- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Nov. 12

The Greensboro News & Record on a complaint accusing the North Carolina Senate president pro tem of unethically using campaign funds:

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Talk about playing with house money …

Whether it is legal or not, it is wrong for the most powerful politician in the state to use campaign funds to buy a home.

Instead, staffers for Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden who is the president pro tem of the N.C. Senate, say no laws were broken, so what’s the big deal?

Simply put, Berger’s campaign allegedly is paying a company owned by Berger to rent the town house owned by Berger and his wife - enough to cover the monthly mortgage payments. And that is illegal, contends Bob Hall, the retired executive director of Democracy NC, who filed a complaint last week with the State Board of Elections. “Unless the State Board of Elections takes action, politicians will continue to profit handsomely by funneling campaign contributions to themselves, directly or indirectly, to pay for inflated expenses and subsidized assets,” Hall argues in his complaint.

Hall said at a news conference that the senator is using his campaign fund as “a piggy bank.” Hall’s complaint further alleged that Berger, through a second company he owns, is using campaign money to pay the rent and other expenses for his law firm in Eden. This means, according to campaign finance records, that Berger uses campaign money to pay himself a total of $3,000 a month for the Raleigh town house and his Eden law office.

As proof that he hasn’t broken any laws, a Berger representative counters that state elections officials have said he is not violating any campaign regulations by funneling money from his campaign to make payments on the $250,000, 1,400-square-foot town house.

Berger’s campaign staff says the senator first cleared the arrangement in 2016 with the state elections director at the time, Kim Strach, who served when Republican Pat McCrory was governor - and a second time with Karen Brinson Bell, who was appointed elections director by current Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

Further, it is neither uncommon nor unreasonable for legislators to use to use some campaign money to supplement a modest stipend ($104 a day for meals and housing while the General Assembly is in session) to pay for rental housing in Raleigh. The law requires them to maintain their homes in their districts and some may live too far from Raleigh to commute on a daily basis.

Even so, Hall maintains that Berger is breaking the law. While it is OK to pay rent with campaign money, Hall contends, not so with a mortgage. Funneling the money to cover mortgage payments is entirely different, Hall said, because the money is being used to buy an asset that likely will increase in value.

Meanwhile, a Republican campaign official characterizes Hall’s complaint as nothing more than a partisan attack. “This is just another example of Bob Hall being a bottom-feeder and a scumbag,” Dylan Watts, the Senate Republicans’ political director, chirped classlessly to The News & Observer of Raleigh.

If the law doesn’t make that crystal clear, it needs to. Legislators should scrub it free of any ambiguity.

What Berger is doing is not ethical. And if any other lawmaker did it - Republican, Democrat, whoever - it would be just as wrong.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/


Nov. 12

The Winston-Salem Journal on the district with the most schools that North Carolina education officials say need improvement:

If the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system’s new leader wanted a challenge, she’s got it.

State education officials released a list last week that included eight schools in our system - the most of any district in the state - that need to improve their academic performances over the next few years or risk being turned over to an outside group.

This puts all of our educators - and everyone in the community - on notice: improvement is necessary, and quick.

“The schools include Philo-Hill Magnet Academy with a school performance grade of 25 out of a possible 100, based on last year’s test scores; Kimberley Park Elementary, 32; Ibraham Elementary, 33; Ashley Academy, 34; Easton Elementary School, 36; Old Town Elementary, 39; and Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, 39,” The Journal’s Fran Daniel reported Saturday.

These eight schools rate low in an improvement program called the 2019 N.C. Innovative School District. The ISD’s approach is to “identify and target barriers to student growth - both inside and outside the classroom - and design strategies and processes to eliminate or mitigate these barriers,” according to David Prickett, communications and strategy manager for the N.C. Innovative School District.

The news is disturbing. We need strong, successful schools to prepare the kind of citizens we need to move the City of Arts and Innovation into a successful future - schools with strong academic, technological, STEM and literacy standards that are readily transmitted to their students.

Instead, many of our schools have struggled to produce third-graders who can read on their age level.

There’s little consolation in knowing that other systems are not far behind: Nash-Rocky Mount has seven low-performing schools on the list; Guilford County also has seven.

And there’s little consolation in listing the many challenges that our students face, including insufficient funding and food insecurity.

We need solutions.

In comments to the Journal last week, School Superintendent Angela P. Hairston (who started in September) expressed her commitment to working with all of the schools and calling on all available resources, including community members.

“Conversations are underway about ways we can partner to provide each school with unique, specialized services that will help students and families,” she said. She said she would work closely with classroom teachers to make sure they have the right support in place.

“This is a call to our faith-based community and our business community to partner with the schools that have been identified to do as much as they can to support children,” Hairston said. “This is our future here.”

She’ll find many community members ready to help, through organizations like the United Way, Project Impact and Bookmarks - or as individuals, through a few hours of mentoring each week.

She added that she and the members of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education are not ones for making excuses. The community should also avoid making excuses; it’s time for all hands on deck. If you’re reading this and think you might be able to help, you’re most likely right.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com/


Nov. 9

The Asheville Citizen Times on how the scandal surrounding film producer Harvey Weinstein has affected legislation in North Carolina:

The ‘Weinstein effect’ has been felt in Raleigh. Good.

Harvey Weinstein is the film producer brought down by claims he sexually abused more than 80 women over a period of more than 30 years. The allegations were so spectacular that they brought about a sea changes in public attitudes. Many women have shared their own experiences of sexual assault, harassment, or rape on social media under the hashtag #MeToo.

The effect also is being felt in corporate and organizational boardrooms. Groups as disparate as the News Leaders Association and the Southeastern Archaeological Conference scheduled sessions during their 2019 conferences on averting sexual harassment in the workplace.

We have to believe the groundswell also was a factor in the N.C. General Assembly bringing state law into the 21st Century. While others have been modernizing their laws, North Carolina has been burdened by two terrible court decisions that have impacted severely the rights of sexual assault victims.

A 1979 ruling made North Carolina the only state where women can’t revoke consent once a sexual act has begun. A 2008 ruling said sexual assault laws don’t apply to people who were incapacitated because of their own action as victims, such as by taking drugs or alcohol.

Both now are history, wiped out by a comprehensive bill that also made several other changes. The bill passed both houses of the General Assembly unanimously. The difference this time, according to staff attorney Skye David of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, was the issue had bipartisan support and both chambers viewed it as a priority.

Along with fixing the consent and incapacitation issues, the bill makes it illegal to drug someone’s drink, expands the requirement to report child abuse; extends the statute of limitations for a civil action for child sexual abuse; and tightens bans on online conduct by high-risk sex offenders that endangers children.

For Sen. Jeff Jackson, the fourth time is the charm. The Charlotte Democrat, who had tried three times previously to overturn the 1979 ruling, called the legislation “an incredible victory for women’s rights and protections for victims of sexual assault. Every year victims would call us, share their stories and ask why this loophole still existed.”

Rep. Dennis Riddell, a Republican from Snow Camp, said on the House floor that he has received “dozens and dozens” of messages, letters and calls from victims who followed the bill through the legislative process.

“To those victims, I want to say this bill is for you,” he said. “If you’re a victim of child abuse, this bill is for you. If you’re adult victim of sexual assault, this bill is for you. If you had your childhood innocence ripped out of your soul by an adult predator, this bill is for you.”

The words of some of those victims may have been crucial. Legislators “heard stories from survivors, and they were really moved by that,” David said.

The “Weinstein effect” is global in reach. The allegations have been described as a watershed moment that precipitated a national reckoning against sexual harassment. The aftermath has been compared to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in terms of change of cultural outlook and attitudes.

That may be an overstatement, but not by much. Women feel empowered as they never have felt before. They believe that this time around people finally are going to listen and put the blame for sexual transgressions where they belong, on the perpetrator and not on the victim. They believe that justice finally is within reach.

The word has reached Raleigh. Now may it reach everywhere that a predator may lurk.

Online: https://www.citizen-times.com/


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