Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Poll: NC voters don't like Repubs -- or Dems, either

Here's a poll that confirms what many knew instinctively: One reason that Tar Heel voters in November chose Republicans to run the N.C. General Assembly for the first time in more than a century is that they didn't much care for Democrats in the General Assembly. But voters aren't all that wild about the new Republicans in the legislature, either -- perhaps putting the GOP on notice that the party needs to perform a lot better than their predecessors in the session that begins Jan. 26 if they hope to win the governorship next time and retain legislative control.

They've got a tough enough job as it is: Finding a way to cover a $3.7 billion shortfall, protecting public schools and higher education from the worst of cuts, maintaining roads and public safety while also dealing with continued high unemployment.

Public Policy Polling finds that voters have mixed feelings about whether things will be any better in 2011 than they have been recently. Here's what PPP, a Democratic polling firm with a reputation for accuracy, has to say about the new majority:

North Carolina voters don't have a particularly favorable view of the legislative Republicans who will take power next month. But they don't like legislative Democrats either, which is why the Republicans were able to gain control last month despite not being popular themselves. Against that backdrop it should come as no surprise that voters have mixed feelings about whether things in the state will be any better with the shift in legislative power.

41% of voters think the state will be better off with Republicans in charge while 37% think things will be worse and 20% see it as about a wash. GOP voters unsurprisingly are pretty enthusiastic- 82% of them think the state of the state will improve with their party in charge. Democrats are pessimistic, although not to the extent Republicans are optimistic- 64% of them think the state will be worse off. And independents are split three ways with 34% thinking things will be better, 31% that they'll be worse, and 30% that they'll stay basically the same.

The ambivalence about whether North Carolina will be better off with Republicans in control of the General Assembly is probably a function of the fact that neither party is seen very favorably by voters in the state. 45% have an unfavorable opinion of legislative Democrats to only 38% with a positive one. The numbers for Republicans aren't much different- 41% see them in a negative light to just 33% with a favorable opinion. Democrats like their party but not the Republicans, Republicans like their party but not the Democrats, and independents don't like either of them.

When you combine the feelings North Carolinians have about both parties in the legislature with the persistent negative feelings toward Bev Perdue, the main thing you can take away is that North Carolina voters just don't like their state government and that cuts across party lines.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Former First Lady Jessie Rae Scott dies

Former North Carolina First Lady Jessie Rae Scott, spouse of former Gov. Bob Scott, died this morning at age 81. Gov. Scott died in 2009 at age 79.
Meg Scott Phipps, her daughter, sent the following email to friends earlier this morning:
Dear friends,
   I just want to let you know that Mom passed away this morning at Hillcrest Convalescent Center in Durham. She had been failing over the past couple of weeks and the family recognizes this as a blessing. I will let you know when funeral arrangements have been made. Thank you for all your prayers and comments over the past few months.
Meg Phipps

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Perdue's number are improving, thanks to reorg plan

While Civitas' latest polls shows Pat McCrory with a lede in a potential 2012 matchup with the governor, Gov. Bev Perdue's numbers are improving, thanks partly to her recently proposed reorganization plan.  Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says Perdue's numbers aren't great but they're a lot better than they were -- "a major improvement" in the past year.  She was at a 27 percent approval level last year at this time, but is up around 35 percent approval now.

Here's what Jensen had to say:

There's strong bipartisan support for Bev Perdue's proposed reorganization of state government and partially as a result of that her approval numbers are now at their best level since April of 2009, shortly after she took office.

50% of voters support Perdue's plans for reducing the size of state government with only 23% opposed. There's little difference across party lines in support for her proposal- 52% of Republicans, 50% of Democrats, and 45% of independents say they support what she wants to do on that front.

Being in the spotlight with a popular policy proposal will tend to help your approval rating and 35% of voters in the state now approve of Perdue with just 44% disapproving of her. The last time PPP found Perdue's disapproval as low as the 44% mark was three months after she took office in April of 2009, when her approval was a positive 41/40 spread. The next month she saw a precipitous drop to 34/51 and she hasn't been back on positive ground since.

Although she remains unpopular Perdue has at least seen a major improvement in her approval numbers over the course of 2010. Last December Perdue's approval rating was only 27% with 53% of voters giving her bad marks. Perdue's net approval rating now of -9 represents a 17 point improvement from her -26 spread a year ago at this time.

Comparing Perdue's numbers now to where they were at the beginning of the year, the most marked improvement is with her party base. 55% of Democrats now approve of the job she's doing where only 41% did earlier. She's also seen a good amount of improvement with Republicans. Although she remains largely unpopular with them her approval has nearly doubled from 8% to 15%. The most worrisome group for Perdue remains independents. She was at 28/56 with them in December of 2009 and her numbers now are pretty identical at 26/49. A PPP poll last month showed Perdue losing independents by 31 points in a hypothetical contest with Pat McCrory and it's clear that's the group she most needs to improve her standing with if she hopes to win a second term.

McCrory lead over Perdue growing, poll says

With barely two years before the next election, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has a 15 percent lead in a poll by the conservative Civitas Institute.  That's up from a 6 percent lead in a June poll, the Institute said.  It found that 51 percent of voters would vote for McCrory, a Republican, if the governor's race were today, while 36 percent would support the governor. Twelve percent identified themselves as undecided.

Here's part of a Civitas news release:

"Support for Perdue is low as voters see job creation and economic recovery remaining flat,” said Civitas Institute Francis De Luca.  “Despite press releases heralding new jobs and incentive giveaways, voters are not seeing improvement in the employment picture.”

 McCrory leads among Republicans by an 83 percent-8 percent margin and among unaffiliated voters (53 percent-23 percent).  Democratic voters support Perdue by a 64 percent-29 percent margin.

 “Perdue has an uphill climb in light of the recent midterm elections, bleak jobs picture and the challenging state budget situation,” added De Luca.  “In the next few months, the public will see whether she works with the new Republican leadership to balance the budget and improve the employment picture.  If successful, that may prove critical to her reelection plans.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Perdue: Not interested in talking to Alcoa

If you've kept up with a long-running dispute over whether Alcoa Power Generating Inc. will get another federal license to operate hydroelectric power plants on the Yadkin River in central North Carolina, you know that a water quality permit hearing suddenly stopped a few weeks ago when lawyers for Stanly County opponents asked about some e-mails they found indicating that company officials and consultants knew about water quality problems at one of Alcoa's dams but did not tell the state. A few days later the state withdrew its water quality certification for the relicensing, which Alcoa needs to get another federal license, saying Alcoa had deliberately hidden important information.

My colleague Lynn Bonner of the N&O and I met with two Alcoa officials Wednesday to hear what they had to say. You can read her story here.  Alcoa Vice President Kevin Anton said he was visiting North Carolina because "We didn't like where things were progressing here in North Carolina" and added, "It was time for a new approach." Anton said he hoped to talk with Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, who once headed a group opposed to Alcoa before he took his post in the Perdue administration, among other N.C. leaders.

Anton and Mike Belwood, Alcoa's director of media and corporate relations, came to see whether there's a way to resolve the dispute, and they're talking to a lot of folks and doing a lot of listening. For a long time North Carolina worked with Alcoa to relicense the dam, but late in Gov. Mike Easley's administration, he decided to oppose the new license, and Gov. Bev Perdue has followed the same approach. I thought Alcoa's conciliatory approach after several years of some hard-nosed verbal punching from both sides might resonate with some state officials, but Gov. Bev Perdue doesn't appear to be one of them.

Reporters met with Perdue at the Executive Mansion today to talk about a number of issues, and I asked whether she'd be open to a settlement of some kind.  It doesn't sound like it.  Perdue said her stance on Alcoa and the river came from her gut; she believes that the 1958 license Alcoa won with the state's support was based in large measure on the big workforce Alcoa had here at that time. At one point Alcoa employed 1,000 workers at its aluminum works here.  Now the smelter is closed for good, almost all the jobs are gone, and giving the company another license to control the river's waters, without a corresponding economic benefit such as a large employment base, is wrong, she said. She wasn't interested in talking to Alcoa, and didn't think her Secretary of Commerce would be, either, she said.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Perdue: Nobody asked me about a 2001 redistricting commission

Gov. Bev Perdue made a rare appearance before a legislative committee Wednesday morning and asked for three non-budgetary things, WRAL-TV reports, including creating a bipartisan panel to draw new congressional and legislative districts

The station reported on its Website that Perdue said nobody sought such a commission when she was presiding over the Senate in 2001.  But in fact Republicans sought it that year -- and the Observer editorially backed the idea.

(4:35 p.m. Update: Chrissy Peason, the governor's spokeswoman, says Perdue didn't say no one mentioned it that year. She said the governor said that no one asked her about it that year.)

WRAL wrote:

"Republicans have sought such a panel for years, but the Democratic legislative majority never took up the issue. The GOP now controls both the House and Senate, following major victories in last month's election.

"Perdue oversaw the Senate 10 years ago as lieutenant governor during the last redistricting, but she never asked for a bipartisan group to assist that process. She said Wednesday that no one suggested the idea in 2001.

But our Raleigh reporter Mark Johnson -- who now works for Perdue in her communications office -- wrote a story on Feb. 28, 2001 that included the following:

"A coalition of Republican senators and nonpartisan government watchdog groups on Tuesday proposed legislation that would create an independent commission to redraw the boundaries of the state's political districts.

Every 10 years census population data is used to redraw districts for state legislators and members of Congress so that each district has a roughly equal number of people in it. In North Carolina, the General Assembly does the redistricting. Historically, the party in power can draw the lines to benefit its members, giving them safe districts and stuffing opposing party members into districts that are difficult to win in an election.

The Republican-led coalition said creating an independent commission would end the practice of drawing district lines for partisan gain and could end the decade-long litigation over drawing districts that benefit minority candidates.

A commission would "establish districts where voters choose their representatives instead of representatives choosing their voters, " said Sen. Hamilton Horton, R-Forsyth, a sponsor of the legislation. The nine members of the commission would be chosen by the governor, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, speaker of the House and Senate president pro tem.

Horton and other GOP senators were joined by representatives of such nonpartisan groups as Democracy South and the League of Women Voters."

And on March 2, 2001, the Observer's editorial page opined:

Enough is enough. The House and Senate should embrace the recommendation of the 1997 Legislative Research Commission to create a redistricting commission to draw districts without regard for party politics or residency of incumbents. One such proposal, offered by Sen. Ham Horton, R-Forsyth, contemplates a nine-member commission, with three members appointed by the governor, two by the chief justice, two by the House speaker and two by the Senate president pro tem. At least one of each appointing official's appointees would have to come from the opposing political party, insuring political parity on the panel.

Nothing will take all the partisan politics out of redrawing districts, but an independent commission could eliminate much of the log-rolling and back-scratching that characterized North Carolina's problem-plagued redistricting efforts of the last 20 years. It's time to try a better way.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Matter Of Wrap-Cooking A Country Ham

For my money the Observer's Kathleen Purvis is tops in the food-writing field.  If you read her story on the art of curing hams a few years back, you know that she has a reverence for doing things the right way -- both in her reporting and her appreciation for the many gifts of Southern cooking. 

But when Barnie K. Day sent me his piece on how to "wrap-cook" a country ham, I thought it was too good to keep under, um, wraps.  Barnie himself freely admits he stole it, so I'm passing it along with full credit to Barnie and to the man from whom he got the story, Robert Crumpton Sr., a government tobacco grader in Roxboro and later Oxford, who refined this process.

I should add that Barnie is a neighbor of mine in Patrick County, Va., up on Belcher Mountain in the Blue Ridge. Barnie's a Tar Heel boy who grew up in Person County, earned degrees at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke, and went on to be Patrick County manager, a Virginia state legislator and writer of terrific newspaper columns when he's not out tending to his farm up in the headwaters of the Dan River. Barnie theorizes, by the way, that this method of curing a ham might have something to do with the original "pig in a blanket."  Read on and see what you think.


This is the world’s best way to cook a country ham.  Guaranteed.  Period.  Scout’s honor.  Cross my heart and hope to die.  And it’s not original.  Of course, I stole it.  And, as luck would have it, it is also the easiest.  Often the case.  We overcomplicate a lot of things.  Cooking a ham is one of them.

Let’s start with the ham itself, and how it was cured. 

There are lots of run-of-the-mill brands, some of them old and famous but still run-of-the-mill, brands that owe their reputations more to glossy catalogues and clever and expensive marketing campaigns than they do to judge-by-eating juries. 

Many of these hams are cured “inside out,” needle-embalmed with nitrate injections.  They are not the best hams -- often more expensive -- but not the best.

Still, these hams eat okay -- unless you’ve eaten ham cured like your granddaddy cured it, ham cured the old way.

He cured his hams “outside in.”  He didn’t know about nitrate injections.  (And if he had, he wouldn’t have done it to his hams!)  He simply packed his fresh in plain salt for six to eight weeks, took them up, washed and dried them, maybe smoked them a little, maybe not, probably peppered them, hung them in cotton sacking in a cool place, out of reach of the dogs, and aged them for several months. 

A note here:  don’t be flummoxed by the term “sugar cured.”  Often salt is mixed with sugar, with pepper, with molasses, with honey -- all kinds of stuff -- and labeled some fancy “cure,” or another, but these things -- including smoke -- be it apple wood, hickory, whatever -- only flavor hams.  What cures, or preserves, a ham is the salt that it absorbs during the curing process. 

Buy whatever brand you want.  For my money, the best country ham in this part of the world, the one closest to what your granddaddy cured, is a Clifty Farm ham, processed for 60 years or so by the Murphey Family, in Paris, Tennessee.  They’re usually available, and reasonably priced, across Southside Virginia around Christmastime.  ($1.79 a pound at the Piggly Wiggly in Danville.)

Okay, now let’s cook that bad boy!

Unwrap the ham and wash it.  Yeah, they all have a little mold.  No big deal.  Really.  It would cause me some concern if it didn’t have mold on it.  Just palm it off with a little warm water.  Two minutes, tops. 

Put the ham in a pot that you have a top for.  I always have to cut the hock off so it will fit the pot I use.  They’ll cut the hock off for you at the grocery store.  If I have to tell you what that hock is good for, stop reading this and move on.  You got no business with a country ham.  Either that, or you’re a Yankee, and threw the ham out when you saw the mold.

Fill the pot with water until the ham is covered with 3-4 inches, put the top on, and bring it to a boil.

Now here is the trick to this:  As soon as it begins to boil, you take it off the stove.  That’s right.  Off the stove when it begins to boil.  Set it somewhere where it will be out of your way. 

Now we’re going to wrap that puppy up.  Pot and all.  You can use most anything -- towels, an old blanket, a quilt, a sleeping bag.  The patio lounge cushion works well.  That’s what I use.  The idea is to insulate the pot so that it holds the heat.

I put an inch or so of newspaper under the pot, the same amount on top, wrap the patio cushion around it, and tie the cushion in place with baling twine.  This doesn’t take five minutes.  Just make sure it’s insulated good.

When you get it wrapped, leave it alone.  Walk away from it.  Forget about it for 12 hours.  Just let it sit.

After 12 hours, remove the wrap, and take the ham out of the pot and put it on a baking pan.  Careful here—even after sitting 12 hours, the water will be too hot for you to put your hands in.

Trim the skin off, score a diamond pattern on the thin layer of encasing fat, rub into it a cup of white sugar, put the ham -- uncovered -- in the oven and bake it for 2 hours at 275 degrees.  And that’s it.  You’re done.  Let it cool before slicing. 

Merry Christmas.  And best to you and yourn

Barnie K. Day
Meadows of Dan, VA

Thursday, December 09, 2010

LaHood pulled the wool over NC eyes on rail

Remember when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke in Charlotte last month and dangled the possibility of big bucks for NC rail projects because Ohio's and Wisconsin's new GOP leaders didn't want it?
The only thing LaHood was dangling was his own credibility, it turns out.  Of more than $1 billion up for grabs, North Carolina is getting $1.5 million, Bruce Siceloff of the News & Observer reports:

Dashing hopes he had kindled, LaHood gives N.C. a tiny share of rail money

North Carolina will get just $1.5 million of the high-speed rail money recently spurned by new Republican leaders in Ohio and Wisconsin, Ray LaHood, the U.S. transportation secretary, said today.

Most of the $1.195 billion originally designated for the two midwestern states will be spent instead on the nation's three most ambitious passenger rail projects -- two in California ($624 million) and one in Florida ($342 million). The remaining 11 states receiving shares range from Washington state ($162 million) and Illinois ($42 million) to Indiana ($365,000), with North Carolina third from the bottom.

Read more here:

Further evidence, as if we needed it, of indecency

The N&O is reporting this morning that Westboro Baptist Church will picket Elizabeth Edwards' funeral Saturday. It's one more sign, in a world that doesn't need it, of indecency during a time of sorrow. Whether you liked or disliked former Sen. John Edwards or his wife, who died of cancer earlier this week, this group's protests at the funerals of American soldiers and of such public figures as Edwards or Jerry Falwell are the sorts of things that give free expression a bad name.

Yes, you can argue that for the 1st Amendment to mean anything, it must allow even the expression of things we find distasteful. I don't argue that the 1st Amendment should be reined in, but I do observe that it's a sad thing to see such a high principle used to compound the sorrow of the families of those who have died.

The N&O website reports:

Westboro Baptist Church, a group with a history of staging protests at funerals and issuing anti-gay statements, is planning to picket the Saturday funeral of Elizabeth Edwards.

The group said it will picket outside Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh from 12:15 until 1 p.m. when the funeral is scheduled to begin.

The group, based in Topeka, Kan., travels nationally to picket funerals.

The group came into the national spotlight when members picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality. Westboro has protested at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and well-known people such as Fred Rogers, Coretta Scott King and Jerry Falwell.

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/12/09/852759/kansas-group-to-picket-edwards.html#ixzz17cwPajqP

Monday, December 06, 2010

Rucho to oversee Senate'redistricting panel

As expected, Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, will chair the Senate Redistricting Committee in the 2011 legislative session. President Pro Tem-elect Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, announced Monday that Rucho will have the job of overseeing the 2011 redistricting process when the legislature convenes in January. Rucho is on Berger's Senate transition team as Republicans take over the state Senate from Democrats for the first time in more than a century.

That's a key leadership assignment for Rucho, because the drawing of districts will have much to do with who controls the Senate, the state House, and the state's congressional delegation over the next decade.

In a news release, Berger said,

“Senator Rucho has previous experience with the redistricting process and is a good listener and evenhanded. These attributes make him the right person to guide the Senate in navigating the redistricting process in the next legislative session.”

The release also quoted Rucho as saying, “I look forward to leading the Senate efforts during the redistricting process. We will work prudently and deliberately to draw fair and legal lines for districts across the state that will uphold the right of the people of North Carolina to choose their representatives.”

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NC. agency revokes Alcoa water permit over withheld data

4:30 pm UPDATE: Gov. Bev Perdue issues statement on revocation of Alcoa permit:
We have learned through legal proceedings that Alcoa misled the state. Alcoa owes it to the people of North Carolina to provide accurate and complete information in order to protect the public’s health and safety. The justification for Alcoa’s license was the jobs that the company provided. Nearly all of those jobs are gone, as is the rationale for Alcoa’s original license. This is about the Yadkin River, a vital resource that belongs to the people of North Carolina.

Here's the original post from early this afternoon:

The key state agency regulating N.C. water quality says it is revoking a critical permit that Alcoa Power Generating INC needs in its bid for a federal license to continue operating hydroelectric power plants on the Yadkin River. Alcoa immediately announced it would fight the revocation. Where this leaves Alcoa's bid for another license like the one it has held for 50 years to operate four hydro generators on the river is unclear, but by law Alcoa cannot get a federal license from FERC without the permit, called a 401 certification.

The state's action came after some startling developments in an N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings procedure, when an Alcoa official evidently conceded there was information about dissolved oxygen content readings that the state did not know about.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources released this, in part, early this afternoon:

Officials with the N.C. Division of Water Quality today notified Alcoa Power Generating Inc. of the revocation of the company’s 401 water quality certification, issued in May 2009 for APGI’s Yadkin Hydroelectric Project in Stanly County.

This action is being taken after DWQ officials learned APGI submitted an incorrect application and supporting materials for the 401 water quality certification, in that the company intentionally withheld information on the project’s ability to meet the state’s water quality standards for dissolved oxygen. This intentional omission came to light after company e-mails were recently entered into evidence during a hearing before an administrative law judge involving Stanly County’s challenge to the issuance of the 401 water quality certification.

The Yadkin Hydroelectric Project includes High Rock, Tuckertown, Narrows – also known as Badin – and Falls reservoirs. DWQ officials believed at the time the certification was issued that APGI’s application for the certification and supporting documentation provided adequate assurance that the proposed activities would not result in a violation of state water quality standards and discharge guidelines.

(Alcoa can surrender the permit, or it can resubmit the application within 60 days with the errors corrected.)

Alcoa responded about the same time. Here's an excerpt:

New York, NY, Dec. 1, 2010 – Alcoa Power Generating Inc. is disappointed and surprised by the state’s plans to start proceedings to revoke the Yadkin Project’s 401 Water Quality Certificate and will immediately challenge the state’s effort, the company announced today.

The certificate, which lays out a plan for APGI’s Yadkin Project to meet water standards, was issued in 2009 by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality and is currently under appeal by APGI and other parties.

“Our team of experts developed a comprehensive plan to improve water quality and we are already seeing improvement,” said Rick Bowen, president of Alcoa Energy. “We do not believe the state’s decision is justified or appropriate.

“We believe that rather than continue litigation, it would be better to work together toward an outcome that protects the environment and promotes economic development and jobs for residents of North Carolina.”

N.C. a 'prime location' for offshore wind energy?

A report from the National Wildlife Federation identifies North Carolina as a "prime location" for offshore wind turbines that produce electricity -- amounting to about one-fifth the East Coast's potential wind energy production. The report says the region's relatively shallow waters make it a prime spot for wind energy, and offers the opinion that wind projects on our coast could create up to 20,000 manufacturing jobs.

But, and this is a very big but, there are data gaps in the potential environmental impact that must be researched. The experience with offshore wind farms in Europe suggest few long-term environmental impacts, but more needs to be known to determine whether the same would prevail on the East Coast. Here's a link to the report:
The report, Offshore Wind in the Atlantic: Growing Momentum for Jobs, Energy Independence, Clean Air, and Wildlife Protection, makes these observations:

Every state with significant offshore wind resources from Maine to Georgia has some taken some steps forward on offshore wind. Northern states (Maine to Maryland) have the most advanced projects while Southern states (Virginia to Georgia) are quickly mobilizing on a series of projects. See detailed chart and state profiles.

The Atlantic’s shallow water characteristics combined with excellent wind speed make it an ideal location for offshore wind farms. 93 percent of offshore wind projects worldwide are in shallow waters (zero to 30 meters deep). Close to half of the United States’ shallow water offshore wind is along the Atlantic coast.

While the most extensive European study concluded that offshore wind farms do not appear to have long-term or large-scale ecological impacts, major data gaps for the Atlantic Ocean still exist and site-specific impacts need to be evaluated. A coordinated, comprehensive, and well-funded effort is needed to address these gaps and improve the permitting process.

The report was released along the coast today in conjunction with many national and state partners including environmental, sportsmen, labor, and business organizations. These groups call on the federal government to take the following steps:

--Improve the offshore wind permitting process,

--Identify ideal, high priority sites with limited resource conflicts off of the Atlantic for quick and thorough permitting,

--Invest in and speed research of offshore wind technology and environmental impacts,

--Coordinate planning with existing infrastructure and industries such as ports and fishing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fortune mag on 'the Great North Carolina Power Grab'

North Carolina's bid to recapture the Yadkin River and the power plants operated by Alcoa Power Generating Inc. has stirred up huge controversy over the past couple of years, and it won't be decided until sometime in 2011 at the earliest. A state water permit is tied up in an N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings procedure, and Gov. Bev  Perdue's administration continues to hope for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision rejecting a new license for Alcoa to operate the hydroelectric plants on the Yadkin.

In the current issue (Dec. 6, 2010)  of Fortune magazine, journalist Ken Otterbourg, a former Raleigh correspondent and managing editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, writes through the power struggle in a seven-page text-and-photo spread under the headline "Alcoa and the Great North Carolina Power Grab."  Here's a link.

In part, Otterbourg writes,
Alcoa bristles when its opponents say that the company acts as though it owns the river and the water. It doesn't, but the license gives it substantial water rights and a powerful negotiating position for changes to those rights. State officials can imagine a time during the life of the next license when North Carolina might need to use the Yadkin as a major water source, and they don't relish having to possibly pay Alcoa for revenue lost when water is diverted from the turbines.

Water rights were just one part of a 2007 settlement agreement that Alcoa hammered out after five years of meetings with property owners and governments. The state of North Carolina, which is now fighting to strip Alcoa of its license, signed the agreement. Twice. Stanly County didn't sign and has sued the state. It says Alcoa's industrial legacy has left the land and water polluted, and that state regulators looked past that record when granting the company a key permit. Alcoa disputes those allegations and is assisting the state in its defense, helping one North Carolina agency while it fights others.

And for Perdue and her team, there is this slightly inconvenient truth: Federal regulators have never taken back, or recaptured, a license. The Federal Power Act contains a brief section that addresses the process, which requires congressional approval, but there's no precedent for how it might actually work.

Alcoa's opponents say that regulatory complexities aside, the morality of their argument couldn't be clearer. Alcoa, they say, had a deal with Stanly County and by extension the state of North Carolina when the license was granted in 1958. It got to use the river to make power to provide local jobs. And with the jobs gone, the company doesn't deserve the license.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Perdue trails McCrory by 12 in first poll of 2012 race

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory leads Gov. Bev Perdue in a head-to-head matchup in a new poll by Public Policy Polling. Here's a link.

PPP analyst Tom Jensen says this first poll in the potential 2012 race puts McCrory "well ahead" of Perdue by 12 points, partly because of Perdue's weak approval ratings.  Perdue also would trail Republican chairman Tom Fetzer, but it would be a lot closer.

Here's text of what Jensen has to say:

PPP's first poll of the 2012 Governor's race in North Carolina finds Pat McCrory well ahead of Bev Perdue in a hypothetical rematch of their 2008 contest, 49-37. Perdue also trails NC GOP chair Tom Fetzer in a possible contest, although only by a 42-40 margin.

Part of the reason for Perdue's dicey early standing is her continued poor approval ratings. Only 33% of voters in the state approve of the job she's doing while 49% disapprove. But the other part is that Pat McCrory is a pretty well liked politician. Although a lot of folks have already forgotten who he is- 45% of voters in the state have no opinion of him- those who do remember him from 2 years ago generally look upon him fondly. 34% have a favorable view of him to only 20% with a negative one. Republicans (49/11 spread) and independents (34/18) are pretty overwhelmingly positive toward him and even with Democrats there are almost as many- 24%- with a positive opinion of him as there are- 27% with a negative one.

McCrory leads Perdue 58-27 with independents. By comparison PPP's final 2008 poll found him up just 7 points on Perdue with them. McCrory is also getting 25% of Democrats, compared to 17% we found him with on our final 2008 poll. And McCrory also does a good job of keeping Republicans in line- Perdue gets only 5% of the GOP vote at this point in time, compared to 10% she was receiving at the end of the last election.

There's not a lot of doubt that McCrory would defeat Perdue if the election was held today. But of course it's not. Earlier this month the Governor of Arizona, who had trailed by a good deal in polling throughout much of 2009, and the Governor of Illinois, who trailed by a good deal in polling throughout pretty much all of 2010, were both reelected. Perdue has a lot of work to do with Democrats and independents between now and November of 2012, but it's not impossible for someone in her current position to win reelection.

The most interesting thing about Fetzer's numbers might be that as many press conferences as he held this year, 70% of voters across the state don't know who he is. And when you get outside the Triangle that number rises closer to 80%. Democrats dislike Fetzer more strongly (8/27) than Republicans like him (16/9). Independents have a dim view of Fetzer as well at 9/16. Given McCrory's strength Fetzer's electoral prospects in 2012 might look brighter in a race for Lieutenant Governor than the big office.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Poll finds wide support for redistricting commission

You might have seen where the leaders of the 2011 General Assembly -- don't plan to do what they once urged the legislature to do when it was controlled by Democrats: give the job of drawing new legislative and congressional districts to an independent, nonpartisan commission. Always seemed like a good idea to me, despite the new problems it might well bring. Legislators have made such a hash of it over the years that giving the job to an independent panel made some sense. But Republican point out that there's no way to amend the Constitution and delegate the job to an independent organization before the legislature has to come up with its own maps in mid-2011.

They're right to that extent, but nothing prevents them, as a number of folks have pointed out, from naming an advisory panel to propose maps for the upcoming redistricting process.

Anyway, Public Policy Polling wondered what the people think. And they found out that Democrats, Republicans and Independents all support the idea -- independents most especially. Here's analysis from Tom Jensen at PPP:

Democrats, Republicans, and independents in North Carolina don't all agree on much these days but there is one thing: they all think the state would be better served by an independent commission in charge of redistricting than continuing to have the Legislature draw up the lines.

49% of voters in the state think an independent commission is the way to go compared to only 21% who want legislators to continue doing it. 30% express no opinion one way or the other. The desire to reduce the influence of politics in redistricting is held by Democrats by a 47/24 margin and by Republicans by a 41/20 margin. The most overwhelming support for such a measure comes from independents, who favor it 69/15.

Phil Berger has historically supported an independent commission but now says there won't be time to create one in 2011 when Republicans will take control of the legislature. A plurality of voters in the state support a solution to Berger's concern about timing- having a special session of the legislature before the end of this year to create the commission and get the process rolling. 40% of voters in the state say they'd support calling the legislators back to deal with the issue to only 27% who are opposed and 33% who don't offer an opinion one way or the other. Democrats (44/24) and independents (46/29) are both pretty strongly in support of that action while Republicans divide evenly (31/31) on it.

North Carolinians want an independent redistricting commission and they're open to taking some unusual steps to get one in place before the next round of line drawing- December could be a whole lot more interesting on the political calendar this year than it usually is.

For more: http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2010/11/nc-support-special-session-on.html

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Former Congressional candidate says Tillis likely next speaker

Carl Mumpower, an Asheville Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Democrat Health Shuler, has kept up his commentary on American and N.C. politics regularly -- and how he's attacking Republican Rep. Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg as a "RINO" (Republican In Name Only) although he also says he thinks Tillis is going to become the next speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives. Mumpower is a family psychologist whose site is called The Candid Conservative.

 Mumpower says Tillis first won his House seat with the help of former House Co-Speakers Jim Black, a Democrat, and Richard Morgan, a Republican, and defeating former Republican Rep. John Rhodes of Mecklenburg, an early critic of Black who was the first (or at least among the very first) to call for Black's resignation.

But the problem for many House Republicans is that they owe a lot to Tillis, a pro-business, no-nonsense lawmaker who quit his job in order to devote full time to raising money and campaigning for a Republican majority in the legislature. They won's the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century in large measure thanks to Tillis's organizational skills, his salesmanship and his hard work on the campaign trail. He differs from Rhodes in many respects, including his ability to get things done. If Tillis wins the speakership, it will be because of that, not how he got to Raleigh or with whose help. 

Here's what Mumpower is saying on his Podomatic podcast site:

North Carolina Republicans have just achieved  their first legislative majority in 100 years.  Following a long-standing Democrat tradition of institutional graft, tarheel elephants have a golden opportunity to return the state to sanity. 

Instead, there are early indications that power, popularity, and profit are, once again, moving to trump principle.  Charlotte Representative Thom Tillis has stepped into the batter's box for the Speaker of the House position - he's favored to win. 

Conservatives with a hand on NC's heart may remember this gentleman was plugged into office by Democrat Speaker Jim Black and a coalition of big pocket RINO's.  In a primary, Tillis helped rid future jailbird Black of his nemesis, Representative John Rhodes, a stalwart conservative with a courage button. 

It is telling that Tillis rose in the Republican ranks while an authentic conservative was discarded by the Party.  The fact that RINO Tillis is likely to win the seat of power, tells us even more about what we can expect from NC's new elephant majority...

GOP lawmaker suggests House rules changes first

State Rep. John Blust, a Guilford County Republican, has been pushing for House rules changes for years that would open up the process, give minority legislators as well as those in the majority a better chance to have their amendments heard and give legislators more time to consider appropriations bills before they have to cast a yea or nay vote.

 From where I sit in the press gallery, they've looked like good ideas to boost democracy and make sure every legislator gets a chance to have his or her ideas at least aired.  But they probably don't look so good to those who have to run the sometimes fractious 120-member House, where party discipline is an important factor in moving the chamber's work along, making sure the majority rules in an efficient way and passing a budget before the end of the fiscal year.

Now, with an important Republican caucus coming up Saturday to in effect choose those who will run the House the next two years, Blust is asking his GOP colleagues to change the rules first.

In an email to those elected to the 2011 House , Blust said, 
"I propose that we adopt the changes I outline in the attachment prior to proceeding to a vote on our leadership positions.  I hope all those seeking a leadership position will provide the caucus with their reaction to these proposals before Saturday’s caucus.  All caucus member should feel free to provide me your feedback on these.  They are not written in stone.  Each of the proposed changes can be backed up by a specific abuse or a multitude of abuses which I have personally witnessed while serving in the legislature."

It'll be interesting to see if Blust's party is any more interested in his proposed changes than Democrats were; many of his ideas were ignored by most Democrats in past sessions, but that doesn't mean they weren't good ideas.
For those who have the time for a long read, here's what Blust has in mind:
Proposed Rules Changes for Republican House Caucus

Republicans will control the North Carolina legislature for the first time in more than a century when the legislature convenes on January 26. This control comes about as the State is facing its most difficult budget challenge in over 75 years. Decades of Democrat mismanagement and obstruction of sound, common-sense proposals to address problems facing this State have created a backlog of needed legislation. Democrat corruption has run rampant and the people’s trust in government has fallen precipitously. Our voters elected us to address these pressing matters because the Democrats refused to act. Much of this deplorable situation has its roots in the hegemony that a select few have had over the NC House and NC Senate. We must act quickly to chart a new course. The first thing we must do as a caucus is to restore the North Carolina House as a deliberative body in which the will of the majority, rather than the compulsive power of a few, is what controls the outcome of the legislative process.

We have many fine members seeking leadership positions. Those seeking these positions need to be the servants and facilitators of the caucus members. We are 68 in number and none of us has superior knowledge over all the other 67 combined. I do not think any of our members would abuse power to the extent of the past Democrat leaders; nevertheless, it is important to guarantee that this will not happen through a deliberative process based on rules. Those seeking leadership can guarantee this by supporting proposed changes that will devolve power.

I therefore propose that before we proceed to elect leadership, we as a caucus agree to certain matters which our elected leaders can then be elected with the commitment to observe. These entail the following changes to the House Rules and operations we can agree to adopt:

1. The caucus will control the appointment of committee chairmen and the committee assignments of its members. We can have a select committee of our leadership to take the requests of our members and prepare a proposed committee set-up to bring back to the next caucus meeting for approval. Committee chairmen and committee members can thereafter only be removed and replaced by a vote for the caucus for cause. This makes clear that committees work for the caucus, not one person. This will help ensure that committee chairmanship is based on merit, not favoritism based upon who a member backed for Speaker.

2. House office assignments will be made by choice of the caucus members in the order of seniority, subject to some special assignments based on committee chairmanships. This will mean no member owes his/her office to one person and will eliminate the possibility of deal-making for office space.

3. Seating in the chamber will be by choice of the members in the order of seniority.

4. Allow it to be possible for a House member to move bills that have majority support from a committee so that one person cannot block the flow of legislation. Allow a discharge petition, which brings a bill to the House floor, if 61 members sign it. Allow rule 39 to actually work in which a member can move the House for removal of a bill from a committee. Allow a committee to vote to put a bill on its agenda. Republicans should have a two-vote majority on all but the Ethics Committee. Require that a committee hold a vote on any bill that meets a certain threshold of support – say, 30 co-sponsors.

5. Ensure that the rules and the calendar control the flow of legislation, rather than the will of one or two members. The calendar should be followed except by leave of the House to vary the order.

6. Provide that the budget will actually be prepared by the Appropriations subcommittees, not in a back room somewhere. Allow transparency by allowing a minimum time for members to review a proposed budget bill. At least 72 hours should be allowed before a vote on the conference report on the budget can be held. Require approval of the full House before any new rules on budget debate can be imposed. Allow some minimum of debt and proposed amendments to the budget. Prohibit the budget from containing substantive law changes which should be in stand-alone bills.

7. Require some minimum debate be allowed before the question on a matter can be called.

8. Do away with the prohibition on floor amendments that change the long title of a bill, which has prevented members not on a committee which passes out a bill from being able to influence the provisions of that bill. The germaneness rule will still cover proposed amendments.

9. Make clear in Rule 6 that the Speaker’s "general direction of the hall" does not override the need for the Speaker to observe the House Rules. Require the Speaker to recognize House members for business that is in order under the rules. Require the Speaker to state the precise reason when the Speaker rules a member’s proposal out of order. Allow a majority, rather than two-thirds, to overrule the ruling of the chair (We will have 68 votes anyway).

10. (This is not a House Rule but should be a caucus rule.) Allow the caucus to approve hirings of the Speaker. (Remember Black’s secret hiring of a House historian in a make-work position to silence a crony. Also remember the bloated staff and outrageous salaries of Hackney. Remember the secret bonuses of Basnight in a year state employees had salary freezes.)

These proposals should not be interpreted as a slap at anyone running for our leadership. Perhaps none of our candidates would do some of the untoward things we have seen in the past. But these proposals will provide us with a guarantee, not just a promise. They will also send a strong signal to the public that we intend to be different – to be better and provide better government than North Carolina has seen in the past several years. These changes will also prevent the pay-to-play regimen of the Democrats which we pledged to end in our ten-point plan.

I therefore move the adoption of a caucus resolution that we approve the above-listed ten items before we elect our leadership and that our elected leaders accept the positions to which they may be elected subject to these proposed ten points. If we agree to these changes, who we elect as Speaker will not be as critical as it has been in the past when it has literally been the whole ball game. It will make it easier to unify around our leadership, because no member will have to worry about having backed a non-prevailing candidate. The rights and privileges we all were awarded by our voters at the ballot box will be protected.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Queen City compliment from Richmond

When about 200 people attended a Southeast High Speed Rail Conference Tuesday in Richmond, Va.'s Greater Richmond Convention Center, they were given a welcome by City Council President Kathy Graziano -- and heard her pass along a nice compliment about Charlotte. Graziano was reciting the value of, among other things, good transit systems in growing cities and mentioned the role of public transportation in improving the quality of life in a number of places in the southeast. That's one of the factors, she said, that has "changed Charlotte from a very nice city to a great city."

The meeting at the convention center featured updates on the progress of turning long-neglected rail corridors into popular rail links between population centers. When Virginia recently contracted with Amtrak to restore passenger rail service between Lynchburg and Washington, the public response far exceeded expectations. That reflected, said Thelma Drake, Virginia Director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, a recognition that the fastest way to get into the traffic-choked Northern Virginia area and the District of Columbia is a rail car, not a passenger car.

Virginia's experience mirrors -- and exceeds -- North Carolina's experience with rail traffic between the capitals of government and commerce. The Raleigh-Charlotte route has long been popular and rates among Amtrak's best -- and when the state introduced this summer a third set of trains making daily round-trips in the middle of the workday, ridership increased yet again. What surprised rail planners, says Patrick Simmons of the N.C. Department of Transportation's Rail Division, is that many college students along the route have begun using the train service to commute to some of the 13 campuses along the Raleigh-Charlotte route.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't cut, but increase school funding, Justice Center argues

With a $3.6 billion budget shortfall facing the upcoming 2011 General Assembly, the worst-kept secret in Raleigh -- make that the Western Hemisphere -- is that the legislature will be making significant cuts. Republicans won both the House and Senate for the first time in more than a century in the Nov. 2 election, and they'll be looking at every part of the budget to make necessary cuts, they say.

But the N.C. Justice Center argues in a new report that not only should legislators not cut the public schools' budget, they ought to increase funding for schools. The center's Education & Law Project says in a news release that the state's education system is "one of the worst-funded in America" and that the state's school funding formula "is one of the most complex and least effective at aiding needy students." And the report says this state lags behind its immediate neighbors: South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia.

To be found online at www.ncjustice.org, the report, "North Carolina's Public School Funding System: Underfunded, Unclear, and Unfair," argues that the state needs an increase in overall funding, says Matthew Ellinwood, a Justice Center policy analyst.

Specifically, the report says Census data show North Carolina to be "45th in the nation in per‐pupil spending and 43rd in the nation in per‐pupil expenditure as a share of personal income. North Carolina ranks behind other southern states including South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Kentucky. "

Friday, November 05, 2010

1984 Senate race's see-saw polling

Last week's column about negative campaign ads in North Carolina mentioned some ugliness in the 1984 U.S. Senate campaign between Gov. Jim Hunt and U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. Among the topics were the Hunt campaign's tough ad on Helms' friend Roberto D'Aubuisson in El Salvador, Helms' "White Hands" ad and that episode when quirky newspaper editor Bob Windsor printed unsubstantiated rumors about Hunt, which Windsor later retracted and apologized for.

Former Helms strategist Carter Wrenn, whose latest success is Renee Ellmers' apparent upset win of 2nd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Bobby Etheridge (there's to be a recount, evidently), sent an e-mail with some interesting information about those 1984 events.

"I read your column 'First in Fights: NC's scurrilous campaign ads,' and here's a footnote to history: We polled just before Bob Windsor called Jim Hunt gay, and Jesse was even with Hunt (for the first time). We polled again after and Jesse trailed Hunt by ten points. (Windsor's smear didn't tarnish Hunt's image, it hurt Jesse.) Then Hunt put on his 'dead bodies' ad and we polled again and Jesse was even."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The election that could not quit: Court of Appeals

And you thought the election was over Tuesday night? Nope. In one race for the N.C. Court of Appeals seat once held by now-U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jim Wynn, the only thing Tuesday's election determined is that current incumbent Cressie Thigpen of Raleigh got more votes than the 12 other candidates, but not enough to win the seat. It could be weeks -- maybe after Thanksgiving -- before we know.

This is the race, you may recall, that had 13 candidates vying for the seat in the United States' first statewide use of something called Instant Runoff Voting.  Instead of determining a winner by whichever candidate got the most votes, or by having a runoff that might not have been held until December, the appeals court seat contest allowed voters to cast ballots for their first, second and third choices on the court. If no one got enough to win (50 percent on the first tally), then the second and third choices would be computed to determine the winner.

The worry was that a lot of voters would have a hard time casting ballots in this kind of election. And because there's usually a significant dropoff of voters from the highest-ranked contest on the ballot, such as president or governor or senator, down to the statewide judicial races, some expected that as many as half of N.C. voters would not bother to cast ballots in this race.

That fear was misplaced. While there was indeed a falloff of voters from the 2,642,527 in the U.S. Senate contest, as shown on the State Board of Elections website Thursday, to 1,931,382 in the Instant Runoff Voting race with 13 candidates, the fact is that that race drew more voters than two other contests for Court of Appeals.  The race between incumbent Judge Rick Elmore and law clerk Steven Walker, which Elmore won, drew 1,767,451 voters, while the race between incumbent Judge Martha Geer and challenger Dean Poirier, which Geer won, drew 1,863,016.  One other race, between incumbent Judge Ann Marie Calabria and District Judge Jane Gray, which Calabria won, drew 1,939,616.

One reason the Instant Runoff Voting race drew more voters, rather than much fewer as some had feared, is probably the fact that there were so many choices. Rather than discouraging voters entirely, it may have made voters look for someone they knew -- or at least had heard of.  Thigpen led with about 20 percent of the vote; former Court of Appeals Judge Doug McCullough drew about 15 percent; and lawyer Chris Dillon came in third with about 10 percent of the vote.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Tar Heel "Flying Bishop" remembered in Alaska

The Rev. William Jones Gordon Jr., a native of Spray in Rockingham County that's now part of a town called Eden, was known for many things. He was an Episcopal priest, UNC graduate and, at age 29, became the young bishop of Alaska -- said to be the youngest bishop in the church.  At first he served his flock via dogsled and riverboat, but in time gave it up to reach them faster and farther by flying.  So in time he became known as the "Flying Bishop," flying his canary yellow Piper PA-20 into remote places to bring cargo, provisions and the Word of God to folks in the back country.

They celebrated Gordon's life last week in Fairbanks, where they hung a Piper from the ceiling at the Morris Thompson Visitors and Cultural Center. Above is a picture by Sam Harrel, captured from the newsminer.com's website.  Mary Beth Smetzer of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has the story here. 

Often when the Piper would come flying in to a village, the children would come running to greet the bishop, one speaker said at the celebration. But it usually wasn't their eagerness for religious services, he said; they were clamoring for the doughnuts the bishop would bring with him as a treat.

Gordon, who died in 1994, is buried at Point Hope, Alaska, but his family had strong ties to the Tar Heel state. His father was a well known priest for whom a bridge in Rockingham County is named. His great grandfather was a governor of North Carolina during the Civil War -- Henry Toole Clark.  Jone's son, William Jones "Bill" Gordon III, a classmate of mine at UNC Chapel Hill (Class of 1968) was master of ceremonies.

Monday, November 01, 2010

South of the Border ad across the line?

Just when you thought you'd seen everything in politics comes a mailer from the N.C. Republican Party Executive Committee that portrays Democratic legislative candidate Chris Heagarty of Raleigh wearing a sombrero and supposedly mouthing the words "mucho taxo."  It's evidently meant as a play -- a crude one -- on the Pedro character from South Carolina's South of the Border complex just off I-95.  A headline says, "Bucky sez  Heagarty loves high taxes!" and "We're giving a huge advantage to our neighbors South of the Border."

You can see a copy of the mailer on the Independent's website here

It sad to think that the party of Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin has to resort to this kind of base, racist, emotional appeal, especially in an election when the party has so many other things going for it. I think the Republican Party is about to win a lot of legislative seats and may take over both houses of the legislature; why the party's elders would allow that potential success to be tainted by this kind of mailer is beyond my understanding, other than to recognize that this has become par for the course in Tar Heel politics. Sad.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Coker connection, arboretum and forest

If you've spent any appreciable time on the campus at UNC Chapel Hill, you've probably strolled through the Coker Arboretum just east and a little north of The Old Well. It was created early in the 20th century by a campus botany professor named William C. Coker, who turned a swampy area on what was then the eastern edge of the UNC campus into a peaceful, quiet oasis of plant life for botany students and a place where students, alumni and anyone who wants to take a stroll can get away from the pressures of academic life for a little while.

So as I drove to work Monday morning while listening to WUNC radio news about a 56-acre protected research forest that Elon University has created on the edge of its campus, my ears caught a familiar name. According to a transcript on WUNC's public radio website, the report went on:

"Biology professor Jeffrey Coker says he's thrilled about the decision.

(Jeffrey Coker:) 'Although Elon Forest itself is small, in terms of where it is, it's actually very significant, and very large even, compared to the types of natural resources that you might find around a lot of bigger schools in North Carolina and across the country.'"

I wondered right away if Jeffrey Coker was kin to the Professor Coker whose work created Coker Arboretum. Elon spokesman Eric Townsend sent my question to Jeffrey Coker, who responded:

"That is an excellent question. I have been asked this many times and it has drawn the interest of historians at UNC Chapel Hill. The short answer is that I’m not sure. Here is what we know for sure...

The Coker at UNC was William Chambers Coker. Our families both originate in South Carolina. Our fathers were both employed by the pulp and paper industry. We both earned PhDs in Botany. We were both professors at N.C. universities. We both helped to create natural preserves at our universities. We both place(d) great value on teaching and educational innovation. He served as the Editor of the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, which later became the Journal of the N.C. Academy of Science, and I serve on the Board of the N.C. Academy of Science and am the Chair of its Education Committee. And so on and so on. So we certainly have a great deal in common. I didn’t know most of this until Bill Burk (historian at UNC) sent me materials about William Chambers Coker, and so the whole thing is incredibly ironic.

Nevertheless, William Chambers Coker had no children, and thus I cannot be his direct descendent. My attempts to figure out my family history have led me to the South Carolina archive, where I was told that Sherman’s march led to the burning of the records that would help me trace my “Coker” roots. It seems very likely that we are related by a common ancestor in the 1700’s or 1800’s, but I can’t be sure.

Best wishes,


Professor Coker taught my father botany at UNC sometime in the late 1920s. As a boy I recall flipping through a notebook my father had kept of Prof. Coker's lectures, and his drawings of the plant life Coker lectured about.

I was also interested to know that there was one more well-known Coker academician born in South Carolina who became a mainstay at a North Carolina university: Zoologist Robert Ervin Coker, who taught zoology for years at Chapel Hill and whom then-UNC President Frank Porter Graham tapped in 1946 to organize the Institute of Fisheries Research in Morehead City. It's now known as the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. According to William Powell's Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Robert Ervin Coker and William Chambers Coker were both from Society Hill, S.C., and were cousins.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tar Heel high school phenoms in the big show

If you didn't catch it earlier, here's a link to Tim Stevens' story today on local-boy-made-good Josh Hamilton, who leads the Texas Rangers against the San Francisco Giants tomorrow in the 2010 World Series.  Stevens is a fine reporter who has spent a lot of time with Hamilton over the years, recording the ups-and-downs of a career that has, at times, been a sad story and, lately, a storybook tale of determination and redemption. He was once called the best high school baseball player in America.  He once was addicted to alcohol and cocaine, his life a total wreck.  And now he's sober, walloping the hide off the baseball and leading Najor League Baseball in hitting.

Hamilton was a high school phenom at Athens Drive High School on Raleigh's west side, and folks around here have been pulling for him to straighten out his life and make full use of his talents. He has excelled this year, winning the American League batting title with an .359 average and becoming Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series. His career stats: .311 batting average, 93 homers, 331 RBIs, 553 hits. He hits left, throws left and plays left field.

Hamilton's comeback is an inspiring story, especially to those who once had dreams of diamond glory and now have aging knees that sometimes seem to pop like a fastball planting itself in a catcher's mitt. I have found it hard to forgive the Texas Rangers for moving the old Washington Senators out of D.C. in 1971 when I was stationed at the Pentagon.  But Josh Hamilton has done something I didn't think possible: He has not only become a great baseball player and by all accounts a first-rate person, but he's also made me a Texas Rangers fan. Play ball!

Update: A reader reminds me I ought to have said something about the other Tar Heel in the World Series: Madison Bumgardner from Lenoir's South Caldwell High (not Lenoir County, as this blog first and incorrectly said). Here's what the reader suggested mentioning:

-          Second youngest pitcher to start a game for the Giants since they left NY.
-          Youngest pitcher in Giants franchise history to win a post season game
-          Named Starting Pitcher on the 2010 Baseball America All- Rookie team
-          Had 1.13 ERA in 5 games in September as Giants overtook the Padres to win the NL West.
-          He’s from Hudson, NC (near Lenoir) and led South Caldwell HS to the state championship his sr. season.
-          Committed to play at UNC but chose to sign with the Giants after they made him the 10th overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A better Senate debate last night

Last night's debate in the U.S. Senate race, the second of three planned for this campaign, was likely much more helpful to voters than the first. Sponsored by NBC-17 and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, it included Libertarian Party candidate Michael Beitler, a business professor at UNC-G whose views provided voters a third choice in addition to Republican incumbent Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall. As Rob Christensen points out in his front-page coverage of the debate, exchanges between the two major candidates were more pointed -- especially the debating points made by Marshall, the N.C. Secretary of State. She was more intently focused on making points that Burr has been a captive of special interests in Washington and that she is more of an outsider, pointedly noting this time that she was not the hand-picked darling of the Senate leadership.

I thought Burr did a better job this time, too, not just responding more aggressively but more effectively carrying his message against Marshall -- and at one point accusing her of supporting a single-payer health care system. Marshall retorted she had never supported that system and branded Burr as wrong. He surprised me at one point, though, giving a less than ringing endorsement of the public's right to know who's giving money in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Marshall has been critical of that decision and Congress's failure to insist on disclosure of who's contributing money to independent campaign committees.

Beitler chipped away at the image of both, but most pointedly accusing Burr of cronyism in accepting large contributions from Wall Street and supporting the big bank bailout, calling it a "perfect example of big business and big government." He accused Burr of voting with "fiscal liberals" and declared himself the only fiscal conservative in the race, a point that the record certainly seemed to bear out.

I liked the debate format and setting a lot better Wednesday night, too. On my TV screen the lighting was much better, and the format allowed each candidate a number of rebuttals to each other. This forum may not have been a classic debate in the sense of candidates asking questions of one another, but the ability to respond to one another's remarks if the candidates chose to use their opportunities was helpful to watchers looking not only for information on issues but also how the candidates stood up to one another and for nuances in their positions.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Burr-Marshall debate would have been livelier with Beitler

Last night's Senate debate between incumbent Republican Sen.. Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall explored some key differences between the two veteran politicians. Rob Christensen's story from UNC-TV studios where it was broadcast has a good rundown on those differences. http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/10/12/735558/they-dont-see-eye-to-eye.html

But I was struck more by appearances, and what might have been. Burr, the former Fifth District Congressman from Winston-Salem, seemed to be in the position of sitting back and letting the debate come to him. He landed fewer jabs at Marshall than she swung at him, and Burr's trademark smile -- detractors call it a smirk, admirers think of it as a boyish beam -- shone throughout the one-hour debate. I learned six years ago when he first won the Senate seat that Burr has an appeal to voters that may be hard for observers to immediately grasp. He campaigns his own way and makes a connection with individuals with the same kind of personal appeal that made him an outstanding microwave oven salesman before he went full-time into politics. It's easy to underestimate Burr, as many political opponents have discovered on election day.

Marshall, a veteran state legislator who became the first woman to win a statewide executive branch office when she became Secretary of State, wore a bright red suit that on my TV screen (cable, not high def) seemed to bloom, almost overpowering her presence. I checked three channels and the results were similar, and I wondered if that sharp contrast was off-putting to other viewers.

Marshall held her ground pretty well, but for someone who the polls show to be facing a significant gap, I thought she missed a chance to swing hard and swing aggressively at Burr. She did land some body blows, but I also thought, again, that she was missing an opportunity to remind viewers in a more direct way that she was not the hand-picked candidate of the Washington insiders with whom so many voters nationally are reported to be thoroughly disenchanted. She did observe in an understated way that she was not the anointed candidate of the Senate leadership, but I thought her advisers should have pushed her to make the point in a more forceful and emphatic way. Perhaps they did. I take it that she does not see any point in antagonizing Senate leaders if she does win, but I believe she has to find a way to strike a chord with voters who aren't enthusiastic about Burr. His numbers haven't been great all year, and while he has a big lead in the horserace, Marshall ought to pursue a way to focus on that.

The debate was moderated by Carl Kasell, a Goldsboro native, UNC Chapel Hill graduate and star of National Public Radio. But I thought the debate would have been livelier had it included Michael Beitler, the Libertarian Party candidate and one-time bodybuilder who is a professor of business at UNC-Greensboro. Beitler has a sharper sense of humor than either Burr or Marshall and would have lightened up the debate with his pithy comments. As the Observer's Jim Morrill noted the other day, Beitler says Burr panders to the "Glennbeckistani crowd" and accuses Marshall of sometimes "talking but saying nothing." But Beitler is way down in the polls, and the sponsors set a minimum of 10 percent standing in the polls. The N.C. Broadcasters Association Foundation sponsored the debate; there will be two more.

Update: Beitler will appear on Wednesday night's 8 p.m. debate sponsored by WNCN-TV and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Solomon Burke's Charlotte connection

Solomon Burke, to his fans the King of Rock and Soul, and to others little more than a distant foonote in the development of rhythm and blues, died Sunday on a flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles, the wire services report. It was a sad thing to hear, because Burke was a wonderful singer who bridged many gaps from gospel, country, rhythm and blues, blues and rock and roll. I plumb wore out two casette tapes of his Best of Solomon Burke before CDs were invented. He just never got the same attention that other famous entertainers have enjoyed, but he made solid contributions that helped a lot of rich superstars get where they are. He wrote for the big boys, too.

If you're a fan of Burke, I don't have to tell you how important he was. If not, it may help to point to his work that was featured, among many other places, in the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing with the song "Cry to Me" and in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers with his song "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." The Blues Brothers had one of the worst movie plots in memory but the entertainment was just terrific, including pieces from Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker and a host of the best session players in the world. We watched it so many times my children memorized the dialogue -- and as adults still quote it at the appropriate times.

There's a Charlotte connection with Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." According to this website http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=8708 , Burke hired some unnamed musicians from Charlotte to play a Long Island gig with him and them help him cut the song he wrote with Jerry Wexler and Bert Russell in the 1960s. The website doesn't say who those Charlotte players were, but they were there at the beginning. Here's a snippet from the songfacts.com article:

Solomon Burke recalled to Mojo magazine August 2008 that he'd hired musicians from Charlotte, North Carolina, to play at a gig in Long Island and he drafted them in to play the instrumental riff on this. The riff was the money march he did at church where the congregation marches down the aisle to the front to make offerings. Burke continued: "Got the band cooking, get a bit of echo, we went through it, came back out, said to (record executive/producer) Jerry (Wexler), 'Whaddya think?' He said, 'Too fast. Doesn't have any meaning.' (Engineer) Tommy (Dowd) says, 'What can we lose? His band's here, let's just cut it.'"

The Blues Brothers covered this. Their version featured in the 1980 The Blues Brothers film. Nine years later, it was released as a single in the UK, backed by "Think" and it peaked at #12.

Anyone have any idea who those Charlotte musicians were?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Supreme Court: Easley transfer unconstitutional

The N.C. Supreme Court made some law Friday by deciding not to decide. Or maybe that's by not deciding to decide, letting stand a lower court ruling that says Gov. Mike Easley should not have shifted money from the Highway Trust Fund in 2002, even to help balance the state budget.

The court split 3-3 on the issue after Judge Patricia Timmons-Goodson properly recused herself from the case. She had been on a Court of Appeals panel when it considered a procedural issue affecting the case.  Later the Court of Appeals dealt with the substantive issue whether governors can alter legislative decisions to put money in a specific trust fund -- in this case, the Highway Trust Fund. The Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 against it, and the Supreme Court's 3-3 tie leaves the lower court's ruling intact. Thus a two-judge majority on the Court of Appeals decided an important question -- at least for the time being. The ruling does not have precedential value, as an earlier version of this post stated. But lawyers and politicians will argue about the impact regardless of that.

The lawsuit was filed in response to Gov. Mike Easley's using $80 million in Highway Trust Fund money to balance the state budget in 2002. He argued that the constitutional provision directing the governor to manage the state's money gave him the authority to transfer money as needed.

What's interesting is that this does not exactly reflect a political split. After all, many Republicans as well as Democrats in the General Assembly supported the lawsuit and supported the Court of Appeals decision.  If there was any split at all, it was between a legislature that argues its decisions on designated money cannot be overruled by a governor, even when there's a financial emergency, and the executive branch.

Update: There was bipartisan support on both sides. Former Govs. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin and Jim Holshouser, both Republicans, supported  the theory that the Constitution gives governors the authority to tap special funds in order the balance the budget. 

And it's a big win for the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, which represented former state Sen. Bill Goldston and former Secretary of Transportation Jim Harrington in challenging the transfer.

"The Constitution and the People have prevailed. The Court of Appeals decision will stand and government accountability will stand with it,” says the institute's senior staff lawyer, Jeanette Doran. “The People can count on the constitutional mandate that the General Assembly set the budget and the governor administer it as enacted. Voters can count on future governors not raiding special trust funds.”

Here's the court's decision today:

Justice TIMMONS-GOODSON took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. The remaining members of the Court are equally divided, with three members voting to affirm and three members voting to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals. Accordingly, the decision of the Court of Appeals is left undisturbed and stands without precedential value.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Perdue planning government reorganization

Gov. Bev Perdue will announce next month what could be the most important initiative of her governorship: a merger, consolidation and maybe elimination of state programs and possibly agencies, too. Dome reports she made remarks about the coming reorganization at the end of Tuesday's Council of State meeting, though it was not exactly a stunner. She has previously talked about the need for such a reorganization to deal with a projected budget deficit of as much as $4 billion next year, when federal stimulus funds are no longer available to help tide the state over.

Perdue is absolutely right about the need to reorganize state government. In a period of growing demands for basic services such as education, health care and public safety, and a weak recovery from the recent recession, ends no longer meet.  Perdue is promising "a big announcement" and her spokesperson, Chrissy pearson, notes that this is an opportunity to "transform state government."

Both political parties and the broad-based middle ought to embrace such a transformation -- but also concentrate on avoiding hurting those who need help the most while making hard decisions that would cut programs or agencies that have served a public purpose in the past but no longer can be regarded as critical to our future.  While everyone has their least favorite agencies or programs that they'd get rid of in a minute if they had the opportunity, the fact is that they exist because either legislators or other elected or appointed officials saw a need and got enough of a consensus to create them.

Perdue should think boldly about what state government should look like and offer a comprehensive vision for how agencies might work together.  It may be far too much to hope for, given the public's opposition to losing what they perceive as an opportunity to vote even for judgeships whose occupants many do not know the names of, but a wholesale revision of the Council of State itself also ought to be under a spotlight.  Do we really need separate elected constitutional offices to supervise and regulate insurance, agriculture and labor? Should there be a separate superintendent of public instruction or an elected secretary of state, for example? There are arguments for and against all these offices, but getting a constitutional revision on the ballot next year may be beyond reach.

It's also worth nothing that it's possible to reorganize widely without saving a lot of money, if programs and agencies are merely reshuffled. To save money, Perdue is going to have to recommend ending or sharply cutting spending in a lot of places.   She'll find, as have other governors who have pushed for reorganization -- including Gov. Bob Scott in his landmark reorganization four decades ago -- that a lot of folks will come out of the woodwork to argue for keeping a program that doesn't seem to be all that essential.  That's all the more reason for Perdue to work hard on this, take the broadest view of what we need to end up with and seek allies across the board. This is important work, and she needs all the help she can find.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Gov's office takes exception to Democratic poll

 I meant to take a blogpost note of an unusual e-mail yesterday from Pearse Edwards, senior advisor to Gov. Bev Perdue, taking issue with a recent polling firm finding that blames Perdue in part for the troubles Democrats are having in this year's election. Edwards objected to Public Policy Polling's conclusions about a relationship between Perdue's job performance and the possibility of Republican gains this fall.

PPP is a Democratic polling firm, which is what makes the response especially interesting. So is the fact that the response to PPP came from the governor's office and not her political committe. First, here's what Tom Jensen of PPP sent out:

A majority of North Carolinians continue to be unhappy with Bev Perdue's job performance and the relationship between that and likely Republican legislative gains this fall shouldn't be underestimated.

Perdue's the face of Democrats in state government and her approval rating continues to languish at 35% with 51% of voters disapproving of her. She's starting to see some improvement in her numbers with her own party's voters, pushing her favor with Democrats to 57%. But she continues to be toxic with independents at a 25/64 approval spread and whatever limited appeal she may have ever had to Republicans is gone. Only 8% of them like the job she's doing.

When you have a highly unpopular Governor that's going to take a toll on your party's legislative candidates and Republicans continue to hold a 50-42 lead on the generic legislative ballot. That's fueled mainly by a 50-27 advantage with independents and an incredible degree of GOP unity. While 17% of Democrats say they're planning to support Republican candidates this fall, only 2% of Republicans say they'll go back in the other direction and vote Democratic.

If Republicans really do end up having an 8% advantage on the legislative vote in November they will almost definitely gain control of both the House and the Senate. But many legislative Democrats have a long history of outperforming the general leanings of their districts and if that remains the case again this year the party could narrowly retain control.

Back to Perdue's numbers- while her approval rating is better than it has been some months over the last year and a half what might be most distressing for her is that just 18% of voters in the state think she's improved on her first year performance during her second year in the Governor's mansion. 27% they think she's gotten worse and 55% feel she's doing about the same, which is not a good sign given how dimly voters viewed her after year one. Part of her problem may be a failure to communicate with average voters. 48% think her communications efforts have been ineffective while only 36% think she's doing a good job on that front.

Perdue still has time to rehabilitate her image for her own reelection campaign but it looks like it's too late for her to be anything but a liability for Democratic candidates across the state this fall.

See the rest of the poll and the analysis at http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2010/10/perdue-drag-on-nc-democrats.html

That led to Edwards' response to Jensen and Dean Debnam, CEO of the firm. Edwards, a savvy political communications and policy advisor whose family has strong ties to N.C. politics and business, was hired earlier this year to help Perdue get her message and her proposals across to policymakers as well as to constituents.  Here's Edwards' response :

We believe your analysis of these numbers is not only unfair but wrong.

 Gov. Perdue’s net job approval has improved by five percentage points since May, according to PPP’s own surveys. Her support among Democrats has increased by 18 points.

 Those same polls show that the support for Democrats in legislative races has remained the same.

 Voters are not angry with Democrats. They are not angry with any one party. They are angry with incumbents, period, and that anger shows in polls nationwide. It’s easy to draw a bull’s eye on the one person in power who is seen all the time. Why do they see Bev Perdue? Because she gets out of Raleigh – out of the capital – in the streets talking to real people and working to create jobs and make North Carolina’s economy better for the people.

Here are the numbers that matter:

* North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation for job creation.

*30,000 jobs created and $5.2 Billion in investment.

*As USA Today recently reported, North Carolina is one of a handful of states leading the nation out of the recession, ranking No. 4 for income gains.

*North Carolina has been recognized for the best business climate in the nation.

*CNBC declared North Carolina No. 4 among the Top States for Business this year.

*North Carolina was awarded $400 million in the federal “Race to the Top” grant for Gov. Perdue’s innovative “Career and College – Ready, Set, Go!” education initiative.

 Nineteen months into the Perdue administration, people are angry because we’re in hard times. But times would be harder without Gov. Perdue’s unflinching commitment to growing jobs and making North Carolina better place to live and work.

Monday, October 04, 2010

GOP opposition to judges 'inexcusable, irresponsible"

A spokesman for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says there's more to Republican opposition to Democrats' nominees for federal judgeships than I wrote about in Sunday's column about the failure to even vote on President Barack Obama's nominees. The column failed to take note of a key procedural roadblock, writes Regan Lachapelle, deputy communications director for Reid:

Hi Jack,

Just saw your article on judicial nominations. I think it is good, but there was just one thing (procedurally) I want to clarify.

Everything that we do here in the Senate has to be done by unanimous consent- that includes setting up debate time and scheduling votes.

It only takes one Senator to object to anything. So, that means that Republicans are objecting to us even scheduling a vote. The only way to schedule a vote over these objections is to file cloture.

With Republican cooperation we could confirm every single judge on the calendar today and put them to work ensuring that justice for Americans seeking redress in our overwhelmed court system is no longer denied or delayed. Republicans have used their ability to draw out and delay confirmation as their primary leverage for obstructing the Senate from holding votes on these well-qualified judicial nominees who have volunteered to serve their country. Democrats have asked consent for votes on virtually all of these nominees and Republicans have objected, filibustering these nominations and requiring a cloture petition to be filed in order to secure a vote. Republicans are well aware that it requires approximately three days of Senate floor time to break a filibuster on each these nominees, and that it would therefore take approximately 69 days of Senate floor time, well more than is left in the current Congress, to confirm all of the judicial nominees currently pending on the executive calendar. Their stance is inexcusable and irresponsible.

Hope this helps and please let me know if you have any questions.



Regan Lachapelle

Deputy Communications Director

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Burr builds significant lead in two Senate race polls

Two recent polls on N.C.'s U.S. Senate race illustrate the steepness of the climb that N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall faces in her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Richard Burr.

Public Policy Polling's latest survey has Burr with a lead of 13 points in a snapshot that shows Burr with 49 percent of the vote and Marshall at 36, while the Civitas Institute's latest shows Burr with a 20 point lead, with Burr holding 49 percent of the vote and Marshall 29 percent. (An earlier version of this post had incorrect numbers.)
PPP's Tom Jensen said in a news release that Burr has consolidated the Republican base. "He now has an 88-1 lead with voters in his own party compared to just 75-9 in late August. He's also increased his lead with independents from 20 points to 25 points and pushed his Democratic support from 16 percent to 20 percent.

"Burr had posted net negative approval numbers in every PPP poll from February through August but in the wake of this recent blitz he's now pushed them into positive territory at 47 percent approving and 38 percent disapproving. Burr has broken the previous record for his highest approval number in PPP's polling by a wide margin- the previous best was 42 percent in December of 2009.

"Marshall continues to be plagued by comparatively low name recognition. It's worth noting that among respondents who have an opinion of Marshall, whether it's positive or negative, she actually leads Burr 47-45. Those numbers suggest that if she was competitive with Burr resources wise this would be a toss up race," he said.

Burr has a lot more money than Marshall, which PPP says has let Burr have "almost complete control of the information flow to voters" despite the fact that Marshall "is one of the more well liked Senate candidates Democrats have across the country."

Meanwhile, Civitas Institute analyst Chris Hayes said his organization's latest poll showed Burr with a "commanding" lead particularly among unaffiliated voters, who support Burr by a 48 percent-21 percent margin.

“Marshall has been virtually non-existent in the media throughout the course of this election cycle,” said Hayes. “Burr’s dominance of the television airwaves has allowed him to expand his lead.”

“Marshall remains relatively unknown to the voters, even voters of her own party. This spells deep trouble for her,” added Hayes. “If she does not answer Burr on television soon, this race will quickly be over.”

To read more about the two polls, go to:



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reader: 'Fox News like newspaper' on its way

Jack: Was just reading the comments you got on the Mosque, etc. Could not agree more with the letter writers.

Take a very critical look around your newspaper. How many true conservatives work on the editorial staff, the paper in general?

Probably zero. How would you feel if the tables were reversed and the editorial staff were made up of Cal Thomas, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Peggy Noonan?

I honestly believe, if we could put together a Fox News like newspaper, the Observer would die in 6 months. How do I know this? Look at Air America against conservative radio shows. Complete bomb. CNN, MSNBC, etc against Fox News. Not even close. Why? Because we are a center/right country and we yearn for the truth and an unbiased news reporting apparatus.

I wrote to Taylor Batten a few months ago. His explanation was, these are the opinion pages. True enough, but you barely print the Consrvative views. Krugman shows up weekly, maybe more often. Walter Williams shows up semi-annually. Don't believe it. Go check.

I know I'm wasting my time because your motto is "All the left wing views we can find to print".

I'm working on getting that unbiased newspaper going and that is not a threat, it's a prmoise, and we'll save you a job, because we'll give all views, yours included.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Readers fire back on column about prejudice

Sunday's column on the proposed community center two blocks from the World Trade Center aroused the ire of several readers, who sent along criticisms and questions:

All I can say after reading your column today in the Observer is thank God there are other outlets that I can get opinions from. I challenge you to give the democratic ads the same scrutiny.

By the way, I am a lifelong Democrat, but no longer can find a single issue that aligns with my values.

Reply: Check out Saturday's blogpost on Democrats who won't admit error or apologize for running misleading ads at http://jackbetts.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-is-it-so-hard-for-politicians-to.html

One reader who did not include his address wrote:

Interesting OpEd. Fact question: Didn't the Imam plan to call the new center "Cordoba House"? If so, why? If he did and has since dropped the name, why?

I'm asking because I think I read about the name and it is the name of a significant Moslem conquest you referenced. If he had planned the name and dropped it you should have included that. If not, no problem. Thanks for listening.

Reply: The original name of the community center project was indeed Cordoba House. It was later changed to Park51.

Another reader, no address included, wrote:

Mr Betts, once again your article on the "Mosque" points out the current liberal view whereby facts are ignored in the debate. When you state the "Mosque" is not BY ground zero you ignore the fact that this proposed building site was damaged in the Muslim terrorist plane crashes on 9-11. You just brush aside that fact that landing gear from the crashing planes passed thru the roof of the Burlington Coat Building the same as if it had been a fired missile. And despite your argument to the contrary, the Cordoba mosque was called the "Grand Mosque" because of its significant Muslim location in Spain and the NY mosque started off with the name Cordoba Project.
And as a suggestion to the Muslims in the US seeking better relations in this country you could have added a comment for those announcing their program for improved relations to add at least one item to their list publicly and forcibly denouncing specific Muslim terrorist bombing around the world. No mention condemning these acts is listed.
As for Feisal Abdul Rauf, would it not be honest journalism to at least mention with his background info that he refused to stand for the National Anthem when playing basketball in the NBA and that he implies that the US carried some of the blame for the 9-11 Muslim terrorist attack.
No sir, most Americans do not agree with you and Renee Elmers is just reminding folks of the arrogance being displayed by local Muslims to force a confrontation when no confrontation would happen if the site was elsewhere.

A Charlotte reader wrote:

Jack, how is the NC race a plus for terrorists? What Western Civilization prejudice and intolerance caused the terrorists to bomb the NY World Trade Center then fly planes into the buildings and the Pentagon and into the Pennsylvania earth, bomb the USS Cole, embassies, the barracks in Saudi Arabia, night clubs, etc? What prejudice and intolerance causes "good" Muslims not to assimilate in European societies? What prejudice and intolerance bans the Bible and the Torah from certain countries? What happens to Muslim tolerance in countries where Muslims achieve the majority? What intolerance and prejudice burns within Muslim terrorists, supported by apathy of many of the "good" Muslims throughout the world, to destroy Western Civilization and replace it with Sharia Law? After WWII should the U.S. have allowed the Japanese to build a Shinto Shrine outside the gates of Pearl Harbor or should countries have allowed German peace memorials to be built outside the gates of Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka? Yes, "The toll of 9-11 continues to rise." But not as you write. It is the Muslim prejudice and intolerance that is revealing itself throughout the world that we have to fear.

Another Charlotte reader e-mailed:

My very left wing, Obama supporting, brother-in-law is a retired college professor. Prior to his retirement, he taught European History at a midsized university - for his entire working life! He knows his subject and he also knows Islam. He tells me, and anyone else that will listen, that it is, indeed, a muslim tradition to build a "celebratory mosque" at the site of great victories. Anyone who has actually read both the Koran and the Hadith knows that followers are commanded to conduct their business in a prescribed manner - and lying to promote Islam is part of their doctrine.
For reasons you might know but your readers don't, too many in "journalism" give Islam a pass. You and the rest ignore the oppression of Christians in countries where muslims have power; you ignore the complete failure of Rauf to condemn terrorism, he even refuses to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization when their own charter tells us that it is.
Instead of promoting discussion on the subject, you and many of your fellows resort to name calling and attacks on those who have studied the subject and speak out against it - including some truly moderate muslims.
You got one thing right. Someone is lying but it is not Renee Ellmers or her campaign; nor is it Robert Spencer or Steve Emerson or any of the others who correctly call this proposed building a victory mosque.

Another said:

I think you've leaned too far in the opposite direction over Ms. Ellmer's opposition to building an Islam anything too close to the 9-11 site.
Most Americans are aware that the mosques cited were not built immediately (less than 50 years) after Muslims took control of those cities, and, indeed, New York wasn't overtaken by Muslims - no, rather it's like a cat marking its territory by peeing on a wall.
Despite the 'paternal kindness' of the broadcast media in trying to keep the Muslim world's reaction to 9-11 as it happened (victorious celebrations of people flooding the streets burning American flags and cheering at big screens showing the destruction of the twin towers), most of us had access online to all this at the time or soon after, and it is that reaction that Feisal Abdul Rauf did not address - at the time or shortly thereafter. Not the terrorist act itself, but the fellow Muslims' reactions. Those are two extremely different things, and that difference is what most of us who don't want this mosque are reacting to, and what most of the bleeding-heart, can't-we-all-be-friends supporters just can't seem to get.
And, unfortunately, neither do you.