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Opinion Roundup: Top pick to lead Census sparks concerns

Posted January 3, 2018 8:08 a.m. EST
Updated January 3, 2018 8:15 a.m. EST

Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 -- A roundup of opinion, commentary and analysis on a polarizing figure who could lead the Census, the legislature's plans to address the GenX crisis, the severity of this year's flu season and more.

POLITICS & POLICY
ARI BERMAN: Trump’s Pick to Run 2020 Census Has Defended Racial Gerrymandering and Voter Suppression Laws (Mother Jones analysis) -- In June 2011, the N.C. legislature hired Thomas Brunell, U. Texes at Dallas professor of political science, to produce a report to defend the state’s new redistricting maps. The maps, approved by the Republican-controlled legislature, concentrated black voters, who tended to vote Democratic, into as few districts as possible in order to maximize the number of safe Republican districts. Under the Voting Rights Act, N.C. had to get Justice Department approval for any voting changes, and so it asked Brunell to provide a justification for the maps. … According to multiple reports, Brunell will be appointed deputy director of the US Census Bureau and de facto leader of the 2020 census, which is constitutionally mandated to count every person in America.

Need more proof that you can’t fix gerrymandering? (Fayetteville Observer) -- The last federal census began nearly eight years ago. When it was completed, the General Assembly took the new population numbers and redrew the state’s legislative districts. The result has been in and out of the courts ever since. The way things are going, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the litigation is continuing at some level by the time the next census is underway.

RUSTY JACOBS: New Year, Same Fight Over Judicial Elections (WUNC-FM analysis) – A senate committee looking at judicial redistricting and reform will meet in Raleigh, a few weeks after Democrats walked out of a previous meeting. The Republican chairs had refused to allow a retired superior court judge invited by Democrats to address the committee.

GARY ROBERTSON: As GOP debates judicial changes, Democrats unlikely to budge (AP news analysis) -- North Carolina Republicans are trying to agree on new judicial district lines and whether to propose replacing head-to-head elections for judgeships. But it appears unlikely that Gov. Roy Cooper and most fellow Democrats will embrace anything that emerges from the Legislative Building on those topics in 2018.

THOMAS GOLDSMITH & ERICA HELLERSTEIN: Thomas Farr, Jesse Helms, and the Return of the Segregationists (Independent Weekly analysis) -- It's been more than three decades since Jesse Helms's come-from-behind win over Hunt, and nearly ten years since Helms died. But an examination of the traces he left makes plain what critics call his core identity: a politician who had few scruples about inflaming racial resentment for his own political gain. And it's precisely within that context that we should focus on Donald Trump's pick for the Eastern District Court of North Carolina: Thomas Farr, a Raleigh attorney who could soon wind up ruling on issues of grave importance to the African-American community. Farr served as the legal counsel on Helms's 1984 and 1990 Senate campaigns, both of which sought to suppress the African-American vote through intimidating postcard mailing campaigns.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
No money in GenX bill? That’s astonishing (Fayetteville Observer) -- As testing reveals an ever-widening web of pollution around the Chemours plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line, it appears that the General Assembly will soon consider legislation that addresses what could be a major environmental and health threat. But so far, that legislation doesn’t include what the state needs most as it discovers more pollution with every passing week. It doesn’t include funding. And that’s ridiculous.

MARK HIBBS: Judge Vacates Mining Firm’s Discharge Permit (Coastal Review analysis) -- After a six-year battle by the community and conservation groups, a judge has vacated a state water quality permit that would have allowed dumping of 12 million gallons of wastewater a day into Blounts Creek.

Show ‘em how it’s done (Washington Daily News) -- Whether a nature-lover or not, every county resident should express his thanks to the Sound Rivers staff and Save Blounts Creek members for being the front line, the guardians of the creek for current generations and generations to come. And every county resident should learn from their actions: they pitted few resources against the vast resources of the government and industry, yet emerged the victors. They showed it could be done.

JOAN SIEFERT ROSE: Five trends to watch in life sciences as a new year begins (WRAL-TV/TechWire column) -- What will the coming year hold for the biotech and life sciences industry in North Carolina? Based on the momentum we’re seeing at the end of this year, we should be in for a promising start to 2018.

HEALTH
TAYLOR KNOPF: State Health Officials Report NC’s First Pediatric Flu-related Death (N.C. Health News analysis) -- Last week saw the first death of a child in North Carolina from flu, as the virus spreads nationwide. There are cases of influenza reported throughout the state.

Get that shot (Winston-Salem Journal) -- Three North Carolina deaths reported for the week that ended Dec. 23 have been attributed to flu-related illness, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported last week — one of them a child between the ages of 5 and 17 from the central part of the state. That’s a tragedy.

STEPHANIE CARSON: NC Autism Services Struggle to Keep Up with Demand (Public News Service analysis) -- Rates of autism diagnosis are on the increase in North Carolina, up 30 percent since 2012. But in many parts of the state, families are waiting up to 18 months for the initial evaluation. That is changing for at least one community in the state, with the expansion of the Autism Clinic in Winston-Salem.

JASON DEBRUYN: UNC Health Care Adds 13th Affiliation (WUNC-FM analysis) -- With the New Year, Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden became UNC Health Care's 13th affiliated hospital. As part of the agreement, it also changed its name to become UNC Rockingham Health Care. After years of financial losses, the hospital declared bankruptcy in July. UNC Health Care bought the hospital after a drawn-out bankruptcy process that included wiping out a significant chunk of debt on the hospital's balance sheet. UNC has promised to invest $20 million in the hospital.

EMERY DALESIO: Lawsuit: Duke, UNC agreed to not hire each other's doctors (AP news analysis) -- The basketball rivalry between Duke University and the University of North Carolina battle is legendary, but a federal lawsuit says the two elite institutions have agreed not to compete in another prestigious area: the market for highly skilled medical workers.

ROSE HOBAN: Stories to Watch in 2018 – Part 2 (N.C. Health News analysis) -- We asked our reporters to look ahead to the coming year and what stories they'll be following. Today we look at environmental issues and business trends.

EDUCATION
Black student who helped desegregate UNC Chapel Hill dies (AP obit) -- One of the first three African-American undergraduate students to successfully challenge racial segregation at North Carolina's flagship public university has died at the age of 80.

JUSTIN PARMENTER: My student’s cat was dying. She needed more than a teacher (Charlotte Observer column) -- Just because it’s common sense that the value of a teacher who doubles as nurse, counselor, coach and parent can’t be precisely determined doesn’t mean that some won’t try to do so. We’re seeing a resurgence of the idea that the worth of educators can be quantified, this time with principals as the target. With intense lobbying from pro-business education reform organization Best NC, the General Assembly recently passed a new statewide principal pay plan billed as rewarding “exceptional school leadership,” which compensates principals in part based on student test results.

MANDY MITCHELL: 'Esports' offer opportunity to earn scholarship money by playing video games (WRAL-TV analysis) -- "Electronic sports" or "Esports" are multi-player video games that involve strategy and teamwork. Esports are becoming so mainstream that most colleges now have teams and some schools are even offering scholarships.

LINDELL JOHN KAY: Lamm to retire from ECC post (Rocky Mount Telegram analysis) -- After overseeing a period of unparalleled growth for the past 14 years, Edgecombe Community College President Deborah Lamm has announced her pending retirement.

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