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Editorial: Too often, debates focused on scoring points

Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of House Bill 370 included a message that could apply to an increasing number of policy debates in modern times.

The bill, which would require sheriffs to recognize requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold inmates believed to be in the country illegally, was filed in response to Democratic sheriffs who had refused.

Cooper’s veto centered around the fact that “current law allows the state to jail and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status.” The bill is unconstitutional, weakens law enforcement and could result in a sheriff’s removal from office, Cooper said. The last point isn’t a partisan argument; it’s a fact. A sheriff elected by voters, no matter how wide the margin of victory, could be removed from office by a superior court judge if the bill became law.

“This legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina,” Cooper said in his veto message.

That’s a statement Cooper might keep handy for the future. Republicans may want to write it down, too, because many of our state’s and nation’s major debates are about scoring political points.

Some of those debates, even when they are destined to lose, show voters that the Republican-controlled legislature is pursuing priorities worth a re-election vote. For an individual legislator, it’s about voting the right way or risking being ostracized. An office with a view might disappear quickly along with any hope that the legislator’s bills get heard. So-called “pork,” or money for projects in a legislator’s home district, might no longer appear in the budget.

And to add to the hyper-partisan environment around the ICE bill, President Donald Trump clearly signaled which side his team (politics is now a team sport that demands loyalty) should support.

In a Saturday morning tweet, Trump said, “North Carolina Governor Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required sheriffs to cooperate with ICE. This is a terrible decision for the great people of North Carolina. He should reverse his decision and get back to the basics of fighting crime!”

Speaker Tim Moore responded, thanking the president for “standing up for the safety of North Carolinians.”

The tweet will prolong a discussion about a bill for which a veto override is a steep, perhaps impossible, task. The public will be subjected to the same talking points with no clear path to an end.

The epitome of today’s partisan politics, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is campaigning for governor, released a statement last week saying Cooper is more concerned about “protecting violent criminals who are in our state illegally.”

That’s not the case. We think Republicans and Democrats are interested in, as Moore put it, “standing up for the safety of North Carolinians.”

The problem is neither wants to budge from their team’s position.

In the state’s debate over Medicaid expansion, for example, we think Republicans are interested in ensuring that all North Carolinians have access to health care.

But Medicaid has stalled the state budget. The good news is that there seems to be a slim hope for compromise in NC because the state remains budgetless nearly two months into the fiscal year and more deeply Republican states have expanded Medcaid. At some point, a new budget with teacher raises would be nice.

Make no mistake, there’s no compromise on House Bill 370 in North Carolina’s future. Immigration is an issue where parties often march in unison. It’s just one of an increasing numbers of cases in state and national politics where that’s the case.

There are too few cases where compromise, the virtues of which our parents taught us, is the norm.

So, while Cooper’s veto statement was only about one bill, it seems applicable to an increasing and all-too-frequent number of cases today.

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