Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writing's on the wall for Goodyear giveaway

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d wager the South Forty that Gov. Mike Easley is about to veto that ill-considered $40 million over 10 years corporate welfare giveaway for Goodyear Tire & Rubber to stay in Fayetteville.
The governor’s staff isn’t saying, but the signal his office sent Wednesday afternoon could not be clearer. His office proposed legislation to be considered next year that will create incentives to keep major manufacturers in North Carolina.
That’s the same goal of the Goodyear giveaway bill approved so overwhelmingly by the legislature before it left town. But the Goodyear bill has some huge flaws. It’s aimed at just one company. It would pay the company to stay, rather than paying a company to bring jobs here. It would pay cash. It wouldn’t even require that the company maintain all the jobs it now has.
Easley’s new proposal would be available for more than one company, such as Bridgestone-Firestone in Wilson. It would offer tax incentives to stay if the company invested more money in North Carolina, if it paid wages 40 percent above the local average wage, and if it kept all the jobs it now has. Companies would be eligible for rebates of certain taxes related to their investment in North Carolina. The money would be a rebate on future taxes paid, rather than a grant from a pool of money.
This proposal probably won’t satisfy all the critics of incentives for recruiting companies, but it’s a sight better than giveaways to companies that won’t even maintain the current employment levels.
One more thing is clear: There has been talk among supporters of the bill that if the governor vetoes the Goodyear bill, there will be a legislative session to override the veto. So far the legislature has not overridden Easley’s vetoes of previous bills, and the proposed legislation – Easley’s staff calls it the “American Productivity and Competitiveness Act of North Carolina,” an awkward mouthful – is surely designed in part to head off an override vote or at least diminish support in the House and Senate. It will give the governor – and legislators, too – political cover.
Here’s a link to an Observer editorial, "Veto the outrages" last week urging the governor to veto the bill.

And here’s a link to the Goodyear bill.

And here’s a link to the governor’s announcement today.

Re Dix Hill: What about the patients?

The following came from Steve Church of Willow Spring, who read the Aug. 22 blog about what should be done with Dix Hill in Raleigh. The blog was about the concerns of those who want the 306-acre tract for a new park; This reader noted that the needs of mental health patients are rarely mentioned in this debate. Here’s what he had to say:
The passing of the mental health insurance parity bill was a highlight of this past General Assembly and for that I am grateful. I have been advocating for years that people with mental illnesses should have the same respect and opportunity for proper care as anyone who has cancer or heart treatments. This measure will aid many who have been stigmatized and ignored over their lives over their rights to be treated fairly. I applaud our state lawmakers for passing this timely piece of legislation.
I read your August 22 column today concerning what to do with the land at Dix. Like so many articles written about the land and its potential uses, nothing was mentioned about the patients and their care when the hospital closes. I have been writing letters to the editor at the News and Observer for four years and only in the last year have there been positive letters for keeping the hospital open for services. Yes, I realize that the facility is run down and probably cannot be repaired to be a force in the community. We can thank our state and local leaders for defunding our mental health system constantly over the past five years.
Gerry Akland of NAMI (National Alliance of Mentally Ill)- Wake County says that it will take two years or more to implement the continuum community care that Governor Mike Easley and former DHHS head Carmen Hooker-Odom promised years ago when they forced the legislature to prematurely close Dix. We should keep Dix open until these programs are funded adequately and set in place. This has never been about a park or housing state employees on the site; it is about people. It makes all the talk about turning the land into a destination park seem rather trivial and self-serving, don’t you think?
When discussions of what to do with the land crop up, the patient are hardly ever mentioned. The Dix deal was rammed through the legislature during the middle of the night, with no public debate or media coverage. No one questioned our leaders on how and why this action was being taken. We were to assume that they knew what was best for us. This can be corrected if our leaders will hold off on closing Dix until programs can be put in place and working. We will be judged by how we treat our fellow man.
In the meantime, you have park advocates like the ones mentioned in your article that were upset about not getting their way with the General Assembly. Remember that these well minded folks have lobbyists and money galore to be heard in political circles. Who with any real authority works to help the less advantaged? Not these people.
The media has been fairly absent on the Dix subject until the past year. Only when the property seemed up for sale did the developers and park advocates come out of the woodwork to express their views and their unique visions. The patients were never in the equation to terminate the hospital and no one raised a finger to oppose this. Easley and Odom said they would take care of the patients, but they have done a lousy job protecting folks who look to the government only for a fair shake.
Patients will not stop seeking long term care just because our leaders choose to ignore their symptoms. Republicans and Democrats alike should seek investigations on the handling of the closing of Dix and then debate objectively. The conversation on this issue was conveniently framed to fit the wants and desires of the powerful and the influential. Jim Goodman, who is with the Dix Visionaries( I think) is Vice President of Operations at WRALTV in Raleigh. Do you think his network is going to be critical of the present policy?
Closing the hospital with inadequate patient planning was short-sighted, mean-spirited and just plain irresponsible. Keeping patients out of emergency rooms, jails and prisons should be a priority for Easley’s administration but he would rather see the mental health consumers kicked to the curb without prospects for a better life. We owe these patients community service that they can trust and rely on.
Imagine that your life or the lives of your loved ones hinged on how you covered this story once the legislature convenes in the fall. We are all one incident, circumstance or event away from needing mental health services. Cover this story like your family depends on it...cover it like it matters.
Steve Church
Willow Spring, NC

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Should Decker get a lighter sentence?

Observer capitol reporter David Ingram’s story this morning about federal prosecutors seeking a shorter sentence for Michael Decker is intriguing. Decker is the former Forsyth County Republican legislator who took a bribe from former Democratic Speaker Jim Black to switch political parties and help keep Black in power in 2003. Black says Decker also proposed a deal six years earlier, but Black said he didn’t pursue it.
Federal prosectors are asking for a break for Decker because his cooperation in the case was instrumental in the guilty plea and sentencing of Black to federal prison in Pennsylvania for 63 months.
Without Decker’s cooperation, federal and state prosecutors were having a hard time coming up with good evidence of his having paid Decker for his role in North Carolina’s worst political scandal. Ingram’s story reported, “ ‘Decker’s assistance has not only been substantial, it has been extraordinary and important in the prosecution of public corruption in North Carolina in 2006 and 2007,’ wrote Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Bruce and Dennis Duffy, in court papers filed Monday.”
To read Ingram’s story, click here.
Decker told the federal court when he pleaded guilty a year ago that he had been overcome by guilt and was sleeping badly when he decided to tell a federal grand jury everything he knew. Prosecutors later recommended a sentence of 24 to 30 months, but U.S. District Judge James Dever sentenced Decker to four years in prison. Prosecutors now are asking Dever to cut that in half to two years. Decker will start serving his sentence soon at the federal clink in Bennettsville, S.C.
Don Carrington, executive editor of the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal, has an interesting interview with Decker today in which Decker expresses remorse for his actions. Here’s a link.
Now the question before Judge Dever is whether to reduce Decker’s sentence because of his cooperation. I've never been a fan of Mike Decker or his pre-scandal approach to politics, but I think the staff of U.S. Attorney George Holding has a point that Decker should get more consideration for his coming clean on this mess -- and a shorter sentence.
Dever regards the whole matter as an “epic betrayal” of the public trust, and he is right on that. But does his stiff sentence of Decker – longer than prosecutors wanted -- send a message that cooperating with prosecutors will only backfire? And should Decker’s cooperation in this case be rewarded with a lighter sentence? What do you think?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The best endorsement is on a check

The other candidates running for governor in 2008 are no doubt disappointed that the government relations commission of the N.C. Association of Educators is recommending Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, to succeed Gov. Mike Easley.
This would be a news story if the NCAE had recommended anyone else, but it has been expected for so long that it elicited mostly yawns from those who pay attention to endorsements but a yelp of indignation from at least one of those who didn’t get it.
State Treasurer Richard Moore had hoped for the endorsement, especially as he’s the only Democrat who’s announced for the post. He wanted the NCAE to put off the decision until Perdue gets into the race, which may be in October.
And surely Republican candidates Bob Orr, the former associate justice of the Supreme Court, and state Sen. Fred Smith were hoping that the NCAE would also recommend candidates in the GOP primary next year. Republican candidate Bill Graham didn’t participate in the NCAE screening process, but Orr and Smith did.
Orr has some reason to feel slighted. After all, he has previously been endorsed by the NCAE, and he took a major role in the state’s most famous school litigation case. In July 2004 just before leaving the Supreme Court, Orr wrote the opinion upholding Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s ruling that defined what the N.C. Constitution guarantees every child: A qualified principal in every school, a competent teacher in every classroom and sufficient resources in every class for each child to be able to get a sound basic education.
Perdue has a claim to a lot of work on education, dating to her days as a key Senate budget writer and her support for the Smart Start child development program. She was long regarded as the likely recipient of the NCAE endorsement.
For those who didn’t get the endorsement, I’ve got a word of advice. Don’t be too sad. The value of endorsements in political campaign can vary widely, and its most important effect may be to energize supporters and provide a little fodder for ads.
There are a lot of groups that endorse, including newspapers, and sometimes endorsements help and sometimes they hurt and sometimes they seem to have no effect atall. I am reminded of the 1977 race for Lt. Governor, when then-Sen. Herbert Hyde got the endorsement of, I think, just about every newspaper that endorsed that year. He didn’t even make the runoff between former Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee and Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green.
And in the runoff, I believe, Lee got most or all the endorsements. Green won.
It reminds me of the story the late U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin used to tell about an aspiring politician who announced to a friend that he was planning to run for office. The friend responded, “I’ll be happy to be for you or against you, whichever you think will help more.”
And I've also heard that in politics, the best endorsement comes on a check.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What should we do with Dix Hill?

Advocates of converting more than 300 acres of the Dorothea Dix hospital property for a new capital area park have told the legislature: Thanks for nothing. But they said it with a smile.
They’re relieved the N.C. General Assembly didn’t act quickly about how to use the property near downtown Raleigh. For years it has has housed the state’s original mental health hospital as well as state offices. With the hospital set to close before long, park advocates want to make it into a grand destination park. Developers would like to build shops and homes on part of it. Gov. Mike Easley has recommended new state office buildings for part of it.
The park advocates asked the legislature to convey 306 acres of the Dix Hill campus for the park, but legislators haven’t moved. Here’s the text of a press release the groups put out this week:
“Dix Park advocacy groups announced they are pleased the General Assembly did not made a quick decision about the future use of the Dorothea Dix Campus by the close of the General Assembly session on August 2, 2007. All three groups pledge to continue working to create a 306-acre, world-class destination park.
“Although we did not get our 306-acre Dix Park this session, we are pleased the General Assembly did not act rashly,” said Jay Spain, President of the Friends of Dorothea Dix Park. “We look forward to continuing our work with all the stakeholders to create a 306-acre, world-class destination park that all North Carolinians will be proud to visit.”
The current moratorium expires on September 1, 2007. This was put in place to protect the land on Dorothea Dix Campus as various land uses were considered. The General Assembly adjourned at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday August 2, 2007 without passing any legislation relating to the Dix Campus.
“Dix306 would like to thank the citizens of North Carolina for their constant and overwhelming support for the creation of a 306-acre, world-class destination park,” said Bill Padgett, President of the Dix 306 Board. “This park will bring ‘quality of time and space’ for millions, billions economically for N.C., but most importantly it is the right thing to do for those generations yet to be born. We ask for you to ‘stay the course’ and ‘keep those yard signs flying!’ as we build together the vision that future generations will experience.”
“This property is too rich in its heritage for us to act without great reverence toward the memory of Dorothea Dix and in consideration of the best use of the land for all North Carolinians in the future,” said Gregory Poole, Jr., President of the Dix Visionaries. “We are grateful the General Assembly is approaching the use of this land with the judiciousness and prudence it deserves.”
About the three groups:
Friends of Dorothea Dix Park (FDDP), founded in 2004, is a 501(c)3 organization made up of thousands of individuals and more than 30 member organizations whose mission is to preserve the Dorothea Dix Campus as a world-class destination park. FDDP is dedicated to educating people across North Carolina about the value of preserving the land as a destination park and why it is the right thing to do for our children, our economic stability and our overall quality of life. For more information please visit .
DIX306 is a grassroots organization made up of member organizations and individuals from across the state of North Carolina who are actively working to spread the word about the land issue through a state-wide yard sign campaign and other vehicles. More information is available at
Dix Visionaries are a group of North Carolina business and community leaders from across North Carolina working together to raise awareness and funds from the private sector to support the preservation of a destination park on the 306 acres, the only remaining acreage of the original 2,000 acre tract on the Dorothea Dix Mental Hospital property.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Legislature to Raleigh: Drop dead

There’s a perception that the city of Raleigh and the county of Wake usually get their way before the General Assembly– at least in comparison to the state’s largest city and most populous county, Charlotte and Mecklenburg.
And there’s some evidence to back that up. But something happened the other day that’s just now getting a lot of attention.
The General Assembly sent a message to Raleigh: Drop dead.
Well, not really, but the message was pretty pointed.
When legislative leaders realized the state was having a little trouble getting local approval for a new state-owned parking deck in downtown Raleigh and became aware of concerns about a new extension of the Museum of Natural Sciences, the legislature simply co-opted local zoning ordinances regarding state property within six-blocks of the Capitol.
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker found out about it a couple days after the bill passed. Local Wake County legislators had supported the bill. It was, Raleigh City Councilman Philip Isley told The News & Observer, “the typical finger in the eye to the city of Raleigh.”
It was a finger, all right, but not to the eye.
Here’s a link to David Bracken's N&O story.
And here’s a link to the bill preempting local zoning on state property.

Monday, August 20, 2007

How hot was it in 1776?

One of my favorite blogs is N.C. Miscellany on the website of the North Carolina Collection at UNC Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library. You never know what you’ll find there, but in the hot weather lately there’s all sorts of interesting trivia, including how residents of Tarboro once had access to what was thought to be the country’s only refrigerated pool – the cool pool, they called it.
My friend and colleague Lew Powell points out another curiosity – a 1776 treatise on Southern heat. It was written by Dr. Lionel Chalmers and entitled, “An Account of the Weather and Diseases of South Carolina,” now a part of the Bruce Cotten Collection here at the NCC.
Among other things, Chalmers explains how heat affects us: “As the air becomes more moist from heat, the watery particles that float therein, enter our bodies along with the fiery ones: and these rendering each other more active are quickly conveyed throughout the system, weakening the solids and resolving the fluids still more.”
Well, that pretty much explains everything.
Here’s a link(fifth item down).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Farm Report: Secrets of the 3-point hitch

(First of an occasional update on a cabin-building project up in the hills)

Up in the Blue Ridge about 15 miles north of the N.C.-Virginia line where we’re building a log cabin, we’re learning all sorts of things we never knew we’d need to know.
We’ve learned how to use a barbed wire stretcher to get fence wire taut and level.
We’ve absorbed the intricacies of the Peavey, a contraption used to buck logs around and hold them off the ground for chainsawing into firewood.
We’ve discovered the hellish demands of the spud bar, a heavy digging tool that will chop through roots and pry rocks out of a posthole.
And we’re plumbing the mysteries of the three-point hitch.
We’ve pulled boats and trailers for years with an ordinary bumper hitch. But when you’ve got to mow acres of sedgegrass, thorny locust and greenbrier stalks that can grow to an inch thick in one season, you’re going to need a bush hog.
It’s a big, mean rotary mower mounted under a heavy-duty steel deck. And because you’ve often got to back a bush hog into a patch of jungle or pick up the mowing deck to lower it onto a nasty clump, a trailer hitch won’t do the job.
You’ve got to have a three-point hitch.
It not only tows farm machinery such as plows, bush hogs, hay mowers and rakes, but also allows the operator to adjust their height above the earth’s surface, or back it into a tight spot between the trees.
These hitches were developed by an Irishman in 1926. Harry Ferguson, who had been an early aviator, was asked by the British government to develop a system to prevent tractor accidents caused by plows hanging up on subterranean rocks. The plow would halt but the tractor would attempt to keep going – and with the large rear wheels’ axle serving as a fulcrum, the tractor would rear up and flip over backward, killing or maiming the driver.
Ferguson came up with the three-point hitch, a sort of A-frame shaped connection whose two lower bars would provide stability and whose top bar would apply forward pressure, keeping a tractor from flipping back when a plow hung up on a rock. He also developed the hydraulic lifters that allowed the driver to pick up the plow or bush hog it was towing. That made turning or getting to and from the fields a lot easier.
Henry Ford and Ferguson made a handshake deal to put the hitch into production on Fordson tractors in the late 1930s, but Henry Ford II welshed on the deal in 1947. Ferguson later won $9.5 million in a lawsuit against Ford, and merged his own company with Massey-Harris. For years they produced Massey Ferguson Tractors. Massey Ferguson hats have a sort of cult following because of their MF logo.
What we’ve learned about the three-point hitch is that it often requires delicate adjustments – with a six-pound sledge, a 2x4 lever and a choice selection of Anglo-Saxonisms – to persuade the thing to come together in the right three spots. You have to hold your mouth just right to get the power take off shaft mated. And there’s an array of hitch pins and hitch clips to hold the thing together.
But I can tell you this: If you’ve got a thicket of greenbrier and locust growing along the edge of a field and into the treeline, there’s only one good way to get at it: back that bush hog in there, drop the blade into the middle of it and let the tractor do the work.
Besides, after hooking up a three-point hitch, I’m pretty much worn out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Beason says he'll quit lobbying

Top-ranked lobbyist Don Beason – losing clients because of revelations in state court that he had loaned former House Speaker Jim Black $500,000 in 2000 – says he’s getting out of the lobbying business.
In a brief phone conversation Wednesday, Beason said he had informed the office of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall that he would no longer be a registered lobbyist. “It’s not fair to my clients to put them through something like this,” Beason said.
It wasn’t a question whether he could still be an effective lobbyist, Beason said. “I don’t know and will never know” because he would no longer lobby for any clients.
It’s a dramatic turn of events for a well-connected lobbyist who had a lot to do with the fact that the state’s new lobbying law now applies to executive branch lobbying and not just to lobbying in the legislature. Beason had pushed for that in 2005 after he was a member of Marshall’s Advisory Council on Legislative Lobbying. The council did not call for restrictions on executive branch lobbying, but the law ultimately included it.
In late fall of 2005, I had a call from Beason, a Republican who had worked in the Holshouser and Martin administrations and who moved easily among both Democrats and Republicans. He was a top-ranked lobbyist in the biennial rankings put out by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research and a thoughtful guy on how things worked in Raleigh.
It was early December, and Beason had just written all 170 legislators that he planned to begin abiding by the new law right away – including sending in monthly reports about what he spent, and from then on declining to give legislators gifts such as tickets, meals and trips. He called to let me know about the letter.
I thought it was an interesting unilateral announcement. What I didn’t know – what only he and then-Speaker Jim Black and maybe a limited number of other people knew – was that nearly five years earlier, Beason had temporarily loaned, at no interest, a half a million bucks to Speaker Black. Twice.
That was the infamous $500,000 loan that, Black said in state court the other day, was a business loan that was accidentally deposited in his campaign account, then repaid to Beason, then reloaned to Black for his personal account, then deposited in his campaign account to make it look bigger than it was, and then finally repaid to Beason when the real estate deal fell through.
Beason declined to discuss that loan. He has told associates that he thought it was a business loan, and soon realized it had been stupid to make the loan after he read in the newspaper that Black had loaned his campaign $500,000.
Here’s a short I wrote for the Saturday editorial page, Dec. 17, 2005, based on Beason’s letter:
Had I known about the $500,000 loan, of course, it would have been worded quite a bit differently.
“Lobbyist to lawmakers: It’s time to comply with new law
“Don Beason, a veteran legislative lobbyist considered one of the most effective in Raleigh, says he won’t wait until 2007 to abide by a new lobbyist regulation law to take effect then.
“He wrote all 170 legislators last week that he plans to send monthly reports to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office disclosing what he spends to lobby on behalf of clients while the General Assembly is in session. The new law requires lobbyists to disclose any spending over $10 on lawmakers in regular reports for the first time.
“Mr. Beason, a Republican whose clients include large banks and utilities, also said he will now abide by the new law’s ‘no gifts’ registry, under which legislators can declare they will accept no gifts of meals, tickets, trips or anything else from lobbyists. He also urged legislators to adopt a key reform recommended by the N.C. Professional Lobbyists Association: no gifts, period.
“That letter may rattle teacups and decanters all over town.
“Mr. Beason is pointing in the right direction. If legislators want to dispel the notion that they’re a grubby group on the take for favors great and small, nothing – absolutely nothing – would be more effective than to impose an outright ban on gifts, entertainment, meals and even campaign contributions from lobbyists.”

Monday, August 13, 2007

Karl Rove's impact on N.C. politics

Write body
Rove’s mark on N.C. politics
Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political guru, is leaving the White House at the end of the month with a mixed record – a string of political and legislative successes earlier in the administration but some signal failures in more recent times.
But there’s no question about the mark that Rove has left on North Carolina politics. He has been instrumental in shaping the state’s representation in the U.S. Senate. In the 2002 election, Rove was influential in clearing the way for former American Red Cross head and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole to run for retiring U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms’ seat.
A key candidate that year, Rep. Richard Burr, wanted to run, but Rove made it clear that Dole was the administration’s choice. Soon after the election Rove was counseling Burr on running in 2004 for Sen. John Edwards’ seat – a post Edwards chose not to pursue for a second term. By then, Edwards was running for president, and Rove helped Burr raise money for that campaign.
In both cases, Republican candidates Dole and Burr beat Democrat Erskine Bowles, now president of the University of North Carolina system.
Observer reporter Mark Johnson had a good story Sept. 10, 2003, a year before Burr’s successful run, explaining how it all came about. Here’s an excerpt:
It was Richard Burr's turn, until the White House stepped in.
U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican, was retiring. Burr, a handsome and energetic GOP congressman, had been eyeing a Senate seat, even passing on the governor's race two years earlier. Very quickly after Helms' announcement, though, political operatives at the Bush White House indicated their preferred candidate for the 2002 election was Elizabeth Dole, who went on to win in November.
"It was clear, and it didn't need to be said, but the White House accurately believed Elizabeth Dole is a rock star and her chances for winning were very, very good," said Burr strategist Peter Hans, "and that Richard Burr had the luxury, as a young man, of running in two years or even later."
Two years later, with U.S. Sen. John Edwards relinquishing his Senate seat and Democrats sorting out their candidates, the Republican forces that led Burr to opt out of the last Senate race now have unified the party behind him.
Burr, of Winston-Salem, said White House officials never asked him to stay out in 2002, but it just didn't make sense to run.
Before the 2002 election was even over, that October, White House political strategist Karl Rove invited Burr to breakfast to talk about the 2004 Senate race.
"It was shocking to me that they were as focused on the 2004 election cycle," Burr said, "with the 2002 election cycle in (its) last weeks."
White House advisers, as they did with Dole, have signaled their preference for Burr, lined up fund-raisers and effectively dissuaded any GOP challengers from entering the race.
Repeating the formula they used with Dole, White House officials are dispatching their biggest names to help fatten Burr's campaign bank account. Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to headline a Burr fund-raiser in Raleigh on Friday, and Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, led an April event in Winston-Salem.
Burr expects to have $4 million in cash on hand by the end of the month, a figure that had been his year-end goal.
"Lack of money," Burr said, "is not going to be a problem."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Decline of the political nickname

Politics in North Carolina is a little paler and a little less interesting today with news of the death of yet another politico with a colorful nickname. T.G. “Sonny Boy” Joyner of Garysburg in Northhampton County died at age 87 after a long career as a mainstay of Democratic party polices in the state. His father had been in the state Senate and Sonny Boy was a farmer, a county commissioner, town mayor, member of the state Democratic Executive Committee and a delegate to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. He served various posts under Govs. Terry Sanford, Bob Scott and Jim Hunt. And he was a Yellow Dog Democrat – so called because he’d even vote for a Yellow Dog, the saying went, as long as the dog was a Democrat.
Joyner’s death is another reminder of the decline of the distinctive, down-home nickname in state politics. Once the ranks of politicos was well-represented with absolutely memorable monikers – U.S. Rep. Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, state Sen. J.J. “Monk” Harrington, and gubernatorial candidate Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles and Rep. Paul “Jaybird” McCrary, a former Davidson County sheriff.
One of my favorites was V.B. “Hawk” Johnson, who never ran for office but who advised a great many politicians who did during his 75 years as a World War II machine gunner, newsman, congressional aide, lobbyist and soapbox philosopher.
Whatever happened to nicknames, anyway? The used to permeate sports, too. Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice and Clarence “Big House” Gaines and Dick “Night Train” Lane surely brightened the sports pages. And don't forget Jim "Catfish" Hunter. Or "Meadowlark" Lemon.
Sign of the times, I suppose.
What would be good political nicknames for those in public life today?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Legislative choice: status quo or renewal?

This falls into the category of serious reflection: A survey of legislators, staff members and legislative lobbyists on how the General Assembly views itself, its work and its prospects for the future.
The results are published in the current issue of Popular Government, the journal of the School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill, and it’s a thought-provoking look at an institution that for much of this state’s history was the dominant branch of government. Click here to link to the 12-page article.
The survey was conducted by some smart people – David Kiel, an organizational consultant to government agencies and my old classmate at Carolina back in the late 1960s, and Tom Covington, former head of the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division and former head of the late, almost unlamented Progress Board.
Kiel and Covington performed this research in 2003 and ‘04 for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. It’s just now getting into print in Popular Government, but its findings are interesting, and timely. Many thought the legislature performed well, given the political challenges it faces. Some respondents thought the legislature was good at reacting to short-term problems, but not at long-range planning and not always at careful deliberation, either. One respondent described the place as “dysfunctional” and another thought “we have hand-to-hand combat around partisan interests.”
All this brings the legislature to a crossroads, the authors say. “Will it be business as usual or renewal?” The norm seemed to be “quick-fix, run-on legislation; the decline in decorum and comity among members; the increase in partisanship; the concentration of power; and the unremitting demands and influence of perpetual fund-raising.”
Renewal would require specific steps, the authors write. Among them:
*Enacting laws “that contain solutions to specific situations and needs instead of offering an expedient, political quick fix.”
*Creating “strong initiatives for legislative oversight and program evaluation to ensure that legislative solutions are effectively implemented.”
*Adopting laws “that ensure the highest levels of fiscal responsibility, accountability and integrity in the face of a political process that is increasingly competitive and money driven.”
*“Setting new standards for Senate and House floor and committee debate and discussion... that result in more informed decisions and ... reduce partisan bickering.”
*Removing barriers that “narrow the range of those who can serve in the legislature” – including reexamining salary and other compensation, staff support, demands of the calendar and full- or part-time status.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Numbers say do-nothings did a lot

Numbers say the do-nothings did a lot
Some critics of the General Assembly call the just-concluded session a do-nothing legislature. But looking strictly at the numbers, the honorables passed more stuff than in some other years.
Gerry Cohen, veteran head of the bill drafting division at the General Assembly, sent a note the other day that 409 bills were approved – 344 new laws, 68 joint resolutions, four House resolutions and three from the Senate. (Sure seems to add up to 419 to me, but what do I know?)
If the governor signs all 195 bills on his desk, that means 539 laws would have been enacted – “a potential 16 percent increase from the 463 enacted in the 2005 long session,” notes Cohen.
Here’s a link to his Web site, which has all sorts of information about the legislative process.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A kick to the groin

A proposal to change North Carolina’s longtime ban on seawalls, jetties and groins to prevent beach erosion and allow experiments near N.C. inlets appears to be going nowhere as the 2007 General Assembly winds down. Instead the legislature may study the matter. Friday addition: Word is the study was axed in the House version last night. It’s a controversial matter because, while beach erosion causes some property owners to lose property, hardened structures such as groins, intended to protect property, also has the effect of damaging property nearby. One property owner’s salvation can become the weapon that ruins another’s property, not to mention disrupting nature’s natural processes.
Says who? The latest is a group of the region’s most prominent scientists, plus some of their national and international colleagues. In a statement published on the website of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, the group points out that groins “will always cause erosion.”
Here are the pertinent paragraphs:
“The implication by those who are promoting the law to allow the use of groins on North Carolina ocean and inlet shorelines is that this is experimental and that if the groins don’t work they will be removed or altered. There is nothing experimental about groins. It is clear that on a shoreline where sand is transported laterally, groins will always cause erosion. The only questions are where and when will this erosion occur. Experience on many other American shorelines indicates that removal of a groin, once it is put in place, is a rare event no matter what promises are made beforehand.
“The localized and temporary updrift benefits afforded by groins rarely, if ever, justify the downdrift damage caused by increased erosion – regardless of whether it is to developed or undeveloped shorelines, inlets and islands. We urge you to maintain the State of North Carolina’s high standards for coastal management by preventing any change to the current ban on coastal hard structures. Doing so is the surest way to protect our state’s beaches for future generations.”
Here’s a link to the statement and the list of scientists who signed on to it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Black: Decker wanted legislative IOUs

In many ways the sentencing of former House Speaker Jim Black Tuesday in Wake Superior Court was a seminar in practical politics. If the stories told by Jim Black are accurate, you can throw away the tidy political theories you learned back in Poli Sci 31 and get used to the seamy side of N.C. politics.
Black didn’t expect to be called to testify, and when he got on the stand he mumbled a lot and simply couldn’t remember details about a $500,000 check that came his way from lobbyist Don Beason in 2000.
But he seemed to have no trouble remembering details of political deals he spoke with other legislators about in 1997 – when he was hoping to upset then-Republican Speaker Harold Brubaker and was courting a few GOP votes to pull off an upset.
Black said he thought he had the votes of Republican Reps. Jim Gulley of Matthews, Steve Wood of Guilford and Robert Brawley of Mooresville. He testified that Rep. Michael Decker came to him before the 1997 vote for speaker and offered to support him in exchange for several things. Decker wanted a commitment to pass two statewide bills and two local bills, and “something up front.” As part of the deal, Black said, Decker also wanted a signed commitment from Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight and Gov. Jim Hunt, both Democrats.
A lot of folks found that request -- if Black was telling the truth -- to be perfectly ludicrous. Number one, it violates an old political warning not to put on paper anything you don’t want to see in print in tomorrow’s newspaper.
And second, it would have required non-members of the House – a senator and governor -- to make a deal with perhaps the most out-of-touch, off-the-wall Republican in the legislature. Mind you: Michael Decker was never regarded as a capable legislator who could get things done, like former Republican Rep. Ed McMahan or former Sen. Bob Ruccho, both of Charlotte. He was regarded as an ideologue somewhere on the fringe.
Besides, Black said, he thought Decker might be wearing a wire and said he told Decker he was being unethical. Too bad Black didn’t have those same standards in 2003 when he made a deal with Decker for his vote. Who knows – Black might not have remained speaker, but he might have retained his freedom instead of being on his way to the federal slammer.