By Ernest A. Canning on 9/12/2016, 11:35am PT  

It's not for nothing that North Carolina Republicans are working so hard to keep certain people out of the voting booth this November.

North Carolina's Republican Governor Pat McCrory's chances for re-election took a direct hit after the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied his emergency request to stay a unanimous decision by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. The 4th Circuit three-judge panel struck down a massive NC GOP voter suppression law that, the court found, had targeted Democratic-leaning African-American voters "with almost surgical precision."

McCrory now faces a reelection bid against a strong Democratic opponent who is not shy about calling the longtime Duke Energy CEO turned Governor to task for an environmental scandal (Ash-gate) that likely ranks second, in recent times, only to the poisoning of Flint, Michigan's drinking water.

McCrory's Ash-gate vulnerability was previously touched upon by Desi Doyen in a February 2015 Green News Report. After covering both a massive spill of 39 tons of toxic coal ash into North Carolina's Dan River in February 2014 and criminal charges leveled by federal prosecutors against Duke Energy for violations of the Clean Water Act in relation to the company's North Carolina projects dating back to 2010, Doyen quoted a report from WRAL-TV Raleigh (emphasis added):

The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who worked at Duke for 29 years, then proposed what environmentalists derided as a "sweetheart deal" under which the Charlotte-based company worth more than $50 billion would have paid fines of just $99,111 to settle violations over toxic groundwater leeching from two of its plants. That agreement, which included no requirement that Duke immediately stop or clean up the pollution, was pulled amid intense criticism after the Dan River spill.

McCrory's Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, has served as NC's elected Attorney General since 2001. He is not only well-positioned to appeal to those whose very right to participate in our democracy had been threatened by McCrory's failed, Jim Crow-like voter suppression scheme, but has also launched a powerful TV ad (video posted below) highlighting the latest revelations concerning whether the McCrory administration may have fraudulently concealed the dangers to public health posed by the presence of Duke Energy's toxic coal ash in their drinking water...

Voter blowback?

An independent Washington Post analysis of the extensive emails that had been circulated by and between NC GOP leaders confirmed what the 4th Circuit expressly found. NC's massive voter suppression law was the product of "a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats." That effort was made despite the fact that Democrat Roy Cooper, in his official capacity as the state's AG, provided advance warning to both McCrory and to GOP leaders in the NC legislature that the then proposed law would be struck down as unconstitutional --- a prescient prediction that would come to fruition only after these pretend "fiscal conservatives" squandered nearly 5 million taxpayer dollars on their unsuccessful defense of their partisan, illegal voter suppression scheme.

McCrory's response to the Supreme Court's denial of his emergency stay request was not merely disingenuous but Orwellian. He claimed that by striking down this racially-motivated attempt at voter suppression, the courts had "denied basic voting rights" to the state of North Carolina.

It may come as a shock to some, but neither states nor corporations have voting rights. The right to vote is confined to the living, breathing human beings who make up the citizenry of our individual states.

NC GOP consultant, Carter Wren, offered a response to the SCOTUS stay denial that, while perhaps a bit more candid than McCrory's, was equally Orwellian. He first confirmed that 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner was correct when he described the GOP's fact-free concerns about non-existent voter impersonation fraud as a "fig leaf" intended to mask naked voter suppression. Wren, however, vigorously denied that NC's Jim Crow-like scheme was racist. "Look," he said, "if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was. It wasn't about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat."

In the view of the 4th Circuit, it really didn't matter whether the statute was motivated by racial animus or simply to gain political advantage over Democrats. "Targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose," the 4th Circuit panel appropriately ruled.

Recent poll numbers underscore that McCrory's failed experiment in Jim Crow-style voter suppression amounted to what Bernie Sanders has described as an act of political cowardice. In a three-candidate race that also includes Libertarian Lon Cecil, McCrory trails Cooper by nearly 5 points (48.1% to 43.7%), according to the latest Huffington Post polling average tracking surveys from from fourteen different pollsters.

The political question that arises is whether those whose voting rights were threatened will now be motivated to exercise their franchise and vote this political coward out of office.

Ash-gate

But, just in case such voters may need any more encouragement...

Cooper's new ad campaign zeroes in on allegations that high level officials in the McCrory administration (1) concealed the carcinogenic dangers posed with respect to water drawn from wells near unlined coal ash pits; (2) falsely informed citizens that their well-water was safe to drink, despite unacceptable levels of the carcinogen, hexavalent chromium, and then (3) according to the state's highest ranking epidemiologist Megan Davies, speciously maligned the professionalism of her subordinate Kenneth Rudo, a toxicologist who exposed the Ash-gate scandal and McCrory's direct involvement in a related meeting.

"I cannot work for a Department and an Administration that deliberately misleads the public," Davies announced in her August 10 resignation letter.

Coal ash, the waste material left after coal is burned, "contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic," according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. It poses "grave risks to human health." That risk, according to an EarthJustice response to a "junk science" report issued by the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), is most acute when people ingest coal ash contaminated groundwater. "Arsenic in coal ash is 10,000 to 50,000 times higher than the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] EPA soil screening level for groundwater." And "coal ash data," reports EarthJustice, establishes the presence of chromium at "50,000 to 650,000 times higher than [the] groundwater protection screening level [mandated by the EPA]." EarthJustice accused the ACAA of attempting "to sweep a massive health risk under the rug." (Duke Energy is a member of the ACAA).

In an academic essay published by the William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review, Cale Jaffe, citing an analysis performed by the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality, noted that toxic coal ash from the Dan River spill reached all the way to Virginia's Kerr Reservoir, 80 miles from the spill site.

The United States Department of Justice charged Duke Energy...with four distinct crimes related to the Dan River spill. Duke Energy ultimately pled guilty to those crimes. Despite the guilty plea, the legacy of coal ash contamination persists in the Dan River. Duke Energy removed only a tiny fraction --- less than ten percent --- of the coal ash from the river before halting its cleanup efforts.

While a fair amount of media attention is given to catastrophic events like the Dan River spill, Jaffe contends that "the most jaw dropping fact about coal ash contamination in the Southeast is the sheer number of intact coal ash lagoons that are persistently leaking contaminants into the groundwater or surface water."

Rudo's revelations came by the way of sworn testimony set forth in his 220-page deposition. That testimony was presented as part of a legal action in which multiple environmental groups seek to address the hazards posed by coal ash. Rudo, an NC toxicologist who has been employed by the state for 27 years, alleged that high-level officials misled citizens about the dangers posed by coal ash seeping into well water from unlined coal ash pits. Rudo testified that Dr. Randall Williams, North Carolina's Director of Public Health, "knowingly told people that their water was safe when he knew it wasn't." Rudo also testified that McCrory briefly participated telephonically in a meeting conducted at McCrory's office in which Rudo expressed concerns about the deceit.

The first response to Rudo's damning allegations came from Duke Energy. The previously convicted energy company's attorneys sought a court order to prevent the public release of Rudo's deposition transcript. After that failed, McCrory chief of staff Thomas Stiff issued a public statement in which he accused Rudo of lying under oath --- this despite the fact that Rudo's sworn allegations are backed by damning emails.

Rudo has since issued a statement through his attorney in which he complained that he had been "wrongfully impugned by state officials for the past week for his having the temerity to merely speak the truth."

Little wonder McCrory, the guy who Cooper describes as the "Duke Energy Governor," has been working so hard to try and keep as many voters as possible from being able to cast their votes against him this November.

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Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing