Cooper Will Roll Back COVID Restrictions, Probably

Catch up in 9 minutes: 140 million shots + local pols get extra months in office + Black parents weigh sending their kids back to school + the OCS school-renaming controversy + Biden's migrant camp

Wed., Feb. 24, 2021 

Another springlike day lies ahead: mostly sunny, highs in the mid-60s. Go enjoy it.


Today’s Number: 140 million

COVID vaccine doses the drug companies Moderna and Pfizer promised the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee they could deliver by within five weeks

  • To date, they have delivered 75 million.

  • The companies have a target of 220 million shots by March 31. 

  • Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine is likely to be approved by this weekend. Though it has contracted to deliver 12 million doses by the end of February, only 2 million will be immediately ready to go. The company says it will have 20 million available by the end of March and another 40 million by the end of April. 

  • AstraZeneca says it could have 50 million doses of its vaccine — which, after some problems with its clinical trial data, hasn’t been approved in the U.S., though it has in Europe — by the end of April. 

  • Within a few months, supply could outpace demand, and herd immunity — and the end to this yearlong nightmare — will depend on how many anti-vax idiots think Bill Gates is slipping them 5G or whatever.   

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+TODAY’S TOP 6 

1. Cooper Expected to Ease COVID Restrictions

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen signaled to a legislative committee yesterday that Governor Cooper would update the state’s COVID restrictions this week, with his executive order scheduled to expire on Sunday.

  • Cohen: “Our trends are moving in the right direction, and we know we want to reassess where we are in terms of easing restrictions. “I know the Governor is considering that right now with input from our scientists.” (N&O)

  • The gov has a presser scheduled for 2 p.m. today. WRAL indicates he’s likely to announce a “major easing” of restrictions, including increased capacity at high school and college sporting events, indoor seating at bars, and an end or relaxation of the curfew for restaurants and alcohol sales.

  • The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association published an open letter yesterday asking to serve alcohol until 11 p.m. and be allowed 30% indoor capacity. Throughout the pandemic, the organization has asked to be treated like restaurants that serve alcohol, breweries, and wineries.

  • Case counts have declined since the post-holiday surge, and the state has delivered at least one vaccine dose to more than 1.3 million people.

A thought: If there are any bars left, should we have a PRIMER happy hour somewhere?


2. Local Pols Will (Probably) Get 6 Free Months in Office

In The Assembly — a cool new digital mag on state politics — Chris Cooper writes about our anachronistic attachment to a “citizen legislature.” If you’re considering running for the General Assembly, here are some things to think about: 

  • “The first is the salary — the job pays $13,951 a year, a figure that hasn’t changed since 1995. You’ll receive a small stipend for every day you work, but that stipend won’t be enough to pay for a place to stay unless you prefer motels that end in the number six.”

  • “The number of days you work will be unpredictable. Normally, you’ll work January through August. But maybe through October. Or perhaps only until July. Your schedule changes every other year, but sometimes the year that’s expected to be shorter ends up being the longer one. Also, the boss in another division can call you back whenever he likes.”

  • “You can now raise money from your friends, campaign for over a year, and potentially serve as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly.”

Far from centering everyday folks, having a part-time legislature empowers special interests. Expertise will always run the show. (This is also why legislative term limits are a bad idea.) 

  • The farther away from Raleigh you get, the more difficult it becomes for anyone who’s not independently wealthy, retired, or works a job that allows extended time off — usually in exchange for connections — to even think about running. 

  • Imagine, like, a bartender or a construction worker trying to moonlight on Jones Street. Not happening. 

The same argument could be made for local governments. In fact, I made it years ago.

  • The mayor of Raleigh works for a major construction company, which hasn’t gotten MAB run out of town on a rail because being the mayor of North Carolina’s second-largest city is considered a part-time job and pays $24,000 a year. 

  • That’s the same reason younger candidates don’t run. They can’t afford to. 

  • On top of the long hours for little money, there’s a permanent campaign — every council seat in Raleigh is a two-year term, which means as soon as one election ends, the next one begins. 

  • The four newest council members (plus the mayor) — Stormie Forte replaced the newly elected Saige Martin, who resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct — barely settled in before they had to again start thinking of fundraising and meet-and-greets. 

  • This is a system designed for small villages, not big cities. Politicians won’t change it because they won’t want to look like they’re doing themselves a favor. 

Thanks to the pandemic and the Trump administration’s incompetence, however, we’re probably getting a reprieve from this insanity this year. As I’ve mentioned before, the Census Bureau will be way, way late delivering the census data the municipalities need to redraw their districts. 

  • At a State Board of Elections meeting yesterday, director Brinson Bell proposed delaying all 2021 municipal elections until May 3, 2022, which would coincide with the state’s primary for congressional, legislative, and county races. 

  • If municipal races went to a runoff, those would happen on the date of the second primary, July 12, 2022. 

  • Presumably, winners would be sworn in as soon as those races are certified. In normal years, they take office in early December. That gives local electeds an extra six or so months of job security, depending on the specifics.

  • But the schedule would snap back to normal after that — meaning the winners in May or July 2022 would face reelection in 15 months, according to Wake County Board of Elections member Gerry Cohen. Sigh. 

This is just a recommendation. Bell will present it today (at 1 p.m., for the curious) to the House Elections Committee, which might have thoughts of its own. But it would apply both to municipalities like Raleigh, where only the residents of each district vote for each council member, and Durham, where all city residents vote for each ward member. 

  • FWIW: Durham’s council members have four-year terms, with the mayor up every two years, which is a little more manageable. 

  • Qualifying for municipal races is — or was — set to begin in a little over three months, which is basically impossible.

  • Bell’s rec to push to the statewide primary from March to May to allow more time to redraw congressional and legislative districts met with pushback from Phil Berger aide Brent Woodcox, who called it an “overreaction.” 

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3. Black Parents Have Mixed Feelings About Opening Schools

At NC Policy Watch, Greg Childress looks at the conflict many Black parents feel about sending their kids back into the classroom. 

  • On the one hand, they know that kids are falling behind — and the kids most likely to fall behind are students of color. 

  • On the other, many are skeptical that schools can or will protect students and teachers from COVID. 

  • At the same time, they know that many disadvantaged families will have little choice. They have to work, and they don’t have anyone to watch their children. 

Durham Public Schools will return elementary students to the classroom on March 15 and older kids on April 8. 

  • “Ronda Bullock leads the education committee of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, a nonprofit, community-based social justice and racial equity organization in Durham. ‘Some people want to send kids back, some people want to keep kids 100% virtual and some people want to do a hybrid, so there isn’t one voice coming out of our space.’”

  • This is interesting: “Bullock said the group is also worried about the future of public schools in the aftermath of the pandemic. Its members point to New Orleans where the public school system was dismantled in favor of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005. She wonders if Republican lawmakers have an ulterior motive: Get students back in classrooms to take standardized tests, then use low scores to portray public schools as failing students.”

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4. OCS to Rename School Because Namesake Served on Board During Segregation

At the California Republican Party’s virtual convention last weekend, Karl Rove threw a nod to the Bush era’s Culture War Greatest Hits, lighting into the San Francisco Board of Education for its “woke identity politics.”

The SF school board has made some unique decisions of late

  • Most famously, it voted to rename 44 public schools — including those named for Presidents Washington and Lincoln, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Paul Revere.

  • Some of those choices have been difficult to defend.

The Orange County Schools Board of Education’s 5–2 vote on Monday night to rename C.W. Stanford Middle School — after previously voting to rename Cameron Park Elementary — isn’t quite like that. Stanford didn’t issue the Emancipation Proclamation. But it’s not like he was Jesse Helms, either.

  • Charles Whitson Stanford Sr. served on the Orange County school board for 26 years, from 1941–67. While Orange County schools began desegregating — slowly — in the 1960s, Orange High didn’t integrate until 1968, a year after Stanford left office. The entire state did so following a state Supreme Court ruling in 1971. 

  • Not good enough, OCS says: “The school names report, written with help from the district’s Equity Task Force, concluded that little was done during Stanford’s time on the board or during his 16 years as chair to integrate Orange County’s schools or improve its Black schools.” (N&O)

Stanford’s family points out that after World War II, the school board built a Black elementary school and added classrooms and a gym for a Black high school. The district integrated before the state. He campaigned for Kerr Scott for governor and former UNC president Franklin Graham for Senate, both racial moderates. He supported Terry Sanford and Dan Moore’s gubernatorial runs against the segregationist I. Beverly Lake, and LBJ, who signed the Civil Rights Act. 

  • Does all of that mean he deserves a school named after him? Does it mean he deserves to have his name stripped from a school that’s borne his name for 50 years? Does anyone care? 

  • School board member Bonnie Hauser — who voted against the change — brought up a good point: “In my conversations, there was a resounding question about why our school board cares more about names on buildings rather than what’s happening inside them. Leaders in our Black community are especially interested about what our board is doing about disparities in funding, student achievement, AIG, and discipline that persist 50 years after school integration.”

  • OCS has had problems with racial disparities going back years. Changing the name of a middle school — do you think one student in that school knows anything about Charles Whitson Stanford Sr.?  — isn’t going to fix that. 

  • Then again, the only thing the change will hurt is the Stanford family’s feelings. 


5. Biden Opens Facility for Migrant Kids

The Biden administration has opened a facility for up to 700 migrant children ages 13–17 in Texas. Controversially, the migrant camp was previously activated for a month under the Trump administration. 

  • Officials say it’s necessary because pandemic restrictions have cut capacity at other facilities in half, and the number of unaccompanied minors is ticking up. 

  • Immigration advocates are a little shocked that Biden would go the “kids in cages” route, which worked out so well for Trump. 

  • “But immigration lawyers and advocates question why the Biden administration would choose to reopen a Trump-era facility that was the source of protests and controversy.”

  • “‘It’s unnecessary, it’s costly, and it goes absolutely against everything [President] Biden promised he was going to do,’ said Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio-based immigration lawyer who represents unaccompanied minors. ‘It’s a step backward, is what it is. It’s a huge step backward.’” (WaPo)

Conservatives pounced on the media’s alleged hypocrisy: 

But these things aren’t exactly the same. 

  • “Trump’s policy on children at the border wasn’t controversial merely because it resulted in children being held at the border, which is a long-standing reality and is what will happen at this facility. It was controversial because it forced children to be separated from their parents given its hard-line policy requiring that the parents be held and not released into the country (and given that children couldn’t be held with their parents). This, in effect, made for more children (often very young) that needed to be held alone — about 3,000 in total — beyond the unaccompanied minors (who are often older) who arrive.” (WaPo)

In the background: Biden has slowed deportations and is trying to overhaul the immigration policy. 

  • “Biden’s administration on Thursday moved to significantly curtail deportations, ordering immigration agents to seek federal approval before moving to deport undocumented people who have been in the United States for a considerable amount of time without committing felonies or being classified as national security threats.”

  • “As Democratic lawmakers unveiled their legislative proposal on Thursday, they framed it as a deliberate rejection of the Trump administration’s approach. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a chief sponsor of the bill, said that by sending Biden to the White House, Americans had effectively tasked Congress with ‘fixing our immigration system, which is a cornerstone of Trump’s hateful horror show.’” (NYT)

Related: Last week, NCGA Republicans filed a bill that would force local sheriffs to cooperate with ICE. A previous effort died in 2019 after being vetoed by Governor Cooper.

—> OTHER NATIONAL NEWS

  • Republicans in the House and Senate have filed bills to authorize military force against China if it takes action against Taiwan. Background on the conflict here

  • Former Capitol police officers blamed the Department of Defense and federal law enforcement for the screw-ups that allowed the Jan. 6 insurrection to happen. (NYT)

  • Sen. Ron Johnson used the Capitol security hearing to read a Tucker Carlson-pushed Federalist article claiming that Trump supporters were framed. (Vox)

  • Fed chairman Jay Powell ducked questions about President Biden’s stimulus bill but told the Senate Banking Committee that there are still deep holes in the economy. (WaPo)


5. Welcome Back, Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality, in case you’ve forgotten, is a policy requiring telecoms to treat all web traffic the same, forbidding them from blocking, slowing, or charging more for certain sites. A year after he took office, President Trump’s FCC eliminated net neutrality protections.

  • In response, California codified them in state law. The telecoms sued, as did Trump’s Department of Justice, arguing that the FCC preempted state law.

  • When Biden won, the DOJ withdrew from the case. And yesterday, a federal judge sided with the state of California, dealing a blow to the telecoms and putting net neutrality back on the national agenda.

  • “The ruling Tuesday injects new legal and political energy into one of the most intractable debates in Internet policy. State lawmakers across the country had been eyeing the California case for years, hoping a legal resolution in the state’s favor might open the door for them to try to craft their own open internet rules without facing a similar legal threat.”

  • “The Biden administration faces pressure to restore tough, national net neutrality rules. But the Federal Communications Commission is currently deadlocked at two Democrats and two Republicans, a political composition that makes it nearly impossible for regulators to resolve the fight until the president nominates, and the Senate confirms, another Democratic member.” (WaPo)