North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Charlotte Observer on American workers:
... It’s practically a rite of late summer, the Labor Day Editorial. You probably know how it goes.
First, there’s some history (with a little guilt on the side). We tell you that Labor Day came about not as a day of rest from work but to protest miserable working conditions. We remind you that in the late 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, and children as young as age 5 worked in mills and mines. Discontent with those conditions led to demonstrations, many of them bloody, and one in particular that resonates: The first “Labor Day” parade in 1882, when more than 10,000 workers poured into the streets of New York City on the first Monday in September.
Twelve years later, Congress would make that a federal holiday: Labor Day.
This is where the Labor Day Editorial suggests it’s a good time to acknowledge what we should all year long — that American workers continue to struggle with the burden of low-paying, unstable jobs. We back that up with some stats, usually provided by advocacy groups this time of year, showing that some workers continue to experience a shortage of jobs, or that while the productivity of the American worker has increased 77 percent in the past 45 years, hourly pay has increased only 12 percent. (Yes, that’s a real stat from the Economic Policy Institute.)
But wait, you say: Isn’t this year different? Isn’t the economy booming under President Donald Trump? Didn’t the Republican tax cut free up corporate America to create more and better paying jobs for those workers?
Yes, but no. It’s true that the Republican tax bill has been a windfall for corporations and the wealthy. And yes, wages have increased slightly in the months since, but those increases are in line with inflation. Real wages are actually stagnant, and even some Republicans have admitted that there’s no evidence that tax cut money has been helping the American worker.
Meanwhile, closer to home, there continues to be two North Carolinas — one prospering and one laboring in jobs that hardly pay a liveable wage. Here, as in places across the country, tax cuts also have led to an inattentiveness to infrastructure that hits the already struggling hardest. In its 2018 report on the State of Working North Carolina, the N.C. Justice Center noted that a “lack of revenue and failure to invest in public works is resulting in erosion in many of the quality of life measures in North Carolina.” Those range from crumbling schools to lack of connectivity in roads and transportation, to a continuing lack of access for some to affordable health care.
Have you heard this before? Yes. The American worker is falling further behind, here and across the country. The president’s solution for that? Another corporate tax cut.
It’s not working. We won’t stop saying so. You shouldn’t stop caring. The American worker, still among this country’s most valuable asset, deserves better.
The Fayetteville Observer on disaster aid:
Republican state lawmakers decided last week to investigate the Cooper administration’s slow response to Hurricane Matthew relief in some of the state’s hardest-hit areas... That could be a useful exercise, if our legislators use what they find to fix real problems, and they don’t turn this into just another opportunity to deliver political body blows to the Democratic governor.
We fear what we’ll see is the latter. So does the governor. His spokesman, Ford Porter, told the News & Observer that the decision to investigate was reached at a “sham hearing” because state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry was at the meeting and wasn’t asked any questions. “Republican politicians decided that the way to help Matthew survivors is to create another bureaucratic committee while the governor and his administration are focused on actually helping hurricane victims,” Porter said.
So far, he added, nearly $750 million has been distributed for Matthew recovery.
That’s true. But that’s a pittance compared to our still-unmet needs and the federal funding that should be available and in use now. As we learned earlier in the summer, the state still has more than $236 million in federal funding on hand that’s supposed to go into hurricane recovery. We’re coming up on the second anniversary of Matthew’s severe flooding, and the state is still sitting on nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in aid. Whoever may be at fault, it’s clear that this recovery program isn’t going smoothly and it could use some improvement.
State recovery officials attribute the holdup to the many reports and requirements that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development imposes before it will allow the funds to be spent. But Sprayberry has also acknowledged that nobody in his operation has ever before dealt with a disaster of this magnitude. He implied that perhaps the job could have been done more efficiently.
So did state Sen. Danny Earl Britt, a Robeson County Republican, who said last week that he watched across the state line as South Carolina disaster-recovery officials got money with the same restrictions, and they have managed to accomplish a great deal more reconstruction. ...
Last week, though, HUD approved several key environmental reports from the state that will allow the release of federal disaster grant funds, perhaps as early as this month. ...
But we can’t shake the belief that our state emergency-management and disaster recovery bureaucracies weren’t up to the challenge that Matthew delivered. The hurricane brought unprecedented flooding and dramatically changed the definition of what should be included in this state’s flood plains. It also should have forever revised thinking about who needs flood insurance and who doesn’t.
When Hurricane Floyd brought similar flooding to parts of this state in the summer of 1999, it was called a once-a-millennium flood. But less than 20 years later, we experienced one that was even worse. And with catastrophic flooding the new signature of hurricanes (consider Houston), it’s safe to predict that we’ll see another storm like Matthew or worse, within our lifetimes.
So we hope our legislators can resist the temptation to play politics with problems related to Hurricane Matthew relief, and instead launch a bipartisan project to improve our state’s disaster-response systems. They should work with HUD administrators as well, to find ways of speeding the federal requirements for disaster assistance.
StarNews of Wilmington on Republican former governors and justices opposing constitutional amendments:
When all of the state’s living former governors, including Pat McCrory, and all of the state’s former chief justices, including arch-conservative I. Beverly Lake Jr., come out against something unanimously, chances are it’s a bad idea.
Even the General Assembly had to notice — especially after it lost a lawsuit. So, they’re trying a makeover.
In our last episode, North Carolina’s legislature threw six constitutional amendments in front of voters for November.
Most were a rather sketchy lot. Some — for example, one to create a constitutional right to hunt and fish “traditionally” — seemed designed to get the Republican base to the polls in a midterm election.
Two were especially pernicious. One would have stripped the governor of the power to appoint members of most state boards and commissions. Another provided that the legislators, not the governor, would fill court vacancies that occur between elections.
These are the measures the governors and the chief justices opposed, arguing that they would wreck the state’s separation of powers and prove baldly political.
Then a panel of three state judges, responding to a lawsuit by Gov. Roy Cooper, threw these two amendments off the ballot, ruling that the wording was vague and misleading.
So, our Honorables pulled themselves into special session yet again and gave the descriptions a makeover. The revised versions are less odious than the originals, but still bad.
In regards to the courts, one amendment would set up a complex network with a “Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission” and several local merit boards to come up with nominees. In the end, however, for any vacancy, the governor could only pick from a list of two candidates — both chosen by the legislature.
The other amendment left most of the governor’s appointment powers intact — except for the state ethics and elections board. Here, the governor would have to choose from a list again — this one drawn up by the party leaders in the legislature.
Moreover, the amendment would reduce the board to eight members, effectively four Democrats and four Republicans. (Currently, the board has nine members, the ninth required to be unaffiliated with any party.)
Since those board members would be nominated by legislative honchos, it’s safe to say they’d be fierce and loyal partisans. Which means that almost any vexing political question before the “reformed” board would result in a 4-4 split.
Which means that the results of any closely contested election would almost certainly wind up in the courts. Which (if the other amendment passes) would be staffed by loyal members of the majority party in the legislature.
Cooper is right; this is still a bald, partisan power play that would weaken state government, leaving it more venal and more vulnerable to corruption. Regardless of which party holds the executive office, we need to preserve a legitimate balance of power in state government. That is why Republican former governors — including Pat McCrory, who’s not exactly a big fan of the current governor — spoke out.
If these two amendments ever do make it to the ballot, voters should reject them outright.