A divisive U.S. presidential election ended with a divided popular and electoral college vote. A controversial North Carolina law, HB2, brought economic boycotts and ridicule. A Charlotte police shooting prompted violent protest and introspection about who we are as a city.
The Observer’s editorial board wrote about those events and other news that 2016 brought us. Some excerpts from our editorials:
Jan. 21: Time to expand anti-bias ordinance
HB2 was this year’s defining news story in North Carolina, but that battle over it began in Charlotte, where the City Council in January considered an anti-discrimination ordinance:
This isn’t just about letting transgender people use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.
It’s also about making sure restaurants, bars and other places of public accommodation can’t discriminate based on a person’s marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
There is no evidence that such a measure risks molestation of girls and women. However, evidence abounds concerning the damaging social stigma transgender people have long confronted. Forty-one percent have attempted suicide, according to a 2014 survey from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA School of Law. Last year, 18-year-old Blake Brockington of Charlotte, an outspoken voice for transgender rights, died of an apparent suicide.
As we have said previously, transgender people aren’t fighting just for their rights. They’re fighting for their lives.
Feb. 20: Cleaner maps, just as dirty
For much of 2016, N.C. Republicans scrambled to appease courts that struck down Congressional and state legislative district maps. In February, lawmakers drew Congressional maps that are still under dispute:
Good-government types have long called on both Democrats and Republicans to end decades of redistricting pornography and draw maps featuring boring, compact districts, not ones that look like something slithering under a rock in the woods.
The politicians ignored those calls, but they couldn’t ignore the demand from a federal court this month to redraw the state’s unconstitutional districts. The judges said Districts 1 and 12 were improper racial gerrymanders.
To the surprise of almost everyone, Republicans returned with a dramatically different batch of districts. Most astonishing: The districts are notably compact, with the serpentine 12th now fully inside Mecklenburg County and the 1st transformed from an octopus to something closer to a cow.
The map is undeniably more pleasing to the eye, and dials back on racial gerrymandering a little. But as the mapmakers themselves admit, the results will be no different: In a state that votes roughly 50-50 for president and Congress, the congressional delegation will remain 10-3 Republican. That’s an insult to voters and democracy, not because it benefits Republicans but because it manipulates lines to heavily benefit one party in a decidedly two-party state.
March 5: More storm clouds over I-77 project
Attempts to stop the I-77 toll project failed in 2016, despite backlash from residents and ominous signs about the venture’s success:
I-77 Mobility Partners says the new bankruptcy petition filed over a 90-mile toll road project in Texas has no impact on the Interstate 77 toll lanes project it is building from uptown Charlotte to the Lake Norman area.
That’s not exactly true, of course. The Texas bankruptcy has no direct legal or financial impact, since two separate companies run the two projects. But both companies are subsidiaries of the Spanish road-building firm Cintra, and both projects are built on the same dizzyingly complex financial framework.
If the Texas project went bust, as has Cintra’s Indiana Toll Road, who’s to say ours won’t, too?
As a board, we have long questioned the soundness of the thick legal contract underpinning the $662 million I-77 deal. The N.C. Department of Transportation insists taxpayers are protected in the event of default. But we can only hope that the agency’s contract-negotiation skills grade out much higher than its project roll-out skills have thus far.
March 25: McCrory joins a dark list of Southern governors
By signing HB2, Gov. Pat McCrory changed the course of his state – and his future:
Near 10 p.m. Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, a measure that had been introduced to lawmakers less than 12 hours before. The law, on its face, voids a controversial transgender bathroom provision in Charlotte’s newly passed anti-discrimination ordinance. At least that’s what the governor wants to emphasize.
But this legislation, and these 12 hours, was about much more than that. It was about a governor who decided his state will sanction discrimination against not only transgender people, but all homosexuals. It was about a governor who thinks it’s acceptable to make it harder for black men and women to sue for employment discrimination.
It was, in the end, about a 21st century governor who joined a short, tragic list of 20th century governors. You know at least some of these names, probably: Wallace, Faubus, Barnett. They were men who fed our worst impulses, men who rallied citizens against citizens, instead of leading their states forward.
This is what Pat McCrory did Wednesday. In just 12 hours. It wasn’t the stand in the schoolhouse door. It was a sprint past the bathroom door and straight into the South’s dark, bigoted past.
April 14: Boosting diversity without busing
In April, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education told families that it would pursue the challenge of greater classroom diversity without taking children out of their neighborhood schools:
Given our increasingly fragile political landscape, school board members made the right call. Any plan forcing children out of their home campuses would have sent middle-income families streaming toward private and charter schools.
But even within the board’s modest framework, CMS can still boost diversity and lessen, if not eliminate, concentrated poverty on struggling campuses.
For instance, a number of high-poverty schools house student populations much poorer than the neighborhoods surrounding their campuses.
Campus diversity levels would climb simply by bringing more families from the neighborhoods into those schools. That means expanding partial magnet programs.
That isn’t the only avenue the board could take. Some students are already effectively being “bused” past the closest neighborhood school, sometimes based on attendance lines that are years or decades old. A fresh review might well pinpoint ways to enhance diversity within the confines of the home-school seat guarantee.
An assignment plan centered on home schools and expanded magnets won’t eliminate poverty clusters. But it could help - if done right.
May 27: Clinton’s problems bigger than emails
We wrote several editorials in 2016 on Hillary Clinton’s trust issues, including this look in May at why her emails were important to voters:
Hillary Clinton just doesn’t get it.
It’s not enough to be able to say no hard evidence shows hackers ever breached the home-brewed email system she used while Secretary of State. It’s not enough to say that some officials in the State Department, White House and other federal agencies knew she used a personal email account for official business.
And it’s certainly not enough to protest that Colin Powell did it, too, during his tenure.
With a presidential election looming in November, this is about trust – whether voters can trust her to be forthcoming, honest and transparent. Whether she understands that the rules everyone else must follow apply to her, too.
As the damning new report from the State Department’s inspector general shows, Clinton has left ample room for doubt, even among those generally inclined to support her.
Regardless of whether the FBI’s ongoing inquiry finds criminal wrongdoing, Clinton has a problem – and it goes far deeper than just email protocols. Until she finds a way to demonstrate more candor and forthrightness to the American people, that problem’s not going anywhere.
July 24: We’re falling behind, North Carolina
Backlash over HB2 hit a troubling tipping point, as the NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte:
Today isn’t about assigning blame for the loss of a premiere sports event and the tens of millions of dollars that would’ve come with it. Today is about understanding what comes next for our city and state.
The NBA, even as it delivered bad news, is offering North Carolina another chance. Charlotte can host the 2019 All-Star Game, the league said, but only if substantial changes to HB2 are made. We know now that’s not an empty threat.
It also signals a new normal for North Carolina. The NBA has given others a very public example to follow. Already, the PGA said Thursday that no new events will come to Charlotte if HB2 isn’t overturned. Expect the NCAA to follow suit when it picks sites for its basketball tournaments. The ACC might do the same with the football title game that Charlotte has hosted since 2010.
The NBA’s announcement also left a new, deeper dent on the N.C. brand. We’re now the state that actually lost an All-Star Game, and companies and athletes collectively shook their heads Thursday at what North Carolina has forced upon itself.
Once again, as with same-sex marriage, our state is out of step with where the country is headed on discrimination.
We’re falling behind, North Carolina. It cost us deeply this week. It will continue to hurt us.
Sept. 23: A Charlotte we didn’t, but should, recognize
After the September shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, the world watched violent and destructive protests in uptown Charlotte:
These are the streets we walk during weekdays, the intersections we pass on the way to our uptown jobs. These are the streets we walk with our families on the way to basketball and football games, or with friends who come to see the place we live. “What a clean city,” they tell us.
Did you recognize those streets, Charlotte? We watched them on national news Wednesday night from our living rooms and other safe places. Tear gas popped and windows shattered. Analysts commented on the best police tactics to disperse rioters. “This is not the Charlotte I know,” people tweeted. “This is not who we are.”
But it’s who we are right now...
Our city may be different from Ferguson or Baltimore, and our police have been progressive in building relationships with communities here. But Charlotte shares something with so many U.S. cities and towns - that blacks feel threatened in their interactions with law enforcement, and powerless in other ways.
No, that shouldn’t be expressed with lawlessness, as it was in uptown and elsewhere this week. But we shouldn’t dismiss those who protest peacefully because of the senselessness of those who don’t. The pain behind those legitimate protests is real, and we must confront it.”
Sept. 24: City’s awful blunder on Scott videos
While Charlotte’s protests were fueled by underlying inequality, city leaders’ reluctance to release video footage of the Scott shooting contributed to the unrest:
Charlotte’s mayor, City Council and police chief have made a critical blunder in not releasing the police body camera and dash camera videos showing the circumstances of Keith Lamont Scott’s death.
Despite withering criticism, they refuse to reverse course. On Friday, the same day a New York Times editorial accused them of “stonewalling” the public and called Mayor Jennifer Roberts “depressingly out of touch” on questions of transparency, the mayor and the chief said the decision on releasing the videos is now out of their hands.
The State Bureau of Investigation, which is running the investigation, must decide, Chief Kerr Putney told reporters Friday.
Not so fast.
Late Friday evening, the SBI told the editorial board in an email that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police remains the original custodian of the video, “and as such has the legal authority to release it. It is understood discussions are actively underway between local officials regarding the release of that video.”
The police department has much work ahead to rebuild trust with the community.
It starts with seeing to it that those videos get released.
Oct. 16: Why we’re not endorsing Pat McCrory for the first time in 25 years
Our endorsement for N.C. governor was our most read editorial of 2016:
The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board has endorsed Republican Pat McCrory in every one of his bids for office since 1991. That includes twice for City Council, seven times for mayor and twice for governor. That streak comes to an end today.
McCrory’s term as North Carolina governor is the ultimate illustration of the Peter Principle: that people are promoted based on their past performance and not the abilities needed for the new role and thus rise to the level of their incompetence. McCrory has certainly done that...
After the 2014 mid-term elections, we wrote an editorial suggesting to McCrory things he should do to win re-election in 2016. “Stay away from lightning-rod social issues. They’re a political loser in a purple state, and a distraction from those ‘very complex problems’ you hope to solve.”
Governor, meet lightning rod. McCrory rushed to sign House Bill 2 on March 23, hours after the House and Senate rammed it through. North Carolina’s reputation has been melting ever since. McCrory adamantly defends the discriminatory measure and dismisses the NCAA, the ACC, scores of business executives and others who have condemned the legislation. It was a hateful and self-defeating bill, and it will be McCrory’s legacy.
November 9: Our hopes for a Trump presidency
We didn’t endorse Donald Trump, but on the morning after his election, we had thoughts about what his presidency could be:
We hope that Donald Trump realizes the office he will occupy is bigger than the person who sits in it.
We hope he surrounds himself with smart and capable people who can guide him and help him understand what he often didn’t during his campaign – that our Constitution places limits on that office.
We hope Congress and the courts will remind him of those limits.
We hope and expect that Democrats will continue to champion progressive issues, but not to the point where they reflexively condemn anything a President Trump proposes. For the past eight years, that divisive approach from Congress has paralyzed our country, our courts, and brought rise to an anger that further divided us...
We hope that when bad news arrives at the Oval Office – as it does for all presidents – that he has a cabinet and advisers who can restrain the authoritarianism that surfaced in his campaign.
We pray for that restraint, and for American Muslims, if the bad news is a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
We hope, on this new morning, that our new president will be something greater – and something less dangerous – than he’s shown us thus far.
We hope we were wrong about Donald Trump.
And that we are right about our country.
December 5: Our advice to Roy Cooper: Be loud
North Carolina’s next governor doesn’t have much legislative clout as he faces a hostile Republican-led legislature. He does, however, have a voice the state needs to hear:
Cooper, like McCrory, will have little legislative oomph in North Carolina, at least at first. Republican Senate leader Phil Berger remains the most powerful man in N.C. politics, with Republican House Speaker Tim Moore not far behind. If Cooper vetoes legislation that arrives at his desk, he can expect Berger and Moore to promptly – and perhaps dismissively – deliver an override.
What Cooper does have is a bully pulpit. He can make a case to North Carolinians – and perhaps to moderate state lawmakers – that North Carolina needs to steer itself in a different direction. He should make that case whenever possible.
Be loud, Governor.
For decades, North Carolina has been proud to stand out in the South for progressive policies and visionary leadership. From Terry Sanford to Jim Hunt to Jim Martin, our state has been blessed with governors from both parties who helped bring prosperity, economic diversity, an elite higher education system and environmental policies that were a model for other states....
Change, certainly, will be difficult. Despite his victory, Cooper has little chance of getting a progressive agenda passed. But he can begin to turn North Carolina back toward the vibrant, progressive tradition it long enjoyed.