Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sins of the Speakers

Former House Co-Speaker Richard Morgan, a Republican from Moore County, is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction this fall. Like some candidates, he has also recently published a book about his time in politics,:The Fourth Witch: A Memoir of Politics and Sinning." In it he sheds light on how he came to share power in the N.C. House of Representatives with former Speaker and Co-Speaker Jim Black of Mecklenburg, now serving time in a federal prison for having accepted bribes.
He writes about a former aide to Black, Meredith Norris, who wielded great power and who benefitted from Black's helping her get clients as a lobbyist, and about former Rep. Mike Decker, a conservative Christian who accepted a bribe to switch his vote to help keep Black in power and who is also in federal prison.
Here's what Morgan had to say about Black: "It's hard to describe how I feel about what Jim did today. I served beside him two years as Speaker. I worked with him every day. He was my friend. How I don't feel is outraged. Or holier than thou. A day comes when unless you're blind you can't avoid seeing what every saint who ever drew breath figured out: Sin is bone deep. It's wider than any ocean. And none of us is safe. A thirty-year-old-girl was foolish enough to believe monitoring legislation wasn't lobbying. A history teacher from the Gospel Light Christian School, in an IHOP in Salisbury, took a $50,000 bribe. And a 72-year-old grandfather is serving five years in prison.
I guess how I feel about it is like the sinner's prayer, 'Have mercy, oh Lord, on me a sinner.'"
Later in the book, Morgan writes about his failure to confront Black in the House:
"My sin wasn't that I agreed to share power with Jim. It was in my not looking him in the eye, later, and saying, 'I can read a newspaper report. Is it true you bribed Mike Decker?'
"Instead, I didn't ask. Because Jim was my friend I closed my eyes -- and I'll warn you the easiest sin you'll ever commit is the one where you don't have to say a word or lift a finger -- where all you have to do is close your eyes."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bev not kissing off Charlotte, camp says

Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue's campaign says the Democratic candidate for governor is not kissing off Charlotte-Mecklenburg in this year's election while it stumps for votes in Eastern North Carolina, as This Old State wondered yesterday, based on an analysis by Public Policy Polling suggesting she was risking ticking off voters in the state's largest city. The campaign has an office there, she has campaigned dozens of times in Mecklenburg, Perdue's son Garrett is working the election circuit there and if elected governor, Perdue plans to open a governor's office in Charlotte. And campaign spokesman David Kochman notes the following letter of support published in the Durham Herald by Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess:
As Charlotte's mayor pro tem, many people have asked me who I support for governor. My answer is clear -- Bev Perdue.
In fact, the majority of the Charlotte City Council supports Perdue for governor. I know both candidates personally. I served with Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory on the City Council for seven years, and I've seen first-hand Perdue's work as lt. governor. She is the leader we need during these difficult times.
Unlike McCrory, she understands that we must bring our entire state together, all 100 counties, rather than pitting regions or groups against each other.
The difference is clear here in Charlotte -- McCrory vetoed a budget that would have added 70 more police on the streets. He opposed a program to revitalize a troubled neighborhood and reduce crime.
Perdue, on the other hand, personally visited those communities to learn about their concerns. Charlotte's form of government, like other North Carolina cities, gives the mayor no power. McCrory has never written a budget nor does he vote on City Council actions except in limited cases.
He has absolutely no experience in human services such as education, health care or mental health. In these most challenging times, we cannot risk a governor who needs on-the-job training. As governor, Bev Perdue has the experience and temperament to give all North Carolinians a seat at the table. Only she can move our entire state forward.
October 28, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bev to Charlotte: Drop dead?

Democrat Bev Perdue is maintaining a small lead over Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory in the governor's race with a week to go in the latest Public Policy Polling survey. Analyst Tom Jensen says the Perdue campaign has make a clear decision that it's willing to risk alienating voters in Charlotte-Mecklenburg -- hearkening up memories of a famous tabloid headline from 1975 when President Ford refused bailout money for an ailing New York City. The New York Daily News headline: "Ford to City: Drop dead."

Here's Jensen's analysis, in its entirety:

Bev Perdue 47
Pat McCrory 44
Michael Munger 5

Bev Perdue's campaign has made a clear calculus that they're willing to tick off Charlotte voters if it allows them to rack up the kind of margins they need to win in eastern North Carolina. Right now it seems to be working.

One of the biggest things that has kept Perdue from running away with this race is that Pat McCrory has consistently shown a huge lead in the polls in greater Charlotte, including major in roads with white Democrats, that Perdue has not been able to match in her home base of eastern North Carolina. Perdue has worked hard to shore up her support in Charlotte, but McCrory has consistently led the polls there by double digits.

So about two weeks ago it seems Perdue's campaign became heavily focused on the east. First she started running effective ads on Yankee trash, an issue that hits home much harder east of I-95 than it does anywhere else. Her newest set of ads attack McCrory for a Charlotte first mentality: if there was no inherent anti-Charlotte bias with voters outside the state of Mecklenburg, it seems, the Perdue campaign is trying to create one.

How's it all working? In the two polls before this new strategy Perdue led by an average of 48-42 in eastern North Carolina. In the two polls since her average lead is up to 54-38, including a new high of 56-36 in this week's poll. We project eastern North Carolinians to cast around 28-30% of the vote for Governor, so a ten point increase in her lead in that region gives her an extra three points statewide. That's huge in a tight race.

Of course folks in Charlotte aren't necessarily thrilled with Perdue's strategy. In the two polls before she started actively courting the east she trailed by an average of 52-41 there. In the last two she trails by an average of 53-39, with her 53-36 deficit this week the largest she's shown in Charlotte in a long time. So she's lost 3-4 points in a region of the state that will cast about 20% of the vote. That costs her a point statewide.

Forsaking a point in Charlotte to pick up three in the east? Could make the difference in a close race.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Old Reliable endorses McCrory

That agitated buzz you heard Sunday maybe have been from the steady conversation zipping across the political spectrum Sunday after The News & Observer, long the state's most important politicial newspaper, endorsed Republican Pat McCrory for governor.

The N&O was once known as The Old Reliable -- though not just for its steady support of Democrats dating to the days when its owners, the Daniels family of Raleigh, were involved nationally in Democratic Party politics. It had never previously endorsed a Republican for president, U.S. Senator or governor on its editorial pages -- at least as far as Editorial Page Editor Steve Ford knows. "I haven't carefully researched the matter, but I don't remember any such previous endorsement during my time with the paper (since 1981), and I doubt there was one before that," he said in an e-mail Monday.

Ferrel Guillory, a former reporter, editor, columnist and opinion writer with the News & Observer and now a professor of journalism and director of the program on public life at UNC Chapel Hill, thought the paper had always endorsed Democrats, even in 1928 when Al Smith, a Catholic, was abandoned by Democrats elsewhere across the South because they were alarmed by his faith. The McCrory endorsement, he said, "Is a clear break for the N&O from its past."

Like the Charlotte Observer, the N&O has also endorsed Barack Obama for president and Kay Hagan for Senate. They're both Democrats. And, of course, the N&O has also endorsed Republicans in other offices down the ballot, including in this election.

While the state's other large newspapers, including the Observer and the Greensboro News-Record had previously endorsed Republicans, the Old Reliable had not. John Hood of the Locke Foundation called the endorsement of McCrory over Democrat Bev Perdue "jaw-dropping," though I doubt it truly stunned anyone. Endorsements by newspapers have run steadily against Perdue, except in Eastern N.C. papers in Wilmington and Greenville and the Sandhills area paper in Southern Pines -- owned by several Daniels family members.

It's worth remembering that the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer were ring leaders in the late 19th-century effort to undermine the Republican Party and overturn a Fusion government of Republicans and African Americans in Wilmington and replace them with Democrats. That episode is thought to be the only coup in the United States turning out a legally elected government.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Numbers for political junkies

For serious students of political science, you can't beat the meat-and-potatoes findings of the "North Carolina Data Net" at, published by the Program on Public Life at UNC Chapel Hill.

In the institution's most recent Web site posting, observations include these dry but significance-laden statistics and observations:

*The big story in registration trends involves unaffiliated voters, who now represent more than one-fifth of the North Carolina electorate. While the actual numbers rose within the major parties, both Democratic and Republican affiliation decreased between late 2004 and October 2008 as a share of the total electorate.
Unaffiliated voters, meanwhile, now account for 22.1 percent of all registrants, up from 18.5 percent in 2004.

*This is an historic election in terms of gender and race, in the nation and in North Carolina. Among the candidates in the three major campaigns on the ballot, there are four women: Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president; Elizabeth Dole, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate; Kay Hagan, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate; and Beverly Perdue, the Democratic candidate for governor. In the presidential election, Barack Obama, the first black candidate of a major political party, has targeted North Carolina and made the state highly competitive in his race against Republican John McCain.

*As was the case in 2000, metropolitan areas largely account for statewide election turnout. In 2004, 15 of 100 North Carolina counties accounted for 51.1 percent of votes in the presidential election. In 2000, Bush won 12 of the top 15 counties, while Gore took three. In 2004, however, Bush won just six of the top 15 counties, and Kerry won 9. The 2008 presidential election will reveal whether Democrats can continue to win in the state’s major metropolitan areas while attracting new voters in rural areas.

Here’s a link to the Web site.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Voters to go for youngest candidates?

John Davis, the former head of the pro-business group NCFREE, has come up with another set of N.C. political predictions, this time in the top three races in North Carolina -- and he says the younger candidates will win.
He projects that Barack Obama will become the first Democrat to win the presidential race since 1976 when Jimmy Carter won.
He predicts that Kay Hagan will become the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in a presidential election year since 1968, when Sen. Sam Ervin won his last campaign.
And he also predicts that the same trend helping Hagan in her campaign against Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, will help Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, in his race against Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue: an anti-establishment mood.
In each case, the winner would be the youngest candidate.
"The two primary political forces driving the coming Election Day upheaval are
the anti-establishment mood of the voters and an era of
generational change, each compounding the power of the other
by coming together at the same time in political history," he notes.

Here's a link to his analysis:
Among other things, Davis notes that younger voters are motivated not by politics or ideology, but youth and hope:
"Newcomers to our state are more inclined to vote for Obama, Hagan and McCrory because they are younger and because they are not incumbent leaders of the day. Young voters are not voting for Barack Obama for U.S. President because he is a Democrat or because he's liberal, they are voting for him because he's 46 and offers them hope for a new direction for the country … one that their generation can influence."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dems in D.C.: One reader's 'terrifying' thought

In a Sunday column about Sen. Elizabeth Dole's political plight, I mused about her missed opportunity to connect with citizens and gain a reputation for standing up for ordinary folks against a powerful government during the dispute over the proposed Outlying Landing Field near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina.

A retired military officer wrote back, taking me to task for going too easy on Dole -- "It's time for her to move on" -- and offering a few additional thoughts about the upcoming election. It was a thoughtful note -- including his worry about what would happen if Democrats win a landslide and wind up with big Congressional majorities. "An absolutely terrifying prospect," he thought.
Here's what he had to say:
"Mr. Betts,
"In your column today you were too kind by half in assessing the disservice Senator Dole has done to the State and her chances of reelection by her Janie Come Lately opposition to the OLF. From my perspective she has done little in the service of her North Carolina constituents -- the main reason for which she was elected.
"I am a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer. So, that makes me a member of a special interest group -- veterans/military. By virtue of my age and some other pursuits I'm a member some others too but, what the heck, every constituent is a member of at least one. Since my retirement I have maintained an active interest in national legislation that pertains to military and veterans issues. When the need arises I do not hesitate to communicate with my elected representatives to urge their support of or opposition to bills as they move through the sausage-making machinery. In response to my communications, usually by e-mail, I routinely receive letter responses from Senator Richard Burr and Representative Sue Myrick. Sure, most of their letters are boilerplate explaining their positions on the legislation in question; nevertheless they are acknowledgement of correspondence from a constituent. Not once in her tenure as a Senator have I heard so much as a peep from Ms. Dole in response to any of my messages. That could be the result of, (a) sloppy staff organization, (b) a "who cares" attitude on the part of the Senator and her staff, and/or (c) both of the above. The bottom line for me is that Senator Dole doesn't really give a rat's rump about her constituents.
"In my mind a vote for Senator can be justified only as a defensive note because I view the potential threat of Democrat Executive and Legislative branches with a filibuster-proof Senate an absolutely terrifying prospect for the Republic.
"You were too easy on the old girl. It's time for her to move on, but the result could be more damaging than anyone could imagine if Democrats have virtually unopposed control of the government. What a predicament in which to have to cast a ballot!"
Jay Brosnan
Mint Hill, NC

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A trio who made us different

The Passing Scene
As the year rushes on and the seasons change, it's time to take note of just a few of the remarkable North Carolinians who've died recently:
John Webb of Wilson, who died at age 82 on Sept. 18. He was a judge for 27 years, serving on the Superior Court bench from 1971-77, then on the N.C. Court of Appeals until 1986, and on the Supreme Court until 1998.He was a World War II veteran, one of millions who went off to war, came back to go to college and law school and went on to build successful careers and become pillars of the community. They'll tell stories for a long time about John Webb, once known as the Smiling Cobra because he was soft-spoken and could smile and listen politely to defendants and their lawyers -- then strike with a tough sentence for those offenders who needed to go to prison.

Nell Joslin Styron of Raleigh died at age 93 on Sept. 10. There was just no one quite like her. She was a newspaper writer, poet, gardening expert, restaurant hostess and generally the life of the Capital City. I met her one day in the 1970s when journalist Ferrel Guillory introduced me to an out-of-the-way restaurant called The Upstairs (and known to old-timers as Marcus's, after a delicatessen that preceded The Upstairs. Nell Styron personally escorted diners to their tables, described the day's specials and regularly advised customers not to miss the cherry dessert -- but you must have it with ice cream "because the cherries are so taaahht." It took me two or three visits to realize she meant tart. They were. In time I came to dine there with the late Jack Aulis, a newspaper columnist who as a Marine had left an arm on some god-forsaken Pacific island during World War II. When Jack arrived, Nell would fly to the cash register and bring back a fresh flower bud, often a rose, that she cut each week to put in Jack's lapel. It was one of the most civil things I ever saw. This place isn't the same without Nell Styron.

And then there was Mary Garber of Winston-Salem, who died Sept. 19 at 92. I didn't know her personally, but I watched her work for decades. She was unique -- a pioneering woman sports writer in a profession that for a long time was dominated almost exclusively by men. She wrote for the Twin City Sentinel and the Winston-Salem Journal, starting in the 1940s when men were away at war and women did a lot of the work. Somehow she survived and thrived after the war, undergoing the indignities of not having the same access to athletes for so long. My first sight of her was in my high school days, when my school, Greensboro Page, was playing basketball at Winston-Salem Reynolds. A diminutive creature hardly five feet tall, wearing some sort of close-knit cap hung with sewn-on bangles was writing things on a notepad and talking to the coaches. I asked a friend from Winston-Salem who in the world that was, and was told, "Oh, that's Miss Mary Garber. She covers sports." I never met her, but in coming years I'd see her at high school or college games, often with one of those funny hats, always with a pad, always asking questions and always working. She was one of the many people that made life in this state somehow different, and almost always better.

Monday, October 13, 2008

GOP Senate? T'ain't so, says Rand

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, takes issue with analyst John Davis' projection that Republicans will take over the state Senate after the Nov. 4 election ballots are counted. Democrats' polling numbers show no such shift, he said, though he declined to release poll findings.
"Our numbers show an entirely different story," he said. "We have been at this a right long time and with a high degree of success. I don't know where he gets his numbers but it looks like a splendid year for Democrats."
Rand points out that Democrats who are running in districts that appear to favor Republicans have won a number of those races in past elections. "We think we've done a good job protecting our turf and a good job taking some of theirs," he added.
Rand said he was concerned about close races, but thought when the election is over, Democrats would wind up "one over or one under, if I was a gambling man." Democrats currently enjoy a 31-19 advantage in the Senate.

State Senate to the GOP?

With President Bush's popularity down in the 20's and voters generally disgusted with the way the nation is headed -- and alarmed about the national economic picture as well as their own savings and retirement plans -- the election this fall looks to be a dismal one for the Republican Party. But there are a couple bright spots. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, is in a close race with Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democrat, and former state Sen. Robert Pittenger is not far behind state Sen. Walter Dalton in the polls for lieutenant governor.
Now comes political consultant John Davis with a forecast sure to ruin Democrats' day: The stars, he says, are lining up for a Republican takeover in the N.C. Senate. That would be a huge political story, given that the Senate has remained in Democratic hands since the crust of the earth cooled. By contrast, the N.C. House was held by Republicans in the mid-1990s for four years and. And the GOP shared power with Democrats in 2003-04 after a Republican switched parties to negate a GOP takeover.
Davis, former head of NCFREE, a pro-business organization, is editor of the Almanac of North Carolina Politics and in the past four elections has projected the winner 97 percent of the time, he says.
For the first time in his experience here, he goes on, Democrats are on the defensive in state Senate "Battleground Districts" and the incumbents in those races are in hot water. Among other things, Davis projects that Republican Kathy Harrington will defeat veteran Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, and that Senate dean R.C. Soles will lose to Republican Bettie Fennell. Davis also thinks Rep. Debbie Clary, R-Cleveland, will beat Democrat Keith Melton, Rutherford County Clerk of Court, to pick up the seat now held by Sen. Dalton. And he projects a loss by Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, to Republican Michael Lee.
How could Republicans pick up the Senate in a year that appears to be going so wrong nationally for the GOP? Because there's an anti-incumbent mood at work. "This is one of the most intense anti-establishment years on record," Davis writes in his analysis. "Voters are so angry that one mistake by an incumbent is all they need to vote them out."
Here's a link to Davis' analysis.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Perdue back in lead in govs' race?

Public Policy Polling, whose updates have kept folks abreast about what one polling firm has found in North Carolina races, has an update that finds Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue back in the lead over Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. Last week it had McCrory up by a small lead.
Here's the release from analyst Tom Jensen:

Bev Perdue 46
Pat McCrory 43
Michael Munger 4

After refocusing her campaign on the economy over the last week, Bev Perdue has taken back the lead for Governor.

Perdue's ad campaign of late has tied Pat McCrory to George W. Bush's economic policies while also talking about what she would do to help things out if she was elected. Where last week she had a 48-38 lead among voters most concerned about the economy that has now increased to a 56-35 advantage. Starting to talk more about the issue that 60% of the electorate names as its top concern may have been the boost Perdue needed to start turning her declining poll numbers around.

She has improved her share of the Democratic vote from 69% last week now to 75%. If she can push that further to 80% over the course of the next month that should be good enough for a win, especially if Michael Munger continues to do so well with independent voters.

There's a 16 point gender gap in this race, with Perdue leading by 11 points among women but trailing by five points with men. McCrory has a small lead with independents. Perdue's up with voters under 45, McCrory leads with older voters.

Monday, October 06, 2008

PPP: Obama by 6, Hagan by 9

A new Public Policy Polling survey of North Carolina voters is out, and it has more good news for Democrats, with Barack Obama "shoring up his lead" and expanding it (to 6 points) over Republican John McCain in the presidential race. Some undecideds have gone to Obama, Tom Jensen says.

PPP also shows Democrat Kay Hagan maintaining a 9 point lead over incumbent U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., in the U.S. Senate race.

PPP also says there's power in showing up: Obama's N.C. numbers have risen when he's campaigned here.

No word from PPP yet on new numbers in the race for governor just yet, but the last poll released last week showed good news for Republicans with Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory leading Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue by 3.

Here's a link to the presidential race poll:

And here's a link to the Senate race poll:

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Honors for 'Paradox of Tar Heel Politics'

This has been a terrific year for new books about North Carolina, what with Bill Link's biography of Jesse Helms and Anna Hayes' book about former N.C. Chief Justice Susie Sharp and her surprising private life. There are a number of other good books, too, that I've written about before and intend to write more about them. But today's news I spotted in Peder Zane's blog on the N&O's website:

"The North Carolina Literary and Historical Association has announced the winners of the 2008 North Carolina Book Awards.
"The News & Observer's chief political reporter, Rob Christensen, won The Ragan Old North State Award for his history, 'The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events that Shaped Modern North Carolina.'"

Here's a link to Zane's blog and the other winners.

The Regan Award for Rob is well-deserved recognition of a tireless reporter's hard work over a long time to bring to print the stories that helped make North Carolina what it was in the 20th century and what it is in the 21st. Rob's an outstanding reporter with an unerring sense about context, which is what makes his new book so useful. If you haven't seen it and you want to know how we got to this point, read The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics.