TAR HEEL VIEW: Cooper stands up for transparency, vetoes Wade’s bill

The doomsday prediction wasn’t scrawled on a cardboard sign, but printed in bold black ink at the top of the newspaper page.

“Trudy Wade’s Bill Will Close Jamestown News,” it warns, adding in all-capital letters, “Governor’s Veto is Our Last Hope.”

The weekly newspaper in Jamestown, a 3,600-population hamlet in Guilford County, was fighting for its life.

It found an ally in Gov. Roy Cooper, who vetoed House Bill 205 on Monday afternoon.

The bill sought to allow Guilford County governments to post public notices on their own websites instead of advertising them in local papers like the Jamestown News.

Wade, R-Guilford, first tried to strip notices away from newspapers in all 100 North Carolina counties through Senate Bill 343. She convinced her chamber to go along with the shortsighted measure, but it faced an uphill climb in the House.

Wade compromised to allow self-publication in four counties, including her own. The House Finance Committee voted SB 343 down, but Wade, motivated by a well-publicized grudge against the Greensboro News & Record, was undeterred.

She amended HB 205, an act to extend workers’ compensation benefits to certain inmates, and inserted provisions to take public notices out of Guilford County papers and eliminate the requirement that newspapers obtain postal permits in each county where they accept legal advertising.

The new vehicle for Wade’s vendetta passed the House 60-53.

“Included in this legislation is an important change to the Prison Industry Enhancement Program that I do support,” Cooper wrote in his veto message. “I urge the legislature to address that separately and I will sign it.”

“However,” the governor continued, “time and again, this legislature has used the levers of big government to attack important institutions in our state who may disagree with them from time to time. Unfortunately, this legislation is another example of that misguided philosophy meant to specifically threaten and harm the media. Legislation that enacts retribution on the media threatens a free and open press, which is fundamental to our democracy.”

To punish the News & Record for critical coverage, Wade wants to pinch local papers in the pocketbook. But public notice advertising was never a wink-and-nod government subsidy. It’s payment for services rendered, and the service is informing local residents about special meetings, land transfers, contract bids and impending foreclosures.

Cities and counties can’t match newspapers’ audience online, and posting notices on little-used government websites would leave those without internet access — poor, elderly and rural residents — out in the cold.

Wade’s bill placed small newspapers and the community journalism they produce in jeopardy. If the Jamestown News folds, the town government will lose its independent watchdog and heartwarming human-interest stories will go untold.

We applaud Cooper for standing up for open government. Lawmakers who supported Wade’s unconscionable attack on the press should see the error of their ways and sustain the governor’s veto if the bill resurfaces.

— The Wilson Times