Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


PISTOL PURCHASE PERMIT REPEAL ENDANGERS LIVES, MUST BE VETOED: The federal system only involves gun purchases from a “Federal Firearms Licensee.” There are NO checks for guns purchased from individuals or at gun shows. The system also only tracks and accounts criminal convictions – NOT recent arrests, pending charges that might have been dropped or if someone’s in the midst of a legal proceeding concerning a domestic abuse or violence restraint order. Current law requires sheriffs to both check the national system as well as criminal history from the state Administrative Office of the Courts. State Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, says in the last fiscal year more than 2,300 Mecklenburg County permit applicants passed the “National Instant Criminal Background Check System” but not the local background review. And that's why they want it repealed, so they can game the system.

SIX WAYS REPUBLICANS ARE STEALING LOCAL CONTROL, AND HIDING IT IN THEIR BUDGET: A state budget, in theory, is a spending plan, but in practice it has also become a vehicle for carrying through laws that couldn’t pass on their own merits, such as: A measure that would reduce local authority over the relocation of billboards that are displaced by road construction. A measure, likely intended to aid charter schools, that would limit local government’s power to require that new schools be constructed in appropriate areas with regard to available infrastructure and traffic patterns. A ban on local stormwater runoff regulations that exceed state and federal standards, a change that could serve developers and degrade water quality. A curb on local governments’ ability to regulate short-term rentals.The change is apparently aimed at overturning Wilmington’s regulations, which are being challenged in a court case now before the state Court of Appeals. A change that would keep towns and cities from passing tree protection ordinances on their own. Scott Mooneyham, a League of Municipalities spokesman, said it’s frustrating that proposed changes with serious local consequences are buried in a 664-page budget bill that is largely negotiated behind closed doors. “We just don’t think that’s appropriate for these types of bills that can have a major affect on people’s lives,” he said. “If these are good ideas, let them rise and fall based on full and open debate.”

IT'S ABOUT WHAT'S BEST FOR AN ENTIRE COMMUNITY, NOT WHAT A PARENT MIGHT PREFER: At an Aug. 5 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Education “unruly” audience members, during a recess, took the seats of the board then claimed to “overthrow” it (sound familiar?). They “repealed” a safety mandate for wearing protective masks in school classrooms and other facilities. Their “action” carried no authority. “You are not dictators, and you do not get to tell us what we can and cannot do with our children,” said Stephanie Parsons, one of the protesters (who actually lives in another county). Congressman Madison Cawthorn was present at the meeting and egged the mini insurrectionists on – a reprise of his Jan. 6 performance. A week later, police were forced to remove several protesters from a Black Mountain Town Council meeting for refusing to follow the town’s rules for wearing masks at public gatherings. "You're all serving Satan," one man yelled as police escorted him out. While most parents might be able to determine what they BELIEVE is best for THEIR children, they are not empowered to impose what is best for other children, parents, teachers or other school workers. That is how a representative democracy works. In our form of popularly elected representative government, we get to elect officials – school boards, city and county commissions, state officials, members of Congress and our president – to make decisions on what they view is best for our communities, state and nation. It's selective amnesia: they choose to forget these people were elected by voters, because their conspiracy theory involves a cabal of demon-worshipers. Or something.

UNTIMELY, INADEQUATE NC BUDGET TAKES SHAPE: At a time when our state needs to confront and tackle a host of enormous and unprecedented challenges and, thanks largely to the federal government, has unusually plentiful resources at its disposal, both budgets would leave core services and structures disastrously underfunded. Indeed, as a share of the economy (the best measurement for calculating a state’s ability to afford public investments) state general fund outlays under both proposals would sink to a depth (just over 4.5%) not seen in at least a half-century. It’s hard to overemphasize what a precipitous drop this represents. Even when one factors in more than a decade of massive GOP budget cuts, the House figure of $25.7 billion is more than 21% below the 45-year average. Compared to the more reasonable, but still modest, budgets of the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, the decline is closer to 30%. Not only do both the House and Senate budgets shortchange a huge list of essential structures and services at a time of profound societal need, but both would also incorporate still more self-inflicted wounds by enacting yet another round of unnecessary and deeply regressive tax cuts. As the N.C. Budget & Tax Center reported last week: “Much like the Senate plan, the House proposes a suite of tax changes that together would reduce annual revenue by $2 billion once fully implemented in FY 2025. The plan would reduce the flat personal income tax from the current 5.25% to 4.99%, and the corporate income tax from the current 2.5% to 2.25% in 2024 and further reduce it to 1.99% beginning in 2025. Analysis of who stands to benefit from the proposed tax cuts shows that North Carolinians with the lowest income would receive a meager 2% share of the tax cuts when fully implemented, whereas 56% would go to those with annual income over $110,000.” The wealth gap isn't coincidental, it's systemic.

A WEIRD STORY OUT OF COLORADO SHOWS THE DANGERS U.S. DEMOCRACY FACES: The 2020 presidential race stress-tested the nation’s democracy, and it held. But what about the next time? Given the persistence and proliferation of the “big lie” that President Biden won the 2020 election through fraud — and the alarming number of Republican office seekers running on the conspiracy theories being flogged by former president Donald Trump — the country’s institutions may be weaker in coming election cycles, even as the pressure mounts on GOP officials involved in counting or certifying votes to find “fraud.” A bizarre drama unfolding on the western edge of Colorado illustrates the danger. Election machine passwords from Mesa County, Colo., mysteriously appeared earlier this month on a right-wing conspiracy website. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) accused Tina M. Peters (R), Mesa County’s elected clerk and recorder, of abetting this security breach — ironically, in an apparent attempt to find evidence of election malfeasance. Ms. Griswold alleged that Ms. Peters smuggled an unauthorized man into a sensitive election software update session, where the passwords were apparently recorded, and she told her staff to switch off security cameras trained on the voting machines. Ms. Griswold added Monday that Ms. Peters, the unauthorized man and one other person also accessed a secure area in the dead of night, making copies of an election computer hard drive. Ms. Peters’s office did not return a request for comment, but the county clerk’s presence at the election conspiracy-fest that MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell held in South Dakota last week does not help her credibility. This weird episode appears to pose no ongoing threat to voting security in Mesa County. But it suggests the lengths to which those devoted to the Trumpist lie will go — and the sabotage they could do if they are in positions of responsibility. These people are dangerous. They "know" something is there, some evidence to support their conspiracy theory, and once they find that evidence it will wash away their sins. It will justify their illegal behavior in seeking said evidence. Once a person reaches that point, they have to be removed.


ELLY KINNAIRD: FUND THE COURTS INSTEAD OF MORE TAX CUTS: As the legislature draws up North Carolina’s budget, they’re considering tax cuts. They should be paying attention to our court system, which has been underfunded for decades. Advocates for education are organized, vocal and effective in getting their voices heard. Those caught up in the criminal justice system have none of those resources. The majority are poor, Black and Hispanic. They have no one to advocate for them in front of the legislature. The Administrative Office of the Courts prepares reports for the legislature, but their voice hardly matches the emotion and volume of education champions. Before considering tax cuts for the comfortable, wealthy and corporations, legislators need to pay attention to “those of the least of us” and fully fund the court system.

JEAN-PAUL GARNETT: THE HYPOCRISY OF BIDEN'S AFGHANISTAN CRITICS: I’m hearing many critics decry President Biden on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Our government leaders should be questioned and justify their actions, but I heard little from the loudest of Biden’s critics when Trump abandoned our Kurdish allies in Syria to a similar fate in 2019 and then set the course for Afghan withdrawal in 2020. Some of these critics resisted expanding visas for our Afghan friends and allies in advance of the scheduled withdrawal. Some even worked against the Violence Against Women Act here at home. And, some are pushing to restrict voting rights in many states. You can’t preach about “freedom” and “safeguarding American lives” when your own actions are a contradiction. Safeguard American lives by stopping the pandemic that has killed over 600,000 of us. Protect our freedom by protecting voting rights. Don’t try to use the rule of law to subordinate the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters of our own country. Do this and I’ll give your words weight. Until then it’s just noise.

NAN PERKINS: DON'T CONFUSE EQUITY WITH EQUALITY: Much is being written on your editorial page and elsewhere now about equity and equality and the difference in the two. Many of the authors seem to imply that since we have laws guaranteeing equal access, public investments in equity are either redundant or the equivalent of wasteful handouts. Fairness is the essence of the dictionary definition of equity. Suppose a group of elementary students are asked to write their answers to a test questions on the board, but the board is too high for some students to reach. The obvious solution is that those students need a stool to stand on, and some might need a stool higher than others. Richard Goodwin, one of the most celebrated speechwriters of his generation, said it well in these words delivered by President Lyndon B. Johnson: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'You are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” Investments in equity are needed to give every person a chance to succeed. Admittedly, deciding on the most effective and efficient use of resources to provide more equity is not easy, but equity spending is not redundant and should be empowering.



Pleasing the unpleasable

Had a conversation yesterday with a friend (a local elected official) on why I wasn't running this year, and I initially quipped, "Voters have left me at the altar twice, and my wedding dress is in tatters." But the truth is, I'm just not sure I'm cut out for it. It might sound self-centered and a touch insinuative towards those who have been elected, but I may be too honest. Example:

If somebody asks a question, and I know the answer, I will give it. I will answer that question, regardless of whether it's fraught with controversy or not. I will answer that question, regardless of whether a quick amount of research on the questioner's part would have answered it for them. It is simply not in my nature to abstain from answering, because that would be both selfish and inefficient. And because I firmly believe the more informed the voting populace is, the better their choices will be.

But when it comes to local politics, you can be both right and wrong. At least in the minds of voters. Case in point:

We had a very controversial zoning issue a few years ago, where a rather large and previously undeveloped tract of land was purchased by a developer for a new housing development. For decades, surrounding neighborhoods had enjoyed having this natural area there. Including me, as a matter of fact. My house sits on the Northern edge of this tract, as those who follow me on Facebook have seen in many photos.

At our first Planning Board meeting to address rezoning from agricultural to residential, some 100 citizens showed up in protest. As Chairman, I gave them great leeway in comments. Some spoke briefly, and other not so briefly. Well over an hour of public comments, ranging from traffic problems to school overcrowding, wildlife habitat loss and property value loss. And there were a few commenters who voiced the opinion (loudly supported) that other areas around the town would be much better locations.

In other words, NIMBY.

Yes, that's reductive, and it might seem like I'm downplaying their other concerns. But for those of you considering running for municipal office, NIMBY is going to be one of the primary issues you have to deal with. And I don't care if your area is 80% Progressive Dems, NIMBY will show up in force.

Affordable housing? Great idea, just not here. Food bank? Great idea, on the other side of town. And then there's police protection.

"If you build this new development near me, how will you police it?" Yeah, there's an assumption that anybody new will need to be constantly watched by law enforcement, unless we ensure they are the (exact) same demographic as the current neighborhood. So those proposed properties need to sell for $200,000 or more. Preferably more. Keep the riff-raff out. Oh, and the lot size needs to be the same as houses built in the 1970's and 1980's, and your "housing trends" can go to Hell.

I could go on (much longer than you would care to read), but suffice it to say that the more I explained the realities to people, the more votes I lost. The more questions I answered honestly, the more votes I lost. When I told those 100 citizens that we only have a couple tools in the toolbox for increasing revenue, so they could have better police protection and other things like more parks and such, and one of those tools they didn't want us to use was raising taxes, that only left expanding the property tax base. Most of them nodded, because it makes sense.

But I lost their votes anyway, which doesn't make sense to me. And it doesn't matter which of us are right or wrong, me or the voters. Because if I can't represent them, their hopes and desires, I have no business sitting on their elected government.