Thursday, July 23, 2020 -- A round up of opinion, commentary and analysis on: bill-paying crisis ahead; whither high school sports; Cooper up, Trump down in polls and campaign finance moves; legislative expediency keeps citizens in the dark; more N.C. black drivers stopped; Tesla does Texas; can schools be safe for student and faculty?; eugenic and race; and more.
In N.C., unpaid electric and water bills are driving families and cities to the financial brink
(Washington Post reports) -- As many as 1 million families in North Carolina have fallen behind on their electric, water and sewage bills, threatening residents and their cities with severe financial hardship unless federal lawmakers act to approve more emergency aid. The trouble stems from the widespread economic havoc wrought by the coronavirus, which has left millions of workers out of a job and struggling to cover their monthly costs. Together, they’ve been late or missed a total of $218 million in utility payments between April 1 and the end of June, according to data released recently by the state, nearly double the amount in arrears at this time last year.
Harnett County removes pictures of maskless meeting with GOP state insurance commissioner
(WRAL-TV reports) -- Harnett County removed a handful of pictures from its official Facebook page this week after a cavalcade of comments criticizing officials -- including Republican state Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal Mike Causey and Republican state Sen. Jim Burgin -- who weren't wearing masks or practicing social distancing. "The posted images were not consistent with the message the county has been sharing related to the use of face coverings when in close proximity and other measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19," Assistant County Manager Brian Haney said in an email. "The post has been removed.”
FALSE: Trump wrong about COVID-19 mortality rate in U.S.
(PolitiFact/WRAL-TV reports) -- President Donald Trump defended his performance in fighting the coronavirus during an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace, insisting that the mortality rate from COVID-19 in the United States is among the world's lowest. But the numbers show he's wrong.
US labs buckle amid testing surge; world virus cases top 15M (AP reports) -- Laboratories across the U.S. are buckling under a surge of coronavirus tests, creating long processing delays that experts say are undercutting the pandemic response. With the U.S. tally of confirmed infections at nearly 4 million Wednesday and new cases surging, the bottlenecks are creating problems for workers kept off the job while awaiting results, nursing homes struggling to keep the virus out and for the labs themselves as they deal with a crushing workload. Some labs are taking weeks to return COVID-19 results, exacerbating fears that people without symptoms could be spreading the virus if they don’t isolate while they wait.
N.C. Policy Collaboratory distributes $29 million for COVID-19 research
(UNC News Release) -- The N.C. Policy Collaboratory based at UNC-Chapel Hill will distribute $29 million toward 85 research projects focused on treatment, community testing and prevention of COVID-19. These research projects are intended to provide new data and information to North Carolina lawmakers and policymakers to help guide the state’s pandemic response. The Collaboratory will be required to provide an update to the North Carolina General Assembly in September about the status of its research projects, which will be occurring across 14 UNC System campuses. “Each one of these 85 projects will have a direct impact on improving the health and safety of North Carolinians,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “We are grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our state as we face this pandemic. We are looking forward to working with our fellow System schools to find solutions and strategies for fighting COVID-19.”
Strip clubs open in Winston-Salem as city waits for court ruling
(Winston-Salem Journal reports) -- Winston-Salem officials say they're aware that an adult entertainment nightspot on Peters Creek Parkway is open despite COVID-19 restrictions, but say they're awaiting the results of a lawsuit before considering what action to take. Savannah's Gentlemen's Club at 800 Peters Creek Parkway is one of multiple plaintiffs from across the state in a lawsuit in which the adult business owners say they're being treated unfairly by coronavirus regulations against their reopening.
Governor needs to do more than talk tough about masks
(N.C. McClatchy editorial) -- Being heavy-handed isn’t an easy role for Gov. Roy Cooper. By nature, he’s moderate and tolerant. Politically, he’s running for re-election, and he doesn’t want to give credence to a Republican opponent who has criticized his orders as excessive. But while restraint in enforcement may serve the governor’s re-election, it undermines his cause. More than 1,600 people have died from COVID-19 in North Carolina and more than 1,000 are now fighting for breath in its hospitals. More than 100,000 cases of infection have been confirmed since March. North Carolina, like most of the world, is under siege from this virus. Cooper is fighting it, but he should also call to account those who are ignoring it.
Cooper's job approval at 50%, Trump's at just 43% in N.C.
(High Point University Poll) -- 50% of registered voters in N.C. approve of the job being done by Gov. Roy Cooper while just 43% say the same of President Donald Trump. Going in to his re-election campaign just 32% say they approve of the job Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is doing while Sen. Richard Burr's job approval rating is a mere 24%.
COVID-19 Is Changing The Way One Organization Registers People To Vote
(WUNC-FM reports) -- Registering to vote is usually an interactive, interpersonal effort, where organizations host registration events at college campuses or churches. But in the time of pandemic, it's changed the way nonprofit organization are reaching potential voters. Next Gen America's goal is to register 30,000 North Carolinians to vote this year and get 22,000 to the polls. The organization was created to mobilize young voters on a various issues like healthcare, immigration and equality.
KIRK ROSS: COVID-19 Has Exacerbated the Legislature’s Proclivity for Backroom Dealing
(The Independent column) -- All this corner-cutting in the General Assembly cuts citizens out of the process and allows for more insider-driven agendas and political gamesmanship. The more it’s normalized, the more likely it is to be abused and used by future General Assemblies. With the heat of an unpredictable election bearing down, now would be a good time to ask the people who want to represent you in Raleigh if they would commit to something better: to not shut the public out, to provide some predictability and collaboration, to listen and consider what you have to say, and above all, to legislate in your name out in the open.
Dark money group targets six NC Senate races
(WRAL-TV reports) -- A dark money group started by a former Democratic state senator will target half a dozen Senate races this year in a bid to flip party control in the chamber. Education Now was incorporated by former state Sen. Linda Garrou, It's one of the groups that have become prominent in modern politics for Democrats and Republicans. This one is pitching donors on a $1 million to $2 million plan to target six Republican seats. These nonprofits offer a legal way to take anonymous and unlimited money from donors and use it to pay for thinly veiled political advertisements that focus on "social welfare," to use the jargon from Internal Revenue Service regulations.
Panthers, Hornets venues approved as N.C. early-vote sites (AP reports) -- The venues for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and NBA’s Charlotte Hornets will be used as early in-person voting sites this fall in North Carolina.
NAACP asks judge to ban the kind of voting machines used in Mecklenburg County
(Charlotte Observer reports) - Citing health and security concerns, North Carolina’s NAACP asked a Wake County judge Wednesday to block the use of touch screen voting machines in Mecklenburg and other counties. The move came three months after the group filed suit against the State Board of Elections and several county boards. Earlier this month the state attorney general’s office asked a judge to dismiss the suit.
Mayor of Portland, Oregon, tear gassed by federal agents (AP reports) -- The mayor of Portland, Oregon, was tear gassed by the U.S. government late Wednesday as he stood at a fence guarding a federal courthouse during another night of protest against the presence of federal agents sent by President Donald Trump to quell unrest in the city. Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said it was the first time he’d been tear gassed and appeared slightly dazed and coughed as he put on a pair of goggles someone handed him and drank water. He didn't leave his spot at the front, however, and continued to take gas. Around Wheeler, the protest raged, with demonstrators lighting a large fire in the space between the fence and the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse and the pop-pop-pop of federal agents deploying tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd.
Push to remove Confederate statues stalls in rural America (AP reports) -- The statue of the anonymous Confederate soldier has stood in front of the white-columned East Feliciana Parish courthouse for more than a century, leaning on his rifle as he looks down on trucks hauling timber and residents visiting the bank across the street.
POLICY & POLITICS
JOY FRANKLIN & VIRGIL SMITH: Why sale of McClatchy Newspapers matters to North Carolinians
(Carolina Commentary column) -- We can only wait to see how the new owner of three of North Carolina’s most important newspapers discharges the responsibility the First Amendment guarantee of a free press carries with it. But it is a sobering time as the restructuring continues of an industry that, like public education, is critical to our ability as North Carolinians and Americans to govern ourselves.
Catawbas break ground on Kings Mountain casino, despite lawsuit from Cherokees
(Charlotte Observer reports) -- The Catawba Indians broke ground on a new casino in Kings Mountain Wednesday morning, despite continued legal resistance from the Eastern Band of the Cherokees. The Catawbas also began the process of winning a compact from the state of North Carolina that would allow them to bring the full slate of Vegas-style gaming within 35 miles of Charlotte. The tribe says the $273 million project could open next year. “Today is truly about righting a historical wrong, and creating a brighter future for us all,” Chief Bill Harris said shortly before leading the ground-breaking.
TWITTER LIST (N.C. Insider reports) -- The Insider has launched a new resource for subscribers: A curated Twitter list that shows all tweets from N.C. House and Senate legislators and other elected officials. In addition to including all General Assembly who routinely post on the platform, the list features members of the Council of State, the state’s Congressional delegation, and N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges. The list, which can be found and bookmarked here (https://twitter.com/i/lists/1285992739360972800), is available to followers of the Insider’s subscriber-only Twitter account for news updates, @NCInsiderUpdate. Insider subscribers who haven’t already done so can send a request to follow the account and access the list.
Count on Getting Your Mail? Senate Day of Action Urges Support for USPS
(Public News Service reports) -- North Carolinians have been counting on their postal workers to deliver needed items during the pandemic, and now the U.S. Postal Service is asking residents to call their congressperson today about legislation that would provide $25 billion in COVID-19 relief for the national mail carrier.
President of Charlotte Area Local 375 of the American Postal Workers Union Anthony Wilson says many people mistakenly believe the postal service is run using tax dollars. Wilson says that's not the case, noting the agency operates just like any other business and raises money by selling stamps.
Trade dispute delays Triangle Tire plans to build new plants
(Rocky Mount Telegram reports) -- In late 2017 state officials, including Gov. Roy Cooper, were joined by officials of Triangle Tire at Edgecombe Community College for an announcement unprecedented in rural N.C. Triangle, the 14th-largest tire manufacturer in the world, announced its first manufacturing plant to be built outside China would be located in what was then called the Kingsboro CSX Select Megasite.
High school football - other sports - need to wait in N.C.
(N.C. McClatchy editorial) -- We hurt for all athletes who are seeing their seasons threatened. We worry about students who benefit from the structure and focus that sports provide, as well as athletes who might miss out on recruiting opportunities because their senior season has been delayed. But sports — especially those with contact — carry too much risk at the moment. Friday nights need to wait.
UNC-Chapel Hill housekeepers want more protective gear, sick days
(WRAL-TV reports) -- With students set to return to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus in two weeks, the housekeepers responsible for cleaning dormitories on Wednesday presented a list of safety demands related to the coronavirus pandemic to university officials.
AP-NORC poll: Very few Americans back full school reopening (AP reports) -- Virtual instruction. Mandated masks. Physical distancing. The start of school will look very different this year because of the coronavirus — and that’s OK with the vast majority of Americans.
Alamance County schools push back classroom teaching
(Burlington Times-News reports) -- The Alamance-Burlington School System still has a plan — Plan B — to reopen schools under Gov. Roy Cooper’s guidelines requiring schools be at half capacity, but will push it back nine weeks after hearing from families and staff, and seeing COVID-19 cases rise statewide
Wake educators express concern about upcoming year
(WRAL-TV reports) -- When the Wake County Public School System joined other districts Tuesday in deciding to start the school year with online learning only, officials put together a plan detailing how schools would transition later to a mix of classroom and remote instruction.
NC Pathways to Grade Level Reading releases a new early childhood data dashboard
(EdNC reports) -- Through the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative, the NC Early Childhood Foundation has released an interactive, online dashboard of early childhood data measures that influence third-grade reading. The Pathways Data Dashboard supports a statewide effort to improve the collection, analysis, and use of early childhood data in North Carolina for young children, birth to age 8. It can be used by state and local policymakers, government agencies, community service providers, child advocacy organizations, Smart Start partnerships, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading communities, and others to make data-informed decisions about investments in early childhood and changes to policies and practices that affect young children and their families. You can visit the dashboard and access a 20-minute tutorial on how to navigate it. The Pathways Data Dashboard includes North Carolina data on more than 60 measures of child development that research shows influence third grade reading scores. Whenever possible, the dashboard presents data at the state level, compared to national averages; at the county or school district level; by race and ethnicity; by income; by age; and over several years.
For 2021, admissions to UNC System schools might be test-optional
(Greensboro News & Record reports) -- High school students who want to attend UNC System schools might get a break on test scores. The UNC Board of Governors will vote Thursday morning on a proposed one-year waiver of the requirement that applicants submit an ACT or SAT score when they apply to North Carolina’s 16 public universities. The board’s educational policy committee narrowly approved the request for a waiver Wednesday.
Change to UNC System chancellor search process would allow president to bypass trustees, insert finalists
(N.C. Policy Watch reports) -- A proposed change to chancellor searches at UNC System schools would allow the UNC System President to insert final candidates into search processes that traditionally happened at the local Board of Trustees level. Some UNC Board of Governors members and trustees have reservations about the change, put forward by incoming UNC System President Peter Hans at Wednesday’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors’ Committee on Personnel and Tenure. But it passed a committee vote unanimously and will be taken up by the full board Thursday.
Murphy town hall tackles school reopening
(Greenville Daily Reflector reports) -- U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., said he favors sending North Carolina students back to school for in-person learning next month but was surprised when a majority of constituents listening to a virtual town hall Tuesday said they do, too.
GREG MURPHY: To protect students, Congress must protect schools
(Kinston Free Press column) -- As an experienced physician of more than 30 years and currently a member of Congress, I am positioned uniquely to evaluate public health risks in making practical decisions on how we can safely move society forward during this pandemic.
Report examines disproportionate effect of eugenics on N.C.'s black population
(Duke University News) -- For more than four decades North Carolina’s statewide eugenics program forcibly sterilized almost 7,600 people — many of whom were Black. That wasn’t a coincidence, according to a new academic paper. Duke University professor William A. Darity Jr. co-authored a report published in the American Review of Political Economy that correlates 10 years of forced sterilizations in counties across the state with the number of unemployed Black residents, finding the program was all but designed to “breed (them) out.”
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Death of a Royal Tern
(Coastal Review/Ocracoke Observer column) -- Peter Vankevich, co-publisher of the Ocracoke Observer, recounts finding a deceased royal tern at Springer’s Point and learning something unusual about the banded bird through the Bird Banding Laboratory in Patuxent, Maryland.
... AND MORE
State Sen. Joseph Johnson
(Obituary) -- Former Wake County State Sen. Joseph Edward Johnson, 78, died July 19 after a prolonged battle with Parkinson’s disease. Best known as Joe, he was also known as Jody growing up in Raleigh, Daddy to his three girls, “Go Joe” on the campaign trail, and Senator among colleagues.
Doug Reed, 30-year WCU administrator, dies at 92 (
Asheville Citizen-Times reports) -- Douglas “Doug” Reed, who worked as a reporter and editor with the Citizen-Times and director of public information and a top-level adviser for 30 years through 10 administrations at Western Carolina University, died Sunday, July 19, at his home in Cullowhee at age 92. Then-Chancellor John Bardo described Reed as “the sage of WCU” when presenting the honorary degree. Upon his retirement in 1996, he remained at WCU in a part-time capacity as a special assistant to the chancellor. During his time at WCU, he was part of the institution’s change from a college to a university within the University of North Carolina System and witnessed the doubling of student enrollment.
Former million-dollar NC lottery winner charged with murder
(WECT-TV reports) -- A Brunswick County man who won a $10 million lottery prize three years ago is now in the county jail on a murder charge. Michael Todd Hill, 52, of Leland, was arrested in Southport on Tuesday by the Shallotte Police Department after the body of Keonna Graham was discovered in a room at the Sure Stay Hotel. Hill hit the lottery jackpot in August 2017 on an Extreme Millions scratch-off ticket that he bought at a convenience store in Leland. He took the $4.1 million lump-sum payment and said he planned to use the winnings to pay off bills and invest in his wife's business.