LEGISLATORS NEED TO IMPLEMENT, NOT DEFLECT, LEANDRO JUDGE'S ORDER: Judge Lee, a Democrat, gained his assignment to oversee implementation of the Leandro settlement from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin – a Republican. Lee made note during the hearing that his actions are not constricted by the state’s constitutional separation of powers. He quoted former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, who was a Republican when he served on the high court. “When the State fails to live up to its constitutional duties, a court is empowered to order the deficiency remedied, and if the offending branch of government or its agents either fail to do so or have consistently shown an inability to do so, a court is empowered to provide relief by imposing a specific remedy and instructing the recalcitrant state actors to implement it,” Orr said in a 2004 Leandro unanimous ruling where he was joined by the other five Republicans and lone Democrat on the state’s high court.
AN INAPPROPRIATE ATTACK ON A LIFE-SAVING GUN POLICY: Lt. Governor Mark Robinson and Paul Valone couldn’t be more exploitative in pursuing a disingenuous campaign to undermine the state’s life-saving Pistol Purchase Permit law by calling it racist. Their efforts to use race-baiting as a tool to repeal a key North Carolina public safety law, are as dangerous as they are hypocritical. They underscore just how out of touch they are with the reality of gun violence and racial justice in North Carolina. The reality is that African Americans in North Carolina are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, which is the leading cause of death for Black children and young men in the state. Firearm licensing systems, such as North Carolina’s Pistol Purchase Permitting system, are one of the most evidence-based policies to prevent gun violence. There is clear evidence that repealing this law would be a dangerous and harmful change. In the years after Missouri repealed its handgun permit-purchase law in 2007, firearm homicide rates were 47% higher and firearm suicide rates were 24% higher, compared to controls. Conversely, Connecticut’s permit-to-purchase law, passed in 1995, was associated with 28% lower firearm homicide rates compared to control, and 33% lower firearm suicide rates compared to control, over the 22 years after it passed. 2020 was the most violent year in the 21st century in our state. Gun deaths, excluding suicides, rose by 31% in 2020 compared to 2019 and repealing our pistol purchase permitting system would surely mean the loss of more lives. We cannot afford to be like Missouri.
ATTRACTING AND ENCOURAGING NC'S BEST AND BRIGHTEST TO BECOME EDUCATORS: Did you know that educator preparation programs in North Carolina have experienced declining enrollments of more than 50 percent since the Great Recession? This reality has had a cascading effect, and attracting and retaining high quality educators to our classrooms has become increasingly challenging over the last decade. One way to turn this around is to improve working conditions, including increasing educator compensation and creating incentives to enable low-wealth districts to attract and retain qualified and well-prepared teachers. Earlier this year, the Public School Forum called for raising pay for teachers and instructional support staff by at least 5% for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Our General Assembly is currently working on developing a budget that includes teacher pay proposals that do not quite meet that goal post -- but they do include some increases and bonuses that teachers would appreciate, as they have not had raises since 2018. We hope that our state leaders move expeditiously toward passing a state budget that supports our educators and makes the profession more attractive than it is today.
THOMAS MILLS: VACCINE MANDATES ARE NOTHING NEW: I don’t like mandates, but I also don’t like pandemics shutting down our lives because of the obstinance of the few. I don’t believe that we should be forced to share space with people who refuse to take action to protect the health of others. I also don’t like the disinformation campaigns that have parroted the lies of Donald Trump claiming the pandemic is a Democratic hoax or that the virus will just go away or that it’s no worse than the flu. And I like even less the right-wing media outlets and Republican elected officials who refuse to rebuke the disinformation or even help spread it. If conservative outlets spent half as much time promoting the vaccine as they have screaming about the injustice of the mask mandates and vaccine passports, we would probably be out of this mess. Instead, they have reinforced skepticism of the vaccine. They haven’t just undermined faith in government, they’ve undermined faith in doctors, scientists, and researchers by pushing disinformation and junk science. Their followers threaten overworked nurses and doctors promoting vaccines, while listening to talk radio show hosts who later die of COVID. We’ve had vaccine mandates since the beginning of the Republic. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington mandated that all troops get vaccinated for small pox. Back then, vaccines were much more risky and Washington worried that the mandates would hurt recruitment. However, small pox was killing more soldiers than the British, so he did what needed to be done. COVID has literally reduced our life expectancy, increasing the number of deaths in 2020 by almost 18%. In addition, we have vaccine mandates to enter public schools and have for decades. It's a public health crisis, which requires public policy solutions. It really is that simple.
AFGHANS ARRIVING IN THE U.S. ARE STUCK IN LIMBO. CONGRESS MUST HELP: Afghans fleeing their country in recent weeks have braved hardships from violent retaliation to closed borders and overfull flights. Now, those who have managed to make it out on their way to the United States face new obstacles. President Biden’s administration wisely realized amid the past month’s evacuation that the backlogged asylum, refugee and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) processes couldn’t handle the influx — so the Department of Health and Human Services exercised its authority to admit at least 50,000 of the displaced as humanitarian parolees. This move solved one problem and introduced another. Parolees are granted work authorization and a reprieve from any deportation risk, but they aren’t eligible for the benefits available to traditional refugees, such as Medicaid and Medicare, food assistance, and nonfinancial support including English-language classes or help enrolling children in school. It means that while coming here became far easier, actually living here could prove close to impossible. Congress must do as it has done in the past and afford parolees the same benefits that refugees and SIV recipients receive, as outlined in the bipartisan Welcomed Act recently introduced in the House of Representatives. Legislators should also create a pathway to permanent immigration status for all who enter during this period of transition — wresting out of legal limbo even those who, in fear of reprisal, burned critical documents. Temporary Protected Status would offer a measure of stability, but only a measure; after all, it’s temporary by definition. Thousands of Afghans who risked their lives alongside Americans remain at risk inside Afghanistan; the administration’s effort to evacuate those who want to leave must not flag. For those who have made it out, it’s now Congress’s job to ensure the United States offers a true home.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
SALLY BETHUNE: THEOCRATS ON THE SUPREME COURT?: Regarding “Texas bans most abortions, with high court mum on appeal,” (Sept. 2): When I was much younger Roe v. Wade did not exist. There was a time when people, mainly Southerners, needed to know if then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, would take his marching orders from Rome. Now in 2021 I am worried some current members of the U.S. Supreme Court need to answer that very question. The court deciding to remain silent on Texas’s new abortion law leaves the door open for other states, such as Mississippi and maybe even a very gerrymandered North Carolina, to follow the unprecedented lead of Texas.
BERNADETTE WAGNER: FINALLY, THE CAPITAL OF THE CONFEDERACY ADMITS DEFEAT: Regarding the Sept. 7 Metro article “Robert E. Lee statue to be removed Wednesday”: Yay for Virginia! If the commonwealth of Virginia, once the home of the capital of the Confederacy, can address the false narrative of the Confederacy as merely defenders of states’ rights, so can others. Thanks to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the Virginia Supreme Court, we now have a viable model for reckoning with the atrocities of slavery and Jim Crow laws and the continued impact of racism.
MARCI GREENSTEIN: THE MEDIA'S FAILURE IN AFGHANISTAN: The Sept. 3 Style article “Networks’ selection of pundits draws flak” pointed out the hypocrisy of military and civilian pundits on cable TV of late critiquing U.S. policy and actions in Afghanistan that they were a part of. All of a sudden, the American people are being told that the Afghan army could not stand on its own, despite 20 years of U.S. support in dollars, equipment and training. But what about the media’s role in sounding the alarm about the dysfunction and corruption in Afghanistan during those 20 years? Comparisons to Vietnam are inevitable. Seeing Afghans clinging to a military plane leaving Kabul was reminiscent of Vietnamese trying to board the last U.S. helicopters leaving Saigon. But so was the media’s failure to uncover the truth about how poorly the war in Afghanistan was going until very late in the day. She's not wrong, but it's also important to note the military exercises discretion on which journalists are embedded with them, and which units to embed them with.
Editor's note: Our efforts to highlight women's voices in LTEs are always a challenge, because there simply aren't many of them. Two of the above are from outside of North Carolina, but I can't tell you for certain if it's because our newspapers are ignoring them, or if it's because women simply aren't writing them here. I have a hunch it's more the latter than the former, and that bothers me quite a bit. We will explore the "why" down below, but if you are a woman your voice is needed, critically.