North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Greensboro News & record on the death of former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan:
Nearly five months ago, Kay Hagan appeared at the groundbreaking for a new air traffic control tower at Piedmont Triad International Airport.
On a warm day in early June, she basked in the glow of an appreciative crowd after spending most of her time out of the view of the public, as she fought to recover from a cruel and unforgiving form of tick-borne encephalitis that had attacked her brain and limited her ability to walk and talk.
We had hoped that the former U.S. senator from Greensboro would continue to recover, one precious inch at a time, the vitality she had once known.
Regrettably, Hagan, a Shelby native and longtime Greensboro resident, died suddenly on Monday morning. She was only 66.
She had battled to get better, her husband Chip said. And, her debilitating illness be damned, that spirit shone through that day in her eyes and her smile.
One monument to her public service was that $61 million PTI tower, which was made possible in no small part thanks to her. Hagan, a Democrat, had helped to secure the federal funding for the new project while she served in the U.S. Senate from 2009 to 2015.
And, in hindsight, that appearance at the airport turned out to be as much a tribute to her as to that tower.
That day PTI Executive Director Kevin Baker recalled Hagan’s first visit as a senator to the old tower.
“She climbed up into the tower, and she learned firsthand what its limitations are,” he said. “She then made it her charge to help get our project out of the doldrums and moving along.”
That may sound familiar for a reason. Hagan could be tenacious.
And when the situation warranted, she knew how to light fires and ruffle feathers.
In 1999, when she arrived on the scene as an impetuous rookie in the N.C. Senate, Hagan openly questioned whether the Guilford County legislative delegation was doing all it should for its constituents.
“We need people in the General Assembly to speak loudly and clearly on behalf of Guilford County,” she said in 1999.
Fellow Democrat Alma Adams, then a veteran member of the state House — and now a member of Congress — called Hagan’s remarks “personally offensive and insulting.”
And Hagan eventually did apologize. But the pot had been stirred, the message sent.
After 10 years in Raleigh, Hagan went on to unseat a powerful U.S. senator, Elizabeth Dole, in a fiercely contested 2008 race she initially was given little chance of winning. First, Jesse Helms and then Dole had held an iron grip on that seat for Republicans since 1973.
The same verve that she had taken to Raleigh she obviously had packed in her suitcase to D.C.
Working with her fellow senator from North Carolina, Richard Burr, she advocated for service members and their families affected by water contamination at the Marine base at Camp Lejeune, where 12 infants had died from unexplained causes. She also championed legislation to protect members of the military from predatory lenders.
Closer to home, she was a mother, wife and community volunteer who you might see dropping off donations at the Bargain Box consignment store in Greensboro or supporting the annual NCCJ dinner.
“I put North Carolina first in everything I did — in every vote I took and in every bill I introduced,” Hagan wrote in a 2014 News & Record op-ed after losing her bid for reelection to Republican challenger Thom Tillis by 1.5% of the vote.
Not that the end of her Senate tenure slowed her down.
After the Senate, she was a resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and then a consultant for a lobbying and law firm on Capitol Hill.
In December 2016, she fell ill with the Powassan virus, which causes inflammation in the brain, while in Washington. And suddenly, someone who had always worked so hard and moved so fast had lost command of her body. But her accomplishments stand for her.
Sometimes we don’t let people know what they’ve meant to us. Thank God for that day in June when the air was warm and the crowd was warmer and Kay Hagan could see for herself how we felt.
The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer (of Raleigh) on the condition of the North Carolina corrections system:
The condition of the North Carolina corrections system is a blight on the state’s reputation and a threat to the safety of prison employees and inmates. And it ultimately threatens the public as men and women come out of a period of incarceration marked by violence, poor housing conditions and a lack of preparation for re-entry to society.
The system’s ills were highlighted last week in a report presented to state lawmakers by Todd Ishee, who became North Carolina’s first Commissioner of Prisons in July after serving as deputy director of Ohio’s prison system. Ishee ran through a list of problems and said, “The trends are getting worse by the year and we’re at the point where we need to take drastic measures.”
The first drastic measure has already been taken. A shortage of corrections officers and other staff has forced the temporary closing of three minimum security prisons and has required officers to work 12-hour days on mandatory overtime. The official vacancy rate among prison staff is 20 percent, Ishee said, but the effective rate is closer to 30 percent because of employees in training or on leave. The lack of staff has raised the risk of violence among inmates and against prison workers — five were killed in 2017. It has also reduced opportunities for the training and education of staff and inmates.
Poor pay for corrections officers causes chronic turnover, requires mandatory overtime and contributes to contraband entering prisons. More than a third of officers in their 20s leave the job within six months, Ishee said, and more than half of them leave within a year. “We have lost more staff than we have been able to hire,” he said.
A lack of supervisory staff has caused 2,300 prison beds to be “taken offline,” Ishee said. One consequence of that is that some 1,000 state prisoners are being kept in county jails, putting pressure on those staffs and budgets.
In 2018, corrections officers got a 4 percent raise, but that doesn’t do much to improve the appeal of a dangerous and sometimes grim job for which the average pay is $36,990 annually.
Meanwhile, in a hardship for inmates and prison workers alike, nearly 40 percent of the state’s inmates are housed in old buildings — such as those at the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh — that lack air conditioning.
State lawmakers recognize the problems and Gov. Roy Cooper has made organizational changes to improve the situation. One change was the establishment of a new Commissioner of Prisons post within the Department of Public Safety.
Another was the formation of the North Carolina Prison Reform Advisory Board, a seven-member group headed by a retired Army major general and including individuals with extensive experience in prison operations. The board recently presented its first set of recommended reforms to Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks.
The committee put improving hiring, training and retention of prison employees at the top of its 30 recommendations. It also recommended more funding to “eliminate (the prison system’s) structural budget deficit and provide a line-item budget that reflects the true operating costs and needs.”
The legislature’s Republican majority did not create the system’s problems, but nearly a decade of austerity budgeting under Republicans has aggravated the problems. Improving conditions must start with improving the compensation for the state’s correction officers. But further investment should be made in improving medical care, building conditions and officer training.
A state’s prison system should reflect its commitment to justice and public safety. But today in North Carolina the system mostly reflects neglect. It’s time for the state to take better care of its prison workers, its prison inmates and its basic responsibilities.
The Winston-Salem Journal on North Carolina ranking sixth in the nation in jobs related to energy efficiency:
As national energy policy seems to be lurching back in time toward reckless consumption and dirty fuels — all in the name of the economy — comes a new report that extols cleaner energy. In the name of the economy.
North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation in jobs related to energy efficiency, a national advocacy group for conservation and renewable energy reports. According to E4TheFuture and Environmental Entrepreneurs, North Carolina employs 86,559 in energy-efficient jobs, an increase of 3% over the previous year, or 2,500 jobs. Energy-efficiency workers account for 41% of all energy-related workers in North Carolina, 28% nationally.
The five states ahead of North Carolina include top-ranked California (318,500 jobs), Texas (162,800), New York (123,300), Florida (118,400) and Illinois (89,400).
All told, the new study says, energy-efficiency jobs grew by 3.4% nationally in 2018. That’s more than twice the rate of overall growth for jobs nationwide.
But what, exactly, are “energy-efficient” jobs? They include industries that manufacture and sell EnergyStar appliances; and that produce and install replacement windows and doors; solar panels; LED lighting; and heating, air conditioning and ventilation upgrades. They also include construction companies that retrofit homes, schools and businesses, as well as software and design firms.
“Not only is expanding America’s energy efficiency key to solving multiple climate policy goals, it is now integral to businesses’ expansion plans — saving money and creating local jobs that cannot be outsourced,” Pat Stanton, director of policy at E4TheFuture, said in a news release. Among other findings in the report:
Eleven of the state’s 13 congressional districts are home to at least 4,000 energy-efficiency jobs.
The jobs are widely distributed, with 22,000 in rural areas versus a combined 29,000 in the Charlotte and Raleigh metro areas.
North Carolina is one of 41 states that employ more workers in energy efficiency than in fossil fuels.
The state has been a consistent trendsetter in renewable energy. It ranks second to California nationally in solar power. Over the next five years, North Carolina is expected to add 4,400 megawatts of solar energy to its grid — more than any other state. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar energy accounts for 7,600 jobs in the state.
There’s a widely held misconception that North Carolinians face a choice of cleaner energy or more jobs. This is an “and” proposition, not either/or.
The state should embrace the environmental and economic promise of cleaner and smarter energy.
Doing well and doing good should go hand in hand.