- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 21

The Charlotte Observer on the death of Christian evangelist Billy Graham:

On a cool Tuesday night in October 1958, the Rev. Billy Graham walked onto a stage at the Charlotte Coliseum for the 26th sermon of a five-week Charlotte crusade. “Tonight,” he began, “I want to talk on how to live the Christian life.”



More than 13,000 people had jammed the arena to see the young North Carolina preacher just a decade into his public ministry. By then, Graham had already become one of the most well-known figures in evangelical Christianity; for two years running, he had appeared on Gallup’s list of most admired men and women.

He would appear on it 53 more times.

Billy Graham has died, his spokesperson said Wednesday. He was 99 years old - a man who grew up on a family farm in Charlotte, enjoyed friendships with U.S. presidents and world leaders, and perhaps has delivered the Word to more people than anyone who has held up a Bible.

His message - the grace and saving power of Jesus - has reached millions across the globe, but it resonated not just because Billy Graham spoke the words. It’s because he lived them.

“A Christian is more than a person who is living up to a system of ethics. A Christian is more than a person living a good moral life. A Christian is a person in whom Christ dwells.” Billy Graham, 1958, Charlotte

How do you measure the reach of a person? You can start with numbers, of course. Billy Graham preached to more than 215 million people at crusades, missions and rallies. His Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, based in Charlotte, puts out a magazine that reaches 425,000 readers. It broadcasts a one-minute radio message that airs on more than 660 stations.

That message is the same as it ever was - Jesus died for your sins; repent and give your life to him - but the man who delivered it changed through the years. Graham was a fiery Southern Baptist preacher early on - a blend of Bible and brimstone common in evangelical churches then. The man and his message softened, however, as Graham grew older and Christianity shifted its emphasis from God’s judgment to God’s love. Still, the preacher’s purpose endured: He led people to Christ with a message and an example they could follow.

That example was intentional: Unlike preachers then and now, Graham largely steered clear of scandal. In 1948, he and his ministry team drew up the Modesto Manifesto - resolutions regarding financial integrity, sexual behavior, publicity and meaningful partnerships with local churches. Those guidelines separated Graham and his organization from others, as did Graham’s clear and deep devotion to Ruth McCue Bell, whom he married in Montreat in 1943.

In the high-profile evangelical world, he was an exception - a leader who valued integrity over ego, a husband who lived in a full and thriving marriage, a man who offered not only words to learn by, but a life to admire.

“Then our tongue - this little bit of muscle in our mouth that causes so much trouble, that splits churches and divides homes and ruins lives and damns characters and slanders people - these tongues now are to be disciplined.” Graham, 1958

Graham was not perfect. Some, including Harry Truman, thought he was too eager for publicity. Women were stung by dismissive comments he made in 1970 about feminism.

In 1972, after attending a prayer breakfast with President Richard Nixon, Graham was caught on tape decrying the “stranglehold” Jews had over Hollywood and the media. When the tapes were released in 2002, Graham apologized and said his words then “do not reflect my views.”

In his later years, he disappointed some followers and friends who thought his inclusive Christian message was tainted by full-page newspaper ads urging people to vote “for biblical values” and oppose same-sex marriage. (Many suspected Graham’s son, Franklin, was the force behind the ads.)

But this is also true about Billy Graham: He embraced integration and the Civil Rights movement at a time it might have alienated his core supporters. In 1953, he told ushers not to erect barriers that separated whites and blacks in his audience, and he warned a white audience against feeling superior to blacks. In 1957, he invited black ministers to serve on his New York crusade’s executive committee, and he welcomed Martin Luther King, Jr., to join him in the pulpit in New York City.

Later, he told a Ku Klux Klan member: “It touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross.”

What does that tell us? That all of us have sinned, and all of us are forgiven, and all of it, according to the Rev. Graham, “is only a beginning. It is a lifetime of problems, troubles and difficulties. But you are meeting them with the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit who lives in your heart.”

And so he did. He grew and he learned and he erred and he endured. Through it all, Billy Graham not only brought Christ to millions and millions to Christ. He was the man he called on so many to be on that Charlotte stage almost 60 years ago. A man who lived a Christian life.

Online: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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Feb. 20

The Fayetteville Observer on campaign finance reform:

Greg Lindberg may become the poster child for campaign-finance reform in North Carolina. What he’s doing is one of the best examples we’ve seen of the kind of power that could distort the political process and create a government by highest bid.

Lindberg is the founder and chairman of Durham-based Eli Global, a company that since 2001 has made more than 100 business acquisitions. Some of the companies he has purchased are in health care and insurance, although his investments are wide-ranging. An Associated Press profile of the 47-year-old investor finds that he’s little known outside the business community and only in recent years has begun to spend heavily on political races.

Although Lindberg is registered as an unaffiliated voter, many of his donations have been directed to Republican campaign funds. But some of his early donations went to the NC Opportunity Committee, which supported former Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat. Republican Mike Causey defeated Goodwin in 2016 and says his campaign returned a $5,000 donation from Lindberg last year “out of an abundance of caution” because five of Lindberg’s companies are regulated by Causey’s department.

Unfortunately, not every politician has the same sense of ethical concern. Many others are freely accepting Lindberg’s largesse - which last year topped $3.4 million. That’s an astonishing level of political giving in a non-election year for all but local politicians. It significantly exceeds what was raised by either of the major political parties in the state.

And it’s likely a down payment on this year’s legislative races and the 2020 run for governor, which may pit Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper against his Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Forest. Some of the money Lindberg donated last year may end up in Forest’s war chest. If the last gubernatorial race is any indicator, Forest is going to need all he can get. Cooper’s and former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s contest saw more than $40 million in spending. The next race for the governor’s mansion could cost $50 million or more. That’s especially likely if Democrats make inroads in this year’s election, which would make control of the governor’s office critical for both parties.

All of this is a picture of politics in the era after the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which uncorked massive corporate political spending. While the decision primarily affected giving in federal elections, it set off a frenzy of corporate giving on the state level as well. Lindberg has quickly become this state’s most prominent player in that high-stakes game, but he’s certainly not alone. Corporate donations have become a big part of state politics, especially by businesses that are heavily regulated in North Carolina, like the insurance industry, whose political action committees are prominent in the campaign finance filings of many members of the state House and Senate.

Lavish corporate donations certainly give the donors the best government money can buy. But what about the rest of us? Clearly, the notion that corporations are people too has created an environment that favors big corporate donors over the needs of average voters. We’re grateful that we have politicians like Causey who will return corporate contributions because they carry the appearance of conflict. But there are many more who are happy to keep those contributions, knowing full well that they are purchasing access and influence. This country, and this state, need to create some sensible campaign finance laws that give voters the kind of clout that big donors get today. Corporate “citizenship” shouldn’t be allowed to carry greater weight and power than individual voters have.

America is at a tipping point, dangerously close to morphing from democracy to plutocracy. Some would argue that the change has already occurred. If Congress and state lawmakers don’t move promptly to put reasonable limits on corporate political giving, that may be our fate.

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

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Feb. 19

The Charlotte Observer on Gov. Roy Cooper and gun control:

A half dozen years ago - although it seems like a lifetime - our nation waited to see how leaders in Washington would respond to the horrifying shooting deaths of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary. Washington, as we know, did little - as Washington has continued to do through an onslaught of gun massacres since. Connecticut, however, decided to act.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, state lawmakers passed, and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a package of strong gun measures. The package expanded a ban on the sale of assault weapons and required the registration of existing assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. It launched a registry of weapons offenders and mandated background checks for all sales of firearms.

It worked. As the New York Times reported Sunday, gun deaths started to drop after the laws passed. In four years, the number of deaths resulting from firearms - including homicides, suicides and accidents - fell from 226 to 164.

Now, with Congress ready for another round of inactivity in the wake of 17 more students and educators dying in Florida, it will once again be up to states to protect their citizens from gun violence. With few exceptions, states with the strictest gun control measures have the lowest rates of gun deaths. North Carolina does not; we’re 23rd in the country in firearm deaths per capita, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

To be more precise: In Connecticut, Nikolas Cruz could not have legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle and high capacity magazines he used to mow down the victims in Parkland, Fla. In North Carolina, he could have.

Changing that - and passing other tough gun control measures - is harder in our state thanks to North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly. But that doesn’t mean Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, shouldn’t try. As North Carolinians grapple with the possibility of a Florida mass shooting happening here, Cooper should call for lawmakers to address the spiraling toll of gun violence. He should follow up by working to help legislators introduce tough gun measures like Connecticut’s, as well as other sensible measures such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases. If we don’t think 18-year-olds have the maturity to hoist a beer, they sure shouldn’t be able to lift and fire their own semi-automatic weapons.

That legislative package also should include measures that address the mental health issues that Republicans often cite as the cause of mass shootings. Confronting gun violence shouldn’t be about choosing one party’s preferred approach, and there is no one law that will prevent gun violence. But a package of measures that help lessen the chance of the next deadly day is one worth passing.

Will Cooper succeed? It’s a long shot. Republican leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore probably won’t even let such bills get to the floor of their chambers. But the governor - and all North Carolinians - should force legislators to declare which gun violence measures they don’t support. Make lawmakers go on the record if they don’t think it’s a good idea to protect their constituents in any reasonable way they can, so that N.C. voters can know come election time. We’ll be happy to provide those reminders for Charlotte.

Online: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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