Tuesday, April 26, 2011

McCrory still leading Perdue in Civitas Poll

The lastest SurveyUSA News Poll conducted for the conservative J.W. Pope Civitas Institute finds the same kinds of results that other polls lately have shown: Former charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, leads Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue by 12 points. The poll asked, If the election were held today, would you vote for McCrory or Perdue?  Overall, 51 percent of the 500 registered voters said they supported McCrory while 39 percent liked Perdue. 58 percent of males chose McCrory and 37 percent chose Perdue: 45 percent of females chose McCrory while 41 percent chose Perdue.

As to party affiliation, 88 percent of Republicans prefered McCrory; 64 percent of Democrats would vote for Perdue, and independent voters preferred McCrory 53 percent to Perdue's 42 percent.  Among those who identified themselves as Tea Party supporters, 86 percent liked McCrory and 13 percent opposed him; 7 percent liked Perdue and 79 percent opposed her..

Perdue's job rating was still negative in the poll. 40 percent approved of the way Perdue was doing her job while 52 percent disapproved.  For more on these poll results, click this link.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Analyst: Dem's best hope is Repubs

I asked John Davis, a Raleigh political consultant and editor of the John Davis Political Report, what would have to happen for Republicans to lose their advantage in the N.C. General Assembly to Democrats in the next election. Like me, John doesn't see that happening, but he also sees that it could happen if the GOP squanders its standing with voters. That's the best hope Democrats have for the next elections, he says, though a lot depends on who raises big money.  He also thinks Republicans will take the U.S. Senate in 2012 as well, and Pat McCrory may win the governorship.

Here's what he had to say:

Republicans could fritter away their advantage with one of their classic internal feuds between disgruntled conservatives who demand instant gratification and party pragmatists with a long term view. It's a delicate balance.

On one hand, if the leadership does not handle the conservatives carefully, it could rekindle the Tea Party, leading to costly primaries and a divided base. On the other hand, if the leaders go out of their way to appease conservatives as a preemptive tactic to keep them in the fold, then they risk the loss of independent voters ... especially urban moderates.

Very delicate.

Republicans must think long term if they want to govern long term.

The other thing to look for is the money. Democrats raided GOP territory for years because they had the extra money to compete for and win Republican districts like those held at one time by Democratic Senators Snow, Queen, Goss, Foriest, Boseman, Hoyle and Soles. In other words, the money mattered more than the way the districts were drawn.

The big question mark flashing in my mind is the money. Can Democrats go back to the same well that has been their bottomless source of campaign financing for decades and get enough money to be competitive in the swing districts? A lot of that will be determined by Obama and whether his campaign will target NC for another win in the fall of 2012.

If Obama raises his $1 billion goal, he will likely reinvest in NC ... HQs and paid staff to manage thousands of vols who are seasoned at registering and turning out their voters. If that begins to unfold next Summer, then the political investment community will hedge their bets, thereby giving Dems a fighting chance.

My sense is that the eco is breaking favorably for the establishment and that the likely outcome is a status quo year. Obama wins easily, the US House tightens back up and the Rs take the US Senate just because of the way the deck is stacked in 2012 in their favor.

The Rs may take the NC Gov mansion because Perdue is not a strong candidate. Watch her fund-raising closely. The Rs are likely to hold both chambers in NC ... unless their blow their opportunity as they have many times in the past.

Bottom line: The best hope for Perdue and the Democrats is Republicans.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Say it ain't so, Woody!

Woody Durham, the durable voice of the UNC Tar Heels'  football and men's basketball programs since the surface of the Earth cooled, is hanging it up -- and a lot of us dyed in the (Rameses') wool fans are wondering how we're going to spend Saturday afternoons in the fall and icy winter evenings without the voice of the man who has called more than 1,800 games since he took the mic in 1971.

In a world beset by economic turmoil, budget shortfalls, earthquake and tsunami damage and tornadoes that raked the southeast and took the lives of many North Carolinians, the question of who tells Tar Heel fans what's going on is a small one.  Point taken.  But for those who follow college sports closely and who become accustomed to the voices as well as the personalities of play-by-play officials and color analysts, it's an important thing.  I still miss Gary Dornburg, the N.C. State announcer for whom a lunchtime favorite was named at the Mecca restaurant in downtown Raleigh: The Gary Dornburger.

I've been addicted to listening to Carolina sports since at least the days of Bill Currie Curry, the announcer that Sports Illustrated once called The Mouth of the South, but Woody Durham has been a regular visitor in our home and cars for most of my career. I graduated from UNC in 1968, soon went into the Army and wound up in the Washington D.C. area. There were no internet streaming broadcasts in those days, but a Maryland lawyer friend quickly clued me in to the fact that on certain evenings when the stars were lined up right, you could hear Tar Heel basketball broadcasts on Charlotte's WBT radio flowing up the Shenandoah Valley.  Some evenings we'd hop in the car, drive northwest from D.C. towards Frederick Md. and when the wind was right, pick up Woody.

Years later after moving to Raleigh, I sometimes helped Gene Wang of UPI keep score at Tar Heel home games. One winter night after Wake Forest beat the stuffing out of the Tar Heels at Carmichael Auditorium in Chapel Hill, Woody wearily wound up his post-game show, flipped off the switch on his mic, swiveled in his chair and pronounced, "That was an old-fashioned ass-whuppin'."  Indeed it was.

Some phrases have long stuck with me. Sometimes he'd sign on this way: "The Tar Heel Sports Network is on the air!"  At times when the Tar Heels were rolling or making another improbable comeback, you hear him bellow: "Go to war, Miss Agnes!"  And when a timeout came when things were tight and the Tar Heels were trying to hang on to squeak out another win, he'd advise listeners they had just enough time to "Go where you go and do what you do" because this one was going down to the wire.  And we can never forget how he loved to introduce a favorite player, Al Wood in the late 1970s: "The Gray, Georgia junior."  It rolled off the tongue so easily that my wife still wonders how the "Gray, Georgia junior" is getting along.

It's hard to imagine Tar Heels sports -- football and men's basketball, anyway -- without the Woodyisms, his clear affection for the players, and his sometimes frank assessment of how badly the Heels were playing.  Everything changes, sooner or later, and we'll be telling Woody Durham stories a long time. But we'll be spending autumn afternoons and winter evenings with some other voice in our living room.  I hope they pick half as well as when they chose ol' Woody.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Legislature would be a tossup, poll suggests.

A new Public Policy Polling survey indicates trouble ahead for legislative Republicans. The latest poll finds that North Carolinians don't like the education cuts in the new GOP budget and that Republicans have lost ground to Democrats.  Republicans won't like this finding and will blame PPP, a Democratic firm, for skewing the results. Problem is that PPP has a good record for accurate polls -- and concludes that if there were an election today, it would be a tossup.  PPP foresaw the big Republican gains in the legislature last fall, with a finding that 51 percent of voters preferred Republicans and 40 percent Democrats, but since then there has been a shift back toward Democrats. Now it would be a 45-all tie.  "If things continue on this path, GOP control of the legislature may be a short lived experiment," PPP said in a news release.

It's hard to imagine Republicans giving up the gains they have waited so long to make in the legislature.  But the recent ill-advised ploy coupling a budget to a badly needed unemployment benefit extension indicates that wiser heads among the Grand Old Party may not be able to get their voices heard in the Republican caucus. On the other hand, Republicans may just be having too much fun to worry about consequences down the road. The next election is more than a year away, and that is, as they say in politics, a couple of lifetimes away.  But someone in the GOP ought to be wondering if they're overplaying their hand.

Here's what PPP has to say:

North Carolinians are strongly opposed to the cuts in education that legislative Republicans have proposed and as a result the new GOP majority is now less popular with the voters than the Democrats they replaced just a few months ago.

40% of voters have a favorable opinion of the Democrats in the General Assembly now compared to only 34% who view the Republicans positively. 43% have an unfavorable opinion of both the Democrats and the Republicans. The GOP's favorability is down a net 8 points from March when it broke down 38% positive and 39% negative. Since then the party's grown more unpopular with independents, going from a 37% unfavorable rating to 47% while holding steady at a 26% positive rating. And even some Republican voters are starting to have their doubts- the favorable number with the GOP base has declined from 73% to 66%.

There are any number of reasons that could be responsible for the declining popularity of the new majority but one thing that's definitely contributing is strong public opposition to the proposed GOP education cuts. Only 22% of voters support an 8.8% cut to the K12 system with 64% opposed. Just 29% support a 10% cut to the community colleges, with 58% opposed. And only an equal 29% support a 15.5% cut to the UNC system with 44% opposed.

Opposition to those cuts in education extends well beyond the Democratic base. Although a plurality of Republican voters does support the proposed UNC cuts, they oppose the K12 cuts by a 47/37 margin and they oppose the community college cuts by a 42/40 margin. With the independents whose strong support for Republican candidates last fall fueled the new GOP majority there is considerably stronger opposition- 68/18 against the K12 cuts, 65/28 against the community college cuts, and 42/35 against the UNC cuts.

The end result of this disintegrating popularity for the Republican majority is that if we had a legislative election today it would be an extremely close fought battle for control. The generic ballot is a tie with 45% of voters saying they'd choose a Democrat right now and 45% saying they'd go with a Republican. That represents an 11 point shift toward the Democrats since last fall's election- PPP's final generic ballot measure last fall came out at 51% of voters planning to go Republican to only 40% who supported Democrats. If things continue on this path GOP control of the legislature may be a short lived experiment.

This analysis is also available on our blog:


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Craig Phillips, 88, worried about NC schools

A. Craig Phillips, 88, former N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction and former superintendent of public schools in Forsyth County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, died early Tuesday in Wilmington. He came from a distinguished family of educators and was related to former Gov. Locke Craig (1913-17). Phillips oversaw state education, including the shift to integrated schools in many districts, from 1969 to 1989.

Years after he left Raleigh, Phillips became superintendent of Vance County schools up on the N.C.-Virginia border. I dropped in on him one afternoon to talk about his time in Raleigh, where he was known as something of a bulldog. "You know, my whole record was in pushing people. I never really learned to work with the General Assembly. I was more inclined to push 'em than to play their games," he told me.

Phillips wasn't universally popular, but he did what he thought was right -- and spoke out when he thought others were wrong. I was looking at a copy of a 1995 column I wrote about him, and was struck by a warning he issued about how this state's schools were changing. He didn't believe in decentralization of schools for most districts. It might work well in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, he thought, but not in smaller counties with fewer resources. He feared it might lead to two kinds of schools in this state -- elite ones for white kids and poor ones for everyone else. "We're going to end up with a private school problem," Phillips said. "What'll be left is the public schools mostly for the poor, largely black kids who can't go anywhere else."

Here's a copy of the N&O story on Phillips

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hunt, Hayes, Wilson now allies, of sorts

The fascinating thing about politics is how folks who are adversaries one day might turn out to be allies on another occasion -- sometimes even on the same issue.

Case in point: Smart Start, then-Gov. Jim Hunt's signature children's initiative that he proposed in 1993 during his third term in office. Among the state House members who fought Hunt's original plan and who raised questions about the program were then-Rep. Robin Hayes, R-Cabarrus, and Rep. Connie Wilson, R-Mecklenburg. Hayes raised questions about the lack of accountability in the original proposal to create a private nonprofit corporation that would use public and private money to provide a number of services to children, including but not limited to day care. The proposal first sailed through the House before Hayes and others pointed out that it was not subject to open meetings laws or public records laws.

And Wilson raised questions about what she feared would be the program's intrusive nature, worred that it "could threaten a church day care's right to teach the song Jesus Loves Me," and warned that the program would turn out to be "Jim Hunt's downfall."

Questions and objections raised by Hayes, Wilson and others led to some significant changes in the proposed program and helped bring about legislative approval of the bill. Hayes later challenged Hunt for governor, but lost the 1996 race. Hunt went on to serve a record fourth term as governor.

So guess who's trying to help save the Smart Start program now that Republicans run the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century? State Republican Chairman Robin Hayes and registered lobbyist Connie Wilson. 

Hunt has been working hard to save the program. Hayes, reports Dome in The News & Observer, warmed to the Smart Start program after then-Speaker of the House Dan Blue named him to a board overseeing the program. He recently gave what he said was a "limited testimonial" about the program, and said "there are some things Smart Start has done that are very constructive," according to Dome. The paper also said that Wilson had been hired to help try to save Smart Start from coming budget cuts.

Read more here:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rebirth at 3,200 feet

Rebirth at 3,200 feet

Three Saturdays ago the 15 acres of hayfields just  few hundred feet from the Blue Ridge escarpment were still gray. Two Saturdays ago there was a hint of color. Last week you could tell what that color would be. And two days ago it was verifiably if not thoroughly green. The daffodils down by the old homeplace -- shedding its skin on the southeast corner where a winter wind had gnawed away at its weathered siding -- were in full bloom; 150 feet up the hill on the site of a long-gone dairy barn, the first asparagus tips were peeking through the ground.  By the end of this week Fran Strickland, 88 years old an a veteran gardener, will have to cut it every day. If you've ever grown asparagus in a fertile garden, you know what I mean. It'll practically jump out of the ground. You have to keep up with it.

There are 23  bushes in Hal Strickland's blueberry patch, and for the first season in more than 40 years he won't be around to tend them. He passed away in December at age 97, barely four weeks after he had shoveled more mulch around the 18 veterans and the five younger plants he had cared for.  A few years ago we all pitched in and put up a complicated angle-iron frame work and spread black plastic netting over it to keep the birds and other small critters from eating the berries.  A single ice storm two Thanksgivings ago brought down the whole shebang; last year we just shared with the birds.

I cranked up the tractor and scooped up 15 bucketloads of mulch, dropped it into an aging 4x8 trailer and trundled it down one hill and up the other to provide another layer of mulch. It's still cool at night up there in the blueberry patch, but young green shoots of weeds and something that looks like spring onions are already poking through.

Up there at 3,200 feet, spring rolls in a good six weeks after it slides up through Raleigh and Greensboro.  I've yet to see the first firepinks, but the may apples are starting to show, and somebody pointed out the other day where the bloodroots are coming up along a path we were hiking.

 We're keeping an eye out to see what comes back this year. After a big fire last June, a forester told us we'd probably lose the big poplar on one side and the big maple on the other, even if they came back the first year. Those old sentinels had become family friends, acquiring names in a quaint Southern Appalachian tradition. Archy and Mehitabel, we called them, after characters created a century or so ago by a New York newspaperman named Don Marquis.  Mehitabel looks like it's showing buds up there near the top; Archy is still sleeping in. We're holding our breath, and watching for the green.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Senate Skulker unmasked -- and has a bright future

So: It turns out that an aide to a state House member -- now a former aide, that is -- was responsible for putting printed information critical of former Gov. W.W. Holden, who was impeached, convicted and removed from office by the Senate in 1871, on the desks of state Senators recently. Carlton Huffman, a Republican Party enthusiast who worked for an evidently uninvolved legislator from western N.C., said he and he alone was responsible for putting the materials on senators' desks. It's against Senate rules for a non-senator to put any materials on Senate desks, but for a while no one knew who did it. Senate Majority Leader Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, sheepishly told his colleagues that the Senate's security cameras were on the blink at the time.  Huffman took responsibility a few days ago and is no longer employed at the legislature. But I predict he will have a bright future in politics.

The Senate had been about to consider a bipartisan bill to pardon Gov. Holden for the way in which he tried to quell violence by the Ku Klux Klan and others, but Huffman's ploy distributing critical information about Holden worked like a charm. Nervous senators sent the bill back to committee, and it's not entirely clear if or when the resolution might reappear on the Senate floor. There has been talk of a resurrection of the bill, however.  Update: April 12, in the Capitol.

While Huffman has lost his job, his reputation probably won't suffer. After all, politics ain't beanbag, as author Finley Peter Dunne wrote around the turn of the century. It's hardball. And any legislative staffer who can singlehandedly figure out how to derail legislation, get it sent back to committee and put the leadership of the N.C. Senate to rout likely will have his choice of jobs in the future. No telling how high he might rise, whether as a candidate, lobbyist or strategist.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Appeals Court: state grants to Johnson and Wales ok

The N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling rejecting a challenge filed by Jason Saine and Donald Reid to state aid for Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte. Reid, former Charlotte city council member, had asked the courts to make the university refund millions of dollars the state gave it for moving to Charlotte.  Former House Speaker Jim Black and former Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight had promised the university to seek millions if the school would come to North Carolina.

A three-judge panel affirmed a 2010 trial court ruling dismissing the argument that the state had violated the N.C. Constitution on a number of occasions by giving tax funds to Johnson and Wales.  The state had allocated $7.5 million in several different appropriations from the One North Carolina Fund for Johnson and Wales, a private nonprofit university which had moved to Charlotte to provide instruction in cooking and other skills. 

Saine and Reid had argued, among other things, that the appropriations violated the Constitution because there was a private financial benefit that represented  an exclusive and separate emolument. They also argued that the appropriations did not constitute a valid public purpose and asked that any other grants to the university be declared unconstitutional. Judge Michael Morgan of Wake Superior Court rejected the claims in March 2010 after a hearing on the claims.

Court of Appeals Judge Robert Hunter of Marion, writing for the panel which included Chief Judge John Martin and Judge Cressie Thigpen, said there was a direct connection between education and economic prosperity of the state and that the appropriations furthered the goal of an improved economy, as allowed by the N.C. Supreme Court in prior cases. He wrote that the constitutional challenges were "without merit."

A copy of the decision can be found online here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Rucho: No GOP steamroller in Senate

State Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, took issues with last week's blogpost about the majority running over the minority in the legislature.
Not so, not this year, he says:

Your quote is not accurate: "But each side gets a certain amount of time during debates;  in Raleigh, the majority gets all the time if it wants it and can pretty much ignore the minority -- and often does."
Every bill or issue has been and will be open for debate and amendments under Senate Republican leadership. At no time on the floor of the Senate have we “called the question” or “asked that the bill lie upon the table “as our democrat colleagues have done frequently in the past. This was a very effective tool to stifle and stop republican debate , yet I do not recall you condemning that behavior when the democrats abused the system. You should recognize and applaud our implementing a transparent and open policy.

I do enjoy reading your OP EDs’and blog and will continue to do so in the future.

Best regards,


My response: After 34 years of covering the legislature, one thing I can say with certainty is that the majority gets the time it wants and can ignore the minority.  Sen. Rucho's point is Republicans in the Senate this year  have not done that. That's good.  The new Republican majority gets credit for making openness and transparency a goal for the 2011 legislature, and that would bring many benefits to policymaking in North Carolina.  I hope they succeed. Already we see some committees that limit debate

As for condemning Democrats: yes, I've described their actions in the past, in columns and editorials, as ugly, sleazy, observed that some legislative actions following political contributions looked like retail sales, and pointed out how they've treated governors, too, including ignoring Gov. Jim Martin. 

Friday, April 01, 2011

Shouldn't party leaders appoint committee members?

Readers may have gotten a kick out of Sen. Bob Rucho's declaration the other day in Jim Morrill's story about redistricting that Rucho didn't want more lawyers on his Senate redistricting committee -- only "normal people."  Well, lawyers do take beating sometimes, sort of like journalists and used car salesman, too.

But Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt's request to name two different Democrats to the committee (Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte and Dan Blue of Wake) in exchange for his and Charlie Dannelly's dropping off the committee raises another point. Why shouldn't each party name its own members?  Rucho has refused to replace them.  And it's no surprise. Clodfelter and Blue are smart legislators, and the last thing Republicans such as Rucho want is even tougher political adversaries on the redistricting committee.

But I've always thought that the N.C. General Assembly was sticking to a curious way to name committees -- where those in the majority not only decide which committees to have, but also which minority party members serve on it.   Democrats maintained tight control over the legislature for the last century-plus by controlling such things, but it has always seemed to me the U.S. Senate had a better way: The parties negotiate how many people will serve on committees, and then each party names its own members to the seats on that committee.  Of course, many things are different in Washington, including a seniority system that has its traditions, customs and exceptions.  But each side gets a certain amount of time during debates;  in Raleigh, the majority gets all the time if it wants it and can pretty much ignore the minority -- and often does.