Editorial Roundup: North Carolina
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Winston-Salem Journal on the most recent court ruling against a bill targeting voter fraud:
No means no.
As far as the courts are concerned, the state’s Voter ID law is ill-conceived, unfair and calculated to disadvantage a certain group of voters. So judges keep saying no to it — most recently in a state appeals court ruling last week. And state Republicans keep refusing to accept no for an answer.
In a unanimous ruling last week, the three-judge N.C. Court of Appeals panel specifically concluded that African American voters were targeted by the law.
The judges also warned Republicans that their prospects going forward are slim to none. The plaintiffs who have sued the state over the law, the judges wrote, seem likely to be able to prove that “discriminatory intent was a motivating factor behind the law.”
A federal court had earlier ruled against the law, blocking its use at least through the March 3 primary, for which early voting already has begun.
Even so. Republicans keep arguing that the court rulings contradict “the will of the voters.”
To some extent, they have a point. In a statewide referendum in 2018, voters did approve an amendment to the N.C. constitution that requires voters to present an ID before being allowed to cast a ballot. And why not? On its face, it seemed to be a reasonable proposition.
But the details spell out an underlying agenda. For instance, the law bans IDs more likely to be possessed by African Americans, such as public assistance IDs and state employee IDs.
As for the GOP’s sincerity on voter fraud, you be the judge. The kind of fraud they purport to be targeting is extremely rare. Further, they all but ignored a more likely source of fraud, absentee voting, until it actually happened in the GOP primary in the 9th Congressional District in 2018. Charlotte Republican Mark Harris dropped out of that race after evidence of the fraud surfaced and a political operative who had worked for Harris was arrested. The scandal left voters in the district without representation in Congress for months and forced a redo of that election.
Then there was the ballyhooed commission requested by President Trump to uncover supposed widespread fraud during the 2016 election. After finding little to nothing to support that claim, the commission quietly disbanded.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, Republicans blocked bills in the Senate that would deal with a very legitimate threat to election security. The legislation would have required campaigns to report offers of foreign election assistance to the FBI, and for campaigns to report such overtures to the Federal Election Commission.
So, it’s hard to take N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore seriously when he gallantly pledges to keep fighting the good fight.
“North Carolina voters know that General Assembly leaders will continue to fight on their behalf for a common sense voter ID law that they chose to put in our state constitution,” Moore said in a news release, “and we will not be deterred by judicial attempts to suppress the people’s voice in the democratic process.”
Moore’s use of the verb “suppress” was both brazen and ironic. It’s a familiar strategy in the GOP playbooks to suppress voting through gerrymandering and other tactics. Remember, a previous state voter ID law, nixed by the courts in 2016, was voided by a federal court that found it had targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.”
By now, Moore ought to know: This dog won’t hunt. The GOP should stop its barking on this trumped-up issue and move on.
The Charlotte Observer/The Raleigh News & Observer on a study indicating North Carolina falls under the national average for health care access:
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, just issued a state-by-state report called “Snapshots of health care in the U.S.”
North Carolina wasn’t quite ready for its close up. In a range of categories, North Carolina — the nation’s 10th largest state with a population just over 10 million — is faring worse than the national average.
That picture contrasts sharply with the image of North Carolina portrayed by Republican leaders in the General Assembly. They claim that their tax cuts favoring the wealthy and big corporations and nearly a decade of tight limits on state spending have created a booming state economy that presumably enhances the well-being of the state’s people.
In fact, the state is still struggling with poverty despite a strong national economic recovery. The KFF report notes that 33.5% of North Carolina residents had incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level in 2018, which was larger than the U.S. share (30.4%). And with more poverty comes more health problems. Indeed, in terms of its national health ranking, North Carolina has slipped from 31st in 2015 to 36th in 2019. In specific categories, the KFF report shows North Carolina exceeding the national average in adult obesity, heart disease, HIV diagnosis, infant mortality, the death rate due to firearms and the opioid overdose death rate.
These health problems and others are made worse by a lack of access to health care. Nearly 13% of non-elderly North Carolinians have no health insurance, compared to 10.4% nationally. That’s a million people who must pay for health care on their own, or go without. Many do the latter. The report found that “15.1% of residents ages 18 and older did not see a doctor when needed during the previous year because of costs in 2018, higher than the U.S. percentage (12.9%).”
North Carolina’s uninsured numbers would be worse had it not been for the Affordable Care Act, a law that the state’s legislative leaders resisted at every turn. Nonetheless, 447,680 North Carolinians were enrolled in ACA plans in 2019, with 94 percent of them receiving a tax credit to help them pay their premiums. If North Carolina had expanded Medicaid in 2018, the report estimates that 357,000 uninsured adults would have been eligible for the state and federal health insurance program.
To create a healthier North Carolina, expanding Medicaid is the biggest and perhaps the simplest step. But the state must also do more to reduce the causes of poverty and close the racial gaps in health conditions. That means increasing the minimum wage and the number of small businesses that offer health insurance benefits. Among North Carolina private businesses with fewer than 50 employees, only 19 percent offer health insurance, compared to 29 percent nationally, the KFF report said.
The state should also require employers to offer paid leave to workers when new children are born or adopted, or when serious personal or family health issues arise. Currently, only 12 percent of North Carolina’s workers have that benefit. Creating more parks for exercise and better access to healthy foods would also help.
Every 10 years, the state announces its health goals for the decade ahead. This year the state’s “Healthy North Carolina 2030” report called for action beyond wider access to health care. The report says, “Long-term sustainable improvements in the health and well-being of North Carolinians will only occur by addressing the social, economic, and place-based challenges that keep people from achieving optimal health.”
Tax cuts and holding out on Medicaid expansion won’t do that.
The Fayetteville Observer on a group trying to influence the North Carolina Democratic primary:
We now know who is behind mysterious advertisements meant to undermine the campaign of a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate by boosting one of his opponents in the March 3 primary.
It is none other than a super PAC with ties to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The Senate Leadership Fund has so far provided $3 million for the Faith and Power PAC for TV ads and mailers on behalf of N.C. State Sen. Erica Smith, one of five candidates running in the Democratic Party primary for Senate.
The seat is held by Republican Thom Tillis, who himself faces three primary challengers.
Senate Republicans no doubt hope that boosting Smith will force the front-runner in the race, Cal Cunningham, to spend more in the primary and perhaps push the race to a runoff — hurting Cunningham’s general election chances. (A candidate must receive at least 30 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff). Cunningham has the backing of the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the donor funding connected to it.
Steven Law of the Leadership Fund and a former McConnell chief of staff, told the Raleigh News & Observer that he borrowed his tactics from Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). He said the ads have been “more successful than we could have imagined.”
Far as we know, there is nothing illegal about what McConnell’s team is doing, and it is the kind of shadow campaign we see more of these days. But this tactic still feels like dirty pool, no matter which side does it, and strikes us as the very kind of thing voters detest about politics.
The tactic is not only fundamentally dishonest but puts an additional burden on candidates with less money, giving big money and super PACs an ever-tighter grip on our political system.
One of the more difficult tasks candidates running statewide have is to introduce themselves to voters and get their messages out. Smith, who incidentally was born on Fort Bragg, has raised around $210,000 according to political site The Hill, which these days qualifies as not a lot. It is unfair that an outside group deigns to speak for her campaign or frame her in any way, especially for some ulterior motive.
“I am against any interference whether it’s Democratic-backed or Republican-backed,” Smith told a TV station earlier this month. “And, it’s just disappointing that this group would come out and run these ads.”
Cunningham, a lawyer and Army reservist whose backing from national Democrats puts him in line for millions in donor money, is at least able to counter the Faith and Power ads against him, as he did with his own video on Feb. 21.
For his part, Tillis has denied any knowledge of the super PAC’s efforts on behalf of Smith.
We get that the seat held by Tillis, a first-term senator, is vitally important to both parties. It is one of a few seats that could swing the balance of power in that chamber in the 2020 election. And we are not naive; we expect political gamesmanship.
But politicians should always try to remember their ultimate goal should not be power for its own sake but to serve the people. That means just because they can use a dirty trick does not mean they should. (And how cynical is it to throw the word “Faith” into a dishonest campaign in the first place?)
Part of public service means being straight with the people you serve.