North Carolina editorial roundup

The Associated Press

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July 9

Charlotte Observer on redistricting ruling by Superior Court panel

"Of the 170 seats in the N.C. General Assembly, only 10 percent - 17 seats - are considered competitive. Six are in the House, four in the Senate. The other 153 seats pretty much belong to incumbents who can count on re-election. Why? Because legislators draw those districts to favor one party or the other, with predictable results. Does anyone think such a rigged system fits the definition of a democracy? We don't."

Recognize that paragraph? It's understandable if you don't. Those words were written eight years ago in a Charlotte Observer editorial criticizing how N.C. lawmakers draw up House and Senate districts. Democrats were in charge in Raleigh then, and Republicans were unhappy with how districts were determined. So were we. "Unworkable," our editorial said of the system. And: "Outdated."

Now, eight years later, Republicans have the power in state government, and Democrats don't like how they're drawing up districts. On Monday, a three-judge panel weighed in, unanimously upholding legislative and congressional district boundaries that Republicans enacted in 2011. The Superior Court judges, in a 171-page decision, said the boundaries "do not impair the constitutional rights of the citizens of North Carolina."

Legal doesn't necessarily mean fair, however, and our opinion on redistricting remains the same: The process in North Carolina is flawed and time consuming. It allows the party in power to protect incumbents by drawing districts in a way that dilutes the opposition's strength. It takes choices away from voters.

That's what Republicans did in 2011 by packing minorities into a handful of districts - including Rep. Mel Watt's 12th District - and making surrounding districts more white and friendly to GOP candidates. Republicans also split voting districts - and even split single counties into multiple voting districts - in order to give themselves an electoral advantage.

Again, the changes are legal, according to the Superior Court panel's decision Monday. (Earlier, the Justice Department gave the new districts preclearance under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.) But just as Democrats did with their map drawing, Republicans helped themselves more than the citizens of North Carolina. Only 11 of 120 House seats and three of 50 Senate seats are toss-ups now, Catawba College's Michael Bitzer said earlier this year. Millions of voters have little say about who represents them.

There's a better way. A majority of the N.C. House - 40 Democrats and 21 Republicans - is sponsoring a bill that would give the responsibility of district drawing to nonpartisan legislative staff. House Bill 606 also would require that staff to draw compact districts and would forbid the consideration of political criteria in the redistricting process.

House Speaker Thom Tillis is admirably backing the bill, as he did a similar bill last year that passed the House before dying in the Senate. Tillis isn't the only Republican who believes that even now, with their party in power, the system needs to be changed. Republican House leader Paul Stam supports HB606, just as he has supported similar bills since drawing up the first one back in 1989.

Last year's bill was the first in recent memory to get out of committee. Tillis should try again and bring HB606 to a vote. The Senate should follow suit. As we said in our editorial way back when Democrats were in charge: "It's long overdue."



July 7

News & Observer of Raleigh on changing UNC athletic culture

Now, apparently, Bubba Cunningham, athletics director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has a new game plan for dealing with revelations about problems with academic performance among athletes. He's just not going to say anything. That is a bad posture, and it's insulting to the taxpayers who own the place where he works. As of July 1, there's hope things might change. New Chancellor Carol Folt is in town and in charge and thus the quiet Mr. Cunningham has a new boss. Folt can get off on a strong footing if she takes charge of athletics and makes it clear the university is going to be straightforward and open in its dealings with academic-athletic problems.

The NCAA, college sports' weak and ineffective governing body, is supposed to safeguard the integrity of college athletics, but unfortunately that means trying to govern a multibillion-dollar enterprise in a harbor where no one wants to rock the boat. Thus, the organization's performance as steward and enforcer of the rules has been decidedly inconsistent at best.

But the NCAA tried to improve academic oversight by launching in 2003 the Academic Progress Rate (APR), which is supposed to ensure that along with playing sports, athletes are also part of a program with academic integrity. The rate is based on how many athletes on scholarships stay in school and remain academically eligible to play. It's a figure reflecting the four most recent years of academic performance and retention.

The APR isn't what it ought to be at UNC-Chapel Hill these days. The men's basketball team is in eighth place, though at one point it had a nearly perfect score. The football team? It won't surprise anyone who's kept up with the seemingly endless academic-athletic problems there that the team last year had a score that put it in danger of losing the eligibility to play in a post-season bowl game.

One spokesman for the athletics department said APR scores don't have much to do with academic performance, that it's just one measure, that other sports programs exceed the national average. That's a strained rationalization, since almost all academic-athletics problems are found in the marquee sports of basketball and football.

Basketball coach Roy Williams says his team's declining score was because three students transferred out of the program and another was removed from the team. Several football players were suspended or dismissed as well.

Unfortunately, UNC-Chapel Hill's athletics program has so embarrassed the university with the scandal connecting football players to the African studies program and its phony courses that were so popular with athletes that it is hard to give the university's explanations credibility.

The university needs to quit rationalizing all that happened, or implying, as did former chancellor James Moeser (who hired fired football coach Butch Davis) that all this is simply the media going after people. The media didn't phony up the courses. The media didn't connect football players with agents. The media didn't create an academic advising system for athletes that, by the refreshing disclosure of a person who worked there, tried to steer those athletes to easy courses.

Chancellor Folt now can set a stronger course, one demanding openness and candor from athletics officials. If she must take action with regard to instituting changes herself, so be it. The university has for too long underestimated the price its reputation has paid.



July 7

Asheville Citizen-Times on Senate Committee abortion hearing

OK, let's see if we've got this straight:

Government has no business meddling in health care. Thus North Carolina rejected implementing "Obamacare" and an expansion of Medicare in North Carolina that would have covered half a million Tar Heels, paid entirely by the federal government for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter. It's the principle of the thing. Government could mess up a one-car funeral and all that.

Except, it's government's imperative to meddle when it comes to women's health, specifically on the issue of abortion. It was quite instructive to hear the learned medical opinions offered up in the North Carolina Senate last week from non-medical government types regarding women's health.

It was a truly remarkable scene.

With the N.C. House not even in session, the Senate took it upon itself to dredge up House Bill 695, a measure designed to bar recognition of Sharia law in family courts. The Senate committee considering the measure tacked on a slew of abortion-related measures that were in various stages of progress to cook up a bill that:

. Allows not just doctors and nurses but any health care provider to refuse to provide abortion-related services;

. Requires abortion clinics to go through a similar licensing procedure to outpatient surgical clinics and to have transfer agreements with hospitals;

. Requires doctors to remain in the room for the entire procedure, whether it's surgical or induced by drugs;

. Bars county and city health plans from offering abortion unless it's to save the mother's life or in cases of rape or incest, says state funds can't be used except in those cases, and prohibits federal health care exchanges from covering abortion.

We've seen this movie before. The surprise introduction of this sort of legislation has occurred in other states, such as Ohio and Texas. It's a page from the same national playbook pushed by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council that includes efforts to restrict voting, ease pollution regulations, etc., etc. It's really a sort of shadow national government in play.

And shadowy is an apt term for what transpired in the N.C. Senate. A bill dealing with an entirely different issue — barring religious law — was dredged up in the Senate committee with no public notice; the News & Observer of Raleigh reported that lobbyists from anti-abortion groups including N.C. Right to Life, the N.C. Family Policy Council and N.C. Values Coalition — were present as new amendments reshaped the bill into an anti-abortion measure.

The timing of this is instructive, coming on the eve of a long holiday weekend where Americans tend to turn on the grill and tune out the politicians.

Suzanne Buckley, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said, "It seems to me that they're trying to pass under cover of darkness legislation that would not otherwise be passed.

"They're trying to pull a Texas."

So a bill saying religion has no business in government becomes a bill to essentially ban abortion. (And there were plenty of religious overtones in the governmental discussion of it). Analysts say the state's four Planned Parenthood clinics don't meet the measure's standards; only one clinic in the entire state would.

It's about women's health. Yep.

It would seem a legislature concerned with women's health would be a bit interested in . oh, making sure women have affordable health care. Or that a legislature concerned with future children might want them to have health care as well, or a guarantee of a shot at a decent public education, a public safety net should hard times come, maybe even a job down the road.

We're still waiting regarding that list of particulars.

For the moment, we're dealing with the national spotlight once again unfavorably glaring at North Carolina in the wake of the "Family, Faith and Freedom Protection Act" shenanigans. ...

The Senate saw a hot-button political hornet's nest and mistook it for a piñata. To say this has many of the state's five million women stinging mad would be an understatement.

That's not to say abortion isn't a legitimate issue to debate.

But there wasn't a debate. There was a railroaded measure.

And now comes the fallout. House Speaker Thom Tillis, who has generally focused on business measures instead of fighting culture wars, has launched a U.S. Senate bid for 2014, and this bill poses huge issues for his prospects. He can back it and risk the wrath of female voters or oppose it and face a backlash from the conservative base. It will also be instructive to see the where Gov. Pat McCrory, who promised voters he'd oppose new abortion restrictions, lands regarding this.

Perhaps more instructive still: how the state's voters will react to the thesis that the state has no business meddling with health care.

Except when it does.


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