Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


A TRUE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS DOESN'T LEAD TO A RESULT "INCOMPATIBLE WITH DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES": The judges were unwavering in their dislike of the voting districts enacted by the legislature. “This Court neither condones the enacted maps nor their anticipated potential results,” the judges bluntly stated in their 260-page opinion. “Despite our disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule, the Court must remind itself that these maps are the result of a democratic process.” So, the judges say, an undemocratic legislature or congress is fine as long as it was conceived as the result of a “democratic process.” With that concept in place, the political party in power now will be able to control the designation of election districts now and in the future – and draw those lines to perpetuate its majority forever. Republicans destroyed one smoking gun (concept maps), but the other is just as damning: the maps they adopted are so statistically improbable the word impossible fits, without using partisan data to guide them. Which they claim they didn't, adding perjury to their long list of crimes against the people.

TROUBLING QUESTIONS ABOUT CUMBERLAND OFF-DUTY SHOOTING: The Cumberland County deputy, Jeffrey Hash, shot Walker multiple times after an incident in which Hash’s truck and Walker’s body made contact on a street near Walker’s family home. Hash told the 911 operator that Walker, who is Black, was unarmed. Hash is not in custody, was not arrested, and has no charges pressed against him at this time. The accounts of what happened diverge quickly. Hash’s story, and the one Fayetteville police recorded in their report, was that Walker jumped on Hash’s car and started beating the windshield, ultimately cracking it. Hash said he feared for his family, so he shot Walker. Elizabeth Ricks, who was driving with her husband when the incident happened, says Hash hit Walker with his car as he crossed the street. Ricks, a trauma nurse, is shown in a Facebook video trying to save Walker’s life. Ricks says her testimony — and her husband’s — was briefly taken by an officer. In the video, Hash stands to the side while Ricks tries to stop the bleeding with towels and neighbors try to see what’s happening. A small voice in the background asks, “Is he dying?” Hash was taken into custody and questioned. His car was towed as evidence, and his weapons were seized by the police department. He is currently on leave from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, an action the sheriff announced the Monday after the incident. “Even though this was not an officer-involved shooting, it was a shooting that involved someone who was a law enforcement officer,” Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins said in a press conference. I saw a cell phone video that began after the shooting. That nurse is the only one present who even looked at Walker as he lay on the ground dying. Hash didn't, and three responding officers didn't either. It's like he wasn't even there.

NC REPUBLICANS ARE MIFFED THEIR TAX-CUTTING ISN'T RECEIVING A STANDING OVATION: Carolina Partnership for Reform – a virtual mouthpiece for the legislature’s Republican leadership – makes a remarkable statement: “This is amazing progress. And NC taxpayers should be celebrating and joyfully cheering the good news. But the problem is NC taxpayers don’t know their good fortune! They don’t know their taxes have dropped drastically!” The group cites polls that ask North Carolinians if they are aware the tax rates have dropped and bemoans that, “The answer is always ‘gone up.’ Not even ‘stayed the same.’ ” But there may be a better explanation for why most North Carolinians aren’t aware of the tax cuts. That’s because the largest share of the reductions have gone to corporations and the state’s top 20 percent of earners. Meanwhile, taxpayers have seen the sales tax applied to online sales and more services, fees and fines have increased and urban counties have increased property taxes to make up for inadequate state funding for schools and services. State Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, the Senate’s minority leader, said it’s not a mystery why most people are not celebrating modest savings in their personal income taxes. “They are aware that they are spending more than they are getting back in supposed tax breaks,” he said. The truth is, state income taxes have never been a huge burden on average North Carolinians. And they haven't been that much of a burden on the wealthy, either, for several obvious reasons. But cutting those already moderate rates has shifted the burden (especially for public schools) to local property taxes, and the General Assembly made sure municipalities could not differentiate the rates between the wealthy and poor. So they are regressive, just like sales taxes. Even renters suffer, because those property taxes "trickle down" onto their shoulders. So no, outside of a country club gathering, don't expect cheering crowds.

THE RISE OF NC'S RED DOG DEMOCRATS: Red Dogs, unlike the progressive gentry, have streamed into the Democratic Party recently and largely in reaction to the appalling bigotry, ignorance, and authoritarianism of the Trump-era GOP. They are still fiscally conservative and averse to the excesses of the cultural left (as, for the record, are many members of the pan-racial working class). While deeply alienated from the GOP, Red Dogs are not yet solid Democrats. Democrats will have to work to keep their support. The rise of Red Dog Democrats has been a good thing for the party in the electoral sphere — see the fact that Biden won the 2020 election in large part due to shifts in the educated suburbs. But the trend brings with it several vexing challenges for the Democratic Party. First, Red Dogs are not an inherently Democratic constituency. They voted Republican until very recently; for example, even Elizabeth Dole won southwestern Wake County while losing badly statewide. As the recent gubernatorial election in Virginia demonstrated, a certain percentage of center-right suburbanites seem willing to vote for a Republican again if the GOP candidate appears amenable to suburban sensibilities. Democrats, again, cannot take these voters for granted. They will have to actively court their votes. Which brings us to the second dilemma that Red Dogs pose to Democrats: to win them, Democrats may have to make painful concessions that anger not only the “progressive left” (who make up a very small percentage of the electorate but a large share of the activist class), but old-school Democrats committed to the party’s historic identity as the party of the working class. For the most part, Red Dog Democrats do not have any deep affinity for the Democratic Party or FDR liberalism. In North Carolina, Democrats need the Red Dogs. Unfortunately, the white working class in rural North Carolina has completed its long transformation into a Republican constituency. Mobilizing Democratic non-voters will help, but Democrats will still need to do better with suburban and exurban swing voters if they ever want to become the majority party again. But, like everything in politics, the Red Dog phenomenon brings challenges as well as blessings. Can Democrats keep suburbanites in the fold? Can they still be the party of FDR? Time will tell. The Suburbs are the real battleground, as I've tried to explain to some of my Progressive friends. They believe (mistakenly) that the Democratic Party is suffering because we're not pushing harder for Progressive reforms like Universal Basic Income and the Green New Deal. Our electorate hasn't evolved that far yet, and we can't drag them down that road. They won't let us.

TAKE IT FROM A HIGH-SCHOOLER WHO'S ACTUALLY LEARNED ABOUT CRT: ADULTS NEED TO CHILL OUT: As a Black high school junior, I have to say: The backlash I’ve seen against the teaching of critical race theory is unbelievable. In most schools, as has been well established, critical race theory — an approach to analyzing the intersection of race, history and the law, generally reserved for higher education — isn’t even being taught. And yet, since January 2021, according to Education Week, more than 30 states “have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism” in K-12 schools. These policies are no joke. One Tennessee high school teacher, Matthew Hawn, lost his job after showing his students a four-minute video of a poet performing a piece about White privilege. In Texas, James Whitfield was pushed out of his job as a high school principal after accusations that he was promoting CRT. Opponents of CRT claim that this academic lens is divisive, anti-White and anti-American. Many have claimed that its teachings are a means of forcing a political agenda onto children in lieu of focusing on subjects deemed more educational. Don’t be fooled, though. The retaliation against CRT shows that parents have no idea what students are learning — and that their protests are less about education and more about a projection of their own biases and fears. As one of the few high school students who have actually been taught CRT, I should know. At my school, students are often permitted to participate in short workshops on current controversial topics. The one we did on CRT lasted 75 minutes. For students who wish to deepen their understanding of CRT, a semester-long elective — completely optional — is offered during senior year. Material on CRT is by no means replacing instruction in math, science or other core subjects in our curriculum. Yes, we discussed White privilege, the fact that because of systems planted hundreds of years ago, White-identifying people have been given unfair advantages over their non-White counterparts. But this discussion in no way resembled the chaos described by anti-CRT activists who argue that the concept of White privilege will lead to widespread resentment of White people. Were we taught that all White people are nothing but racist bigots? No. Were we taught that all White people should feel guilty about events in the past they could not control? No. Were students taught to hate their White friends and teachers? Absolutely not. It is simply a learning tool that should have been applied decades ago, and the pushback actually demonstrates the need for it. It really is that simple.


JESSICA CHUNG: LOSING TOO MANY ASIAN RESTAURANTS: Tony Chung hit the nail right on the head in the Jan. 12 Food article, “A struggle to save Chinatown.” Asian restaurants are absolutely a source of personal identity — and not only for the workers. I am a second-generation immigrant here, and my entire childhood was shaped by the Asian restaurants I ate at all the time. If even New York’s iconic Chinatown is struggling, you can imagine how smaller restaurants are faring across the country. Seeing one of my favorite places, a little buffet in Herndon with the best lo mein I’ve ever had for an amazing deal, close last year was like losing a big part of my life. Losing the memories. The community shared with staff and customers alike. And, of course, the incredible noodles, which I will never get to taste again. Food matters to personal identity, especially for those of us trying to reconnect with our cultures. Losing Asian restaurants means Asian Americans get separated from our history even more. These restaurants are a bridge to who we are, and that bridge is crumbling every day. I'm heating up chicken lo mein and egg-drop soup for lunch today, which is a pointless ego-centric comment on this letter since I am not of Asian descent.

RANDY STURGILL: SAY "NO" TO OFFSHORE DRILLING: The U.S. Senate has an opportunity to permanently protect our coasts from offshore drilling in the Build Back Better Act. Drilling is bad for our climate and our economy. Oil spills devastate small businesses and major industries that depend on clean coasts, such as fishing, tourism and recreation. More drilling means more carbon pollution which we can’t afford if we’re going to meet climate goals. A report from Oceana showed that N.C.’s clean coast economy supports 62,000 jobs and approximately $3.1 billion in GDP. The Senate must permanently protect our coast from new offshore drilling in the Atlantic. A pipeline off the coast of Huntington Beach California spilled 126,000 gallons of crude before it was stopped in late October, and the cleanup lasted until late December. That was their second major spill, a tanker leaked 416,000 gallons back in 1990, and that cleanup took a hell of a lot longer. Not worth it, not even close.

ANN FRIEDMAN: LIBRARIES ARE MORE THAN ARCHITECTURAL ACHIEVEMENTS: The Jan. 2 editorial “A new golden age of public libraries” celebrated the architecture of many new and renovated public libraries, nationally and internationally, as “breathtakingly beautiful” and “cultural masterpieces.” The new and renovated D.C. public libraries, including the recently opened Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, deserved this shout-out. Public libraries have re-created themselves many times over the past century — from bookmobiles to electronic information — and will continue to do so to remain relevant. Editorials and articles devoted to publicizing and celebrating public libraries as great community spaces are to be applauded. However, the mission of public libraries in this age of disinformation and lack of understanding and tolerance of diverse points of view is more important than facilities. The core mission of public libraries is to provide information that invites all of us, free of charge, to continue to educate ourselves and our children, to explore issues in-depth from many points of view and to become inspired about what is possible for ourselves, our families, our communities and our nation. This invitation to grow, imagine and think should have been in paragraph one. We should all commit to visiting our local libraries at least once a month in 2022 (and beyond), or we risk the chance that funding will continue to dwindle, as budgets tighten.



In which Ned and I have a conversation...

About affordable housing, planning, and growth:

Ryan Allen directs the Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, a city where the Metropolitan Council guides growth across the Twin Cities region. “The kinds of challenges that accompany rapid growth – transportation congestion, rising prices, those sorts of challenges – are not things municipalities can tackle in a siloed fashion,” he said. “They need a cooperative approach.”

That approach is absent in North Carolina and unlikely to ever be put in place. Local governments don’t want to give up any of their control over land use. The state government is pouring out tax incentives to lure companies. And the Republican-led General Assembly is a fully owned subsidiary of corporate and development interests.

It needs to be understood that local governments are not monolithic entities, and they have much less control over land use than (seemingly everybody) believes they do. But even more important than that, they are subject to a voting population that can't decide whether it wants powerful local government or a toothless one. They vacillate between the two constantly, and local elections are just as confusing and scatter-shot.

In other words, even if municipal governments did want to regionalize, they would be voted out of office and said partnership dissolved, with the quickness.

Last week in the Triangle offered an example of how growth is getting crazy. An investment group announced it would build a $1 billion bio-tech campus next to Research Triangle Park in Morrisville, a town already awash in high-paying tech and life science businesses. A few days later,a semiconductor manufacturer was reported to be eyeing the Triangle Innovation Point megasite in Chatham County to build what WRAL-Tv called “a project that could be worth as much as $30 billion and create as many as 10,000 jobs.”

This comes after a year in which the Triangle landed a new Apple campus that will bring 1,000 jobs at an average salary of $187,000 and two major life science companies announced plans to spend a total of $2.55 billion to build or expand manufacturing operations in the Triangle.

And that is the fulfillment of long-term planning put in place decades ago. Let that sink in, especially those of you who whine about the alleged lack of long-term planning.

But those already here may not be so enthused about the growth if it’s not better managed. As it is, land use planning is Balkanized between counties and municipalities who see only their own interests in padding their tax base.

As I've tried to explain to dozens of angry villagers during rezoning hearings, we only have a couple of tools in the toolbox for increasing revenue. And we must increase revenue, because inflation alone pushes our budgets up, every single year. Expanding (not "padding") the property tax base is critical, and so is increasing the number of houses/condos/apartments to meet market demand. I know that sounds like blasphemy to some, but it's the only way to keep prices affordable. Or less unaffordable.

The late Anthony Downs, a visionary economist and expert on “smart growth,” predicted the toll of rapid growth in his 1992 book “Stuck in Traffic” and his 2004 follow up “Still Stuck in Traffic.” He foresaw the need for regional growth control and what happens when local governments resist it.

“Adopting an effective strategy for regional growth management will require abandoning some politically sacred cows— particularly the untouchable sanctity of ‘local autonomy’ over land-use planning,” he wrote. ”But localities have no real power over traffic congestion, air pollution, overall open-space absorption, and shortages of affordable housing, which all occur regionally. In fact, leaving the solutions entirely to localities makes the problems worse.”

He's not wrong. You're not wrong. But this simply cannot be accomplished. Even if local voters agreed to a regional approach (they most certainly wouldn't), Republicans in the NC General Assembly would block it. Unless they could claim control over such an entity, and that would be much worse. Planning would disappear completely, public input would be non-existent, and developers would have carte blanche.

Back to the drawing board...