Friday, December 28, 2007

This train's on the right track

In a holiday season so rushed that I felt like I was sitting in Han Solo’s seat as we went into warp drive, a quick trip over to Charlotte and back the other day was a blessed respite from the frantic pace and constant blur of the pre-Christmas sprint.
I did it the old-fashioned way, a rediscovered a forgotten pleasure: riding the rails on Train Nos. 73 and 74.
Here’s what it’s about: It’s pleasant. It’s comfortable. And it’s on time.
I can’t remember the last time I felt that way about airline travel. When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to fly on airplanes. It sounded glamourous and luxurious.
But long before 9/11 and the long lines and intrusive inspections and metal detectors, airline travel got old, got weary and got uncomfortable. You’ve got to arrive at the terminal way too early, stand in too many lines to be ordered around by people who have a hard job, and then sit for hours in a cramped airline seat in a crowded airplane with just enough room to squeeze in and out. These things make airline travel a chore at best, though most of us who need to get somewhere far away in a hurry are grateful that you usually can get from one side of the country to the other in a day’s travel that will merely wear you out and, if you’re lucky, give you your baggage back when you arrive.
But if you’re looking for a relaxed short trip and you’ve got business in Raleigh or Greensboro or Charlotte or several other stops along the way, you can’t beat the Piedmont’s east-west trains. The Piedmont’s one of two daily round-trip train sets that Amtrak operates between the state’s two largest cities. The Piedmont is a state DOT train operated by Amtrak under contract and for my money it’s a pleasure.
I boarded No. 73 at 7 a.m. the other day at Raleigh’s nicely redone station and settled into a comfortable seat with more legroom than you’ll find in first class or business class on any airline I’ve ridden. We pulled out precisely on time 5 minutes later and pulled into Charlotte three hours and nine minutes later – precisely on time. Along the way we made short stops in Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury and Kannapolis. The evening train, of course, follows the same route in reverse every day.
My return trip on No. 74 the following evening was also on time – from the instant we left Charlotte at 5:30 p.m. to the arrival in Raleigh a minute ahead of the 8:40 p.m. schedule. Total cost round trip: $48, approximately a third of what it would have cost the company in a mileage claim.
At three hours and 10 minutes, the elapsed time is beginning to compete with auto travel; one day the service will be closer to two hours.
The new stations along the way are a sight to see, especially those in Burlington and Kannapolis and the grandly refurbished depot in Greensboro. New housing being built near the station in Greensboro and nearby restaurants make it clear that the depot is part of a vibrant downtown revival.
The passenger cars are nicely done with plenty of electrical outlets to plug in a laptop or cell phone charger. There’s complimentary coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soft drinks and assorted snacks in the dining car, and spacious restrooms in each coach.
I know this sounds like ad copy. But a long time ago I worked for the Association of American Railroads and we heard nearly every week from people who longed for the good old days of gracious train travel, when a pleasant journey was as important as the arrival. The trip between Raleigh and Charlotte would be more gracious if there were hot food service, a bar car and a few other amenities.
But everyone I dealt with at the stations and on the train was pleasant and helpful – as if they were pleased to have customers travel with them and wanted them to return. There were no hassles. The train was pretty full but there were no long lines, no waiting to have your shoes inspected, no dehumanizing procedures to endure.
I read a book, made some notes for a column, talked to some nice folks and watched North Carolina’s backyards roll by. It was, I think, the calmest, sanest few hours I spent between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How many loops in Raleigh?

In the (urban) loop
Last month U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., wrote Gov. Mike Easley and N.C. Secretary of Transportation Lyndo Tippett to complain about delays in the completion of I-485 around Charlotte.
One of her Nov. 15 assertions puzzled staff at the N.C. Department of Transporation:
“And how many loops does Raleigh have now?” she asked. “Three?
“Why does Raleigh get three loops before Charlotte gets one? Last I looked, Charlotte was the largest city in the state. There seems to be no recognition of that fact in Raleigh,” she wrote.
She may have a good point about a lack of recognition of Charlotte in Raleigh, but I’ll be daggone if I can figure out where Raleigh has three urban loops. We’ve lived in the Cap City since 1977 and can count only a couple: I-440, which incorporated the existing U.S. 1 and U.S. 64 routes for much of the southwestern and northwestern arcs of that loop years ago. The other is I-540, very roughly half of which has been completed.
I asked Ernie Seneca, spokesman at DOT, about the three beltlines. “We’ve got 1.5,” he said.
I asked Andy Polk, Rep. Myrick's communications assistant. Here's what he sent via e-mail: "The three loops Rep. Myrick refers to is if you count Route 1, and the 440 and 540 outer belts. 440 and 540 are the most obvious ones..."
Evidently the belief in Myrick's office is that U.S. 1 is a loop. Take a look at a map of Raleigh's roads. You be the judge. Here's a link.
Tippett didn’t mention the three-loop assertion in Myrick’s letter when he wrote her back Nov. 21 (reprinted on Wednesday’s Observer editorial page. Here’s a link.)
Charlotte, he said, had gotten nearly $1 billion for urban loop funding, more than any other N.C. city, but he allowed that much more needs to be done. He added, “And there is no funding in the plan at all for the completion of the I-540 Outer Loop in the Raleigh area.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Readers fire back on environment

Since 1996 when former Associate Editor Maria Henson and I put together the Observer’s first environmental assessment outlining the state’s top 10 environmental challenges, readers have had two reactions. Some loved it. Some hated it.
Here’s a sampling of reader responses to this year’s assessment:

“Thanks for your column on NC environment today. I’m a property owner at Lake James and am obviously concerned by how the Catawba chain has held up during this drought.
“I’ve also made a couple of trips to/from Raleigh this fall and noticed that the Yadkin River/Lake High Rock at both Hwy. 49 and I 85 is so full that it is almost spilling its banks. I’ve never noticed it so high. Have you heard anything about why the Yadkin has stayed so full or know anyone I can talk to about it? My guess is that there are fewer restrictions on the amount of water that has to be spilled downstream relative to the Catawba.”
Here’s another:
“How can you say that buying a huge liability[Chimney Rock] is good for NC. And taking people off their bus and putting them on a rail system is a success. That is insulting to people’s intelligent.
“Jack, I’m sure you are a well-paid intelligent person. Would you built a house with no water. Well, [pun] that what your paper who supports the baseball park and Nasc ar Museun.
“We were warned over 25 years ago that Daylight Saving Time would ruin our schools. Were are you articles on this.”
And another:
“I guess if you measure the McCrory Cats line’s opening days as being successfull I would guess you are using your own newspapers headlines as the basis for drawing that conclusion. Factor out the number of riders that actually paid for the two way ride on a daily basis and I doubt seriously that any mass of humanity served by the Cats light rail line would hardly put a wrinkle in the state sheets on the number of commuters choosing to slog it out on the interstates. Trains are great as long as everything is centrally located but unfortunately Charlotte is a spread out city and what would serve a hand full of the citizens needs hardly is worth it for all the citizens like good and adequate highways.
“I would hope that eventually everyone will ride the trains, or take the bes or travel on toll roads so the rest of us can have the Interstates to ourselves.”
And another:
“The time has come the ’Walrus said to speak of many things". Let’s discuss water.
“We have been depending on the ground water and the local aquifers for centuries and depend on the same amount of rainfall each year to satisfy an expanding population. The result is that water is more difficult to find and treat and more expensive to use.
“The Governor of Georgia had the right idea in looking to the Heavens for more water but he just approached it in the wrong way. God has already given us the intellect to get water from the Heavens not by a miracle but by the Mirage. Other nations who have already reached the point of desperation with the lack of water have turned to a small American company in Hondo,Texas to help out. Its not the total answer but it does make drinking water from the humidity in the Air and reduces their dependence on the ground or sea water for all their needs. Its simple, cheap and requires minimal maintenance to produce any where from 20 gallons a day for a residence or office to 1500 gallons a day for bigger users. They can also be assembled in pairs to make thousands of more gallons where needed for agriculture or industry.
“For coastal or lakeside communities they can be placed on barges offshore and pipe thousands of gallons each day to whole communities. The amount of water in the air is limitless and its easier and cheaper to clean than using desalination or reverse osmosis.
“For areas where there is water available but not in a desirable condition to drink, they make a Vortex system that treats well or ground water without chemicals and uses the energy of the water itself to turn it into good drinking or agricultural water. The system was devised by the Greeks in 2000 BC to clean their water.
“Both of these devices use very little energy and do not leave us with other contaminants to dispose of after use.
“The use of Mirage units in offices,schools and even hospitals could reduce the demand placed on our present water supplies while providing a cheap very desirable product that everyone needs.
“A recent article in the State Port Pilot, Dec 5,2007 shows one at use in a home in Bolivia, NC.
“The Military has asked for 2 demo units for use on tactical vehicles in the field which will produce 12 gallons a day for the crew in what has been described by the Contractor,BAE Systems, as a "camel’ that can be milked for water wherever the troops are.
“The Preface to the Mirage brochure was written by Prof. Hilary Inyang, of UNC Charlotte who holds the Duke Energy Chair and is involved with energy and water usage on an International level.
“The water is above us and there for the taking provided by the good Lord for us all.
“We dont have to steal each others rivers and watersheds we just need to reach up and take what we need.
“A retired soldier who appreciates the ready availability of drinking water.”
And another:
“Excellent overview. I hope people pay attention.
“The part about the rise of ocean waters since 1585 is most important if it only reminds people the ocean levels have changed in the past and will continue to change. Our problem, the problem of the human race, is that we have built structures so close to the water. Will we ever learn?
“The one of southeast drought is related. Whether the developers care to accept it or not, our water supplies are limited. The Catawba and other southeast rivers are not large streams. Again the problem is related to the growth of population dependent upon a resource which changes and has not concern for the number of humans who live close by.
“I find the piece about the pine plantations replacing the oak forests of personal import. I bought a small (100 acre) tree farm in Gaston County 2 years ago. We had the NC Forest Service assist in replanting. I wanted a mixed group. Some parts in Loblolly, some in mixed oaks, some in long leaf. The forestry agent almost insisted on loblolly, and it turns out the state assistance programs only apply to pine plantings.
“I suggest you and your fellow editors look at the problem in totality. It is the issue of growth as the economic model which we understand. We do not understand how to deal with no growth. Neither do those involved in the development industries wish to go there. Builders, lenders and all the associated industries are run by people who are getting relatively richer on development. To ask them to stop or slow down is to take away their ability to become richer.
“The subprime issue is a case in point. Those who suffer are the ones left behind. The water issue will be next.
“After this drought has passed, we will forget about it and move on. (man is good about forgetting the lessons of the past) Growth will continue apace, supported wholeheartedly by the various chambers, and sooner or later a drought will occur which, because of increased demand, will cause more problems than a wailing and gnashing of teeth.
“It will be an interesting time, which reminds me of a Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

House targets Wright but didn't eye Black

House Speaker Joe Hackney’s announcement Tuesday afternoon that the Legislative Ethics Committee and the House will move swiftly to consider expelling Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, made some folks wonder: Why would the House move against Wright when it never took action against former Speaker Jim Black, now serving time in federal prison?
The News & Observer reported that Joe Sinsheimer, whose digging into public records and complaints to authorities led to Black’s prison sentence for taking payoffs and to a Wake County grand jury indictment of Wright earlier this week, said that’s a problem. “They are going to have to live with that hypocrisy,” he told the paper. “But I don’t think the [answer] is to go back and do two wrongs.”
Wright was a key lieutenant to Black, and one of the most powerful African American members in the House. He now stands accused of making off with $350,000 in campaign contributions, loans and donations intended for a foundation he ran.
The obvious question is whether there’s a different standard of treatment for a white speaker versus a black legislator who both were accused of felonies. The House didn’t any take action against Black while his charges were pending. Was it race?
In the South you can never totally discount that. But in this case, it’s more likely that House Democrats didn’t move against Black not just because he was their leader and in a position of power, but also because so many members were in his debt. Black had personally helped raise a lot of money for Democratic legislators’ campaigns, and many of them owed their seats, their political success and their own share of power to Jim Black.
There’s no such allegiance to Thomas Wright.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Candidate Orr on illegal immigrants

A recent column about illegal immigrants brought this note from Republican Bob Orr, the former Supreme Court associate justice who is running for the GOP nomination for governor. I meant to post his words last week. Orr opposes allowing illegal immigrants to enroll in higher ed here at any tuition rate, but he also notes that Congress has contributed to this problem by refusing to address the status of the children of illegal immigrants and resolve the problem by outlining how they could apply for citizenship.
Here’s what Orr had to say:
“While I don’t think it’s right to allow illegals into the system (no different that allowing a driver’s license or the right to vote) the ultimate answer has to be left up to Congress. It serves no useful public purpose to let these kids go to community college or do anything else and have them subject to arrest and deportation at any moment. Congress needs to address the status of young people brought to this country illegally but who have graduated from our public high schools. It makes sense to allow them to jump to the front of the citizenship line but only Congress can make that decision.

Monday, December 10, 2007

BASH: When birds, airplanes collide

From a reader:
“jack: i am a regular reader of your columns. i appreciate your fairness, objectivity and knowledge of your subjects. having spent 5 years, more or less, in state government i really appreciate your views. however i question your accuracy concerning jet operations of practice carrier landings in eastern n.c.-especially at night. i flew with the navy from 1955 to 1970. my original tour was in a night fighter squadron based at alameda and deployed in the western pacific aboard uss ticonderga and uss bennington. night landings are more difficult than day but not much more on a clear night when you can see the horizon. on an overcast night literally you can’t see your hand in front of your face. following my release from active duty i flew appx 10 years from navy norfolk with almost all my time in the a-4 skyhawk attack aircraft. most of our practice targets were in eastern n.c. our primary mission was strafing, rockets, bombs, napalm and special weapons [atomic bombs] ! deliveries. bird strikes are a major problem on missions which require a high speed, low altitude flight. i was very fortunate never to have had a strike, but i had numerous near misses. at speeds of less than appx 350 mph your sound travels in front of you and birds [and people] can hear you coming. birds take evasive actions. at speeds of appx 350+ mph, nothing hears you. in my 15 years with the navy i never even heard of a strike by a plane in a landing pattern. our landing speeds are generally less than 150 mph. i hope we haven’t won the battle but lost the war on this issue. having flown intensively both in the east and in the west, i really don’t know why we have planes in the east. the weather out west is far superior. targets in the desert are much easier to obtain. there is much less commercial traffic. the navy has a great facility in fallon, nv and the marines in yuma,az. the gvmnt could save a lot of money by transferring all air force, navy and marine tactical ! jets to the west coast. lets not force them to do it. sincerely (a reader)”
Betts replies:
Thanks for your note. Regarding the possibility of bird-aircraft collisions, the military has a program whose acronym is telling: BASH (for Bird-Aircraft Strike Hazards). Here what military experts in this area have had to say to the Observer in recent years about the proposed OLF:
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Short, who devised the military’s Bird-Aircraft Strike Hazards (BASH) program, said, “In 25 years of dealing with military BASH issues, I cannot recall a worse place to situate an airfield for jet training. Aircraft at the proposed OLF would suffer from continual and dangerous hazards to safe operations due to the huge waterfowl populations” that use the refuge each winter
Another expert hired by the Navy wrote that a collision wasn’t a matter of if, but when – “and how severe it will be when it occurs.”
“It’s assured, they definitely will collide,” Maj. Ronald Merritt told The Observer’s Bruce Henderson. “It’s not if, it’s when. The question is how many pilots do we have to kill before we abandon this problem?”

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Easley, Dole, Burr: New best friends

For the past five years, the best friend environmentalists had in the fight to stop a proposed Navy jet landing field near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife refuge was not an elected official. He was a conservative federal judge, a Republican who once worked for Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. When he was appointed to office it would have been hard to guess he’d be thought of as the one high-ranking official who would stop the Navy in its tracks.
But U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle did what residents of Washington and Beaufort counties, environmental advocates, hunters and conservationists wanted other leading public officials to do: He listened, he read the record and he questioned whether the Navy had done its required homework, as federal law demands, before concluding that it would cause no environmental hard to put a jet aircraft practice landing field next door to one of the most important migratory waterfowl refuges on the East Coast.
Judge Boyle challenged the Navy's proposal relatively early, as did a number of local officials such as Plymouth Mayor Brian Roth and Washington County Commissioner Hood Richardson, and state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare. Judge Boyle’s ruling forced the Navy to take another look, and the Navy is considering other sites in North Carolina and Virginia now.
But it was not until the past year that the state’s ranking politicians came to oppose the outlying landing field outright. First Gov. Mike Easley, then U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole, who had had reservations about the project for several years, expressed their opposition to putting it near the refuge. The governor and the senators bickered a time or two recently, but they also moved closer to the same position and evidently realized they ought to be standing together.
Now they're new best friends. This week produced something that residents of Washington and Beaufort counties have been dreaming of for years: a clear, concise statement of opposition against putting the landing field anywhere that residents don’t want it, plus a suggestion that if residents do agree to accept it, the Navy should offer additional economic incentives. And by the way, they asked, does the Navy really need that landing field?
These three assertions constituted the heart of a letter to the Navy signed by Dole, Burr and Easley, a prime example of bipartisan cooperation that will surely brighten the mood of many who have worked so long to persuade the Navy that its first choice for a site was not a good one. You can read a copy of the letter on Sen. Dole’s Web site by clicking here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Easley: Won't 'grind my heel' in immigrants' faces

Gov. Mike Easley says it’s in the state’s interests to allow undocumented immigrants to attend community colleges if they qualify and if they pay out-of-state tuition. That essentially puts him in accord with a new community college system policy – and in opposition to both Democrats and Republicans running for governor to replace him. In a phone interview this morning, here’s what Easley said:

“Here’s my position. The people we are talking about were brought here as babies and young children through no fault of their own. They distinguished themselves throughout our K-12 (public school) system. Now, I’m not willing to grind my heel in their faces and slam the door on them. The Community College System has to be open to them in order for them to be productive members of our society and help North Carolina and America compete in the world economy.”

That’s contrary to what candidates for governor are saying. “That doesn’t surprise me,” Easley said, “but I think both the Democrats and the Republicans, if they are elected governor, will revisit this issue and will view it through a totally different lens. Because if they set a policy that is destined to build a weaker North Carolina, then they will reap the [consequences] of that.”

Denying illegal immigrants access to community colleges “doesn’t penalize the immigrants, it penalizes this state and innocent children."

Easley says this problem exists because of Congress’ failure to deal honestly with immigration problems, including sealing the borders and reforming immigration policy, “so the citizens of North Carolina don’t have to make these agonizing decisions that are creating a lot of hate and anger.”

Easley says he knows his view runs contrary to that of many North Carolinians. “It’s going to be a hell of a Christmas,” he noted. “Everybody in the world is going to be picketing the mansion.”

A question of innocence

A question of innocence
Here’s a good question about the case of Lee Wayne Hunt, represented by former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. and law professors Rich Rosen and Kenneth Broun. They’re arguing to the N.C. Supreme Court that Mr. Hunt is entitled to a review of his case. They think he’s innocent of involvement in the murder of a Fayetteville couple, and they want the courts to consider testimony from a defense lawyer that his now-deceased client took full responsibility for the murders.
The question is this: Why didn’t the lawyers file this case before the new N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission?
That’s the commission created after a study commission was appointed by then-Chief Justice Lake to consider how North Carolina examines credible claims of actual innocence by those behind bars. One of the lawyers appointed to Lake’s study commission was Rosen, a law professor at the UNC School of Law.
Wouldn’t the Innocence Inquiry Commission have been a logical place to file the case?
Sure, says Rosen, but he and his colleagues were already pursuing the Hunt case in the state courts before the Innocence Inquiry Commission was up and running. “We were already too far along,” Rosen said in a phone interview. Waiting for the commission to get cranked up might have required another year’s wait, and the Hunt case was set for a hearing in Superior Court last January, he said.
Under the law setting up the Innocence Inquiry Commission, the lawyers wouldn’t be able to file the case before the commission if it doesn’t win in the state courts – unless some new evidence turns up.
“We had to make the call and this was our choice, right or wrong,” says Rosen.
More on this later.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lake a 'lifelong Republican'? No

The Observer’s David Ingram called my attention to a story Wednesday in the Washington Post about the involvement of former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. in the case of Lee Wayne Hunt, who has spent a couple decades in prison for murder. He was convicted partly on the basis of a discredited process linking him to the bullets used in the murder.
Lake’s involvement was interesting because he’s a Republican who stirred up a little controversy when he created a study that lead to the Innocence Inquiry Commission. I wrote a Tuesday blog item about that.
On Wednesday the Post reported:
“Lake, a lifelong Republican, also was instrumental in the creation last year of North Carolina’s Innocence Commission, which reviews cases of convicts who say they are innocent.”
Well, no. It is probably accurate to call Lake a lifelong conservative, but he has been a Republican less than half his life. He was a Democratic state senator when I came to Raleigh in the late 1970s, though he soon became a Republican to run, unsuccessfully, against Gov. Jim Hunt in 1980.
Of course, I’ve made this kind of error myself, so I shouldn’t be too critical of the Post. In a blog the other day about Lake’s involvement, I called Gerda Stein a lawyer. She wrote back: “I am not a lawyer, I’m a social worker at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. (used to be a mitigation investigator, now public information person). But my parents, especially my father the lawyer, will be proud!”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Former Chief Justice Lake seeks justice for Hunt

CBS’s 60 Minutes and the Washington Post recently featured stories about the strange case of Lee Wayne Hunt, who has been in prison for a couple of decades for a double murder. There’s no doubt two people were murdered, but there is doubt that Hunt killed them. For one thing, key forensic evidence against him was a process that scientists now repudiate as unreliable and misleading, and that the FBI no longer uses. For another, a defense lawyer now says his deceased client took full responsibility for the murder and that Mr. Hunt was not present when the victims were killed.
Mr. Hunt’s legal team has filed a motion with the N.C. Supreme Court asking the court for review. His lawyers are UNC law professors Rich Rosen and Kenneth Broun – and former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a conservative Republican.
"All I know is when he learned the facts of the case, he felt very
strongly that a great injustice had been done," says Gerda Stein, who works with the lawyers involved in this case. "Remember, he created the
Innocence Commission, so I think he looks closely at some of these
While he was chief justice, Lake created a study commission to determine a better way to look at credible claims of innocence, which led to creation of a new state commission to examine those cases. Lake wasn’t interested in freeing criminals; he was interested in finding out about cases where the innocent have been imprisoned, because that might mean our criminal justice system had not caught the real criminal, who might still be out on the streets.

Here’s a summary of the Hunt case from an Observer editorial the other day:
Observer Staff - Editorial
If you watched CBS’ "60 Minutes" last Sunday night, you were probably disturbed to hear about the case of Lee Wayne Hunt. He has spent the last two decades in N.C. prisons for a double murder, convicted in part with the use of an FBI process no longer considered reliable and that the agency hasn’t used in more than two years.
That’s not all. A defense lawyer says a deceased client took sole responsibility for the murders before Mr. Hunt’s trial, but because of attorney-client privilege the lawyer couldn’t tell anyone what he knew.

Put these two things together and you’ve got one more mind-boggling example of what can go wrong in our criminal justice system. It seems to be a case begging for a new trial, but so far Mr. Hunt’s lawyers have gotten nowhere. The N.C. Court of Appeals not long ago refused to take a look at his request for a new trial. Now the N.C. Supreme Court will be asked to review a lower court decision denying him a new trial, but unless the justices view the FBI process as flawed or the lawyer’s assertions as credible, Mr. Hunt may spend the rest of his days in jail.
None of this means Mr. Hunt is innocent. He has a long record as a drug dealer. But because the FBI no longer uses so-called bullet lead analysis technique, there is no forensic evidence that Mr. Hunt was involved in the murders. At his trial, The Washington Post reported, an FBI analyst testified that lead in bullet fragments from the victims of a double murder near Fayetteville matched the lead in bullets "connected to" Mr. Hunt’s co-defendant.
The FBI stopped using the lead analysis technology after the National Academy of Sciences said it was "unreliable and potentially misleading." Yet the FBI hasn’t alerted defense attorneys about the discredited analysis in this case.
Equally troubling is a disclosure by defense lawyer Staples Hughes. He says his client Jerry Cashwell told him he had killed Roland and Lisa Matthews after an argument while watching television with them. Mr. Hughes thought attorney-client privilege prohibited him from talking about his client’s confession. After his client committed suicide in prison, Mr. Hughes came forward with the story.
The state’s reaction, however, has been even more discouraging: A judge has referred Mr. Hughes for possible disciplinary action for possible violations of lawyer-client privilege. That’s despite a 2003 N.C. Supreme Court ruling that, despite attorney-client privilege, a lawyer may be compelled to disclose what a deceased client told him about a crime.
Based on recent revelations about Mr. Hunt’s trial and Mr. Hughes’ client, it seems obvious a new trial is in order. But this is North Carolina, and official resistance to assertions there’s something wrong with the criminal justice system here runs wide and deep. Where is justice?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Easley-Dole: He said, she said

Gov. Mike Easley and Sen. Elizabeth Dole provided their constituents with an entertaining exchange last week over each other’s handling of a Navy proposal for a jet landing field to practice aircraft carrier landings in Eastern North Carolina.
Both Easley and Dole oppose the field anywhere that local residents oppose it, and both have tried to help the Navy find a suitable place. And it is not opposed everywhere. Jones County commissioners have voted 3-2 “not to oppose” the field in the Hoffman State Forest. That may not be the same thing as support for the Navy, but it tells the Navy something about the doubts that even military-friendly North Carolinians have about the field.
I spoke with both Easley and Dole last week after their public exchange of prepared statements. Easley was exasperated because he thought Dole, as a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, could be doing more to make the Navy understand it has to offer the state more. “This thing I cannot do by myself,” Easley said. “Elizabeth Dole has got to get involved in this. She can’t keep ducking it.... I’m not looking for a fight here. I’m looking for some help.”
Easley felt stung when Dole and fellow Sen. Richard Burr responded sharply to his suggestion the Navy come up with other proposals. They interpreted that as meaning “other sites,” but Easley says he meant other proposals that would help local communities and build support for a landing field.
“If it were me, I’d put together a good economic development package with the jobs for a major base, solving the long term problems (of overcrowding and noise at the Navy’s current base at Oceana, Va.), put that proposal out there and see if there’s support for that,” he said.
Dole also felt stung by Easley, especially his suggestion she hadn’t been able to guide the Navy in the right direction. She and her staff had been meeting with the Navy all along, encouraging it to find a better site for the field and also meeting with residents of northeastern counties that didn’t want the field at all. That’s why she responded that Easley needed to keep working with the Navy to find the right site.
“I wanted to give him a heads up it wasn’t personal, but I’m a Southern lady and I wanted him to know I wasn’t going to stand still for that,” Dole said.
She also was miffed because the governor hadn’t met with local officials and residents to talk about the landing field, but had helped the Navy pick the sites the governor now says he opposes.
“The one thing that is very clear is the governor decided to work with the Navy.... It’s very clear the governor did not talk to local officials. It’s clear that the process went poorly, and we have written to the Navy to say, ‘Sorry you didn’t learn anything from the last time’” when it failed to develop local support for previous landing field proposals, she said.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No sanction of judge's speech

The N.C. Judicial Standards Commission has no plans to sanction a state appeals court judge for urging voters to support a judge based on how he might vote in a case he’s sure will come up.
N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Doug McCullough told a Haywood County audience earlier this fall it ought to support a Supreme Court justice who would make sure Democrats don’t get away with gerrymandering after the next legislative redistricting process. While judges are allowed by judicial canons to speak to audiences and to discuss issues, they’re not supposed to talk about upcoming cases. And McCullough said in his comments that there’s likely to be a redistricting case.
The N&O reports that Judicial Standards Commission chairman Paul Ross said the commission made “an effort to ensure such conduct is not repeated.” Here's a link:
Sounds about right. While the state purports to have an elective process for judges, judicial candidates’ ability to campaign and attract votes often has to turn on such warm, fuzzy, non-issues as honesty, integrity and a good civic record. Candidates who want to talk about what they’d do in office run right up against the canon against discussing how they’d vote on a case. That’s why a lot of folks – Republicans and Democrats – support a different way of choosing judges: appoint them on merit and then let voters decide periodically whether to retain them.
The candidate McCullough urged voters to support, by the way, is Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds. McCullough did Edmunds no favor in predicting how he’d vote on a redistricting case. Judges are supposed to be impartial and judge each case on its merits, and that matches Edmunds’ reputation since his days as U.S. Attorney in North Carolina’s Middle District. He’s known as a smart, fair, independent judge.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Easley staff helped Navy pick OLF sites he opposes

That was an interesting broadside Gov. Mike Easley leveled at Sen. Elizabeth Dole Wednesday evening about the OLF. The governor opposes new sites in Camden and Gates counties that the Navy may consider in where to put the outlying landing field. and urged the Navy to find more alternatives. Sen. Dole and Sen. Richard Burr responded that his call was not helpful in resolving the issue. Then Easley's office issued a statement that said “It is time for Elizabeth Dole to learn that she represents the people of North Carolina, including those counties.”
What the governor didn’t say is how those sites got on the Navy’s radar in the first place: His administration helped put them there. This past spring and summer, his Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Bill Ross, working with Easley’s staff and with environmentalist Tom Earnhardt, among others, scoured sites for the Navy, rounded up information and helped the Navy consider putting them on a list of final sites.
More on this later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Easley: Navy OLF 'all burden, no benefit'

Gov. Mike Easley has weighed in again on the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field in Eastern North Carolina, saying a study group had found that local residents found the OLF “almost all burden and no benefits.”
The governor is asking Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and the congressional delegation to urge the Navy to seek other alternatives for a site.
A copy of the governor’s letter and the report from Judge Sidney Eagles’ Outlying Landing Field Study Group is available, the state says, on the Internet at under the “current events” heading on the top right side of the Web page.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sea level has been rising a long time

The sea level has been a lot higher and a lot lower than it is today, but it’s rising now and will continue to do so for a long time, the experts say. The current sea level bottomed out about 3,000 to 5,000 years ago and has been rising ever since – and at a more rapid rate lately.
Says who? So say experts on sea level rise and potential coastal change at the annual meeting of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association down at Carolina Beach, where I spent the last couple of days absorbing what they had to say. Their meetings are always interesting because our coast is the part of the state that’s physically changing so rapidly.
I’ll write more on this later, but if you’ve seen that satellite poster view of Eastern North Carolina, you’ve no doubt noticed one of the significant earlier coastlines, the Suffolk Scarp that runs right down through Pamlico County to about where the Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch Ferry docks. That’s about 125,000 years old – a “stranded shoreline,” in geological parlance, and represents what a sea level rise of about 20 feet from where it is now would look like, says Dr. Dave Mallinson of East Carolina University.
His colleague, Dr. Stan Riggs, notes that the sea level was down about 425 feet from where it is now just 18,000 years ago.
He also had some data on how sea level has been rising since the century before the birth of Christ. He notes, “You’re not going to have to run out of the way of sea level rise.”
But it has sped up. From 100 B.C. to 1800 A.D., he says, sea level rise averaged 3.3 inches every century. From 1800 to 1900, it rose 12 inches. From 1900 to 2000, it rose 19.7 inches.
And for perspective, he notes, when the first colonists came to Roanoke Island in 1585, sea level was approximately four feet lower than it is today. That’s one reason those old maps look strange: so did our coastline.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Petty moving? Another sign of apocalypse

Just when you wondered whether the North Carolina we knew and love would survive the dramatic changes of the 20th Century before the dramatic changes of the 21st swamped us all, comes word that Petty Enterprises is leaving Level Cross.
What next? Will UNC Chapel Hill leave Chapel Hill for Raleigh? The Biltmore House move to Black Mountain? Pinehurst’s Carolina Hotel to Aberdeen?
Yikes! One thing Randolph County could count on for most of the second half of the 20th century was serving as the home of the Petty racing dynasty, founded by Lee Petty, made famous by Richard Petty and his 200 stock car racing wins, and carried on by his son Kyle Petty and the late Adam Petty, the fourth generation Petty racer.
I grew up in Guilford County just to the north and riding down to the Randleman area and the Petty compound, if that’s the right word, at Level Cross was a lot of fun. One summer I worked on a Pepsi truck and we’d fill the Pepsi-blue machines that sure looked like Petty-blue in the big white garage where Maurice Petty was the master mechanic of the Petty kingdom.
Another summer I worked for Bainbridge and Dance Well Drilling Co. near Guilford College, and riding down to Level Cross to fix the Petty pump was a highlight of that summer. (I think it was a bad foot valve on a jet pump, but we might have replaced it with a submersible.)
Now the word is that Petty Enterprises will be moving to Mooresville to join the other major speed shops of the racing world. That’s progress, I suppose, but one thing I always liked about the Pettys was they were just regular folks down home at Level Cross.
They probably still will be, but the idea that Petty Enterprises would move strikes me as about as outlandish a notion as, well, dropping North Wilkesboro Speedway as a site for a major NASCAR race.... Hang on, what’s that? Oh. Never mind.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mavretic: Country needs that kid pilot

Former House Speaker Joe Mavretic has a message for Brian Morris, the 17-year-old pilot who got in trouble for flying a single-engine aircraft at low altitudes over a football stadium: He’ll help pay the cost of any fines against Morris.
Mavretic, an outspoken legislator, Democrat and former Marine who flew jet fighters when he was in the service, says Morris may be in hot water now, but he thinks the teenager is just what the military needs.
“He’s the kind of guy I want to replace me and my Marine pilot buddies defending this country,” says Mavretic, who had 3,000 hours while flying jets in the Marine Corps.
The Federal Aviation Administration may suspend the teenager's license, but Mavretic points out he won’t need it. “He doesn’t need a thing from the FAA to go fly FA 18s,” Mavretic said. “He’s just what we need. Take him to Pensacola” (where the Navy trains pilots).
Mavretic was House speaker for one term (1989-90) when a coalition of Democrats and Republicans ousted four-term Speaker Liston Ramsey.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

McCrory's first win an '--- kicking'

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory’s reelection Tuesday was another in a long line of political victories, probably made sweeter by voters’ decision to retain a transit tax the mayor had supported. The win gives McCrory, a Republican, a seventh term as mayor, quite a political accomplishment for a candidate who was relatively unknown when he first ran for city council.
But one of McCrory’s first political opponents says McCrory’s first win more than three decades ago also was a big one. Marshall Hurley, a prominent Republican and well-known Greensboro lawyer, was a boyhood neighbor of McCrory’s at Ragsdale High School on Greensboro’s southwest side. McCrory’s parents were Democrats, and Hurley and McCrory – friends then as now – ran against one another for student body president at Ragsdale in the early 1970s. Hurley was a Republican, and McCrory ran against the “pseudo elite,” whoever that was.
But McCrory “didn’t just defeat me,” recalls Hurley. “He kicked my ---.”
Hurley isn’t the only Guilford County victim of McCrory’s political popularity.
Democratic state Rep. Beverly Earle of Mecklenburg also grew up in Greensboro, attending Dudley High School on Greensboro’s east side in the days before school desegregation had a significant effect. She challenged McCrory for mayor but McCrory took 61 percent of the votes Tuesday – well over landslide proportions. She knows how Marshall Hurley felt.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Farm Report: A shot in the dark

When I heard the crack of the shot I levitated off the camp bed and hit the floor, scrambling for boots and jeans. Bam!
Had to be a rifle. Somebody was up on the dirt road at the far end of the high meadow, spotlighting deer in the field and shooting down my way.
We built a little shack down in the woods a few years ago that will be a workshop when the new log cabin is finished – if it ever gets finished. Until then, I sometimes stay in the shack overnight.
I was all set to dash out the door and away from the field of fire when I heard more shots. Bam! Bam!
Then I realized what it was: acorns dropping from tall oaks onto the sheet metal roof of the barn we built two years ago.
It’s amazing how loud they can be. And funny what things sound like in the middle of the night when you’re still groggy and can’t quite put two and two together. Those acorns were dropping like lead shot in the gentle breeze coming over the mountain. It’s one of nature’s little practical jokes. It certainly got my attention.
The adrenaline rush had pretty much taken the sleep out of the night so I put a pot of coffee on the old Coleman camp stove and waited for false dawn.
It’s usually pretty quiet in our woods, but they’re full of life.
There are deer – including a 10-point buck, one of our regular hunters tells me. There are black bears, wild turkeys and a growing number of coyotes on the mountaintop.
I haven’t seen the bears but walked up on seven whitetail deer nosing around in the grass the other morning. We watched one another for a while, but they got tired of it before I did and moved off into the line of trees down the hill.
This autumn wasn’t supposed to be that pretty, what with the lingering drought and all, but this one is special. When the sky first glows pink over the far ridge, then gives way to the first rays scouting for targets among the trees, it’s a breathtaking sight.
I built a deck on the shack facing east and south so I could watch the morning sun as it works its way over Bull Mountain and up the eastern escarpment of the Blue Ridge.
In a short while the woods go from black to murky to shades of gray, then begin to glow with color as the sun hits the back of the leaves at a low angle. The day lights up with gold and stays that way.
I love these seasons of change. A few weeks ago a green summer coat still hung on the maples, beech, oak and locust in these woods. A three-day storm 10 days ago stripped away a lot of those leaves and thinned out the woods.
Behind me the next ridge west is beginning to emerge from our tree line. When I come back in two weeks all the trees will be bare, and the way the land rolls and folds and rises and falls will be plain. There’s not much bright color in the winter landscape, but there are worlds of things to see.

Friday, November 02, 2007

When it rains, it doesn't pour everywhere

Most folks understand right away that when you get five or six inches of rain during a prolonged drought, it’s not nearly enough to make up for a shortfall of 12 inches or more. Simple math.
Most folks also realize that where it rains is also an obvious indicator. But why is it that heavy rain in, say, the next community or county over doesn’t help where you live?
There’s another easy explanation, and you can find it in color. North Carolina has 17 river basins, and if it doesn’t rain a lot in the basin where you live, that water goes elsewhere.
Gov. Mike Easley presided over a briefing the other day to talk about the continuing drought. His advice to North Carolinians: “Don’t spend the rain.”
But nothing was more vivid than a map of where the rain fell from Oct. 24 to Oct. 26.

Displaying county lines (but, alas, not the county names) and an overlay of the river basin shapes, it makes clear that the two main N.C. beneficiaries of the rainfall were the Cape Fear River Basin, running from southern Rockingham and Alamance counties down toward Wilmington, and the Roanoke River Basin, from northern Rockingham and the Southern Virginia counties of Henry and Pittsylvania, got most of the heavy rains. The Neuse River Basin, which includes the population centers of Durham and Raleigh, and the Yadkin-Pee Dee and Catawba River Basins, which embraces the Charlotte region, got far less rain and benefited the same way: not so much. Western North Carolina’s river basins, some of which flow to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, got next to no beneficial rains. So if you’re wondering how much last week’s rains helped, take a look at the map.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Big John Baker's greatest hit

Wake’s Big John Baker dies
Former Wake County Sheriff John Baker, who as a NFL linebacker set the scene for one of the sporting world’s most famous football pictures, has died at age 72. Baker was Wake’s and North Carolina's first black sheriff since Reconstruction. His father John Baker Sr. was Raleigh’s first black uniformed police officer (and a friend of then-city council member Jesse Helms).
Sheriff Baker served from 1978 to 2002, pushing county commissioners to build adequate jail facilities and building a reputation as a tough administrator. When I first came to Raleigh in 1977 as a reporter for the old Greensboro Daily News I wrote about his campaign – and enjoyed a long, and big, breakfast with him at the old cafeteria in the Wachovia building.
But it was in 1964 as a Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker that he delivered his greatest hit. In a game against the New York Giants, Baker put the aging Giant quarterback Y.A. Tittle down and dazed. The photo, accessible here,
shows Tittle on his knees, helmet off, blood and dirt trickling down his forehead.
Baker played 12 years for the Los Angeles Rams, the Detroit Lions and the Steelers after his college career at N.C. Central.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Charlotte, Raleigh: Another big difference

Reading Liz Leland’s and Bruce Henderson’s fine stories and seeing John Simmons’ great photographs about the Catawba River in the Observer this week reminds me of one more stark difference between Charlotte and Raleigh: Development along the lakes.
There are many differences, of course, between the state’s two population centers – political, cultural and on and on. But it struck me that the series about development in the Catawba River basin, and particularly along the shores of the lakes constructed by Duke Energy throughout much of the 20th century such as Lake Hickory and Lake Norman, is in stark contrast to what you see along the shores of the main water supply lakes near the state capital.
The Catawba lakes are experiencing extraordinary development -- including the construction of many mansions. The bigger lakes near Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill have very little development and like will stay that way.
They’re not in private hands, and the three principal lakes’ shorelines were not and are not up for development. About 55 miles to the north of Raleigh, the state’s largest lake by far is Kerr Lake on the Roanoke River – straddling the Virginia border, and the best fishing and sailing lake near Raleigh. It’s a Corps of Engineers project with a hydroelectric dam, built in part for recreation and flood control as well as water supply, too. Its shoreline prohibits development on the water itself, though clearly houses have been built away from the lake and some private lakeside docks exist.
Two other projects – Falls Lake on the Neuse River 10 miles north of Raleigh, and B. Everett Jordan Dam and Lake on the Cape Fear River about 15 miles to the southeast – also prohibit development along the shoreline, and so far it’s still hard to see many houses from the lakes themselves.
That’s not to say there aren’t water quality questions about Jordan Lake. Those problems were predicted long ago, before the lake was built. But for fishers, swimmers, campers and boaters on those lakes, there’s still a sense that the lakes belong to the public. And if you really want to be along with nature, anchor out overnight in one of the hundreds and hundreds of isolated coves on Kerr Lake. It’s like being a thousand miles away.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Navy's OLF search just got harder

The Navy has lost Marc Basnight, and that spells trouble for the service’s hopes for a Northeastern N.C. outlying landing field (OLF).
For years, some North Carolina officials and conservationists have been urging the Navy to try a new approach in its search for an outlying landing field (OLF) in Eastern North Carolina for its SuperHornet jets to practice aircraft carrier landings. That’s the editorial stance this newspaper has taken.
The Navy officially prefers a site in Washington and Beaufort counties near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which isn’t a good choice because of the likelihood of bird-aircraft collisions. Many tens of thousands of large waterfowl winter in the refuge each year and fly out daily to forage in nearby fields.
After stubbornly sticking to its first choice for years – and losing legal battles in federal court and even more important public relations battles in the court of public opinion – the Navy realized its errors and appointed Admiral David Anderson to handle the OLF search from here on.
Admiral Anderson has brought a new way of doing things to the job – including disarming candor and an ability to communicate that would have stood the Navy in good stead during its early, and sometimes bruising, dealings with local folks.
The Navy recently announced it would look at six new sites in Northeastern North Carolina, as well as new sites in Virginia, too. The secretary of the Navy will announce by Nov. 15 which if any of the new sites will formally go on the list of candidates for an OLF. But the Navy is finding that past experience may have thoroughly tainted the well and poisoned relations with local governments and key state officials as well.
Marc Basnight is a state senator from the northeastern part of the state. As president pro tem of the N.C. Senate, he is an influential state policymaker. The other day Basnight delivered a verbal bomb to the Navy, announcing his “total and complete opposition to proposed sites in Camden and Gates counties. This is an awful proposal that could mean a drastic reduction in economic benefits and that any future for our children is obliterated.”
That’s a much stronger stance that Basnight’s previous stand on the OLF. He opposed the Navy’s site in Washington and Beaufort counties, but his Oct. 23 letter to Gov. Mike Easley’s OLF Study Group makes his position clear about putting the OLF in most of Northeastern N.C.: “Locating an OLF in a rural, economically distressed county is absolutely unacceptable,” he wrote.
Here’s the full text of his letter:
RALEIGH 27601-2808
October 23, 2007
Dear OLF Study Group:
I regret that I am unable to join you in person this afternoon, but I am pleased that my colleague, Senator Ed Jones, is a member of the Study Group and will add his valuable insight.
Please know of my very strong opposition to the Navy’s plans to build an OLF in northeastern North Carolina. Over the last six years, I have made my opposition to the proposed site in Washington and Beaufort counties clear. Today, I want you to know of my total and complete opposition to proposed sites in Camden and Gates counties. This is an awful proposal that could mean a drastic reduction in economic benefits and that any future for our children is obliterated. I have expressed my position and the reasons for it to Governor Easley and Senators Dole and Burr and asked for their assistance in stopping these short-sighted and detrimental proposals.
For more than six years, the Navy pursued its plan to build an OLF in an area that is clearly unsuitable. Our experience with the Navy was pathetic, with so many untruths that built so much distrust into this whole process. The Navy still considers the Washington-Beaufort site an option and these new proposed sites are no better. In addition to the public safety risks, these sites pose danger to the local economy, to the environment and to the property rights of families who have worked this land for generations. Furthermore, the 52 jobs the OLF would create would not even begin to compensate for the jet noise and lowered property values that the project would bring for generations to come. Locating an OLF in a rural, economically distressed county is absolutely unacceptable.
I have been even more disappointed with the recent disclosure that an OLF would be primarily serving Super Hornet squads based at Oceana in Virginia—and not at Cherry Point in North Carolina. While Virginia Beach would receive the economic benefits, northeastern North Carolina would not. If Virginia Beach wants it, give it to them.
One option that deserves thorough exploration is building an offshore training platform in the Atlantic Ocean or perhaps in the Pamlico Sound. This concept is not a new one – in fact, the
Navy itself already has a Mobile Offshore Base program and has found that this is a feasible technology. My office previously consulted with engineering firms which determined that it would cost roughly $600 million to build an offshore training platform of similar size and scope to the currently proposed OLF – a cost that is negligible given that the entire U.S. Navy budget is more than $120 billion. This option would create opportunities and replicate the conditions that fighter planes encounter. By constructing a facility in the water, we can avoid safety hazards associated with aircraft crashing into the land, a school, a home or other structure. It also would not cause further economic damage in one of North Carolina’s most economically depressed areas, or denigrate the property rights of the landowners. We have shown this to the Navy previously and we will show them again. An offshore OLF would show the world that North Carolina, the most military-friendly state in the country, is at the forefront of helping to enhance our military capabilities.
It is my hope that even after all this time, we can work toward a solution that allows the Navy to meet its training needs, addresses the concerns of local residents, and continues the proud tradition of cooperation between the military and our state.
Marc Basnight

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No more White House endorsements from Greensboro

Presidential endorsements fall by wayside
It was such a small item on the AP wire that I ran right by it the first time. “No Endorsements” was the cryptic slug, and I wondered if it meant a North Carolina newspaper was revising the way it goes about recommending political candidates.
It was not just one, but three well-known and respected Southern newspapers – and one of them was the paper that provided me with off-and-on employment from the time I was old enough to throw a newspaper on a porch. The daily newspapers owned by Landmark Communications, Inc. – in Norfolk and Roanoke, Va. and Greensboro – would no longer endorse candidates in presidential races.
All three newspapers’ editorial departments will continue to endorse candidates in local and statewide races, the story said, but there’s no longer as much need as there once was to endorse in races for the presidency, the Pilot said in an editorial Sunday. I did not see an announcement on the Greensboro News& Record’s Web site, though I may have missed it.
The news was first broken in an editorial column Sunday in the Roanoke Times, but the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot editorial Monday was what drew the AP’s attention. Here’s a link to that editorial.

“Presidential elections are not our beat,” the Pilot said. “Our time is best spent on local and state problems or those national ones that bear directly on us.”
Endorsements during election campaigns are enormously time-consuming and wind up stirring a lot of passions – some for, some against the practice. My boss Ed Williams had a good column last week explaining how we approach endorsements.
His point was a good one: If you like our editorials, chances are you’ll agree with our endorsements. And if not, you may prefer someone else.
Landmark’s decision is reflective of the changes going on among newspapers generally and editorial departments specifically. We’re all learning to deal with new technology. In my hometown of Greensboro, they’re not only blogging with pictures and audio clips, but are now in the process of putting up video statements from candidates and working on airing the results of a candidate's debate.
This is all a long way from the hot-lead and grease-pencil days of the Greensboro Daily News, as it then was called, where I helped carry the paper as a boy in Greensboro and later on campus at Chapel Hill, wrote high school sports as the $20-per-month correspondent from Page High and after college days was a copy editor, Alamance Bureau reporter, columnist, Raleigh Bureau Chief, editorial writer – and its last Washington Correspondent back in the 1970s.
I had the great good luck to work for smart folks there – Managing Editor Irwin Smallwood, as good a man as I ever knew anywhere, the graceful and erudite Bill Snider, and Rhodes Scholar John Alexander, with whom I’d eat black-eyed peas and collard greens at the old Woolworth’s Lunch Counter on Elm Street before heading back to the paper to editorially flay the hide off some unfortunate for one misstep or another.
The paper usually endorsed in presidential races, but not always, notes my friend Allen Johnson, the editorial page editor there. “We’re still going to write about issues pertinent to the campaign,” he notes, but readers won’t find “that big Sunday editorial” about the presidential race.
Like everything in newspapering, there will be those who like the decision to stop endorsing in presidential races, and those who don’t. I hate to see it end. A good presidential endorsement will get folks talking about issues – and sometimes throwing thunderbolts right back at the paper when they don’t like what they see. That one vivid way you know they’re still reading their favorite morning newspaper.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The last of the Rose Buddies

One of the things that makes North Carolina special is the imagination, spirit and kindness of its people. Seems like everywhere you go there are interesting folks who’ve added so much to their community in small ways that their stories have reflected honor on the whole state.
We lost one of those people the other day. There was just a small story in the morning newspaper over the weekend, but there are a world of people out there who knew what he meant to Elizabeth City – and to travelers up and down the east coast.
He was Fred Fearing, who died at Albemarle Hospital Friday morning. He was a retired postman. But to many thousands of boaters who travel up and down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, he was the last of the Rose Buddies.
In truth, there were only two of them. Twenty-four years ago, Fred Fearing and his buddy Joe Kramer began one of the most civil traditions I’ve ever heard of.
Every afternoon when a sailboat or powerboat or trawler tied up at the town docks in Elizabeth City on the Pasquotank River, Fred and Joe would host a small impromptu party on the docks to welcome the visitors to their part of North Carolina.
The two cooked up the tradition after church one day. Joe raised roses, and he’d cut a handful and give a rosebud to every lady aboard. Fred gathered a bottle or two of wine, some cups and some chips and dip. Folks who’d never heard of North Carolina or Southern hospitality would fine a warm welcome and a batch of new friends there on the docks.
Joe died in 1987 but the traditional went on. His rose bushes were transplanted to Mariner’s Wharf and a maintenance fund was established to keep them blooming. When NBC Weatherman Willard Scott came south to do a story on the Rose Buddies, he donated a new golf cart so Fred Fearing could get to the docks and back. It’s known all over town as the Rose Buddy Golf Cart.
I never met Fred Fearing but I heard about the Rose Buddies tradition years ago, and talked with many a boater on the ICW who sang the praises of the nice folks up in Elizabeth City and the warm welcome they got there one afternoon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The word on instant runoffs: They work

Here’s interesting stuff from Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, the elections watchdog who has done more good work to help the public understand the impact of money on politics than anyone I know in North Carolina, not to mention his helping investigators dig up political wrongdoing and producing reliable research for legislators interested in electoral reform. In this note, Bob relates how the instant runoff experiment worked in Cary’s recent municipal election. The short story: Pretty well. Read on:

Good people,

In case you're writing about the "instant runoff voting" pilot that occurred in Cary, I would encourage you to contact Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections at 919-856-6245 and Diana Haskell, chair of the Wake Co League of Women Voters at 919-460-9215.

Poucher estimates that the Town of Cary saved about $28,000 by not having to hold a separate runoff for the District B Town Council race, where no candidate received a majority of first-choice votes in the October 9 election. The savings would have been $62,000 for a citywide runoff.

Normally, there is a large drop-off in voter turnout from the first election to the runoff a month or so later. However, by using preference voting, the drop-off in that District B race was only 9% -- i.e., 91% or 2,754 voters of the 3,022 voters who cast a ballot in the District B race expressed a clear choice between the final two candidates through their rankings, and their preferences produced the winner: Don Frantz got 1,401 votes compared to Vickie Maxwell's 1,353.

With preference voting, more voters participated in deciding the final winner, at less expense for everybody (candidates, voters, and taxpapers). Of course, we still need more citizens to vote in NC, but this method is at least better than having a tiny minority of a minority make the final decision.

The Exit Poll conducted in Cary showed that the ballot was easily understood by most voters and that ranking candidates was preferred to voting for just one candidate. Below is a summary of the findings from the Exit Poll.

Bob Hall
Democracy North Carolina
Direct line: 919-489-1931

* * *

Dr. Michael Cobb, NC State University: 919/513-3709 or

Study Finds Cary Voters Prefer Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV)

Cary voters prefer ranking candidates rather than voting for only one candidate.

That’s the finding of a survey on voter preferences taken after the Oct. 9 Cary town council elections in which instant run-off voting (IRV) was utilized. IRV allows voters to rank the candidates for an office in order of preference, eliminating the need for a separate run-off election.

North Carolina State University’s Dr. Michael Cobb, assistant professor of political science, designed an exit poll to evaluate how voters felt about IRV. The exit poll, managed by Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, contained interviews with more than 1,600 voters from Cary Town Council Districts B and D.

Instant run-off voting affected the election in Council District B by generating a winner, thereby avoiding the need to hold a run-off election next month between the top two vote getters.

Key findings of the survey include:

· Of those with a preference, 72 percent of Cary voters said they preferred IRV while just 28 percent said they preferred voting for a single candidate.

· Almost everyone (96 percent) reported it was at least “somewhat easy to understand” the IRV ballot, with 82 percent agreeing that it was “very easy” to understand.

· Most voters (69 percent) actually utilized the option of ranking at least two of the candidates for city council.

· Among the minority of voters who did not rank more than one candidate and gave a reason why (480), only 29 percent (139) said the reason for not indicating a second choice was that they were confused about how the rankings would be used. [This is a minority of a minority: In other words, 9 percent of all voters (139 of 1635) indicated by their responses that the primary reason they did not rank more than one candidate in any race was because they misunderstood or did not understand how the ranking worked.]

· Voters were more likely to rank candidates in District B, which was the most competitive race where all three candidates failed to win an outright majority; voters in District B were more likely to prefer IRV.

· The study found no significant differences between different types of voters in their understanding or preference for IRV: whites and non-whites, males and females, lower and higher income voters all evaluated IRV roughly equally.

· Outreach efforts to inform voters ahead of time about IRV were largely successful. Seventy-six percent said they knew they would be asked to rank their preferences before coming to vote that day, and those who reported knowing about IRV in advance were more likely to rank more than one candidate and to prefer ranking candidates over voting for only one candidate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Welcome to the 'sneeze and wheeze' belt

If you’ve got seasonal allergies and have had something like a nasty cold lately, it might be worsened by where you live, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In fact, if you live in one of the population centers of North Carolina such as Raleigh, Greensboro or Charlotte, it’s may already affect how you feel. Why? Because, the NRDC reports, areas of the country affected most by the prevalence of ragweed and smog caused by air pollution overlap one another – including the three cities in the N.C. Piedmont.
This nexus of air pollution and seasonal allergy eruptions makes the effects worse for folks who already have respiratory problems. “Both ragweed, the pollen of which is a common allergen, and smog, otherwise known as ground-level ozone pollution, have been linked to respiratory problems, including asthma. Studies have shown that when people are exposed to both ragweed and smog, they can suffer more severe reactions than when exposed to just one of these pollutants,” the NRDC says.
Among the nation’s 15 worst “Asthma Capitals,” Raleigh ranks third, Greensboro eighth and Charlotte thirteenth on the list. Other bad ones: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago. Read more about the report here.
And for a vivid look at a national map showing the overlap of ragweed and ozone concentrations, click here. It’s not for the faint of heart, or lung.
And while we’re on the subject of bad news, the NRDC notes that global warming makes the effects of everything worse – ragweed and smog, “creating a perfect storm of sneezing and wheezing for allergy and asthma suffers in the U.S.,” said the NRDC’s Dr. Gina Solomon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

She wanted to be governor

You may not remember Ruby Hooper, but a generation ago the Burke County Republican aimed to become the first woman to be governor of North Caorlina.
Democrat Bev Perdue, the state’s first woman to be lieutenant governor, is hoping to finally do in 2008 what Hooper hoped to do in the 1984 election.
Hooper picked a hard year to run – in the '84 GOP primary against then-U.S. Rep. Jim Martin, the former Mecklenburg commissioner who would win the election and go on to serve two terms (1985-1993). She didn’t have a chance, but that didn’t seem to discourage her.
Ruby Hooper died recently at age 83 and the N&O had a good article on her place in North Carolina politics. Here’s a link.
Hooper’s campaigns for governor in 1984 and again in 1992 didn’t work out, but Martin hired her as a deputy secretary of administration during his two terms. I remember her days in office. She always had a positive thought, which may be one reason why after her final political campaign, she was chosen as “North Carolina State Mother” by a group called American Mothers, according to a 1993 report by my colleague Jim Morrill.
And Greg Trevor, a former Observer reporter, wrote about Hooper during her 1992 campaign against Jim Gardner for the Republican nomination that year.
She was running pretty much a one-woman campaign, but she would have agreed with Gov. Mike Easley on the lottery. “From what I`ve heard, the people want the right to vote on that. And if they decided a lottery`s what they want, I would propose that the funds that are generated be designated for education.``
She also told Trevor that after 16 years of Gov. Jim Hunt and Gov. Jim Martin, the state needed a change: “Some people say we`ve had too many Jims as governor. We need a gem - a Ruby.”`

Friday, October 12, 2007

Leslie Winner: growing up in segregated South

Former Charlotte lawyer and state senator Leslie Winner joins the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation as executive director in January, taking one of the most influential public policy jobs in the state. The foundation, which works exclusively within North Carolina, unlike many other institutions with a broader scope, has had an enormous impact on state policy here – public policy as well as that of private non-profit agencies, educational institutions and community initiatives. It’s a good bet the foundation will build on that record with Winner’s leadership.
She has a finely tuned sense of right and wrong, shaped by the discrimination she saw around her while growing up in the South.
Mary Giunca of the Winston-Salem Journal had an interesting piece on Winner and the influences that shaped her thinking in today’s paper. Read it here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Capital concerns: growth, parks

Tuesday’s election in Wake County showed a couple of interesting things in a fast-growing area that’s the state’s second-largest county and contains the state’s second-largest city, the state Capital. Voters in Raleigh and Cary municipal elections generally backed candidates seeking more controls on growth and, in the case of Raleigh, higher impact fees from developers.
This is particularly interesting because the issue really wasn’t whether to increase impact fees to help pay for growth-related services. The Raleigh city council had already approved 72 percent higher impact fees, but not as high an increase as many believe are needed to cope with the dramatic increase in population and an accompanying demand for more schools and other essential services.
What also struck me as particularly interesting was the fate of four bond issues totaling $275 million: All four passed. Wake voters approved three bond issues totaling $187 million for Wake Tech, the county library system and the purchase of open space by roughly 70 percent; and voters in the city of Raleigh approved an $89 million parks bond issue by 72 percent. This is significant because many folks thought Wake County voters would be fed up with more bond issues after approving a $970 million school bonds issue in 2006. Evidently voters want the county to keep on making improvements.
This is generalizing, but it seems to fit neatly with the observation by political analyst John Davis of the pro-business organization N.C. FREE and others that the influx of newcomers to this area, even though many of them are registered Republicans, support and expect good schools, good parks and other services because that’s what they were used to in areas of the Northeast and Midwest where they resided before moving here.
A final note: turnout wasn’t good: 10.8 percent, according to the Wake County Board of Elections.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do real political issues count for much anymore?

Opposition research has been a vital part of many political campaigns since the crust of the earth hardened. It involves an investigation of the opponent’s record – public and political as well as personal and private – and the careful distribution of the results during the campaign to discredit an opponent. Sometimes it’s ugly work, because it means digging up unsavory stuff to make the other person look bad – and by contrast, make your own candidate look better. It’s not about to go away.
And it is, of course, the sort of thing that news reporters thrive on: finding out stuff, sorting through it and putting it in the paper, on the air and in the Ethernet. That’s what we’re about. Sometimes it's little stuff. Sometimes it's big.
That’s one reason we’re hearing a lot about the public records of Democratic gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue, the state’s lieutenant governor, and her main opponent, Richard Moore, the state treasurer. They’re both forward-looking Democrats with an interest in education, health care and economic development, among other things. They probably agree on quite a lot.
But their staffs are not fond of one another – or at least the way they’re going about digging up whatever dirt they can find on one another. The Moore campaign has been merrily pointing out some imprecisions in Perdue’s resume in the past, though the Moore campaign attaches more importance to it than I expect most voters would. And the Perdue campaign has fired back a few shots at Moore for, among other things, an arcane vote on the highway trust fund.
In Sunday’s column I wrote, “This kind of push and shove makes their campaigns seem preoccupied with pointing out each other’s flaws, as if the public were mostly interested in unwavering devotion to rigid consistency rather than figuring out what’s best for the public interest and pushing new ideas.”
I think it also makes folks tired of politics sooner than they ought to be. But by some perverse law of political thermodynamics, resume errors and old voting records often get more heat-and-light coverage than serious issues. Ask Bob Orr, the former Supreme Court associate justice who’s running for the Republican nomination for governor. He unveiled a substantive proposal for stopping the increasingly costly arms race on economic incentives for landing new plants the other day, and after a brief round of news reports, the issue faded a bit.
Is the message the media send that real issues don’t count for much?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wake County gets law school again

The big news in Raleigh today is Campbell University’s announcement that it is moving its school of law to Raleigh. The university’s Norman A. Wiggins School of Law will move from the Campbell campus at Buies Creek in Harnett County to a brick building in downtown Raleigh on Hillsborough Street just a couple blocks west of the Capitol.
It’s a coup for Raleigh, of course, but it’s also a big story for Wake County. The move returns a law school to Wake County for the first time in more than half a century. The old Wake Forest College School of Law in Wake Forest, N.C. moved to Winston-Salem in 1956 when the college packed up and took up quarters on a beautiful new campus in Forsyth County, thanks to a generous offer from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
There’s some symmetry to this current move: Norman Wiggins, for whom the Campbell law school is named, graduated from Campbell College when it was a two-year school, then earned his bachelor’s degree at Wake Forest College and a law degree from its law school – when the college was still in Wake Forest.
After earning a master’s degree and doctorate in law at Columbia, Wiggins returned as a law professor and general counsel at the new Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem. In 1967 he became president of Campbell College, driving its growth, its name change to a university and creation of the law school, which was named for him in 1977. Wiggins died this summer, but discussions about a move to Raleigh had long been underway. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the name Norman Wiggins has accompanied the planned move of a law school to Wake County where Wiggins first got his legal training.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Speaker Liston Ramsey a hero? Probably not

Liston Ramsey a hero?
State Treasurer Richard Moore has proposed the N.C. Democratic Party change the name of its annual fall dinner held in Asheville, after Republicans raised questions about a racist connotation in the annual “Vance Aycock Dinner.”
He proposes instead such party “heroes” as Charlotte architect Harvey Gantt, former speaker pro tem Marie Colton of Asheville and the late N.C. Speaker of the House Liston Ramsey. Gantt and Colton certainly would be excellent candidates for honors.
I’m not sure what Moore was thinking, but he might get a quibble about Ramsey, whose lieutenants maintained ironclad control of the House and perfected the discredited supersub system of the 1980s. They ran a rigid pork-barrel system that so disturbed both Democrats and Republicans that a coalition threw him out of office in 1989 and installed Democrat Josephus Mavretic in his place.
While Ramsey was well-regarded by many of his loyal allies, I don’t think Moore can make the argument that he’s the logical choice to replace either Aycock or Vance as the name of a big to-do.
He might have been better off suggesting other western North Carolinians, say, the late state Sen. Herbert Hyde, who claimed some Cherokee heritage, or the late U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, whose investigation of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection committee unraveled the Watergate affair and led to Nixon’s resignation. But Ervin might meet opposition as well, because he strongly opposed some civil rights legislation and efforts to remove racial barriers earlier in his U.S. Senate career. The late state Sen. Jim Richardson of Charlotte would be another good choice.
It’s complicated, of course. Gov. Charles B. Aycock was a leader in the White Supremacy movement at the turn of the last century and helped whip up fervor for the bloody coup that turned out a legally elected government of Republicans and black people in Wilmington in 1898. He later was responsible for the universal education movement that provided formal schooling for black citizens.
A group of Republicans calling themselves the Carolina Stompers raised the question about changing the name of the Vance Aycock Dinner, but after Moore called for the name change, the Stompers dropped plans to protest at the dinner and said they’d refocus on correcting the history books.
Zebulon Vance was a Civil War governor who would have prolonged slavery if his efforts had led to a Confederate victory. There have been no complaints I’m aware of about his name, but if there are arguments to get rid of Aycock’s name, then arguments to get rid of Vance can’t be far behind.
Addendum: Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Bob Orr, a Republican running for governor, sent along a suggestion. While he wasn't trying to help out Democrats, "why not Henry Frye and Susie Sharpe The Sharpe/Frye dinner), both were hugely important to the process of opening up opportunities and while they are jurists, it’s still a great way to honor a couple of special people."

Monday, October 01, 2007

The book on Southern food

The book on Southern food
We professional Southerners are apt to applaud when folks who write about the South get things right. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, co-edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris in 1989, was a monumental work about the South – and a monument by weight. You’ll get a hernia if you tote one around for long.
The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture,like the original published by UNC Press, takes a different form – individual volumes devoted to single topics -- religion, geography, history and so on. The seventh in the series has just come out: Foodways, and its writing include several pieces by the Observer’s food writer, Kathleen Purvis, in my book one of the best in the business. She writes on funeral food and Carolinas barbecue. Talk about culture!
These are the kinds of books you can pick up and read all you need to know about a topic in just a couple minutes. The entry on moonshining was especially informative – with a short tangent about the proof of moonshine (“Proof originally denoted a spirit’s ability to dampen gunpowder yet sustain a flame.” I didn’t know that).
It also knotes that moonshine’s reputation for quality “suffered a ruinous decline during the national prohibition against alcohol (1920-33) when artisan distillers putting out small-batch spirits for steady local markets were displaced by novice opportunist distillers making bad hooch, by scurrilous bootleggers selling outright poison, and, finally, by interstate whisky syndicates that introduced sugar as a major ingredient to cash in on a sustained liquor-guzzling frenzy.”
Whew! My head is spinning already.
I also liked the section on deviled eggs and the need of every Southern woman to have a supply of deviled egg plates (I think my sister had eight or nine of them at one time).
And I appreciated the mention in the section on pimento cheese of the Mouli grater. It noted that modern pimento cheese makers probably use a food processor or a fork to blend their cheese, but not in our household. My wife makes the world’s best pimento cheese – absolutely the best – and it starts with sharp cheddar run through the handheld Mouli grater.
Sure, you can grate it in a food processor or mash it with a fork, but that risks bruising the cheese. Wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Can we exorcise painful history?

A contretemps over the name of a political dinner in Buncombe County is probably more about scoring political points than it is about making amends for the Democratic Party’s white supremacist past. Asheville Republicans calling themselves the Carolina Stompers are urging the Democrats to change the name of the annual Vance-Aycock dinner, named for the late Govs. Charles B. Aycock and Zebulon Vance. Aycock was a leader in the white supremacist movement at the end of the 19th century that overthrew a legally elected black-and-Republican government in Wilmington and reimposed white rule in this state for decades.
The Carolina Stompers are protesting the annual fall dinner because of Aycock’s participation and leadership in that white supremacist movement. Aycock had a lot of help, including from the state’s most prominent newspapers, The News & Observer of Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer. Those newspapers ran extensive reviews of that shabby episode in state politics last year and editorially apologized for their support of the movement.
But would dropping the name of Aycock in any way make up for the wrongs of the 19th century, or even mark the Democratic Party as a more progressive organization? And what would it say about politician’s regard for one of Aycock’s beneficial legacies – that he championed universal education and through his efforts the state began building and operating schools that give African Americans more formal education than previously had been available?
And if Aycock’s name is dropped, what about Vance’s? He was the Civil War governor who harried Confederate President Jefferson Davis to give N.C. more materiel to fight the war. Had Vance succeeded in his mission, slavery would have been prolonged for goodness knows how long. Should his name be dropped, his remains dug up from Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery and his bones spirited out of Buncombe County as a way to atone for his role in the Civil War?
These are the same questions that come up from time to time. There are many people of good will who believe, for example, that Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, should come down, or the name of William Saunders should be chiseled off a campus building because he is thought to have been a key leader of the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction era.
Would removing these physical reminders of the state’s racist past make North Carolina a better place to live? Or would it be easier for all of us to forget the violence of the Civil War, the criminality of the white supremacy movement, the immorality of the on era and the sheer meanness of Jim Crow era? Would forgetting this shameful past be good? Or would it make it easier for opportunists to revive the virulent racism that once marked this state as a place of ignorance and intolerance?
Hard questions. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

There's a Mayberry, all right

Associated Press National Writer Allen Breed's story
about Thelma Lou’s decision to move from California to Mount Airy reminded me that folks often say the fictional Mayberry of the “Andy Griffith Show” doesn’t really exist. No place could be so wholesome, so American, so laden with the kinds of values most folks hold dear, at least in spirit if not in reality, the theory goes.
Betty Lynn, the actress who played Barney’s girlfriend Thelma Lou in the sitcom, is not only a new resident of Mount Airy but also an honoree of the 18th annual Mayberry Days this weekend and grand marshal of the Mayberry Days Parade Saturday (Sept. 29).
Mount Airy probably comes pretty close to being Mayberry, what with its Snappy Lunch and Floyd’s Barbership (“Two chairs, no waiting”). And it is Andy Griffith’s hometown, of course, though the actor has lived in Manteo at the eastern end of the state for many years.
Mount Airy sits in the foothills very near where the Blue Ridge Mountains rise up in, as Sam Ervin once said about Table Rock, “indescribable glory.” Yes, they do. And they embrace in their loving grasp the real Mayberry. It’s not in North Carolina. It’s in Virginia, overlooking North Carolina.
If you’ve been down the Blue Ridge Parkway near its crossing into North Carolina, you’ve just about been through Mayberry. It’s a tiny settlement, not even a town. It can’t be more than 15 miles from Griffith’s hometown, but it’s been there for more than a century.
Mayberry Trading Post dates to 1892 and once housed the post office for residents of the region. You can see a picture of it here.
And many families, including ours, still worship from time to time just up the road at Mayberry Presbyterian Church, built by the late mountain preacher Bob Childress in the 1920s. His grandson Stuart Childress preaches there today.
The Mayberry church land was given by a man named Ceph Scott, whose home still stands. It’s currently owned by Dr. Harold Spangler, who says he’s a cousin – “a poor cousin,” he emphasizes – of Charlotte and Chapel Hill businessman C.D. Spangler, one of North Carolina’s wealthiest men.
For more history on the real Mayberry, here’s a link to a 1984 article in The Mountain Laurel.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Did Dems, Repubs cut up the territory?

Did Democrats and Republicans cut up the territory?
A long time ago, gentlemen’s agreements about legislative seats would affect who got elected to the General Assembly. There were stories about deals made where politicians from some districts would take turns serving in Raleigh --- and sometimes the same sort of alternating agreement would affect other races. It’s been so long since there was a governor from the western part of the state (Republican Jim Holshouser of Boone in 1972, unless you count Republican Jim Martin of Iredell in 1984 and ’88) that there probably would be some interest in some sort of east-west rotation.
Those alternating agreements were back in the bad old days of Democratic hegemony, when the Dems controlled politics from the courthouse to the statehouse. In the modern era of divided government, there’s much more competition for elective posts. We’ve had Democrats and Republicans in the governor’s office, the U.S. Senate and the Council of State.
And yet: the most recent history is that Democrats have won most of the governor’s races and Republicans have won most of the Senate races. It is almost as though the two parties divided up the territory and agreed on who would have which posts.
I don’t believe that’s the case and I don’t know of a Republican or a Democrat who’d put any credence in such a notion.
Of the major races (U.S. Senate and N.C. governor since 1970), Democrats have won six of the 9 races for governor and all of the last four gubernatorial contests. That’s 67 percent of the time. Republicans just haven’t mounted a very strong challenge in those races.
But in U.S. Senate races, Republicans have won nine of the last 12 races – including all six of the races for the seat once held by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, and splitting 3-3 with Democrats for the seat once held by Democratic Sen. Sam Ervin. In the most recent contest, Republican Richard Burr won the seat to put both seats in GOP hands. The GOP has won N.C. Senate races 75 percent of the time.
(And it’s worth mentioning that Democrats have won the presidential race in North Carolina just once since 1970 – Jimmy Carter in 1976. Republicans have won all eight of the other races.
It’s enough to make you wonder: Will 2008 test this trend? In the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore are engaged in a lively Democratic primary race while former Supreme Court Associate Justice Bob Orr, state Sen. Fred Smith and Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham are vying in the Republican primary. Conventional wisdom probably calls the race for the Democrats, but Republican Orr has won more statewide races (as a judge) and Smith and Graham both have the money to make it a contest if they're willing to spend it.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democrats appear to be having a hard time coming up with a strong candidate to challenge Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole for another term.
How do you think it’s going to go? Let me know.

Note: Bob Orr commented on this blog on his own blog. Click here to read.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Barney's 'corner room at the Y'

Corner room at the Y?
Much is being made in Raleigh these days of the opening of the first part of the newly constructed YMCA on Hillsborough Street between the Capitol and the N.C. State University. It’s a marvelous facility from all I’ve heard and read about it, replacing the old Central Y with the new John M. Alexander Family YMCA.
Local businessman Johnny Mac Alexander engineered the replacement project. His father, John McKnitt Alexander, organized the fund-raising campaign to build the old Central Y in the late 1950s.
Among other things, millions of television fans of the Andy Griffith Show know a little about the Central Y. That’s where Mayberry Deputy Barney Fife would stay when he made his trips to Raleigh. He liked “the corner room at the Y,” and for decades folks have been pointing out the corner room at the Y to visitors. Johnny Mac Alexander has a plaque and doorknob from the corner room at the Y (Room 201), reports Matthew Eisley of the News & Observer. Here’s a link.
According to one story I heard long ago, the original corner room at the Y hadn’t been at the Central Y in years and years. Its materials, at least, were in my neighborhood on the north side of Raleigh. Bruce Robertson, who lived around the corner from me for years, was an accomplished woodworker who made his modest two-story colonial home into something of a showplace. He scrounged lumber wherever he could find it and made lovely things from it.
His backyard featured a gazebo, a storybook playhouse for his daughter, a balcony on his house and a new sunroom that was the envy of the neighborhood. I bought an old Sears joiner from him in the late 1970s. He told me how he’d used it to plane down the lumber he recovered from the demolition of an earlier version of the Central Y. He pointed to the gazebo and told me, “That’s ‘the corner room at the Y’ right there.”
I suspect those materials might have been from a corner room that pre-dated the Andy Griffith Show (1960-68) and Barney’s references to his corner-room visits to Raleigh. Bruce moved away from our neighborhood years ago and several owners have come and gone. I don’t know if Bruce’s story was true, or if the timing was way off, or if the current owners realize the little piece of history they might just have behind their house. We walk by it on our evening stroll most every night, and wonder.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New sites for Navy's OLF?

It’s no secret that the Navy has a new attitude about alternative sites for an outlying landing field for its FA/18 SuperHornet jets so they can practice aircraft carrier landings. And it's a welcome change.
It surprised a lot of folks a few years ago when the Navy announced before a NC task force on the OLF that it wouldn’t consider any new sites. The Navy preferred a site near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, where hundreds of thousands of large waterfowl spend their winter and threaten the costly jets and their pilots with the prospect for collisions.
Earlier this year a host of Republican and Democratic officials – From U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr to members of the congressional delegation such as Rep. David Price and the General Assembly – made it clear that the state’s political leadership was largely against the choice of Site C, as it’s called, near the wildlife refuge. Since then, the Navy has sent pretty clear signals that it’s willing to listen to both Virginia and North Carolina about other spots.
Since then the state has quietly gone about the job of finding suitable sites the Navy might consider. Among the criteria: a “dark” spot away from development so that pilots can practice night landings, no significant impact on the environment such as bird-plane collisions, concentrated ownership of the land so it would be easier to assemble enough for the needed 8,000-foot strip and no particular obstructions for pilots. They thought large tracts of forest land might suit the Navy.
Word is that the state identified six tracts – two not far from Jacksonville and four closer to the Virginia-North Carolina border – that it thought the Navy might find more suitable to its needs, although it’s not clear yet what the Navy’s reaction to the six sites is. The governor’s Outlying Landing Field Study Group meets this morning at 11 a.m. to pursue the matter.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth of Virginia has given the Navy 11 sites to consider as an alternative, according to reports from the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. Those sites reportedly have gone up the line to the Secretary of the Navy, who may decide in November to formally add additional sites to the list under consideration.