Friday News: Passing the baton

NC HOUSE DEMS CHOOSE ROBERT REIVES AS MINORITY LEADER: With Reives’ election, Democrats in both chambers of the General Assembly will be led by Black men for at least the next two years. Sen. Dan Blue, a Democrat from Raleigh, was reelected in November to continue serving in his current position of Senate minority leader, which he has held since 2015. Blue served as the first Black House speaker from 1991 until 1994. Rep. Darren Jackson announced earlier in November he wouldn’t run for reelection after holding the position for four years. Following that announcement, Reives said he would run, WRAL reported last month. “If he hadn’t offered to run, he would’ve been recruited to run,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro. “People respect him so much on both sides of the aisle.”

MANDY COHEN HINTS AT FURTHER RESTRICTIONS AS COVID HOSPITALIZATIONS SURPASS 2,100 MARK: “If we were all to follow the things that are currently in place right now, I don’t think we needed to do more (tightening of restrictions),” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, during a Thursday news conference. “But we know that that is hard. We know that we are asking a lot of folks, and it may be possible that we need to go backwards.” North Carolina on Thursday reported its highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 5,600 people testing positive for the coronavirus. The percentage of tests coming back positive also has risen sharply in recent days. On Sunday, the positivity rate surpassed 10% for the first time since April. And for the first time ever, more than 2,100 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. On Wednesday, the state reported a daily increase of 82 deaths, the highest since the start of the pandemic. “I am certainly concerned about our numbers,” Cohen said. “We can all do things right now to slow the spread of this virus. We have to because our hospitalizations are going up, and people are dying.”

MEANWHILE, NC REPUBLICANS ARE HAVING IN-PERSON SUPERSPREADER PARTIES: The Republican Party is holding five events between Saturday and Dec. 18: four in Surry County and one in Moore County. Two locations will host the events: Coley Hall in Elkin, and Filly and Colts at the Little River Golf and Resort in Carthage. The two meetings, the lunch and a Republican Victory Dinner are planned for Saturday in Elkin and hosted by GOP Chair Michael Whatley. The other event will be held on Dec. 18 in Carthage. It will be N.C. Federation of Young Republicans’ first annual Christmas Awards Dinner hosted by U.S. Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorne and Whatley. The N.C. Republican Party has posted more than 15 pages of photographs of group functions since June on the party’s web page. Many of the attendees appear maskless. They are handshaking, hugging and fist-bumping. In one a man has his head resting on a woman’s lap. In others they’re crowded together around tables.

TRUMP'S BORDER WALL IS STIRRING UP TROUBLE IN ARIZONA AND TEXAS: President Trump’s quest to build as much of his border wall as possible before leaving office is newly angering landowners and authorities in the American southwest. An Arizona rancher said construction crews recently detonated explosives that sent “car-sized boulders” tumbling onto his property. Municipal water officials in El Paso said they deployed dump trucks last week to block wall-builders from cutting off their only road to a vital canal along the Rio Grande. And landowners in Laredo, Tex., are urging elected officials to pressure the incoming Biden administration to make clear that their private property will be safe from construction crews eager to finish the job. The feuds demonstrate the impact that Trump’s final push to expand his $15 billion border wall is having on a region that has been the focal point of his four-year term, even though President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to stop construction immediately upon taking office. Federal officials say Trump has built 415 miles of new barriers — and that they expect to reach 450 miles by the end of the year while working at breakneck pace — to deter drug traffickers, human smugglers and criminal organizations from attempting to enter the United States. But critics say the wall is a political boondoggle and that the administration is trampling landowners’ rights in the process of building it. Crews have been working around-the-clock at several points on the border to install as much of the 30-foot steel bollard fencing as possible before Trump leaves office. The companies will be entitled to compensation from the Biden administration for the costs of withdrawing crews and equipment, but the contracts have a termination clause that allows the government to back out, according to the Army Corps.

STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE CUTTING BUDGETS (AND JOBS) WAITING FOR FEDERAL PANDEMIC RELIEF: Governors, mayors and county executives have pleaded for federal aid before the end of the year. Congressional Republicans have scorned such assistance, with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, calling it a “blue-state bailout.” But it turns out this budget crisis is colorblind. Six of the seven states that are expected to suffer the biggest revenue declines over the next two years are red — states led by Republican governors and won by President Trump this year, according to a report from Moody’s Analytics. Those on the front lines agree. “I don’t think it’s a red-state, blue-state issue,” said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies at the National Association of State Budget Officers. The National Governors Association’s top officials — Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican — issued a statement this fall saying, “This is a national problem, and it demands a bipartisan and national solution.” Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota, Republican-led states that depend on energy-related taxes, have been walloped by the sharp decline in oil prices. Places where tourism provides a large infusion of revenues, like Florida and Nevada, face revenue declines of 10 percent or more, as does Louisiana, which relies on both tourism and energy. Elsewhere, the steep falloff in sales and income taxes — which on average account for roughly two-thirds of a state’s revenue, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts — is forcing Republican and Democratic officials to consider laying off police officers, reducing childhood vaccinations and closing libraries, parks and drug treatment centers. The squeeze at the state level reverberates in urban, suburban and rural counties in nearly every corner of the United States, and officials are making piercing choices.