Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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March 3

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley and voter fraud discussions:

North Carolina Republicans have often complained about Democrats turning to the courts to challenge redistricting maps and voting laws, but now they’re saying lawsuits – or the threat of them – are the key to fair elections.

At least that was the message North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando last week. Whatley was a panelist in a discussion about protecting the vote. What it was really about was perpetuating the falsehood of widespread election fraud.

The panel included former President Trump’s one-time acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Thomas Hicks, co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Whatley’s advice to conservatives on monitoring elections is to spend big on lawyers. “Our legal budget was three quarters of our annual operating budget, but it’s worth every penny,” he said.

Whatley was invited to CPAC to explain why North Carolina did not experience the voter fraud that Trump falsely claims cost him the election elsewhere. The answer is simple: Trump claimed no fraud because he won in North Carolina. But Whatley said his state delivered a fair result because the GOP’s relentless legal vigilance kept cheaters from finding votes for Democrats.

That scrutiny was particularly effective, the GOP chairman said, in the election for chief justice of the state Supreme Court. In that race Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, edged Incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, by 401 votes out of more than 5 million cast.

“You can’t tell me in 100 North Carolina counties they couldn’t have come up with four votes (in each) if I didn’t have lawyers and attorneys in every single one of those counties,” Whatley said. “The Democrats fielded protests in 92 of our counties. I paid over $750,000 in legal fees just to make sure we were countering on those protests.”

Whatley said it’s fortunate that the Republican National Committee is “working to make sure we have the legal resources that we’re going to need because this is going to be lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit.”

It’s as baffling as it is disappointing that Republican conservatives are doubling down on the idea of pervasive election fraud. The 2020 election was intently scrutinized – and Trump’s lawyers did file “lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit” – but they failed to show any fraud. The danger of persisting in this illusion should be clear enough after Trump supporters stormed the U.S Capitol to “stop the steal.”

That didn’t give pause to Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who moderated the discussion. He said at the start, “There was widespread voter fraud in way too many states, most especially in big cities run by the Democrat machine. That is a fact.”

No, that is a lie, a lie that weakens democracy by undermining confidence in elections. Republicans need to repeat it because it lays the foundation for another serious wave of voter suppression laws. Republicans have been busy proposing 253 bills in 43 states that would restrict voting access in upcoming elections.

The Republican push to limit democracy comes as Congress is considering a bill – HR-1 – that would limit partisan gerrymandering, make it easier to vote and reduce the ability of large, anonymous donors to shape elections. The Biden administration endorsed the bill Monday saying the “landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.” The House could vote on it as early as Wednesday.

Whatley and the others on stage for the session – four white, middle-aged men discussing how to “protect the vote” – see HR-1 as a threat. “This is the single biggest assault on election integrity in the history of our country,” Whatley said.

No, that title belongs to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, an insurrection fueled by lies about election fraud. And no amount of lawyering can change that.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/ & https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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March 1

The Winston Salem-Journal and The Greensboro News & Record on loosening COVID-19 restrictions:

Optimism and communities that have learned how to share a burden allowed Gov. Roy Cooper to ease COVID-19 restrictions in North Carolina last week. Though we’re not out of the woods yet, we can see the clearing from here.

But we look ahead cautiously.

“Today’s action is a show of confidence and trust, but we must remain cautious. People are losing their loved ones each day,” Cooper said Friday.

“We must keep up our guard. Many of us are weary, but we cannot let the weariness win.

“Now is the time to put our strength and resilience to work so that we can continue to turn the corner and get through this.”

We agree. So let’s enjoy a bit more freedom while we maintain our vigilance. The lifting of restrictions — which follows reduced numbers of infections and deaths in the state overall — is definitely good news.

Add to that the increased availability of COVID vaccines — 80,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are scheduled to arrive in North Carolina tomorrow — and we have plenty of reasons to feel good.

And add to that the recent higher temperatures in the Triad — a nice prompt for more outdoor dining — and we’re practically giddy.

Among the changes in restrictions, bars, night clubs and indoor entertainment venues are now allowed to open at 30% capacity, with a cap of 250 people. Restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, gyms, bowling alleys, museums, salons, personal care businesses and tattoo parlors are allowed to open at 50% capacity.

That’s not enough to cure all of our economic ills, but it’s a move in the right direction. Thanks to the people who have taken the idea of COVID precautions seriously, lives doubtlessly have been saved. Let’s not quit now.

Let’s not quit even as the number of people allowed inside residences increases from 10 to 25, while 50 remains the limit for individual outdoor gatherings.

Some are still likely to be careless. Wake Forest University has placed a student organization on interim suspension while investigating a “private event” (read: party) likely carried out against campus COVID-19 protocols. And at the UNC School of the Arts, which is running out of quarantine space, authorities have threatened to start sending students home if they can’t follow guidelines.

We realize that college students enjoy a unique sense of freedom that comes with distance from parental supervision — that’s part of the college experience.

But it’s also a time to start exhibiting a little maturity and restraint.

Cooper also vetoed a bill last week that would force schools to reopen, preferring to leave the decision to local school boards.

He said that he had told state legislators that he could sign a school reopening bill if it required districts to comply with state health department guidelines and allowed state and local leaders to respond to emergencies.

“As written, the bill threatens public health just as North Carolina strives to emerge from the pandemic,” Cooper said. It’s a wise decision.

Cooper has received pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike to reopen the state more quickly. We’re sure it has been tempting to give them what they want — especially as he ran for reelection in 2020.

But he’s stuck pretty firmly to his guns, basing restriction decisions on scientific data rather than politics. And so far he has avoided the kind of scandals that have afflicted other governors in their COVID decision-making.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is not only facing allegations of sexual harassment, but he’s being investigated by the Justice Department for underreporting COVID-related nursing home deaths in his state. Some of his own Democratic colleagues are calling for his resignation.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California is facing a recall effort after hypocritically ignoring his own COVID restrictions. And in Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is being accused of favoritism in vaccine distribution. DeSantis’ entire COVID response, characterized by pandering to voices of denial — and the coastal state’s beach-party lifestyle — has left much to be desired.

So we’d be justified in singing, “I like calling North Carolina home.”

Keep up the good work, Governor.

Online: https://journalnow.com/ & https://greensboro.com/

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Feb. 28

The Greensboro Record & News on law enforcement officers who have been accused of participating in the U.S. Capitol riot:

During the violent siege in Washington last month, at least 13 off-duty police officers were among the rabble that stormed the U.S. Capitol after a rally with Donald Trump, The Washington Post reported.

So were a number of former police officers.

In fact, it was an ex-cop from New York City who is alleged to have beaten a Capitol policeman with an aluminum pole “like a junkyard dog — teeth clenched and fists clenched,” federal prosecutors said in court last week.

Thomas Webster is both a retired officer and a Marine veteran whose NYPD duties included security at City Hall and the mayor’s residence.

“These videos shock the conscience,” prosecutors said of footage that depicted Webster’s assault on the officer.

Five people died Jan. 6 and 139 Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police officers were assaulted.

Meanwhile, among the dozen or so North Carolinians who were arrested for their part in the attack was Laura Lee Steele, a former High Point police officer … who is married to a recently retired High Point assistant police chief.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Steele, 52, who lives in Thomasville, remains in jail as a federal judge mulls whether she should remain behind bars or be released into the custody of her husband.

Steele was arrested last week by the FBI as one of nine defendants who are connected to the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government group that believes a clandestine cabal of elites is plotting to steal their rights and freedoms.

What all of this suggests is what we should have known all along: that, as in any other profession, police officers can reflect the best of the broader society.

And, in some cases, they can reflect the very worst.

The problem is, policing isn’t like most other professions.

It involves dealing with all kinds of people from all walks of life, often under stressful circumstances.

It demands sober thinking and sound judgment.

And it comes with a license to kill.

So what happened on Jan. 6 has raised legitimate questions about police recruitment, training and culture.

It also has prompted some soul-searching among chiefs and sheriffs about extremist views in the ranks and how to address them.

And it has added credence to the notion that while policing is a noble profession, it is not above reproach or accountability — that supporting police does not mean not questioning them, when the need arises.

What we’ve said before we’ll say again: We believe most police officers are honorable and conscientious.

But not all of them.

Ideally, most bad actors would be screened and eliminated before they ever wear a badge or brandish a gun. But is that happening?

“There is no excuse for criminal activity, especially from a police officer,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, after one of his officers, an 18-year veteran, resigned after participating in the riot.

“I can’t tell you the anger I feel at the thought of a police officer and other police officers thinking they get to go storm the Capitol.”

In the case of Laura Lee Steele, her record as a High Point officer appears far from sterling.

In fact, she was fired from the force in 2004 for absence from duty and violations of communication policy, among other issues, the Winston-Salem Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported.

And now the state Private Protective Services Board has suspended her registration. She was working as, of all things, an armed security guard for Novant Health.

Also troubling is the Oath Keepers’ targeting of military personnel and police for recruitment.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told NPR the charges against off-duty officers are all the more disturbing because so many on-duty officers “acted heroically to protect the Capitol.

“Police officers should know more than others that engaging in mob behavior is abhorrent,” said Wexler, whose nonprofit advocates for best practices in policing.

“At a time when people are questioning police legitimacy, this isn’t helpful. It’s worse than that, it’s despicable.”

Then Wexler added a comment on which we all should agree, Democrat and Republican, right and left: “Those officers who engaged in mob behavior should be held accountable and should not be police officers. Period.”

As for Laura Lee Steele, she is entitled to due process.

The crux of her defense is that she bought what Donald Trump was selling.

Too many have and still do.

It is beyond disconcerting that so many who had taken oaths to uphold the law did precisely the opposite on Jan. 6, in the name of a cause built on a foundation of myths, misinformation and outright lies, and layered with a toxic coating of ignorance and hate.

Online: https://greensboro.com/