Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News and Observer. September 29, 2022.

Editorial: A new level of dishonesty: Mailers targeting NC Democrats photoshop the truth

Political advertisements, most of the time, should not be taken at face value. They habitually omit important context and contain truths that have been watered down into lies. And, in some cases, they simply invent things out of thin air.

Mailers recently distributed in several competitive North Carolina House districts feature deceptively edited photos of Democratic candidates, tying them to the “defund the police” movement and Black Lives Matter protests.

One particular mailer was shared on Twitter this week by state Sen. Jeff Jackson, who called a “comically dishonest political attack.” The mailer features a photo of Rep. Ricky Hurtado, a Democrat who represents Alamance County, wearing a T-shirt that says “defund the police.”

Whoever designed the mailer clearly knows their way around Photoshop, because that photo of Hurtado doesn’t actually exist. What does exist is a photo of Hurtado wearing a campaign T-shirt while participating in a trash pickup event in his district. That photo was manipulated in the mailer, which blasted Hurtado for his record on crime.

In Pitt County, voters received a nearly identical mailer targeting Democratic Rep. Brian Farkas. The front of the mailer has a photo of Farkas holding a “defund the police” sign. (It’s an edited photo of Farkas holding one of his campaign signs outside a polling place.) The back of the mailer shows Farkas smiling and waving as protesters march by, with the text “State Representative Brian Farkas stood with rioters, not us.” That photo was taken from a December 2021 Facebook post of Farkas attending a local Christmas parade.

Hurtado and Farkas, both of whom were first elected in 2020, are seeking re-election in competitive districts that just barely lean Democratic. Their seats are among a handful of districts that will likely determine whether Republicans gain a supermajority in the North Carolina legislature. Other Democrats in close races, including Rep. Terence Everitt of Wake County, have also been targeted by these misleading mailers.

The mailers cite a pledge signed by Hurtado, Farkas and other North Carolina Democrats in 2018 and 2020 to allege that Democrats are soft on crime or don’t support law enforcement. Republicans have repeatedly used that pledge to accuse Democrats of wanting to defund the police — though the pledge never mentioned anything about funding for law enforcement when they signed it, according to a 2020 fact-check.

The mailers, which were shared with the Editorial Board, say they were paid for by Carolina Leadership Coalition, a nonprofit organization that has received scrutiny for its close ties to the House Republican Caucus and House Speaker Tim Moore. The News & Observer previously reported that the coalition uses the same businesses as House Republicans to raise money and produce campaign ads. The Editorial Board contacted the House Republican Caucus to ask if equally manipulated or false ads have been distributed by Democrats, but did not immediately receive a response.

Slamming Democrats for their record on crime and public safety has been a key strategy for Republicans nationwide. In North Carolina’s Senate race, Ted Budd and his fellow Republicans have launched misleading attacks against Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley for her supposedly weak record on violent crime as a judge. Some of those ads were pulled from local TV stations and other media outlets because they contained false statements. Republicans have also accused Beasley of wanting to defund the police — though Beasley herself has publicly stated that she does not support the movement.

Both Democrats and Republicans have long tiptoed around the truth on the campaign trail, and it’s something we’ve reluctantly come to accept as inevitable. Truthfulness in political advertisements might be too much to ask for, but these mailers take dishonesty to a new and different level. Manufacturing the truth — or, in this case, photoshopping it — should never be acceptable. Voters deserve better than lies and manipulation, especially from the people who want to represent them.

___

Winston-Salem Journal. October 3, 2022.

Editorial: Not in their backyard

The leader of the Environmental Protection Agency, a native son of North Carolina, announced a groundbreaking national initiative in his home state recently.

EPA administrator Michael Regan unveiled a new arm of his agency, an office devoted to environmental justice, in Warren County, the birthplace of the environmental justice movement.

Regan, an N.C. A&T alumnus who was born in Goldsboro, said the new office is the fulfillment of a pledge he had made when he first assumed his post as the first Black man to head the EPA.

And it appears to be a serious commitment, backed by serious resources.

Two hundred employees will staff the freshly minted Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, some in Washington, others spread among 10 regional EPA offices across the country. Its budget will be $100 million.

That’s a lot of added muscle. Currently, only 55 staffers handle the agency’s civil rights and environmental justice work.

“We are embedding environmental justice and civil rights into the DNA of EPA,” Regan said.

As for the event in Warren County that inspired the choice of venue for Regan’s announcement, it seems at once like the distant past. And only yesterday.

Forty years ago, protesters in Warren County confronted a caravan of 10 dump trucks rumbling toward a local landfill. Sixty state troopers in riot gear awaited them.

When the protesters sat on the roadway and refused to budge, the troopers arrested 55 of them, ultimately taking 500 of the demonstrators into custody.

The object of all that fear and anger?

Each of those trucks contained six tons of soil laced with PCBs, short for polychlorinated biphenyls, which have been associated with cancer and other disorders.

And by order of the state, the tainted soil would be dumped there.

The protesters wanted no part of the PCBs in their small, poor Black community near the Virginia border. Who would?

In the end, their efforts failed. The contaminated soil stayed put. The state of North Carolina refused to choose an alternate site. But the righteous ruckus the protesters had raised also had raised hard questions that persist to this day.

The Government Accountability Office found that, among four hazardous waste sites in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, three were located in communities with high percentages of minority residents. Further, at least 26% of those minority populations lived below the poverty level.

A 1987 study by the United Church of Christ concluded that three out of every five African Americans and Hispanics in the United States live in communities that contain toxic waste sites.

More important, the 1982 protest spurred a national movement that continues to this day, sadly enough, because it has to.

The kinds of moral, social and scientific questions raised in Warren County four decades ago are still being raised right now in poor and minority communities: Why here? Why us? And what can be done about it?

Too often communities with the least money and political clout are burdened with the hazards of toxic landfills and pollution-spewing industries and other environmental health challenges.

And to find one you only need to look as far the latest headlines in Jackson, Mississippi, or Flint, Michigan. Or the majority-Black town of Reserve, Louisiana, where an elementary school sits within half a mile of a synthetic rubber plant that emits chloroprene, which is designated as a carcinogen in California, and a likely carcinogen by the EPA.

Or as near as our own backyard: The Winston Weaver Co. Inc. fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, where a massive fire on Jan. 31 could have lit 600 tons of volatile ammonium nitrate and set off an explosion large enough to obliterate a nearby neighborhood.

Some critics may point to the new office as a symptom of a bloated federal bureaucracy, but, if anything, it is overdue.

This expansion will achieve equal footing for the EPA’s environmental justice office with the other EPA national offices that concentrate on air, water and chemical pollution.

As it should be. And should have been a long time ago.

___

Greensboro News & Record. October 4, 2022.

Editorial: Blinded by the lie

A nonpartisan road show for reality, the Trusted Elections Tour, stopped in Greensboro last week to stump for reason and common sense.

Led by former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, the series of 14 town halls throughout the state is a rational and informed take on election security that rebuts unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in North Carolina and beyond.

And it has its work cut out.

According to a WRAL News poll, 44% of likely Republican voters express little to no confidence that their vote will be counted accurately in the Nov. 8 election.

That’s disconcerting, if not surprising.

Donald Trump claimed election fraud even after he won in 2016.

In 2017, he even created a commission to investigate. Established by executive order, the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” was chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — a leading purveyor of dubious fraud allegations.

The commission disbanded in early 2018 with little to show for its efforts.

Following his loss to Joe Biden in 2020, Trump doubled down on his claims without credible evidence.

More than 60 court challenges to the election results were dismissed. Yet if you repeat a lie often enough… well, we continue to reap the results.

In the WRAL News poll, conducted among 677 likely North Carolina voters, only 15% of Republican respondents said they had full confidence that their votes would be counted accurately, versus 60% of Democrats and 42% of independent voters. Only 5% of Democrats and independents expressed no confidence in the voting process.

Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer traces the lopsided GOP skepticism to Trump.

“A lot of that certainly gets laid at the feet of the former president, who continuously reinforced the idea of, ‘If I lose, the system must have been rigged,’ ” Bitzer told WRAL. “That is not a basic American norm or principle. If you lose, it’s because the other candidate won more voters or got more support. What he’s doing is calling the system into question and this is the result.”

Not that Trump hasn’t had more than a few accomplices.

Remember, on the day rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, 139 House Republicans voted to object to the results of the election. They included seven of 10 North Carolina Republicans, among them Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Madison Cawthorn, Virginia Foxx, Greg Murphy, Richard Hudson and David Rouzer

At least one of them obviously knew better.

“I know that Joe Biden will be president,” Bishop said from the floor after police had cleared the House chamber of rioters. “But I don’t know that it hurts, or would hurt any of us, to have the generosity of spirit to continue to reflect on what might be better or what might seriously have gone wrong here, even if you reject the notion that the result was wrong.”

Got that?

Such muddying of the facts by GOP leaders with doublespeak and often outright fiction has made election workers’ jobs harder — and in some cases, scarier.

And it has become more and more common for losers of elections to automatically declare fraud, whether there’s evidence of it or not.

While fact-based inquiries into election irregularities are healthy, useful and necessary, blanket condemnations of the entire process based on flimsy premises are downright dangerous.

So are overly aggressive poll watchers with political agendas and gratuitous complaints and records requests from election deniers.

The Trusted Elections Tour is one way to shine light into that darkness.

Whether these panels will wind up preaching mostly to the choir or actually reach some of the skeptics and the misinformed, we don’t know.

We can only hope.

Incidentally, the Trusted Elections Tour is sponsored by the nonpartisan Carter Center, which traditionally has monitored elections in other countries. It’s a troubling sign of our times that American elections now need its help.

The tour is a noble and worthwhile cause despite the headwinds of ignorance, exploitation and self-interest it must face.

Because, in an era in which sowing doubt in democracy has become a political strategy, every little bit helps.

END