Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Big John Baker's greatest hit

Wake’s Big John Baker dies
Former Wake County Sheriff John Baker, who as a NFL linebacker set the scene for one of the sporting world’s most famous football pictures, has died at age 72. Baker was Wake’s and North Carolina's first black sheriff since Reconstruction. His father John Baker Sr. was Raleigh’s first black uniformed police officer (and a friend of then-city council member Jesse Helms).
Sheriff Baker served from 1978 to 2002, pushing county commissioners to build adequate jail facilities and building a reputation as a tough administrator. When I first came to Raleigh in 1977 as a reporter for the old Greensboro Daily News I wrote about his campaign – and enjoyed a long, and big, breakfast with him at the old cafeteria in the Wachovia building.
But it was in 1964 as a Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker that he delivered his greatest hit. In a game against the New York Giants, Baker put the aging Giant quarterback Y.A. Tittle down and dazed. The photo, accessible here,
shows Tittle on his knees, helmet off, blood and dirt trickling down his forehead.
Baker played 12 years for the Los Angeles Rams, the Detroit Lions and the Steelers after his college career at N.C. Central.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Charlotte, Raleigh: Another big difference

Reading Liz Leland’s and Bruce Henderson’s fine stories and seeing John Simmons’ great photographs about the Catawba River in the Observer this week reminds me of one more stark difference between Charlotte and Raleigh: Development along the lakes.
There are many differences, of course, between the state’s two population centers – political, cultural and on and on. But it struck me that the series about development in the Catawba River basin, and particularly along the shores of the lakes constructed by Duke Energy throughout much of the 20th century such as Lake Hickory and Lake Norman, is in stark contrast to what you see along the shores of the main water supply lakes near the state capital.
The Catawba lakes are experiencing extraordinary development -- including the construction of many mansions. The bigger lakes near Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill have very little development and like will stay that way.
They’re not in private hands, and the three principal lakes’ shorelines were not and are not up for development. About 55 miles to the north of Raleigh, the state’s largest lake by far is Kerr Lake on the Roanoke River – straddling the Virginia border, and the best fishing and sailing lake near Raleigh. It’s a Corps of Engineers project with a hydroelectric dam, built in part for recreation and flood control as well as water supply, too. Its shoreline prohibits development on the water itself, though clearly houses have been built away from the lake and some private lakeside docks exist.
Two other projects – Falls Lake on the Neuse River 10 miles north of Raleigh, and B. Everett Jordan Dam and Lake on the Cape Fear River about 15 miles to the southeast – also prohibit development along the shoreline, and so far it’s still hard to see many houses from the lakes themselves.
That’s not to say there aren’t water quality questions about Jordan Lake. Those problems were predicted long ago, before the lake was built. But for fishers, swimmers, campers and boaters on those lakes, there’s still a sense that the lakes belong to the public. And if you really want to be along with nature, anchor out overnight in one of the hundreds and hundreds of isolated coves on Kerr Lake. It’s like being a thousand miles away.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Navy's OLF search just got harder

The Navy has lost Marc Basnight, and that spells trouble for the service’s hopes for a Northeastern N.C. outlying landing field (OLF).
For years, some North Carolina officials and conservationists have been urging the Navy to try a new approach in its search for an outlying landing field (OLF) in Eastern North Carolina for its SuperHornet jets to practice aircraft carrier landings. That’s the editorial stance this newspaper has taken.
The Navy officially prefers a site in Washington and Beaufort counties near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which isn’t a good choice because of the likelihood of bird-aircraft collisions. Many tens of thousands of large waterfowl winter in the refuge each year and fly out daily to forage in nearby fields.
After stubbornly sticking to its first choice for years – and losing legal battles in federal court and even more important public relations battles in the court of public opinion – the Navy realized its errors and appointed Admiral David Anderson to handle the OLF search from here on.
Admiral Anderson has brought a new way of doing things to the job – including disarming candor and an ability to communicate that would have stood the Navy in good stead during its early, and sometimes bruising, dealings with local folks.
The Navy recently announced it would look at six new sites in Northeastern North Carolina, as well as new sites in Virginia, too. The secretary of the Navy will announce by Nov. 15 which if any of the new sites will formally go on the list of candidates for an OLF. But the Navy is finding that past experience may have thoroughly tainted the well and poisoned relations with local governments and key state officials as well.
Marc Basnight is a state senator from the northeastern part of the state. As president pro tem of the N.C. Senate, he is an influential state policymaker. The other day Basnight delivered a verbal bomb to the Navy, announcing his “total and complete opposition to proposed sites in Camden and Gates counties. This is an awful proposal that could mean a drastic reduction in economic benefits and that any future for our children is obliterated.”
That’s a much stronger stance that Basnight’s previous stand on the OLF. He opposed the Navy’s site in Washington and Beaufort counties, but his Oct. 23 letter to Gov. Mike Easley’s OLF Study Group makes his position clear about putting the OLF in most of Northeastern N.C.: “Locating an OLF in a rural, economically distressed county is absolutely unacceptable,” he wrote.
Here’s the full text of his letter:
RALEIGH 27601-2808
October 23, 2007
Dear OLF Study Group:
I regret that I am unable to join you in person this afternoon, but I am pleased that my colleague, Senator Ed Jones, is a member of the Study Group and will add his valuable insight.
Please know of my very strong opposition to the Navy’s plans to build an OLF in northeastern North Carolina. Over the last six years, I have made my opposition to the proposed site in Washington and Beaufort counties clear. Today, I want you to know of my total and complete opposition to proposed sites in Camden and Gates counties. This is an awful proposal that could mean a drastic reduction in economic benefits and that any future for our children is obliterated. I have expressed my position and the reasons for it to Governor Easley and Senators Dole and Burr and asked for their assistance in stopping these short-sighted and detrimental proposals.
For more than six years, the Navy pursued its plan to build an OLF in an area that is clearly unsuitable. Our experience with the Navy was pathetic, with so many untruths that built so much distrust into this whole process. The Navy still considers the Washington-Beaufort site an option and these new proposed sites are no better. In addition to the public safety risks, these sites pose danger to the local economy, to the environment and to the property rights of families who have worked this land for generations. Furthermore, the 52 jobs the OLF would create would not even begin to compensate for the jet noise and lowered property values that the project would bring for generations to come. Locating an OLF in a rural, economically distressed county is absolutely unacceptable.
I have been even more disappointed with the recent disclosure that an OLF would be primarily serving Super Hornet squads based at Oceana in Virginia—and not at Cherry Point in North Carolina. While Virginia Beach would receive the economic benefits, northeastern North Carolina would not. If Virginia Beach wants it, give it to them.
One option that deserves thorough exploration is building an offshore training platform in the Atlantic Ocean or perhaps in the Pamlico Sound. This concept is not a new one – in fact, the
Navy itself already has a Mobile Offshore Base program and has found that this is a feasible technology. My office previously consulted with engineering firms which determined that it would cost roughly $600 million to build an offshore training platform of similar size and scope to the currently proposed OLF – a cost that is negligible given that the entire U.S. Navy budget is more than $120 billion. This option would create opportunities and replicate the conditions that fighter planes encounter. By constructing a facility in the water, we can avoid safety hazards associated with aircraft crashing into the land, a school, a home or other structure. It also would not cause further economic damage in one of North Carolina’s most economically depressed areas, or denigrate the property rights of the landowners. We have shown this to the Navy previously and we will show them again. An offshore OLF would show the world that North Carolina, the most military-friendly state in the country, is at the forefront of helping to enhance our military capabilities.
It is my hope that even after all this time, we can work toward a solution that allows the Navy to meet its training needs, addresses the concerns of local residents, and continues the proud tradition of cooperation between the military and our state.
Marc Basnight

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No more White House endorsements from Greensboro

Presidential endorsements fall by wayside
It was such a small item on the AP wire that I ran right by it the first time. “No Endorsements” was the cryptic slug, and I wondered if it meant a North Carolina newspaper was revising the way it goes about recommending political candidates.
It was not just one, but three well-known and respected Southern newspapers – and one of them was the paper that provided me with off-and-on employment from the time I was old enough to throw a newspaper on a porch. The daily newspapers owned by Landmark Communications, Inc. – in Norfolk and Roanoke, Va. and Greensboro – would no longer endorse candidates in presidential races.
All three newspapers’ editorial departments will continue to endorse candidates in local and statewide races, the story said, but there’s no longer as much need as there once was to endorse in races for the presidency, the Pilot said in an editorial Sunday. I did not see an announcement on the Greensboro News& Record’s Web site, though I may have missed it.
The news was first broken in an editorial column Sunday in the Roanoke Times, but the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot editorial Monday was what drew the AP’s attention. Here’s a link to that editorial.

“Presidential elections are not our beat,” the Pilot said. “Our time is best spent on local and state problems or those national ones that bear directly on us.”
Endorsements during election campaigns are enormously time-consuming and wind up stirring a lot of passions – some for, some against the practice. My boss Ed Williams had a good column last week explaining how we approach endorsements.
His point was a good one: If you like our editorials, chances are you’ll agree with our endorsements. And if not, you may prefer someone else.
Landmark’s decision is reflective of the changes going on among newspapers generally and editorial departments specifically. We’re all learning to deal with new technology. In my hometown of Greensboro, they’re not only blogging with pictures and audio clips, but are now in the process of putting up video statements from candidates and working on airing the results of a candidate's debate.
This is all a long way from the hot-lead and grease-pencil days of the Greensboro Daily News, as it then was called, where I helped carry the paper as a boy in Greensboro and later on campus at Chapel Hill, wrote high school sports as the $20-per-month correspondent from Page High and after college days was a copy editor, Alamance Bureau reporter, columnist, Raleigh Bureau Chief, editorial writer – and its last Washington Correspondent back in the 1970s.
I had the great good luck to work for smart folks there – Managing Editor Irwin Smallwood, as good a man as I ever knew anywhere, the graceful and erudite Bill Snider, and Rhodes Scholar John Alexander, with whom I’d eat black-eyed peas and collard greens at the old Woolworth’s Lunch Counter on Elm Street before heading back to the paper to editorially flay the hide off some unfortunate for one misstep or another.
The paper usually endorsed in presidential races, but not always, notes my friend Allen Johnson, the editorial page editor there. “We’re still going to write about issues pertinent to the campaign,” he notes, but readers won’t find “that big Sunday editorial” about the presidential race.
Like everything in newspapering, there will be those who like the decision to stop endorsing in presidential races, and those who don’t. I hate to see it end. A good presidential endorsement will get folks talking about issues – and sometimes throwing thunderbolts right back at the paper when they don’t like what they see. That one vivid way you know they’re still reading their favorite morning newspaper.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The last of the Rose Buddies

One of the things that makes North Carolina special is the imagination, spirit and kindness of its people. Seems like everywhere you go there are interesting folks who’ve added so much to their community in small ways that their stories have reflected honor on the whole state.
We lost one of those people the other day. There was just a small story in the morning newspaper over the weekend, but there are a world of people out there who knew what he meant to Elizabeth City – and to travelers up and down the east coast.
He was Fred Fearing, who died at Albemarle Hospital Friday morning. He was a retired postman. But to many thousands of boaters who travel up and down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, he was the last of the Rose Buddies.
In truth, there were only two of them. Twenty-four years ago, Fred Fearing and his buddy Joe Kramer began one of the most civil traditions I’ve ever heard of.
Every afternoon when a sailboat or powerboat or trawler tied up at the town docks in Elizabeth City on the Pasquotank River, Fred and Joe would host a small impromptu party on the docks to welcome the visitors to their part of North Carolina.
The two cooked up the tradition after church one day. Joe raised roses, and he’d cut a handful and give a rosebud to every lady aboard. Fred gathered a bottle or two of wine, some cups and some chips and dip. Folks who’d never heard of North Carolina or Southern hospitality would fine a warm welcome and a batch of new friends there on the docks.
Joe died in 1987 but the traditional went on. His rose bushes were transplanted to Mariner’s Wharf and a maintenance fund was established to keep them blooming. When NBC Weatherman Willard Scott came south to do a story on the Rose Buddies, he donated a new golf cart so Fred Fearing could get to the docks and back. It’s known all over town as the Rose Buddy Golf Cart.
I never met Fred Fearing but I heard about the Rose Buddies tradition years ago, and talked with many a boater on the ICW who sang the praises of the nice folks up in Elizabeth City and the warm welcome they got there one afternoon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The word on instant runoffs: They work

Here’s interesting stuff from Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, the elections watchdog who has done more good work to help the public understand the impact of money on politics than anyone I know in North Carolina, not to mention his helping investigators dig up political wrongdoing and producing reliable research for legislators interested in electoral reform. In this note, Bob relates how the instant runoff experiment worked in Cary’s recent municipal election. The short story: Pretty well. Read on:

Good people,

In case you're writing about the "instant runoff voting" pilot that occurred in Cary, I would encourage you to contact Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections at 919-856-6245 and Diana Haskell, chair of the Wake Co League of Women Voters at 919-460-9215.

Poucher estimates that the Town of Cary saved about $28,000 by not having to hold a separate runoff for the District B Town Council race, where no candidate received a majority of first-choice votes in the October 9 election. The savings would have been $62,000 for a citywide runoff.

Normally, there is a large drop-off in voter turnout from the first election to the runoff a month or so later. However, by using preference voting, the drop-off in that District B race was only 9% -- i.e., 91% or 2,754 voters of the 3,022 voters who cast a ballot in the District B race expressed a clear choice between the final two candidates through their rankings, and their preferences produced the winner: Don Frantz got 1,401 votes compared to Vickie Maxwell's 1,353.

With preference voting, more voters participated in deciding the final winner, at less expense for everybody (candidates, voters, and taxpapers). Of course, we still need more citizens to vote in NC, but this method is at least better than having a tiny minority of a minority make the final decision.

The Exit Poll conducted in Cary showed that the ballot was easily understood by most voters and that ranking candidates was preferred to voting for just one candidate. Below is a summary of the findings from the Exit Poll.

Bob Hall
Democracy North Carolina
Direct line: 919-489-1931

* * *

Dr. Michael Cobb, NC State University: 919/513-3709 or

Study Finds Cary Voters Prefer Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV)

Cary voters prefer ranking candidates rather than voting for only one candidate.

That’s the finding of a survey on voter preferences taken after the Oct. 9 Cary town council elections in which instant run-off voting (IRV) was utilized. IRV allows voters to rank the candidates for an office in order of preference, eliminating the need for a separate run-off election.

North Carolina State University’s Dr. Michael Cobb, assistant professor of political science, designed an exit poll to evaluate how voters felt about IRV. The exit poll, managed by Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, contained interviews with more than 1,600 voters from Cary Town Council Districts B and D.

Instant run-off voting affected the election in Council District B by generating a winner, thereby avoiding the need to hold a run-off election next month between the top two vote getters.

Key findings of the survey include:

· Of those with a preference, 72 percent of Cary voters said they preferred IRV while just 28 percent said they preferred voting for a single candidate.

· Almost everyone (96 percent) reported it was at least “somewhat easy to understand” the IRV ballot, with 82 percent agreeing that it was “very easy” to understand.

· Most voters (69 percent) actually utilized the option of ranking at least two of the candidates for city council.

· Among the minority of voters who did not rank more than one candidate and gave a reason why (480), only 29 percent (139) said the reason for not indicating a second choice was that they were confused about how the rankings would be used. [This is a minority of a minority: In other words, 9 percent of all voters (139 of 1635) indicated by their responses that the primary reason they did not rank more than one candidate in any race was because they misunderstood or did not understand how the ranking worked.]

· Voters were more likely to rank candidates in District B, which was the most competitive race where all three candidates failed to win an outright majority; voters in District B were more likely to prefer IRV.

· The study found no significant differences between different types of voters in their understanding or preference for IRV: whites and non-whites, males and females, lower and higher income voters all evaluated IRV roughly equally.

· Outreach efforts to inform voters ahead of time about IRV were largely successful. Seventy-six percent said they knew they would be asked to rank their preferences before coming to vote that day, and those who reported knowing about IRV in advance were more likely to rank more than one candidate and to prefer ranking candidates over voting for only one candidate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Welcome to the 'sneeze and wheeze' belt

If you’ve got seasonal allergies and have had something like a nasty cold lately, it might be worsened by where you live, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In fact, if you live in one of the population centers of North Carolina such as Raleigh, Greensboro or Charlotte, it’s may already affect how you feel. Why? Because, the NRDC reports, areas of the country affected most by the prevalence of ragweed and smog caused by air pollution overlap one another – including the three cities in the N.C. Piedmont.
This nexus of air pollution and seasonal allergy eruptions makes the effects worse for folks who already have respiratory problems. “Both ragweed, the pollen of which is a common allergen, and smog, otherwise known as ground-level ozone pollution, have been linked to respiratory problems, including asthma. Studies have shown that when people are exposed to both ragweed and smog, they can suffer more severe reactions than when exposed to just one of these pollutants,” the NRDC says.
Among the nation’s 15 worst “Asthma Capitals,” Raleigh ranks third, Greensboro eighth and Charlotte thirteenth on the list. Other bad ones: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago. Read more about the report here.
And for a vivid look at a national map showing the overlap of ragweed and ozone concentrations, click here. It’s not for the faint of heart, or lung.
And while we’re on the subject of bad news, the NRDC notes that global warming makes the effects of everything worse – ragweed and smog, “creating a perfect storm of sneezing and wheezing for allergy and asthma suffers in the U.S.,” said the NRDC’s Dr. Gina Solomon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

She wanted to be governor

You may not remember Ruby Hooper, but a generation ago the Burke County Republican aimed to become the first woman to be governor of North Caorlina.
Democrat Bev Perdue, the state’s first woman to be lieutenant governor, is hoping to finally do in 2008 what Hooper hoped to do in the 1984 election.
Hooper picked a hard year to run – in the '84 GOP primary against then-U.S. Rep. Jim Martin, the former Mecklenburg commissioner who would win the election and go on to serve two terms (1985-1993). She didn’t have a chance, but that didn’t seem to discourage her.
Ruby Hooper died recently at age 83 and the N&O had a good article on her place in North Carolina politics. Here’s a link.
Hooper’s campaigns for governor in 1984 and again in 1992 didn’t work out, but Martin hired her as a deputy secretary of administration during his two terms. I remember her days in office. She always had a positive thought, which may be one reason why after her final political campaign, she was chosen as “North Carolina State Mother” by a group called American Mothers, according to a 1993 report by my colleague Jim Morrill.
And Greg Trevor, a former Observer reporter, wrote about Hooper during her 1992 campaign against Jim Gardner for the Republican nomination that year.
She was running pretty much a one-woman campaign, but she would have agreed with Gov. Mike Easley on the lottery. “From what I`ve heard, the people want the right to vote on that. And if they decided a lottery`s what they want, I would propose that the funds that are generated be designated for education.``
She also told Trevor that after 16 years of Gov. Jim Hunt and Gov. Jim Martin, the state needed a change: “Some people say we`ve had too many Jims as governor. We need a gem - a Ruby.”`

Friday, October 12, 2007

Leslie Winner: growing up in segregated South

Former Charlotte lawyer and state senator Leslie Winner joins the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation as executive director in January, taking one of the most influential public policy jobs in the state. The foundation, which works exclusively within North Carolina, unlike many other institutions with a broader scope, has had an enormous impact on state policy here – public policy as well as that of private non-profit agencies, educational institutions and community initiatives. It’s a good bet the foundation will build on that record with Winner’s leadership.
She has a finely tuned sense of right and wrong, shaped by the discrimination she saw around her while growing up in the South.
Mary Giunca of the Winston-Salem Journal had an interesting piece on Winner and the influences that shaped her thinking in today’s paper. Read it here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Capital concerns: growth, parks

Tuesday’s election in Wake County showed a couple of interesting things in a fast-growing area that’s the state’s second-largest county and contains the state’s second-largest city, the state Capital. Voters in Raleigh and Cary municipal elections generally backed candidates seeking more controls on growth and, in the case of Raleigh, higher impact fees from developers.
This is particularly interesting because the issue really wasn’t whether to increase impact fees to help pay for growth-related services. The Raleigh city council had already approved 72 percent higher impact fees, but not as high an increase as many believe are needed to cope with the dramatic increase in population and an accompanying demand for more schools and other essential services.
What also struck me as particularly interesting was the fate of four bond issues totaling $275 million: All four passed. Wake voters approved three bond issues totaling $187 million for Wake Tech, the county library system and the purchase of open space by roughly 70 percent; and voters in the city of Raleigh approved an $89 million parks bond issue by 72 percent. This is significant because many folks thought Wake County voters would be fed up with more bond issues after approving a $970 million school bonds issue in 2006. Evidently voters want the county to keep on making improvements.
This is generalizing, but it seems to fit neatly with the observation by political analyst John Davis of the pro-business organization N.C. FREE and others that the influx of newcomers to this area, even though many of them are registered Republicans, support and expect good schools, good parks and other services because that’s what they were used to in areas of the Northeast and Midwest where they resided before moving here.
A final note: turnout wasn’t good: 10.8 percent, according to the Wake County Board of Elections.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do real political issues count for much anymore?

Opposition research has been a vital part of many political campaigns since the crust of the earth hardened. It involves an investigation of the opponent’s record – public and political as well as personal and private – and the careful distribution of the results during the campaign to discredit an opponent. Sometimes it’s ugly work, because it means digging up unsavory stuff to make the other person look bad – and by contrast, make your own candidate look better. It’s not about to go away.
And it is, of course, the sort of thing that news reporters thrive on: finding out stuff, sorting through it and putting it in the paper, on the air and in the Ethernet. That’s what we’re about. Sometimes it's little stuff. Sometimes it's big.
That’s one reason we’re hearing a lot about the public records of Democratic gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue, the state’s lieutenant governor, and her main opponent, Richard Moore, the state treasurer. They’re both forward-looking Democrats with an interest in education, health care and economic development, among other things. They probably agree on quite a lot.
But their staffs are not fond of one another – or at least the way they’re going about digging up whatever dirt they can find on one another. The Moore campaign has been merrily pointing out some imprecisions in Perdue’s resume in the past, though the Moore campaign attaches more importance to it than I expect most voters would. And the Perdue campaign has fired back a few shots at Moore for, among other things, an arcane vote on the highway trust fund.
In Sunday’s column I wrote, “This kind of push and shove makes their campaigns seem preoccupied with pointing out each other’s flaws, as if the public were mostly interested in unwavering devotion to rigid consistency rather than figuring out what’s best for the public interest and pushing new ideas.”
I think it also makes folks tired of politics sooner than they ought to be. But by some perverse law of political thermodynamics, resume errors and old voting records often get more heat-and-light coverage than serious issues. Ask Bob Orr, the former Supreme Court associate justice who’s running for the Republican nomination for governor. He unveiled a substantive proposal for stopping the increasingly costly arms race on economic incentives for landing new plants the other day, and after a brief round of news reports, the issue faded a bit.
Is the message the media send that real issues don’t count for much?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wake County gets law school again

The big news in Raleigh today is Campbell University’s announcement that it is moving its school of law to Raleigh. The university’s Norman A. Wiggins School of Law will move from the Campbell campus at Buies Creek in Harnett County to a brick building in downtown Raleigh on Hillsborough Street just a couple blocks west of the Capitol.
It’s a coup for Raleigh, of course, but it’s also a big story for Wake County. The move returns a law school to Wake County for the first time in more than half a century. The old Wake Forest College School of Law in Wake Forest, N.C. moved to Winston-Salem in 1956 when the college packed up and took up quarters on a beautiful new campus in Forsyth County, thanks to a generous offer from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
There’s some symmetry to this current move: Norman Wiggins, for whom the Campbell law school is named, graduated from Campbell College when it was a two-year school, then earned his bachelor’s degree at Wake Forest College and a law degree from its law school – when the college was still in Wake Forest.
After earning a master’s degree and doctorate in law at Columbia, Wiggins returned as a law professor and general counsel at the new Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem. In 1967 he became president of Campbell College, driving its growth, its name change to a university and creation of the law school, which was named for him in 1977. Wiggins died this summer, but discussions about a move to Raleigh had long been underway. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the name Norman Wiggins has accompanied the planned move of a law school to Wake County where Wiggins first got his legal training.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Speaker Liston Ramsey a hero? Probably not

Liston Ramsey a hero?
State Treasurer Richard Moore has proposed the N.C. Democratic Party change the name of its annual fall dinner held in Asheville, after Republicans raised questions about a racist connotation in the annual “Vance Aycock Dinner.”
He proposes instead such party “heroes” as Charlotte architect Harvey Gantt, former speaker pro tem Marie Colton of Asheville and the late N.C. Speaker of the House Liston Ramsey. Gantt and Colton certainly would be excellent candidates for honors.
I’m not sure what Moore was thinking, but he might get a quibble about Ramsey, whose lieutenants maintained ironclad control of the House and perfected the discredited supersub system of the 1980s. They ran a rigid pork-barrel system that so disturbed both Democrats and Republicans that a coalition threw him out of office in 1989 and installed Democrat Josephus Mavretic in his place.
While Ramsey was well-regarded by many of his loyal allies, I don’t think Moore can make the argument that he’s the logical choice to replace either Aycock or Vance as the name of a big to-do.
He might have been better off suggesting other western North Carolinians, say, the late state Sen. Herbert Hyde, who claimed some Cherokee heritage, or the late U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, whose investigation of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection committee unraveled the Watergate affair and led to Nixon’s resignation. But Ervin might meet opposition as well, because he strongly opposed some civil rights legislation and efforts to remove racial barriers earlier in his U.S. Senate career. The late state Sen. Jim Richardson of Charlotte would be another good choice.
It’s complicated, of course. Gov. Charles B. Aycock was a leader in the White Supremacy movement at the turn of the last century and helped whip up fervor for the bloody coup that turned out a legally elected government of Republicans and black people in Wilmington in 1898. He later was responsible for the universal education movement that provided formal schooling for black citizens.
A group of Republicans calling themselves the Carolina Stompers raised the question about changing the name of the Vance Aycock Dinner, but after Moore called for the name change, the Stompers dropped plans to protest at the dinner and said they’d refocus on correcting the history books.
Zebulon Vance was a Civil War governor who would have prolonged slavery if his efforts had led to a Confederate victory. There have been no complaints I’m aware of about his name, but if there are arguments to get rid of Aycock’s name, then arguments to get rid of Vance can’t be far behind.
Addendum: Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Bob Orr, a Republican running for governor, sent along a suggestion. While he wasn't trying to help out Democrats, "why not Henry Frye and Susie Sharpe The Sharpe/Frye dinner), both were hugely important to the process of opening up opportunities and while they are jurists, it’s still a great way to honor a couple of special people."

Monday, October 01, 2007

The book on Southern food

The book on Southern food
We professional Southerners are apt to applaud when folks who write about the South get things right. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, co-edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris in 1989, was a monumental work about the South – and a monument by weight. You’ll get a hernia if you tote one around for long.
The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture,like the original published by UNC Press, takes a different form – individual volumes devoted to single topics -- religion, geography, history and so on. The seventh in the series has just come out: Foodways, and its writing include several pieces by the Observer’s food writer, Kathleen Purvis, in my book one of the best in the business. She writes on funeral food and Carolinas barbecue. Talk about culture!
These are the kinds of books you can pick up and read all you need to know about a topic in just a couple minutes. The entry on moonshining was especially informative – with a short tangent about the proof of moonshine (“Proof originally denoted a spirit’s ability to dampen gunpowder yet sustain a flame.” I didn’t know that).
It also knotes that moonshine’s reputation for quality “suffered a ruinous decline during the national prohibition against alcohol (1920-33) when artisan distillers putting out small-batch spirits for steady local markets were displaced by novice opportunist distillers making bad hooch, by scurrilous bootleggers selling outright poison, and, finally, by interstate whisky syndicates that introduced sugar as a major ingredient to cash in on a sustained liquor-guzzling frenzy.”
Whew! My head is spinning already.
I also liked the section on deviled eggs and the need of every Southern woman to have a supply of deviled egg plates (I think my sister had eight or nine of them at one time).
And I appreciated the mention in the section on pimento cheese of the Mouli grater. It noted that modern pimento cheese makers probably use a food processor or a fork to blend their cheese, but not in our household. My wife makes the world’s best pimento cheese – absolutely the best – and it starts with sharp cheddar run through the handheld Mouli grater.
Sure, you can grate it in a food processor or mash it with a fork, but that risks bruising the cheese. Wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we?