TAKE MAPMAKING TOOLS AWAY FROM SELF-SERVING POLS: A group of fair-minded people could surely produce more compact and more competitive legislative districts than the sprawling, squiggly gerrymanders we have today. And we fail to see why any voter — or, for that matter, any true public servant — would object. Drawing state House and Senate districts that heavily favor either party dilutes voters’ voice and leads to intense polarization. Republicans and Democrats needn’t pivot to the center when their partisan base holds an insurmountable advantage in voter registration. Primaries become the true contests and voters are deprived of choices on Election Day. In 2016, more than 40% of North Carolina legislative districts had only one candidate on the general election ballot. Twenty-seven representatives and 11 state senators ran unopposed. Heavily gerrymandered districts are the chief culprit.
COURT'S MESSAGE: NO MORE HYPER-GERRYMANDERING, PASS NON-PARTISAN REDISTRICTING: “The Court finds that in many election environments, it is the carefully crafted maps, and not the will of the voters, that dictate the election outcomes in a significant number of legislative districts and, ultimately, the majority control of the General Assembly,” the judges’ order said. While the legislature remains in session, it would be wise and prudent for the legislature to take up and pass the legislation that’s been filed to create a nonpartisan system for drawing legislative and congressional election districts. The judges’ opinion already provides good guidance for the criteria to direct such an independent non-partisan commission to use. Do this now. So after the 2020 elections – no matter if it is the Republicans or Democrats who control the General Assembly – a non-partisan process and criteria for establishing legislative and congressional district lines will already be in place.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE NEW CONSERVATIVE UNC PROGRAM: What’s the problem? One is the replication of existing courses. Program leaders want to influence UNC’s new General Education curriculum, directing attention to “the classical and Enlightenment thought of America’s founders and leading statesmen,” “our system of governance and its mechanisms,” and the “historical and philosophical foundations on which it was built.” But Plato, Aristotle, Madison, Jefferson, Lincoln, Tocqueville—all identified as favorites of the program—are prominent in scores of courses at UNC-CH. Why pay $350,000 a year to a faculty director, and launch a $11.2 million fundraising campaign, in pursuit of redundancy? The duplication is an insult to faculty and staff whose salaries have stagnated for a decade. Then there’s the lack of transparency around the program’s development. When faculty submitted a FOIA request asking who provided the seed money, they were blocked on grounds that the university’s fundraising arm is private. Faculty asked to attend the program’s advisory board meetings in August but were told it was closed to “outsiders.” UNC faculty are “outsiders” to curricular discussions? This stance violates the bedrock American Association of University Professors principle — and UNC-Chapel Hill policies—that faculty must control curricula.
SUE STURGIS: ART POPE'S THINK TANK KEEPS MISLEADING ON CLIMATE SCIENCE: Over the past year, the John Locke Foundation has published more than a dozen stories attacking the science of global warming on its Locker Room blog, a forum for discussing statewide issues. The stories have called climate change a “hoax,” likened climate activists to religious cultists and mocked concerns over emissions of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas. At the same time it’s promoting skepticism of mainstream climate science, the John Locke Foundation’s publications also offer a parallel narrative in which it acknowledges that warming is happening but rejects proposals to curb greenhouse gas pollution. So even while it calls climate change science a “hoax,” it argues that North Carolina needn’t take action because emissions are already falling, that carbon taxes are too costly, and that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order to address climate change can’t alter the global climate. According to Sourcewatch.org, between 2015 and 2017 the Bradley Foundation contributed $1.5 million to the John Locke Foundation and the John William Pope Civitas Institute, another conservative think tank in North Carolina founded and funded by Art Pope. In 2017, Pope was elected chair of the Bradley Foundation. The following year, a Center for Media and Democracy investigation showed that the foundation has been involved in “a concerted effort … to delegitimize climate science, while promoting fossil fuel energy development in the United States.”
IF NC HAS A HUGE BUDGET SURPLUS, WHY ARE OUR LOCAL ROAD PROJECTS GETTING DELAYED?: Remember the $896 million of “surplus” revenue that N.C. Republican leaders say belongs back in the pockets of taxpayers? We’d bet that North Carolinians wouldn’t mind if at least some of that money went toward fixing the roads and unclogging the interchanges they drive every day. Instead, dozens of roads projects in Charlotte and Raleigh — along with hundreds across the state — are being delayed over the next decade because of financial problems at the N.C. Department of Transportation. The financial woes have forced NCDOT to lay off hundreds of workers and recalibrate its project schedule. That’s especially discouraging because in recent years, NCDOT had begun to accelerate projects to meet the needs that a growing population demanded. North Carolina may not be the same “good roads state” that public officials touted long ago, but at least we ’d started to move in the right direction. NCDOT’s financial woes have put an end, at least temporarily, to that notion. “We now must take a step back and change the plan we developed,” NCDOT spokesperson Jennifer Thompson told the editorial board this week. Or, maybe state lawmakers could dip into that surplus that Senate leader Phil Berger has said is “more money than was needed.” This is what tax revenue is for — to administer to needs, to compensate for unexpected burdens, to remedy shortfalls that affect critical programs and infrastructure.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
CYNTHIA GALLION: LET'S JUST STUDY THE DUKE ENERGY RATES, FOR NOW: Duke Energy is lobbying hard in favor of multi-year ratemaking, which would allow electric bill hikes for years at a time. This process weakens oversight from the N.C. Utilities Commission and the public. As is, Section 2 of Senate Bill 559 would give Duke the freedom to overcharge customers by millions of dollars with no refunds. Section 2 of this bill is bad for customers and bad for the state. I implore lawmakers and the governor to do whatever is necessary to prevent this bill from becoming law in North Carolina. Accepting the House version of the bill, which authorizes a study of rate-making, fixes the problem and is right for North Carolinians.
JOHN MAY: BRAVO TO GOVERNOR ROY COOPER: Gun rights activists revere the Second Amendment as if it were one of the Ten Commandments. It was written at a time when our fledgling nation had no standing army and relied on state militias to defend the country. In 2019 the United States will spend nearly $700 billion on defense. In this day and age, a “well regulated Militia” — and the Second Amendment that supported it — has all the relevance of a horse-mounted cavalry. It’s an anachronism. But many, like op-ed writer Ray Nothstine, worship gun rights like they worship other relics of the past. If Gov. Roy Cooper’s position on gun rights has “lurched leftward,” bravo to him. The dozens of horrifying mass shootings in this country have persuaded many gun enthusiasts of the necessity of more stringent gun regulations, and it appears Cooper is one of these thoughtful, compassionate people.
PETE SALASSI: TRUMP GETS MONEY, MILITARY GETS THE SHAFT: President Trump has diverted $3.6 billion in funds approved by Congress from 120 military construction projects to a single project to build a section of wall along our southern border. Eighty million dollars of these funds was designated for projects in North Carolina and will now be spent in states along the Mexican border. Our congressional representatives, Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and Congressmen Mark Walker and Ted Budd, should help us understand two things: First, if this $3.6 billion wasn’t really required by the military, why did they appropriate it in the first place? Second, if the money was, in fact, necessary for the military and they did appropriate it properly, what steps are they taking to prevent Trump from shifting this money to a project that Congress did not feel was important enough to fund in the first place? Who’s in charge of appropriations? I think the Constitution is pretty clear on that one. However, the Constitution envisions a Congress that is a co-equal branch of government and I’m not sure that is the case anymore. But perhaps $3.6 billion and $80 million are just bigger numbers to me than they are to our congressional delegation. SAD!