Civitas Review

Judge Chooses North Carolina Early Voting Site


You may remember my article (Kricker Rules the State Board of Elections). The article was about the one state board of elections member who essentially made all the decisions as to which counties could reduce their one-stop voting hours for the November General Election. Maja Kricker, one of two Democrats on the state board, took advantage of the law that required a unanimous vote to change voting hours. Kricker concocted rules that all counties had to comply with in order to get her vote. And, since the SBOE vote must be unanimous, she effectively made the final decision for the five member board.

The most troubling part of this scenario was that none of the other board members had a problem with her actions. True, their opposition to her tyrannical stance would have been fruitless, but they acquiesced in a way that made her process seem appropriate. The chairman even gave weight to her requirements by naming them "the Kricker Rules."

Now there's another member of a local board that seems to be calling the shots in her County. Kathleen Campbell, in Watauga County, has been fighting to reinstate the one-stop site on the Appalachian State University campus. The three-member board voted 2 – 1 not to open the site on campus, in that the Board of Elections' one-stop site was less than a mile away.

Campbell appealed to the State Board of Elections. Superior Court Judge Don Stephens overturned the State Board's decision to uphold the Watauga County Board of Elections plan. Stephens ordered Watauga County to open the University one-stop site – 10 days before one-stop, early voting was scheduled to start in North Carolina. On October 17, the North Carolina Court of Appeals stayed Stephens' decision and then lifted the stay on October 21st.

It doesn't look like the North Carolina Supreme Court will have to dirty their hands on this case, in an emergency meeting scheduled for today at 4 p.m., the State Board of Elections reversed their decision and re-established an early voting site on the University's campus in time to open tomorrow.

Stephens seems to believe that voting is all about convenience. Stephens, in a statement said; "(It) is the responsibility of government to minimize inconvenience in voting, not maximize it."

This decision may set a new standard for voting in the United States of America – forget about the Constitution and all the equal access and one-person, one-vote blather, we can now look to convenience as a standard to measure voting decisions.

A couple of questions.

Has the State Board of Elections helped to set the precedent that will encourage judges to pick one-stop sites? And, as to one board member in a board of three or five making the decisions, should we ditch the whole idea of boards of elections, both local and state, and let the court's make all the decisions?

"Affordable" Care Act: NC Insurance Premiums to Rise by 13% Next Year


In a conference call earlier today Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC discussed projected insurance premiums for 2015.

North Carolina's largest health insurer says rates will rise by more than 13 percent on average next year for buyers of individual Affordable Care Act policies.
But hey, at least "if you like your plan you get to keep your plan (for two years)". Yeah, if you can afford it.
Aside from ACA plans, the insurer is maintaining pre-existing plans that don't conform to the Affordable Care Act's requirements but customers wanted to keep. Rates for those plans will rise by an average of 13 to 19 percent, depending on when they were sold.

State Treasurer Cowell Involved in Yet Another Pay-to-Play Scheme with Erskine Bowles


Yesterday's International Business Times calls into question some of State Treasurer Janet Cowell's decisions and transparency over the past few years in her role overseeing the state's pension fund. Specifically, it examines the new "Innovation fund" Cowell created in 2010 and how it has benefitted political allies – specifically Erskine Bowles.

From its inception, the innovation fund was run jointly by Cowell and the multinational banking giant Credit Suisse. Within a year of its launching, a fundraiser for Cowell was held at Bowles’ home. Weeks later, the innovation fund awarded a contract to Bowles' firm, Carousel Capital, to manage some of the fund’s money. Only three days after that, Carousel filed documents with the SEC showing that the firm had paid Credit Suisse $775,000 for the bank’s work as a so-called placement agent in helping Carousel attract investment money.

In other words, in its role ostensibly protecting North Carolina taxpayers’ interests, Credit Suisse steered state pension money to a politically connected firm that was paying the bank to help it land pension deals.

Financial and pension management experts inside North Carolina and beyond now say the deal can be viewed as a particularly pungent example of the dubious role of placement agents — intermediaries hired by private financial firms to help them secure fee-generating deals to manage public pension money.

According to the article, Cowell used her power over the state pension fund to reward Erskine Bowles – who just so happened to be a fundraiser for Cowell.

Sound familiar? It should.

Remember a couple of years ago when Cowell invested millions of the pension fund in the Facebook IPO? Bowles was on the board at Facebook and also at Morgan Stanley who was the primary underwriter of the deal and as such reaped millions in fees, so he was involved in two firms that stood to benefit from Cowell's actions.

And then there is the lawsuit against Facebook for its IPO in which the NC pension fund served as a lead plaintiff, and Cowell just so happened to select out of state law firms who were major donors to her campaigns to represent the pension fund, and in turn earn perhaps millions in fees.

How many more cases of Cowell leveraging her power over the state pension fund to enrich her political cronies are there?

All of this corruption further makes that case that the power over the state employee pensions should be taken out of the hands of politicians and government bureaucrats and instead given to the employees themselves. This could be done by transitioning the pension fund to a 401(k) style defined contribution plan.

Candidates and Common Core


Do you want to know if a local candidate supports or opposes Common Core Standards? The Raleigh Chamber –  a strong proponent of Common Core Standards — has published  responses to candidate surveys on its web site.  Candidates who chose to reply are posted. It should be noted that not all candidates submitted replies.

Although we differ with the Chamber on its support for Common Core standards, we  support their efforts to get important information about local candidates to voters.

Five More ACA Horror Stories


You'll be hearing a lot about how the Affordable Care Act helps patients, but the exact opposite is true: the Affordable Care act hurts patients, especially because it pushes them into the inferior Medicaid program. Five new stories of health care disasters:

1. One North Carolina pediatrician, Dr. Rosemary Stein of Burlington, recently wrote in the Charlotte Observer, that

The ACA limits access to health care in two ways. First, physicians have less time to treat patients every day. Second, we are unable to deliver effective medical counseling to our patients.

2. As another doctor wrote:

The Physicians Foundation made shockwaves last month when it released its 2014 Survey of America’s Physicians. The survey’s top-line finding: Of the 20,000 doctors surveyed, almost 50 percent stated that Obamacare deserves either a “D” or an “F.” Only a quarter of physicians graded it as either an “A” or a “B.” Count me among the discontented. Obamacare has harmed too many of my patients.

3. Meanwhile, people who believed that "if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan," will be getting a nasty surprise.

4. And rightwing rag the New York Times reports that many ACA policyholders are finding they can't afford to actually use the policies:

About 7.3 million Americans are enrolled in private coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than 80 percent qualified for federal subsidies to help with the cost of their monthly premiums. But many are still on the hook for deductibles that can top $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for families — the trade-off, insurers say, for keeping premiums for the marketplace plans relatively low. The result is that some people — no firm data exists on how many — say they hesitate to use their new insurance because of the high out-of-pocket costs.

The evidence is mounting. The ACA promised cheaper but better medical care for more people. In fact it is hurting medical care and running up costs both for health care providers and for ordinary people.

5. Meanwhile, the lead editorial (behind a paywall) in today's Wall Street Journal shows why the ACA, rather than lowering health care costs, will be raising them.

You'll hear loud cries for North Carolina to get more involved in the ACA, including expanding Medicaid. The truth is that the ACA is a mess, and our state is better off staying away from it.