Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. Today we're joined by Blair Reeves to chat about the latest news out of Raleigh, plus my thoughts on Tricia Cotham's party switch and the indefensible Texas court ruling on mifepristone. Oh, and evidently the NCGOP wants to ban forced microchip implantation in employees. Again, sometimes you just can't make this stuff up!
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Blair Reeves: People who have just moved here need to understand, welcome to North Carolina, here's some stuff that's going on, here are ways you can get involved, and we're here to support you and inform you.
JD Wooten: All right, I'm gonna start a Civil War. Welcome to North Carolina, eastern barbecue is the best, here's what you need to know about voting.
Blair Reeves: Facts, sorry.
JD Wooten: Welcome back to Carolina Democracy, I’m JD Wooten, and today we’re joined by Carolina Forward’s Blair Reeves to discuss some of the latest political news out of Raleigh. Our discussion ranged from State House Rep. Tricia Cotham’s switch from Democrat to Republican, to the NC GOP’s likely moves to further restrict abortion access, their continued starvation of our public schools of much needed resources, their efforts to take the corporate tax rate to zero, and more. Since Blair and I hit a lot of the biggest news items from Raleigh, I can keep these intro remarks brief and focus on two things: my take on Representative Cotham’s party switch, and the bonkers federal court ruling out of Texas to ban access to a long-approved, extremely safe medication.
Let’s start with the easier, but far more frustrating of the two – Tricia Cotham. And to be clear, I only say more frustrating of the two given that the appellate courts have already stepped in to undue the Texas judge’s ruling, but we have no recourse on Representative Cotham until the 2024 election.
We have no idea what really happened behind closed doors. She claims to have been bullied and harassed, which if true, is quite unfortunate and unacceptable. However, it would make her an outlier and numerous other members of the Democratic House Caucus have spoken out to say that’s just not been their experience and they don’t know where that’s coming from. So, take that for what it’s worth. Also, there are always numerous ways to deal with difficult situations in life, and abandoning the values you ran on to join the political party that stands in diametric opposition to almost all of those fundamental values just doesn’t seem like a good option to say the least.
My guess is she got coaxed over by a deal that felt too good to pass up for her own personal ambitions. Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is probably the right one. She likely decided to act in her own self interest and advancement. So what was the deal? Blair and I talk about some of the ideas floating around, and perhaps it was just the committee leadership position she got, or a promise of some future job or support in a run for higher office. We may never know. And we likely won’t ever know when it happened. Blair has suggested perhaps she was a plant from the beginning, which as interesting as it is to think about and speculate on, and we do to an extent and have a little fun with that, the reality is that gives the NC GOP a lot more credit than they probably deserve. Then again, underestimating an opponent is a cardinal no no in any adversarial process, including political campaigns, so who knows. There’s also speculation that the NC GOP had a plant in another NC House race in 2022 where that plant won the primary over a candidate who would have been far stronger in the general election, thereby allowing the Republican incumbent to glide to a safe re-election.
Anyways, the GOP now has a true supermajority, not just the functional supermajority they were working with. Representative Cotham was already voting in ways that supported the GOP’s position on several key bills, so this party switch really just makes formal what was already happening in practice. At the end of the day, it’s not the party label that matters, but how a person votes. I just hope she’ll continue to vote the right way and in line with the values she campaigned on, especially on critical issues like LGBTQ rights, abortion access, and voting and democracy laws.
In other news, since our last episode, a judge in Texas issued an order blocking access to an FDA approved mediation for abortion in what a former Scalia law clerk of all people, so a very conservative legal thinker, has called indefensible. Within days, even the most conservative appellate court in the country partially reversed that decision, and then a few days later the Supreme Court stepped in to block the judge’s renegade order entirely while the Supreme Court takes a closer look. We don’t know where this will end up, but at least as of this recording, the medication mifepristone, which has been approved for over two decades and is safer than Tylenol and Viagra, is still available nationwide.
There are a ton of legal problems with the judge’s order, but now that it’s been overturned, I’m not sure how useful it is to go into all of it in detail. There are also a few great resources already out there on the subject, so if you want to better understand the original order banning mifepristone in detail, I suggest listening to last week’s episode of Slate’s Political Gabfest, the April 11th episode of Pod Save America, or read the extremely thorough and excellent analysis from the former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk to Justice Scalia I just mentioned, Adam Unikowsky. I’ll leave links to all three in the show notes.
All that said, I do want to touch on a few of the biggest issues and sum them up. Again, go read Mr. Unikowsky’s post for a deeper analysis. So the first major issue is that the plaintiff doctors in this lawsuit don’t have standing to sue. That’s legal terminology which means they aren’t even entitled to bring the case in the first place. Our entire civil legal system depends on limiting lawsuits to those who suffer actual injuries which the Court can address. These doctors do not have any actual injury, just a speculative fear that somehow, someday, someone would force them to treat someone who had complications from taking mifepristone. In case it’s not obvious, that’s not an injury, that’s their job as a doctor. You don’t get to sue the government because you don’t like a policy, that’s what the democratic process is for. You only get to sue if you are being harmed by a policy, and simply put, they aren’t. So this lawsuit should have been thrown out immediately. Alas, it wasn’t.
Next, there’s a timing issue. The judge is throwing out an FDA approval from 2000. Normally, there’s a six-year statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit for this kind of challenge, although the clock doesn’t start running until certain agency responses to an initial challenge occur. There are a few technical twists and turns that go on in legal proceedings related to administrative decision making, and there are entire classes in law school devoted to this stuff. However, this particular case is not very complicated. Waiting well over 20 years to bring the law suit is just too long under any applicable statute of limitations or other legal principles guiding when lawsuits must happen and under any reading of when that six-year clock started running. Again, this suit should have been tossed out immediately based on being filed far too long after the FDA approval.
There’s at least one other basis on which this lawsuit should have been tossed immediately – challengers to federal agency decisions are required to exhaust all available challenges within the agency review process before filing a lawsuit. This serves the dual purpose of allowing an agency to correct its own mistakes first, if there were any, and second, it saves the courts valuable time and resources from trying to sort out matters that are rarely in their areas of expertise. The plaintiffs did not exhaust all options at the FDA, so this case should have been tossed immediately.
Finally, the merits of the case. Assuming this case was even allowed to be brought, by these plaintiffs, at this late juncture, it’s still an absurd outcome on the merits because the judge basically says that the FDA failed to take into account during the approval process, back in the year 2000, an obviously biased, unscientific, methodologically flawed survey just conducted in 2021. I think this is a good time to quote my favorite line from Mr. Unikowsky’s post: “[A]pparently, the FDA violated its regulations because, back in 2000, it failed to fire up its DeLorean, accelerate to 88 mph, and travel to 2021 to educate itself on this apparently seminal study showing that anonymous posters to AbortionChangesYou.com felt changed by abortion.” So yeah, this was an indefensible legal opinion from the Texas judge.
Now, legal opinions not directly impacting democracy, elections, and voting rights are usually beyond what I cover on this podcast. However, this particular decision is so exceptionally bad that it demonstrates a fundamental danger we see unfolding in our democracy by way of our courts, which is their legitimacy. This kind of ruling is not only bad in and of itself, but it’s so obviously wrong and in direct contravention to the law and facts that it does exceptional damage to our legal system. It undermines people’s confidence in our courts and that our courts can stay above the fray of politics and render mostly predictable outcomes grounded in law and facts. Unfortunately, it also comes when judicial ethics are in the spot light – I don’t need to go into all the ways that Justice Thomas’s evident lapses of judgment makes this so much worse – and our own state supreme court seems poised to confirm that it intends to just be another partisan political body, too. Our courts and legal system are under serious strain right now, and decisions like this severely undermine our democratic institutions.
Ok, enough with all of that, we’ve got a great interview to get to with Blair. Before that, I’ll mention once again that as of this recording, we don’t have any updates from the U.S. Supreme Court or the North Carolina Supreme Court on any of the potentially monumental cases before them regarding gerrymandering and voting rights yet. You’ll can rest assured we’ll cover those when they come out.
Now here’s my interview with Blair Reeves, hop you enjoy!
JD Wooten: With us today is Blair Reeves, Founder and Executive Director of Carolina Forward. Welcome back to the pod Blair.
Blair Reeves: Thanks a lot, JD. Happy to be here.
JD Wooten: Always a pleasure to have you on. So for those that may not know, Carolina Forward is a nonpartisan, non-profit public policy organization that advocates for ideas, policies, and values to build a stronger North Carolina that works for all people. In other words, a more just, democratic, and prosperous state that works for everyone. Before we turn to the craziness of the current political landscape, would you remind our listeners of some of the things that Carolina Forward does as part of that mission?
Blair Reeves: Yeah, absolutely. So I think that the, the key things that we want to do with Carolina Forward and we have been doing for about a couple years now, is educating and informing. So people from all over the state, voters, whatever their political stripe, inclination, whatever, the key thing we wanna do is inform those people about what's going on in Raleigh, what are the issues being discussed there, what are their representatives doing in Raleigh? Almost no one really knows this sort of stuff. It's very hard to keep up with some of that stuff sometimes, and so we can provide the information, explain it in a better way. And we've had enormous traction in doing that. So we're gonna keep doing it and provide better information for people so they can make good decisions that's a win for us.
JD Wooten: Overall, how was 2022 for Carolina Forward, its mission, its candidates, and so forth?
Blair Reeves: So we endorsed nine candidates in the 2022 state legislative races. And five of our candidates won. I'd prefer that nine of them won, all nine, but I'll take five. And we did pretty well. And within a very challenging environment, Republican wave year, gonna be good for Republican candidates. All the candidates that we endorsed were Democratic this time. And five of 'em still won and many, many candidates around the state won or lost their races by only a couple hundred votes. It was a really close election. It didn't come quite to the kinda blowout that a lot of people were either fearing or hoping for here in North Carolina. And as we'll get to it later on in the episode, it is only through some trickery that Republicans actually managed to clench a super majority, so there's that.
JD Wooten: I think five out of nine in the environment that we were in when you ended up only endorsing Democrats was pretty impressive. I don't remember what the podcast stats were. I don't think we hit five outta nine in terms of people we interviewed, but like I said then, if you're batting perfect record, are you digging deep enough?
Blair Reeves: Yeah, exactly. There are some organizations that try to hedge their bets, they endorse like super safe candidates to increase the hit rate or whatever. And I don't really believe in sandbagging like that. We swung for the fences. We did pretty well. I'm pretty happy with where we netted out.
JD Wooten: And there's a time and place to endorse candidates that are in the 75, 25 districts that are a foregone conclusion. But given the work y'all are doing, I, I agree that that's not value added, per se. All right, so current landscape, as you alluded to, perhaps the biggest political news in North Carolina in the last few weeks was Representative Tricia Cotham, a State House member from a solidly Democratic district in Mecklenburg County jumping ship to become a Republican. She had already been voting in ways that supported at least some of the House Republican's agenda. But the fear is that despite running on a pro LGBTQ, pro-choice, pro-democracy, otherwise generally pretty progressive platform, she'll now vote in lockstep with the GOP.. So, and here's a quick disclaimer before we talk about this any further. We only know what's publicly available. We don't know what's behind closed doors, what private conversations were had in the, in the backroom cigars with scotch or whatever they do. So anything we say is kind of speculation and some intuition, which could be spot on or wildly off base. But I don't mind having a little fun with this and looking at what's available. So with that disclaimer, Blair, you have a theory about this switch, care to share with our listen?
Blair Reeves: Well, JD, I don't have a theory about the switch, like, we'll just talk about like what's clear in front of everyone's eyes. First of all, Tricia Cotham completely lied to the voters in Mecklenburg County. That much is undisputable. She scrubbed her website after we published like just a screenshot of her campaign issues page - $15 minimum wage, support for public schools, supporting voting rights and voting access. You mentioned the LGBTQ stuff. Solid rock solid support like Trisha Cotham was in Time Magazine for her support for abortion rights. I mean, she was a national thing. It was like her signature issue. And then a few months after getting elected, she switched to the North Carolina Republican Party. So she lied to everybody. That much is undisputable. Tricia Cotham got bought is what happened. I don't think anyone's seriously disputes that. She is going to get things going to her district in the budget, and because she's now unelectable, not only in her district, probably anywhere in Mecklenburg County. You can't draw a safe Republican district there. Tricia Cotham incinerated her political career in Mecklenburg County after lying to the voters there. And you, you don't do that without a reason. Watch very carefully what happens to Tricia Cotham's career in, let's say December of 2024, maybe January of 2025, depending on how the, the, the timelines work out.
JD Wooten: And I was gonna say, I was gonna guess June or July 2024 because of the six month waiting.
Blair Reeves: She might become a lobbyist. Bob Seinberg is a good example of this. The Republican state senator from out east. He resigned his seat early after he lost his primary, so that the clock would start ticking. There's a six month waiting period before you could become a lobbyist. And, and he used that six months, by the way, to run around eastern North Carolina. In northeastern North Carolina in particular, and convince county commissions to hire him as a lobbyist. And then when the clock wound up he's making six figures now in Raleigh doing the same thing, lobbying his old colleagues and, and by the way, being paid by the taxpayers of North Carolina and tax taxpayers of northeastern North Carolina in particular, which looks pretty gross, which most people would wouldn't like. So there's a lot of rumors I wish you might do. Maybe she'll run for Department of Public Instruction against Catherine Truitt. Maybe she'll run for Congress. She was a major outspoken opponent of HB2 by the way, and in her little press conference at the NCGOP, she stood there shoulder to shoulder with the biggest bigot in North Carolina politics, with I possible exception of Mark Robinson, Dan Bishop himself, the author of HB2. This was not a case that Tricia Cotham was persuaded by the good offices of Tim Moore. This was a case that Tricia Cotham made a deal. Right after election night last year in November, Jim Blaine at the NCGOP, he had this tweet that's been kinda like floating around, leadership says one to three Democrats could switch parties, right, before the session. And no one switched parties before the session, didn't happen. And now people look at Trish Cotham and they say, well, wait a minute, maybe they were talking about her and if they were talking about her right after election night, that's a pretty quick turnaround for a good faith persuasion by Tim Moore, whoever else, and it looks really bad. So at a very minimum, she sold out her constituent, sold out her district, lied to everybody, and cut a deal to become a Republican and join the caucus. She could have become an independent. She could have done a lot of other things, but she chose to join the Republican caucus. But I think it's pretty clear she cut a deal. And right now the big question is like, what kind of deal did she cut? When was that deal cut. The voters wanna know. Absolutely confirms what everyone hates about politics and about politicians selling them out when they get to Raleigh, and that is exactly what Tricia Cotham did.
JD Wooten: I think a couple of the things that caught my eye both in what you wrote, what some others have written, what I saw on my own observations they kind of just make me raise an eyebrow. First off, I, I take no issue with the assertion that some kind of deal was cut there. I mean, it just doesn't seem fathomable that that was done without some kind of deal.
Blair Reeves: It doesn't, has a sniff test.
JD Wooten: Yeah.
Blair Reeves: Right.
JD Wooten: And it also doesn't pass the sniff test that the deal wasn't cut a while back. And things that I look to on that are she got leadership role despite being in the minority party in some important committees in the house. That's not, that's not without precedent at all, but it's not common, especially not for somebody that's just coming back to the legislature in the minority party. And not for somebody on a committee that at least is getting lip service.
Blair Reeves: There's a lot of Republican backbenchers out there who are probably a little, maybe a little teed off that Tim Moore gives Tricia Cotham whom he has a good relationship, a close relationship this like gavel and they, they're probably thinking, well, wait a minute, she's a Democrat. Now, now she's a Republican, but she's a, she's a Johnny come lately Republican, who you cut a deal with. And I've been here for however many terms and I don't have a gavel yet. Probably some people been outta shape about that if I had to guess.
JD Wooten: And then another thing that caught my eye was, the moment she announced, I pulled up her financial disclosures and then like the next day, terrible minds, I mean, sorry great minds think alike, you published a piece with the pie chart of her disclosures and I remember looking back and saying, huh, that's a lot of PACs that would never talk to me when I was running as a Democrat, let alone give to me, and let alone give to me in a primary.
Blair Reeves: Some of the Republican pundits in the tiny world of North Carolina politics Twitter, right, made the point that okay, business PACs give to who they think they'll get the most ROI out of. And they're right about that. They do. And so, for these PACs that most of 'em didn't give to a single Democrat, let alone give to any Democrat primaries, swooping in to load up Tricia Cotham with I think $56,000 or something like that. They were, they're investing it's investment play for ROI.
JD Wooten: Yeah, absolutely. And I take no issue with that and I don't think that that statement is mutually exclusive of our suspicions. In fact, if anything, it might confirm it and say hey, if you're gonna get a return on investment out of this person, what the heck? What's going on here?
Blair Reeves: Yeah. It's like I tell people, I, I mean, I hate to bring this to some people, but there really are some politicians out there who lie, cheat, and steal, and we have a lot of them in North Carolina, and Trish Cotham is one.
JD Wooten: All right. We've had our phone with Cotham. We'll, we'll see how that goes. In my mind, and I'm sure I will have covered this in the intro, but in my mind, the biggest thing is not what party label she has, but how she votes. And she had already started demonstrating concerning voting record. This will probably just further solidify it, and we will just have to wait and see how this goes on that front. But anyway, like I said, enough about her. How about the myriad of terrible bills we've seen introduced lately? I think we're now at a total of about six anti-trans bills floating around, a total abortion ban that's been introduced, a house budget that may divert as much as $1.5 billion to the state's private school voucher program instead of supporting our public schools. And, oh, by the way, I think they're still trying to ban participation trophies, which is just the one that's got me a little bit like, are you serious guys? So where should we start with any of that?
Blair Reeves: No, you're forgetting the one that bans forced microchip implantation in employees, which I'm not like pro forced implantation of microchips, but I'm kinda wondering like the guys who are like filing this stuff like this and the participation trophy stuff, like this is what you're spending your time on?
JD Wooten: Look, I come from a conservative upbringing and a fiscally restrained kind of natural disposition. And my first reaction is, that's what the hell you're spending my tax dollars on, is getting somebody to draft that shit, like, come on dude.
Blair Reeves: Yeah, there is a whole lot of bad legislation headed our way. That's the, a long and short of it. There's a question of like, how much this stuff is, is, so Cotham is one of the key votes there. It's hard to see any, any other members of the Republican House caucus peeling off to refusing to override the veto. Maybe there might be some, but there are some, there are some folks both in the House and the Senate who, you think about like a Michael Lee down in Wilmingon, you think about Aaron Perk in Raleigh, you think about John Bradford up in Northern Mecklenburg though maybe he doesn't care cause he's not gonna run for office again, or he's not going for State House anyway. You, you ask these people in more moderate districts, cuz there are republicans in some pretty moderate districts, even if they're a little wonky who are looking at some of these bills being like, ah, that's hard. Ted Davis down in Wilmington. I mean, they're gonna chop up those maps and we can talk about that too, but there are some Republicans who are gonna have a hard time with some of these bills. But this is what gerrymandering does. Most of these guys are completely invulnerable to any challenge. Some because they're just in conservative areas. I mean, gerrymandering is not why, I don't know, Tim Moore, is in the House, right? Just cause it's a conservative area, they're going to vote Republican, but a lot of these guys are in office because we talked about the maps to be unrepresented of the voters of North Carolina. And that way the only pressure they face is in a Republican primary, which means they have to even further their right. So for a lot of these guys, there's no downside to getting crazier and crazier and in that kinda case without any check, and the voters did not give those guys a super majority, right? The lying and cheating did. But without that check, we're gonna see how far they want to go. And we're gonna see a lot of bad legislation and it's gonna be up to voters to decide if they want to hold those guys accountable in 2024.
JD Wooten: Yeah, my fear is that now with Representative Cotham being a Republican and them having a full super majority, not just functionally, like they have kind of demonstrated that they already had, but now truly , formally, and that puts a lot of extra pressure on everybody, I think, to stay locked, stepped and in line. And it also creates, especially in these gerrymandered districts, an increased push from the right because, sort of like we're seeing in some of the national dialogue is going right now, you've got people like Ron DeSantis that are more worried about the right flank than a general election electorate right now. Ron DeSantis just signed a six week abortion ban into law, and he might have just tanked his chance at a general election by doing that. You don't know. I wonder if that kind of thing will also happen here in North Carolina where at the start of this session, the conversations we were hearing between Speaker Moore, President Pro Tem Berger, were okay, we're looking at the abortion issue and we know that the members of our caucus want to see movement somewhere under the 20 weeks, but we don't know how far, and that's kind of where we're going. Now, my concern is, okay, that's not a conversation about 12 versus 15 weeks, or 10 versus 12 weeks. Now it's a conversation of is it a total ban or do we allow as much as six weeks?
Blair Reeves: What I've heard from the legislature in particular about the abortion bans is, a lot of the Republican caucus, and this is all the Republican caucus, the Democrats don't want any new researchers on abortion, right? But it's always gonna be the Republicans control. Republican caucus in the house, once a six week ban or complete ban. They're folks on both sides of that. In the Senate has a couple more of those senators who are a little bit more frontline districts. They're willing to do a restriction, but they want more of like a 12 week, 12 to 15 week kinda zone. And there's been a lot of conversation back and forth about what that looks like. And what they're gonna do is they're gonna introduce a Compromise Bill. This is a moderate compromise, right? New restriction. It's gonna be a new ban. And they're going to frame that as a compromise, which it isn't, but the fact that we haven't seen that bill yet probably means that, that there isn't a lot of of compromise there. Mark Robinson is giving interviews saying that he wants a total ban. He wants a six week ban, something like that. He's going around talking about that while they're in this middle negotiation, which is pretty meaningful. You had the total ban bill that was filed a few weeks ago saying nothing after conception, no abortion at all. The reason why that was filed was because a lot of the anti-abortion zealots have pushed their friends on that side to, that's like an opening negotiation. They filed a bill, right? It's not gonna go anywhere, but that bill's filed and now people can see it. And so now when they file a six week and a 12 week they're gonna say, look, we're not totally going one way here, we're offering a compromise of only 12 week abortion ban, right? Which is not a compromise at all. It's, it's a massive strikeout against women's bodily autonomy. That's gonna be their, their, their strategy. Now, the problem they're in right now is basically all the polling, Carolina Forward's polling, even like the Republicans, the John Locke Foundation, they're polling, independent polling you got High Point, you got Meredith. Everyone who's done polling on abortion can see the results. Like, there's no good path for this. About a third of voters want to restrict abortion and everyone else wants to leave it alone, and about a third of voters went fewer restrictions. If you're an anti-abortion activist, there's no good voter case to be made for more restrictions. It's just what you wanna do.
JD Wooten: Yeah, and I think that on the messaging side, it drives me up the wall when I hear about these what are being called compromises or meet in the middle or whatever. Like no, Roe v Wade was the compromise.
Blair Reeves: That was the compromise.
JD Wooten: That was the compromise. Then you didn't like it, so you wanted to recompromise and now you're recompromising and then you're recomp. It's kind of like, oh, well we only wanna ban certain books in K through three. Okay, now it's K through eight. Now it's all public schools. It's like, no, this is the way the conservative movement attacks things. They do it incrementally. I mean, they will go after everything all at once if they think they can, but if they don't, they'll take the John Roberts approach. Chip things off slowly over time, like the Voting Rights Act like, oh, let's just take away this sentence. Let's take away this sentence. Let's take away this sentence. And before you know it...
Blair Reeves: We're gonna, we're gonna boil a frog over this. ? Yeah. That's, that's a, that's a strategy.
JD Wooten: And nobody notices. Oh shit, the Voting Rights Act is gone, damn it.
Blair Reeves: And then one day you wake up, you don't have access to birth control. your public schools are defunct and they win. And that's, that, that, that, that's happened in a couple states. We're now a haven state for women's reproductive healthcare. And it's up to the voters in the state to decide to keep it that way. Even with all the gerrymandering that the Republicans have jammed through the house and which they will continue to do cause they're about to redraw those maps and jam 'em again. Even with that, it's hard to draw a permanent Republican supermajority unless you get really crazy with the maps. And at this point, with the Paul Newby Court, it's gonna be 2028 until the Democrats can even feasibly retake that if they can figure out how to win judicial races again. But short of that, they'll have no federal action on voting rights and voting access and redistricting and, and short of that, it's really tough to get there.
JD Wooten: Yeah, we've got some work cut out for us. So before we talk about actions, one more area that I thought we could cover real quick cause you mentioned it a few times here, polling, that's a big part of what Carolina Forward does. A lot of what you do, you kind of do behind the scenes or it informs your messaging. One piece that I know though, that you've put out there and that we've seen is really relevant, I think, as we start looking towards the budget negotiations that are about to begin or kind of have started, if you will. In North Carolina, there is actually huge support for some level of a corporate tax dedicated to public school funding. North Carolina has long struck a balance between being pro-business and pro-education, at least until about the last decade. And so there's still strong support in that mentality in North Carolina, and we see an enormous disconnect, back to that question of gerrymandering, that question of does the current General Assembly represent the will of the people, are they following what North Carolinians' preferences are? And this is a good area where, y'all's polling confirms on its face that the North Carolina voters are not in support of this part of the direction the General Assembly is going. So can you tell us a little more about what y'all have seen there and how it's just so disconnected from the way budget talks are going?
Blair Reeves: So, Carolina Forward, we're a pro business organization. We want a thriving economy where people have access to not only find a, find a job, find a good job, find a prosperous livelihood and where people can grow. And that's, I think we all want that, really. We also think that really strong public schools, access to affordable healthcare, infrastructure, things like this, those are a pro business strategy. You can't have a thriving economy, especially a thriving broad-based economy ample opportunities for low income workers to improve their livelihoods as well as a growing middle class. You can't have those things unless you have a really strong educational system that's a pipeline for workers into that system, affordable healthcare, Medicaid Expansion is gonna be a really big shot in the arm for this access to affordable healthcare to take care of them once they get there. And what we find is that the Republicans passed this repeal of the corporate tax. So they abolished corporate taxes, corporate income taxes in North Carolina. It's phasing out over a couple years. I think it phases out in 2026 or something like that.
JD Wooten: But to clarify, it goes to zero?
Blair Reeves: It goes to zero, a donut, yes. So Exxon, Amazon, Walmart, they'll pay paying less tax than you do. And it's, it's completely bonkers. You tell people about this and they don't believe it, and then you show 'em the bill and that they pass and they're like, holy crap. People hate this. Republicans and Democrats by the way. So regardless of party or stripe, the Republicans hate it less, but they still hate it. It's incredibly unpopular on both sides. And, you tell people about, about this, again, a lot of 'em don't, don't believe you. There's a lot of support for saying, okay, so, and the corporate tax is like some three, 4% of like, state no revenues. Like it's, it's non-trivial. It's a lot of money. And you say, let's link that to public school support. That's not all the money the public schools need, by the way. We've had a de a decade or more of a starvation diet for the public schools in this state. But if you link that to support from public schools to paying your teachers, put a nurse or a counselor in every school, strengthen schools, secure schools there's a enormous amount of public support for that. The Republicans have begun to adopt this language of supporting schools and supporting teachers, so in the Republican budget, there's a 10% raise for teachers. Now in Governor Cooper's budget, there's 18% raise for teachers, and they said that's dead on arrival, we're not gonna do that. A 10% raise for teachers is better than a 0% rating for teacher. But basically it not quite brings them up to where inflation has been or whatever the number was, like, it's not a huge increase. North Carolina is, is near bottom of the nation for teachers salaries and literally lasts in the nation for the percentage of our state GDP that goes to supporting public schools. Literally lasts in the nation. And that's, that's a policy choice. This is the thing that people need to understand. That level of support for public education is not a financial necessity, not a fiscal necessity of the state of North Carolina. That is a political choice that people have made. And they've made that because the Chamber of Commerce wants it, big business wants it. Big business wants their taxes go to zero. They can give a damn what happens after that cause they're looking at their next quarterly earning statement. So, these are the kinds of things that more voters need to be educated on. They need to know about this, these sorts of things that, that are happening. And we can help with that, but we think that other partners, and the politicians, the Republicans need to be more honest about it, the Democrats need to talk about it more, and what the role we can play is putting that information out there and making sure people understand it.
JD Wooten: I think that is an excellent explanation of both that particular policy issue and also kind of the bigger picture of where y'all are fitting into it and helping educate voters, educate the population in general. I know I appreciate seeing that stuff. Listeners, if you're curious and you want the weekly updates on Fridays and what is it, Monday, Tuesdays...
Blair Reeves: Something like that.
JD Wooten: Top stories. Yeah. Yeah.
Blair Reeves: And we appreciate you JD.
JD Wooten: Oh, well, thank you. All right. So for the listens, how do they help you keep this going, and especially in light of all these things that we've just talked about, if they're sitting there thinking, holy crap, it's over a year and a half until the next big election cycle. There are off cycle elections this year, but the ones we're talking about, General Assembly, Council of State, what can they do right now to help y'all or anyone else?
Blair Reeves: So, that's a good question. I've fielded a lot of inquiries around like, how do we recall Tricia Cotham? And the answer is you can't. There's no mechanism in North Carolina law, her recalling legislators. Your chance to recall Trisha Cotham in 2024 and she's probably not gonna run. So the best thing people can do right now is, is share information. So share awareness of what just happened. And I don't just mean around the Cotham thing. That's really gross and problematic. I mean, about what our state lawmakers and Raleigh are doing right now, people need to know that they're trying to ban abortion and they're trying to restrict your birth control. Birth control is next. They're coming after your birth control. They're coming after abortion medication in a big way. They wanna do that. We need to tell people what they're doing around, corporate taxes are a good example, we need to tell people what they're doing around your public schools. A lot of people don't know that more than two thirds of your local public schools paid for by the state. It does not come from your county, does not come from your local area, it comes from the state government. And so people need to know things like that. Signing up, whether it's with carolinaforward.org or if it's with another organization in your local area at the state level, getting involved in those kinds of ways and finding a way to access good information about what is happening in North Carolina and statewide, is the most important step. And then either getting involved with a local organization, starting one your own by yourself, you're in your neighborhood, your town, your church, your school, whatever those networks may be. Those are places where people need to be activated and understand what's going on. That kind of engagement is really where it all starts.
JD Wooten: Yeah. I've been telling people in this order volunteer, and if you have the means, donate. Find an organization, find a group, whether it be your local party, whether it be a nonprofit, whether it be a nonpartisan policy organization like y'all or somebody kind of more boots on the ground, like say The New Rural Project. Look into these orgs. Not everybody has the means to donate. Not everybody has the time to volunteer. Some people have both, some people have neither. I understand. But where you can either or both go a long ways to helping with this fight for those on the ground.
Blair Reeves: Absolutely.
JD Wooten: And so if somebody were to give to Carolina Forward right now, where is that going and, and what are y'all doing with that since you don't have a slate yet?
Blair Reeves: Money that goes to us right now is probably gonna go one to our polling operation, our polling research. That's one of the big things. One of our biggest things we spent money on last year was we did a video ad around protecting abortion rights. It was seen by nearly a million people in key legislative districts around North Carolina and it really moved the needle. And those are some of the biggest things that we do. We are looking into we've begun a policy paper on energy, on energy policy. Our energy policy in North Carolina is one of those topics that like people's eyes glaze over and whoa, almost fell asleep just talking about it. But it's actually incredibly important. It powers all of our houses and our cars and everything else. It's a really, really huge deal. So we're doing that. We're coming up with some really interesting research around different voting segments in North Carolina that we can use not only, policy makers can use, people running for office can use, and those of us in like organizations that work with voters need to know about as well. And then we're gonna be doing direct to voter communications as well. So, mailers to different parts of the state. People who have just moved here need to understand, welcome to North Carolina, here's some stuff that's going on. Here are ways you can get involved and we're here to support you and inform you. So we'll be doing a lot more of that too. Cause again, it really begins with awareness and engagement with the issues going on in our state.
JD Wooten: All right, I'm gonna start a Civil War. Welcome to North Carolina, eastern barbecue is the best, here's what you need to know about voting.
Blair Reeves: Facts, sorry.
JD Wooten: All right, don't at me, everyone. All right, well, Blair, anything else for our listeners?
Blair Reeves: I don't think so. Make sure you like and subscribe to the Carolina Democracy Podcast. I certainly do. It's an awesome work and I'm glad that you're doing it.
JD Wooten: All right, well thank you, Blair. Thanks for coming on and as always, welcome back anytime, but appreciate your time today.
Blair Reeves: Awesome. Thanks a lot man.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to Blair for joining us today, and thanks everyone for listening. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!