Thursday, April 30, 2009

Important legislative business: Go Heels!

I was out of town Wednesday when the legislature feted the UNC Tar Heels for winning the NCAA men's basketball championship for the fifth time, and enjoyed reading Dome's account of the wording of a Senate resolution.

I suspect the fine hand of Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, UNC partisan extraordinaire, in the exquisitely-put language (at least to we Tar Heel fans) that zinged a certain school in Durham that the late columnist and editor Jim Shoemaker sometimes referred to as "Methodist Flats."

Dome reported these two paragraphs in particular:

"Whereas, the 89-72 Carolina win over Michigan State was a convincing and thorough victory but one that left intact Duke's record for the worst loss in Final Four history


Whereas, the senior players named above were undefeated in all away games played within a 12-mile radius of Chapel Hill;"

It's all in good fun, of course, but there may be a few Blue Devil fans who can be forgiven for having a little less fun than others. But just for the record: Go Heels!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Judge Manning: It's all about the children

Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning seems satisfied with what state proposes to do in a Leandro case intervention in Halifax County, but has not signed off on a consent order. That's because while the Halifax County school board approved and committed to the plan Monday night and state public schools CEO Bill Harrison backs it, the plan won't go before the State Board of Education until next week. Deputy NC Attorney General Tom Ziko said in court Wednesday that he will bring the proposed consent order to Manning for his signature after the board approves it.

The agreement compels the state to see to it that the main findings of the Leandro Supreme Court decision -- that every school have a competent principal, every classroom have an effective teacher and every school must have the resources it needs so that every child has the opportunity to get a sound basic education -- will be carried out in Halifax County. This would be the first time the state has directly intervened in a failing school district.

Halifax county has a high rate of poverty, with more than 80 percent of its students getting free or reduced-price lunches, and 60 percent of its students are low-performing.

The intervention plan calls for the state to intervene in the Halifax schools for three years, requiring teacher and principal training, new teacher effectiveness standards, and ongoing-coaching and monitoring by a team of 12 coaches who will help teachers keep their classroom skills up to par. The plan also includes accountability measures so that teachers or administrators who don't measure up "will have to exit the system," said schools intervention specialist Pat Ashley.

Manning pressed Ashley and Ziko to recognize that schools are not about adults. It's about children, he said, who are being deprived of the right to a sound education. Manning recounted his long experience with the Leandro lawsuit, working his way through his initial determination that high schools were failing, then that math preparation in middle schools was the problem, and finally his recognition that students in elementary school simply were not getting the fundamental training they need in reading and math. "If you don't get the third grade preparation to read or to do math," he said, those students would never be able to perform adequately. "This is the place we're failing these children," Manning said.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Did clients under-report payments to top lobbyist?

Well, here's a bit of quirky irony: Don Beason, the former top-ranked lobbyist whom the N.C. Secretary of State's office is reported to be investigating to determine whether he asked his clients to under-report how much they were paying him, was a member of a 2004 study committee the same office named to come up with improvements to the state's lobbying laws.

Beason was one of the original members of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall's Advisory Council on Legislative Lobbying Policy and Regulation. She named the committee in early 2004 because she thought the state's lobbying laws were inadequate and ineffective. The council, chaired by then-UNC Law School Dean Gene Nichol, made a number of recommendations for beefing up lobbyist laws. Acting on those proposals and later revelations about lobbying practices, the legislature adopted a number of lobbyist regulation changes, including finally doing away with so-called "goodwill lobbying" of the sort that Beason and many other lobbyists used to pay for legislative dinners and other events not specifically related to a legislative proposal. Under the goodwill lobbying exception, lobbyists didn't have to report the names of all attendees.

(Full disclosure: Marshall asked me to serve on that council, but the Observer normally doesn't approve of employees serving on boards they're also likely to be writing about, for obvious reasons related to a conflict of interests.)

The N&O story Tuesday by Sarah Ovaska quotes a four-page sworn statement filed in Wake Superior Court by investigator John Lynch as saying, "I have discovered a pattern of under reporting of the lobbyist compensation," Lynch wrote. "This under reporting is often done at the instruction of the lobbyist without any written or substantial justification." Lynch believed Beason may have asked some of his 24 clients in 27 not to accurately report what they paid him in 2007.

Beason, you may recall, got out of the lobbying business entirely after news broke that he had once loaned then-House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, $500,000. Black is now serving time in federal prison on charges related to payments he made to another legislator to help him stay in power, among other things.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Readers condemn, and hail, torture column

Sunday's column about waterboarding,torture and American values brought some warm responses, and some hot ones, too.

A Vietnam veteran from Lancaster, S.C. wrote:

Thank you for your column of 26 Apr. Some revelations and admissions are deeply painful and embarrassing yet need to be recognized to initiate the healing process.

As a Viet Nam combat vet, the last eight years have caused the worst rage, shame and heartbreak I have ever experienced over the way my country's honor has been sullied.

We will prevail.We always have, and always will.The rule of law,however frustrating and distasteful, MUST be followed. Only then can we regain the reputation of fairness we once held.

P.S. It saddens me to admit that I was fully prepared to scream at your article. (Conditioning,I hope you understand.) Sometimes,like right now, I truly enjoy being wrong.

A Charlotte reader wrote, in part:

After I read your “Torturing the rule of law” I thought how many readers who only look to the Observer for their news may actually believe and be swayed by your piece…..the source for which was one rogue former FBI supervisor who the N.Y. Times found and wrote their biased article around. That is the same NY Times whose new motto is “all the news that’s fit to print and if we don’t like the actual facts we’ll make them up.”

How many people would never know that our commander and chief narcissist Barak Obama’s own CIA Director Leon Panetta advised against releasing the details of our interrogation programs?

How many people would never know that Obama’s own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, advised against it because it would enhance recruitment of terrorists, cause a backlash against our own soldiers, and help the enemy prepare for our future interrogations and intelligence gathering efforts?

How many people would never know that George Tenant, CIA Director under George Bush and Bill Clinton, believed the enhanced interrogation techniques saved American lives. He said on 60 Minutes “I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.”

How many people would never know that the events of the past week have already seriously demoralized the CIA and given fresh encouragement to our enemies?

How many people know these techniques were reviewed and approved after 9-11mastermind Sheik Khalid Mohammed bragged that more attacks were imminent?

How many people know these techniques were made transparent to the appropriate members of congress of both parties and that they were kept fully appraised of them?

Those Democratic members included Jay Rockefeller in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the house. How many people know these programs were approved and funded by votes of both parties?

…..Anyway, good job on keeping the whole, complete and balanced story secret. When the newspapers close up you can get a job with one of our intelligence agencies.

As the Wall Street Journal wrote over the weekend, “Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program, but of what the Obama administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other anti-terrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.

Another reader thought:

I do not take issue with your condemnation of torture. It is barbaric and ineffective. I do take issue with your view of "what makes us different". These assertions are not only an abuse of history, they are dangerous. The U.S has been and is currently involved in some horrific crimes. How are we to stop these crimes if we cannot acknowledge them.

Contrary to your claims the U.S has always followed its own laws selectively. There are thousands of examples, it happens on a daily basis. But let me lay out three more egregious cases. The FBI in conjunction with local police assassinated a Black Panther activist in Chicago while he was sleeping, after he was drugged by an informant. U.S law states that U.S weapons can only be used for defensive purposes and any violation of this requires an immediate halt in arms transfer to the violator. When Indonesia invaded and then launched a genocide in East Timor it came with full American support. Most of the units involved in the genocide where armed and trained by the U.S. The invasion itself began just hours after the U.S President and Secretary of State visited Indonesia and its dictator. More recently the U.S has continued to supply Israel with weapons while American arms were being used to commit war crimes in an offensive operation in Gaza. Like I said, there are thousands of other examples, these are only three cases.

You portray the U.S in the international arena as a benevolent power, a policeman and a donor. What country's experience with the U.S where you thinking of when you wrote those words? Was it Hawaii where U.S business interests usurped the government from the native population, was it the Philippines where our dreams of empire manifested themselves in broken promises, repression, thousands of dead civilians, and yes mass torture, was it Haiti where the idealist Wilson sent a nation into the stone ages where it still languishes, was it Cuba where the U.S seized power from the independence movement and established a U.S protectorate, or was it more recently? Were you thinking of Iraq where we starved half a million children to death after we soured on the dictator we had armed, or elsewhere in the Arab world where we continue to prop up repressive dictators? Or perhaps you were thinking of Africa. Perhaps you were thinking of Ethiopia where the U.S backs a brutal tyrant, or maybe Equatorial Guinea where the man who declared himself President, as well as a cannibal and a god, has been declared a "good friend" by our Secretary of State…...

Another reader wrote:

Thank you for reminding us that we are a nation of laws and that those laws should be upheld.

I hope you do not pick and choose which laws you think are "Valid"
Immigration laws are commonly ignored and it seems most people think that is OK.

Speed limits are routinely ignored.

Drug usage is common.

We can not and should not demand that some laws be obeyed while ignoring others.
All the laws should be enforced.

(also, I hope you do not think that it is valid to prosecute a lawyer for giving an opinion as the Attorney General did- when a lawyer is asked to give an opinion, that is what he does)

In the case of torture, we should not allow the International community to dictate what we do in the USA unless we also insist that other nations are held to the identical standards - as in China, for example.

Another reader:

Enjoyed your op-editorial this week. I found two problems. 1) In paragraph five, the sentence beginning with "But we also understood..." has a parallel error, and 2) the article as a whole doesn't answer the real question: why would experienced public servants, at the highest level, torture in the first place?

Answer: to justify the most disastrous foreign policy blunder in our history. They needed something, anything, to connect Sadam and Osama, or Sadam and Al-Qaeda. As long as the discussion is about the need for torture, or whether or not torture violates the law, the torturers will literally get away with mass murder.

And finally:

Thank you for the well written article on waterboarding and "enhanced" techniques. This illegal, inhumane, and demonstratively ineffective behavior serves to make us all less safe--especially our troops abroad. As Americans, we must repudiate what has been encouraged by the Bush/Cheney regime and knock the smirks off of their smug faces. America has demeaned itself to the world and violated the very philosophies for which we stand.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

So NOW the legislature is wary of an OLF

Just a few years ago, folks in Washington and Beaufort counties were desperately searching for political allies who would help them try to fight off the U.S. Navy's proposal to put an Outlying Landing Field to train aircraft carrier jet pilots on Super Hornet FA/18 jets. But it was rough going for a while trying to find high-ranking officials to get in the Navy's way -- especially at a time when the state of North Carolina was hoping to persuade the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) not to close military bases in this state. Gov. Mike Easley, Lt. Gov Bev. Perdue, Sen. Elizabeth Dole and then-Sen. John Edwards all seemed lukewarm to the idea of crossing the Navy, although all of them expressed sympathy with the plight of residents of the affected area. (The Navy later withdrew its plan and looked for other areas.)

About the same time, Tom Earnhardt, a lawyer and former law professor who was doing a lot of research on the Navy's plans, discovered that the state of North Carolina had long ago waived any power to object to the federal government's acquiring land in this state for courthouses, customhouses, post offices, forts, arsenal and armories. It had done so by adopting G.S. 104.7. Why not, Earnhardt asked legislative leaders as well as top staff for Gov. Mike Easley and Attorney General Roy Cooper, adopt legislation revising that permission when it comes to an outlying landing field? It was a reasonable question, but perhaps because state and legislative officials were worried about the BRAC commission, his idea went nowhere.

How times change. This week, the Senate approved a House-passed bill entitled "An Act Providing That Consent Of The State Is Not Granted To The United States For Acquisition Of Land For An Outlying Landing Field In A County Or Counties Which Have No Existing Military Base At Which Aircraft Squadrons Are Stationed."

The bill, of course, is aimed at discouraging the Navy from putting its Outlying Landing Field anywhere else in North Carolina, including Camden and Gates Counties, which the Navy is now eyeing. The bill by itself won't and can't stop the Navy. But it does make a formal statement of opposition that the state was unwilling to make back when the Navy wanted to put the field in Washington and Beaufort counties.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

After 15 years, Leandro case moves back into Halifax

The announcement by Gov. Bev Perdue Wednesday afternoon that state officials will make "an unprecedented intervention" in Halifax County Schools is the latest manifestation of what a long-running schools lawsuit is all about. And it reflects the reality that Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who has overseen the lawsuit for years, has been zeroing in on Halifax schools for a long time. If the state had not organized its intervention plans, which will be presented to Manning next week at a hearing on Wednesday, the judge might have ordered it up himself. He's been considering it for months. But state officials have been thinking about it a long time, too.

It's all part of the Leandro schools case, originally filed in Halifax County and four other counties in 1994 when Bill Harrison, now the chairman and CEO of the State Board of Education, was superintendent of Hoke County Schools and rounded up the family of Robb Leandro to be the lead plaintiff in what is now known as the Leandro case. Harrison, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and the Department of Public Instruction will be key players in the intervention, Perdue said.

Here's the press release her office put out this afternoon:

RALEIGH - Gov. Bev Perdue today announced that the State Board of Education Chair and CEO Bill Harrison, State Superintendent June Atkinson, the board and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction will begin an unprecedented intervention in Halifax County Schools, one of the low-performing school districts in the state. The plan will be presented to Judge Manning at an April 29th hearing.
“My goal is to improve public schools and student performance. Dr. Harrison, Superintendent Atkinson and I will act aggressively in Halifax County and all of North Carolina to make sure our schools have the support, direction and accountability that give our kids a chance to succeed,” said Gov. Perdue.
Under the intervention plan, NCDPI staff will provide intensive support and oversight to coach principals in effective instructional and school leadership, to provide tools to help central office personnel better guide the school district, and ensure that teachers get the necessary support and resources needed to improve student learning.
“Halifax Superintendent Geraldine Middleton has been receptive to us and we look forward to helping her and her team move forward,” said Harrison. “This intervention is a partnership with Halifax County Schools, and one in which the state board and education department will guide professional development and create a supportive framework with one goal: improved student learning and achievement.”
Activities already have already begun in Halifax but will intensify this summer and in the 2009-10 school year. Clear expectations and direction will be provided to local leadership, principals and teachers. Three weeks of professional development will be provided to all Halifax principals and central office personnel, and two weeks of professional development will be provided to teachers in the Halifax schools over the summer. This activity will kick off the 2009-10 school year and provide clear expectations and direction for educators in the district and schools.
The model for improving student learning in the district features:
• 3 weeks of professional development for principals and central office personnel
• 2 weeks of professional development to teachers
• 12 full-time master educators hired by Halifax County Schools to help classroom teachers improve instruction
• 3 school transformation coaches provided by the NCDPI and
• a district transformation coach provided by the NCDPI
• consultation with NCDPI regarding use of federal and state appropriations.
In addition, top leadership at the NCDPI will provide ongoing oversight to the work underway to assist Halifax County. Harrison, as well as Dr. Rebecca Garland, the state’s chief academic officer, and Dr. Pat Ashley, director of District and School Transformation, will be actively engaged to assure that the Halifax County Board of Education and administration will be accountable for pursuing and implementing reforms that improve education opportunities in all Halifax County public schools.
Superintendent June Atkinson said the framework guiding the intervention will focus on taking the department’s expertise in local school and district assistance to a more significant level of engagement. “We are leveraging federal resources and other tools to help guide this district to new levels of student performance and achievement,” Atkinson said. “The purpose is to create a structure for success that will increase the district’s bottom line: student proficiency and graduation.”
NCDPI has piloted a district transformation model for the last two years in six school districts, but the Halifax intervention will incorporate state education efforts more directly in the administration of the school district’s operations.
Halifax County Schools is one of 115 local school districts in North Carolina and serves approximately 4,400 students. The district, located in northeastern North Carolina, has 14 schools. Student achievement there is significantly lower than state average performance. Overall, for students in grades 3-8, 25.5 percent are proficient or better in reading and 39.7 percent are proficient or better in math as compared to state averages of 55.6 percent and 69.9 percent respectively. At the high school level, approximately one third of the students are considered proficient on end-of-course tests, as compared with 68 percent for the state overall. The school district is in federal District Improvement because it has not made Adequate Yearly Progress targets under No Child Left Behind.

Senate leaders unveil tax reform proposal

A tax reform proposal finally has made it to committee, something of an accomplishment in itself. In recent years, a number of study commissions have labored over how to remake the state's revenue system, and many bills have been filed. But when state Sens. Dan Clodfelter of Mecklenburg, David Hoyle of Gaston and Clark Jenkins of Edgecombe brought out their proposal Wednesday for the first wholesale restructuring of state taxation since the Depression, every seat in the Finance Committee room was filled and it was standing room only. Clodfelter joked that if the committee charged an exit fee, the state's budget's $500 million hole for next year would be taken care of right then.

All those folks showed up to see what the committee was proposing. What they got was not a bill in the usual form, but a set of three documents -- an explanation of changes to the system, an example of how tax changes would affect different income groups, and a general list of how much money each change would involve. A couple of minor surprises: The proposal did not include elimination of the local sales tax on food; it was removed after a meeting with Senate leaders Wednesday morning. And the proposal did not eliminate the corporate income tax, but would reduce it sharply over two years, from one of the highest rates in the Southeast to 4.5 percent, one of the lowest in the country.

Clodfelter said the Senate Finance Committee co-chairs' proposal represented the first real tax reform since 1933, and asked legislators and the public to understand that past efforts to tinker with taxes simply didn't work. The state has been holding the tax system together "with string and baling wire," he said. "It just doesn't produce what we need" to pay for services in a growing state.

Among other things, he said, the proposal "reduces every major tax rate" on the state's books, broadens the sales tax base by applying it to a greater number of services, eliminates personal tax deductions and turns the deductions for mortgage interest, charitable deductions, children and medical expenses into tax credits. It directs that state personal income taxes be based on the federal formula for adjusted gross incomes, and reduces the three rates for personal income taxes from 7.75, 7 and 6 percent to 7.5 percent, 6.5 percent and 5.25 percent. It would lower the state sales tax rate from the current 4.75 percent to 4 percent (with the local sales tax of 2 percent, the combined rate would go from 6.75 to 6 percent). And it would make the franchise tax apply to all corporations and be based on retained equity. The proposal would produce enough new revenue to meet the $500 hole in the proposed 2009-10 budget as passed by the Senate.

The committee co-chairs asked the public to think about the proposals and, instead of only criticizing what's there, recommended changes they would prefer to the ones outlined by the committee. As Hoyle said following the meeting, there are only three approaches the committee can take: One, "Cut the hell out of the state budget and do some real damage to the state;" two, raise enough money from increased taxes such as the services tax to balance the budget, or three, "We and adopt this plan and have a modern revenue system" that will be less susceptible to changes in the economy.

The co-chairs said they know they'll get a lot of criticism, and they're right. Even before the committee met, Republicans were accusing the Democrats who run the Senate of running a "bait and switch" operation, promising tax reform with lower rates but in fact extending the tax system to cover items not previously taxed and coming up with $600 million in new revenue.

Linda Daves, N.C. Republican Party chair, had this to say:

North Carolina Democrats are trying to run a classic scam on N.C. taxpayers: the bait and switch. Pretend to be reducing taxes by slight increments while at the same time creating new taxes to raise more revenue than ever before. They hope that we will not notice as our overall tax burden is increased by $600 million.

Democrats want to use this crisis to raise taxes and avoid reducing the size of a bloated state government. A crisis is a time for government to cut back and for Democrat leaders to take responsibility for their past mistakes. As unemployment increases by the month and most workers are making less, it is not the time to ask our citizens to pay more. Democrats have poorly managed the tax money we gave them in years past resulting in the current budget crisis. Why would we trust them with a dime more?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Alcoa says rumor 'Red Herring' of the Day

Alcoa Power Generating dismisses suggestions it's about to sell its hydro plants to the Chinese. Here's part of what the company says on its blog (see for more):

“Something that distracts attention from the real issue.” That is the Webster's definition of a “red herring” and it is a favorite tactic of the folks who support a state takeover of Alcoa's privately-owned hydroelectric business along the Yadkin River.
Their latest ploy – suggesting that the State of North Carolina needs to take control of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project before Alcoa sells it to the Chinese. It's such an unfounded, unsubstantiated rumor that it’s hardly worth addressing. But some folks are apparently giving thought to the question, and it is diverting attention from the issues that people really care about - like the fact that a state takeover will cost North Carolina taxpayers more than $500 million.

Catching up on Alcoa

Some events worth noting in the dispute between Alcoa Power Generating Inc. and the state of North Carolina. Gov. Bev Perdue recently asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow the state to intervene in a long-running legal process involving Alcoa's application for renewal of its federal license to operate hydroelectric projects on the Yadkin River. Late last week Alcoa formally asked the commission to reject the governor's request. Here's a snippet from the company's announcement:

"APGI filed a response with FERC, noting that Gov. Perdue’s motion “lacks justification and legal merit” and “should be denied expeditiously.”

"The company explains that Gov. Perdue’s motion to intervene is “unnecessary and duplicative because the State of North Carolina is already a party to this proceeding.” The N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) has been actively involved in the relicensing process since 2002 and has acted in an official capacity on the State’s behalf. DENR formally intervened in the Yadkin Project relicensing on February 22, 2007.

“The relicensing process has been ongoing for more than six years, and North Carolina has been involved from the beginning,” said Gene Ellis, APGI Relicensing & Property Manager. “The issues raised in the Governor’s filing have been fully vetted and FERC staff has already recommended issuing a new long-term license to APGI. The intervention is simply a belated attempt to take a privately-owned business for the benefit of the State.”

But Friday afternoon, the state's lawyers received word that FERC had acted "in record time" and had approved Perdue's request for late intervention in the process.
Here's the governmentese from FERC:

On December 28, 2006, the Commission issued a Notice of Application Accepted
for Filing and Soliciting Motions to Intervene and Protests for the relicensing of Alcoa Power Generating, Inc.’s Yadkin Hydroelectric Project No. 2197, located on the Yadkin River in Stanly, Davidson, Davie, Montgomery, and Rowan Counties, North Carolina.

On April 1, 2009, the State of North Carolina filed an untimely motion to
intervene in this proceeding.1 On April 15, 2009, Alcoa Power Generating, Inc. filed a timely answer in opposition to North Carolina’s motion to intervene. On April 16, 2009, Stanly County filed a timely answer in support of North Carolina’s motion to intervene. Pursuant to Rule 214,2 the motion to intervene filed by the State of North Carolina is granted, subject to the Commission’s rules and regulations.

Tuesday morning the N.C. Water Rights Committee posed a question:
Will Alcoa Sell the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project to the Chinese?.

Read more about it here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reader: Don't forget the mountains

Sunday's column on coastal issues and how we want the coastline to look in the future brought a few responses. Here are a couple:

From a Charlotte construction company executive:

Enjoyed and appreciated today’s article as well as the ones in the past about the challenges we face on the Carolina coast.

But, is it possible to add someone to the editorial staff who owns property in the NC mountains, so that we could get a little more discussion underway regarding the air quality and protection of the view shed up there.

From another reader:

It would seem those that choose to build on moving sands should build accordingly and not expect that they can hold off the forces of nature. The State of NC should stop paying for any improvements or recovery from disasters along the coast for those that have made the choice to build in this situation for recreational purposes only. Home Insurance should also be allowed to reflect this increased risk and rates allowed to increase accordingly.

The combination of these few changes would diminish the amount that is built, (as most would have to weigh the cost of total loss), and the false value put on this land allowing a more natural inhabitation per your earlier description of this environment by those that truly carve a living out of living by the sea. What would the State of NC be
willing to do if the seas were to rise 10 feet in height on average?
As a society we tend to look at the immediate future and not the long term impacts we have on the environment around us and cry for help when everyone knows what the possibilities are when building on a the sands of a moving piece of land.

Thanks for bringing the issue the awareness it needs, here is hoping our better selves will prevail in the decisions made.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

That shoutdown in Chapel Hill

The shoutdown in Chapel Hill

Those of us who went through the agonies of the ill-advised and ultimately unconstitutional Speaker Ban Law in the 1960s were dismayed to read of the ugly confrontation between students, some faculty members, police and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, the immigration opponent who was scheduled to speak on campus but was in effect shouted down by protesters the other night.

The most troubling thing was that the UNC-Chapel Hill campus appears to be intolerant of free speech -- especially if that speech appears to be bigoted, racist and offensive. I don't agree with Tancredo on anything that I know of, but disrupting his appearance and ultimately prompting him to flee does not solve the problem that students perceive -- that someone has thoughts they don't want to hear. Instead, it creates, maybe confirms, the impressions of many conservatives that university campuses are tolerant only of speech with which they agree and are intolerant of speech they find offensive. That's hardly the definition of academic freedom. Had students really wanted to irk Tancredo, they would have listened in stony silence, or perhaps turned their backs and walked out.

Such incidents also may play directly into the hands of those who agree with Tancredo and who oppose not only illegal immigrants in this country, but legal immigrants, too. Tancredo and his allies are using the UNC-CH incident to raise funds, ultimately strengthening financial and perhaps popular support for their
cause as well.

The lesson of the Speaker Ban Fiasco has been lost on students who believe free thought is dangerous. The truth is that it's more dangerous to ban speech than it is to hear the speech of those with whom you disagree. But to many people, evidently, the First Amendment is a scary thing.

If you want to see the take of lawyer Hugh Stevens, a former editor of the Daily Tar Heel and veteran of the Speaker Ban wars in the late 1960s, here's a link to a column that ran in today's Daily Tar Heel at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Perdue down, Cooper strong, Obama up

Interesting numbers: Perdue down, Cooper strong, Obama up

Public Policy Polling, a firm that does a lot of work for Democratic clients, has some interesting numbers in recent polls. Gov. Bev Perdue's numbers are down, though there's still popular support for her programs. But her approval numbers show a decline, PPP says: "41% of voters approve of the job she’s doing with 40% disapproving. A month ago that spread was 44/35." Read more about this poll here.

As for the upcoming 2010 U.S. Senate race for the seat now held by Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the leading Democrat seems to still be N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper. PPP says, "Cooper leads Burr 41-37 in the hypothetical contest, a margin similar to the 39-34 one he held the previous time PPP polled it."

"Burr’s approval rating continues to languish in the mid 30s, with 35% of voters in the state expressing support for the job he’s doing and 31% dissenting. 41% of respondents said they have a favorable opinion of Cooper with just 20% holding a negative view of him." Read more here.

And President Obama continues to enjoy good numbers in North Carolina, with "54% of voters in the state expressing support for the job he's doing this month compared to 38% who disapprove. Those numbers are up a tick from March, when the breakdown was 53/40," PPP says. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Alcoa's arguments against Yadkin River Trust

Before the Senate Judiciary II Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday creating a Yadkin River Trust to oversee a stretch of the Yadkin River and possibly operate hydroelectric dams owned by Alcoa Energy, the company presented its arguments against the bill. Alcoa is seeking a renewal of its federal permit to operate the power plants. For the record, here’s Alcoa’s side:

Proponents of Senate Bill 967 claim:
• The State of North Carolina will lose control of its waters if APGI gets a license and the citizens of the state may not get access to drinking water.
• Because Alcoa no longer has jobs at its smelter, it doesn’t deserve to keep the dams – that its “lease” is up, and the State can acquire this Project for $25 million.
• Alcoa has polluted the lands it owns, and the State needs to own the Project so it can protect the land.
Before North Carolina takes the historic step toward seizing the private property of a company doing business in the state, please consider these facts:
Control of the Water
Fact: No one owns the water in the Yadkin River. Under NC law, property owners along a river have the legal right to make reasonable use of the water running through their property. By virtue of the 38,000 acres it owns along the Yadkin River and the dams and generating equipment it built with private capital, Alcoa Power Generating Inc. (APGI) makes a reasonable use of the water which crosses its property.
Fact: APGI does not consume any water. Water simply passes through the turbines to generate clean, renewable energy.
Fact: APGI does not decide who can and cannot withdraw water from the Yadkin River. That is the federal government’s responsibility. All water withdrawals in excess of one million gallons per day require FERC approval, regardless of who owns or operates the Yadkin Project. So even if the State of North Carolina took the Project, it would be subject to the FERC’s rules and regulations just like it is now.
Fact: The relicensing of the Yadkin Project will not limit the State of North Carolina’s ability in any way to withdraw water from the Yadkin River. State law gives North Carolina the authority to regulate water use within the Yadkin River, including the right to issue new water withdrawal permits. The State has already given an interbasin transfer permit to Concord-Kannapolis for 10 million gallons per day. And the State can go straight to FERC for any request to withdraw water – it does not need APGI’s consent to do so. This ensures that North Carolina will always have access to water from the Yadkin River regardless of who owns and operates the project.
Fact: Ownership of the project has no bearing on the State’s control over the waters of the Yadkin. Proponents of the bill have asked what will happen if the Chinese take over the Project via ownership of Alcoa. “Any” owner is subject to the laws of North Carolina and the United States.
Fact: The State Trust bill includes a list of benefits that are, in fact, a recitation of enhancements that APGI has already outlined in the Relicensing Settlement Agreement. Stronger drought protection, improved water quality and these other issues are already guaranteed by the settlement agreement.
Recapture Issues
Fact: Despite Stanly County’s claims to the contrary, the original license for the Yadkin Project was not granted to Alcoa in exchange for a promise of jobs. Although there were comments in the Hearing Examiner’s report from the 1958 license that referenced the jobs as it related to the length of the license, there was no requirement for jobs in the 1958 license.
Fact: Proponents of this bill claim they can acquire the Project through “recapture” at a cost of $25 million to the state. The State cannot recapture the Project, period, because the deadline has passed. Under federal law, the time for “recapture” passed nearly three years ago.
Fact: After a comprehensive and lengthy environmental review process, a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Yadkin Project was issued in April 2008 by FERC. FERC staff concluded in the EIS that a federal takeover of the Yadkin Project was not a reasonable alternative and said it would not be considered further.
Fact: No project regulated by FERC has been taken over by FERC in the 89-year history of the Federal Power Act.
Fact: Even if recapture were still an option, it would cost much more than $25 million. The Federal Power Act specifically calls for reimbursement to APGI for net investment, plus severance damages. Since a recapture has never occurred before, there is no precedent for what those severance damages would include, but APGI believes the severance damages inflicted by a takeover to be significant. What we do know is that that the state would need to invest $200 million to upgrade and modernize the dams in addition to any costs paid, as well as the costs of takeover.
Fact: Given the capital cost expenditures required to make the required upgrades and modernization for the project, the State would operate at a negative cash flow for many years into the future, meaning the State would have to borrow additional funds to pay operating and maintenance expenses during those years.
Fact: We believe the only way for the State to acquire the Project today is through condemnation – a taking. That would require the State to pay Fair Market Value for the Project which APGI estimates at more than $500 million. And it sets a precedent that North Carolina should never consider – that if the State sees a benefit in your business, it will take it for its own use.
Fact: Should the State take over APGI’s hydroelectric generation process, it will find itself involved in a highly complex engineering and business operation, including the daily trading of electricity for which it is not prepared.
Environmental Facts:
Fact: Twenty-three stakeholders, including environmental groups such as American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy and the Land Trust of Central North Carolina support the relicensing of the Project to APGI. The bill’s claims that the State can better provide for the environmental protections of the river than APGI are not valid.
Fact: This State Trust bill says it will “Conduct environmental testing and assessment of all properties located in Stanly County currently or formerly owned and operated by Alcoa Power Generating Inc., or Alcoa Inc., and its subsidiaries, in order to evaluate danger to public health or the environment.”
Alcoa has been working alongside state and federal officials since the 1980s to identify, investigate and remediate waste sites associated with its Badin Works plant. This work is being done under the close supervision of the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Division of Waste Management. Studies show — and the State of North Carolina has agreed — that there is no threat to human health or the environment and that no further action is necessary for these sites at this time. A plan for additional remediation and/or ongoing monitoring is currently being reviewed by state officials.
Fact: Alcoa has a permanent legal responsibility to responsibly manage all waste associated with the Badin Works plant – the county nor the State will ever have to spend a dime if further remediation is needed.
Fact: Stanly County has speculated that additional waste sites may exist. Alcoa has investigated every suspected waste site provided by Stanly County in conjunction with State or County officials. In each instance, the sites had already been identified and were being managed; no evidence of waste was found; or issues associated with the site were resolved. Data on all waste sites has been provided to the N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources.
Fact: This Trust bill sets a standard for Alcoa that is higher than what the State asks of every other company in NC managing waste sites. It asks that these sites be “remediated to levels over and above the level that would be required under current law.” If the state wants to see remediation levels changed, it should change its laws for the entire state – not single out one company.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hunt, Vinroot campaigning again, together

Former Gov. Jim Hunt and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot were once rivals for the governorship -- Hunt running for his fourth term in 1996, and Vinroot angling for the Republican nomination so he could oppose Hunt that year. But state Rep. Robin Hayes won the GOP nomination in the primary that spring and later lost the election to Hunt.

Now Hunt and Vinroot are campaigning again, this time for a fundamental restructuring of North Carolina's tax system. They took part in a briefing Tuesday morning to unveil the recommendations of the business committee of the Emerging Issues Institute. Vinroot took part via conference call from Charlotte, while Hunt -- who set up the Emerging Issues Forum more than 20 years ago -- presided. Vinroot, Lenoir County businessman John McNairy and Asheville businessman Jack Cecil co chaired the committee, though Cecil was not present. They called for reform that adheres to three principles: simplicity, fairness, and minimal loopholes.

Without endorsing specific tax proposals, they called for broadening the state sales tax base so that personal income tax rates and corporate income tax rates could be reduced. As Hunt noted, the sales tax base is "severely eroded" and the system "is not fair. It is not realistic." He said lower income families spend more of their incomes on goods, paying a fairly high sales tax, while higher income families spend more on services that are not taxed at all.

Vinroot was emphatic about the tax system the state has now. It doesn't work well, and the high corporate tax rate can be a "killer" when it comes to economic development -- yet the tax doesn't bring in all that much revenue. "We're too high in all the wrong places," Vinroot added.

Vinroot noted that any tax changes would result in some squealing. That might include his fellow lawyers in N.C. if the sales tax were expanded to legal services. But, he noted, when he first began discussing tax reform with other lawyers, all agreed that "we were far more concerned about the quality of life in this state" and that tax reform would be central to maintaining that standard.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Readers sound off on taxes

Sunday's column on tax reform brought responses from several readers:

From Charlotte:

Just as important as the goal of ensuring that a new tax system will be less vulnerable to the vagaries of economic downturns is a goal of ensuring that it is also less vulnerable to budget creep during economic upturns. I hope our leaders are looking in both directions as they develop tax system revisions.

Another Charlotte reader:

I searched your Sunday article for come evidence of a call to examine the TOTAL tax rates of taxpayers at various income levels and am sad to say I found nothing. You might recall Warren Buffett's congressional testimony a year or so ago that his TOTAL tax rate was just over 17% while his receptionist's TOTAL tax rate was just over 34%. How can we set tax for various income levels and disregard what each income level is paying in TOTAL? It's unfair and ridiculous!

Before setting the tax rate on employees making $100,000 and less annually and those earning $1,000,000 and more annually we must in fairness realize that the first group is paying +7% payroll tax and that the latter group is paying one tenth or less of that rate, i. e., +0000.7%. That's a rate of 7.3 basis points more.

Then we also should consider the sales tax rate that lower income earners pay. Because they spend all they make, they pay as much 8.25%, compared to those who spend only half of the $1,000,000 they earn annually.

Please, I ask you, use your platform to help transparency!!!

Another reader:

Jack Betts' column this morning calls for state revenue reform, essentially the same call issued by an Observer editorial a couple of weeks ago. This is a good idea.

What I don't hear, however, is a call for reforming the state's spending. Let's don't squander a major advantage we have over other states -- like NY and CA -- less tax burden, an attraction to potential businesses and residents that will improve our economy, including our tax base.

Jack closes his piece with the observation that a new tax system should be less vulnerable to economic downturns. One way is to make sure services provided by government are necessary and really desirable.

In Mecklenburg a few months ago, Commissioner Robert led the charge for a new property tax appraisal to capture the property tax increases in the county since last evaluation. This was in the midst of a recession and business failure of one of our valued corporate citizens. Real estate values have not bottomed since. On the spending docket was the extension of health care benefits to partners of gay and lesbian county employees.

In Charlotte, falling sales tax revenues are hurting CATS. This will ultimately result in part of CATS operating expenses being off-loaded onto property owners. Yet, we are considering adding additional rail lines, even as much of the operating expenses are projected to be covered by increasing property values along the line projections. Will we have the residential base to back up the property utilization estimates? Looks doubtful.

The balance is this: In attracting new businesses and people, how much of the attraction is provided by government services, and how much of the attraction is provided by a low tax, pro business environment, located in the sun belt. Lawrence Summers, in an address Thursday carried on Bloomberg radio, stated that an integral part of the administration's economic plan is carbon emission restriction and limitation of foreign imports of oil and the expansion of non carbon energy sources, thereby helping to keep energy dollars in the country and creating new energy related jobs. This will raise energy prices, placing a premium on mobility and geography. Our warm winters, tolerable summers, keep home cooling and heating costs down, and our convenient location between the mountains and the seaside minimizes travel costs. Let's make sure we don't kill the goose with taxes?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bipartisan House group weighs in on Alcoa

A couple weeks ago a bipartisan group of state senators filed legislation to create the Yadkin River Trust and become part of an effort to operate the Yadkin River hydroelectric projects if Congress authorizes a recapture of Alcoa's operations there. Alcoa is seeking renewal of its federal permit to operate the projects, but it faces increasing opposition in part because it no longer employs a substantial workforce at its Badin plant.

Now the state House has weighed in with a similar bill filed by an equally bipartisan group of nearly two dozen lawmakers, including former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, and Reps. Melanie Goodwin, D-Richmond and Lorene Coates, D-Rowan.

You can read more about the issue at the Web site of the N.C. Water Rights Committee (

The committee also offers a discussion of what it thinks is the value of the hydroelectric projects. Alcoa believes any fair compensation would run to the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Committee argues that under federal law, the price should be net investment -- a little over $24 million -- plus severance costs. That's a pretty big gap between the two sides.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Alcoa 'incredibly disappointed' with Perdue's action

Rick Bowen, president of Alcoa's energy operations, has expressed his company's disappointment with the governor's request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to support recapturing the company's Yadkin River hydroelectric plants. Here's his letter:

Dear Governor Perdue:

Alcoa has been doing business in North Carolina for nearly 100 years. We planted roots here in 1915 and have invested our shareholders’ capital to build the hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River. We continue to contribute millions to the Stanly County economy each year and remain the county’s largest taxpayer.

In light of that background, we are incredibly disappointed that you are pursuing a government takeover of our business in central North Carolina. While we fully respect the State’s right to ensure that high environmental standards are maintained in and around the Yadkin River, it is also important to recognize that the hydroelectric dams were built, maintained, and operated with private funds, not taxpayer money. We would have preferred to discuss this matter personally with you before your decision to seek to use taxpayer dollars to displace that private sector investment.

Over the past six years, we have worked in good faith with the State of North Carolina in the federal relicensing of the Yadkin Project. The
State’s interests were well represented during the relicensing process by both the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, both of which signed the relicensing agreement, along with 21 other stakeholders, including American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy and the Land Trust for Central North Carolina.

Alcoa has followed well established state and federal processes from the start, the same processes deployed by Duke Energy and Progress Energy in their relicensing efforts. Your intervention comes as the relicensing process is nearly complete and represents vastly different treatment for Alcoa.

We and our shareholders have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build these dams without any funding from the State of North Carolina, and we have an obligation to our shareholders to protect that investment. The state has valid and considerable interests in the Yadkin River, and there are a myriad of state and federal laws in place to ensure that North Carolina will continue to control the water there.

As this process moves forward, we hope you will give us the opportunity to talk with you about our concerns. In addition, we hope that the N.C. Division of Water Quality will continue to evaluate our application for a water quality permit for the Yadkin Project based solely on its merits and the precedents previously established by the State. The Yadkin Project should not be held to a different standard than any other hydropower project in North Carolina.

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss these issues at your earliest convenience and will call your office to seek an appointment. We look forward to discussing this important issue with you in the near future.

Rick Bowen
President – Energy
Alcoa, Inc.

Meat and potatoes of NC politics

This is for true political junkies who like to steep themselves in hard data about N.C. politics. It's North Carolina data-net, an online and print newsletter produced by the Program on Public Life at UNC Chapel Hill. Its Web site is It's honchoed by Prof. Ferrel Guillory, longtime journalist, political analyst and mentor to many who want to keep learning about Tar Heel politics.

The latest edition will soon be posted on this Web site and is loaded with data and analysis from the 2008 election with a focus on how the state's political demographics are changing, and where the leading candidates did well and not so well. At lot of it is new; some of it is not so new; all of it's good. Here are a few samples:

North Carolina is a competitive two-party state in which neither
Democrats nor Republicans have an assured partisan or ideological
majority. In keeping with findings from exit polls going back to the
1980s, 41 percent of voters defined themselves as Democrats, 31
percent Republicans and 28 percent independents. (The independent
figure may be somewhat high; 22 percent of North Carolinians
register unaffiliated.) Similarly, 44 percent of North Carolina voters call
themselves moderates, 37 percent conservatives and 17 percent liberals…..

Of the state’s economic development regions, Perdue received the
smallest percentage of the vote in the Charlotte region.

 Surprising to many, Perdue defeated Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory in
his home county, though just barely. The final difference was 337 votes,
with both candidates winning nearly 200,000 votes. In the counties
surrounding Mecklenburg, McCrory won all but Anson County and
did so clear manner. McCrory won the these remaining 10 counties
by an average margin of 31 percentage points and won by as much 40
percentage poins in Lincoln and Union counties.

 Perdue’s performance in the Charlotte region fell 10 percentage
points below Governor Easley against Patrick Ballantine in 2004, but
only 3.5 points below Easley’s 2000 margin against Richard Vinroot.

 Obama ran seven percentage points better than Perdue across the
Charlotte region and 13 percentage points better in Mecklenburg

 Obama improved upon the vote total and percentages of previous
Democratic Presidential candidates, John Kerry and Al Gore. Obama
earned 7 percentage points more of the vote than Kerry and nearly 8
percentage points more than Gore

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Does it matter who's in charge of schools?

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has sued the state in hopes of resolving a long-running controversy about who’s in charge of public schools in North Carolina. The N.C. Constitution suggests the elected superintendent -- in this case Atkinson -- is the head of schools. But state legislators have also recognized the chair of the State Board of Education as the chief of schools, namely Bill Harrison, Gov. Bev Perdue's choice to head the board and be chief executive officer of state public schools.

There are those who will shrug and tell you it doesn't matter, because local schools make all the key decisions. And a reader of last week's column about the lawsuit wondered what difference it makes. I asked the estimable John Dornan, head of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, for his thoughts on the issue. They are:

People underestimate the powers of the State Board. As Judge Manning ruled in the Leandro case, NC is essentially a state system.

Among their powers are: 1) Establishing curriculum standards. 2) Creating state tests and setting passing rates, consequences for failure, etc. 3) Establishing certification standards for teachers and administrators (i.e., determining hiring qualifications) 4) Administering federal funds and, in most cases, setting requirements on how funds can be spent 5) Creating evaluation procedures for teachers and administrators Additionally, when the state creates new programs and/or funding streams, the department is in charge of the "details" -- the old adage the "devil is in the details" applies here.

For instance: 1) When the state created the Disadvantaged Students Supplemental Funds (DSSF), the department was left to set policies on how the funds could be used. 2) When the state (i.e., the "state" refers to the General Assembly) created dropout funding, the department was given the responsibility of creating a screening process to award the grants.

Finally, in addition to the powers listed above (and there are far more), the State Board/General Assembly set pay schedules for employees and determine health and retirement benefits. They also establish class size maximums.

This is only a sampling. The list goes on.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The power of that game back in 1957

I must be getting too old for this. It was hard to roll out of the rack this morning, much harder than I remember after the last four times the Tar Heels won the NCAA basketball championship. It's the toll of the years, no doubt, creaky joints and sore muscles from working in the yard, and staying up past bedtime again. And this time I didn't even spend much time celebrating. It's the memory of a game more than half a century ago that keeps me watching.

I keep remembering that night back in 1957 when I was 10, going on 11 years old and Carolina was playing Kansas in the first televised game I ever saw. Well, saw it through sleepy eyes, anyway. I kept falling asleep; Dad kept shaking me awake to catch the action, and telling me I'd be glad the rest of my life to stay up late and see a treat like this. I'd never forget it, he said.

He was right, though the picture sometimes was hard to make out. We hadn't had a television very long -- a Motorola, black and white, our course, and even on good nights our reception was awful, somewhere between a blizzard and a white out.

My father had rolled the set's rabbit-ear antenna with tin foil in hopes of improving the picture as we watched Tar Heel guard Tommy Kearns jump against Kansas' giant Wilt Chamberlain. The games that year were terrific, and the final featured a triple-overtime win by the Tar Heels and set off the Betts version of a wild celebration that must have lasted 10 minutes or so -- big doings in that staid household on Cornwallis Drive in Greensboro. We probably toasted the victory by splitting a 6 1/2 ounce Coke, or some such.

I wouldn't take anything for that memory now. My father watched two other UNC national championships -- 1982 and 1993 -- before he died, but we only saw the one together. In 2005 and again last night in the 2009 championship game I watched every move on a 32-inch TV my father would have been drop-jawed to see, these 52 years after that first snowy championship game, but today's screen doesn't even count as a big one today.

Last night's picture was clear as a bell and the only snow was some stuff swirling outside Ford Field, and as I watched the Tar Heels dominate Michigan State I was just a little sad to see a blowout instead of a closer contest that showed the best of both teams. But that's not a complaint. This is basketball country, and we like to win our games any way we can, especially when it means a fifth national championship -- and a chance to relive a special evening long ago watching the Heels work their magic and hooking a kid on ACC basketball forever.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Follow the dollar in NC politics

Candidates for state office in North Carolina raised more than $98 million for the 2008 campaign, according to the Web site Follow the Here's a link to the N.C. part of that site.

In non-judicial races, candidates raised $26.3 million more than in the previous general election -- most of it in the governor's race last year.

Mike Wessler, communications director for the organization, passes along this information:

* Non-judicial state-level candidates in North Carolina raised $80.9 million in 2008, $26.3 million more than they raised in 2004

* Gubernatorial candidates received $22.9 million of the extra $26.3 million raised in 2008. Candidates for governor received $19.2 million in 2004, compared with $42.1 million in 2008

* Contributions to legislative and statewide candidates remained relatively level in 2008. Candidates for the House and Senate received $30 million in 2008, compared to $28.1 million in 2004. Candidates for other statewide offices received $8.1 million in 2008, compared with $7.4 million in 2004.

The site also notes that the largest contributor was the N.C. Democratic Party with $6.6 million in contributions.

But the largest single contributors were former state Sen. Robert Pittenger, R-Mecklenburg, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor last year, with nearly $3.3 million in contributions, followed by former Sen. Fred Smith, R-Johnston, an unsuccessful candidate for governor, with more than $2.9 million in contributions.

There's a lot of information on that site. Give it a look.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Triangle key to Democrats' hold on federal elections

Triangle the state's important region for Democrats

This will surprise almost no one: The Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill is the most influential in helping Democrats win federal office and making the state competitive in presidential politics. Without it, President Obama would not have won North Carolina. So says Public Policy Polling analyst Tom Jensen in this note:

How important is the Triangle to continued Democratic gains in federal elections in North Carolina?

It was the only media market made up mostly of North Carolina counties to vote for Barack Obama last fall.

Obama took the region 56-43, racking up a plurality of 186,000 votes.

His next best performances were in the Triad and greater Charlotte, each of which he lost 52-47. In the Triad his deficit was 43,000 votes and in Charlotte it was 66,000.

He lost 53-46 in Asheville, Greenville, and Wilmington. In Asheville it was a deficit of 22k votes, in Greenville 25k, and in Wilmington 16k.

Add up those losses in all of the other state's media markets and it comes to 172k, allowing that 186k margin in the Triangle to make up for losing everywhere else.

There's not much doubt what region's growth is contributing the most to North Carolina's increased competitiveness in Presidential politics.
This analysis is also available on our blog:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

'Unusual' unity on smoking ban bill

Polling analyst Tom Jensen notes some interesting things about today's House vote approving a smoking ban in restaurants and public places by a 72-45 vote. It wasn't a strictly party-line vote. He says:

-Although it was largely a party line vote with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, almost a quarter of the votes did not fit that trend with 18 Republicans voting in favor of the bill and 11 Democrats voting against it. That unusual level of non-party unity may be a reflection of the fact that public opinion about the smoking ban is actually not particularly polarized along party lines. When we polled it in February 68% of Democratic voters and 62% of Republicans expressed support for it, not a particularly large disparity. This was not an issue where GOP representatives needed to vote against it to keep the base happy.

-Most of the Democrats voting against the bill represent districts in the tobacco growing country of eastern North Carolina, but our survey actually found a level of support for the smoking ban in that region equal to the statewide support of the bill. 64% of North Carolinians overall expressed approval for the proposal and so did 64% in the east. The place where we found voters much less supportive than overall was the Triad where it earned just 52% favorability.

This analysis is available on Public Policy Polling's blog at

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Alcoa responds on Yadkin River request

Alcoa responds to Gov. Bev Perdue's request to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to 'recapture' Yadkin River projects in this news release from a spokesman:

APRIL 1, 2009 – Alcoa Power Generating Inc. issued the following statement in response to a motion filed by N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue today to intervene in the federal relicensing of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project in central North Carolina:
The State of North Carolina took an unprecedented step today by pursuing the takeover of a privately-owned business that has roots in North Carolina dating back to 1915. It’s a move that could ultimately cost North Carolina taxpayers more than $500 million.
Alcoa does business in 34 countries around the world and it’s extremely rare to be faced with a situation where a state government wants to seize one of our businesses and operate it for its own benefit. Every other business owner in North Carolina should be concerned about the dangerous precedent this action sets.
Gov. Perdue’s motion to intervene in the federal relicensing of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project comes more than six years after the federal relicensing process began. Throughout this process, agencies representing the State of North Carolina have been actively involved and the State’s interests have been well protected.
Alcoa has invested heavily in the Yadkin Project and will fight to ensure that it receives full value for its property if the State of North Carolina moves forward with this ill-conceived policy.

Perdue wants to 'recapture' Yadkin project

When Gov. Bev Perdue asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today to halt its consideration of a license renewal for Alcoa Power Generating's hydroelectric facilities on the Yadkin River and ask Congress to "recapture" the projects for the benefit of the state of North Carolina, the motion filed by the state attorney general's office noted that the original reasons for Alcoa to have the license -- the smelter at Badin and local employment -- have evaporated. The state's argument turns on the fact that Alcoa no longer has a workforce that would justify granting a license for control of a public trust resource such as the waters of the Yadkin:

"Fifty years later, the smelting works are no longer operational and the jobs and economic activities associated with them are gone. A skeleton crew of employees remains to look after the shuttered works and to operate the hydropower facilities. While the state and the surrounding communities have largely lost their stake in the original arrangement, APGI continues to operate the dams and generate and sell power at a significant profit. The state therefore moves to intervene to curtail APGI's vestigial private control of this segment of the Yadkin River and to rededicate this valuable resource to significant public use."

And in a footnote, the filing notes that this case is unique. "The licensee is not regulated by the state as a public utility. Nor is the state aware of any other instance in the state where a licensee has secured a license, with the state's active support, expressly to support the local community, then abandoned the activity that brought that benefit."

The motion notes that "never has so compelling an economic case been presented" supporting the nation's first "recapture" of a hydroelectric project from a former federal licensee. The project "now provides only the most minimal public benefits, e.g., payment of taxes, provision of power (albeit for private use and not for the public convenience.)… This contrasts markedly with the express purpose for the initial investment in the project, which was to maintain and enhance the local Badin works."

The 'scary' mile-high, swinging bridge

When Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law the bill authorizing the Grandfather Mountain State Park Tuesday, a sizable crowd assembled to witness the signature that would convert much of the late Hugh Morton's favorite mountain into a park that will preserve its glories forever -- nearly 2,500 acres, in fact. Morton was the photographer, developer, promoter, Tar Heel fan and loving devotee of all things related to North Carolina. He is probably responsible for the fact that the Blue Ridge Parkway has no entrance fees, and that the parkway built the Linn Cove Viaduct around Grandfather Mountain, a roadway many of us believe is among the wonders of the modern world. It was Hugh's idea to bring the Battleship North Carolina home to Wilmington.

Among a great many other things, Morton photographed and promoted Mildred the Bear, and urged visitors to walk across the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.

Dee Freeman, the state's new secretary of environment and natural resources, spoke at the bill-signing session and recalled that when he was a boy, he had "always heard about the mile-high swinging bridge and it scared me to death."

It was a scary notion -- a pedestrian bridge that, any reasonable youngster might imagine, meant a mile-deep fall for those pedestrians unwary enough to lose hold.

But the bridge was nothing of the sort. It was well over a mile high in altitude, to be sure, but it was less than 100 feet above the ground below. And it didn't swing all that much, either, because periodic high winds on Grandfather Mountain required the use of guy wires to steady the bridge in a blow.

The late CBS newsman Charles Kuralt, a close friend of Morton, once spoke at a North Caroliniana Society dinner honoring Morton. Kuralt poked fun at Morton, referring to his bridge not as mile-high, or swinging, either, but as "the eighty-foot-high tethered bridge" at Grandfather Mountain, a line that provoked a roar of laughter from the crowd -- and a tight smile from its creator who was gracious enough to let his friends kid him a little now and then.

I miss Hugh, and his friendship, encouragement and ideas, a lot. But we'll have Grandfather Mountain State Park to remember him, and his example, all our days.