North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
News & Record on a water heater malfunction mistaken for gunfire at a high school near Wilmington:
A false alarm in a North Carolina school last week was a sober warning all the same: Serious gun-law reform in this nation is long overdue.
Preliminary news reports suggested a school shooting could be in progress at Topsail High School north of Wilmington.
At around 6:30 a.m. Friday morning, noises that sounded like gunfire were heard coming from the top of a school building. Buses carrying students to school at that hour were diverted and parents were notified of the situation by tweet.
The campus was sealed and nearby police officers responded, The Associated Press reported. It seemed as if our turn had finally come.
Thankfully, there was no shooter and no weapon. A faulty water heater had produced sounds that resembled gunfire.
That was a relief. And a grim reminder that this could happen anywhere.
But who could be blamed for expecting the worst? The scenario had been all too real late Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Only two weeks after a man entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and fatally shot 11 people, a gunman entered a country music bar and killed 12 people, including a veteran sheriff’s deputy who had rushed in to confront him.
The shooter, who was cold-blooded and methodical, also injured 18 before reportedly killing himself. He was identified as a 28-year-old Afghanistan war veteran, and he used a handgun equipped with an illegal, extra-capacity magazine. Several who were in the bar that night had seen this kind of horror before. They attended the 2017 country music festival in Las Vegas where a gunman killed 58 people from a perch in a hotel room. It was just one more devastating mass shooting to add to the rest.
As they keep happening, we look to our legislators, who express their condolences. And then we wait for the next one, very possibly here.
StarNews of Wilmington on some of the choices made by voters:
Voters handed the leadership faction in North Carolina’s General Assembly a couple of black eyes this month.
First, two proposed constitutional amendments — which would have turned court appointments and the elections board, essentially, over to whoever’s running the legislature — were both shot down by large margins. Good. This was a pretty naked power grab, which had nothing to do with good government or political principle.
Second, barring changes in the election canvasses, it looks as if Republicans lost their veto-proof majorities in Raleigh. Good again: The leadership faction pushed through a lot of junk with barely any debate. Bills read as if they were dashed off in a back room in a matter of minutes.
This is not a matter of ideology; it’s sloppy governance. The leadership left North Carolina saddled with bad bills, like the poorly considered HB-2, which cost the state billions, all for a matter of symbolism. (We never could figure out how it was supposed to be enforced, barring posting guards at bathrooms to perform pat-downs.) HB-2, remember, was dashed off in a single-day special session, then bulldozed into law, only to eventually be scrapped.
Now Republicans in the legislature will have to come up with budgets and laws that Gov. Cooper, a Democrat, will be willing to live with. (One reason governors are an essential part of the overall political system is the simple fact that their elections cannot be gerrymandered). That means they will have to talk to their Democratic colleagues, negotiate and come up with compromises. Nobody will get everything they want, but if the negotiating goes well, most people will get something, and no one can be really mad.
Democrats and Republicans, liberals, conservatives and moderates are not inherently evil, worthy of destruction. They’re American citizens with different ideas.
Some of those ideas are better than others, but no side, to be honest, has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. Those ideas should be argued out, openly and with plenty of time for discussion. It takes awhile and can be messy, but generally, the best ideas get adopted while others fade away.
North Carolina voters, in their wisdom, seem to have brought a welcome dose of democracy back to Raleigh.
The Fayetteville Observer on a lawsuit against GOP mapmakers alleging illegal partisan gerrymandering:
Well of course it’s blatant and outrageous gerrymandering, with state and federal legislative districts deliberately drawn to give one party overwhelming advantage over the other. Nobody has offered an honest argument to the contrary.
Rather, the Dark Lord of Gerrymander — more widely known as Republican Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, the chief legislative architect of those districts — freely admits to the mischief, saying he set out to draw as many districts as possible that give advantage to his party, and that he’d have drawn more of them if it was technically possible. Political analysts across the country routinely name North Carolina as the state that somehow gets away with the most extreme gerrymandering in the nation.
And the courts have agreed. North Carolina’s politically extreme redistricting was so blatantly unfair that it convinced many federal judges, for the first time in our nation’s history, that political gerrymandering should be banned, or at least substantially tamed. Only the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to make it official. It thought about buying into the trend in its last session, but then chickened out, sending a North Carolina challenge and several others back to lower courts on technicalities.
Sadly, we were also found to be a national leader in racial gerrymandering, and on that count, the Supreme Court had no hesitancy in ruling against us.
And now comes a renewed front in the war on gerrymandering, led by the political reform group Common Cause and the state Democratic Party. They and some Democratic and unaffiliated voters filed suit Tuesday against the Republican mapmakers in a Wake County court, where it will be heard by a three-judge panel. The suit argues that, “Elections to the North Carolina General Assembly are not ‘free’ when the outcomes are predetermined by partisan actors sitting behind a computer.” Any verdict is expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The latest push against gerrymandering comes as we move closer to the 2020 federal census and the national presidential election in the same year. The outcome of the census will lead to yet another redrawing of state and congressional legislative districts and the suit’s proponents are hoping to end political gerrymandering by then. “Because lawmakers stubbornly refuse to consider passing redistricting reform, we’re left with no choice but to litigate,” Common Cause NC Executive Director Bob Phillips said in an announcement of the suit. “Gerrymandering is detrimental to democracy, denying voters a choice and a voice on Election Day.”
State GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse couldn’t resist the small irony and tweaked the Democrats: “Only North Carolina Democrats would file a lawsuit to overturn districts that they just won.” Democrats did make a good showing on Election Day, taking enough additional seats in the state House and Senate to end the Republicans’ veto-proof majority and force the two parties to negotiate on major legislation and overrides of Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes. But the truth is that the party would have done even better if it was campaigning in districts that were politics-neutral, drawn to give fair and equitable representation to all voters.
This latest set of legislative maps was drawn in 2017. Republican-drawn maps have been under almost constant legal challenge since they were drawn early in this decade. The suits charging racial gerrymandering were upheld and resulted in the redrawing of numerous districts. The party that wins the 2020 legislative races will get to draw the next set of maps. Filing for those elections begins in just over a year.
What we and many others interested in fair elections want to see is an end to partisan gerrymandering before that election, and before the 2020 census. We don’t want Democrats drawing our electoral districts any more than we want Republicans to do it. An independent commission should be doing that work, free from political influence from any direction. We hope this new suit is one more step toward that goal.