • The SBE—three Dems, two Republicans—unanimously endorsed the settlement. After Republican leaders objected, the two Republicans resigned and claimed they’d been duped. The Democrats then released meeting minutes to show that wasn’t true.

  • However, Republicans had considered and rejected both of those proposals. They accused the SBE Democrats and Democratic AG Josh Stein of conspiring with Elias to effectively rewrite the law.

  • 2,034 mail-in ballots arrived during the six extra days provided by the settlement, and “nearly 8,000 voters were potentially affected by the witness signature change because voters were able to ‘cure’ their ballots of an issue by signing a certification,” WRAL reports.

  • In other words, no big deal—until you recall that the chief justice race was decided by a few hundred votes.

At yesterday’s hearing, Brinson Bell—who came to her job through Governor Cooper’s political machine—insisted she’d changed a rule, not a law. The Republicans didn’t buy it.

  • Sen. Joyce Krawiec: When you change a rule that changes a law, the law has been changed. I just find it amazing that you still believe that you didn’t change a law.”

  • Sen. Carl Ford: “Why shouldn’t we demand your resignation?”

  • Brinson Bell said she never discussed the settlement with the governor’s office, never had any interactions with Elias, and never spoke about it with anyone outside of the SBE and the Department of Justice.

▶️ OTHER ELECTION NEWS

  • Four years after the Trump DOJ launched an investigation to justify the ex-prez’s claims of widespread voter fraud, the results are in:

    • “A range of charges related to immigration, registration, and election rules against about 70 people—more than 40 of whom were accused of casting ballots illegally. Dates of those charges, which involved activity during the 2016 election and prior, range from July 2018 to mid-February 2021.”

    • “Many of the latest indictments were announced for the first time Friday, but the totals fall far short of early suggestions by the federal government of ‘pervasive’ or ‘systemic’ fraud, suspicions the U.S. Attorney’s Office put before a federal judge in an effort to keep details of its inquiry secret for years.” (WRAL)


3. Durham Committee Blasts County Commissioners for Rejecting Contract

On March 8, the Durham County Board of Commissioners voted 4–1 to reject a $50,000 no-bid contract arranged by the county attorney and Chair Brenda Howerton with the Robby Bobb Group.

  • Under the contract, RBG would help the board work through its well-documented issues—both those brought to light in the aftermath of Wendell Davis’s letter accusing Heidi Carter of racism and in a report last year that called relationships between some commissioners and between some commissioners, Davis, and some staff dysfunctional.

  • Earlier this year, Howerton directed county attorney Lowell Siler to find someone to do the training. He did. But he didn’t get bids or talk to competing firms. And some community members objected to RBG because Bobb, in a previous role in Detroit, converted a bunch of public schools to charters.

  • So when Howerton brought it up on March 8, Commissioners Wendy Jacobs and Heidi Carter—who are white—said that while they were eager to do the training, they didn’t like the process the county had used. They were joined by newcomers Nida Allam and (more reluctantly) Nimasheena Burns, who voted to direct Siler to get two more bids.

  • At the meeting, Howerton and Siler took this personally. Siler was defensive, Howerton—who accused two People’s Alliance members who questioned Bobb of trying to lynch him—noticeably disappointed and upset.

Yesterday, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People—an ally of Howerton and Davis—poured fuel on the fire with a letter denouncing the commissioners for rejecting Bobb.

A post shared by @dcabp35
  • “The blatant disrespect shown to the county attorney and a potential county consultant during that meeting was disheartening, embarrassing, and a poor reflection of Durham.”

  • “It is time to stop disrespecting, scapegoating, and gaslighting Black County employees for political appeasement.”

  • “We emphasize certain Commissioners insulting the intellectual capacity and integrity of Black professionals during your March 8th board meeting was disturbing and unacceptable.”

  • Antonio Jones, the head of the Durham Committee, told WRAL: “The topic that he was coming to consult on, it makes people uncomfortable. It is clear that that was not the normal course in which they handle consultants. So there is a disparity. ... That energy is not the same when non-minority contractors present their plans.”

So, OK. I happened to have watched the video of that March 8 meeting yesterday. There was tension and passive-aggressiveness, for sure—and it’s pretty clear to me that having meetings by Zoom isn’t helping. But I can’t say I saw anyone insult Siler’s intelligence or integrity, and I didn’t think he or Robb was disrespected.

  • To be honest, I didn’t see any behavior that I thought justified the harshest language employed by the Durham Committee’s letter.

  • Then again, I’m a white man. I can’t assume that because I didn’t see it as disrespectful, someone else isn’t seeing context that I’m missing.

  • Judge for yourself. The video is here. (Under “Index,” scroll down to the third-to-last item.)

Here’s what I’ll say with some confidence: 1) It was an uncomfortable, awkward situation. 2) This is a governing body that isn’t rowing in the same direction. 3) The process was a problem; Howerton had Siler orchestrate this deal without getting everyone on board.

  • Robb is a consultant asking for $49,500 to—per the proposal—do 10 interviews, conduct two workshops, and write an assessment report and action plan. It’s true that he’s qualified. It’s probably true that the Detroit stuff is irrelevant. It’s definitely true that, because his proposal is a public record, he’s now at a disadvantage compared with new bidders. But the alternative is for commissioners to approve the first offer they get.

  • Commissioners Burns made an interesting point: This item was placed on the March 8 agenda literally the morning of the meeting—and it’s not the first time that’s happened. That’s not the right way to handle hot-button subjects like this. But it’s not the right way to handle anything, and those complaining about this offense don’t necessarily have their hands clean of previous ones.


4. Biden Wants to Be FDR 2.0

Having passed the American Rescue Plan, and with a massive infrastructure on deck, a huge voting rights bill sitting in the Senate, and his polling a good 10 points above Trump’s best day, Joe Biden is thinking big. And if that means scratching the filibuster and ignoring his bipartisan instincts, well, so be it.

At least, according to Axios.

  • “President Biden recently held an undisclosed East Room session with historians that included discussion of how big is too big—and how fast is too fast—to jam through once-in-a-lifetime historic changes to America. … The historians’ views were very much in sync with his own: It is time to go even bigger and faster than anyone expected. If that means chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship, so be it.”

  • Presidential historian Michael Beschloss told Axios FDR and LBJ may turn out to be the past century's closest analogues for the Biden era, ‘in terms of transforming the country in important ways in a short time.’”

  • “People close to Biden tell us he’s feeling bullish on what he can accomplish, and is fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party. He loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama.”

Imagine what you would have thought had you read that last sentence a year ago.