Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 24

The News & Observer on the unified government by Democrats in Washington, D.C.:

On Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, Vice President Kamala Harris swore in three new members of the U.S. Senate, including the two Democratic winners of the recent special election in Georgia. For the first time in a decade, Democrats occupied the White House and controlled the U.S. House and Senate.

We think that’s a good thing for Washington — and for the country — after four years of mostly Republican rule.

So we mean this the most affirming way: Don’t mess this up, Democrats.

History is strewn with political parties, both state and national, overreaching as soon as they have a legislative majority. Too often, lawmakers treat it as some sort of grocery game show, stuffing their cart with as much legislation as possible before the buzzer sounds. Inevitably, that backfires. Voters recoil. The pendulum swings back toward the minority party. An opportunity for real, sustained change is lost.

We do believe President Biden should undo the damage that Donald Trump inflicted, particularly on the environment and immigration. The president took steps toward that on his first day, ordering agencies to review and reverse more than 100 of Trump’s actions on the environment. Biden also reversed Trump’s ban on travel from Muslim countries, and his administration should quickly move to restore legal immigration, including H1-B visas, back to pre-Trump levels.

But for those who see a Democratic Congress as an opportunity to push the progressive pedal to the floor, we’d like to remind you of North Carolina’s 2020 Blue Wave.

That’s right, there wasn’t one. Democrats thought there might be, and Republicans feared there would be, but after the blue wave of 2018 broke the GOP’s supermajority in the N.C. House and Senate, the momentum didn’t carry over. In part, that was because N.C. Republicans benefited from voters turning out for Donald Trump in unprecedented fashion. But Republicans also pounced on voters wary of progressive policies, particularly regarding Defund the Police, a conceptually worthy but poorly branded notion that hurt Democrats across the country.

It was a reminder that voters — especially in purplish states like North Carolina — prefer incremental change over fundamental, systemic transformation. True or not, Republicans will be poised to paint Democratic proposals as radical change over the next two years. Democrats should be strategic about what ammunition they provide.

A note to Republicans: Donald Trump will not be on the ballot for the 2022 midterm elections. The last two times he wasn’t — in the 2018 midterms and in Georgia’s special U.S. Senate election — Democrats rolled to surprising victories. Republicans should realize that on issues including immigration and healthcare, they’ve moved further to the right than most independent voters. It’s not 2012 anymore. Attacking the Affordable Care Act and making boogeymen out of immigrants doesn’t pay off at the polls like it used to.

But Republicans who are despairing this week can also take heart: There’s sometimes nothing better for a political party than to have the other party in charge for a stretch. Because that party will surely overreach.

So don’t mess this majority up, Democrats.

We hope and expect President Biden to govern from the middle, and his first concern should be dealing with the public health and economic crises the pandemic has inflicted upon Americans. Polls also show broad support for some progressive issues, including a $15 minimum wage. But Biden will be pushed left on other issues, such as Medicare for All and the makeup of the Supreme Court. Those may or may not be worthy of exploration eventually, but if Democrats want a four- to eight-year opportunity at policies that benefit all of the country, they should be careful how to approach the next two.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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Jan. 24

The Greensboro News & Record on a benefit concert held in North Carolina's Guilford County and a school board member criticized for posting disinformation on Facebook:

For all of its dangers as a breeding pool for toxic myths and disinformation, sometimes Facebook actually can do good things, even if only by happenstance.

Consider two recent examples in Guilford County.

During an indoor benefit concert Jan. 17 for the family of a musician who died of COVID-19 in Greensboro, most attendees appeared neither to be socially distanced nor wearing masks.

We know this because we saw it on Facebook.

Someone posted a since-deleted photo of the event that clearly depicted a mostly maskless crowd in a packed room at the popular live music venue The Blind Tiger.

The cause was a laudable one — to raise money for the wife and children for the local guitarist, Bill McQueen, who had died after contracting the virus.

But in the midst of sadness and tragedy of the celebration of a life ended too soon, was anyone thinking clearly through their tears?

Had any of those people considered that even as they were mourning the loss of someone near and dear to COVID-19, that they were also risking getting the virus themselves or spreading it to others? Or both?

For those who hadn’t, snarky commenters quickly pointed out the reckless irony.

“So you had a super-spreader event as a benefit for a dude that died of COVID,” one Facebook reader wrote.

Meanwhile, a Guilford County school board member, Anita Sharpe, rightly has been called to account for sharing a video on Facebook from a discredited conspiracy theorist who was fired as an analyst for Fox News.

The YouTube video, posted Jan. 10, features false claims about the storming of the U.S. Capitol from retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney.

Among the fantastical talking points on McInerney’s video:

U.S. Special Forces members confiscated Nancy Pelosi’s laptop during the Jan. 6 Capitol siege and now have access to sensitive data that could cause her trouble (which U.S. Special Forces denies).

Antifa infiltrators disguised as Trump loyalists were involved in the riot (which the FBI says there is no evidence of).

And Democrats conspired with the Chinese to unleash COVID-19 on the world (seriously?).

McInerney also has promoted the falsehood that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen.

After receiving community criticism for the post, including some calls to resign, Sharpe wouldn’t budge, invoking her free-speech rights.

She posted on Facebook on Jan. 13: “Question, does being an elected person bring an end to a person’s first amendment rights?’”

No, it doesn’t. But it does mean that what you say is held to greater scrutiny, because you hold a public office.

And while the First Amendment does guarantee Sharpe’s right to free speech, it doesn’t shield any of us from its consequences, when we use it unwisely, much less an elected official.

“I am not a fact-checker,” Sharpe is quoted as saying by Yes Weekly.

As if that justifies her irresponsible behavior.

A school board member, of all people, should know that sharing other people’s posts and videos, without a comment or disclaimer, is an implicit endorsement. That Sharpe shows no remorse for trading in these wild-eyed and volatile fictions (the video has since been removed by YouTube and Facebook) is disturbing.

At the very least, she owes her constituents an explanation. And an apology.

As for The Blind Tiger, the venue will be allowed to host live concerts going forward, say county health department officials, but only if it follows COVID-19 prevention rules.

Manager Don “Doc” Beck said in emails both to the News & Record’s Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane and the county environmental health manager that the benefit concert was considered a memorial service, and state officials agree.

The state suggests distancing and face coverings for faith services, but does not mandate them. But, just because a venue can exploit that loophole doesn’t mean it should.

The county health department won’t penalize the club for last week’s event but it does expect it to use the proper precautions going forward.

County Commissioners Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston still is concerned that the “religious event” exemption provides a “loophole” that needs to be closed.

Manager Beck had said before the event that masks would be required. And then they weren’t.

But The Blind Tiger seems to have opened its eyes to the hazards of its missteps last week.

Not so for a stubborn school board member who apparently still can’t, or won’t, see her error in judgment.

Online: https://greensboro.com/

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Jan. 23

Winston-Salem Journal on the death of a civil rights activist and educator in North Carolina:

We were saddened last week to learn of the death of Victor “Vic” Johnson Jr., a well-known civil rights activist and educator. His commitment to our community ran deep and his influence will be felt for a long time to come.

Johnson was a native of Winston-Salem and attended Kimberly Park Elementary School and later Atkins High School. After a three-year stint in the U.S. Army, he attended Winston-Salem State Teachers College, now known as Winston-Salem State University. He played both offense and defense on the football team there for four years.

In February 1960, at age 24, he joined a group of Black and white students from Winston-Salem Teachers College and Wake Forest College who conducted a sit-in at the whites-only lunch counter at the Woolworth’s store in downtown Winston-Salem. They were arrested — but there was no widespread vandalism. And in May, Winston-Salem became the first Southern city to voluntarily desegregate its lunch counters.

“At that time, the walls of segregation had to be challenged and eradicated,” the Rev. John Mendez, the retired pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, told the Journal’s John Hinton last week. “They did just that, and he did his part. He did what he had to do.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1960, Johnson earned a master’s degree in education at N.C. A&T State University. Staying close to home, he took a job as a teacher at Paisley Middle School. He later served as an assistant principal at Carver High School and briefly as an interim principal at North Forsyth High School. He was appointed to the school board in March 1997, where he served through November 2018.

As a member of the board’s grievance committee, Johnson was able to act as a go-between for students, their parents and school principals. He was known for following the academic progress of students he taught.

Don Martin, a Forsyth County commissioner and a former superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said that he’d remember Johnson as a friend and as a giving man who wasn’t concerned about getting credit for his accomplishments.

“That’s why he was on the school board,” Martin said. “I had the utmost respect for him.”

“This community is a better place because of his life’s work fighting for basic human rights,” Malishai Woodbury, the chairwoman of the school board, said in a statement Thursday. “As a board member for many years, he supported students, he stood alongside teachers and did everything he could to make public education in our district the best it could be for all students. Our district has lost a true leader and friend.”

It’s especially sad that Johnson died as a victim of the COVID-19 epidemic, despite taking stringent precautions.

The news comes as the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system is still tweaking its reopening plan in response to the danger of COVID. Last week the school board decided to delay the return of high school students to in-person attendance. This follows the advice of local health officials.

As we’ve said before, the pace of reopening is a difficult question, with arguments to be made on both sides. The concerns of administrators and teachers need to be taken in consideration as well as the needs of the students — especially as we’re on the verge of vaccines becoming more widely available.

But we’re glad to know that officials and school board members are flexible enough to change direction when it’s required.

We suspect Johnson would approve.

Online: https://journalnow.com/