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N.C. Opinions: Winston-Salem

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Time for Tillis to get it done on eugenics compensation

From an editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal on Wednesday:

This is the trying time for state House Speaker Thom Tillis. The Senate has handed his chamber its proposed budget, and now he must try to get what he wants into the final budget. We believe one of his top priorities will continue to be securing compensation for the victims of the state’s forced sterilization program.

We remember that, two days after the victims’ champion in the House, Democratic Rep. Larry Womble of Winston-Salem, was almost killed in a car wreck in December 2011, the Speaker was in Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, hearing retired factory worker Annie Buelin of Surry County tell the congregation that the state had sterilized her when she was 13. She talked about how much she loved babies. Tillis, who happened to have been seated right behind her, shook her hand, having clearly taken her story to heart.

“I believe that he’s going to come through for us,” Buelin told our editorial board Tuesday.

Tillis has also absorbed the stories of other victims who have spoken out on our editorial page: Charles Holt. Nial Ramirez. Elaine Riddick. Dale Hymes. Ernestine Christie. Janice Black. Willis Lynch. Tillis realized that victims of the program were whites, blacks and American Indians, and he seemed to realize that sterilizing whole classes of people constituted genocide.

The Speaker realized that the state’s sterilization program, which ran from 1929 through 1974, was one of the worst in the country, declaring people mentally or physically unfit to procreate. The program did so to save welfare money and to “better society,” and it charged on long after most other states had realized the terrible folly of such programs.

Tillis, a conservative Republican, realized that this program forged by Democrats ran in the face of core conservative GOP principles: the sanctity of life and curbing the abuses of big government. He knew that the victims were hurting and dying.

The Speaker didn’t just give lip service to his belief in this matter. He acted. Last summer, he made history by persuading his chamber to become the first in the country to approve compensation. And he got his chamber to overwhelmingly approve that action: $50,000 for each living victim.

His effort fizzled when his counterpart in the state Senate, Phil Berger, would not bring the matter to a vote in his chamber.

But that was last summer.

Now a Republican governor is in power. That man, Pat McCrory, is living up to a campaign wish, as related by his spokesman to our editorial board in August, to help the victims. When McCrory released his proposed budget in March, he included $10 million for compensation.

Berger said in 2011 that he supported compensation. Yet he did not include compensation money in his proposed budget.

Tillis won’t have an easy fight to get that money in the budget as the usual bargaining ensues between the House and Senate. He’ll probably get opposition within his own chamber. But Tillis has the upper hand: The governor will have his back.

Tillis knows what these victims have been through. He knows that our state’s honor depends upon righting our past dishonor. Bring it home, Mr. Speaker.

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