Monday news on mass transit and capital punishment

Monday news on mass transit and capital punishment

- in Fitzsimon File


Anti-government forces off the track in Charlotte

Voters in Charlotte head to the polls next Tuesday to determine the fate of light rail in the city and it doesn’t look good for the market fundamentalists who oppose it. They are waging a desperate battle to repeal the local transit tax, complete with national speakers and a deluge of all sorts of misinformation about the cost and benefits of light rail. 

As Election Day gets closer, it is becoming more and more obvious that the anti-transit forces, led by Raleigh’s leading market fundamentalist think tank and its followers, are not only out of step with the majority of voters in Charlotte, but even with conservative politicians that normally agree with much of their anti-government rhetoric.

Polls by both progressive and conservative groups show that the majority of voters want to keep the tax and support the light-rail system, one leg of which is already completed. The Sunday Charlotte Observer included a column signed by the city’s last four mayors urging readers to vote for light rail by voting against the repeal of the local sales tax for transit.

The last four mayors include Richard Vinroot, a former Republican candidate for Governor, and current member of Congress Sue Myrick, who is a favorite of the anti-government crowd on almost every other issue. 

Former Mayor Eddie Knox also signed the column. Knox angered Democrats in 1984 when he announced his support for Republicans in the general election after losing the Democratic primary for governor to Rufus Edmisten. Former Mayor Harvey Gantt, a progressive Democrat, also signed the column.

It seems that the anti-government crowd has gone too far for Charlotte’s most prominent conservatives, who understand that mass transit makes sense and aren’t afraid of  admitting that government can play a positive role in solving problems.

Republican incumbent Mayor Pat McCrory, who is seeking reelection, is also strong supporter of the light rail system and encouraging voters to reject the call to repeal the tax.

The Charlotte vote comes on the heels of the creation of the 21st Century Transportation Committee, a 24-member panel appointed  Monday by Governor Mike Easley, House Speaker Joe Hackney and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.

The committee will make preliminary recommendations on how to address the state’s transportation needs to the General Assembly in May with a final report due at the end of 2008.  More about the committee in future columns but at first glance, it appears to be misnamed.

Easley and Basnight appointed all men to the commission. Hackney at least named three women to the panel, two female members of the House and Board of Transportation member Nina Szlosberg. Szlosberg also appears to be the only appointee who has been an outspoken advocate for transit and environmental concerns.

The majority of the appointees are lawmakers with long associations with the status quo at the Department of Transportation or at large members with close ties to the highway industry.  Maybe the commission will surprise us, but judging from its composition a more accurate name might be The Mid-20th Century Transportation Committee.


More evidence of the flaws in capital punishment system

The American Bar Association is calling for a national moratorium on executions and the reasons have nothing to do with challenges to the lethal injection procedure that the Supreme Court has agreed to consider.

The ABA bases its call for a nationwide halt to executions on a three year study of the death penalty in eight sample states that found similar problems in the way capital punishment was administered. 

North Carolina was not one of the eight states in the study, but the problems the ABA has identified have also been documented here, including racial disparities, most often associated with the race of the victim, lack of standards for attorneys representing capital defendants, and flawed clemency proceedings.

State lawmakers in North Carolina have taken steps in recent years to improve the administration of capital punishment, particularly to improve the quality of attorneys appointed in capital cases, but the majority of people on death row were convicted and sentenced before those improvements were made. 

There has been very little done to address other problems identified in the ABA study, like the role race plays in determining who receives a death sentence and the lack of policies about mental illness and capital punishment

The ABA did not mention the most compelling reason to halt executions and take an in-depth look at the death penalty, the chance that an innocent person might be executed.

People in North Carolina will have a chance to ponder that possibility in the next couple of weeks as 18 innocent men who were sentenced to die and served time on death rows in other states are appearing at more than 30 events across North Carolina. (For information about the events, visit the website of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.)

The ABA’s study and the tour of the 18 exonerated former death row inmates ought to be a stark reminder for North Carolina policymakers that the problems with capital punishment go far beyond the procedure the state uses to kill somebody. The flaws are far too numerous and well-documented to resume executions without a thorough, independent examination of every aspect of the system that decides who lives and who dies.