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North Carolina editorial roundup

November 20, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Nov. 19

The Fayetteville Observer on a North Carolina lawmaker’s comments on redistricting maps:

They say the definition of a political gaffe is when a politician is caught telling the truth. Well, Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman on Friday (Nov. 15) told the truth about his party’s motives in drawing new maps for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tillman claimed to rest his logic on the state constitution as he lectured his Democratic colleagues: “It doesn’t say anything about splitting a county or precinct. It doesn’t say anything about being fair.” He said Democrats for 140 years drew the maps, “and you finally drew one so bad we won with your map.”

Tillman, who represents voters in Guilford and Randolph counties, continued: “If it belongs to the prevailing party, do you think it should be anything other than partisan? It’s set up to be partisan!”

Among several telling things about Tillman’s comments is his belief that how district maps are drawn are the determinant of which party wins. He says the Democrats had a “bad” map in 2010 and that’s why they lost the N.C. General Assembly — not because, for example, the GOP had superior policy ideas.

But the most important takeaway is Tillman’s throwing into the garbage bin any notion of his party trying to draw fair maps, which differs from what party leaders have been saying.

“We did our best,” Republican Sen. Paul Newton said about the new map in a story in the Raleigh newspaper.

But did they?

Republican Sen. Ralph Hise is quoted as saying: “These maps get us into a good place.”

But do they?

There is a history here, and it’s frankly not a good one for the Republicans who control both the House and Senate in the state legislature. Time and again, for nearly the whole decade, the GOP has drawn up maps in state races and for U.S. Congress that the courts have found to be illegal.

In September, a three-court panel of trial judges told the Republicans the jig was up when it came to the state races — and that they would have to redraw the map from 2017 (which itself was a court-ordered redraw), with the public having a look-see during the whole process.

As for the GOP’s U.S. House map, in October a three-judge panel of the Superior Court in Raleigh found that it violated the very state constitution that Sen. Tillman cited. That’s what necessitated the re-draw, which was approved by the House on Thursday and the Senate on Friday.

But the plaintiffs in the case — who include former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his National Redistricting Foundation — immediately announced a challenge against the map. They said it is yet another partisan gerrymander.

The map will go before the same panel of judges; if a new, approved map is not in place by Dec. 2, the Congressional primaries scheduled for March could be delayed. It would be an unwelcome disruption in a big election year, one that also falls on a U.S. Census.

The map in question determines the 13 House representatives from North Carolina who go to Washington. Despite the popular vote totals between the parties typically being close every two years, extreme gerrymandering has all but ensured the Congressional delegation is a 10-3 split, favoring Republicans, In the November 2018 races, the 10-3 split held despite the popular vote breaking down 50.4 percent Republican and 48.3 percent Democrat.

The map offered up Friday would likely yield an 8-5 split.

If the panel agrees with the plaintiffs that the new map also fails to pass muster, we believe it is time for the courts to end the charade. The panel can and should appoint a nonpartisan person to draw the map — what is called a special master.

Such a move would not by definition benefit one party over the other.

That’s if both parties believe, unlike Sen. Jerry Tillman, that they win according to ideas and policies, not by how lines are drawn on a map.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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Nov. 17

The Charlotte Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer on the impact of tax cuts in North Carolina:

The verdict is in on President Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cut: It didn’t work.

The tax cut’s backers said reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent would increase the average household income by $4,000, raise economic growth above 3 percent and even pay for itself by generating more tax revenue. As the Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip noted in a recent column, “Nearly two years later, none of those things have happened, and there is scant sign that they will.”

This umpteenth example of the false promise of trickle-down economics raises anew questions about North Carolina’s aggressive cutting of corporate taxes. The Republican-led General Assembly started phasing in tax cuts in 2013 that now cost about $3.6 billion a year in lost revenue. The estate tax was eliminated and the progressive income tax was reduced to a flat tax, but the most dramatic cut was a reduction in the corporate tax rate. Since 2013 it has been reduced from a high of 6.9 percent — then the highest in the Southeast — to 2.5 percent today. Among 44 states that have a corporate tax, North Carolina’s is the lowest.

What has been the effect? State employees, teachers and state services have certainly felt the reduction in state revenue. But the boom that was supposed to come with making the state more “business friendly” hasn’t happened. The economy has grown as the state’s population has increased and the national economic recovery has lifted all states, but North Carolina’s mix of tax cuts and spending austerity has produced more pain than gain.

Michael Mazerov, senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute based in Washington, D.C., analyzed data for North Carolina’s job growth and overall economic growth since passage of the tax cuts. His conclusion: “Looking back to when (the cuts) started at the end of 2013, the state has underperformed most of its neighbors in terms of overall economic growth as measured by GDP.”

In terms of gross domestic product (GDP) from the fourth quarter of 2013 through the second quarter of 2019, Mazerov said North Carolina lags behind three of its four neighboring states. North Carolina’s GDP growth was 27.2 percent, better than the U.S. (26.1), but less than Georgia (32.6), South Carolina (33.1) and Tennessee (29.2). North Carolina did outpace Virginia (20.9), but Virginia’s growth was skewed by changes in federal spending, particularly automatic cuts in defense spending required by sequestration.

In terms of private sector job growth since 2013, North Carolina showed a 13.9 percent increase, better than the U.S. average (11.9) but less than Georgia and South Carolina (both 15.3).

“The bottom line is that North Carolina, like Kansas before it, has shown that cutting taxes does not have much, if any, positive impact on job creation,” Mazerov said.

What drives state economies, he said, is state spending on education, transportation and amenities such as parks.

Mazerov said, “States are shooting themselves in the foot when they cut taxes and cut back on investments in these crucial building blocks of the state economy.”

A targeted tax cut can help a struggling economy when the tax savings go to consumers who will spend it. But North Carolina’s across-the-board giveaway to corporations during a period of economic growth is not that kind of tax cut. It’s a mistake that’s holding back North Carolina. Republican lawmakers won’t admit the mistake — that’s why they keep making it. But next November, voters should correct it.

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

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Nov. 15

The Wilson Times on the response to a North Carolina high school student’s joke about President Donald Trump:

President Donald Trump is in the thick of yet another high school free speech controversy.

A North Surry High School student made a joke about Trump during an improv club meeting on Wednesday (Nov. 13), according to media reports. School officials call the joke “inappropriate” and “in poor taste” but won’t say why. An entire school district is scrambling to distance itself from the gag and the Surry County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a full-blown investigation.

While a First Amendment analysis is difficult without knowing exactly what was said, context clues suggest sweeping overreaction and a rush to unlawful government censorship, making this case similar to other North Carolina public school dust-ups over the 45th president.

For starters, why are sheriff’s deputies investigating a high-schooler’s improv act? Surry County Schools has consistently used the word “joke” to describe the student’s words. If the ad-libbed line was perceived as a threat, the U.S. Secret Service would be involved. Threatening the president is a federal crime, and county sheriffs don’t have jurisdiction in such matters. If it wasn’t a threat, it wasn’t illegal.

If the joke was sexually explicit or included vulgar language, it could have broken school rules — but that’s a determination for teachers and principals to make. There is no North Carolina law against telling bawdy jokes. The sheriff’s office is either in over its head or wading in the shallow waters of noncriminal school discipline where it doesn’t belong.

Authorities can’t use speech the U.S. Constitution clearly protects as a pretense for investigation because doing so creates a chilling effect that discourages others from speaking. “(G)overnmental inquiry alone trenches upon First Amendment rights,” federal District Judge Lawrence Whipple wrote in the 1978 Paton v. LaPrade case.

Equally concerning, the school district has consciously chosen to frame the issue around political speech. Surry County Schools didn’t say a student made a lewd joke or a profane joke, it said in a prepared, written statement that, “Regrettably, the performance included an inappropriate joke about the president.”

Was the gag “inappropriate” on its own, or was criticizing Trump what made it so?

Public schools can forbid profanity and obscenity, but students retain the expressive core of their First Amendment rights and school rules must be both viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral. Punishing students specifically for engaging in political criticism is unconstitutional and un-American.

“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the Supreme Court’s landmark Tinker v. Des Moines decision upholding students’ right to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.

People are allowed to make fun of the commander-in-chief. It’s North Carolina, not North Korea.

While a young Trump critic is under the government’s microscope this week, Trump supporters have found themselves in hot water in at least two of our state’s public high schools. Censorship is a threat to the president’s fans, not just his foes.

Cheerleaders at North Stanly High were admonished for holding a Trump campaign banner before an Aug. 30 football game. School officials told them they weren’t allowed to show support for the president and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association put the entire cheer squad on probation.

The school district and NCHSAA were wrong, and we said so. The punishments were flagrant free speech violations and the sports sanctioning body later lifted its suspension, likely in fear of a swift smackdown in federal court.

In October 2018, Harnett Central High School’s principal kicked a student out of the stands and sent him home for wearing a Trump T-shirt to a football game. As media coverage and public pressure intensified, Harnett County Schools reassigned the principal and affirmed students’ right to engage in political speech.

The First Amendment isn’t easily brushed aside and high school censors are almost always made to regret their heavy-handed haste. Surry County deputies and school officials need to close the book on the improv club kerfuffle, brush up on their constitutional law and — just maybe — learn how to take a joke.

Online: http://www.wilsontimes.com/

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