- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Oct. 21

News & Record of Greensboro on a bill enacted by state legislators that eliminates primaries in all 2018 judicial elections and allows unaffiliated candidates easier ballot access:

Republican legislators just granted easier ballot access to unaffiliated candidates. Except for unaffiliated candidates who want to run against them.

That’s only part of the hypocrisy written into Senate Bill 656, which the N.C. House and Senate enacted over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

The measure was titled “The Electoral Freedom Act of 2017,” which is a funny name for a law that takes a big step toward eliminating some elections. But its positive feature is to ease the petition requirement for minor political parties and unaffiliated candidates to earn places on the ballot.

“For unaffiliated candidates, the fastest-growing segment of registered voters, we are relieving a major hurdle for their ability to participate in many statewide and local elections,” Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement after the House voted on Oct. 17 to override the veto.

Instead of presenting petitions signed by 4 percent of voters, unaffiliated candidates will only have to collect signatures of 1.5 percent, according to the new threshold. That’s a good step, putting independent candidates on a more level playing field with Republicans and Democrats.

But, as Moore indicated, it doesn’t help all candidates. Those who want to run for legislative seats still have to reach the former mark of 4 percent. Lawmakers, who already have engineered safe seats for themselves through partisan gerrymandering, don’t want to give new challengers a fair opportunity to run.

Providing more liberal ballot access to minor parties seems calculated to elevate the Green Party, whose 2016 presidential candidate, Jill Stein, appeared on most states’ ballots and drew a few votes from Democrat Hillary Clinton. North Carolina Republicans want to make way for the Green Party here, but not just for the goal of fair ballot access. They see a partisan advantage.

The more significant action that SB 656 orders is the elimination of primaries in all 2018 judicial elections. This is to “allow more time” for potential candidates to analyze their new districts before deciding whether to run, Moore said.

Really? The House passed a partisan redistricting bill for District and Superior courts. For example, it would break Guilford County - currently a unified District Court with 14 judges elected at-large - into five pieces, allowing voters to choose just a few judges. But the Senate hasn’t acted on that bill.

That’s the first problem with Moore’s explanation. The second is that judges for the N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals run statewide, not in districts. So Moore can’t even pretend there’s a good reason to eliminate primaries for those elections.

Eliminating primaries in next year’s Supreme Court race will invite multiple candidates, all of whom would be on the November ballot, hoping to win with even a small plurality of the vote.

Rep. John Blust of Greensboro objected to that provision when it was first considered by the House. He said he voted for the override because of assurances that primaries will be restored when the legislature reconvenes in January. Moore’s office didn’t answer requests for confirmation.

It’s also possible there won’t be any judicial elections at all. Legislators could advance a measure to replace judicial elections with a “merit selection” process. A proposed constitutional amendment to enact such a system could go on the ballot as soon as May, leaving little time for the public to evaluate such a significant change.

Or legislators could take up another disruptive proposal that has been introduced. It would reduce all judicial terms to two years - even for judges who were elected to four-year or eight-year terms just last year. All would have to run again in 2018.

This is legislating by Keystone Kops. Is there any reason behind it, or is the idea to confuse voters and sow chaos into North Carolina’s judicial branch of government? “Disorder in the court” is the likely outcome of so much political upheaval.

Online: http://www.greensboro.com/

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Oct. 18

Winston-Salem Journal on infant mortality rate rising for a second year in Forsyth County:

For the second year running, Forsyth County’s infant mortality rate has risen, breaking a previous long-term trend of falling. This is disheartening, especially in a county with such state-of-the-art medical facilities. We all need to work harder to give newborns a better chance at life.

Data released by the state Center for Health Statistics show that the infant mortality rate rose to 9.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, or 42 infants overall, in 2016, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported.

“By comparison, the rate was 7.1 deaths per 1,000, or 31 deaths, in 2015, and 6.4 deaths per 1,000, or 29 deaths, in 2014 - the latter the lowest level for Forsyth since the center began tracking data in 1994,” the Journal reported.

The infant mortality rate is impacted by a wide range of factors, including tobacco use and substance abuse, obesity, domestic violence, poverty, education, access to pre-conception and prenatal health care and race. The rate of death for white babies last year was 6.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. For black babies, the rate was almost twice as much.

Statewide, prematurity and low birth weight are the leading causes of death for infants under 1 year old, causing 20.6 percent of deaths. Congenital malformations are second at 19 percent, followed by other conditions originating in the perinatal period at 11.9 percent and maternal complications in pregnancy, labor and delivery at 10 percent, the Journal reported.

Dedicated groups and individuals have long fought to reduce Forsyth County’s infant mortality rate, and forward strides have been made. The county health department and the Infant Mortality Reduction Coalition are working to reduce pre-term birth, supporting and improving mental health services for women, and stressing the importance of women and men of reproductive ages to develop reproductive life plans. And we’re grateful for programs like Forsyth Connects, sponsored by The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and Novant Health Inc., which provides free in-home nurse visits to all Forsyth County mothers with newborn babies who accept the service.

Expectant mothers need to take care of themselves in preparation for giving birth, but they sometimes need help from the rest of us, especially when poverty and a lack of educational resources play a hand. Working together, we can do better.

Online: http://www.journalnow.com/

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Oct. 21

The Fayetteville Observer on human trafficking of minors:

A nationwide crackdown on the human trafficking of minors led to the arrest of 120 traffickers across the country and the recovery of 84 young people who were trapped in an almost unimaginable horror.

The arrests brought home once again a sad reality: Fayetteville is a link in the national human-trafficking network. Children are being forced into sexual slavery here. Detectives from the Fayetteville Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit arrested a Fayetteville man as they took part in the national Operation Cross Country XI. Michael Earl Rogers, 31, was charged with felony promotion of prostitution.

During Operation Cross Country, federal and local law enforcement agencies staged operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and on websites and street corners. Thirteen law enforcement agencies in North Carolina took part in Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville and Lumberton. Eleven people were arrested and three minors were recovered or offered assistance by federal and nongovernmental agencies. The youngest victim in this operation was just three months old and the average age was 15.

Trafficking in minors is a horrific crime. And it happens right here in our midst. If you think you know a victim - or you are a victim - contact the police at 433-1885 or Crimestoppers at 483-TIPS (8477).

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com/

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