Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

December 24, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Dec. 23

Winston-Salem Journal on a violent week in the city:

Silent night, holy night;

All is calm, all is bright.

May it be so (Monday) evening, as businesses and government agencies close their doors and families gather in kitchens and around brightly decorated Christmas trees, preparing for a visitation of wonder and awe.

But not everyone we know will experience peace this Christmas.

Last week and the beginning of this week were uncharacteristically violent in Winston-Salem and the surrounding area.

“In total, five people were killed last week,” the Journal’s Lee O. Sanderlin reported on Sunday. “Three others were beaten. Two others, including a police officer, were injured in shootings. The week put Winston-Salem’s homicide toll at 30 for the year so far, compared with 26 in all of 2018.”

A security guard at a Kernersville sweepstakes business joined those injured by gunfire early Monday morning, according to the Kernersville Police Department.

The dead include 15-year-old Olajuwon Tillman, who was shot during a fight with another boy from his high school on Dec. 16.

During a vigil on Saturday, attended by family members, friends, teachers and others, Tillman’s mother, Korona Wolfe, exhibited uncommon grace, stating, “They took away my best friend. I feel like the God in me won’t let me hate the people who did this.”

Much too young. Much too young. His family, his community — this whole community — mourns his loss.

The dead include Terry Lee Cobb Jr., a city sanitation worker who was shot and killed by a fellow employee on Dec. 20, one with whom he’d had a long-standing dislike. As they responded to the shooting, the killer turned his gun on police officers before they killed him. During their confrontation, police Sgt. Cameron Stewart Sloan was hit twice by gunfire. He underwent surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and is expected to recover.

Our hearts go out to the families of all of those who have been harmed by senseless violence in recent days. We’d rather write that calm has settled on our community as we end the year on a note of generosity and good will. But it’s difficult to reconcile the arrival of the Prince of Peace with the violence.

It should not be like this.

As devastating as these injuries are, most of us will be safe and secure this evening. Most of us will sit at home with full bellies, maybe telling the children stories of the jolly old saint who magically delivers toys to all girls and boys, or the child born more than 2,000 years ago to bring redemption to the world.

But that redemption has not halted the pain and suffering experienced on this earthly plain. In this world, it falls to those of us who walk the streets to help the troubled find peace. Suffering abounds, and our hands are required to heal it. May we do so in the coming year.

Sleep in heavenly peace;

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com/


Dec. 18

The Charlotte Observer and News & Observer (Raleigh) on recent revelations about a deal regarding the Silent Sam statue:

Midway through their recent op-ed explaining why they made the Silent Sam deal, five members of the UNC Board of Governors revealed there was also a side agreement that is in some ways more outrageous than the main one.

The main deal, of course, was settling a lawsuit filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) by giving the group $2.5 million in university funds to take ownership and care for the statue of a Confederate soldier known as “Silent Sam.” Presumably, the group would use the money to display the statue somewhere far from the UNC Chapel Hill campus, where it had become the focus of protests and was toppled in August 2018.

But the authors disclosed there was a second payment. They wrote: “We also agreed that the SCV would sign a separate agreement limiting its ability to display flags and banners on university campuses, in exchange for a payment of $74,999. This agreement addressed the possibility that the consent order might not be approved, in which case the SCV agreed that it would not sponsor events on any of our campuses for five years.”

At the University of North Carolina campus, protesters can now be given university funds to keep quiet? Does the Board of Governors — the ruling body of one of the nation’s top university systems — not understand that universities are about free speech, not paid silence?

The five who struck the deal — Jim Holmes, Darrell Allison, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho — would argue that the side deal wasn’t about free speech. It was about public safety, and perhaps equally important, public relations. The group marching on campus with Confederate battle flags was provoking counter-protests that could turn violent. And even if they did not, protests by a group celebrating the defenders of slavery was not a good look for the Chapel Hill campus.

So the board members offered money to stop the SCV protests and the full board approved the deal. Indeed they may well have paid more, but under state law any payment over $75,000 would need the approval of state Attorney General Josh Stein. Thus, $74,999.

This payment confirms two things. First, the board knew the settlement with the SCV — a settlement filed immediately after the lawsuit — might be legally suspect. It’s unclear whether the Confederate group has legal standing to sue for possession of Silent Sam since it has no clear claim of ownership. But the board wanted the lawsuit to stand. It would end demands to put the statue back up on campus and it would mollify Silent Sam’s supporters since the statue would be in sympathetic hands and erected elsewhere.

Second, the negotiators and then almost all of the board endorsed an effort to conceal the deal by keeping the payment to the Confederate group from being scrutinized by the attorney general. That subterfuge deserves a review by the attorney general for misappropriation of funds.

The Board of Governors’ clumsy and possibly illegal handling of the Silent Sam issue raises additional concerns about how it has handled other issues involving appointments, contracts and payments. The governor, the attorney general and the state auditor should conduct full reviews of how the two Silent Sam deals evolved and whether they violated state polices or laws.

Under normal circumstances, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore would be expected to join the push for accountability. But they are the architects of his mess. They appointed the board members based on who donated to Republicans and could be reliably expected to carry out their wishes. They also pushed through a 2015 law that protects Confederate monuments. Complying with the law led to the Board of Governors’ paying a Confederate group.

As the details of these outrageous payments become clear, Moore and Berger are as silent as statues.

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


Dec. 18

News & Record (Greensboro) on North Carolina Republican lawmakers’ comments during a congressional hearing on education:

Where, exactly, in the age of Donald Trump and his defenders in Congress, is “the line”?

Rep. Virginia Foxx, Republican from North Carolina’s 5th District, thinks she knows. In a recent Education and Labor Committee hearing in the House of Representatives, Foxx accused a Democratic congresswoman, Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, of going “over the line.”

Wilson was speaking out of frustration over the role of Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, in trying to make people pay federal student loans even though the schools they attended defrauded them.

It’s no secret that Democrats have been upset about the position DeVos and her boss, President Trump, have taken on student loan forgiveness. After widespread fraud among online and other for-profit schools came to light, the Obama administration began forgiving loans if students had been defrauded.

That makes sense. After all, most people who try to get degrees or certifications from such for-profit schools are trying to better themselves despite limited means. The last thing they need is to be saddled with debt and nothing to show for it.

If anything, the federal government should have done a better job vetting the schools it approved for the student loan program.

But no, DeVos thought the forgiveness policy was too generous. She stalled the process of handling claims.

She says she’s afraid some of those defrauded students are trying to take advantage of the federal government. Congressional Democrats have been arguing with DeVos over the policy change for months. And they aren’t the only ones who see a problem.

In October, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt for violating a court order telling her department to stop trying to collect loan repayments for those who had been defrauded by Corinthian College, which has gone out of business. The committee threatened a subpoena to get DeVos to testify, and when she finally appeared, they questioned — and chided — her for several hours.

It was when Wilson accused DeVos of being “out to destroy public education” that Foxx became indignant.

“That kind of comment cannot stand in this committee,” Foxx declared.

Well, forgive us if we thought the line already had been pushed way beyond that.

There is, in fact, some evidence that destroying public education may be what Trump had in mind when he chose DeVos as education secretary. Why else pick someone with zero experience with public schools?

And then there’s the way DeVos had spent years promoting voucher programs, charter schools and ways to privatize the public education system, while calling public schools “a dead end.”

Foxx wasn’t the only North Carolina Republican on the committee expressing displeasure over Wilson’s comments, which included calling DeVos “the most unpopular person in our government.”

Sixth District Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro said he thought all the “painful stuff” and “crazy things” were happening in another committee. He was referring to the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings, which some of his Republican colleagues had loudly tried to turn into a circus.

He doesn’t know how poor DeVos has taken abuse for three years, especially when it “goes personal,” he said. It’s embarrassing, Walker said.

What is truly embarrassing is DeVos’ callous treatment of fraud victims.

Which brings us back to the question of where is “the line” at a time when Republicans do “crazy things” during a constitutional crisis.

Maybe “over the line” applies to anybody but them?

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/