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Opinion Roundup: GOP continues to court N.C.; restaurant curfews; protest vs. public safety; and more

Posted July 29, 2020 9:12 a.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2020 9:33 a.m. EDT

Wednesday, July 29, 2020 -- A round up of opinion, commentary and analysis on: Pence does Apex; Trump GOP coronation in Charlotte?; massive evictions maybe coming; restaurant curfew; all protests are public safety threats; and more.


CAMPAIGN 2020
Pence making 2 Triangle stops to look at schools, vaccine development (WRAL-TV reports) -- Two days after a visit by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence is making a high profile visit to North Carolina -- a must-win swing-state for the GOP. Mike Pence plans to visit Thales Academy, a private school in Apex, and North Carolina Biotechnology in Morrisville. NCBiotech, which is conducting Phase 3 clinical trails for a coronavirus vaccine.

Thales Academy founder discusses decision to reopen with in-person classes, vice president's upcoming visit (WRAL-TV reports) -- Keely Arthur talks with Thales Academy founder and GOP donor Bob Luddy about the school reopening for in-person classes, the recent COVID-19 case at the Raleigh location and the vice president's upcoming visit to the private school.

Mike Pence to visit Raleigh in push for schools to reopen (AP reports) -- Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Raleigh on Wednesday morning in a push to encourage more K-12 schools to reopen with entirely in-person instruction.

Trump will be nominated in Charlotte. After that? He’s keeping his plans quiet. (N.C. McClatchy reports) -- President Donald Trump now says that he’ll accept the Republican presidential nomination in North Carolina, after months of back and forth about where to hold the Republican National Convention, which was originally scheduled to be held in Charlotte. “All I know is I’ll be in North Carolina, and that’s a very big deal because we have a lot of the delegates there, and that will be a nomination process. And that’s essentially where the nomination, where it’s formalized, and I’m really honored to do it in North Carolina,” Trump said in an interview with WRAL that was posted late Monday evening.

Comey, Scaramucci join next month’s anti-Trump convention in Charlotte (Charlotte Observer reports) -- Former FBI director Jim Comey. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden. Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. They’re among the speakers lined up for a sort of counter-convention to the Republican National Convention. Like the GOP gathering, it’s scheduled for Charlotte in late August. Called the Convention on Founding Principles, it’s being organized by Republicans and conservatives disaffected with President Donald Trump.

Tillis, Cunningham spar over pandemic response (WRAL-TV reports) -- With fewer than 100 days until the November general elections, the race for a U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina is heating up.

To Win A State Legislative Majority, NC Dems Must Win In Trump Country (WFAE-FM reports) -- The last time redistricting was at stake, in 2010, Republicans flipped 20 state legislative chambers from blue to red nationwide, including both houses in North Carolina. They seized control of mapmaking after the census. This time, Democrats are mobilizing.

Fact check: Do polls show Trump leading Biden in North Carolina? (PolitiFact/WRAL-TV) -- Trump said “our polls” showed him “leading in North Carolina.” Because it’s possible Trump was referring to internal polling, we aren’t running the president’s claim through the Truth-O-Meter. But it’s clear that, even if internal GOP polls show Trump ahead, those polls would be outliers. Most public polls show Biden with a small lead, and experts say Trump should be concerned that his numbers have dropped in recent months.

State Rep. Conrad to step down Friday. Forsyth County Republicans to pick her replacement (Winston-Salem Journal reports) -- Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, plans to resign from the legislature. Conrad late last year said she would not seek a fifth term for House District 74. Conrad did not cite a reason for resigning in her letter to House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. Resigning on Friday allows Conrad, who owns a marketing firm in Winston-Salem, to begin a six-month cooling-off period — as required by state law — before being able to register as a lobbyist. “Lobbying is one of the exciting opportunities I am considering, as I have too much energy and passion for politics to retire,” Conrad said. “I look forward to being back in Raleigh in a new role next year.”

Blind voters are being disenfranchised, NC lawsuit says, and coronavirus doesn’t help (N.C. McClatchy reports) -- Blind and visually impaired voters will face discrimination and difficult choices in the 2020 elections, a new lawsuit claims, unless North Carolina acts quickly to improve options for voting by mail. North Carolina has specialized voting machines for people with disabilities who vote at any polling place around the state. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to a massive increase in voting by mail. And the only option for that is a paper ballot.

CORONAVIRUS 2020
With weekly $600 gone, NC unemployment benefits alone are not enough, workers say (N.C. McClatchy reports) -- The extra $600 in federal unemployment benefits that was legislated through the CARES Act have now expired in North Carolina, with the last payment going out this past weekend. Their future is in doubt. Laid-off workers, employers and advocates for more extensive aid in North Carolina said any reduction in unemployment benefits puts workers and the economy at risk. “This extra $600 was the difference between having a home and being homeless for thousands of North Carolinians who are facing unemployment due to this COVID pandemic. Any reduction in benefits is going to put thousands, or tens of thousands even, of tenants in North Carolina at greater risk of homelessness,” said Peter Gilbert with Legal Aid of North Carolina. Without the extra $600 in unemployment benefits, North Carolinians are left with one the lowest-ranked unemployment insurance systems in the country in terms of amount paid and payment duration, according to data from the Department of Labor.

Study finds expanded jobless benefits did not reduce employment (Yale University report) -- A new report by Yale economists finds no evidence that the enhanced jobless benefits Congress authorized in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic reduced employment. The report addresses concerns that the more generous unemployment benefits, which provide $600 per week above state unemployment insurance payments, would disincentivize work.

Despite Heat Wave, Utility Shutoffs Loom for 1 Million in NC (Public News Service) -- As temperatures soar above 100 degrees in some regions, more than 1 million North Carolina households could lose access to air conditioning or running water when the state's ban on utility shutoffs expires Saturday. Rory McIlmoil, senior energy analyst at Appalachian Voices, said Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to utilities on July 17, stating he would not extend the moratorium that's been in place under an executive order since May.

COVID job losses cost 238,000 health insurance (Asheville Citizen-Times reports) -- No longer getting health insurance through work, unemployed N.C. residents face complex options to regain coverage.  Nearly half of N.C. residents get coverage through employers. As the state’s unemployment soared - from 3.6% in February to 12.8% in May - thousands became uninsured. Those fortunate to qualify for new plans were left, perhaps for the first time, to locate insurance on their own. The COVID-19 pandemic took away health insurance from 238,000 North Carolinians this spring, according to a new study. The nationwide analysis, from the consumer health care advocacy group Families USA, found a 24% increase in North Carolina workers who became uninsured from February to May. Overall, the state ranks fifth in the country with 1.2 million uninsured adults.

Cooper issues statewide restriction on late-night alcohol sales (WRAL-TV reports) -- To limit the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that he's implementing a statewide restriction ending all alcohol sales for on-site consumption at 11 p.m. nightly, starting Friday. Cooper said evidence from a number of states has shown bars to be sites of viral outbreaks – bars have been closed in North Carolina since March – and that some restaurants in North Carolina "essentially turn into bars late at night."

Cooper: Alcohol sales at N.C. restaurants ending earlier (AP reports) -- Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday he's curbing alcohol sales hours at restaurants starting later this week, a COVID-19 restriction to discourage late-night gatherings where health officials say social distancing isn't happening.

Nurses say UNC Hospitals' policy risks patient safety as well as nursing licenses (WRAL-TV reports) -- Some nurses at UNC Hospitals say they believe patient safety is on the line due to a new policy. Two nurses said they and many of their colleagues are being rotated into different units of the hospital complex with little training. "I think there were just huge safety issues from a patient perspective and then also from a staff perspective," a pediatric nurse said. "We just feel like our nursing license is kind of being put on the line without anyone thinking that through."

Housing assistance (N.C. Insider reports) -- North Carolina will end its moratorium this week on shutting off utilities for people who fail to pay, but Gov. Roy Cooper said he’s working on a new program to help avoid power cutoffs and evictions. He said details of the initiative will be announced later, but it will involve using funds from the federal CARES Act to make direct payments to utilities and landlords to prevent people from becoming homeless or being left in the dark.

As COVID-19 spread in NC meatpacking plants, workplace complaints piled up (N.C. Watchdog Reporting Network) -- In April, a worker at Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Sanford called workplace safety regulators to complain that the plant wasn’t notifying employees when other staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. A few weeks later, a worker at a Smithfield Foods pork plant in Tar Heel called to report that the plant wouldn’t allow workers to wear masks. In early July, a worker at Tyson Farms in Monroe reported that the meatpacking company had “reinstituted the point system for absences” making “employees feel that they are being forced to work, even when they feel sick.” Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, state and federal regulators have received dozens of calls and emails from workers in meat-packing plants across North Carolina who were concerned that these facilities were putting workers at risk. The N.C. Department of Labor, the agency charged with investigating most workplace health and safety complaints, has found no safety violations at any of the plants and issued no citations or penalties.

See how COVID-19 cases grew in NC, county by county (WRAL-TV reports) -- On Tuesday, WRAL Data Trackers debuted a new way to explore the spread of cases in every county in North Carolina.

17 cases drives Catawba County COVID-19 count at 1,767; 24 deaths (Hickory Daily Record reports) -- Catawba County’s COVID-19 case count increased with 17 new cases. The county has 1,767 total laboratory-confirmed cases. The case count does not represent every case of the coronavirus in the county, because not everyone who has or had the virus is tested, according to public health officials. An estimated 1,241 people have recovered from the virus. Catawba County has 19 people hospitalized. There have been 24 COVID-19 related deaths.

MONUMENT(al) CHANGE
Experts: “There has to be a shift in how society functions” in wake of pandemic recovery, racial justice movements (N.C. Policy Watch reports) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the U.S. economy — shuttering businesses, eliminating jobs and disrupting everything from education to the nation’s food supply chain. But it has been most devastating to Black Americans, who already face a host of historical economic and social disparities that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement even as the country continues to struggle with the worsening pandemic. On Tuesday a panel of experts gathered by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, its Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and the Institute of African American Research held a virtual discussion of the problems disproportionately facing Black people in the current environment — and possible solutions.

BARRY YEOMAN: Is any protest a threat to public safety? Yes, said this small North Carolina city(Washington Post reports) -- Civil rights activists in this former textile-manufacturing city have been sparring for weeks with elected officials over limits on protests and what constitutes free speech. In addition to the ban on protests at the monument and courthouse, Graham Mayor Jerry Peterman has also declared five states of emergency, citing the potential for “civil unrest” or “severe damage” in this city of 15,600. Most of his emergency orders imposed curfews, and one temporarily suspended all demonstration permits. “Any group(s) attempting to protest without a permit, will be in violation and subject to arrest,” the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook June 26.

Gaston County Commission To Push For Referendum On Monument (WFAE-FM reports) -- A majority of Gaston County commissioners Tuesday night agreed to seek legislative approval to let citizens vote whether to remove a Confederate monument outside the county courthouse. The move followed a public hearing where most speakers favored removal.

Roxboro City Council enacts state of emergency, curfew in wake of officer-involved shooting (WRAL-TV reports) -- The Roxboro City Council voted to enact a curfew and a state of emergency in the wake of last week's officer-involved shooting death of David Earl Brooks Jr.

POLICY & POLITICS
No PPP loan? This NC Commerce program could mean $250K for eligible companies (Triangle Business Journal reports) -- Missed out on a PPP loan? North Carolina is launching a new program to provide businesses with financial aid.

Business Loans (N.C. Insider reports) -- A total of 8,147 businesses have requested $250.3 million from a state-funded small business coronavirus loan program, and so far 812 have received a total of $28.6 million to stay afloat. The legislature allocated $125 million in April for the Rapid Recovery Loan program, which is administered by the Golden LEAF Foundation, the N.C. Rural Center and several other partners. According to data released by the program, 98% of the money so far has gone to businesses with fewer than 100 employees, and 63% has gone to businesses owned by minorities or women. The loans have helped retain 5,312 jobs. Unlike the federal Paycheck Protection Program, the Rapid Recovery Loan program isn’t disclosing the names of most businesses that received loans.

EDUCATION
Caught between the schoolhouse and coronavirus: NC parents, teachers seek best course through pandemic straits (Carolina Public Press reports) -- Medical experts say research shows difference in transmission for older, younger kids and warn risks much higher in some NC locations.

GLENN KLEIMAN: The Cat in the Hat, the teacher in the mask (EdNC column) -- Several things need to be done to support students and teachers during this difficult period. First, everyone involved must accept the reality of balancing virus mitigation and sound educational practices, and the difficult decisions schools must make as a result. Second, communities must have coordinated efforts to support children’s learning outside of school, such local organizations providing space, technology access, resources, and staff to help students learn beyond the classroom walls. Third, community efforts need to focus on students whose families are unable to provide sufficient support for their learning at home.  Finally, everyone must recognize the dedicated efforts of educators on behalf of their students, educators who thereby join medical practitioners and many others as heroes of the COVID-19 crisis.

HEALTH
ANNE BLYTHE: Embracing her LatinX community, fighting for equality amid COVID-19 (N.C. Health News reports) -- This Duke physician’s quest for global health care access is deep-rooted.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Duke Energy reaches proposed settlement in rate case (Greensboro News & Record reports) -- Duke Energy has reached a possible settlement with critics of its proposed rate increase. The Charlotte-based utility agreed Monday on a “settlement in principle” with the public staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission, company officials said. If approved by the commission, the agreement would result in an increase in the average resident’s electric bill — but somewhat less than the $96.72 initially requested.

An extraordinary environmental achievement (Winston-Salem Journal/Greensboro News & Record editorial) -- In the midst of the current pandemic and its adjacent challenges, we could all use a little good news. This news is great. If the Great American Outdoors Act, recently passed by the Senate and now sitting on President Trump’s desk, is half of what it claims to be, it’s an amazing accomplishment that will go a long way toward preserving our greatest resource — the great outdoors — for future generations.

... AND MORE
New biography says legacy of tobacco heiress has been erased from the history books (WRAL-TV reports) -- The Duke family fortune was grown right here in the tobacco fields of North Carolina. When Doris Duke was born, newspapers christened her "The Richest Little Girl In The World."

1891 Strathairly Wreck Bell to be Donated (Coastal Review reports) -- Following the weekly beach apparatus drill at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Thursday, the ship’s bell from the 1891 wreck of the Strathairly steamship will be donated.

5 people break into historic Outer Banks lighthouse to pull off goofy crime, NPS says (Charlotte Observer reports) -- A clandestine plan to break into the historic Cape Lookout Lighthouse on the Outer Banks was interrupted around 12 a.m. Monday by the National Park Service. Five suspects “in their late teens or early twenties” used the cover of darkness to reach the island by boat, crept up to the lighthouse door, then used tools to remove the hardware, Cape Lookout National Seashore officials said. They succeeded in getting inside, but their intent proved to be both surprising and goofy. “Seems they were looking to break in for the view,” saidn Cape Lookout Public Information Officer B.G. Horvat. “Yes, they did make it to the top.”

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