The Charlotte Observer on voting for incumbents:
All hail the establishment!
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have shown the power of an anti-establishment message this year. But if North Carolina voters have that fever, they weren’t enough of the 8 percent who bothered to vote in an unusual summer primary on Tuesday.
In Charlotte-area congressional races, it was the two incumbents — Democrat Alma Adams in the 12th District and Republican Robert Pittenger in the 9th (pending a possible recount) — who won re-nomination and will be heavy favorites to hold on to their seats in November. And Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds was the top vote-getter in his bid for a third term.
Their victories demonstrate the power of incumbency, even in a year when a lot of voters say they are angry. Adams and Pittenger were both hounded by questions that made them appear vulnerable, were running in new districts against credible candidates in a low-turnout election in an anti-incumbent environment. And yet Adams rolled and Pittenger survived.
When legislators converted Adams’ district from America’s most gerrymandered to North Carolina’s most compact, she found herself living 100 miles away from the new district. Her opponents emphasized their Charlotte roots and Adams faced questions about her residency and her familiarity with the new voters.
She was pitted against qualified challengers in former Sen. Malcolm Graham and Rep. Tricia Cotham. Both have long public service records and are known well in the new 12th.
Pittenger is under FBI investigation related to his former real estate company. He stumbled when he claimed endorsements from Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee that didn’t exist. And he faced almost entirely new voters, with a new 9th District that picked up only a small part of the old 9th before stretching eastward past Fayetteville. He faced two Republican challengers who portrayed him as being insufficiently conservative and too cozy with the establishment.
Pittenger got a scare, to be sure, and might still face a recount. He came in last in seven of the eight counties that make up the new 9th District. He did well only in Mecklenburg, where he won 48 percent of the vote, enough to narrowly edge Mark Harris and Todd Johnson.
Tuesday’s primary, following a regular primary in March, took place only because a federal court threw out the congressional districts as an illegal gerrymander. The June date and short ballot attracted few voters. Such low turnout can make an election especially unpredictable, but it wasn’t enough for the challengers to overcome the incumbents’ advantage.
In the Supreme Court race, Edmunds cruised after he and his surrogates touted him as the most conservative candidate on the ballot. It’s disappointing and dangerous to watch this state’s judiciary grow increasingly political rather than impartial. Sadly, though, we worry that that trend will only intensify.
The Fayetteville Observer on the Racial Justice Act:
Finding justice in a thicket of emotion and law is a daunting task. We have no envy for the hard choices our judges must make.
And in cases like the one that will open in the Cumberland County Courthouse, we’re not sure even how justice will be defined. It is very much in the eye of the beholder.
The General Assembly repealed the Racial Justice Act in 2013, four years after it was enacted. That was one year after now-retired Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks ruled that four death-row residents who were convicted of some of the most ghastly murders ever seen in Cumberland County would instead serve life sentences without possibility of parole.
Weeks made that decision after hearing evidence presented under the act — evidence he saw as proof that jury selection in the killers’ trials deliberately excluded African Americans. His decision led to howls of indignation and likely was the impetus for the act’s repeal.
There surely are no redeeming factors in these cases, nothing to provoke the tiniest bit of public sympathy for the murderers. They include Marcus Reymond Robinson, who kidnapped, robbed and murdered a teenager in 1991; Quintel Augustine, who shot and killed Fayetteville police Officer Roy Turner Jr. in 2001; Christina Walters, who in 1998 led a gang that kidnapped three women, drove them to a remote area and shot all three (one survived); and perhaps most reviled of all, Tilmon Golphin, who during a 1997 traffic stop, killed Cumberland Deputy David Hathcock and North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Ed Lowry.
Weeks’ ruling was especially upsetting to friends and relatives of the victims. The repeal of the act did little to change that. Last December, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Weeks made errors in the case and returned it to be heard again by the senior resident Superior Court judge, who now is Jim Ammons.
Most testimony this week will revolve around Ammons’ own alleged conflicts of interest and whether he should recuse himself. Sorting it out may take a while.
Meanwhile, there is a larger discussion across the state about whether the death penalty is appropriate or constitutional. No one has been executed since 2006 and it doesn’t appear anyone will be soon.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, a conservative who long supported executions, wrote last month that the issue “draws into question whether the death penalty can ever be constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. I have come to believe that it probably cannot.”
That won’t be settled in Ammons’ courtroom, or in this community, where these murderers are a lightning rod. But no matter how these cases are concluded, it seems most likely that all of them will continue a de facto life sentence.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on the coal ash regulatory bill:
If only Gov. Pat McCrory’s righteous indignation at the legislature’s coal ash regulatory bill came out of a desire for stronger regulation that would truly get tough with the governor’s former employer, his veto would be welcomed. Unfortunately, the governor’s veto — like other vetoes, certain to be overridden — looks more like a fuss between McCrory and the GOP leaders on Jones Street over jurisdiction than it does a disagreement over regulation itself.
McCrory says the bill shouldn’t create a commission to regulate cleanup at Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds. That’s his job, an executive job, the governor believes. And, he says the bill doesn’t act quickly enough on water safety. The bill would assure neighbors of coal ash ponds that they could be connected to municipal water supplies, with Duke paying, if they feared their wells were polluted.
In February 2014, Duke employees saw coal ash waste spilling out of a storage pond near Eden into the Dan River. A huge investigation and controversy ensued, with Duke trying to minimize its financial and image damages and Republicans in the General Assembly appearing confused about what to do to regulate coal cash ponds and prevent future spills. More than two years later, there’s little reason for confidence that the issue has been resolved in any definitive fashion, and now the GOP leadership in the legislature is sure to smack the governor down again with a veto override, only the latest “show him who’s boss” moment.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have been and remain hesitant to fight a well-heeled corporation to truly clean up the coal-ash mess.