Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Winston-Salem Journal on the Great American Outdoors Act recently passed by the Senate:
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.
The act makes permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which previously had only been passed for years at a time, and fully funds it to the tune of up to $900 million a year. It does so, not with tax money, but with revenue collected from companies involved in offshore oil and gas drilling.
The act also addresses backlog upon backlog of maintenance needs for our national parks — up to $1.9 billion a year for fiscal years 2021 through 2025. That’s a good start, considering the National Park Service has reported more than $11 billion in work on roads, buildings, utilities and facilities that has been delayed by more than a year because of budget constraints.
The new funding will likely create an additional 100,000 direct and indirect new jobs, according to the Department of the Interior.
“Passing this bill would be as historic for conservation and outdoor recreation as the original passage of LWCF 56 years ago,” The Nature Conservancy’s Interim CEO Sally Jewell said in a press release. “I have been to national parks and other public lands in every state. These are places of respite, and places that we can all go to celebrate our history, our culture, our challenges and our triumphs. They are places I go with my grandchildren now to help them understand what a gift we have in our public lands, and I’m glad to see Congress act to preserve that gift for future generations.”
In the past, the Land and Water Conservation Fund benefited every county in North Carolina by providing open access for hunting, fishing and hiking, as well as protection for wildlife refuges, historic sites and national parks. There’s every indication that the fund will continue to benefit North Carolina as much as any other area of the country.
The act passed with rare bipartisan support: 73-25 in the Senate and 310-107 in the House. Among the bill’s sponsors was Sen. Richard Burr, who has for years pushed to make the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent. “It’s important in Winston-Salem, especially, to know that this bill never, ever would have passed had Sen. Burr not kept it alive. He did so much carrying of this over the last five or six years,” Kevin Redding, the executive director of the Piedmont Land Conservancy, told the Journal. This should be recognized as a legacy accomplishment.
But while the act preserves our national parkland, much of our nation is still vulnerable because of the Trump administration’s attacks on environmental safeguards. Earlier this month, Trump rolled back environmental regulations that date to the Nixon administration, claiming they stifled economic growth. If the economy truly is “the strongest in our history,” as he claims, there’s no reason we should sacrifice more of our environment for the sake of economic exploitation.
So while we can take pleasure in a major environmental victory that will protect and enhance our national parks for, we hope, decades to come, there’s still work to be done to keep our environment in good shape for future generations.
The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on the president saying he wants to bring the Republican National Convention back to North Carolina:
Wait, the president is coming back?
Just when North Carolina thought it could breathe easy about next month’s 2020 Republican National Convention. Just when officials here were feeling kinship with Jacksonville officials for dodging the safety concerns that President Donald Trump’s nomination acceptance would bring. Just when we thought all those issues were someone else’s, they’re ... not?
In an interview with WRAL on July 27, the president said he again plans to accept the Republican nomination in North Carolina. The four-day convention was originally scheduled to begin Aug. 24 at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center before Trump in June moved it to Jacksonville. Trump said details on the new plans would be announced later this week, which means the when, where and how of such an event remain unanswered.
North Carolina should get ahead of those questions now. Officials should make clear to the president and Republican Party that outside of the small RNC business meetings that were still scheduled to be held in Charlotte, an event that would bring significantly more people together is unwelcome and unsafe.
North Carolina is in the midst of a COVID-19 surge, and Charlotte is experiencing the most substantial spread of the virus in the state. The state has lost almost two months of planning since Trump announced by tweet June 2 that the convention was leaving North Carolina. There are substantial questions about how any city could pull off security and other preparations for any larger-scale RNC event or events.
It’s unclear if that’s even what the president has in mind. Mayor Vi Lyles told the Charlotte Business Journal on July 28 that she hadn’t heard from the RNC, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s office told the Editorial Board the same. It’s possible even that Trump’s announcement was news to the White House; after all, Trump’s staff reportedly was caught by surprise last week when he said he would throw out the first pitch at an Aug. 15 Major League Baseball game at Yankee Stadium. That appearance isn’t happening.
Trump says, laughably, that he’s all about safety with the convention. When he scrapped plans last week for RNC 2020 in COVID-plagued Jacksonville, he said: “I looked at my team and I said the timing for this event is not right. It’s just not right.” He added: “There’s nothing more important in our country than keeping our people safe.”
Trump, of course, blamed N.C. Gov Cooper for his smart refusal to guarantee that Republicans could hold convention events with “full attendance” and no masks or social distancing.
Such is the worry once again for North Carolina. It’s not at all inconceivable that an unpredictable president could pivot once again and demand a bigger event that’s not safe. Or Trump’s idea of safe might not square with what Cooper or Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen consider prudent. Those negotiations were ugly last time, thanks to the president. Cooper should put a stop to them before they begin again.
The governor should inform the president that North Carolina remains under Phase 2 of its reopening, which allows no more than 10 people to gather indoors or 25 people outdoors, including at event venues, conference centers, stadiums and sports arenas. Our COVID-19 numbers remain alarmingly high, and even if the state were to somehow enter Phase 3 next month, a gathering of thousands of people is unlikely in any city that could accommodate it.
Trump could broadcast an acceptance speech from one of the small delegate meetings that is already scheduled in Charlotte, but any larger-scale event simply would not be safe. That was true in June, and it still is.
The Fayetteville Observer on calls for the creation of a Civilian Police Oversight Authority:
Local activists who want an oversight board to review actions and complaints related to the Fayetteville Police Department are getting what some have sought for some time: A listening ear from the Fayetteville City Council.
The council held two special meetings this month to hear reform proposals from the Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce (Fayetteville PACT) and The Ville’s Voice, a group that recently camped out at the Market House to push for reform.
Among Fayetteville PACT’s demands are creation of a Civilian Police Oversight Authority (CPOA). The CPOA would be a permanent body made up of paid city employees, independent of the Fayetteville Police Department, mayor and council. In Fayetteville PACT’s vision, the CPOA would precede and then co-exist with a Citizens Advisory Board, a body the council voted unanimously last month to look more into. The council voted 8 to 2 last week to send the PACT proposals, including for a CPOA, to committees.
The council has made a stab at an advisory board before, approving a resolution in 2013 to support a seven-member police review board. There had been little movement on it, however, in part because it would need an act of the state legislature to empower it.
Shaun McMillan, PACT founder, brought the idea back to the council last fall but it did not get much traction.
The reason for the council’s recent, sudden movement is not hard to pinpoint. The city, along with much of the rest of the nation, has been caught up in a wave of activism that started after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25. The protests over Floyd involved into general calls for ending racism and discrimination, as many activists organized under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter. The protests have waned in some places, but Fayetteville activists, in particular The Ville’s Voice, which formed after May 30 protests in the city, have served to keep the issue on the front burner.
The role the council’s racial makeup might play in this issue is hard to ignore. The 10-member body includes eight African-American members, to include Mayor Mitch Colvin, the city’s second Black mayor. It is easily the most Black representation on council in city history.
We do not know all their personal experiences with police officers. The council remains generally supportive of its department, led by Gina Hawkins, who is also African American. But it is a sure bet that all the members have received an earful about police reform and the opportunity presented by this moment from people in the Black community, and others passionate about the issue. (We would add that many, majority-white councils across America have also responded to the protests with additional scrutiny of their cities’ police departments.)
The council’s approach has been deliberate — too slow for some. But we think it is important to get this right and that might take a little time. Fayetteville PACT acknowledged as much in its call for creating a CPOA, which McMillan said was not the quickest route.
The Fayetteville Police Department is far from perfect but is not in need of a total overhaul. The department benefited greatly from the time several years ago when it allowed the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a top-down review of its policing, and it has been a national leader in community policing and the department-wide rollout of body-worn and patrol car cameras.
We believe that activists like PACT and The Ville’s Voice will continue to have an important role in making sure amnesia does not set in on local, police reform. They will help keep the issue in the public consciousness and in line with their goal of making the city a fairer and safer place for all.