Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Greensboro News & Record. July 8, 2021.

Editorial: UNC-Chapel Hill loses Hannah-Jones and more

The loss of Nikole Hannah-Jones by the UNC-Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media is one more black eye for an overly politicized UNC System that has been punching itself in the eye for quite a while now. It’s also a loss for the UNC journalism students who could have benefited from Hannah-Jones’ intellect, talent and broad experience.

It seemed at first like a dream acquisition. And it should have been. Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient — and, incidentally, an alumna of UNC’s journalism school — was hired in April as the school’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Her appointment would instantly increase the school’s prestige. Would-be investigative journalists from throughout the country would flock to North Carolina to learn from her.

But the school’s offer included a low ball: While previous Knight chairs had regularly received tenure upon being hired, Hannah-Jones was only offered a five-year contract.

UNC board trustees prevaricated, with one claiming that her tenure application was halted because she didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background” and another saying that he had “questions” — which one would think might be asked before she was offered a job in the first place. It also turns out that the school’s major donor, Arkansas newspaper publisher Walter Hussman, was working behind the scenes to undermine her appointment. And some conservatives complained to trustees about Hannah-Jones’ involvement in The 1619 Project, a groundbreaking examination of slavery’s role in the founding of America, which she produced for The New York Times Magazine.

Supporters from all quarters rallied, including UNC staff and faculty. The foundation that endows Hannah-Jones’ position, the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, urged the school to offer her tenure.

The school’s trustees finally voted to do so, 9-4, last week.

But Hannah-Jones declined, accepting a tenured position at Howard University instead. There, she will create and lead the new Center for Journalism and Democracy, with a mission to increase diversity in journalism. She has already elicited $20 million in donations for the school.

After her announcement, a group of Hussman faculty members released a statement in which they attributed the trustees’ reluctance to grant Hannah-Jones tenure to racism. They noted the scarcity of Black women with tenure at UNC. “Hannah-Jones would have been the sole Black woman at the rank of full professor level in our school; at the university level, only 3.1% of tenured faculty are Black women.

“We regret that the top echelons of leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill failed to follow established processes, did not conduct themselves professionally and transparently, and created a crisis that shamed our institution, all because of Ms. Hannah-Jones’s honest accounting of America’s racial history. It is understandable why Ms. Hannah-Jones would take her brilliance elsewhere.”

Whether it is racism or incompetence, this isn’t the first time officials at UNC have taken what should be a simple administrative chore and created a politicized controversy; it has been a regular feature for several years now. Prominent, talented administrators like former UNC President Tom Ross; his replacement, Margaret Spellings; and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt have been dismissed or chased away by heavy-handed political maneuvers. In 2019, a group of UNC leaders cut a deal that placed the controversial “Silent Sam” Confederate statue and $2.5 million in the hands of the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans. The result of many of their decisions has been to diminish the reputation of the UNC System.

Also, under their leadership, African Americans at UNC have felt frustrated and shortchanged.

“Right now, the relationship between the University of North Carolina and its Black students, faculty and staff is broken,” Jaci Field, advocacy committee co-chair of the Carolina Black Caucus, a faculty group, said earlier this week.

Following the loss of Hannah-Jones, some of them have become energized and are demanding changes.

There’s no reason UNC trustees should have let Hannah-Jones slip through their fingers. But we fear we’ll continue to see these embarrassing losses until lawmakers and UNC leaders stop pushing political agendas and serve the best interests of the university and the state.

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Charlotte Observer. July 13, 2021.

Editorial: DeJoy case reveals another scandal - a shortage of NC agents

Louis DeJoy of Greensboro, a major Republican donor and now the nation’s Postmaster General, is being reviewed by the FBI for possibly using “straw donors” to circumvent individual contribution limits in federal elections. Now the advocacy group Common Cause North Carolina and campaign finance expert Bob Hall are pressing Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman – who has jurisdiction over state election law violations – to open a state investigation.

Freeman is reluctant to do so for several reasons, and one of them is a scandal in itself – a shortage of investigators. The Wake County district attorney thinks it’s best to leave the investigation to the feds. She notes that they have the powers of a federal grand jury and DeJoy is a federal employee.

But beyond that there’s the practical issue of whether the state has the resources to take on a parallel investigation of contributions from employees at DeJoy’s High Point-based logistics company to Pat McCrory’s gubernatorial campaigns in 2012 and 2016. At issue is whether the employees at New Breed Logistics were illegally paid back for their political contributions. DeJoy has denied knowingly violating election laws.

For a state probe, Freeman would have to rely on the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), which has only four agents assigned to its Special Investigations Unit. “It’s an incredibly small division and the bureau has many demands. There has been no increase in about 10 years,” Freeman told the Editorial Board. “For years I have raised that concern.”

And well she should. Saving money on public corruption investigators exacts a high cost. It means that even when evidence of violations surfaces, it may not be pursued. There’s only so much a handful of investigators can take on when they have to consider cases at the municipal, county and state levels.

The state Senate’s proposed budget seeks to transfer four elections investigators from the State Board of Elections to the SBI. But that move is more about Republicans taking power from a body controlled by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper than it is about bolstering the SBI. “Any reasonable person should come to the conclusion that the body charged with elections investigations should be as free from political influence – real or perceived – as possible,” said Lauren Horsch, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger.

Instead of shifting investigators, lawmakers should let those at the board stay and hire more special investigators for the SBI.

In the meantime, Freeman said she will review the findings Common Cause brought forth based on Hall’s research.

Hall said campaign finance records show DeJoy, his family and 60 of his employees donated $300,000 to McCrory’s gubernatorial campaigns, but the employees showed little interest in contributing to other state campaigns. The 60 employees, Hall said, gave less than $8,000 to other North Carolina candidates or committees during 30 years.

If she had more investigators and legal firepower, Freeman might be inclined to mirror the federal probe with a state one. But given the state’s limitations, she’s likely to leave it to the FBI. Hall said she should coordinate with the FBI probe. “I just want more resources investigating public corruption,” he said.

Freeman thinks that would unnecessarily strain the state’s limited resources.

“I have tremendous respect for Bob Hall and Common Cause and I regret that they feel that I am in some way not fulfilling my responsibility,” Freeman said. “But I just don’t think the right thing to do is to launch a state investigation.”

Nonetheless, she said she will “pore over” Hall’s new findings and she will act if the FBI presents her with evidence of state violations.

It’s unfortunate that the General Assembly has not made it a priority to boost the state’s ability to investigate, even in the face of well-developed evidence. The next state budget should address that weakness with funding that will strengthen public integrity.

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Winston-Salem Journal. July 10, 2021.

Editorial: We must protect democracy

If at first you don’t succeed at subverting democracy, try, try again.

After losing severely in 2020, several Republican-led state legislatures have been busy passing new voting restrictions. They’re ostensibly to assure shaky voters who have trouble coping with the outcome, which was the result of “the most secure election in history,” according to former President Trump’s own elections officials — but upon examination, the provisions seem aimed more at preventing a repeat of their loss.

Provisions include rejecting votes cast in the wrong precinct, reducing the number of mail ballot drop boxes and forbidding the types of voting and the types of IDs that are used more heavily by African Americans and young people, who tend to vote for Democrats.

But restricting the vote is not the only way in which Republicans are trying to stack the deck to ensure future victories. They’re also trying to control who counts the votes, which would give them another advantage.

In March, the Republican-led Georgia House of Representatives passed a law that would grant the state board of elections — also Republican-led — the power to overrule county election boards. They could quite literally disqualify the votes in Democratic-leaning counties. Other red states are passing similar provisions, removing decision-making power from nonpartisan officials and putting it in partisan hands.

Some states are also pushing provisions that would give partisan poll watchers more power to challenge voters they don’t like — which could tie up election results — and provisions that would fine election workers — up to $10,000 in Iowa — for technical infractions that could include unintentional mistakes such as opening a polling place a few minutes late.

“It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of variables and people make mistakes, and now I’m liable for all those mistakes,” Linn County, Iowa, auditor Joel Miller told The Associated Press. “The process could be likewise corrupted by the secretary of state arbitrarily administering the law in a very uneven manner, depending on whether you’re a Democratic county or a Republican county.”

So Republican election boards would have the authority to throw out votes based on voter challenges and to decline to certify close elections won by Democrats.

We used to just call that “cheating.”

These restrictions are troublesome, and a part of the reason why corporate sponsors, like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, have spoken out against them.

Put all of that together with Republicans’ recent discovery of decades-old critical race theory, with which they’re riling up angry mobs; toss in their tolerance for and endorsement of Trump’s Big Lie; add their denigration of anyone who may oppose their plans, which now includes Capitol Police and the military; include their constant fear-mongering over the threat of “socialism” when referring to any basic Democratic proposal; sprinkle in the Supreme Court’s gutting of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act; and it seems obvious that they’re setting aside any glimmer of restraint or integrity in an all-out effort to reclaim the power they desperately crave — and hold it permanently.

As serious as the rejection of fair elections is, it seems but part of a more philosophical rejection of democracy itself.

Last year, Republican officials in Mississippi and Missouri overturned voter-supported ballot initiatives to establish medical marijuana programs. In 2018, after voter-supported Medicaid expansion and increased funding for education was passed in Idaho, the Republican legislature passed laws that make future ballot initiatives more difficult to pass. More than 125 bills were introduced into 31 state legislatures to amend or change the referendum or ballot initiative process in 2021, according to data compiled by Ballotpedia for NBC News. Republican legislators are certain that they know better than their constituents.

Some Republicans seem to be on the verge of just admitting that they no longer believe in democracy, like Rep. Mike Lee, who in 2020 tweeted: “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

Of course, not all Republicans have bought into this anti-democracy movement. Some want to win elections the old-fashioned way: by getting more votes. They still believe that voters should select their legislators rather than the other way around.

The Democratic Party is straining to push back against the organized efforts to thwart the will of the American people, with voter drives, lawsuits and a pair of game-changing laws: The For the People Act, which would expand automatic voter registration, limit automatic removal from voter rolls, establish independent redistricting commissions, prohibit campaign spending by foreign nationals and more; and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore some of the pre-clearance laws struck down by the Supreme Court.

We appreciate the current decentralized system, run independently by states. But considering the attack on fair and free elections instigated by red states, the federal acts are justified. They may be the only way to protect democracy.

On Thursday, President Biden met with civil rights leaders in the West Wing to discuss efforts to help protect voting rights. On the same day, Vice President Kamala Harris announced $25 million in new spending by the Democratic National Committee to support efforts to protect voting access.

The rest of us can help by maintaining awareness and pledging to vote in 2022, no matter what it takes. If we don’t vote in 2022, many of us may not get to in 2024.

It’s long past time we all reaffirmed the principle of “one man, one vote” on which our great nation was built.

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