The need for safety during Covid has caused a withdrawal from public life. We’re not participating in communal events like church, school, and family gatherings. Our institutions are going through the motions in zoom meetings, waiting for the pharmaceutical companies to save the planet. The recent presidential election made government seem important, but once it was over, a lot of the issues that had folks fighting in the streets have receded from our consciousness. Look at the Fayetteville City Council’s Agenda this month. Hard decisions on the future of the Market House have been pushed off to 2021. It’s just zoning changes for the rest of the year. The North Carolina General Assembly hasn’t done anything since Covid began besides spend some federal money. Don’t get me started on Congress.
But I need to look in the mirror. Maybe I’m projecting? Although writing a political blog is a hobby, I feel a sense of responsibility to point out the truth on local issues as I see them. But I’ve withdrawn to my little covid safety routine, as I’m sure many of you have. I quit writing for a while. Once you stop putting in the work, it’s harder to start up again.
A recent article that popped up on my newsfeed got me thinking about the dangers of sitting in our safe, private spaces.
It’s worth a quick read. It argues that our withdrawal from public life will permanently degrade our public institutions. Public schools are hit the worst, as many upper-middle class families are leaving for private schools (that are actually open). These families aren’t coming back. Public transportation isn’t being used because people aren’t going to work or travelling. Each of these public services will lose funding and each will suffer long term ramifications that will last well beyond the pandemic.
The result is this:
An increasingly large (and increasingly expensive) à la carte menu of necessary private services for those that can afford them.
Crappy government services for the poor.
Income inequality widens. America suffers.
The C.S. Lewis Answer
I’m going to throw some religion on this fire:
In his famous book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has a demon, Screwtape, writing to his nephew (also a demon), giving him advice on how to capture a man’s soul. In a relevant correspondence, Screwtape offers the following:
The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
Feel numb to it all lately? You’re not alone.
You’ve been told to stay indoors, cover your face, hide your kids, hide your wives! Don’t do anything! Just sit there! A vaccine is on the way, next year! Your little county is now code level burnt orange due to rising positivity rates, so don’t even think about seeing your elderly parents this Christmas!
What active habits that don’t involve a screen have you actually done more of? Are even those becoming dull? Thought of writing a book about it? A blog post?
Inherent Design Flaw?
When I was in public school, I did have some screen time, and we got to play “educational” games. The best was the Oregon Trail. Your mission was to get your party from Missouri to Oregon in a covered wagon. The worst thing that could happen in the game was disease.
But you kept going. Sitting still wasn’t an option. A wagon is made to roll. Similarly, a human being is not made to sit still for years at a time. We’re designed to create, to move.
I would argue that the American political system is built on the recognition of this truth, and maybe that’s why we’re so bad at pandemics. The constant strain of personal freedom vs. the public good combined with a lack of leadership has caused a spiritual sickness in this country. We’ve lost our ability to act and our ability to feel is right behind it.
If you played kickball or baseball in the 1990’s, you quickly learned one of the schoolyard’s most basic principles: “Tie goes to the runner!”
The gist is this: if the ball and the runner reach the base at the same time, the runner is safe.
A few days ago, the idea popped in my head to apply this rule to politics.
First, some basics to set up the analogy:
The “runner” is the challenger. He’s trying to score.
The incumbent is on defense. The incumbent controls the field and generally has more money and people trying to help his/her campaign. These advantages pay off. The incumbent generally wins. It’s aggravating at times.
Sometimes, for various reasons, an incumbent will face a close race for re-election. Here, we can infer political momentum because the incumbent’s inherent advantage must have dwindled for a reason. Perhaps the incumbent did something wrong? Perhaps the incumbent is swept up into national partisan trends? Or, perhaps, the particular challenger happens to be a bad ass.
A general rule emerges: If a race is close as election day approaches, you should bet on the challenger. The reason: the momentum that he/she used to close the gap will more than likely carry him/her to victory.
“Tie goes to the runner”
The 2020 Ticket
We’ll start at the top:
President: Biden has not only closed the gap on the incumbent, he’s favored in every poll. Biden’s going to win. So you’ll know I’m consistent, I wrote a post in July called “Trump is Going to Lose.” It’s the most unoriginal title I ever came up with, but my feelings haven’t changed. Unless something drastic happens in 2020, we’ll have a new President in 2021.
WINNER: RUNNER (BIDEN)
US Senate: This is a race where my theory gets put to the test. Cal Cunningham was leading in most polls against the unpopular incumbent, Tom Tillis. You had to like Cunningham’s chances. Then, Cal got caught sexting with a woman in a different state. Cal’s basically in hiding now, refusing to answer questions. He’s trying to run out the clock.
I still like his chances. Why? He’s in a close race with an incumbent that’s coming down to the wire. People obviously didn’t like Tillis to begin with, and Cunningham’s personal mishaps aren’t going to change that. “Tie goes to the runner.”
WINNER: RUNNER (CUNNINGHAM) by less than 2 points.
Governor: This race has never been close, so our theory doesn’t apply.
U.S. House (District 8): Incumbent Richard Hudson faces his most serious challenger yet in former NC Supreme Court Justice and Fayetteville native, Patricia Timmons-Goodson.
The partisan makeup of the 8th District favors a Republican. The middle, rural parts of the district are solidly “red.”
For a Democrat to win, they have to drive up Democratic vote on the “ends” of the District (Cumberland and Cabarrus).
If Trump keeps imploding, he could turn “lean Republican” races like this one into “toss-ups.” Tie goes to the runner in toss-ups.
The cracks are forming in the Trump foundation, but there’s a whole lot of MAGA in the middle of NC’s 8th District that will fight (and vote) to the end.
As a side note, this race is somewhat personal to me. My old man ran for this seat in 2002 when I was a senior in high school and lost in the Democratic Primary. In addition, I clerked for Justice Timmons-Goodson while I was in law school. She’d be an excellent Congresswoman and Fayetteville would benefit substantially from having a resident member of Congress. Hudson has never held a real job outside of politics and lives in Washington D.C. Let’s get Hudson some work in the private sector.
Please vote for Timmons-Goodson.
WINNER: TRUMP SAVES OR KILLS HUDSON
If Trump implodes and loses nationally by >8 points, then this race goes to the “runner,” Timmons-Goodson. If not, Hudson keeps his seat.
NC SenateDistrict 19
Kirk deViere vs. Wesley Meredith, Part II.
This one is always fun to cover, and I’ve written about it extensively. This seat is the epitome of North Carolina’s purple politics and produces close and expensive races.
I never miss the chance to remind folks that I called this race within .03 of a percentage point in 2018, and I kept the receipts:
Surprisingly, the race seems quieter this time around. I keep waiting for a bombshell that hasn’t materialized from Meredith, the king of attack ads. From what I can tell, its been mostly a mailbox battle. Maybe Meredith’s not getting as much money from the Republican Party this time around?
Regardless, the race is likely to be close again, but it’s hard to say if our baseball theory applies this time. Meredith’s only been out of this seat for one term and held it longer than deViere prior to losing in 2018. Who’s the runner? Who’s in the field?
I think this one ends up a lot like 2018, with deViere gaining a little more ground due to Democratic enthusiasm. I’ll call it to the 10th of a percentage point to see if I can re-create my crystal ball magic:
WINNER: Kirk deViere 51.3%, Wesley Meredith 48.7%
After I wrote this post, I googled the “tie goes to the runner” rule. I came across a post on a blog for umpires. There’s a blog for everyone nowadays.
Last week was a bit like living in the Twilight Zone. After months of being told to wait, we finally got a glimmer of hope from the Governor. He went on T.V. with Dr. Mandy Cohen and told North Carolinians that virus numbers had stabilized. The pair gave the green light to open all elementary schools in North Carolina. They said that the science supported the decision.
But the Cumberland County Board of Education answered the Governor with a 6-3 “NO” vote and through a spokesperson said they would not revisit their decision. Cumberland County Schools would remain closed through 2020.
Several days later, I’m left wondering how this happened. It’s baffling. I thought we were following the science? Did the dimmer switch break?
I’ve developed a few political theories in an effort to make sense of it all, but unlike the Cumberland County School Board, I’m not ready to have “virtual” science for the rest of 2020. So what follows is a mix of politics and science in an attempt to shine some light on this debacle.
The Fayetteville Observer, in an editorial that half-way supported the board’s decision, had this to say:
Like elsewhere, the virus has had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. Based on cases where the race is known, 61 percent of people who have died from COVID-19 in our county have been Black, in a county where Blacks make up 39 percent of the population.
These are among considerations the school board had to take into account in a school system which has a majority-minority student body.
I expected a bit more from our paper. This is the one time that race should have been left out of the conversation. A virus doesn’t care about your skin tone. However, you are more likely to catch one if you’re poor and live in a crowded home with working-class parents. This is a socio-economic problem, plain and simple.
Maybe our paper was only reflecting the “true spirit” of Fayetteville’s politics, where race always simmers under the surface, waiting for a chance to boil over. Here’s a relevant flashback from four years ago:
The Cumberland County Board of Education begins the new year with new leadership, and not everyone is happy about it. Rather than follow tradition, school board members voted 5-4 to elect Greg West as chairman, rather than current vice chairperson Carrie Sutton.
“I’m just shocked,” Sutton said. “I’ve worked on this board for eight years, and never have I been in a situation like this…this is so racial.”
“All I can say is, you are wrong,” West said, responding to Sutton’s claims of racially-motivated voting. Board members Peggy Hall, Rudy Tatum, Donna Vann and Susan Williams supported West, who voted for himself. Alicia Chisholm, Porcha McMillan and Judy Musgrave supported Sutton, who voted for herself. West served as chairman most recently in 2014. During the public comments portion of the meeting about a third of the people in the room asked the board to choose Sutton as chairwoman.
Unsurprisingly, the School Board’s recent vote fell along nearly identical lines. Did this vote become a racial issue? Was it a personal grudge against Greg West (who supports re-opening)? It’s hard to tell.
The point is that racial tension and mistrust are poison to the process of making a reasoned decision. The Nation, City, and School Board are full of both right now.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen a generational divide in how we treat the virus.
This makes sense. If you’re old, you’re far more likely to die of Covid. You’re also less likely to empathize with families that are going through the hell that is “virtual” school because no such thing existed when you were raising your own children.
The local science regarding age is worth mentioning here:
75 people have died with Covid in Cumberland County so far. 80% of the deaths have been people over the age of 65.
No one under the age of 25 has died with Covid in Cumberland County.
The majority of the members of our school board are “getting up there” in age. It may be that the six school board members who voted “no” are worried that in-person school will spread Covid in Cumberland County and they have personal fears of Covid due to their age or health history.
If these fears exist, they are irrational. Dozens of counties have already gone back to school. I argued in a post several weeks ago that we would know within “2-14 days” if in-person school increased Covid transmission because we would see a spike in these counties:
We saw no spike. In fact, Dr. Mandy Cohen went on T.V. last week and said there has been “no increase in community spread” in counties with in-person education. But in politics, fear beats reason, every time. I have a hunch the 6-3 vote would have been different if we had a younger school board.
Teachers “Union” Calling the Shots?
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is a political organization that advocates for teachers in North Carolina. The group organized the rallies in Raleigh promoting higher teacher pay that made national news. Remember all those red shirts?
The NCAE is against opening schools:
At an emergency town hall meeting Thursday night, NCAE leaders told the 1,000 virtual attendees that Cooper’s decision endangers students and school employees. Bryan Proffitt, NCAE’s vice president, said they’re now being “forced to fight against our principals, our school boards and our school district administrators” to keep schools from adopting Plan A.
“I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that the strategy has to be that we have to fight locally,” Proffitt said. “You are going to have to push your school board. The decision is now in the hands of school boards. It is not in the governor’s hands anymore, he relinquished that today.”
“It is in the hands of school boards so we are going to have to push our school boards for the safest possible conditions, and if that means you’ve got seven people on your school board, you’ve got to get four people to vote the way you want.”
Unsurprisingly, Sorce has aligned his position with his stepdaughter and the NCAE, voting to keep schools virtual for the rest of the year. Other school board members have used “teacher safety” as their primary motivation for voting against opening, now that Cooper’s “science” supports having elementary schools open.
In Charlotte, a lawsuit was recently filed to open schools. The NCAE was named as a Defendant. The suit accuses the NCAE of being an illegal public union and conspiring with school board members to advance its agenda of keeping schools closed. Here’s a link to the Complaint, if you’re interested in reading it:
The NCAE wants this to be a partisan fight. Notice how the NCAE VP simply brushed off Governor Cooper by arguing that he “relinquished” control of the decision. This comes after Tamika Kelly publicly admonished Trump for “not following the science” and wanting to open schools a few weeks before (see the video above).
It’s hard to avoid the fact that we have a powerful special interest group representing teachers in North Carolina that clearly has the ear of local school boards. They won the battle in Cumberland County.
Hate Trumps All?
I’d be remised not to mention the orange elephant in the room. Partisanship and hatred for Donald Trump is a primary motivation for many who oppose open schools. It just is. It’s in Trump’s interest to re-open the country as fast as possible, including schools.
I have a hard time with this one, because I think Donald Trump is a horrible President, but I’m in favor of my two children going back to the classroom. Show me some science that says my kids aren’t safe. I’ll change my mind and publish a retraction.
It’s this writer’s opinion that members of the Cumberland County Board of Education are “caught up” in a fight that is bigger than the decision to send kids back to school in Cumberland County. It’s a political fight being waged on multiple fronts that has lasted all of 2020.
In a tumultuous election year, it’s easier to get caught up in national issues of race, or political party, or Donald Trump. It’s harder to look at the facts and the data in your little county and make a reasoned decision.
The right thing is simple: Put your political agenda aside. Put our children first.
This week, children across our state began gathering together in groups. Many are in day care centers, some are in private schools, and others are in public school classrooms in the 40+ counties that chose to re-open under “Plan B” of Governor Cooper’s order.
Meanwhile, North Carolina’s covid numbers are in steady decline. It seems we peaked in Mid-July, along with the rest of the United States.
According to the C.D.C., the incubation period for the virus is 2-14 days.
Based on existing literature, the incubation period (the time from exposure to development of symptoms) of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses (e.g., MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV) ranges from 2–14 days.
We should see a spike in cases by the end of August if in-person education spreads the virus under current conditions. If there is no increase, there’s no reason to rob public school children in “Plan C” counties of a real education.
It’s that simple.
As a reminder, I’m appealing to the leadership of Cumberland County Schools and asking them to follow the science.