Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Fayetteville Observer on gerrymandering:
The architects of the current maps of General Assembly districts billed them as complying with the law and the Constitution, saying they fully guaranteed that African-American candidates would be able to win seats.
They were right about that, as recent electoral experience has shown.
But what they didn’t say was that the revised districts crammed way more African-American voters into those districts than was necessary for success – and thus took them out of adjoining districts, which made it easier for Republican candidates to win, and for the GOP to maintain its grip on the General Assembly.
Three of those districts — one Senate and two House — are in Fayetteville. They are among 28 North Carolina districts that a three-judge U.S. District Court panel ruled unconstitutional on Thursday. The districts, the judges ruled unanimously, were racially gerrymandered, and that’s illegal. The ruling crossed party lines. Two of the judges are Democratic appointees, but the third was chosen by former President George W. Bush.
House Districts 42 and 43 in Fayetteville – held by Democratic Reps. Marvin Lucas and Elmer Floyd — are indicative of what the judges were talking about. The judges wrote that the districts “contain 63.52 percent of the city of Fayetteville, but manage to grab 80.37 percent of Fayetteville’s voting-age African-American population.”
And the portion of Senate District 21 — represented by Democrat Ben Clark – that’s in Cumberland County, “contains multiple appendages, which are so thin and oddly shaped that it is hard to see exactly where the district begins and ends,” the ruling says. “Some portions of the district are so narrow that the district is nearly noncontiguous.”
They are, in short, the sort of monstrously deformed districts that gave rise to the original political cartoon that coined the word “gerrymander.”
And by jamming as many of the state’s black voters as possible into as few districts as possible, the General Assembly’s mapmakers took gerrymandering one step over the line between what is legal and what isn’t. U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past have affirmed states’ right to use redistricting for political purposes. But racial discrimination is still illegal, even if it’s a byproduct of an otherwise legal political maneuver.
It’s too close to the elections to order a redistricting now, so the illegal districts will be in place in November. But lawmakers will have to draw the maps again in the upcoming legislative session — unless the state appeals the decision and wins.
Either way, the fallout won’t end anytime soon.
The News & Observer of Charlotte on state voter ID:
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has decided to ratchet up the impact of the voter suppression law the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected as discriminatory against black voters. Now the governor is asking to revive the law in a way that will make voting harder for all voters.
McCrory on Monday asked U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to reinstate key portions of the voting law struck down by the Fourth Circuit’s ruling pending the outcome of an appeal. The request says the ruling came too close to the November election and will disrupt the voting process by suspending the photo ID requirement and allowing an extra week of early voting. Roberts is likely to refer the request to the full court, which is now ideologically split 4-4. Five votes would be needed to reinstate the law.
Oddly, McCrory took 17 days to announce that the need for reinstatement was an emergency. That delay may sink the request even with conservative justices. Not only is the request late, but it is in itself disruptive of the voting process. In the weeks since the ruling, state and local boards of elections have been setting more early voting days and designating voting sites, and poll workers have gone through training on how to conduct elections without a photo ID requirement.
If McCrory were to get what he wants, voting in North Carolina will be put through another round of disarray and confusion. The result inevitably would be long lines for a high-turnout presidential election, voters uncertain whether they need an ID and poll workers untrained in how to enforce the rejected law that suddenly would be back in force.
Anyone with a decent respect for the democratic process — indeed, anyone with a decent respect for the voting experience of his fellow citizens — would let the Fourth Circuit ruling stand for now and decide whether and when to appeal after the election.
The governor is saying the opposite. He’s promoting confusion and delays at the polls. And he’s doing it by hiring attorney Paul Clement, a former solicitor general of the United States who typically charges more than $1,000 per hour. Taxpayers will get Clement’s bill for this belated emergency request on top of the $9 million the governor and Republican legislative leaders already have spent paying private lawyers to defend their often indefensible laws.
McCrory may see disrupting the November election as his last chance of winning it. But he is not simply a candidate. He is the governor of all the people and should put the voters’ greater interest before his own.
The StarNews of Wilmington on the role of parents in preventing underage drinking:
When state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner Jim Gardner visited with us last week at the StarNews, we were going to ask about the better customer service we’ve witnessed in ABC stores, and the popularity of small-batch liquors that line the shelves.
What we got instead was a straight shot of sobering numbers on the toll of underage drinking in North Carolina:
—During 2012, an estimated 36 traffic fatalities and 1,487 nonfatal traffic injuries were attributable to driving after underage drinking;
—In 2012, underage drinking played a role in 31 homicides, 15,600 nonfatal violent crimes, 31,600 property crimes, and 592,000 public-order crimes.
—In 2013, an estimated 735 teen pregnancies and 26,678 teens having high-risk sex were attributable to underage drinking.
Yeah, we’ve got a problem.
Gardner shares this insight:
“North Carolina has an underage drinking problem. And what’s worse? Our state’s children think underage drinking is a much bigger problem than their parents do.”
The former lieutenant governor (1989-1993) and one of the founders of the Hardee’s restaurant business set about to change that.
When Gov. Pat McCrory appointed him to lead the ABC Commission in 2013, Gardner was specifically asked to address the state’s underage drinking problem. In December 2014, the ABC Commission launched Talk It Out, “a multimedia campaign designed to raise awareness of the issue, and to give parents the right tools for talking to kids about the dangers of underage drinking.”
Similar initiatives had struggled for lack of funding. The commission addressed that by paying for Talk it Out with ABC store sales revenue. Gardner said that if the state is going to be in the business of selling alcoholic beverages, it should be responsible for trying to curb abuse.
The ads for the campaign are short, stark and deadly serious. While the messages of the ads are tough, they also are smart. Instead of moralizing, the campaign lays out cold, hard facts — and they are not pretty.
Planning on waiting until high school before talking to your teens about alcohol? Bad idea. Kids are learning about drinking in elementary school, and starting to experiment with alcohol in middle school.
Think your child is going to make rational decisions about alcohol or take just a few sips? Think again — and help them think. (That is a key piece of the strategy).
It is well documented that because of the way the brain matures, areas that drive thrill-seeking, risky decision-making and impulsiveness outweigh the work of the still-immature frontal cortex, which provides the ability to understand future consequences of immediate actions.
In other words, your child’s brain is already extra susceptible to doing something risky, such as drinking or getting in a car with someone who is drinking. And if he or she use alcohol, the risks are greatly compounded.
Because of how the immature (up to age 25) brain works, even the smartest and best-behaved youth are at risk of making some very bad decisions about alcohol. In addition to it being against the law, there’s very little chance that a teenager can safely use alcohol.
With alcohol so prevalent in society and the brain not yet up to the task of making good decisions, it’s up to parents to be the difference-makers. In fact, 75 percent of teenagers say it’s parents, not peers, who can make the most difference on alcohol use. Ironically, 60 percent of parents surveyed felt their children’s peer had the most influence.
That’s one reason the Talk It Out campaign has targeted parents and aims to give them the resources they need to protect their children.
The website is packed with useful and very specific information. Instead of simply saying underage drinking is bad so don’t do it, the program urges parents to use hard evidence, like the section on the brain.
We think Talk It Out would be perfect for groups that work with parents and with youth, such as churches, athletic leagues, scouts and PTAs.
Gardner said that when he first saw the ads, he thought they might be too tough. He changed his mind, however, after getting feedback from a parent who had lost a child to underage drinking.
Yes, she said, the ads are tough. But not nearly as tough and devastating as having a stranger contact you to tell you that your child has died from an alcohol-related incident.
Learn more at www.talkitoutnc.org — and please share what you learn.