Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer. July 15, 2021.

Editorial: NC Senate leader says he wants Critical Race Theory debate. What does his bill say?

The North Carolina Senate’s new bill on Critical Race Theory in schools makes an important and welcome distinction that separates it from CRT bills in the N.C. House and in state legislatures across the country.

Like most CRT legislation, the N.C. Senate measure announced Wednesday by Senate leader Phil Berger forbids districts from promoting CRT and similar concepts in schools. But unlike most CRT measures, the bill purposefully defines what “promoting” is: “compelling students, teachers, administrators or other school employees to affirm or profess belief.”

The definition presumably would allow teachers to discuss Critical Race Theory and related concepts surrounding America’s history with race. That’s intentional, Berger indicated in prepared remarks he read to media Wednesday. The Senate leader doesn’t want to ban ideas, he said. He wants them debated.

“Children must learn about our state’s racial past and all of its ugliness, including the cruelty of slavery to the 1898 Wilmington massacre to Jim Crow,” Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said. But, he warned: “Students must not be forced to adopt an ideology that is separate and distinct from history; an ideology that attacks ‘the very foundations of the liberal order,’ and that promotes ‘present discrimination’ — so long as it’s against the right people — as “antiracist,” Berger said.

This editorial board certainly values debate, and we appreciate that unlike Republicans across the country, the Senate Leader is signaling that he doesn’t want to forbid conversation about our country’s racial history. But the Senate’s CRT legislation would discourage teachers from confronting that past, and the bill solves a problem that doesn’t exist.

North Carolina’s public K-12 schools aren’t teaching Critical Race Theory — something Berger’s office acknowledged to the Editorial Board this week. The Senate leader believes, however, that CRT is “ascendant.” In remarks Wednesday to reporters, he noted that Durham’s city government authorized a report on race that called on teachers to host “in-class conversations about … white privilege and how white people can be supportive of anti-racism.”

There’s a lot of distance, however, between a city task force supporting anti-racism to CRT being taught, let alone promoted, in North Carolina’s public school classrooms. Berger’s bill is premature at best.

Worse, the bill will likely have a chilling effect on the exchange of ideas Berger said he wants to promote. It’s not difficult to imagine teachers hesitating to candidly discuss America’s history on race, given the threat that might invite from parents, students or lawmakers evaluating whether the lesson is an “impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history” and an “impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region,” as Berger’s legislation mandates.

The bill also requires that schools notify the Department of Public Instruction 30 days prior to “providing instruction” on CRT-related concepts. That doesn’t allow for the free-flowing exchange of ideas that our classrooms should have and Berger says he wants. What if a student decides without warning to ask a question about race and history, about systemic racism, about our founders and slavery, and a teacher hasn’t sent the necessary 30-day paperwork into the state? The Senate Leader may not want to police thought, but by placing CRT discussion under the umbrella of legislation, that’s exactly what happens.

And that’s exactly what many parents and legislators want to do. CRT bills — even those that attempt not to chill speech — give into the fear of uncomfortable ideas. They overstate the power of teachers and understate the ability of our children to think and process and talk about concepts with others, including their parents.

In his remarks this week, Berger advocated for just that. “This is the only avenue — informing, debating, reasoning — to truly combat an illiberal doctrine,” he said. But his bill doesn’t encourage that discussion. It regulates it. That’s unnecessary, and it’s not good for our schools or our children.


Winston-Salem Journal. July 19, 2021.

Editorial: On Medicaid expansion, we must keep pushing

For several years now, medical authorities, business leaders and faith leaders — along with newspaper editorial writers — have encouraged the state legislature to institute Medicaid expansion. This would provide medical coverage for North Carolinians who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for a subsidy on the health-insurance marketplace, aka via the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Statewide, around 500,000 or 600,000 North Carolinians, many of them low-wage workers with few options, are caught in this trap. The lack of medical coverage hurts them and their children.

Adopting Medicaid expansion would benefit nearly 35,194 residents in Guilford County as well as about 25,500 in Forsyth.

“Of all the policy prescriptions to help these people, closing the gap through Medicaid would, experts agree, be the most comprehensive solution,” Care4Carolina, a coalition of business, civic and faith leaders and organizations, said in a recent statement. “It is also an eminently affordable fix.”

It would also benefit hundreds of thousands who live in rural communities. N.C. Rural Center president Patrick Woodie says that closing the coverage gap “is a human and economic imperative.

“It’s time we worked together — across party lines, and as rural and urban communities. The health of our rural people and our rural economy depend on it.”

In fact, about 75% of North Carolinians, including majorities of Democrats, unaffiliated voters and Republicans, support Medicaid expansion, according to a poll released last September by Care4Carolina.

A vast majority of states — 38 at last count — including heavily Republican states like Arkansas and Louisiana, participate in Medicaid expansion. Once joining, none have decided that it’s not a good idea after all.

For several years now, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature, led by Sen. Phil Berger and bolstered by then-Gov. Pat McCrory (who is now running for the U.S. Senate), have resisted every call to adopt Medicaid expansion, no matter how sweet the deal. This means, among other factors, that some of our tax money benefits other states rather than our own.

It also means that the jobs that would be fueled by expanding Medicaid are going to other states.

Berger has consistently claimed that the proposition is too uncertain. Even though the federal government would pay 90% of the expense, he says that the feds could back out and leave us holding the bag.

This never seems to happen.

In fact, options that reject federal funds, or allow us to back out if the feds back out, have been proposed. But Berger rejected those, too.

In fact, Berger has opposed Medicaid expansion since it was first introduced in 2012 — meaning that we could have benefitted from it for almost a decade now without his prediction coming true.

Children could have grown up under its provisions.

But Berger is unmoved.

So are we. We keep pushing for the increased medical coverage that Medicaid expansion would provide because we care about the state and the people who live here; because health ailments left untreated lend themselves to increased poverty and fewer financial opportunities; and because political dogma — opposing anything with the name “Obama” attached to it — is not a good enough reason to let people suffer. North Carolinians deserve better than they’re getting.

We also push it because it would be good for North Carolina’s business development. As noted last week by the Winston-Salem Journal’s Richard Craver, our deficiency in social areas — which include medical coverage for the poor as well as protections against discrimination — discourage some businesses from locating here.

We keep advocating for it because it’s the right thing to do.

In a recent guest column (“Finally, N.C.’s golden health care opportunity,” July 19), four retired heads of medical and charitable organizations said that now is a unique and beneficial moment in time, in which the pot has been sweetened yet again.

“The American Rescue Plan provides states with a new incentive: a two-year, 5% increase in the federal match rate for Medicaid,” they wrote. “For North Carolina, that would mean an influx of around $1.7 billion over the next two years. Official estimates put the cost of closing the coverage gap through Medicaid at $700 million over that span, which would leave $1 billion for the state to invest in other worthy endeavors.”

If used for nothing else, that $1 billion could sit in the bank, accumulating interest, in case the feds finally do as Berger predicts.

What about it, Sen. Berger? Is that enough yet? What else do you need?


Greensboro News & Record. July 15, 2021.

Editorial: Medical marijuana gets GOP champions

For more than a decade, North Carolina’s Democratic legislators have pushed one form or another of a medical marijuana bill, intended to safely, under strictly controlled conditions, allow cannabis to be used to alleviate one or another type of pain. They inevitably went nowhere.

But now that conservative, rock-ribbed Republicans are promoting a medical marijuana bill, success seems likelier.

It brings to mind the political metaphor: Only Nixon could go to China.

The N.C. Compassionate Care Act is actually a bipartisan bill: Its primary sponsors are Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, chairman of the Rules and Operations committee; Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth; and Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover. Support for it is broad throughout the legislature.

Support is also strong from the public; an Elon University poll released in February found that 73% of North Carolinians support the medical use of marijuana. That includes 64% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats, the Winston-Salem Journal’s Richard Craver reported earlier this week.

The bill says “modern medical research has found that cannabis and cannabinoid compounds are effective at alleviating pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with several debilitating medical conditions.”

Those conditions include nausea brought on from cancer treatment, which Rabon, a veterinarian from Southport and a cancer survivor, likely experienced himself. During a public hearing in June, he said that if there’s something the state can do to help people alleviate the pain caused by cancer and other serious medical problems, he’s all for it.

Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, also has spoken in favor of the bill, citing her husband, who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. “If you had asked me six months ago if I would support this bill, I would have said no,” Harrington told The Charlotte Observer. “But life comes at you fast.”

And there’s a strong contingency among Democrats and Republicans that supports medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans. Several veterans have touted marijuana’s superiority — more effective, fewer side effects — to the drugs often prescribed by Veterans Affairs.

“They’re coming home and being treated for PTSD, TBI and many other ailments with extremely powerful drugs,” said Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, whose district includes Camp Lejeune. “Antidepressants, Oxycontin, Percocet. And they’re in extreme pain. Our suicide rates are through the roof, and they continue to get worse. Studies have shown that medical cannabis is a great reliever in lieu of these very powerful drugs.”

It’s hard to argue against that.

But, of course, some do. They include two Christian conservative groups, the N.C. Values Coalition and the Christian Action League.

The Rev. Mark Creech, who heads the Christian Action League, said he believes medical marijuana is backed up by “purely anecdotal evidence at best” and that it’s a slippery slope to full legalization.

But “purely anecdotal” includes the experiences of untold thousands of veterans.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein has also expressed concerns that the bill could open the door to recreational marijuana.

Yet he said, “I support people with genuine health needs, who can benefit from marijuana, being able to access marijuana. ... And that requires us to change the law. But we have to be incredibly careful in how that is done.”

We agree, and we believe it can be done.

All these years after the public first became aware of marijuana, it still stokes controversy. Some will insist that it serves as a gateway to more harmful drugs. Others refer to the degree to which marijuana has become normalized, used by 13% or 24% of American adults, depending on the poll, while still maintaining jobs and raising families.

But one needn’t be a supporter of recreational marijuana use to understand that using it under controlled medical supervision would be preferable to self-medicating. If it can be used safely to alleviate pain and suffering, especially among our veterans, then it should be.

The bill has to meet the approval of several Republican-led committees before reaching the full Senate. Given the support it now receives from people who had been the most resistant, if it gets that far, it deserves to pass.