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  • Can't See the Forest for the Trees?

    Suppose you own an investment portfolio that contains valuable, goods-producing assets, some of which are too costly to buy, or may not even exist in the marketplace. The United States Forest Service [USFS] manages many taxpayer-owned natural assets. Among the best-performing is the Pisgah-Nantahala Forest, the most visited national forest in the nation—seven million people annually. The USFS’s proposed new plan will establish a management agenda for the next two to three decades. Published in March, the proposal set a record for the number of objections. Among the most egregious insults to the forest ecosystem? Logging several old-growth tracts. The Southern Environmental Law Center laments that not only should some of these targeted areas be spared, but also, rather than restoring diverse species and ecological processes, the plan relies on “outdated and heavy-handed logging methods that produce unnatural results.” Our portfolio manager, the USFS, says the methods make “commercial sense.” But the traditional concept of “commercial sense,” like some logging methods, is outdated and clumsy, and needs an overhaul. There’s reason to hope the USFS will thoroughly revisit new evidence about the forests’ economic value before publishing a final draft. A new paper by scientists Jeannine Cavender-Bares and co-authors, including economist Stephen Polasky, both of the University of Minnesota, suggests that trees in the contiguous United States produce “far more valuable services as climate and air quality regulators than they generate as wood products, food crops, and Christmas trees.” The authors estimate the value of five eco-system services generated by forest in the United States at $114 billion annually in 2012. Trees in the pine and oak family provided 42 percent of that. Trees store carbon. This accounts for 51% of net annual value. Trees filter dirty air and mitigate damage to human health—respiratory illnesses and deaths. This tree service represented 37% of the annual net value. The remaining 12% of the net annual value came from “provisioning services,” such as wood products. The authors assessed these forest services to establish a base, as climate change threatens the services they provide, at risk from “pests and pathogens.” Compromises had been worked out among stakeholders during the public comment period. SELC worked with conservation groups in the The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, including timber and hunting interests, in recommending some increases in timber harvests to restore “degraded forests, and it paired those increases with strong protections for our healthiest forests.” Those efforts may have protected old growth and rare habitats, to sequester more carbon. The USFS didn’t see it the same way. Common sense as well as $114 billion in services should make the USFS scrap original recommendations, targeted logging areas, and methods. Why not submit a plan to solve 21st century problems? The U.S. Forest Service manages our portfolio. Our resources deserve a thorough analysis to manage the earth's future. Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Hendersonville Times-News and the Greensboro News & Record before moving to Virginia. She writes journalism and fiction from Charlottesville. In 2017, the University of New Mexico Press published Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, a book of short stories she co-edited with a colleague. The stories probe Americans’ complicated relationship to firearms. For more information, see www.bettyjoycenash.com

  • Speech isn’t free in election season

    Early voting has begun for North Carolina’s May 17 primary. Most folks likely know a good bit about local candidates for seats on their county commissions, school boards, and Sheriffs. But they likely know a lot less about hopefuls for the seat being vacated by Republican Richard Burr. That’s because the U.S. Senate race features a cast of thousands, with 14 candidates lined up on the Republican ticket alone. That contest looks to be a three-man race between former Gov. Pat McCrory, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. Currently, polling seems to favor Budd, but McCrory has demonstrated appeal in the past, being the first Republican elected governor in North Carolina in two decades. On the flip side, he was also the first sitting governor in North Carolina history to lose a re-election bid. Regardless, this is a competitive race, and ads—often bruising ones—are filling the airwaves. The School Freedom Fund, a pro-school choice political action group riding the deep pockets of a Wall Street billionaire, has dropped $1.3 million for pro-Budd and/or anti-McCrory ads. The Club for Growth Action, one of two political action groups of the conservative Club for Growth, plans to spend $14 million along the same lines. There’s plenty more money rolling in from similar political action groups. Once the general election candidates have been decided, additional funds will flow freely from groups across the political spectrum. While there’s some question about contenders on the Republican side, the Democratic primary, which features 11 candidates, seems settled outside of unforeseen events. Cheri Beasley, who lost her state Supreme Court seat to Paul Newby in 2000 by 400 votes, is the clear frontrunner now that her main party challenger, N.C. State Sen. Jeff Jackson, exited the race to seek a congressional seat. Center and left-leaning groups will undoubtedly jump in to help Beasley. Beasley is beginning to advertise, but they’re genteel “get to know me’’ spots. Once the dust settles from the primary, well, hang on to your hat. The 2020 N.C. U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham saw unheard-of spending levels that topped $270 million. In an election year, where the power balance of the U.S. Senate could be changed by a unicycle accident—one seat would change the balance—it’s a safe bet we’ll see spending levels approaching, or surpassing, the 2020 total. As to learning something about the serious issues facing North Carolina and the nation, from the ads all that money will buy, well, good luck. The ads will be nasty, and they’ll be everywhere. No radio, TV channel, website, neighborhood Facebook site or mailbox will be safe from May 18th forward. It’s going to be a wild ride, fueled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that corporations and others can raise and spend unlimited money on elections. This opened the floodgates to largely unregulated, often essentially anonymous, campaign dollars. That decision codified the notion that money is speech. That can be debated. What can’t be debated is that money can overwhelm deserving, but less well-heeled, candidates by buying a bigger bullhorn and cranking that sucker up. So enjoy the relatively placid political waters of late April. They’re going to get real choppy, real soon.

  • Why are Black Americans treated as second class citizens

    The United States of America positions itself as the greatest nation the world has ever known. The nation was founded on the principle of “We the People” and majority rule and minority rights. I recall as a young man in junior and senior high school that the nation was truly focused on its principle of justice and fairness for all. I knew the nation was falling short as I watched the characterization of Black Americans on television, in magazines and in newspapers. To my disappointment, the nation continues to treat Black Americans as second class citizens. Supreme Court Justice Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a well-educated and experienced jurist who was confirmed by the Senate, is being challenged for not being qualified. Tucker Carlson, commentator for Fox News asked to see Judge’s Brown LSAT score. This is shameful and another example of a Black person being subjected to a different standard. Carlson never asked for the LSAT score for the previous three White Supreme Court nominees. President Joe Biden calls Judge Brown “one of our top legal minds.” Don’t disrespect her and Americans with such outlandish requests! Being an athlete, I paid close attention to how my heroes were discussed, profiled and treated. We are all familiar with the fact that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for major league baseball in 1947. We are not as familiar with Robinson’s story. He was not only a legendary and hall of fame baseball player, he was a civil rights icon. Starting in 1957, Robinson was vice president of personnel for the coffee company Chock full o’Nuts. If an employee had a complaint, he was the guy to talk to. That same year, Robinson started getting heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement, looking for equality for all African Americans. He spent a lot of time raising money for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), according to a story by Bill Ladson, who writes for MLB.com. America has recognized the greatness and courage of Jackie Robinson. I mentioned Robinson because of h is fame, but there are so many more Black Americans who have made significant contributions to the culture and greatness of America. Which brings me to the question of why Black people are treated differently in our country. It troubles me to see Americans such as Ahmaud Arbury being suspected of stealing while he is simply jogging down a quiet American street. His killers, Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan have been held accountable for basically saying he’s Black, we’ve had break-ins, so he must be the perpetrator. Fortunately, an all-White jury convicted these men for their racist and murderous act and they were convicted of federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery for targeting him because he was Black. That is a good thing. But Arbury should never have been killed. During a recent incident in New Jersey, police handcuffed and placed a knee in the back of a Black teen and directed the White Latino teen to sit on the sofa. The 15-year-old Joey, who identified himself as Latino, told a news outlet he was confused about why he wasn’t also detained, according to a report by Garin Flowers, an award-winning journalist and writing coach at the University of Southern California. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called this incident disturbing. I would agree. The point is, we have far too many instances of Blacks being killed by police and treated differently in this country. The question is, why? The same question could be asked about the unfair sentencing laws. Kim Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who mistakenly drew a gun instead of a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop was sentenced to an unbelievable 24 months. The sentence comes nearly two months after Potter was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors had requested seven years and two months while Potter's attorneys argued for a lesser sentence, pointing to her lack of a prior criminal history and remorse for Wright's death, according to CNN. I know an individual who has served more than 25 years in prison for a marijuana charge, albeit the since discontinued California “three strikes” sentencing guidelines. The family of Daunte Wright has every right to be upset with the sentence handed down by Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu, who called the sentence "an extremely difficult decision." Judge Chu was so upset she was on the verge of tears having sentenced Potter to 16 months after good time served and a $1,000 fine. DUI defendants receive more stringent sentences. This was a miscarriage of justice. That parents and school districts around the nation are focused on eliminating history that upsets or makes White people feel bad is a travesty. Are we ashamed of the history of Jackie Robinson? Who is now considered an American hero? Every player in Major League Baseball wears his number on April 15th every year. A mosaic of people contributed to the success of America. Yet we want to distort history because some folks are ashamed of parts of our history and don’t want children to know the truth. If Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Harvard graduate and distinguished jurist, is not qualified to be considered for the highest court in the land, Black people will never be considered equals in America. Our forefathers certainly embraced slavery, an act that is consciously abhorrent. Yet they had the wisdom to frame a document, the U.S. Constitution that began with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” We have to move beyond the belief that Black Americans and People of Color are second class citizens, if we truly are to be a great nation that espouses these principles and values the contributions of everyone. Dr. Martin Luther King, said it best: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Virgil L. Smith formerly served as president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times and Vice President for Human Resources for the Gannett Company. He is the principal for the Smith Edwards Group and writes for Carolina Commentary.

  • Living into the legacy the founders left us

    Maybe it could be considered progress that the way White people treated Black people and other races over the past 400 years of history in America is now considered so shameful that many White people don’t want their children to learn about it. That’s one explanation for the rash of states, including North Carolina, that have tried to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools. For those who don’t already know, critical race theory focuses on the role of structural racism in society and how the law creates and facilitates racial inequities. It’s about injustices like those meticulously researched and documented in Geeta Kapur’s book “To Drink from the Well: The Struggle for Raci al Equality at the Nation’s Oldest Public University.” Kapur received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She chronicles the struggle by Black North Carolinians for access to the state’s premier public institution of higher learning from the days when slaves made the bricks to build university buildings and a slave named Wilson Caldwell hauled water in buckets from the old well to students for their morning ablutions, through the bitter fight by state lawmakers and university officials to exclude Black students from the pharmacy school in the 1930s and the law school in the 1940s. It’s a fight that continued in 1955, when the University of North Carolina was the first public university sued by NAACP lawyers following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the ruling that ended school segregation. The lawsuit asked the courts to declare unconstitutional and void a 1951 resolution by trustees that banned Black students from graduate and professional programs unless no Black university in the state offered them and a 1955 resolution that banned all Black undergraduates from attending UNC. The state appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided and even if it wasn’t, it didn’t apply to institutions of higher learning. It was a losing fight and state lawmakers and university trustees knew it. UNC would be integrated, albeit grudgingly. But, Kapur points out, Black students still could not eat in the restaurants along Franklin Street and Jesse Helms, later elected a U.S. Senator from North Carolina, called them “Nigras” during his daily commentary on WRAL-TV and said they were trying to take over the university. Critical race theory is about tactics like those used by North Carolina Democrats in 1898 to drive a wedge between rural White populists called Fusionists and Black Republicans who had united to oust the Democrats from power. The Democrats had regained power after federal troops withdrew in 1876, ending the period of Reconstruction. Rural White farmers and other populists, fed up with Democrats opposition to regulating railroad rates, restricting working hours and expanding public education, had joined forces with Black voters to defeat them in 1894. In “The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics,” Rob Christensen , who covered state politics for the Raleigh News and Observer for 35 years, tells how a Fusion-dominated legislature in 1895 instituted a series of reforms that included a 6 percent interest ceiling on loans, higher taxes on railroads and other businesses and increased spending on education. They also made North Carolina election laws the fairest in the South. To regain control, Democrats’ plan was simple – divide and conquer. Promising not to raise corporate taxes, the party raised money from bankers, railroad executives, lawyers and manufacturers for a White supremacy campaign. With support from the state’s Democratic-leaning newspapers, including the Raleigh News and Observer, that ran cartoons of scenes like a White man being crushed under the foot of a Black man, and from a vigilante organization called the Red Shirts that roamed the state intimidating Black voters, the Democrats regained power. It’s a shameful legacy. But if there is shame, it has failed to change behavior. A major party realignment took place in the South after Democrats spearheaded the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Southern Democrats, like South Carolina’s Sen. Strom Thurmond, who had opposed the legislation, switched parties. So did Jesse Helms. You can see their influence on the Republican Party today in efforts at voter suppression and in gerrymandered districts that disenfranchise Black voters, and in ludicrous attempts to prevent educators from teaching an accurate history of our nation. In the fall of 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill passed by the GOP-dominated General Assembly veiled in language about “the equality and rights of all persons” that was, in fact, an attempt to obstruct teaching about the role slavery and racism have played in North Carolina’s and nation’s history. Cooper also vetoed a bill that would have kept some mail-in ballots from being counted. Earlier this month the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned GOP-drawn redistricting plans, declaring them unconstitutional gerrymandering. But these actions don’t mean these issues are settled. It’s hard to relinquish the version of history most of us learned in school — the story of noble founders who stood up to tyranny and created a virtuous democracy governed by the rule of law, a country that would become the greatest nation on earth — for something more honest and nuanced. It’s even harder to share power willingly. But, as the late Sen. Bob Dole said, there can be no first-class democracy that treats people like second-class citizens. And there can be no first-class democracy without an honest examination of, and reckoning with, its history. The Europeans who came to the America committed atrocities against indigenous people and the enslaved Africans they brought here, no one can deny that. The result has been generations of poverty and struggle on the part of those they conquered and displaced or enslaved. They also set in motion the instrument for creating the equality they denied these same peoples, espousing the ideals of freedom and democratic rule. Those White men who gathered in Philadelphia in the late 1700s signed the Declaration of Independence declaring, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” That flawed people can do great things should come as no surprise. We are all flawed. We can look back now and view that document with irony, since many of those who signed it were slaveholders, including the primary author Thomas Jefferson. Or we can look back and recognize that this was humankind, envisioning a path out of tribalism, setting a course toward a society where every individual, of whatever race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, would be free to pursue his or her own destiny and strive to reach his or her own potential. It’s a struggle for the ages, not one that can be perfected in a lifetime. Only if our history is taught truthfully and in context can we hope to someday live into that dream. Joy Franklin is a journalist and writer who served as editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times for 10 years. Prior to that she served as executive editor of the Times-News in Hendersonville., N.C. Franklin writes for Carolina Commentary.

  • Single-party districts breed questionable public policy

    Undermining voter participation privileges partisanship over democracy, whether it’s through distorted one-party districts (gerrymandering), or voter suppression. We need to consider not only strategies that re-configure districts fairly, maybe blindly, but also alternative voting methods that increase turnout. Gerrymandering produces extreme policies. And those are rarely our best choices, according to economics consultant Joel Naroff. “If we are to improve economic policy-making, we must eliminate the artificial factors creating so many one-party districts.” Capitalism depends on competition, especially in the marketplace of ideas. Politicians may espouse capitalism, yet gerrymandering—distorting voting districts to favor one party—chokes debate and exacerbates polarization. Most gerrymandered districts’ elected officials face competition from within their own parties: The only voters who matter are primary voters. Since those are usually the most motivated, if not the most extreme, members of each party, Naroff notes, “in those cases, economic policy veers toward the extreme ends of the governing party, so that elected officials can get reelected in the primaries.” Candidates who face competition are forced to consider alternative viewpoints to attract support, including those of communities of interest, such as minority voters. We need more, not less, voter participation. Extreme voter ID and absentee ballot restrictions are on the rise. Partisan efforts to control elections by removing local election officials and taking control of election administration have passed, or are pending, in many states, according to the Brennan Center. American democracy, rooted in slavery, continues to disenfranchise black and other minority voters. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 tried fixing unequal voting access, but in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court in 2013 voided the VRA formula specifying that districts be subject to federal oversight on electoral rules. The Court has since passed up chances to intervene. Participation and minority representation remain problems, particularly in light of the United States’ history of voter suppression, according to economists Alessandra Casella, Jeffrey Guo and Michelle Jiang, of Columbia University. Their recent paper tests an alternative known as “cumulative voting:” Voters cast as many votes as there are seats up for election; in an election with five winners, a voter may divide the five votes however they choose, three votes to one and two votes to another, or give them all to one candidate. Some U.S. localities already use cumulative voting to decide referenda and municipal elections. The authors compared standard one-vote-per-open-seat voting and cumulative voting, varying the number of seats and relative size of the minority. Their experiment confirms CV’s potential to increase minority turnout, compared to the majority, and the minority share of seats. “The most noticeable deviation from the theory is the majority’s persistently high turnout under [cumulative voting.]” Companies have used cumulative voting to ensure proportional representation, with each shareholder receiving one vote per share, multiplied by the number of available director seats. In another alternative, voters rank candidates in order of preference. Ranked choice voting is used in 43 jurisdictions in the United States. A candidate wins by receiving more than half of “first choices,” in races where voters elect one winner. If there’s no majority winner after counting first choices, there’s an instant runoff. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who chose that candidate as their first choice, will have those votes count for their next choice. This continues until there’s a majority winner, or a candidate winning more than half the vote. Voting rules like CV or Ranked Choice may increase minority turnout and buttress voting rights. Maybe even discourage gerrymandering. Can we create non-partisan districts in which candidates must win by wooing voters with alternative views, not simply pander to those who agree with them? The N.C. Superior Court recently upheld the state redistricting maps as drawn. The N.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case Feb. 2; the ruling is expected shortly thereafter. The Court postponed March 8 primary elections until May 17, 2022 because of lawsuits challenging the recently re-configured districts. Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Hendersonville Times-News and the Greensboro News & Record before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, published in 2017 by the University of New Mexico Press; the anthology probes Americans’ complicated relationship to firearms. She writes for Carolina Commentary. For more information, see www.bettyjoycenash.com

  • Our Election System is Broken

    North Carolina experienced a smooth election kickoff last week. Just kidding. That is no longer the North Carolina Way. Instead, filing for candidates for everything from dogcatcher to U.S. Senate was set to begin Monday morning, with state legislative and U.S. congressional candidates lining up to vie for seats in new maps drawn by the N.C. General Assembly following the 2020 Census. With caravans of congressional and state House and Senate candidates converging on election boards, a three-judge N.C. Appellate Court panel essentially told them to turn those caravans around. It halted filing for those races due to lawsuits saying the new districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered. Later that day, the full 15-member court, to paraphrase “The Price Is Right’’ host Bob Barker, overruled that move and told candidates to “Come on Down!” And thus, the Herald reported in last week’s edition, which rolled off the press around noon on Wednesday. Well, Wednesday wasn’t over. Later in the day the N.C. Supreme Court ordered an end to filing for everyone, and moved the 2022 primary from March 8 to May 17. The court says the delay will give the state time to settle lawsuits regarding the new maps, and ordered the judges in those cases to make rulings by Jan. 11. Of course, there’s no telling if that will actually settle things, as the map issue seems destined to ping-pong around every court proponents and opponents can find. “Anything’s possible on Opening Day and in North Carolina redistricting,” said Chris Cooper, the Robert Lee Madison Distinguished Professor and Director of Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute. “We’ve been down this road before and we’ve seen the suite of outcomes — from the court throwing out maps and starting over, to the court saying the maps were just fine as they were. Sometimes the court splits the difference and says that the maps aren’t fair, but it’s not under their purview to decide whether they should be fair or not. Any of this is possible. There’s no doubt that the current maps are better for the Republicans than the Democrats, the question is whether the court will decide that they meet a legal standard of gerrymandering.” Cooper says the timeline for the election should come into focus, quickly, in January. “It seems like the court is trying to move quickly. The hearing will take place by January 11. We can safely assume that no matter the outcome, there will be an appeal, but I would expect that appeal to be filed and heard quickly. Another way to approach the question is to move backwards-mail balloting should start 50 days before the election, which would put it at March 28 (or April 1, if the State Board moved it to day 45, which they technically have the ability to do). Candidate filing needs to end at least 21 days before that, which would put it at around March 7. So, put all of that together, and it seems likely that we’ll have the ‘final’ maps by the end of February at the latest. But, lest we get too excited, ‘final’ just means ‘final’ for 2022. As to what we could expect in 2024, your guess is as good as mine.” This guessing game is one we’re playing in pretty much every election in North Carolina, and it does a huge disservice to voters, who after all are the people who matter the most in elections. Litigation over redistricting resulted in delays to all or some of state primaries in 2002, 2004 and 2016. New maps were ordered to be drawn in 2016 and 2019. This jerking around of the electoral calendar impacts even the folks who have the time to figure out their new district lines and field of candidates to choose from. Average folks who are busy with their jobs, their kids, their church and their lives can easily miss those details and other important information such as the deadline to file, etc. There’s a fix for this: independent, non-partisan commissions that split up maps fairly and let the voters choose the politicians, not the other way around. These commissions have been tried with success in a number of states. It’s worth a try. As is, the number of non-competitive races, featuring districts weighed heavily in favor of one party or another, have reached an appalling number in North Carolina. The result means many seats are barely even competed for; who wants to mount a challenge against an incumbent flush with cash sitting on a built-in 10-point lead? The result also is entrenched politicians who can go to bed at night confident they really don’t have to bother listening to their constituents. That’s not the way a representative system should work. And it has a corrosive effect on service to the people, which is the whole point of a government. We’re paying a price for years of this. And that price, as Bob Barker might say, is wrong. This article originally appeared in the Sylva Herald.

  • Cawthorn’s expulsion would have to take a path that’s rarely used

    A chorus of calls for the expulsion from Congress of 11th District U.S. Congressman Madison Cawthorn, R-Hendersonville, has arisen in the wake of this weekend’s report in Rolling Stone that Cawthorn and six other GOP Representatives – Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Louie Gohmert (Texas) Paul Gosar (Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) – allegedly coordinated with the Jan. 6 rioters prior to the assault on Congress during the certification of Joe Biden’s 2000 election victory. The report didn’t establish direct ties to the violence of the day. Still, in an era where once-hypothetical questions seem to push close to reality every day, it’s worth asking if Cawthorn’s tenure is in peril. This isn’t the first time Cawthorn has faced such a c all. In January, following the riot, NC-11 Democratic Party District leaders said his expulsion was necessary under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which reads, “No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the U nited States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” That last line – two-thirds vote – likely means Cawthorn has nothing to worry about in the politically polarized Congress of 2021. Expulsions have been rare over the history of the country, but they have happened. The first instance was the expulsion of Democratic-Republican Sen. William Blount of Tennessee in 1797 for treason and conspiracy to incite a rebellion of Cherokee and Creek Indians to help the British conquer West Florida, then under Spanish control. In 1861 a slew of Senators and Congressmen, all Democrats, were expelled after President Lincoln’s election and the subsequent secession of Southern states. Among them were North Carolina’s U.S. Senators, Thomas Clingman and Thomas Bragg. After that it was all quiet on the expulsion front until 1980, when Pa. Democratic Rep. Michael Myers was expelled following a bribery conviction in the Abscam scan dal. In 2002 Ohio Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant was convicted on charges including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion and expelled. (He tried twice to regain his seat, including a run from prison). Earlier this year Rep. Jimmy Gonzalez, D-Calif., fielded a resolution to expel Rep. Greene of Georgia for being complicit in planning and inciting the storming of the Capitol. More than 70 Democrats backed that resolution, but it didn’t gain the backing of Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. And now, in Cawthorn’s case, the expulsion calls have arisen again. A statement from Cawthorn’s office described the Rolling Stone account as “complete garbage.” Cawthorn faces a host of challengers headed into the 2022 primary, including from some in his own party. One potential Democratic challenger, Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine-Beach-Ferrara, issued a press release in the wake of the Rolling Stone article saying, “If this report is true, Madison Cawthorn should be expelled from Congress… I’ve already calle d on Madison Cawthorn to resign but since he won’t, he should be expelled.” Chris Cooper, the Robert Lee Madison Distinguished Professor and Director of WCU’s Public Policy Institute, said expulsion “happens, but it’s rare. The process begins when someone drafts a resolution to expel. It is then referred to the House Committee on Ethics. The committee would then conduct an investigation and take a vote. If they recommend expulsion, the resolution would then go to the House floor where they would need a two-thirds vote of the full House of Representatives; there is no need for Senate buy-in. At that point, the Governor could call for a special election to replace Cawthorn.” Cawthorn’s predecessor in the 11th District, Mark Meadows, who served as former President Trump’s chief of staff, has been subpoenaed by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot. This article originally appeared in the Sylva Herald.

  • Tribute to Bob Gabordi

    Robert Charles Gabordi, former editor of the Asheville Citizen Times transitioned on Thursday, October 21, 2021. Bob was survived by his wife Donna, their children and grandchildren. Bob came to Asheville in 2001 and led the newsroom for the next four years. He joined the Citizen Times during a period of time when morale was low and the newspaper was suffering due to large budget cuts directed from our corporate leaders. As we searched for a new leader for the news team, corporate news executive Phil Currie identified Bob as a person who could get the newsroom going in the right direction. I recall Bob and Donna coming to our home where we introduced ourselves and began the discussion of what needed to be done to right the news ship. Those who knew Bob knew that he had great passion about his work and the news team. We knew he was the right person for the job when Bob put up a tent at his home in Arden and invited the entire news team to come for a meeting. I’m not sure what took place at that meeting, but I do know Bob made a connection with the staff, and we were off and running with our new editor. Bob was a believer in hiring people who were good and many who were young but had potential. The list of his hires is extensive and someof them followed him to his other editor positions in Melbourne and Tallahassee, Florida. Bob made a connection with the community with his candid and honest weekly column where he created a dialogue with readers, responding to questions and explaining coverage decisions. Bob was also engaged with technology and was the first editor at the Citizen Times to require adding email addresses to bylines so readers could contact reporters and columnist directly. In addition, Bob was not only a great editor, he was a great leader. When things got tough, he stood before the newsroom and talked straight about any issue. He celebrated success, and he had no problem giving someone the business if they did not meet his high standards. What I admired most about Bob were his values and his commitment to his faith, his loving family, his friends, his news team and the communities he served. Bob loved children as he coached little league in Asheville, coaching a diverse group of kids after long hours at the newspaper. The man was committed! He was a champion of hiring the best talent and giving people an opportunity, as evidenced by his hiring of current editor of the Citizen Times, Jewell Walston. Bob hired Jewell as the first woman as sports editor of the newspaper. She may have been the only Black female running a daily sports department in the nation at that time. Bob was fearless. I recall a visit he and I paid to former Sheriff Bobby Medford, who threatened to jail our reporter Ton ya Maxwell. Bob did not back down from the pressure of the sheriff and continued his investigation into corruption by Medford. He was feisty and operated without fear. You can read more about this encounter in Bob’s book and his commitment to journalism; “The Truth: Real Stories and the Risk of Losing a Free Press in America.” The work that was done during Bob’s four-year tenure is exceptional, as evidenced by the Citizen Times newsroom being awarded prestigious awards from the North Carolina Press Association and the parent company Gannett. The awards included Most Improved Newspaper, a first-place award for Public Service and a Gannett Gold Medal Award for journalism excellence, which represented being one of the top five newspapers in Gannett. Bob was a man who made a difference, and he will be missed by his family, friends, and those of us who were blessed to work with him. Joann and I send our love and prayer to his wife Donna and all of his children and grandchildren. Rest in Peace Bob! Virgil L. Smith formerly served as president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times and Vice President for Human Resources for the Gannett Company. He is the principal for the Smith Edwards Group and writes for Carolina Commentary. This article originally appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

  • Science, not politics, protects threatened resources

    The political divide over global warming sometimes feels like the vax/anti-vax divide: science vs. politics. Seas are rising and warming. This intensifies storms and aggravates erosion and pollution. We can argue about who’s responsible and why, but our oceans, by most scientific accounts, are warming. This not only plagues those living or earning a living on the coast. Even if you’ve never swum, caught a crab, waded, or enjoyed the view of the Atlantic—any ocean, anywhere—you’re an affected stakeholder on the planet. Here’s what stakeholders could do now: Submit comments by Oct. 21 on the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s draft update to its Coastal Habitat Protection Plan to defend and restore coastal habitat and fisheries. The draft recommends nature-based solutions to revive wetlands. It addresses water quality through envir onmental rule compliance and wastewater infrastructure. It aims to map and monitor coastal habitat to protect submerged aquatic vegetation and improve water quality. Find out more, including how to comment, here. Even if you don’t “believe” in climate change, these sensible efforts can ameliorate ailing fish stocks and water quality. In 2012, North Carolina lawmakers banned the state from basing policies on the latest scientific predictions of sea level rise, after N.C. Coastal Resources Commission forecasts showed levels could rise by 39 inches over the next 100 years. Lawmakers’ action was significant enough for a TV moment. “I think this is a brilliant solution,” comedian Stephen Colbert said that night. “If your science gives you a result that you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.” But three years later, in 2015, a new report looked out 30 years, not 100 years into the future, a more acceptable time frame, certainly to those whose livelihoods—watermen, coastal property owners, developers—if not terribly useful to infrastructure planners. Even climate change deniers know weather challenges when they see them: intensified storms, like Matthew and Florence. The latter amassed $17 billion in damages. Algal blooms. Mountain mudslides. Killer summer heat. Rain-wrecked crops. Warming waters may not all be traced to climate, but heat exacerbates pollution’s effects and worsens the population-related effects: overbuilding, overfishing, over-trashing, over-pollution. In 2020, Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80 addressed climate change with strategies for marine fisheries, water infrastructure, air quality, and more. The weather playing the dramatic role is not specific to the coast. Hurricanes that start at the back end of nowhere can pack notoriously long, wide, often erratic and destructive punches miles from the N.C. coast. Already, myriad coastal projects are in place and working, r eports Carolina Public Press, efforts that preserve shorelines, including oyster habitat, an essential ecosystem. Fisheries management, as some species decline, or fish migrate north, seeking cooler seas, may be controversial. But they often succeed. Such environmental pro blems are characterized as “tragedies of the commons,” which refers to a resource everyone uses, but no one owns. The air, the oceans, and public lands are sometimes poisoned and overused/abused until ruined. We own these resources together. Let’s treat them right. Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Hendersonville Times-News and the Greensboro News & Record before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, published in 2017 by the University of New Mexico Press; the anthology probes Americans’ complicated relationship to firearms. She writes for Carolina Commentary. For more information,

  • Saving democracy with fair representation and elections

    The results of the 2020 Census Count depict a nation that is diverse and segregating itself based on geography and race. There can be little doubt that is impacting the toxic political divide we see in America. The states located along the coast and in urban communities are seeing the largest population growth. Related to this expansion is the congregating of ethnic groups, with rural areas becoming whiter and more coastal and urban areas blacker and browner. The largest Asian population is in California, New York and Texas with large numbers in New Jersey and Washington. The African-American population continues to migrate to the Southeast, with the states of Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia accounting for 72 percent of the total population. Hispanics, the fastest growing ethnic group, have moved beyond the border towns in California, New Mexico, and Texas to locations throughout the nation, with significant population growth in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Keep in mind the Latinx growth is from Mexico, Cuba and other Central and South American countries. A comparison between the number of Democratic black and brown voters and the number of Republican black and brown voters makes it pretty easy to see why Republicans want to suppress their votes. Nonwhites make up forty percent of Democratic voters, but less than 20 percent of Republican voters. Voter suppression laws and gerrymandering (a redistricting tactic used to set electoral district boundaries to favor the party in power) already impact representation to the point that the minority of voters rules the majority of voters in many counties and some states. Both political parties have used redistricting strategy to their benefit. However, technological sophistication has turned an always nefarious and undemocratic practice into one that facilitates authoritarian rule. Equally ominous for democracy, voter suppression laws have been passed by at least 18 state legislatures including Georgia, Texas and Arizona. A great number of Republicans claim along with the former President and his allies that the election was stolen. They aim to influence future elections by suppressing the vote with myriad strategies that favor Republicans. Major change is coming our way if they are successful. In North Carolina, voter suppression is alive and well with Senate Republicans passing Senate bills 326, 724 and 725 all designed to suppress or limit voting rights. This includes limiting absentee ballots, requiring IDs to vote in person and prohibiting county board of elections from using donations to support local elections. North Carolina judges struck down the voter ID law writing that it “was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.” In Georgia SB 202 has limited the Secretary of State’s role on the Board of Elections, taking away monitoring and oversight of state and local elections. What can be done to stop this onslaught on voting rights? Obviously, it will not be done by members of the Republican party who support former President Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. This is about unabashed power and control over the nation for potentially decades. The most promising answer lies in the Freedom to Vote Act introduced in the Senate by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Joe Manchin and several of their colleagues after they spent the summer meeting with voters and election officials in states around the country to fin d out what they need from a federal level election overhaul. According to Klobuchar’s office the legislation “…elevates the voices of Americ an voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.” The bill would establish nationwide standards for ballot access and would mandate that states follow specific criteria when drawing new district lines to reduce partisan gerrymandering. And it requires the disclosure of donors to so-called “dark money” groups. To become law, ten Republican senators will have to support the bill. We can only hope there are ten honorable Republicans in that august chamber who will abandon their party’s authoritarian impulse and vote to preserve the most fundamental right on which our nation was founded, the right of the people to choose those who will govern them. With a country torn by partisan politics and growing more diverse by region every year, if we are to preserve our democracy, we need fair elections that include all eligible voters. Our future weighs in the balance. Virgil L. Smith formerly served as president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times and Vice President for Human Resources for the Gannett Company. He is the principal for the Smith Edwards Group and writes for Carolina Commentary.