Our most popular editorials of 2018

North Carolina’s board of elections has declined to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race between Democrat Dan McCready, left, and Republican Mark Harris.
North Carolina’s board of elections has declined to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race between Democrat Dan McCready, left, and Republican Mark Harris. Charlotte

Readers engaged with the Observer’s digital opinion content at record high levels in 2018. And why not? Donald Trump has Americans devouring daily news and opinion like no president before him. North Carolina Republicans continue to stomp on governing norms in the General Assembly. The midterm elections upended the political landscape nationally and at home.

It’s been a consequential year, and we’re honored to be part of conversations about it in Charlotte and North Carolina. Here are excerpts from the Observer editorials that you read the most in 2018:

A futile and stupid gesture by NC Republicans

May 25 — Toward the end of Animal House, the Delta House fraternity brothers make a decision. They are in so much hot water that, as Otter puts it, “this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.” Bluto adds, “We’re just the guys to do it.”

In Raleigh, Republican legislative leaders are poised this week to launch their own futile and stupid gesture, and they’re just the guys to do it.

The Deltas, about to be kicked out of college, figured they had nothing to lose. The Republicans, ensconced in safe gerrymandered districts, figure they have nothing to lose. So far, they’ve been right.

The Republicans are upending generations of history with a maneuver that blocks rank-and-file legislators from formally proposing any changes to the budget, either in committee or on the floor. Instead of having a budget bill go through the normal process, Republican leaders are putting a final budget into a conference report that requires an up-or-down vote with no proposed changes. The conference committee creating that report includes 65 Republicans and zero Democrats.

It’s the height of arrogance, and it should offend all North Carolinians, no one more than fiscal conservatives. Legislative leaders are about to spend $24 billion in taxpayer money with almost no review, no alterations and no input from most legislators.

Why would they do this? With elections just months away, it appears Republicans want to avoid voting against politically popular or sensitive proposals, such as higher teacher pay than they’re offering. They can see the ads now showing their “no” votes against teachers.

Do you really need to buy bottled water this week in Charlotte?

Sept. 11 — Do you really need to buy bottled water this week in Charlotte?

Folks sure seem to think so with Hurricane Florence at our doorstep. Twitter has been dotted this week with reports of water being sold out at grocery stores throughout the city.

This, in a tweet from Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn: “If you are on city water there is no reason to buy bottled water. Our system is reliable and well prepared. It is designed to operate during and after the storm.”

Isn’t the same true in Charlotte? After all, the city has been providing water since 1899 to Charlotte residents, and now those in Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville, Huntersville, Davidson, and Cornelius. There’s no record of a storm contaminating the city’s water, including in 1989, when Hugo devastated our city but didn’t affect the municipal water supply.

Just in case, we called Charlotte Water to see if the Greensboro mayor’s message applies here.

“Right now, we are prepared for any emergency,” Charlotte Water spokesperson Jennifer Frost said.

The three biggest threats to Charlotte’s water supply from a hurricane are fallen trees uprooting and rupturing neighborhood water service lines; similar damage to above-ground sewer pipe creek crossings; and an increase in overflows from sewer manholes and lift stations because of large volumes of storm water runoff.

None of those situations would result in large-scale service interruptions, however.

“We’ve built a great deal of redundancy into the system,” Frost said.

What that means: Relax.

We can’t believe we’re saying this about Raleigh and Amazon

Jan. 18 - Sad news on the economic development front: Charlotte is out of the running to be home to Amazon’s second North American headquarters, HQ2. This is not entirely surprising. While Charlotte certainly had the specs to appeal to Amazon’s honchos, our bid had the distinct feel of a 50-year-old putting on Adidas and a craft brew shirt to look cool to the kids. So the dream is done. It’s OK.

Another North Carolina city did make Amazon’s first cut to 20 possible locations. It might be hard for some Charlotteans – perhaps many Charlotteans – to say this about our neighbor to the east, so we’re going to go first.

*deep breath*

Go Raleigh.

You know how when you’re the fan of a college sports team, and your biggest conference rival is in a bowl or tournament game, and you root for that rival because it’s good for the conference?Yeah, we don’t do that either.But we hear it’s a good thing.

So: Go Raleigh.

We think it would be great if North Carolina were home to the 50,000 new, high-paying jobs that Amazon says it will ship with HQ2. We like the idea of the subsequent job growth and investment that often accompanies the arrival of a big corporate presence. We hope those potential gains are worth whatever Raleigh and N.C. officials are prepared to offer Amazon in incentives. Done smartly, HQ2 would be transformative for our state, and especially for Raleigh.

Yes, we know. In the past, there’s been some ... competitiveness between our two cities. We haven’t always looked kindly on each other. Part of that is our sensitivity here to the Charlotte-hating coming from folks three hours away, the perpetual sneering at our bigness and corporateness. That might have occasionally resulted in snideness on our part, too, such as when this newspaper referred to Raleigh as a “pimply adolescent” and “a smaller town without small-town charms.”

Let’s not dwell.

July 23 - North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders will spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on Tuesday to get around a law they themselves passed just two years ago.

That doesn’t sound conservative to us, but it’s part of a pattern in Raleigh: Leading legislators, when inconvenienced by law, precedent, tradition or common decency, obliterate it and do it their way.

In this case, they have called a highly unusual special session for Tuesday to seize power from a bipartisan commission that they created and empowered. Legislators had tasked that commission with writing short captions to put on the ballot summarizing proposed constitutional amendments. Now, they fear the panel’s captions will be too honest, so they plan to neuter the group and take care of the matter themselves.

Why should you care? Because it’s all part of a cynical effort by legislators to keep the public confused about what these amendments would truly do and to protect their own political careers.

Six proposed amendments will appear on the ballot. The legislature has already spelled out exactly what the wording of the questions for voters will be. At issue now are labels that would appear on the ballot right above the amendment description.

Under a law Republicans passed in 2016, those labels are to be written by a three-member panel comprised of the attorney general, the secretary of state and the legislative services officer. But with two of those three being Democrats, legislators want to change the rules. (We guess they expected Republican Buck Newton, not Democrat Josh Stein, would be the attorney general by now.)

While Republicans have no good intent here, and no legitimate grounds for changing the process, it’s all a bit of a kerfuffle compared with two bigger problems: Several of these constitutional amendments are bad policy; and the wording of the amendment questions, not the labels, is what is misleading and needs much greater transparency.

For example, one amendment allows legislators to take tremendous power from the governor but the wording gives no hint of that. Another requires voter photo ID but lets legislators fill in all the details later, including what IDs will be allowed and what exceptions there will be. Another purports to remove the politics from appointing judges but would do no such thing.

There is a certain irony to all this. The amendments were widely seen as designed to boost Republican turnout in what could be a historically strong Democratic year. Amendments to cap the income tax rate and to protect hunting and fishing, for example, could achieve that.

But legislators’ deceptive and manipulative efforts this week to further politicize the process could backfire on them. They have turned a sleepy, down-ballot question into a reminder of all that Democratic and unaffiliated voters are fed up with from Republican leaders in Raleigh. That might not be enough to defeat the amendments, but it could pluck off a handful of legislators crucial to continued Republican control.

Hold a new election in NC’s tainted 9th district

Dec. 5 — In the week since the state Board of Elections declined to certify the results of North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District election, journalists and others have begun to fill in the details of a troubling case of apparent ballot fraud. In Bladen County — and perhaps other counties — individuals have interfered with the voting process by gaining access to others’ absentee ballots, according to witnesses and records. Investigators also are looking into the burgeoning scandal.

There may be no way, however, to know how widespread the fraud was, or whether it involved enough ballots to potentially change the outcome of the election — a 905-vote victory for Republican Mark Harris over Democrat Dan McCready. But we do know enough. Unless new evidence somehow clears the clouds hanging over this election, the Board of Elections should toss out the 9th District results.

Calling for a new election would be an enormously significant decision for the board. It should be done with the support of N.C. statutes and without a whiff of partisan politics. Republicans from Raleigh to Washington would surely howl; already, they’ve noted that the number of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County falls short of the overall margin of victory in the 9th.

This is true. But Witnesses have said that their ballots, which were collected by individuals apparently working for ringleader McCrae Dowless, were never submitted to the county or state. There’s little certainty about how many ballots were wrongly tossed or destroyed in Bladen County (there were more than 1,500 that were requested but unreturned)or how much Dowless and his workers may have done the same in neighboring Robeson County, as reports suggest. It might have been enough to change the outcome of the race. It might not have been.

That possibility, however, triggers a statutory threshold for holding a new election.

The blue wave is bad for Charlotte

Nov. 7 — It was a good night for good governance Tuesday, with voters providing a valuable check on Republicans in North Carolina and Washington. In Raleigh, the Republican House and Senate supermajorities are no more after Democrats grabbed enough seats to give their party and governor leverage in policy discussions and votes. Nationally, a Republican hold on power took a significant dent with Democrats capturing the U.S. House.

The biggest blue wave of all might have happened close to home, where voters swept three entrenched Republicans — Bill James, Jim Puckett and Matthew Ridenhour — off the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners. Democrats now hold all nine seats on the board, which might seem like a reason for progressives to cheer. But regardless of whether you share the ideology of the party in power, that kind of majority is not a good thing for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Supermajorities lead to bad policy and bad process. Having weak opposition means having fewer voices to moderate policy, fewer raised hands to say something isn’t going to work the way the majority thinks it will. And as we saw often in Raleigh, the more power a party has, the bolder it gets not only with policy, but with disregard for the rules and customs that are the backbone of proper governance and accountability.

That’s not just a Republican phenomenon, and it doesn’t just happen in Raleigh. In Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, an unbalanced school board has regularly disregarded transparency in its decision making, and a shortage of dissenting voices likely led to the controversial Municipal Concerns Act of 2018, a slap at the suburbs that could end up accomplishing the opposite of what CMS wants and needs with diversity.