- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Aug. 13

The News & Observer of Raleigh on a bill from David Price:

David Price’s colleagues in the U.S. Congress will smile knowingly at the actions of the 4th District representative from North Carolina. Because they know everything Price - and, in a companion measure, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico - is proposing in the way of campaign finance reform is exactly right. But the veteran congressman doesn’t have a chance, and that’s a sad commentary on the state of things in Washington. The big-money special interests run the show, and fat-cat lobbyists are the ringmasters.

But Price is still pulling up that reform hill, and may he continue.

His “We the People Act of 2017” is similar to and goes beyond the similarly named legislation of last year. But it has an appropriate title.

Here is some of what Price would do:

Loopholes that have allowed big-money groups to put hundreds of millions of dollars into federal elections would be largely closed, with more disclosure rules and more timely reporting of contributions required of campaigns. The hocus-pocus of moving money around from one group to another and dodging reporting contributions through all those groups with various numbers and letters in front of them would be diminished. The goal would be to require contributions of all kinds to be disclosed.

Price would have a new federal agency formed to oversee campaign finance and to enforce its laws. The agency would have the power to penalize those who broke campaign finance laws with financial penalties.

And here’s a big one for North Carolina: Partisan gerrymandering would end with a new independent redistricting commission established. This has long been the common-sense way to go about drawing districts after every census, but political parties are reluctant to go with it. In North Carolina, Republicans wreaked havoc with districts to give themselves a partisan advantage; if Democrats regain power in the General Assembly, they’ll of course want to engage in payback. An independent commission would make for better government.

Price has another good one in his bill that would be simple enough to do: same-day voter registration. That would reverse some of the voter suppression laws Republicans in North Carolina and other GOP-run states have passed, attempted to pass or are in court trying to get affirmed.

Price’s bill also would strengthen delays in and restrictions on lobbying by former government officials who join the private sector, and would toughen lobbying laws in general.

And, Price would have more disclosure of the financial interests of presidents and vice presidents, requiring them to divest assets that would create conflicts of interest with their government service. This speaks directly, of course, to President Trump’s pretty loose attitude about his own assets, giving his sons control of his real estate company, as if that renders him without conflict.

There’s another Trump-inspired provision, to require the publication of White House visitor logs. Trump repealed the Obama-established requirement when he came into office, putting his penchant for secrecy above the right of the American people to know who is in their house visiting their president.

The hill’s going to be steep for Price and Udall. But at least this is a blueprint of how good government should work. And by the way, how it can work.

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


Aug. 13

StarNews of Wilmington on fair elections:

The prospect of making North Carolina’s gerrymandered districts fair - and doing so in a timely manner - isn’t looking good.

N.C. House and Senate Republicans have hired Beltway computer geek Tom Hofeller to draw maps. He’s being paid $50,000 in taxpayer money for what essentially is political consulting.

Insiders might recall that Hofeller drew the maps that helped give the GOP a hammer-lock.

Before Hofeller’s magic, Democrats had a 7-6 majority in the U.S. House delegation. That’s now 9-3 for Republicans, despite the state being about as politically balanced as they come.

In 2012, slightly more than half of North Carolinians voted for Democrats in General Assembly races. Thanks to creative districting, however, the GOP wound up with veto-proof majorities in both houses. Go figure.

Hofeller is one of a coterie of computer gurus that the Atlantic Monthly called “the League of Dangerous Mapmakers.” The native Californian has never lived in North Carolina and doesn’t know much about it. He doesn’t have to. He has the population maps, including where minority voters live, and results showing voting patterns to the block. With nifty computer software, he can draw lines - sometimes, very squiggly lines - guaranteeing safe margins to as many Republicans as possible.

Downtown Wilmington residents found themselves for a while represented by Congressman Walter Jones Jr., a Farmville Republican whose district abuts Virginia. David Rouzer, who represents the biggest coastal city and region in the state, lives in that coastal mecca, Benson.

Some of Hofeller’s work has been overturned. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that two Tar Heel congressional districts were unconstitutional.

Legislators apparently hope that he can come up with something that will satisfy the high court’s ruling while keeping outcomes pretty much as they are.

There’s another way to do this, of course. Last year, Duke University convened a panel of retired state judges - Democrats and Republicans - to draw maps. The results were quite sensible.

We want to be clear - our push for fair districts is not about getting more Democrats elected. If fair districts are put in place and Republicans keep their veto-proof majorities, more power to them.

Republicans, of course, owe no favors to the Democrats, who once did their share of gerrymandering. They do, however, owe it to the people of North Carolina to create a voting landscape that’s not rigged.

So why not provide a fair playing field, let the sides put up their best candidates and ideas, and see who wins? Sort of like letting the free market work. Isn’t that a Republican tenet?

Online: https://www.starnewsonline.com/


Aug. 10

The Fayetteville Observer on the emissions of a possible carcinogen from the Chemours plant:

The emission of the possible carcinogen GenX from the Chemours plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line tinto the Cape Fear River raises a host of questions.

For longtime residents of the region, the concerns are especially troubling. The chemical has apparently flowed into the the Cape Fear from the plant, formerly DuPont, since around 1980. Chemours only recently agreed to prevent GenX from entering the river. What are the implications of such long-term ingestion? Is it safe to eat fish coming from the river? What about swimming? What can the state do to regulate discharge of GenX, and some of the chemical’s related compounds that have never been studied for safety but are also found in the river?

Unfortunately, those aren’t the kind of questions that a group of seven Republican state senators asked Gov. Roy Cooper about in a letter they released. Instead, they wanted to know whether federal subpoenas have been served on the governor’s office, as they were on the Department of Environmental Quality. A federal grand jury is investigating the GenX pollution; the DEQ welcomed the subpoenas and officials say they’re happy to cooperate in as broad a probe as possible.

The senators also want to know why the governor sought a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation after DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said Chemours didn’t break the law. They complained in the letter of “multiple inconsistencies in your administration’s handling of this crisis.”

The senators - including Bill Rabon and Michael Lee - either sit on committees that have oversight on the issue or represent affected communities. The governor has requested an additional $2.6 million for water-quality monitoring and to study the health effects of GenX and its related compounds.

We’re having a hard time seeing this confrontational approach as anything but an attempt by the senators to turn the GenX story into a political football. There was no such grilling of Gov. Pat McCrory when a coal-ash pond burst at a Duke Energy plant, fouling the Dan River. There was little debate about the need to clean it up, and pretty easy agreement that the state needed tougher standards for the toxic coal ash. So why do this now, other than to politicize what should be an apolitical exercise in good and responsible governance?

We hope this ad hoc Senate delegation uses some common sense here and initiates an effective, bipartisan effort to give the people some answers - and some clean water.

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

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