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North Carolina editorial roundup

February 20, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 19

Winston-Salem Journal on an inspector general report finding former congressman and federal official Mel Watt misused his position to try to coerce an employee into a relationship:

A recently revealed report confirms the worst: that former N.C. Rep. Mel Watt “misused his position as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency by attempting to ‘coerce or induce’ a relationship with a female employee seeking a promotion,” The Washington Post reported last week.

It marks a disappointing end to what was once an illustrious career.

Simone Grimes, an FHFA supervisory program management analyst, told members of the House Financial Services Committee in September that Watt made dozens of sexual advances toward her, withheld a promised pay raise over her refusal of his advances and was protected by senior agency officials, The Associated Press reported last year.

According to Grimes, Watt had been harassing her for several years, starting in 2015 ... Over the next two years, Watt repeatedly asked Grimes to meet him outside the office, sometimes at his vacation home in North Carolina. She described meeting with him so she could talk about her pay and her responsibilities, but said the conversation would inevitably turn to Watt’s attraction to her.

Watt denied the accusations, but an inspector general’s investigation found credence to Grimes’ claims. He was also not “candid” with investigators and attempted to explain away his conversations with Grimes, some of which were recorded, as jokes or part of an attempt to mentor her, according to the report. ... The investigation was completed in late November, but the results weren’t released until The Washington Post filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

“In my view, it’s time for me to ride off into the sunset because the standards have become so confused that it’s difficult to operate in them,” Watt told investigators. He retired in January at the end of his term as director of the FHFA.

We agree with his decision — though it’s a sad denouement for a popular Democrat who represented North Carolina during a state Senate term and for 20 years in Washington. During that time, he won respect from both sides of the aisle.

But even before the #MeToo movement, there should have been little confusion that Watt’s words and actions were beyond what’s acceptable in the workplace — especially for a government official. All legislators and government officials should know they’re not acceptable now.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com/

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Feb. 19

The Fayetteville Observer on internet expansion in rural areas:

... Most of our cities are well wired with the digital highway that 21st century business and industry require — high-speed internet service. But in small towns and across the countryside, internet service too often is barely faster than it was in the early days of dial-up service. There’s no way anyone can run a date-intense business on the slow-crawling DSL service that’s often the only option in small towns.

Although the state has launched a few initiatives to extend fast “gigabit” service to rural communities, the efforts haven’t paid off in any large way. There’s a reason for that: Our lawmakers have been unwilling to recognize that fast internet service is no longer a luxury for gamers and movie buffs, but rather is an essential public utility that should be regulated and encouraged. Instead, they’ve left internet service largely in the private sector, even banning municipalities from offering internet access to residents. And internet access companies aren’t willing to spend what it takes to wire up small towns or rural areas where they might have only three or four customers on every mile of cable. That’s not profitable.

Yet, we would argue that for 21st century living and commerce, internet access is as fundamental as the electricity that runs our computers. In a sense, we’re reliving the American scenario of nearly a century ago, when city dwellers all had electricity and rural residents didn’t. It took the congressional passage of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to change that, providing the grants and loans to extend electric service out into even fairly remote rural areas across the country. It’s time to revive that law for internet service. Otherwise, the rural-urban divide will only grow greater.

In his constituent newsletter this week, Harnett County Republican Rep. David Lewis acknowledged the divide and resolved to do something about it. Broadband, he said is “my top priority for the 2019 session.” Lewis says previous government broadband initiatives have fallen short because they “have been consistently awarded to service providers that fail to make necessary investments in infrastructure.”

Now, he says, it’s time for government to take a more active role. “In order to get fiber out to people across the state,” he writes, “governments (federal, state, county, local) should be able to invest in fiber infrastructure, and in turn, lease them to the service providers who sell access to the consumer. We have to do something so that the people of this state can be connected to our ever-evolving world.”

Thank you, Rep. Lewis. We’ve waited a long, long time for our lawmakers — especially those in our legislative majority — to recognize the problem. Our state’s rural areas will continue to face depressing economic prospects until government gets involved ...

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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Feb. 20

The Charlotte Observer on a hearing outlining a ballot fraud investigation in the 9th Congressional District race:

As any seasoned court watcher will tell you, it’s best not to prematurely predict a trial’s outcome, no matter how persuasive the early evidence is. But this week’s State Board of Elections hearing into last year’s 9th District election is not a trial. It’s a proceeding to determine if Republican Mark Harris’ victory over Democrat Dan McCready last November is tainted. The hearing ... could take most of the week. But for its intended purposes, it’s already over.

It was over when state officials put up a slide early Monday declaring that more than 1,000 absentee ballot forms were submitted in Bladen County and Robeson County by political operative McCrae Dowless and his workers. That’s more than the 905-vote margin of victory in the 2018 race.

It was over when one of those workers, Lisa Britt, detailed the various ways Dowless and his crew committed election fraud and tried to avoid detection.

It was over when Dowless refused to offer his own testimony without a promise of immunity.

Even Harris attorney Alexander Dale tacitly acknowledged Monday that fraud occurred, while suggesting his client knew nothing about it. But for the purposes of this hearing, it doesn’t matter what Harris knew about McCrae Dowless. The proceedings aren’t about whether Harris knowingly participated in or paid for election fraud (although 9th District voters surely would appreciate some clarity on that). The hearing is about determining whether election fraud occurred and, importantly, if there’s the possibility that it occurred at a level that could influence the outcome of the election. If that possibility exists, then a statuatory threshold is triggered that allows the board of elections to intervene and “take any other action necessary to assure than an election is determined without taint or fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.”

That threshold of taint was triggered months ago, as details of the Dowless operation were revealed in media reports. Monday’s testimony was merely affirmation that the board should call for a new NC-09 election, and that the U.S. House should order a new primary given indications that Dowless and his workers helped Harris defeat Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger in the 2018 GOP primary.

The only pertinent question remaining for this week is whether politics will taint this hearing. During one break Monday, NC GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse told reporters that he hadn’t heard anything that persuaded him the election had been altered by Dowless. Woodhouse surely hopes Republicans on the elections board feel the same.

The board, however, doesn’t need proof that at least 905 votes were tampered with, or that Harris knew it was happening. It needs only to ask whether there are too many questions about election fraud in the 9th District to be sure that the 2018 outcome is valid.

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Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/