STATE NEWS BRIEFS FOR 01-31-19
COMMUNITY TO NHC SCHOOL BOARD:
“WILLISTON ART SCHOOL NOT GOOD ENOUGH”
by Cash Michaels
If NHC School Board Chairwoman Lisa Estep, Vice Chair David Wortman, and members Judy Justice and Stephanie Adams were expecting a packed Media Center at Williston Middle School Tuesday night, filled with concerned parents, students, teachers, Williston Senior High alums and citizens challenging the board’s proposal to turn Williston Middle into a performing arts high school in the near future, they weren’t disappointed.
But Estep and her fellow board members weren’t necessarily happy about it either. Speaker after speaker, it was clear at Tuesday’s one-hour community forum, with over 20 people speaking out, that changing Williston into an institutional vanity project, instead of a rigorous school for both academic instruction and useful skills training, was not going to fly, especially with African-Americans who want to see the same commitment to excellence that the legendary all-black Williston Senior High School exhibited before it was arbitrarily shutdown by the NHC School Board in 1968 in overreaction to a federal desegregation order.
The question was consistently being asked, “What about the students who live in this community? How will an arts high school help them get meaningful jobs and marketable skills that are in demand.”
Even though NHC Schools Supt. Tim Markley that despite concerns, no students currently attending Williston Middle will be moved next year.
It took former NHC School Board member Nick Rhodes to ask the bottomline community question.
“…[W]hen we start moving students, why is it the black kids are the only ones moved?” Mr. Rhodes asked, adding what he bluntly thought of the whole arts school idea.
“I think we need to come up with another solution, because I don’t think a performing arts school is the right solution for this community!”
Other proud Williston Senior High alums, like Kenneth Chestnut, Linda Pierce and others, further drove home the point that a strong academic/vocational curriculum is crucially needed if Williston Middle is to become a high school again.
“I think that we are missing the opportunity if we don’t consider the vocational component here at Williston,” Mr. Chestnut said.
There were also questions about what would happen to students at the International School at Gregory if Williston Middle is changed.
There is little question that when NHC School Board Vice Chair David Wortman’s Williston Exploratory Committee Meets again this afternoon at 3 at the Spencer Annex, the community’s almost unified opposition to his arts high school concept must be factored in.
When that committee met last week, it considered questions, according to discussion points supplied to The Journal, about graduating from the arts school with employment opportunities; keeping Williston a neighborhood school; and dealing with student overcrowding.
It is clear though that from this point forward, the community expects its school board to be transparent in its decision-making about the future of Williston.
REP. ADAMS ASSIGNED TO HOUSE FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE
[WASH., D.C.] When Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, goes after President Donald Trump’s heretofore unseen tax returns, she’ll have help from North Carolina. 12thDistrict Democrat Rep. Alma Adams has been assigned to the committee. “I am pleased to welcome Congresswoman Alma Adams to the Financial Services Committee and the Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee,” Chairwoman Waters said in a statement.
ST. AUGUSTINE’S UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT ANNOUNCED RETIREMENT
[RALEIGH] Dr. Everett Ward, president of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, has announced that he is stepping down at the end of this school year, so that a new leader can assume the reins for the next academic school year. Dr. Ward has presided of St. Aug’s since 2014, replacing Dr. Diane Boardley Suber. ““It’s now time for the Saint Augustine’s Renaissance to continue with a new chapter,” Ward told the school’s board of trustees, according to a news release. “I’m extremely grateful for the commitment exemplified by our students, staff, faculty and alumni. Together, along with friends of the university, we conquered significant challenges with our eyes on the prize.”
LONG SESSION OF NC GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGINS IN EARNEST
[RALEIGH] The NC General Assembly got down to business for its Long Session yesterday, this time with a different twist. Gone is the Republican super-majority in both the state House and Senate. While the GOP still hold majorities in both chambers, thanks to a Democratic surge of voters during the 2018 midterms, those Republican majorities aren’t veto proof, meaning Democrats now have more input into legislation than before, and if there’s something they don’t like, they can signal to Gov. Cooper to dust off his veto pen to stop it. The expected haggling many drag this session well into the summer before adjournment.
NEW STATE ELECTIONS BOARD DEALS
WITH 9THDISTRICT RACE TODAY
By Cash Michaels
Today, Jan. 31st, is the day that the new five-member State Board of Elections (SBOE) convenes, and the most pressing item on its agenda is resolution of the nagging Ninth Congressional District alleged election fraud controversy involving Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.
Harris, of Charlotte, unofficially won that November 2018 contest by 905-votes. But according to published reports, allegations of absentee ballot tampering have clouded an unofficially declared outcome.
That outcome can’t become official until the new SBOE votes 3-2 to accept the results and certify the race. There are three Democrats and two Republicans on the SBOE.
Certification is what state Republicans want, regardless of the facts. The NCGOP has said unless it can be proven that the 905-vote margin of victory is not genuine, it wants Mark Harris certified.
Harris took that argument to a Wake Superior Court judge last week, and lost spectacularly, because, the judge ruled, the SBOE investigators were still probing the case.
Attorney Irving Joyner, who represents the Bladen Improvement Association, the African-American political action committee that Republicans falsely accused of election fraud after Gov. Pat McCrory lost re-election in 2016, applauded the judge’s decision.
“Judge [Paul] Ridgeway's decision not to interfere with the investigation by the NC Board of Elections into illegal conduct in the Ninth Congressional District is a major step to uphold the rule of law in North Carolina,” attorney Joyner said. “This effort by the Harris campaign and the Republican Party was designed as an "end-run" …to thwart the ongoing investigation.”
Joyner continued, “Presently, the SBOE is engaged in a thorough investigation to determine the extent of illegality in Bladen, Columbus and Robeson Counties and that investigation should be allowed to conclude. It is clear that illegal acts were committed by Republican operatives and that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina has failed since 2016 to prosecute McCrae Dowless for prior illegal conduct which was committed [before] the 2018 elections. North Carolina citizens deserve to know exactly who was involved in these illegal acts and all of the wrongdoers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Wake County District Attorney’s Office has been tackling the criminal end of investigation, along with the FBI. But what investigators with the SBOE uncover is crucial in determining what happens next. A final determination is not widely expected today, especially since an evidentiary hearing is expected.
At the end of the process, one of two things can happen – either the SBOE votes to indeed certify the Ninth District results, or the board declares a new election, which will take a 4-1 vote, meaning that at least one of the two Republicans on the five-member SBOE will have to vote with the three-Democrat majority.
And the NCGOP maintains that that isn’t likely to happen.
“Chairman (Robin) Hayes and our team are confident that our nominees . . . will come to the only reasonable conclusion,” Dallas Woodhouse, NCGOP executive director, told The Charlotte Observer this week. “That is (the) race should be certified because Dr. Harris won more legal votes and we believe no evidence can possibly show otherwise.”
If the SBOE doesn’t vote to certify, Harris is likely to go back to court. But even if he does, the Democratic majority in Congress has already made clear that they will not seat Harris unless they’re satisfied he won fair and square.
NC SEN. ERICA SMITH TO
CHALLENGE TILLIS REELECTION
By Cash Michaels
District 3 Democrat State Sen. Erica D. Smith (Northhampton, Bertie, Edgecombe, Hertford, Chowan, Martin, Tyrrell, Washington) announced on Twitter Saturday that she will challenge first-term Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ re-election bid.
“It’s official,’ Sen. Smith tweeted. “I’m running for the U.S. Senate in 2020. I’m committed to serving Senate district 3 with continued excellence throughout my term at the NCGA (North Carolina General Assembly). But I hope to soon have the honor of serving all 100 counties of the Old North State as North Carolina’s next U.S. senator.
Now serving her second in the NC Senate, Sen. Smith joins Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller, an African-American; and attorney Eva Lee, who was the first to announce her candidacy in 2017. Both Fuller and Lee are also Democrats, so a primary can be expected to determine who ultimately will face Sen. Tillis next year.
Sen. Smith is an ordained minister, former public school teacher, and trained engineer. She is also an alumna of NC A&T University.
“I’m excited to share more with you in the coming months about why I want to serve the people of NC,” Sen. Smith continued. “As a former engineer, minister and high school teacher, I’m equipped to tackle NC’s toughest challenges and get to work to stand up for our most vulnerable neighbors.”
“But most importantly, this will be a campaign powered by the people and driven by your beliefs and values. I am honored to be serving in the NCGA, and I hope I’ll have your support as I embark on this journey to become your next U.S. Senator! Stay tuned for more.”
Even though Democrats are considered to have a definite momentum electorally across the country and here in North Carolina, Sen. Smith, Commissioner Fuller and Attorney Lee are all considered longshots against Sen. Tillis.
The former NC House speaker has become a conservative stalwart in Congress, and considers himself close to Pres. Donald Trump, supporting the president on the lion’s share of his policies, including the recent partial federal shutdown which concluded January 25th.
None of the three announced Democratic challengers are well-known beyond their regions, and thus, do not have a strong, statewide following yet. That, in turn, observers say, will most likely affect their ability to fundraise effectively against a Republican incumbent senator who is not likely to have much problem raising money for his re-election campaign.
And that’s just the general election.
Sen. Smith, Commissioner Fuller and Attorney Lee would have to first compete in a Democratic primary, requiring strong fundraising to become the party’s U.S. senatorial nominee.