Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
Salisbury (N.C.) Post on state redistricting:
If the Republicans who gained control of the North Carolina Legislature are serious about doing things differently from the Democrats, the redrawing of North Carolina's congressional and legislative districts is an excellent good place to start.
The state's budget deficit may be the toughest issue confronting lawmakers, and the one that looms largest in the minds of many voters. But the maps that determine voting districts will shape North Carolina's political and legislative future for many years to come. How district maps are redrawn won't just determine the fate of individual politicians in future elections. The process will be a prominent force in shaping legislative alignments for at least the next decade.
The question is, now that Republicans have seized the redistricting reins, will they manipulate the process to consolidate their power — as Democrats did — or will they restore some sanity to gerrymandered districts like the N.C. 3rd and 12th, and apportion voting populations along more logical lines? Or, to put it in more familiar terms, will Republicans let voters pick candidates instead of allowing candidates (or, in this case, sitting legislators) to choose their favored groups of voters?
In recent years, the out-of-power party argued for reform of the redistricting process. They filed bills calling for the Legislature to surrender redistricting rights and hand over that responsibility to an independent commission, as several states have done.
Now, with redistricting on the agenda for the next legislative session (based on population shifts in the 2010 census), there isn't time to establish such a commission, even if Republicans were inclined to do so. Setting up a redistricting commission would require an amendment to the state Constitution. While state lawmakers should make that a long-term goal, it's too late in the game to have such a system in place for this round of redistricting. ...
It may not be realistic to think politics can ever be entirely removed from redistricting, but North Carolina deserves something better than districts that appear to have been drawn by an out-of-control Etch A Sketch. If Republicans really intend to wield power in a different way, the redistricting process can help draw that distinction.
Winston-Salem Journal on the Legislature's number one priority:
When the newly elected Republican majority in the General Assembly looks around for something to do in January, its gaze need go no further than what is called the U6 index, a measure of joblessness in North Carolina that in many ways is far more realistic than the much better known "unemployment rate."
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the U6 every three months, averaging unemployment over the past 12 months and counting a lot of people left out of the traditional tally.
The bad news for legislators is that the U6 says that 17.6 percent of the North Carolina adult population is jobless, not the 9.6 percent counted in the more traditional measure for September.
The U6 counts victims of the recession who are left out of the better-known rate. These people may have exhausted their unemployment benefits, given up on looking for jobs or taken part-time work. The U6 says that there are 855,000 North Carolina unemployed while the traditional rate says 430,283. And the U6 shows that 42 percent of the unemployed have been so for six months or more.
There's no doubt that this kind of joblessness and economic malaise contributed to the big Republican victories. GOP candidates said that they would work to restore jobs, and these numbers indicate that there is an enormous need for them to do so.
As Republican legislators go about organizing their leadership team for 2011, however, there are disturbing indications that some of the leaders may not have gotten the message, may not have seen the enormity of the task that confronts them in these hundreds of thousands of unemployed. ...
Turning an economy around is not easy, and there is only so much that a state government can do when a recession is international in scope. But that does not mean that the new legislature can take its eyes off the target that voters chose them to hit.
The U6 clearly defines that target. It's the real unemployment rate.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on mountaintop-removal mining:
Just how much environmental damage does mountaintop-removal mining do to the Appalachian coal country just northwest of North Carolina? Some recently reported data, gathered by a scientist at Duke University, strongly suggest that — surprise! — blasting mountaintops and bulldozing the debris into streams below is fully as harmful to water quality as common sense would suggest.
Credit goes to Duke biologist Emily Bernhardt for carefully matching areas of mountaintop mining (along with untouched areas and suburban development) with water quality data that include an objective measurement, called conductivity, which gauges the harm to waters where animals live.
Bernhardt and colleagues have shown that mining's harm is considerable, and that the bad effects linger. The industry claims there has been no scientific proof that its type of mining is more harmful than other human-caused landscape disruptions, but now that argument has been blasted into pieces.