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.