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North Carolina editorial roundup

December 14, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Dec. 12

The News & Observer of Raleigh on North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger and the state death penalty:

The fact that North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger are lawyers makes their latest political gambit against Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein all the more shameless.

The two legislative leaders have called on Cooper and Stein to restart the death penalty in the wake of deaths of prison workers in Pasquotank Correctional Institution. Four inmates are charged in the deaths, and prosecutors in Pasquotank say they’ll seek the death penalty.

But for Moore and Berger to act as if Cooper and Stein, both of whom support the death penalty, are standing between criminals and the death penalty is absurd. Neither the governor nor the AG can restart the death penalty, which is under legal challenge on a multitude of grounds, as it is in many states. That’s why no one has been put to death by the state in more than 10 years. Some of the challenges have to do with the method of execution. Then there are the objections of doctors who don’t want to participate in the taking of a life.

The best decision on the death penalty would be to end it. Life without parole is a punishment of supreme consequence and suffering. And should someone convicted of a capital crime be found to be innocent - something that has happened - a punishment can be corrected if that punishment is something short of death.

The point here, though, is that the legislative leaders are so eager to knock on Cooper and Stein, two popular, extremely competent Democrats, that they’ll demagogue the death penalty when they know that as long as legal challenges are pending, the death penalty can’t be restarted as if the task were just like turning on a light switch.

Legislative leaders could do something constructive to boost prison safety, however. Instead of cutting virtually all agencies in state government (again, done in part to hurt the Cooper administration’s ability to serve the people who toppled a Republican to put Cooper into office), they could introduce legislation to boost salaries for prison guards and other personnel and thus make it possible to draw more people into that line of work.

More guards, better paid, would translate directly - directly - into safer prisons. Some of the problems in that state’s prisons have had to do with inmates getting the drop on guards at a time when additional guards would have prevented that situation.

The crisis in prisons certainly could be interpreted as an emergency, one that could be addressed by the state’s rainy day fund, now at an astounding $1.8 billion. Lawmakers who complain they can’t go to the fund for something like prisons are insulting the intelligence of the people. Lawmakers could pass needed legislation to approve that money quickly - if they took some time off from attacking Cooper and Stein and instead decided to work with them.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com/


Dec. 10

The News & Record of Greensboro on a congressional race that could be competitive:

North Carolina will see an off-off election year in 2018. There is no race for governor or U.S. Senate at the top of the ballot.

So one focus will be on U.S. House contests — which, thanks to partisan gerrymandering, usually aren’t very interesting.

One exception next year could be the battle for the 13th District seat, currently held by first-term Republican Ted Budd of Davie County. The district contains about half of Greensboro and Guilford County.

Democrat Kathy Manning of Greensboro has launched a campaign to challenge Budd. Like Budd in 2016, Manning is making her first run for public office.

Until 2016, the 13th District was anchored in the Triangle. In a court-ordered redistricting, it was shifted to the west. The timing forced an abbreviated primary campaign, attracting many candidates in both parties: 17 Republicans and five Democrats.

Budd, a farmer and businessman from a prominent family, drew support from a national political organization called Club for Growth Action, which spent nearly $500,000 on his behalf during the primary.

That was enough for Budd to top the field with 20 percent of the vote. State Rep. John Blust and Commissioner Hank Henning, both of Guilford County, were second and third, respectively.

In November 2016, Budd defeated Democrat Bruce Davis of High Point, a former Guilford County commissioner, 56 percent to 44 percent. It was the closest margin in any of North Carolina’s 13 congressional races.

Any Democrat would have a hard time winning. While Davis won 60 percent of the vote in Guilford County, he could not overcome strong Republican voting in Davidson, Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties.

Could that change in 2018? Maybe, depending on voter turnout, satisfaction with Budd’s record, the quality of the Democratic candidate, money and the Donald Trump effect.

Turnout likely will be much lower in 2018 than it was in 2016, a presidential election year in which state voters also saw races for governor and U.S. Senate on their ballots. So 2018 outcomes could turn on which party motivates more people to vote.

Budd supported Obamacare repeal and the GOP tax cuts. He split from most Republicans by opposing disaster-relief funding and, recently, joining just seven other House members in voting against renewing a federal grant program meant to rehabilitate brownfield industrial sites.

Manning’s abilities as a candidate aren’t known. A former immigration lawyer whose husband, Randall Kaplan, is a Greensboro developer, she is a philanthropist and successful fundraiser. She led efforts for the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro to secure private funding for a downtown performing arts center.

Budd must think she will be a formidable foe because he immediately put up a phony website, www.kathymanningforcongress.com, in which he linked her to “far-left Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, John Edwards, and Barack Obama.”

Budd, however, will be linked to President Trump, who has inspired a heavier turnout of Democratic voters in many 2017 elections.

In Virginia, Democrats swept statewide races and picked up more than a dozen legislative seats. If that trend continues, it could produce a close contest in North Carolina’s 13th District.

Yet, it’s too early to say whether Manning or even Budd will be on next November’s ballot. Other Democrats and Republicans could join the race. But Greensboro and Guilford County voices deserve to be heard in the 13th District. Manning, although a political newcomer, can speak for issues of concern in this end of the district. If she can make connections with people in the more rural counties, she could be a real contender.

Online: http://www.greensboro.com/


Dec. 12

The Fayetteville Observer on sexual assault in the military:

There is no question that at the highest levels of command, the American military is determined to stop the troubling level of sexual assault within the ranks. Nor is there any question that it’s going to be a long, slow process. Simply telling the troops that sexual harassment and assault aren’t acceptable isn’t enough.

That’s exactly the commitment Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, has made. “Let me say that sexual harassment and sexual assault are abhorrent to me and completely unacceptable to our Army,” Townsend says. “This behavior equates to soldier-on-soldier fratricide that negatively impacts our readiness, and we won’t rest until we completely change our Army’s culture.”

Townsend and other top Army leaders have done a lot more than declare assault unacceptable. They have launched dozens of prevention programs, including a Fort Bragg sexual assault review board that meets monthly, extensive training at every level, adding more trained counselors, making it easier to report sexual assaults and ensuring that victims are treated better and more respectfully. Fort Bragg troops have also participated in several pilot programs, including a $3 million study that will result in a program aimed at the intersection of sexual assault and high-risk alcohol abuse.

And yet, the problem is hard to overcome. There were 156 sexual assaults reported at Fort Bragg last year, although post leaders say some of them were a result of assaults that occurred earlier. The numbers also include verified and unsubstantiated reports and some are also civilian reports against military members.

But despite the fuzziness of those numbers, we’re more concerned about two other troubling aspects of sexual assault within the military. First, most sexual assaults still aren’t being reported. Based on confidential surveys, the Pentagon estimates that only 32 percent of service members who experienced a sexual assault reported it. That’s a sharp improvement in the reporting rate from just four years ago, when it was only 15 percent. Continuing efforts against sexual harassment and violence are beginning to show some small successes, even though there’s a long, long way to go.

And there’s another thing that’s even more worrisome: Of those who did report a sexual assault, 71 percent of women and 64 percent of men said they experienced retaliation. Those numbers mean it’s almost a sure thing that if you’re in the military and you report you were assaulted, you’ll pay for it, whether or not you have the satisfaction of seeing your attacker face consequences for the crime. No wonder the military is having such a struggle to get assault victims to report the crime.

Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain and director of government relations at the Service Women’s Action Network, says those data are “an indication of the continued failure of the military services in their critical task of preventing sexual assault to begin with.” That’s also why Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, which is chaired by North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis — has reintroduced her bill to reform the way the military handles sexual assault cases. Her measure would take away unit commanders’ authority over sexual assault cases and allow military prosecutors to decide which cases go to trial. “Top officials in the military continue to assert that they alone will fix this,” she said in a statement, “but little has changed.”

It’s likely that more aggressive prosecution and freeing prosecutors to determine which cases go to trial would be effective steps in reducing the overall sexual assault rates in the military services, but that won’t solve the even more difficult challenge of transforming an ages-old warrior culture in ways that prevent sexual assaults and harassment. Persistence and real zero -tolerance are the keys.

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com/