Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


THE WILL OF CONSTITUENTS VS. LEGISLATIVE LEADERS: How is it that the people of North Carolina on these issues, and many more including support for and investment in public education, promotion of renewable energy and environmental stewardship, extension of access to information and communication technology – contrast so strikingly with the people who represent them in the legislature? The answer is obvious. For the last decade legislators have been able to pick their voters – instead of the other way around. Extreme gerrymandering, not service to all citizens, is the modus operandi. So, instead of working on real needs and priorities there is a broad consensus behind, legislators are focused on insignificant legislation that appeals to a narrow political base or satisfies partisan political grudges. They need to end their fruitless pursuit of mediocrity and buckle down to the hard work that the vast majority of North Carolinians agree needs to be done to achieve excellence.

AN EXTRAORDINARY PLAN MEETS AN EXCEPTIONAL CHALLENGE FROM POVERTY: A couple of years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the United Nations released a stunning report on poverty, especially child poverty, in the United States. Phillip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, after touring the nation and studying international economic data, concluded that the United States had used neither its tremendous wealth nor its massive technological prowess to address the challenges of a huge population living in poverty. Alston noted that though the U.S. is the richest nation on earth, it ranked 35th of 37 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries – the advanced democratic nations – in poverty and economic inequality. Even worse, the report found, our “child poverty rate (was) highest in the entire OECD” – with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to 14% across the OECD. We’re the richest, but treat our kids the worst. Economists report that low and moderate income folks will benefit most from the huge aid package. The number of Americans living in poverty, they say, will drop by a third in 2021. North Carolina has one of the nation’s highest rates of child poverty. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates it will benefit 2.1 million Tar Heel kids and lift 137,000 of them out of poverty. Many of the act’s provisions are temporary and will desperately need to be sustained. But it’s almost consciousness-altering to see a massive federal program that favors those at the bottom rather than those at the top. We, quite habitually, have come to think government only exists to serve rich people. Who knew?

COOPER'S BUDGET SPEAKS TO NC'S NEEDS, LEGISLATORS SHOULD LISTEN: While our legislative leaders may not like it, the people of North Carolina have set out specific expectations of what they want government to do. It is delineated in our State Constitution. For a quarter of a century, our legislators have ignored the Constitutional mandate that it is the state’s obligation to provide every child with access to a quality education. Cooper’s budget plan makes a firm initial investment to fund the remedial program, as submitted to state courts earlier this month. The governor said he is “committed to pursuing the policy and programmatic changes outlined in the plan and to providing the resources necessary to achieve the actions in the plan over the next biennium and in future fiscal years.” The budget calls for $1.586 billion in new funding over the next two budget years to improve teacher quality and support, provide additional resources for students with the greatest need, increase local school system budget flexibility, ensure students are college and career ready and strengthen early childhood education. We DO NOT oppose private school vouchers. But we are against the legislature’s program so lacking in accountability and transparency that it is an irresistible invitation to fraud and abuse. As currently run, there’s no way for any parent – much less the taxpayers who are footing the costs – to know if these students are learning a thing much less being prepared for success.

GEORGIA REPUBLICANS' PETTY CRUSADE AGAINST GIVING VOTERS WATER: This provision will do little to improve confidence in the vote, but it promises to make voting in person in Georgia — particularly in those areas that see epic voting lines — even less pleasant. Meanwhile, state lawmakers added new rules on absentee voting, which may require more people to sit out in the sun to cast a ballot. It is clear who would be hurt most by this shift. Lines tend to be long in predominantly non-White precincts — areas that tend to vote for Democrats. State and local officials have failed to keep pace with the fast growth of ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the Atlanta area, leading to lengthy voting backups. Data on Georgia’s primary elections last June, collected by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica, revealed that the average wait after 7 p.m. in predominantly non-White neighborhoods was 51 minutes, while in predominantly White neighborhoods it was six minutes. Georgia lawmakers also banned mobile voting buses such as those that Atlanta’s Fulton County used to ease lines. They added voter ID requirements for absentee voting and narrowed the amount of time people have to request mail-in ballots. They placed so many limits on ballot drop boxes as to render them practically useless. So it is now a criminal offense for someone to hand a bottle of water to an elderly Black voter in Fulton County — who had to wait in line because she could not navigate the new absentee ballot requirements. In the grand scheme of voter-suppression measures that Republicans have proposed, limiting water distribution is not the most pernicious. But it is emblematic of a party committed to devising new hardships to impose on voters, and all based on lies about voter fraud, to keep hold of political power.

MASS SHOOTINGS AND OUR DEPRAVED POLITICAL STAGNATION: Another mass shooting. Another round of recriminations. Another push for more gun control. Another pushback from Republicans in Congress doing the bidding of the gun lobby. Another reminder of the unlikelihood of any real federal legislative change. As incessant as mass shootings have become in this country, so has the ritual in their wake to respond to them, a ritual that ultimately, inevitably unravels. I hate to sound defeatist, but I feel defeated. Yes, there are common-sense gun safety advocates who are making some headway, particularly on the state and local levels. But comprehensive federal gun legislation remains elusive, if not impossible. Our anomalous gun culture and the shocking number of gun deaths and the prevalence of guns — including military-style weapons — in our society simply don’t seem to convince enough politicians to take action. I no longer know how to change this attitude or if it can be changed by the recitation of facts. There is no new surprising bit of information that, once published, could change the parameters of this debate. The people resisting change know these facts as well as those pushing for change do. So, nothing changes. We are, sadly, growing numb to the numbers. The parade of pain and grief of those left behind has become custom. America is awash in blood and bullets and its leaders, Republicans for the most part, are bereft of the political courage and moral clarity to help. They have adopted the gun lobby’s “slippery slope” positioning: That any new restrictions on gun ownership and usage open the door to more, inevitably leading to gun banning, gun registries and gun confiscations. This extreme, existential position forces many progressives to repeat the idea that “no one is talking about taking anyone’s guns away.” But, in truth, I must say that I want a society in which there are fewer guns sold and fewer guns in circulation. I want a society in which the ownership by individual citizens of weapons of war would be illegal. I want a society where gun ownership is highly regulated and where guns are required to be registered and insured. I want a society in which so-called “smart guns” are heavily promoted among those who buy guns, so that those guns can’t be used by people who aren’t the owners.


ROBIN MAGEE: PLEASE DON'T LET THIS SHAMEFUL BILL BECOME LAW: As a former Division 1 athlete, teacher, and now a mother of two, I know that HB 358 does nothing to protect girls’ sports. That is a question of funding, opportunity and parity in facilities. This bill is nothing short of another way to harshly discriminate against transgender kids and punish them for even wanting to participate in school activities. As a former teacher and coach, I know that enshrining discrimination like this into our schools is a serious health risk to transgender kids. Statistically, they struggle with suicide throughout middle and high school. Sports are an activity that combats depression, isolation and low self-esteem. By weaponizing participation in sports against a small and vulnerable group, these laws bring shame and trauma in a place where there doesn’t need to be any. For the health of all N.C. kids this bill must be taken out of consideration.

RANDY STURGILL: NC NEEDS TO PROTECT WHALES OFF OUR COAST: Last week, a survey team from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium spotted a North Atlantic right whale mother and calf off the N.C. coast near the New Hanover County line. This is a big deal. Only about 360 of these gentle giants remain in the world. As they calve off the coast, they’re being killed by collisions with vessels and entanglements with fishing gear. Every human-caused death threatens this species’ chance of survival. Federal law requires vessels, paddle boarders, aircraft, and drones to stay at least 500 yards from these whales. But we must do more, like requiring vessels to slow down and reducing the amount of fishing gear in their habitats. If we fail, this will be the first large whale species to go extinct in the Atlantic Ocean for centuries, and it’ll be on our watch. The government has the ability and responsibility to strengthen protections for these whales. We must demand they do more.

ELEANOR GOETTEE: TEACHERS SHOULD NOT HAVE TO GIVE A REASON FOR DAY OFF: Regarding “NC now charges teachers $50 for taking a personal day. But relief may be in sight,” (March 24): Unbelievable! That’s my reaction to the recently filed bill requiring N.C. teachers to provide a reason for taking personal leave on a school day or “be responsible for paying the full cost for hiring the substitute.” If teachers are ever to be treated as professionals, then stop this nonsense. I don’t know which infuriates me more, teachers having to give a reason for taking a personal day or having to pay for a substitute if they don’t disclose the reason. Both are equally ridiculous and demeaning. It feels like this article could have been published in 1970 when I started teaching, rather than 2021. I am beyond disgusted — and sad.



On property rights and eminent domain

I find myself fighting a steep uphill battle that I shouldn't have to, and I am more than a little frustrated over it. At issue is a bill authorizing a ballot referendum to amend the NC Constitution (that alone should be of concern for everybody reading this) to set limitations on how municipal governments exercise eminent domain powers. Before I continue, look at this:

The very definition of Nimby. That skinny strip in the middle, that leads to the gargantuan lake house, is the subject...

Posted by Steve Harrison on Saturday, March 27, 2021

When the owner of that middle strip refused to allow an underground sewer line be installed, the developer asked the Town of Apex to intervene via eminent domain, so the proposed development would have service. The Town went ahead and ran the line before the court could make its ruling (which it should not have done), but eventually a Federal court ruled in favor of the Town, and the sewer line was allowed to remain.

But here's the thing: an earlier court decision determined said eminent domain action was not a public use. And subsequent court decisions did not refute that. Because at the time it was merely a parcel of land, a proposed development, and no citizens were there to be serviced. Or something along those lines.

If this bill passes both houses, and the Governor does not Veto (or if said Veto is overridden) that Amendment will be approved by voters. Anti-government sentiment is strong enough already, and "eminent domain" has become one of the least popular aspects of government operations. Most of that negative opinion is due to massive road projects (bypasses), but those won't be stopped by this Amendment. Nor will gas pipeline "takings" which are still plaguing landowners in Caswell and Alamance County.

Look at the map again, and all the people who are being serviced by that sewer line (which is of course no longer visible). If this Amendment succeeds, people with a fancy lakefront property will be fine. But the people who own the land beside them won't. Without access to water and sewer connections, their freedom to develop their property will be subject to the whim of somebody who (very likely) doesn't want that land developed. They will be forced to seek a much more expensive route to water/sewer connections, and the Town will be burdened with the maintenance of that unnecessary complication.

As Planning Board Chairman, I sign off on development plats frequently. Utility easements are literally everywhere, in every neighborhood and adjacent properties. You probably have them in your yard and don't even know it. Running a sewer line here or there is not "government overreach," it's something we expect them to do, and efficiently as possible. If you tie their hands with a Constitutional Amendment, it will cost taxpayers money *and* infringe on the property rights of countless landowners.