North Carolina editorial roundup


Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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July 31

The Charlotte Observer on finding a compromise on HB2:

Pat McCrory says he thought he had a “total verbal agreement” with the NBA last month for a compromise on HB2.

A source involved in the same conversations suggests that of those three words, “verbal” is the only one that’s accurate.

Compromises are tricky that way. It’s possible to be close and far away at the same time. That’s because the last step is usually the tallest one to take.

Let’s talk today about that part of HB2. Not about who started it all — the city or the state — but about how difficult the law will be to meaningfully change.

A lot of people want that change, by the way. They want an HB2 compromise that everyone — or at least enough people — can live with. That includes the governor, who deserves a nod, at least, for getting on the phone with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and trying to make a bad situation better.

The deal, which McCrory detailed to the Observer’s Rick Rothacker and Katherine Peralta last week, fell short. It included reversing an HB2 provision that restricted the ability to sue for discrimination in state court. It also would have aligned state nondiscrimination statutes with federal language. It didn’t, however, eliminate the bathroom provisions in HB2, nor the provision that took away cities’ rights to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

McCrory says the agreement with the NBA was “sabotaged” by Republican legislators, who probably didn’t like the idea of giving an inch on HB2, especially if it involved yoking the state’s discrimination laws to federal statutes.

The deal also was opposed by Attorney General Roy Cooper and groups that included the Human Rights Campaign. The very simple reason: The discriminatory parts of HB2 remained.

That’s quite a gap. And it’s one that might even be bigger now than it used to be.

An interesting story I heard not long ago: Back in March, after Charlotte had passed its non-discrimination ordinance, McCrory drafted his own version of what became HB2 and sent it over to the legislature. It was short and simple: Local governments would be barred from adopting policies that forced businesses to accommodate a transgender individual’s bathroom and locker room choice. That’s it.

McCrory’s attorney, Bob Stephens, confirmed it Friday. “He let the legislature know that that if they were to adopt something along those lines, he would support it,” Stephens said of the governor. “His thought was that it should be a very narrow bill.”

That bill, too, would have met with protests, and rightly so, because it removed protections for sexual identity. But some Republicans in Raleigh wonder now if PayPal and Springsteen and the NBA would have happened if the legislature had stuck to only what McCrory suggested.

Maybe it wouldn’t have. Remember, it was only last year when Charlotte’s City Council, led by Democrats, couldn’t agree on those same transgender protections for bathrooms.

No matter. McCrory signed the HB2 he didn’t recommend. And now we’re in a very different place than a year, or even six months, ago. There’s been extraordinary and rapid progress on transgender awareness in this country. Discriminating against any member of the LGBT community is seen more widely as discriminating against all.

That’s a good thing, that progress. And it’s why any movement on HB2 will have to come from the courts. Compromise may be a worthy concept, but discrimination shouldn’t ever be OK, even when it’s just a little.

Online:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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Aug. 1

Asheville Citizen-Times on North Carolina’s voter ID law:

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that required voters to present one of eight forms of photo ID at the polls.

The law went much further, eliminating a week of early voting days, barred same-day registration, eliminated pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds and banned the counting of ballots cast outside a voters’ home precinct.

The rationale for this push, particularly for the ID element of it, was that widespread fraud was taking place in elections. We heartily encourage cracking down on practices such as people voting in multiple states.

However, the North Carolina legislature took it as an article of faith that people were showing up at polls, impersonating other voters and casting ballots.

That was already illegal. It was also rare to the point of Loch Ness monster sightings.

The George W. Bush administration embarked on a five-year campaign focusing on voter fraud and managed charges against all of 120 people nationwide. One study found 31 cases of voter impersonation nationwide in elections since 2000.

That’s out of more than 1 billion votes cast.

Regardless, the legislature steamrolled ahead with its voter ID law, all the while proclaiming it was about protecting the integrity of elections. The fact that the law’s wording seemed to target predominantly Democratic constituencies was presented as purely coincidental.

As expected, the law wound up in the courts. And Friday, an opinion from a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond reversed a lower court’s ruling that had upheld the law.

In truly spectacular fashion.

The court said North Carolina was in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution in enacting the law “with racially discriminatory intent . We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”

The court didn’t buy that there was anything coincidental about the law at all, noting that lawmakers had requested data regarding voting practices, by race. The finding showed blacks disproportionately lacked photo IDs issued by the DMV, that they used early voting at greater rates than whites, that they used the earliest days of early voting in disproportionate numbers, and also leaned heavily on same-day registration.

Those items were targeted in North Carolina’s law, in the words of the court, with “almost surgical precision.”

The circuit court’s decision will be appealed, but it’s unlikely the full Fourth Circuit will rule any differently than the three-judge panel did. And thanks to stonewalling in the U.S. Senate, don’t expect the short-manned U.S. Supreme Court to be able to take any action.

The court said “Indeed, neither this legislature — nor, as far as we can tell, any other legislature in the Country — has ever done so much, so fast, to restrict access to (voting).”

We can’t overstate how damning the wording in the court’s decision was. One nugget sums up what it thought North Carolina was up to in rushing this law through: “We recognize that elections have consequences, but winning an election does not empower anyone in any party to engage in purposeful racial discrimination. When a legislature dominated by one party has dismantled barriers to African American access to the franchise, even if done to gain votes, ‘politics as usual’ does not allow a legislature dominated by the other party to re-erect those barriers.”

Since taking power, rushing through poorly-considered laws has been a hallmark of the state’s leadership. Poorly-considered laws wind up in the courts. The state, so far, has as far as we can tell pretty much lost them all, from gerrymandering to rejiggering local elective districts to judicial retention elections. HB2 is waiting in the wings and likely will join that dishonor roll.

With the court’s decision, needless barriers to voting in North Carolina have fallen.

Integrity has, in fact, been restored.

It’s a shame it fell to the courts to see that happen.

Online:

http://www.citizen-times.com/

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July 31

The Fayetteville Observer on making shooting probes public:

Harnett Sheriff Wayne Coats says he wants “to build trust with the community and try to get back on track.”

That’s why Coats gathered about 300 people on the lawn outside his office and the Harnett County Courthouse last week to pray for healing, peace, unity and support for law enforcement, in the county and across the country. “We don’t want Harnett County to turn into Baton Rouge or Dallas,” Coats said.

Nobody wants that, save a few people whose anger has obliterated their common sense and conscience.

We hope he is successful in that mission, and we truly wish him well. We want to see that kind of support for law enforcement everywhere, and we want to avoid violence against police.

The Officer Down Memorial Page shows that 69 law-enforcement officers have died in the line of duty so far this year, 32 of them by gunfire. That toll includes the assassination of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge as well as the kinds of incidents that officers fear every day — like being shot during a routine traffic stop or responding to a domestic violence call.

Dunn preacher Don Morrison said law enforcement must work to regain public trust, but he said he’s optimistic: “I still believe the people of Harnett County will join hands and we will heal.” That is clearly what Sheriff Coats hopes too.

But it won’t happen just by joining hands, or by praying together, or by saluting Harnett deputies — even though most of them deserve that salute.

It won’t happen until Coats and District Attorney Vernon Stewart let the full light of day shine on every detail of the death of 33-year-old John Livingston, whose shooting last year by a former Harnett deputy has spawned months of protests and legal actions. Let the public see what happened and then tell the residents of Harnett County what’s being done to assure that it can’t happen again.

But so far, the county is running in the other direction. Last Monday, Superior Court Judge Gale Adams delayed a motion requiring Stewart to hand over his files on the case. It’s still a secret – and it’s still an inflammatory stain on the soul and unity of Harnett County.

The state NAACP has called for a federal investigation of the Sheriff’s Office. The Justice Department appears to have it under consideration. It should.

Whether it’s through a public release of all the information gleaned from investigations of the Livingston shooting, or from a federal probe, true unity — and the level of support that Coats wants and most of his deputies deserve — will remain an elusive thing.

Online:

http://www.fayobserver.com

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