Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer. Nov. 22, 2021.

Editorial: NC Republicans are becoming the party of bigots, insurrectionists and the cowardly who let it happen

“This is not who we are.”

Six relatively simple words.

Why won’t North Carolina Republicans say them — or, better yet, act on them?

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the state’s highest elected Republican, again made abhorrent remarks about LGBTQ+ people at a sermon in Winston-Salem on Nov. 14. In the sermon, which was posted to YouTube, Robinson said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples and compared being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies.

This comes after Robinson, who is widely expected to run for governor in 2024, called “transgenderism” and homosexuality “filth” in a recently surfaced video from June — comments that the White House called “repugnant” and prompted some state Democrats to call for his resignation. Members of Robinson’s party, however, chose to excuse his comments, saying he was referring to books, not LGBTQ+ people themselves.

And just last week, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn praised a Wisconsin jury’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, a then-17-year-old white vigilante who shot three men, killing two, during a protest in Kenosha last year. Cawthorn offered Rittenhouse an internship and told his followers to “be armed, be dangerous and be moral” on Instagram Friday. Of course, that’s hardly surprising from Cawthorn, who reportedly helped plan the events of Jan. 6 and warned of “bloodshed” if our elections “continue to be stolen.”

What do North Carolina Republicans have to say about that? You can probably guess: nothing.

A lieutenant governor who spews hatred and a United States congressman who openly incites violence seems like the kind of thing reasonable people — or a political party — would want to distance themselves from. The same would seem to be true of state lawmakers who were reported to be members of a right-wing militant group, and the new N.C. House member who apparently attended the U.S. Capitol attack himself.

But rather than condemning such moral bankruptcy, North Carolina Republicans are letting it become their brand. They dutifully excuse — and even embrace — the behavior of insurrectionists and bigots, no matter how repugnant, and stand idly by as the ugliest voices in their party become the loudest. At best, that’s complicity; at worst, it’s concurrence.

That “party first, principles second” approach is a big reason why people like Cawthorn and Robinson have a platform at all. Republicans didn’t stop people on the fringes of their party from slipping into the mainstream over the years — and once they realized that it could win elections, they snuggled up even closer, abandoning everything they once stood for in the process.

Of course, there are Republicans who do criticize what their party has become. But they’re hard to find, and more often than not, they’re either leaving office or have already left it. By and large, those who want to remain in power choose to look away quietly; after all, those who break from the mold are often punished. Case in point: when North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator voted to impeach the now-former president for inciting an insurrection, his party back home voted unanimously to censure him.

That might explain why no Republican members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation voted to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for posting an animated video that depicted him killing a Democratic congresswoman and assaulting President Joe Biden.

There’s hardly room for moral ambiguity when it comes to bigotry and violence: you either support it, or you don’t. It’s hard to say whether Republicans actually subscribe to their colleagues’ line of thinking, but it’s what they say and do publicly that matters — the quiet bystander shares at least some guilt with the bully.

This is the very public face of North Carolina Republicans. They are showing voters who they are. Now, as a state and as a country, we must decide who we want to be.

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Winston-Salem Journal. Nov. 17, 2021.

Editorial: Ruthless by design

North Carolina Republicans are shocked, shocked that anyone would think there’s any blatant partisan racial and political gerrymandering going on in the shameful district maps that they’ve just passed by a party-line vote.

Never mind the pattern of breaking up blue-leaning urban areas into pieces that effectively dilute both Black and Democratic voting power.

Never mind the slicing and dicing of Guilford, Wake and Mecklenburg counties each into three districts.

Never mind the calculated divvying as well of Greensboro into two districts, with the largest piece attached to a heavily conservative district that flows all the way to Banner Elk, the hometown of incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx. Her nest would be feathered with a comfortable GOP majority while shoving first-term Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro into a virtually unwinnable district. (Manning’s district currently contains most of Forsyth County and all of Guilford.)

Meanwhile, a district containing Winston-Salem and Forsyth County would take in more rural areas as well, from Yadkin County south to Lincoln County, again favoring Republican candidates.

Divide and conquer. Stack the deck. Load the dice. And then shrug and feign ignorance anytime someone calls you on it.

What? Us? Gerrymander?

“I’m not considering political data, electoral data, in the drafting of these maps, so I have no idea what their outcome is going to be,” Rep. Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican who is House Redistricting Committee chairman, has said ... with a straight face.

“Do they think we’re stupid?” Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State, told WRAL-TV.

If the maps remain as they are, Republicans would likely win 10 or 11 of the state’s 14 congressional seats in a roughly evenly divided state that Donald Trump won by 1.3 percentage points in 2020. Of those 14, only one is considered to be highly competitive.

The maps will erode minority voting power as well, in a state that has grown increasingly more diverse. As NC Policy Watch notes, more than a half dozen Black lawmakers in the General Assembly could lose their seats if the new maps stand.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which analyzes district maps throughout the country, gave the Guilford, Wake and Mecklenburg maps an overall “F” rating for blatantly tilting districts to favor Republican candidates.

Beyond the obvious unfairness of it all is the serious harm this does to representative government. One of the reasons the country is as fiercely divided as it is today, and Congress rarely gets much done, is the extremism encouraged by highly partisan districts. Moderation becomes a cardinal sin, punishable by a hard-left or hard-right primary opponent.

Still, Republicans insist that they neither used racial nor political data in determining the new lines.

“Since political data was not considered in the map-drawing process, we would have no way of knowing the political leanings of the districts,” Lauren Horsch, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, told WRAL in an email.

Of course not. They didn’t have to. They already knew what they needed to know. They already knew which counties were heavily Democratic and that each has large concentrations of Black voters.

Meanwhile, Republicans are fully aware that this game of thrones blatantly violates what they claim to be their core principles: succeeding on one’s merits and letting “the market” drive results.

Clearly they don’t believe they can win a fair fight in fairly drawn districts, so why have one? Why even pretend to create a level playing field when affirmative action for Republican candidates is so much easier?

As they should, the maps will be challenged in court. The latest was filed Wednesday by a coalition led by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters.

To be clear, two can play this game. And they do. Democrats are pushing gerrymandered districts in Illinois, Maryland, New York and Oregon. They did the same in North Carolina for decades when they controlled the legislature.

But the Republicans’ are now the offending party in North Carolina, and their ruthless efficiency has taken gerrymandering to new heights — or depths, depending on how you view it.

As for doing the right thing — what’s right got to do with it?

This is about power, pure and simple, and keeping it ... by any means necessary. It’s the state’s residents who will have to suffer because of it.

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Greensboro News & Record. Nov. 16, 2021.

Editorial: Guilford County, unmasked

No more secret identities.

Your mask may come off now. The Guilford County Board of Commissioners, acting as its alter ego, the county Board of Health, voted unanimously Monday night to rescind the county’s mask mandate.

The order took effect immediately, meaning an order imposed in mid-August, during the surge of the COVID delta variant, was lifted the moment the 8-0 vote had been taken.

Neither the vote, nor its outcome, comes as a surprise. With an eye on encouraging metrics, the health board said it would likely roll back the rule when it scheduled Monday’s meeting two weeks ago.

The board’s decision does not affect Guilford County Schools, where a mask requirement still holds. A number of school districts in the state require masks in counties that have not issued mask mandates for the general public.

If it were up to us, we might have waited until vaccination rates were higher and the temptations of the holiday season had passed for the lifting of the countywide mandate. But the health board’s vote is a hopeful step toward life as we used to know it.

It is based on a number of positive trends in Guilford County and throughout the state. Infection and hospitalization rates are down. Over a recent 21-day period, the COVID positivity rate had dropped to an average of 4.8%. That’s the figure state health officials have set as a benchmark for relaxing some rules and restrictions.

But this good news comes, as do all things COVID, with an asterisk and fine print.

One number that is not as encouraging as the others is the relatively low vaccination rate in Guilford of only 56%. More vaccinations would help to preserve the current gains against the virus. The approval of vaccinations for children provides an opportunity to improve that figure. So will more adults stepping up to get a shot that has been proven overwhelmingly safe and effective.

Remember: The mask rule is rescinded as long as the numbers stay low. If we are not careful, we could be right back where we were before.

Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Winston-Salem’s Atrium Health, describes the period before Thanksgiving as “a sweet spot” for lifting mask mandates.

But what will follow that period is the holidays themselves, and cooler weather.

This means more indoor activities, family gatherings and travel, and more chances for new infections.

“There is no set rulebook on how to mitigate a global pandemic,” county commissioners Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston said. “We’ve seen this pandemic take turns for the better only to be followed by a new and more challenging virus.”

Look no farther than Europe, where a new wave of infections has taken hold, mostly among the unvaccinated. Europe reported close to 2 million coronavirus cases last week, the “most in a single week in that region since the pandemic started,” the World Health Organization reported.

Health experts have cited a slowdown in vaccination rates and the rollback of restrictions such as face mask mandates among the causes.

The keys to breaking the cycle of hopeful steps forward, followed by frustrating stumbles backward, are caution and discipline.

In Greensboro and Guilford County, you can help by resisting the natural impulse to be irrationally exuberant, and to forget that there’s still a pandemic.

We all should still avoid unnecessary risks. We also should remain patient and respectful.

We should abide by the rules of business establishments that choose to maintain a mask requirement to protect their patrons and employees. With the county mask mandate lifted, business owners and workers no longer have the weight of the county’s authority mandate to back their own rules.

We should be decent. If you don’t accept an establishment’s rules, you should take your business elsewhere, rather than pitch a fit or create a scene.

We should continue to accept and abide by the school system’s mask rules. They are meant to keep children, teachers and school staff safe, not a plot for world domination.

The virus doesn’t care about our politics. It simply wants vulnerable (or gullible) hosts.

The more progress we make during these latest calm waters in the eye of the COVID storm, the sooner it will end.

So, keep in mind, as they say (sort of) in the comic books: With greater freedom comes greater responsibility.

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