Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


March 30

The Greensboro News & Record on the coronavirus pandemic and rising infection numbers:

In a play last season that he may want to forget, former Duke star Daniel Jones, now the starting quarterback for the New York Giants, suddenly broke into the open in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

All that stood between Jones and an 80-yard touchdown run was unobstructed green turf.

Then something happened.

Only about 12 yards from a goal line, Jones inexplicably stumbled and fell, as if an invisible defender had leaped and stretched and made a shoestring tackle.

Down Jones went, clumsily and ingloriously.

As trailing teammates caught up, they both gave him congratulatory pats … and laughed.

The spill has played on highlight reels over and over.

As of Tuesday on YouTube, it had received 547,254 views.

“So does Jones get the tackle credit too,” one wise guy posted in a comment on YouTube.

And even while Jones may wish it never happened, we might do well to remember that play.

As the end appears in sight in our struggles against the coronavirus, we are collectively in danger of tripping over our own feet as a country.

And snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

With vaccine supplies increasing and vaccinations ramping up, there is more reason than ever to be optimistic.

As of this week, one in three American adults had received at least one COVID shot. By Monday, vaccinations had reached a seven-day average of 2.76 million and the eligibility requirements were broadening.

A report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as highly effective in preventing both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections.

Yet, in the end, we may spoil all of this hard-earned progress with irrational exuberance.

And like Jones, we may be in for an unexpected fall.

Spring breakers have descended on Miami Beach by the thousands, many of them ignoring masking and distancing protocols.

Some states, including Texas and Mississippi, lifted their mask mandates and other restrictions earlier this month.

Infections are ticking upward again, up 10% nationally over the past week, prompting a visibly worried CDC director this week to plead for both patience and discipline.

Appearing on the verge of tears, Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Monday recounted the images of bodies last year in overflowing morgues and watching, from behind a mask and shield, as a COVID patient died alone in a hospital room.

“I am asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” Walensky said.

There is “so much reason for hope,” she said.

Then she added: “But right now I’m scared.”

What she fears is a fourth wave of infections and the rising threat of COVID variants.

She described it as “impending doom.”

We’re not sure the crowds in Miami Beach got the memo.

Even Jones’ alma mater, which had been a model for managing the pandemic on a college campus, saw a recent outbreak that forced a lockdown.

And some Republicans in the legislature keep trying to poke, prod and chip away at Gov. Roy Cooper’s authority to manage the virus.

So, yes, it would be a tragic shame to set ourselves back so close to the goal line.

That’s why a sprinting quarterback on the way to a sure touchdown came to mind. It’s not a sure thing until you’ve scored.

But upon further review, maybe Jones’ touchdown that wasn’t isn’t the best analogy.

Jones didn’t fail for lack of trying. And the Giants did eventually score on that drive.

So maybe a better example would be one of those preening players who was so sure of himself that, just before crossing the goal line, he turned to taunt a pursuing defender.

And had the ball poked out of his hand.



March 29

The Winston-Salem Journal on how Fayetteville State University hired their new chancellor:

You may not care how Fayetteville State University chose its newest chancellor.

But maybe you should.

Sooner or later, Winston-Salem State University and UNC School of the Arts will need successors for current chancellors, Elwood Robinson and Brian Cole, respectively. And, when that happens, you probably wouldn’t want to do it the way it’s been done for FSU.

The new chancellor at Fayetteville State is Darrell Allison. Allison is a former member of the UNC Board of Governors who suddenly resigned his seat in September and then applied for the job.

To say his hiring was a shock is an understatement.

According to reports from at least two news outlets, Allison was not among the finalists for the FSU post, which attracted a national field of more than 60 applicants.

He has no administrative background in higher education.

He has no teaching experience.

He has little apparent support among faculty and students.

He does have plenty of opposition. Students, alumni and faculty have staged protests. The FSU National Alumni Association has threatened legal action. An online petition to remove him from the job had gathered 2,500 signatures as of last week.

In Allison’s favor, Fayetteville State is a historically Black institution and he is a graduate of an HBCU. And he has been a member of the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, N.C. Central. Also, during his tenure on the Board of Governors, he chaired a committee that focused on historically minority campuses. He has headed Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which advocates for school choice. Most recently, he worked for the American Federation for Children, which also promotes school choice.

But he has never run an operation the size of a state university.

Allison, who also holds a law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, seems unfazed through it all and says he plans to win over the skeptics. “We all know that the perceptions can be distorted,” Allison told The (Raleigh) News & Observer shortly before starting work at Fayetteville State. “The reality is they’ll get a chance to see the real Darrell, not what someone else said or alleged.”

Good luck with that. A chancellor’s job is hard enough without having to face entrenched resistance from Day 1.

Even if Allison eventually should win friends and influence people in Fayetteville, the process used to hire him is fundamentally flawed and does not serve the best interests of the UNC System.

Roiling barely beneath the surface of all this is the belief by Allison’s critics that he was handpicked by UNC President Peter Hans and railroaded into the job with little regard to what the trustees or the community at Fayetteville State wanted.

What should make this even unsettling for other UNC campuses is that, going forward, Hans won’t even have to pretend not to care about what trustees at UNC campuses want. A new policy approved by the Board of Governors allows him to nominate as many as two candidates for a chancellor’s jobs at any UNC campus, one of whom would have to be among the two final picks recommended to the UNC System president.

The previous policy — which was not broken but has been fixed anyway — valued input from individual campuses. Each school’s trustees chairman would head a search committee that represented the interests of faculty, staff, students and alumni. The search committee also sought community input. The committee then made recommendations to the full trustees board, which in turn, would vote on candidates to recommend to the UNC System president. Finally, the president would recommend a candidate to the Board of Governors.

The old model stressed local input and buy-in. The new one does not.

Given the heavily weighted vote it now bestows on the UNC president, why even bother with a search? And why even bother to apply if you weren’t suggested by Hans?

The new policy was not supposed to affect the FSU hire because the chancellor search there began before it was enacted. But Hans certainly seems to be using it. At least we can see for ourselves how arrogant and shortsighted it is. And how it can make a charade of trustee searches.

Politics has always threatened to poison chancellor searches, but this process opens the toxic floodgates.

The Fayetteville students, faculty and trustees have good reason to be angry.

And the rest of the UNC campuses have good reason to be concerned.



March 28

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on election fraud:

The Republican Party’s hysteria about alleged voter fraud was on full display in North Carolina last week.

It was as baseless as ever, but this time it had the added dimensions of wasted tax dollars and the browbeating of an elections official who has served the state and democracy well.

The first display was the outcome of a voter fraud investigation led by Robert Higdon when he was U.S attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Higdon, a President Trump appointee, went hunting for the GOP’s great white whale of voter fraud and returned years later with a basket of minnows. He resigned in February after President Joe Biden asked Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys to step down as part of the switch in administrations.

The probe, which focused on voting by noncitizens, became public just before the 2018 election. It was easy to notice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office served subpoenas on the State Board of Elections, county election boards and the Department of Motor Vehicles, effectively seeking records on every registered voter in the state.

The State Board of Elections – then controlled by Republican appointees, no less – objected to the vast and invasive request. State attorneys representing the board told the court in a 2019 filing that, “The all-encompassing, ‘dragnet’ nature of the subpoenas would impose extraordinary burdens on the state and county boards.” Cost of compliance, they said, would mean producing more than 15 million documents and cost the state millions of dollars.

In response, the subpoenas were narrowed to records relating to more than 700 voters the State Board of Elections had flagged earlier as potential noncitizen voters. The court struggle went back and forth between the state and the U.S. attorney.

In the end, little was uncovered, and most of the wrongful voting was done inadvertently by immigrants who didn’t know they were barred from voting. The news report on the probe’s findings, written jointly by The News & Observer’s Tyler Dukes and WRAL’s Travis Fain, said the effort initiated by the U.S. Attorney “resulted in a range of charges related to immigration, registration and election rules against about 70 people. More than 40 of them were accused of casting ballots illegally.”

That’s out of more than 4.7 million votes cast in 2016.

Pat Gannon, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, gave the proper epitaph for the years-long hunt for North Carolina’s share of what former President Trump had said were “millions” of votes cast by illegal immigrants in 2016. Gannon said Friday, “There is no evidence whatsoever of any type of widespread election fraud in North Carolina.”

Even as the fraud probe came up nearly empty, Republican state lawmakers continue to cast aspersions on Karen Brinson Bell, director of the State Board of Elections. Brinson Bell negotiated a settlement last fall with voter advocacy groups who wanted changes in election procedures because of the pandemic. The settlement headed off many of the demands, but did allow for extending the number of days the Board of Elections would accept absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day.

It was a perfectly sensible change in light of the delays in postal deliveries and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Republicans’ objection to it. That didn’t stop Republicans from calling Brinson Bell before the Senate’s redistricting and elections committee last week to accuse her of usurping their authority over election laws, supposedly to skew the election in favor of the Democrats.

Brinson Bell, of course, answers to the State Board of Elections, which approved the settlement 5-0, a vote that included its two Republican members. Some Republicans think the director should have defied her board. Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, gravely told Brinson Bell, “In my heart, you broke the law.”

No, she didn’t. What she did was oversee a fair election that set a record turnout under the difficult circumstances of a pandemic. And it was an election in which Republicans did well. They should be applauding Brinson Bell, not accusing her. But when it comes to elections these days, Republicans would rather stir suspicion than acknowledge the truth.