- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Dec. 20

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the state’s death penalty:

It has been a bad year for the death penalty and thus a good year for North Carolina. The state has not had an execution since 2006, and for the second time since 2012, no one was sentenced to death in this state.

Despite the protestations of opportunistic politicians who want the state, in the name of the citizenry, to be in the revenge business, the state has passed nearly 10 years without a death penalty being carried out. Murder rates have gone down, as they have in other states that do not employ, by law or practice, the death penalty.

Ken Rose, an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, wrote for N.C. Policy Watch about his own experiences defending people facing the death penalty. One came within days of execution only to be exonerated. His clients, Rose wrote, were “all impoverished, many mentally disabled, and most African-American.”

Does a death sentence bring a victim back to life? No, though it may understandably give a victim’s family some solace. The problem is that it is not the state’s job to win revenge but to carry out justice.

In the case of the death penalty, that justice is decidedly imperfect. Rose notes that seven innocent people who were sentenced to death have been exonerated since 1999. How can the death penalty be defended in light of that?

The pursuit of the death penalty, as Rose notes, has had the feeling of blood lust about it on the part of some district attorneys. One former DA in North Carolina was known as the “deadliest prosecutor in America,” winning that recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records.

But why does the state now have an agency, the Capital Defender’s Office, focused on the defense of people facing the death penalty? Why does it have an Innocence Inquiry Commission to look at possible wrongful convictions? It’s because the death penalty is the one punishment that cannot be corrected once carried out. And those in the justice system, from judges to defense attorneys to prosecutors, know that the system is imperfect and, absent daily divine intervention, never could be perfect.

The state doesn’t need to risk having the blood of an innocent person on its hands, in the name of the people, many of whom don’t happen to believe that the death penalty should be part of the system.

The state’s justice system has survived for nearly a decade now in effect without a death penalty. It should always be thus.




Dec. 16

The Winston-Salem Journal on state raises:

On first glance, the amounts of the raises are shocking.

They range from $13,750 to $87,872 annually. On a percentage basis, they extend from 8 percent to 102 percent. They total $1.2 million.

But no, the state isn’t finally compensating our hard-working teachers. The raises, the result of a new compensation plan adopted by state Treasurer Janet Cowell’s office, are going to 25 investment professionals, the McClatchy news service reported.

One portfolio manager saw an increase of $87,872 to $173,800; a chief investment officer’s salary has gone from $351,000 to $380,375. Many North Carolinians don’t make those raise amounts in a whole year.

These employees help make investments for the $90 billion state pension fund, which provides retirement benefits for more than 900,000 state employees, including teachers.

We certainly want the state pension fund to be managed well. And in the vast scheme of things, the extra $1.2 million is a drop in the bucket.

But even after context is provided, it’s disturbing that the raises were authorized by the same state legislators who can’t find a way to adequately compensate the majority of our state’s teachers.

As Alexandra Sirota, director of the liberal N.C. Budget & Tax Center, put it in a conversation with McClatchy, “while the decision to shift to market-based (compensation) in the Treasury may be a good policy move in order to retain top talent, it raises a lot of questions about why such an approach isn’t being used for the classroom as well, for example.”

The state budget approved the raises as a way of retaining “employees possessing specialized skills or knowledge” who might be lured away by promises of better pay elsewhere.

So why doesn’t that argument apply to our teachers? Except for a few token situations, most of our teachers have had no raises in years. We’re bleeding them to other states that are willing to compensate them fairly.

The raises are part of the treasurer’s efforts to reduce the fees it pays outside money managers. That’s a legitimate consideration. We surely wouldn’t want to see another situation like the one that existed with former Secretary Aldona Wos’ Department of Health and Human Services, which paid exorbitant fees for outside consultants rather than accomplishing its work on its own.

Maybe these treasurer employees are worth their pay. But other state employees, including teachers, prison guards and highway patrolmen, deserve the same appreciation for their hard work. Some of these front-line warriors are struggling to make ends meet, like the state troopers who filed suit in November who have had no raises since 2009. Many of them have had to apply for food stamps and take second jobs just to make ends meet.

The people at the top of the totem pole tend to find ways to get by without too much trouble. If they deserve raises, surely state workers on the lower levels do as well.




Dec. 21

The Daily News of Jacksonville on Greensboro HondaJet plant:

Last week provided more good news for North Carolina’s Triad economy - especially for Greensboro and Burlington. In fact, it might bode well for the entire state.

After 30 years of development, Honda has the go-ahead to start building - and selling - small executive jet aircraft in its Greensboro HondaJet plant. The engines for the small jets are made in Burlington, at a facility on the Honda Aero site at Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport.

This could be one of North Carolina’s most important manufacturing stories in the 21st century.

The Federal Aviation Administration last week awarded Honda the final clearance it needs to begin production - and sales - of the four-to-six-passenger, $4.5 million jets that the company says are the fastest of their class and the most fuel-efficient. The aircraft have engines mounted above the wings and a carbon-composite fuselage.

The company expects to build 80 to 100 of the jets a year in Greensboro and already has orders for at least 100. That means the Burlington site will be cranking as well.

This immediately makes North Carolina an important player in the aviation industry. Beyond the jobs it creates in the Triad region it also tells other companies that North Carolina is a good location for building complex, high-end products.

That, in the end, may be the best news to come out of the Honda startup. If North Carolina has the workforce to build Honda’s new jets, we just got a lot more competitive.



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