Friday, February 27, 2009

Scourge of the FDA: the late Rep. L.H. Fountain, D-N.C.

Readers appalled at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's failure to closely monitor a peanut plant operations in Blakely, Georgia and a syringe packager in Raleigh may be longing for the leadership of the late U.S. Rep. L.H. Fountain, D-N.C.

Fountain, who died in Raleigh in 2002, was a courtly Southern gentleman, a conservative Democrat from Tarboro who was hardly regarded as a radical in any fashion. He was the senior member of the N.C. delegation in his later years, and affectionately referred to as "Dean."

But early in his career in Washington as the congressman from North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, Fountain realized how critical the FDA was to safe foods and drugs in America. Over the years he became a watchdog of the FDA, frequently writing pointed letters to the agency over reported problems and holding congressional hearings before his governmental operations oversight subcommittee. He steered the work of hundreds of investigations into the FDA's operations.

The Peanut Corporation of America has been linked to 666 illnesses and possibly linked to nine deaths. The AM2PAT plant in Raleigh has been linked to 300 cases of sickness and perhaps five deaths. In both cases, inadequate inspections and failures to follow through on reports of problems exposed the FDA's ineptitude. Had Fountain still been in Congress, he may have been involved in inquiries, issued subpoenas and held hearings into the FDA's oversight of these problem companies long ago. Fountain served 15 terms in Congress -- 1953-83 -- and was responsible in the 1960s for exposing the shenanigans of Billy Sol Estes, a former ally of Lyndon Johnson.

We could benefit from another L.H. Fountain right about now.

Bev and I-485: How will she do it?

So, how is it that under the Easley administration the completion of the last remaining unbuilt segment of Interstate 485 around Charlotte could not begin until 2015, but under Gov. Bev Perdue it will start later this year?

A couple things. Mike Easley isn't governor anymore. Bev Perdue is governor, and she gets to shift the state's agenda, pursue different policies than her predecessor and adopt different priorities. The changes at the state Department of Transportation, where she has moved to make its powerful Board of Transportation more a planning agency and less a decision-maker on roads projects, are prime examaples.

Second, Perdue has something that Easley did not have: an opportunity to take advantage of federal stimulus funds. While the amount that might become available for I-485 may not be nearly enough to pay for the remainder of the project, it may be enough to launch the process by the end of this year if the project can be pulled together in time to qualify for the 12-month "shovel-ready" projects window, says Perdue aide Dave Kochman. "We may have an announcement on that within 45 days," he says.

Other projects in the Charlotte area were determined to be shovel-ready within 120 days and thus qualified for the first round of construction. As the Observer's Steve Harrison and Lisa Zagaroli pointed out the other day, initial stimulus funding will pay for $17 million in improvements to N.C. 218, from I-485 to U.S. 74, $4.7 million for a new bridge on N.C. 73 over Long Creek in Stanly County, $3 million for resurfacing I-85 in Cabarrus County, $8.3 million for widening N.C. 51 south of Pineville and $5.6 million for S.R. 1542 in Stanly County.

It's not clear yet how much stimulus money will be available for the I-485 project, which could require about $120 million for construction of five miles of the highway, plus $100 million for an interchange with I-85. One analysis estimates that Charlotte would get about $35 million in stimulus money for the I-485 project, but the Perdue administration will probably be pressing for more for that project as well as for replacing the Yadkin River bridge on I-85, a top priority for Perdue. One potential source of I-485 funding may be a $180 million pot of money set aside for the Monroe Connector/Bypass, Harrison and Zagaroli reported.

Whether the I-485 project can be completed within three years is a question that will be answered by the availability of state and federal funds, of course. But Perdue's willingness to move the project's schedule up and go to bat for more funding is a dramatic turnaround for a project that many thousands of area drivers have lost a lot of teeth enamel fretting about. And Perdue may have an incentive. Near the end of that three-year window, she'll be running for re-election. Completion of I-485 -- or even significant progress that tells motorists the project will be done within the forseeable future -- would be a big bragging point in that campaign.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Of smokes, votes and folks

Tobacco's hold on the N.C. General Assembly has long been a tight one, and efforts to adopt a bill prohibiting smoking in restaurants and workplaces has come fairly close a time or two in the past, but never has had enough votes. On the other hand, the legislature has slowly whittled away at the list of public places where you can smoke -- and the Legislative Building itself is now off-limits, as are other state government buildings.
In 2007, the bill came tantalizingly close for a time in the House, where Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, a lung cancer survivor, has sponsored the anti-smoking bill. In the spring of 2007, the bill failed on a 61-55 vote with about 10 Democrats opposed to Holliman's bill. A switch of four votes would have made the difference, and Holliman probably had at least two of those ready to go if he had had another couple for a majority. He didn't.
This year may be different. The smoking ban bill -- H 2 -- got its first airing in the House Health Committee Thursday afternoon and a key vote against the bill last time -- Pitt County Democratic Rep. Marian McLawhorn of Grifton, in the heart of tobacco country -- publicly announced her support during discussion. She said she still had a few problems with the bill but planned to vote for it this time.
That's the sort of turnaround that Holliman believes is taking place this time around. He cites several other Eastern N.C. legislators who he believes will vote his way -- and whose vote to ban smoking would be a symbol of how dramatically attitudes have changed. More legislators now see this bill as a public health matter and less as a property-issue matter, and he believes more Democrats and more Republicans will support the ban this year.
If he's right, it will continue a slow but steady progression in the legislature to limit the effects of second-hand smoke on those who do not want to inhale it. As outgoing State Health Director Leah Devlin reminded the House committee, there is no safe level of second-hand smoke -- and, she said, studies show that 1,600 non-smokers die each year from the effects of second-hand smoke in North Carolina. You could almost see legislators digest that somber information. That's a lot of folks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

'Liberty and Freedom' in North Carolina

Serious students of North Carolina history will want to take a look at "Liberty and Freedom: North Carolina's Tour of the Bill of Rights,"
just published by the N.C. Office of Archives and History. It's a paperbound book of essays on the meaning of the Bill of Rights and particularly the First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, assembly and the press. It's of special interest because North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution the first time around because it did not include a Bill of Rights. George Washington sent each state a copy of the Bill of Rights, and state researchers proved that the recovered copy was indeed the one the first president had sent the state in 1789.
It's a timely book summarizing the talks that folks heard in 2007 when North Carolina's original copy of the Bill of Rights -- recently recovered in a fascinating mystery story -- went on tour in seven cities around the state. The speakers included former NAACP Legal Defense Fund head and N.C. Central Chancellor Julius Chambers, former N.C. Supreme Court Justice and Campbell Law School Dean Willis Whichard, and noted historians Alan Watson and William Price, among others.
For my money, the account by state lawyers Dale Talbert and Karen Blum, in a chapter about "The Odyssey of North Carolina's Original Copy of the Bill of Rights and the State's Case for its Ownership," is a fascinating detective story of how the document came to disappear from the state Capitol at the close of the Civil War and how it came back to Raleigh. That happened following a sting operation launched when those who possessed the document attempted to cash in on it in Pennsylvania.
The book, which goes for $24, can be ordered from the N.C. Office of Archives and History's Historical Publications Section. Call (919) 733-7442 for more information or go online at

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The endless debate: Jim and Jesse

Public Policy Polling's findings about how Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms are viewed these days (Hunt with an edge, but not a huge one) was a reminder of the epic 1984 battle between the two symbols of North Carolina's competing schools of political thought.

Going into that race, Hunt, the two-term governor who was seen as a rising star of the Democratic Party, held an early and seemingly commanding lead over the two-term Republican senator. But Helms -- who never lost a statewide race in his five terms in the Senate (1973-2003) -- made up ground fast and defeated Hunt in the 1984 general election, the only defeat Hunt suffered in six statewide races beginning with his successful campaign for lieutenant governor the same year Helms first won the Senate race and his four successful runs for governor. Helms, of course, died last summer; Hunt remains quite active in setting and shaping the public policy agenda in this state.

No way to prove this, but I always thought that North Carolina voters liked Hunt's optimism, energy and can-do approach to education, while they also liked Helms' penny-pinching ways when it came to the federal budget and his distrust of a powerful central government. My working theory was that in any Hunt-Helms matchup beyond 1984, voters would stand by Jesse in a Senate contest but stick with Jim in any race for governor.

Here's Tom Jensen's analysis:

Jesse Helms may have beat out Jim Hunt at the polls when they faced off for the Senate in 1984, but when it comes to who North Carolinians say they have a higher opinion of now, the former Governor is winning out 43-37.

That fact has a lot to do with the changing demography of the state. Among natives of North Carolina Helms has the better legacy, 42-41. But with folks who have moved into the state Hunt has a substantial 45-31 lead.

The numbers break down pretty much as you would expect. Liberals, moderates, women, urban and suburban voters, and African Americans all have a more favorable view of Hunt. Conservatives, whites, men, and rural voters all prefer Helms.

The results are not quite as polarized along party lines as one might expect. 16% of Democrats say they have a better opinion of Helms, an indication that even though the influence of the Jessecrats has clearly been diluted, as evidence by Barack Obama's victory in the state last fall, they're not completely gone. At the same time, 16% of Republicans say they have a more favorable view of Hunt. That is particularly true among non-native Republicans, 25% of whom say they like Hunt more.

I think this poll actually says a fair amount about where North Carolina is today politically. When we decided to ask this question I expected Hunt to win by a much larger margin, and I think the further into history we go the more favorably Hunt will be viewed in these types of comparisons. But the reality is that even though the state is turning in a more progressive direction, shifting the pendulum to Hunt after he lost to Helms at the polls, there is still a very strong conservative base of voters in the state whose influence will remain strong if not necessarily dominant moving forward.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Judge's poker ruling mirrors Black's view

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning has in effect sided with former House Speaker Jim Black, the disgraced Mecklenburg Democrat who now resides in federal prison, on the topic of video poker. Here's a link to Mark Johnson's story.

Manning -- who incidently is a Republican, though judges don't run on a partisan ballot anymore -- ruled Thursday that a 2006 law banning video poker machines in North Carolina was unconstitutional because federal law and a state agreement allow the machines on the Cherokee Indian reservation in Western North Carolina. Manning stayed his order until the state Court of Appeals rules on a lawsuit on this issue, but Manning found it was unlawful to ban video poker in one part of the state if they're legal in another part -- pretty much what Black thought.

The irony is that a federal investigation of video poker operations, and campaign contributions from the industry, led to an investigation of Black and ultimately his sentencing to federal prison for taking illegal contributions from optometrists. Black was long the video poker industry's strongest defender in the legislature, resisting Senate bills that would have banned video poker years earlier. His political committees got a lot of video poker contributions, and a lot of folks thought that arrangement was a simple retail purchase.

One reason Black said he opposed the ban was that if it was legal on the Indian reservation, it ought to be legal elsewhere. "Why are you going to discriminate against any legal business in the state?" he asked at a 2006 press conference while he was still speaker. But Black later supported the bill phasing out video poker after the legislature approved a state lottery and Gov. Mike Easley signed it into law.

Burr understands value of siding with local folks

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has made it clear where he stands on the Navy's continuing quest for an Outlying Landing Field in either Virginia or North Carolina. If the Navy wants to put it in an area of this state where residents oppose it, Burr will do everything he can to pull the plug on Navy funding for the project. The Daily Advance in Elizabeth City reports that Burr, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee (as is recently-installed Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who also opposes the field where residents are against it), told the Advance he would play "a number of cards" including denying funding if the Navy pressed to put the OLF in an unwanted area. The Navy is looking at three sites in Virginia and two in North Carolina -- in Camden and Gates counties. The counties are formally on record against the OLF, and so are citizens.

What a turnaround this represents. Eight years ago, residents of Washington and Beaufort Counties were desperately combing the ranks of elected officials trying to find allies in their fight to keep the OLF from being built next to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. For years they had a hard time finding anyone in high office to help them fight Washington, but the tide turned after they won a key victory in federal court when Judge Terrence Boyle ruled the Navy had not taken the required "hard look" at the environmental impact of the OLF in an area that harbors large migratory waterfowl that pose a threat to the Navy's aircraft and crews.

Later, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Gov. Mike Easley, as well as Burr, took strong stances against the OLF. Had Dole taken a leadership position against the OLF earlier in the fight, she would have gotten a lot of credit from the environmental community -- and that would have made it a lot harder for Kay Hagan to unseat her in last fall's election. It would not have been the only issue, of course, but it would have helped Dole. Burr, whose seat is up in 2010, is a savvy politician who understands the value of being on the same side as the people.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How partisan is your district?

How partisan is your district?

The Civitas Institute has updated its Partisan Index, based on the Cook Partisan Voting Index of Congressional districts, so anyone can compare the political leanings of a state House or Senate district with the rest of the state's voting tendencies. It's an interesting look at N.C. politics -- especially for political junkies -- and is based on results from the 2008 statewide elections for governor and other members of the Council of State.

Here's the link to the Civitas Institute's "North Carolina Partisan Index."

Perdue doing pretty well in Charlotte area, poll finds

Less than two months into their terms, President Obama is faring a little better in polls among North Carolina voters than Gov. Perdue, though Perdue is doing better in Charlotte than statewide -- at least according to Public Policy Polling.

PPP finds that Obama has a 52 percent approval rate and a 41 percent disapproval rate.

Ton Jensen notes, "Barack Obama has the highest approval PPP has ever found for the President in North Carolina. Of course that may have something to do with the fact that we were formed during the Bush administration...

"Nonetheless public opinion toward Obama is heavily fractured along party lines. While 82% of Democrats like the job he's doing, only 12% of Republicans do. Independents are pretty much split right down the middle with 46% approving and 45% expressing disapproval."

Meanwhile, PPP found that Perdue has a 43 percent approval rate and a 32 percent disapproval rate.

Says Jensen, "PPP's first look at Bev Perdue's approval rating finds decent numbers for her a month into her term as Governor. They're positively glowing compared to our final look at Mike Easley's approval ratings last June, which found only 33% of voters in the state happy with his performance compared to 37% who disapproved.

"Perdue's strongest marks are coming from her home base in the eastern part of the state, where 51% approve of her performance compared to just 26% who disapprove. Her weakest numbers are in the mountains, where 32% approve and 45% disapprove. Perhaps the most notable thing about Perdue's approval is that at 46/29, her numbers are better in greater Charlotte than they are statewide, perhaps an indication that her outreach efforts in the section of the state she fared poorest at in the election are starting to pay off."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More support for smoking ban?

There's some reason for Rep. Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, to be optimistic about the chances for his bill to ban smoking in the state's restaurants and workplaces. Mark Johnson with the Capital Bureau of the Observer and the News & Observer reports that the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association won't oppose the bill and, Johnson says in Dome, might even support the ban.

That's a big turnaround from the last general assembly, when the association's opposition was a big factor in the bill's failure in the House.

Here's Johnson's report:

The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association will not oppose -- and could actively support -- a ban on smoking in restaurants and workplaces.

That position undermines potential opposition by legislators who argue that a ban could hurt the restaurant business.

Paul Stone, the association's president, said that 80 percent of the group's members in a recent poll said they want the organization to either actively support or at least not oppose the ban proposed in the legislature. That number changes, though, if lawmakers start carving out exceptions for private clubs or other types of businesses, creating what Stone called an unlevel playing field in competing for customers.

"If they turn around and put (an exception) in," Stone said, "we'll be in the same position as two years ago."

That was when the association, which represents 3,000 restaurants and hotels, initially backed a similar bill but dropped its support after exemptions were added for private clubs. The bill failed in the House by six votes.

And that's not all. Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling reports that all demographic groups support the smoking ban. Here's part of his analysis:

Currently being considered in the legislature is a bill that would ban smoking in restaurants and public places, with very few exemptions. Do you support a ban on smoking in public places?

Yes 64
No 31

Last week when we polled on the economic stimulus package in Congress we found the North Carolina electorate about as polarized along party lines on that issue as it could possibly be. That's not the case when it comes to the proposed smoking ban the General Assembly is considering, which is earning majority support across partisan and ideological lines.

68% of Democrats, 62% of Republicans, and 58% of independents support it. So do 72% of liberals, 65% of moderates, and 60% of conservatives.

A majority of every demographic group that PPP tracks expresses support for the ban. The lowest levels of support come from voters in the Triad (52%) and those in rural areas (57%).

White House: 105,000 jobs -- but how many are new?

The White House has released state-by-state estimates of how many jobs will be affected by the stimulus package the president has signed into law. It mentions 105,000 jobs for North Carolina and 50,000 for South Carolina.

But it does NOT project which of those would be new and which would be existing jobs preserved -- an important distinction that will matter enormously to those who are out of work.

The news release put it this way: "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a nationwide effort to create jobs, jumpstart growth and transform our economy to compete in the 21st century. The compromise package of $789 billion will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years. Jobs created will be in a range of industries from clean energy to health care, with over 90% in the private sector."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kay: I'm back in North Carolina

The lessons of Campaign '08 were not lost on Sen. Kay Hagan, the Democrat who turned Republican Elizabeth Dole out of office after one term. One thing that worked against Dole was the impression -- right or wrong -- that she had not spent much time in North Carolina. That was one of the themes Democrats used against Dole, once a highly popular senator whose standing with voters dropped by the time her re-election campaign rolled around.

Friday, Hagan's office sent out a news release with this pointed headline, emphasizing her ties to the state:


Meets with constituents, talks to BioTech Community, Tours Industries of the Blind, “Ready-to-Go” Infrastructure Project, Ft. Bragg

U.S. Senator Kay R. Hagan (D-NC) will return to North Carolina next week while the U.S. Senate stands in recess after Presidents’ Day. In addition to continuing work on setting up her new state offices, Senator Hagan will attend several public events across the state and meet with constituents.

The news release went on to describe the events she'd take part in while in the state.

Not much sublety about this. Hagan is making sure folks know she's back home when the Senate is in recess. And if she does run for re-election in 2014, she surely wants to make sure she doesn't have that "never comes home" problem that contributed to Dole's defeat.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When governors go on vacation

When Gov. Bev Perdue didn't show up for a speech and sent a video instead earlier this week after being on the job about a month, tongues were wagging and folks were wondering where she was, especially after being so visible during her first few weeks on the job. She had been billed as the luncheon speaker at the opening day of the 2009 Emerging Issues Forum Monday, but a big crowd that showed up had to settle for a short video of Perdue promising more hands-on governing and immediate action to deal with the state's economic problems.

Dome's Web site reported Monday afternoon that Perdue was on a long-planned vacation with her spouse, Bob Eaves, at an undisclosed location. Rob Christensen noted that the speculation was that the vacation was somewhere out of the country. Perdue’s office said it was a “working vacation” and that Perdue took budget books and other materials with her to study.

Politicians for some reason find it hard to tell folks when or where they'll be on vacation -- even when they've promised voters a higher level of transparency in their officials duties. But time off is evidently a personal matter and none of the public's business. This has happened before.

It must have been back in 1978 or so when Gov. Jim Hunt got mad about being caught in tennis togs by a news photographer. He was at a meeting of what then was called the Southern Governors Conference at Hilton Head, S.C., when a photographer nabbed a picture of the governor swinging a racket on the courts at the resort. The News & Observer, among other newspapers, published the photo and Hunt hit the roof about being portrayed as playing when the public expected him to be working.
``You're damn right I think it's bad,`` Hunt said at the time. ``The public doesn't want their officials relaxing.

He wasn't the only governor to come under public scrutiny for appearing to play when there might have been work to be done. Gov. Jim Martin, an avid sailor, had a long-planned family sailing vacation on his schedule in 1987, but the legislature had not finished work on the state budget. Martin went sailing anyway, on the not-unreasonable premise that the legislature was run by Democrats, that they were putting the budget together behind closed doors, and that no one could understand what they were up to, anyway.

``The legislature wasn't doing anything,`` Martin said in 1988 when he was running for re-election, Tim Funk reported. ``They were talking in

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates changed politics

Innovation in Lincoln-Douglas debates

The communication revolution has moved so swiftly that new ways to communicate seem to pop up almost weekly, in a field where innovation once seemed to take decades. In my time in the newspaper business the transformation has been astonishing, moving from the hot type of the 19th century -- still in use in the 1960s -- to cold type, then several iterations that have taken us to pagination and beyond. I've used huge old teletype machines with paper punch-tape, twix machines, telecopiers, faxes, desktop computers the size of a Buick front end, IBM Model 25s with, as we used to joke, a chain drive and steam propulsion, to laptops and handheld devices that weigh less than a stick of hot type weighed when I first got into print journalism. Now e-mails and blogs are becoming old media, with an explosion of new ways to reach people.

I thought about that while reading the Winter 2009 issue of "Smithsonian," which focuses on President Lincoln and includes a fascinating look at the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, which transformed American politics. The two candidates weren't running for president then. It was all about an Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate, two years before the 1860 election when Republican Lincoln would defeat Democrat Stephen Douglas. But Douglas won re-election to the Senate while, at the same time, Lincoln gained a national following.

The debates were held in seven places around Illinois between Aug. 21 and Oct. 15, 1858, as the two debated about the future of slavery -- and as Lincoln proved to people he could stand up to Douglas, who was presumed in advance to be the far better debater. In the early going he probably was but by the end, Lincoln was making his mark.

What struck me is how those three-hour debates changed media coverage of politics. Fergus Bordewich relates what happened in his story "Face the Nation":

In 1858, innovation was turning what would otherwise have been a local contest into one followed from Mississippi to Maine. Stenographers trained in shorthand recorded the candidates' words. Halfway through each debate, runners were handed the stenographers' notes; they raced for the next train to Chicago, converting shorthand into text during the journey and producing a transcript ready to be typeset and telegraphed to the rest of the country as soon as it arrived. "The combination of shorthand, the telegraph and the railroad changed everything," says Allen C. Guelzo, author of 'Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America.' "It was unprecedented. Lincoln and Douglas knew they were speaking to the whole nation. It was like JFK in 1960 coming to grips with the presence of the vast new television audience."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

N.C. voters support stimulus plan 50-39%

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling reports that N.C. voters support President Obama's economic stimulus package, by a margin of 50 percent to 39 percent. And interestingly, the demographics in support of Obama's plan don't exactly mirror the margin by which he won North Carolina in November. Here's what Jensen has to say:

The stimulus is a complicated issue, and there are indications within the poll that voters are taking their cues about whether to support it from the Washington politicians speaking for and against the bill. With the President in strong support, so are 80% of Democrats. With Congressional Republicans in opposition, so are 71% of GOP voters in the state. Independents oppose the bill by a 53-33 margin.

The demographics that launched Barack Obama to a surprise victory in North Carolina last fall- African Americans, young voters, and women- are all in strong support of the bill. The ones that almost allowed John McCain to keep the state Republican- white voters and men- are considerably less supportive.

What does that all add up to? Public opinion on the stimulus in North Carolina is probably more a referendum on the President than anything else.

For more on this, including the crosstabs, click here and then click on "North Carolina Stimulus Poll."

Monday, February 09, 2009

'Shame, embarrassment and ...disbelief'

Readers reacted to a Sunday column with their own distinct memories of the writings of James J. Kilpatrick, who gave up his popular column "The Writer's Art" recently.

Several readers noted that I gave the wrong Virginia county that closed its schools as part of Virginia's reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. It was Prince Edward County, not Prince William.

Here's a sampling of responses:

From a Charlotte reader:

I too have enjoyed his Writer's Art articles but could never overcome the nauseous memory of his extreme racism, lack of respect for equal rights, lack of respect for the Supreme Court, lack of respect for justice itself. While Editor of the News Leader he represented the worst of Virginia politics & politicians.
I think you will find that it was Prince Edward County Schools that were closed. What a disgrace.

From a Richmond reader:

While a delightful man whom I was honored to know while he was in Richmond, I learned from another of his articles years ago that his advice for women was to "stay home and learn to make a good spaghetti sauce." Odd, from a man who was married to two exceptional women with their own careers.

From another Charlotte reader:

Your column caused me some consternation as I read it this morning. I have been an avid reader of Mr. Kilpatrick's column because I care about our English language. It seems that he has been one of the decreasingly few who have tried to clarify the rules of English grammar and his helpful and succinctly stated advice has encouraged better writing by many. Indeed, his column, The Writers Art, is one I have turned to with pleasure when opening the op-ed page of the Charlotte Observer on Saturday mornings.
Although I have many disagreements with his political views, I certainly appreciate his efforts to maintain the integrity of my much loved English language.

Another reader wrote back:

Over the years I have been sickened each time I saw Kilpatrick's 'The Writer's Art' in the newspaper the idea of such a person with such views putting on an avuncular front is nothing short of creepy. There are many, many broken lives from the Prince Edward school closing years (1959-1963) both black and white. The county was poor, about evenly divided between black/whites and, continuing school, by relocating or attending private school, was out of the reach of most residents-Kilpatrick was a major contributor to that state of affairs.
May his name and every word that he has ever written be quickly forgotten by all who lay claim to the name 'human'.

Steve Ford, editorial page editor of the News & Observer, who grew up in Virginia, noted in his Sunday column
that late in his writing career, Kilpatrick bemoaned his views on desegregation, looking back on that period "with shame, embarrassment and something close to disbelief. We defenders of school segregation were so very wrong! Legally wrong. Morally wrong. We should have been devoting our energies not to better white schools and better black schools, but simply to better schools, period."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Luther Hodges, reporting from Iraq

Former Charlotte banker Luther Hodges Jr., son of the late Gov. Luther Hodges, has had a varied career -- businessman, politician, Democrat, Republican and adjunct professor at UNC's Kenan School of Business. He'll start adding foreign correspondent to his resume today when he starts writing a blog from Sulaimani in the Kurdish region of Iraq, reports a media consulting firm promoting the arrangement and the "Tarheel Democracy Dispatch." (Note 'Tarheel,' not Tar Heel.) Here's a press release (the Web site address for Hodges' blog is from Kohn Associates, which notes that it has done work for a number of clients including Republicans such as N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry and state Sen. David Rouzer:

Contact: Joyce Kohn February 5, 2009
February 4, 2009 – RALEIGH, N.C. - Luther H. Hodges Jr., a long-time North Carolina public servant and business ambassador, invites you to come along as he embarks on his journey to Sulaimani, in the Kurdish region of Iraq. You can track Luther's adventures, currently an adjunct professor at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, by following his daily blog at , presented in association with Kohn Associates, LLC.

Tarheel Democracy Dispatch provides media outlets, institutions of higher learning, and all engaged North Carolinians with a direct look into the culture of a developing northeastern Iraq city, through a daily blog composed by Luther himself. Share the author's intimate experiences, observations and perceptions on Iraq's post-democratic transition and exposure to a global economy.
The Tarheel Democracy Dispatch is proud to partner with the North Carolina Heroes Fund, a 501( C)(3 )organization dedicated to serving the men and women from North Carolina who have or are currently serving in the armed services. The alignment with such a worthwhile cause highlights the sacrifice that so many families have made to ensure our countries freedom.
The first blog post from Iraq will begin on February 6, 2009 as Mr. Hodges is expected to arrive in Sulaimani to begin his stent at American University’s Executive MBA program teaching business law and ethics. Course documents and cases are included as part of the blog’s site.
News Facts:
• The American University of Iraq in Sulaimani is a private, non- profit, comprehensive liberal arts, American style university situated in the progressive and safe city of Sulaimani, in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq and opened its doors in October 2007. At all levels of instruction at AUI-S, learning is enhanced by way of small, interactive classes and close student-faculty relationships and the language of instruction is English throughout.
• The North Carolina Heroes’ Fund is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to supporting the men and women of North Carolina who support us. The Fund’s focus is on men and women or their families who are currently serving or have recently served in the military and are enduring hardships. The fund was established to provide support to military men and women from North Carolina or those stationed at one of North Carolina’s many military bases.
• Luther H. Hodges, Jr. currently lives in Chapel Hill, NC with his wife Cheray and their three wonderful Labrador Retrievers. Cheray and Luther enjoy spending extended time in Watauga County, in the Western part of our state. Luther graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1957 and went on to Harvard to receive his Masters in Business Administration, which he completed in 1961. Upon his graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he served as an officer in the United States Navy. Much like his father, he entered into the private sector with the intentions of serving the public, as stressed by his father, so he could "give back" to society. He worked 25 years in the commercial banking business, as the Chairman of the Board of the North Carolina National Bank (later becoming Bank of America), and Chairman and CEO of Washington Bancorporation and The National Bank of Washington. In following his father’s footsteps, he ran for United States Senate from North Carolina in 1978, later he served as Acting Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Commerce under President Jimmy Carter. Currently, he serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, along with serving on various boards of directors.
• Kohn Associates is a strategic marketing, public relations, fundraising and event planning firm located in Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina. By providing turn-key marketing services, and an impressive team lead by principle Joyce Kohn and associates Leah Bartlett (Charlotte, NC) and Matthew Bales they are able to fully serve all their clients needs. Kohn Associates provides in-house web and design services, large and small scale event planning and execution services as well extensive statewide campaign experience. Current clients include the Tarheel Democracy Dispatch, North Carolina Heroes Fund, The Contemporary Art Foundation, David Rouzer for State Senate and Cherie Berry Commissioner of Labor.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Supe: Abolish State Board of Education?

You may have seen Lynn Bonner's and Ryan Teague Beckwith's story this morning about Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson's appeal to legislative leaders Tuesday to give her post real authority over the state's schools. She appeared at a press conference with Gov. Bev Perdue last week when Perdue announced her plans to concentrate authority in a new CEO of public schools who also would chair the State Board of Education -- and that Bill Harrison, superintendent of public schools in Cumberland County, would get the job.

This confusion over who's in charge, and the hydra-headed educational setup that our Constitution not only condones but creates, is emblematic of the state's school problems.

Atkinson doesn't just ask for more authority. She asks whether North Carolina even needs a Board of Education -- a broadside that virtually dares the General Assembly to act.

For those who want to know exactly what Atkinson said, here's the text of her letter, from the N&O's Web site:

February 3, 2009

Dear President Pro Tempore Basnight and Speaker Hackney:

In asking Cumberland County Schools' Superintendent Dr. Bill Harrison to serve as Chairman of the State Board of Education and Chief Executive Officer of Public Schools, Governor Perdue did what she thought was best for public education. Having worked with Dr. Harrison for over 20 years, I know that he has made and will continue to make significant contributions to public education in his new role.

He deserves a chance to make a difference; and I, with more than 30 years of dedicated service and experience in the education field, deserve a chance as well.

Twice I have stepped forward and offered my service and leadership, and twice I have been denied this opportunity. I attribute this denial to the current governance structure as outlined in legislation.

Every State Superintendent since 1995 has coped with the confusion caused by the current governance structure. It seems logical that an elected official would be able to select, organize and run his or her state agency. You can rest assured that the over 2.1 million voters who voted for me think I have the authority to run the Department. To think otherwise would discount the voter.

Prior to 1995, the State Superintendent had the authority to run the Department of Public Instruction. Now state law gives that authority to the State Board of Education "subject to the discretion, control, and approval of the State Board of Education, it shall be the duty of the Superintendent to ... organize and establish a Department of Public Instruction..."

The time for clarity is now and I am calling on the General Assembly to provide that clarity once and for all. Your action will have implications for other Council of State elected officials and how state agencies are run in North Carolina.

In re-examining this issue, I ask you to consider if a State Board of Education is needed, and if so, also consider how members of the State Board of Education are appointed, the duties and selection of the State Superintendent, and the role of the Governor.

The people of North Carolina need the General Assembly to address the governance issue in its entirety, not just in a piecemeal fashion. Now is the time to decide to restore authority to the State Superintendent, issue a constitutional referendum or to give Governor Bev Perdue total authority of education. North Carolina deserves your final decision.

Regardless of whether I have the authority to advocate for the Department or to actually run the agency, I will take pride and comfort in knowing that many of my colleagues in the Department of Public Instruction and in public schools across the state recognize that during my last term, I played a significant role in influencing efforts to make public education better.

No matter what happens, I can assure you that I will work collaboratively with Dr. Bill Harrison and Governor Bev Perdue to do what is right for North Carolina's 1.4 million public school students and approximately 190,000 full-time personnel.


June St. Clair Atkinson

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Manning on making schools 'worth a toot'

While I was sitting in in a 10th floor courtroom of the Wake County Courthouse Tuesday morning listening to proceedings in yet one more hearing of the long-running Leandro schools case, Republicans in the legislature were holding a news conference to promote the education agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council as a way to shake up public schools in North Carolina. Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Republican Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) were showcasing the Report Card on American Education, which ranks North Carolina "30th in the nation based on fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and reading scores as well as SAT and ACT scores." The report card recommends these steps:

Require the use of national normed testing to provide consistency in measuring academic progress
•Reward our best teachers with merit and differential pay rather than the current system of pay based on longevity and credentials
•Enhance career, technical and vocation programs in high schools
•Eliminate the current cap on charter schools to allow families to exercise greater educational options for their children

Back at the courthouse, Judge Howard Manning, who has presided over the Leandro case for more than a decade, was poring over statistics that indicate which schools have improved and which have not -- including a 19 percent decline in a Hoke County middle school that last year had shown great improvement. Manning said he had called the school to find out what had happened, and learned than that one of its key leaders was no longer at the school. It confirmed one of Manning's central perceptions about schools -- that those with excellent principals were best positioned to make excellent progress -- and those without would not.

"If the leadership isn't in the front office," Manning said at the hearing, "the school isn't worth a toot."

Monday, February 02, 2009

So long to Jim Long, happy warrior

Former Insurance Commissioner Jim Long, who died of a stroke Monday just weeks after leaving public office, was a bridge to an earlier time in North Carolina politics symbolized by straw boaters, mail-order galluses, chewing tobacco and a shrewd eye for the finer points of pit-cooked barbecue, deep-fried hushpuppies and fiery spirits that came in Mason jars.

He was a political descendant of such mainstays of N.C. politics as the late Commissioner of Agriculture Jim Graham and the late Secretary of State Thad Eure. Like Graham and Eure, Long was something of a character. Always ready with a quip or a wisecrack, the portly Long stood out in a crowd because of his bright red ties and the ready smile on his face. He loved a good argument and would willingly argue either side just for the conversational exercise. He was, as Hubert Humphrey liked to describe himself, a "happy warrior." Eure liked to call himself the "Oldest rat in the Democrat barn" and after he died, Long adopted the same slogan.

Long was one of the first politicians I covered when I began my newspapering career in Alamance County in the late 1960s. Long's father, George, and grandfather had been in the legislature, and he was heading that way too, serving from 1971 to 1975. He succeeded former Insurance Commissioner John Ingram in 1985 and often opposed insurance rate hikes while commissioner.

Long has an unusual distinction in N.C. politics. Not many office holders are able to name their successors and see them get elected, but last year Long waited until practically the last minute to announce he would not run again -- and to help a key aide, former state Rep. Wayne Goodwin, win the Democratic nomination and succeed him in office.

These past few weeks have not been good for public figures from Alamance. Former Gov. Bob Scott of Hawfields died, and so did N.C. State Coach Kay Yow. Well, she wasn't from Alamance, having grown up right next door in Guilford County's Gibsonville, close to the county line, but Yow coached several years at then-Elon College, now Elon University, and she had strong ties to Alamance. And now Jim Long has died. These colorful North Carolinians enlivened politics, sports, culture and public life for decades, and we are all the richer for their achievements.

Is bipartisanship a bad thing?

In his opening day lament about the lack of bipartisanship in the state Senate, Republican leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County took note of Democrats' failure to support rules proposal opening up operations of the Senate, though he praised Gov. Bev Perdue and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton for their efforts to "reach across the aisle." He also voted that Senate Republicans would reach out to Perdue and Dalton "to seek new, innovative and bipartisan solutions to the problems facing our state."

I blogged on a part of his remarks last week, including his using "Democrat" as an adjective, which drew some heat from some commenters. That didn't surprise me.

What did surprise me were several e-mails that took issue with the whole notion of bipartisanship as a good thing. One of my regular correspondents, who doesn't like seeing his name in print, sent along a link to an article from "American Thinker" entitled "Why Bipartisanship is Unethical."

Among other things, the writer, Larrey Anderson, believes this: "Depending on the circumstances, "bipartisanship" is almost always a sign of either A) political weakness or (B) moral turpitude.

"In either case, bipartisanship is almost never ethical."

Here's a link to the article:

Another e-mailer from Western North Carolina had this to say:

"I do not want bipartisan at all and I am sick of trying to reach across the isle and getting my hand slapped and surely the others are just as tired unless they like the crumbs off the table of the emperor Basnight and the queen of gambling Perdue. Heck I do not want democratic, democrats, or republicans but just plain old Americans that stand tall for right."

Who knew bipartisanship was so dadgum unpopular?

Also, for those who missed it, here's what Berger said about bipartisanship, in a news release his office sent out Wednesday:

Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) made the following statement:
“Now is the time for a bipartisan effort to remake North Carolina’s government from the ground up.
Democrat Senator Marc Basnight’s speech, accepting his nomination to an eighth term as President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate, shows he is aware of the litany of problems facing North Carolina’s citizens.
“The Democrats did not support any of the Senate Republican’s good government proposals to reform and open the operation of the Senate. Unfortunately, this failure indicates a continuation of past practices in which Democrat leaders dictate the operations of an extremely partisan Senate from behind closed doors. Senate Democrats still refuse to accept the lessons to be learned from the embarrassing tenure of Democrat Speaker of the House Jim Black; those lessons include a need for open debate and transparency in management of the state’s business.
“Senate Republicans are encouraged by the efforts of Governor Perdue and Lieutenant Governor Dalton to reach across the aisle. Senate Republicans will reach out to Governor Perdue and Lieutenant Governor Dalton to seek new, innovative, and bipartisan solutions to the problems facing our state. It is our hope that the Senate Democrats will heed Barack Obama’s call in his inaugural address to end, ‘…the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.’”