Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


MEDIOCRITY IS NOTHING TO CHEER ABOUT: Rather than begging for undeserved praise while demeaning those who don’t agree, it is time for a legislature that seeks to meet the needs for the entire state and is committed to excellence. How about having legislative leaders whose priorities are about: Helping workers who have lost their jobs by upgrading the state’s unemployment system so benefits match those enjoyed by workers in most other states. Helping families who need health coverage and don’t have it by expanding Medicaid to the 650,000 citizens who are now denied it. Helping ALL North Carolina students have access to a quality education – as guaranteed by the State Constitution – by adopting and funding the Leandro settlement as approved by Judge David Lee. The choices are clear: Keeping legislative leaders who demand praise but don’t earn it, OR electing a legislature that does the hard work to support the state’s fundamental needs and aim for excellence.

CABLE COMPANIES BLOCKED MUNICIPAL BROADBAND IN NC, THEN FAILED TO PROVIDE: Nearly a decade ago now, the North Carolina General Assembly approved legislation that essentially blocked municipalities from acting as internet service providers, barring any new or expanded municipal-owned and operated systems. Those arguments seemed reasonable enough to a majority of state legislators and carried the day. But those companies also pledged then that they had both the capability and will to address the poor service plaguing rural North Carolina. Nine years later, those service gaps remain. A number of rural North Carolina towns own electric systems whose assets have been sidelined by the 2011 legislation. This is infrastructure that can help subsidize new and faster service without additional taxpayer money. These same towns cannot receive U.S. Department of Agriculture broadband grants due to state law. The state’s Golden LEAF Foundation, created to help rural economies, cannot provide grants to these towns for internet backbone investments for the same reason. These restrictions are unreasonable. Keeping these assets from better use is unreasonable. It is past time for the larger telecommunications companies to stop their lobbying efforts to prevent us from bringing all tools to the table. Rural North Carolina must move forward, and public and private sector leaders in this state need to either help that happen, or get out the way.

THE INTERSECTION OF RACE, EQUITY, AND EDUCATION: As we experience a global pandemic and the abrupt, mass transition to virtual education, the question is not whether — but how — the effects of this new reality will deepen racial disparities. Even before COVID-19, students from historically disadvantaged families had just a 51 percent ‘Opportunity to Learn’ when compared to White, non-Latinx students, according to the Schott Foundation's Opportunity to Learn Index. We refer to a measure like this one as the ‘opportunity gap’ — and if we want to close the achievement gaps we so often hear about, we must close the opportunity gap first. One way to do this? Make our system of school funding more equitable. The Public School Forum’s research has found that year after year, our poorest counties fall further behind our wealthier ones in terms of resources available to their local schools. Poorer counties tax their residents twice as high as wealthier counties, yet generate substantially fewer dollars for their local public schools than what their weather counterparts can raise. This disparity in school funding and, consequently, educational resources has profound implications for our communities of color. As I mentioned last week, the judge overseeing our state’s school funding case known as Leandro tackles the racial disparities seen in our education system head-on by outlining a clear path toward equitable investments for our public schools — something that COVID-19 makes even more urgent. We must press on.

I HELPED START THE FIGHT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE NEARLY FOUR DECADES AGO. WE'RE STILL FIGHTING: I am so tired of the persistent manifestations of systemic racism in America. All Black people, as well as other people of color, are tired. Time and time again, we are treated as collateral damage in a nation to which we continuously devote our hearts, labor and souls. It seems that the fight for our rights is never-ending, but that does not mean we can let up, especially now. We are not yet hopeless. In the words of the late John Lewis, let’s make more “good trouble.” In the midst of yet another societal reckoning and with news of racial injustice across the country happening every day — including the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Eric Garner and too many more — I am seeing yet another injustice fall through the cracks in the state of Virginia. In 1981, appalled by what I saw playing out across the country, I researched, experienced and defined the term that I coined: “environmental racism.” I helped to start the fight for environmental justice 39 years ago. That struggle continues to this day — with Black Americans being 75 percent more likely to live in areas situated near hazardous-waste facilities. The most recent instance of environmental racism, brought to my attention through my work with the Healthcare Equality Network, is in Cumberland County, Va. The Green Ridge mega-landfill, which is in the works to gain approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), must be stopped. Our communities and lives depend on it. As someone who has documented environmental racism for much of my career, I was not surprised to learn that this landfill is set to be placed on the beautifully untouched land of a predominantly Black county. But what was even more painful to learn is that it is set to be built right next to Pine Grove Elementary School — a more-than-100-year-old Rosenwald School and a historical landmark from the Jim Crow era. Rosenwald Schools were created in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington to “improve educational opportunities for African American children in the American South.” It is, of course, important to note that these schools were built not just out of want but also necessity. Because of Jim Crow laws and our country’s ongoing battle with racism, our people were not given the same educational opportunities as Whites. When will our battle for equal rights end? When our voices are heard and our health is taken into consideration by governing bodies and key decision-makers. (Dr. Ben Chavis is one of the Wilmington Ten wrongfully imprisoned for a fire-bombing back in 1971, a tireless advocate for not just environmental justice, but other civil rights as well)

END OUR NATIONAL CRISIS: THE CASE AGAINST DONALD TRUMP: Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II. Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds. The editorial board does not lightly indict a duly elected president. During Mr. Trump’s term, we have called out his racism and his xenophobia. We have critiqued his vandalism of the postwar consensus, a system of alliances and relationships around the globe that cost a great many lives to establish and maintain. We have, again and again, deplored his divisive rhetoric and his malicious attacks on fellow Americans. Yet when the Senate refused to convict the president for obvious abuses of power and obstruction, we counseled his political opponents to focus their outrage on defeating him at the ballot box. The enormity and variety of Mr.Trump’s misdeeds can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars. This is the moment when Americans must recover that sense of outrage. He campaigned as a champion of ordinary workers, but he has governed on behalf of the wealthy. He promised an increase in the federal minimum wage and fresh investment in infrastructure; he delivered a round of tax cuts that mostly benefited rich people. He has indiscriminately erased regulations, and answered the prayers of corporations by suspending enforcement of rules he could not easily erase. Under his leadership, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stopped trying to protect consumers and the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped trying to protect the environment. He has undermined faith in government as a vehicle for mediating differences and arriving at compromises. He demands absolute loyalty from government officials, without regard to the public interest. He is openly contemptuous of expertise. And he has mounted an assault on the rule of law, wielding his authority as an instrument to secure his own power and to punish political opponents.


SARAH MONTGOMERY: OUR SCHOOLS NEED RESOURCES, NOT RHETORIC: Retired Judge Howard Manning’s Oct. 1 op-ed felt like a gut punch to me. I’m the mom of two Durham Public School students and the spouse of a DPS teacher. Like most families in our state, we had been dealing with insufficient funding before schools shut down. Due to a decade of declining investments and lack of action on Leandro, our schools have never had the resources required to meet the needs of all students. Manning oversaw Leandro for 15 years without delivering results for underserved students. His finger wagging is insulting to everyone doing the work to improve our schools. It’s telling that he centers his rant on Read to Achieve, a failed policy that places blame on students and teachers, rather than the lawmakers who have failed to provide our schools with the tools necessary to succeed. From Manning, it’s more of the same lip-service with no action.

MARYBE MCMILLAN: WE NEED A LABOR COMMISSIONER WHO CARES ABOUT WORKERS: After 20 years of Cherie Berry as our Labor Commissioner, we have rising workplace fatalities, rampant wage theft and worker misclassification, and some of the lowest penalties in the U.S. for rule-breaking employers. During this pandemic, Berry has advocated quickly re-opening our economy while pushing back on efforts to protect agricultural and meatpacking workers. Investigative reports reveal that her department has failed to follow up on COVID-related safety complaints and whistleblower retaliation claims. Working people deserve better, especially in the midst of COVID-19 and what could be our greatest occupational safety crisis to date.

PAT BULLARD: VOTE AGAINST REPUBLICANS LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT: Gov. Roy Cooper continues to seek Medicaid expansion, and a majority of N.C. citizens support Medicaid expansion. Indeed, the federal government would pay most of those costs and many additional citizens would receive the needed health care. Now is the time to do something about the needed health care expansion. Vote for individuals who support health care. The N.C. GOP control of the legislature holds the purse strings on health care and need to be voted against and defeated if we are to attain Medicaid expansion. Vote for Gov. Cooper and local Democrats. On the national level, the man in the White House leads the effort to completely kill the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and its protections for pre-existing conditions, making his defeat doubly important. Sen. Thom Tillis does not support expanding health care and voted against it in both the N.C. General Assembly and in Washington. The key to so many things, including needed health care, lies with persons you elect. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.



We must be our own gatekeepers on ethics

If you are in a situation where you ask yourself, "Is this a conflict of interest for me?" The answer is very likely, "yes." Whether or not the conflict rises to the level you cannot (or should not) involve yourself in the decision-making process is another question, equally (if not more) important. If you have trouble answering that, get help. But make sure the person whose opinion you seek doesn't also have a conflict. A disinterested 3rd party who has clearly exhibited ethical tendencies.

Case in point: On three separate occasions, I have had friends (not just acquaintances) come before my Planning Board seeking variances or other zoning changes. On all three occasions, I have disclosed my personal relationships at the beginning of the Board's proceedings. On one occasion a citizen asked me if I was going to recuse myself due to this, and I said, "No. We have no economic ties, there are no monetary or even non-monetary enticements at play here, I just wanted our relationship on the record." Our Planning Director (Town employee) told me after the first time, "You don't have to do that." And he was right. But not revealing that felt wrong. His job is to make these meetings go as smoothly as possible, bring forward relevant information so the Board can decide properly. But my job as Chairman is to make sure all Board members (including me) don't allow personal feelings or opinions to steer us away from deciding in the best interests of the Town as a whole.

And now we come to elected officials, who must craft and vote on public policy. In many (most?) cases where campaign donations are (usually after the fact, sometimes long after) connected to legislation written that benefits those donors, lawmakers have argued the law (or whatever) benefited a wide range of constituents, and not just the donors. But just like in physics, for every action there's a reaction. Ease a burden on industry, move that burden to the environment. Help a business, hurt their competitors. Give one group more freedom (gun nuts), put other constituents in jeopardy.

So the question, "Is this in the public's better interests?" is paramount. It should come first, and not be a later-added rationalization, to cover your ass when questions of pay-to-play come up. Before you even accept a bundled-up donation of $25,000 from a business or lobbying entity, ask those hard questions. Ask them of the donor, and ask them of yourself. And don't just consider the "legal" aspects of that transaction, also focus (heavily) on the moral and ethical quandaries.

Because if it passes the former, but doesn't pass the smell test of the latter, you have your answer.

As you may have noticed,

I have begun adding some editorial-ish comments on this weekly feature. Part of the reason I discontinued the "From the dark side" commentary was because it was purely criticism and not original content. Destructive vs. constructive.

But my creative process doesn't always follow current events. The urge to write often comes from deeper thought patterns (now that sounds like some serious bullshit), so if my subject material seems like I'm not concerned about the things I should be, that is generally not the case. I'm just weird.