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North Carolina editorial roundup

May 15, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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May 14

The Charlotte Observer on the firing of the executive director of the state Board of Elections:

Kim Strach, the executive director of the state Board of Elections, was doing a good job before she got fired Monday. She’d helped guide the board through the minefield of the 9th Congressional District election fraud scandal. She’d offered strong suggestions to lawmakers about preventing future fraud, and some of those recommendations became part of a truly bi-partisan N.C. House bill.

So why did Strach get shown the door? It’s because she is not a Democrat and the Board of Elections is majority Democrat. It’s legal. It’s happened before. And it’s wrong.

The firing happened at a meeting Monday that told NC voters all the wrong things about the people in charge of their elections. It told them that party matters, not fairness. It told them that politics rule, not effectiveness. Strach, who has led the Board since 2013, was replaced by Democrat Karen Brinson Bell in a 3-2 vote that split along party lines. Why? Board chair Robert Cordle explained unconvincingly that Brinson Bell’s background fit the board’s need to focus on training local election officials for the 2020 election, something that surely brought a smirk to the many veteran local election directors across the state.

A more persuasive argument might have been that Strach’s dismissal is a part of the ordinary transfer of power, that the spoils of winning (in this case, Gov. Roy Cooper’s victory) includes having some say over who runs things. Republicans exercise that power, too, including when Strach got her job in 2013 after Gov. Pat McCrory took office.

Instead, Democrats on Monday launched an ugly attempt at character assassination, with N.C. Democratic Party chair Wayne Goodwin accusing Strach, who is an unaffiliated voter, of protecting Republicans “for nearly two decades.” The reality is that Strach and the board under her have vigorously pursued both Democrats and Republicans, most recently when she resisted Republican calls to leave Mark Harris alone in the 9th District. Even Cordle, the Democratic board chair, said Monday that Strach had done an excellent job for the state.

Among Strach’s other offenses, according to Goodwin? She is married to Phil Strach, an attorney who regularly represents the Republican-led legislature in court cases, some of which involved election law issues. It was an absurd and sad public moment for Goodwin, a long-time state servant, and it speaks to precisely why Strach’s firing was wrong. For years, N.C. Republicans have tried to use legislation involving voting and elections — including the composition of elections boards — to hold and tighten their grip on power. For years, Democrats have decried such tainting of elections with politics. Strach, meanwhile, has done her job the way any party should want it done. That includes with the 9th District scandal, which was a jarring reminder that elections boards from the county level to Raleigh should be free from politics, and that North Carolinians should have the confidence that the people who rule on election disputes do so without partisan considerations.

If there ever was a moment not to replace an elections director because of party, it was now. The Democrats did so anyway Monday, and they justified it in the worst possible way. It was unseemly and hypocritical. It was politics.

Online:

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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May 14

The Fayetteville Observer on proposed electric vehicle fees:

Owners of electric vehicles and hybrids, that use a combination of gas and electricity, sometimes feel unappreciated or even targeted by the General Assembly. But springtime has brought some good news from Raleigh for EV and hybrid owners. For starters, EV drivers earlier this month may have dodged a big tax increase cooked up by Republican Sen. Jim Davis from the western part of the state, who wants to slap what would eventually be a $275 annual fee on drivers of all-electric vehicles and $137 for owners of hybrids. Supporters say the money would make up for gasoline taxes not paid by EV drivers. It represents an increase from the $130 EV drivers already pay.

Opponents counter with a study showing that even the existing fee is too much, because the size of most EVs are such that their annual gasoline taxes would be around $100 if they ran on all-fuel. At any rate, Davis’ legislation has apparently stalled in the Senate, and is nowhere in the House, according to the Energy News Network, a pro-green nonprofit. Its news website attributes the bill’s House status in part to Fayetteville’s Rep. John Szoka, a Republican who does not support the measure and is a co-chair of a key committee that sidelined it.

Meanwhile, a bill by Cary Democrat Wiley Nickel that appears to have some momentum in the House would fine drivers of gas vehicles who park in spaces designated for charging stations for electric cars. Sen. Ben Clark, a Democrat who represents Cumberland and Hoke counties, is a co-sponsor of the Senate version and owns a Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid.

Online:

https://www.fayobserver.com

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May 11

The Winston-Salem Journal on conservatives who are in favor of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina:

It was Nixon who went to China. And now the forces for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina have their own unlikely champion.

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, a conservative firebrand best known for his controversial views on immigration, has lent his support to a bill, sponsored by Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican, which pairs Medicaid expansion with a work requirement and premium payments.

“In law enforcement, we’re dealing with people in our detention centers and in our communities who need that coverage.” Johnson said in endorsement of House Bill 655. “We could be helping some of these people get back in society and make their own way.”

Johnson appeared at an April news conference with businessman and former GOP gubernatorial candidate George Little; former N.C. Rep. Chris Malone, R-Wake; Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover; and the Rev. Gilbert Parker, president of the N.C. Faith Fellowship Foundation.

“Hard-working families in North Carolina are being left behind by a broken health care system,” said Grange, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “These families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private health insurance.”

Grange also noted the impact on veterans: “One in four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in North Carolina have no health care coverage and no access to the Veterans Administration.”

The news conference was sponsored by the N.C. Fund for a Conservative Future, which also cited the results of a February poll of 800 registered voters in North Carolina that showed more than 70% support for Medicaid expansion. That number included not only 90.1% of Democrats, but 66.9% of unaffiliated voters and 52.4% of Republicans.

This could be because the case for it is so obvious. Foremost, Medicaid expansion would provide care for North Carolinians who could otherwise afford none and would quite probably save lives. It also would create as many as 40,000 jobs and help struggling rural hospitals.

“This issue is monumental to us,” Chris Lumsden, CEO of Northern Hospital of Surry County, said during an April roundtable discussion among CEOs of rural hospitals in North Carolina. ”(Medicaid expansion) is something we can do today that will impact patient care and economic development down the road.”

Six rural hospitals have closed in North Carolina since 2010, affecting not only access to health care but the well-being of rural economies.

“Rural hospitals are anchor institutions in their communities,” Greg Tung, a University of Colorado health economist, told NC Health News. “They are kind of a pillar of the local community and the local economy; they provide a lot of skilled, well-paying jobs for that area. So, when a rural hospital closes, it has a disproportionately large impact on that community, especially in comparison to an urban hospital closure.”

Finally, Medicaid expansion would help to address the state’s spiraling opioid crisis by providing greater access to treatment.

And, of course, this increased coverage would be almost completely funded by the federal government — using taxes North Carolinians already pay.

But don’t confuse anyone with facts. Medicaid expansion in North Carolina remains stalled in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Beyond politics, there is no practical reason not to do this. And some Republicans obviously agree. Despite the long odds, their voices are helpful and important. And deeply appreciated.

Online:

https://www.journalnow.com/