Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Perdue: N.C. must share in any offshore revenues

Gov. Bev Perdue's office has issued a statement reacting to the Obama Administration's decision to move forward with plans to eventually open up areas of the East Coast to energy exploration. Perdue has named a study committee to examine the issue of exploration for oil or gas off the N.C. coast, and the General Assembly has its own study commission looking at the same issue. Here's what Perdue said today:

"I learned of President Obama’s plans to open the Atlantic Coast to drilling exploration when I spoke to Sec. Salazar late last night.
"It looks like the Federal government is moving forward with this plan with or without us, so I made it clear to Sec. Salazar that as governor of North Carolina I will remain aggressively engaged in this issue.
"I reminded him of the three issues that I discussed with him before about North Carolina’s position on drilling:
"1) The protection of North Carolina’s tremendous natural and economic resources, and our military role in national defense, is crucial. We need to know the locations of the proposed drilling;
"2) If drilling off the North Carolina coastline is going to occur, we must share in any revenues realized; and
"3) It is vital that we maintain our ability to explore all options for energy production on our coast, including green opportunities such as wind power.
"Our Congressional delegation will hear from me, and our citizens will see me representing North Carolina’s interests during federal public hearings."

Virginia plans to move ahead aggressively on offshore exploration, but its plans may be hemmed in by military concerns. On the N.C. coast, where energy companies such as Duke are contemplating putting industrial wind farms and where much of the economy is dependent upon tourism, the state has generally taken a go-slow approach. But if, as Perdue mentions, there's some prospect for significant royalties from eventual production, enthusiasm for exploration no doubt will grow.

Meanwhile the Southern Environmental Law Center has taken a dim view of the Obama proposal, saying that six months worth of oil isn't worth the risk to the coastline.
Here's the center's statement:

"Today’s announcement by President Obama opening much of the U.S. east coast for the first time to oil and gas drilling risks too much for the South, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. The Southern Environmental Law Center urges protection of the Atlantic coast and beaches of the South, and pursuit of energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy sources rather than drilling for the small amount of oil offshore.
“Opening the South Atlantic Coast to oil and gas drilling will do nothing to address climate change, provide only about six months worth of oil, and put at risk multi-billion dollar tourism and fisheries industries. One oil spill could devastate a coast,” said Derb Carter, director, Carolinas Office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Instead, reducing our dependence on such old, polluting energy sources by bringing America’s innovative talent to bear on fully exploiting energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources should be the first step in an energy policy that generates jobs and keeps America technologically competitive.”
Drilling for oil would risk Southern tourism, rare wildlife, and fisheries for what the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service estimates would be only enough oil for six months that would take seven to ten years to bring online. But it would have no impact on domestic oil and gas prices until at least 2030, and even then any such impact would be “insignificant,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
"Each year thousands of people enjoy the natural beauty and white sandy beaches of the Southeastern coastline with an economic impact of over $63 billion and over half a million jobs in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Rare and iconic wildlife—including migratory birds, endangered sea turtles and the rarest of whales also enjoy the same coastal areas. Commercial fisheries bring in over a quarter of a billion dollars each year and are crucial to local economies and traditional ways of life in the region.
"Investing in clean energy could result in about 170,000 jobs for Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia according to estimates from a recent study by the Center for American Progress."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Column follow: Big verdict in Mo. hog odor case

A lawyer friend read Sunday's column about David Kirby's new book, "Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poulty Farms to Humans and the Environment" and sent along a note about a former classmate whose law firm recently won a big damage award in a Missouri case invloving animal farm owners -- said to the be the "largest verdict on record in a hog odor case."

His email noted, "Rick Middleton of the Middleton Firm in Savannah, Georgia, and other firms in early March concluded a lengthy jury trial which resulted in an $11 million dollar verdict in trial related to this issue. They formed the Center to Expose & Close Animal Factories. In looking at the materials on this website, they posted an interesting memorandum on an economic analysis of litigation from the defense perspective."

Here's a link to the story.

And here’s the top of the PRNewswire release:
Missouri Jury Awards Residents $11 Million in Damages from Living Under Cloud of Stench Caused by Industrial Hog Farms
Verdict reached against Premium Standard Farms, subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, and ContiGroup; Families in town of Berlin, MO live near 4,300-acre compound where 200,000 hogs fattened for slaughter annually; Smithfield's Concentrated Animal Feed Operation generates some 83 million gallons of hog waste per year

Case won by Speer Law Firm, Middleton Law Firm and Seeger Weiss represents largest verdict on record in hog odor case; some 250 claimants remaining in cases against Premium Standard and ContiGroup
KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 5 /PRNewswire/ -- A state court jury in Jackson County, Missouri returned a collective $11,050,000 verdict against industrial hog producers Premium Standard Farms, Inc., a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods (NYSE: SFD), and the privately held ContiGroup Companies (previously Continental Grain) in favor of residents living near the defendants' vast farm operations in northern Missouri. The verdict, covering 11 years of damages, is the largest monetary award against a hog farm in an odor nuisance case.
Law firms The Middleton Firm, Seeger Weiss LLP and the Speer Law Firm represented the seven households, who filed their case in 2002.
Plaintiffs, some of whom have owned their farms for well over 100 years and spanning five generations, alleged that relentless and extreme odors emanating from defendants' finishing farm – known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs – created an unreasonable nuisance. Family members testified at trial that the smell was intense enough to prevent them from venturing outdoors on many days.
After hearing nearly 5 weeks of evidence centering on defendants' land application of massive quantities of liquid hog manure, maintenance of multiple-acre wastewater lagoons, and other odor-producing activities at the Homan farm in Gentry County, MO, the 12-person jury agreed. Their verdict was delivered on March 4, 2010.
In the early 1990s, PSF bought and leased some 4,300 acres in the community of Berlin, Missouri, to create a "finishing farm," processing an estimated 200,000 hogs per year. The swine are brought into the facility weighing approximately 60 pounds and are grown to 260 pounds for slaughter. Each hog lives its entire adult life in a single hog pen, with no ability to roam. Berlin is located in Gentry County some 80 miles north of Kansas City.
The odors emanating from the hogs come from multiple sources. The hogs excrete waste into a slatted floor, which collects in basins beneath each barn, where it is evacuated through a piped flushing system that deposits it in four-to-five acre lagoons located across the property. Collectively, the lake-sized lagoons collect some 83 million gallons of hog waste during the course of a year – generating enormous quantities of methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that can be detected for miles. The Berlin facility houses 80 barns, each holding 1,000 hogs at a time.
The waste is continually pumped out of the lagoons, which the defendants argued was used as fertilizer. "In reality, the jury recognized that the pumping is merely a disguised form of waste disposal – with the farms releasing far more effluent than the land can possibly absorb," said Charles F. Speer, who first started representing PSF neighbors in the mid-1990s. "The odors and flies coming off this farm have devastated the lives of these fine Missouri citizens. For them, it's been a living torment."
"The families who brought this case have been living under a toxic cloud of hog waste produced by Premium Standard for more than 11 years," said lead trial counsel Richard H. Middleton, Jr. of Savannah, GA. "Defendants claimed their operations complied with state environmental regulations – however, this trial showed that PSF produced industrial-scale pollution with complete lack of regard for the extreme toxicity its operation caused for its neighbors, day in and day out."
Co-trial counsel, Stephen A. Weiss of New York City added: "Rather than accept responsibility for their actions like a good neighbor, these defendants continue to deflect blame. We've offered repeatedly to sit down with their representatives to try to forge a fair resolution, but they continue to choose the courtroom over the settlement table. If I were a Smithfield shareholder today, I'd be none too pleased with their chosen path."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chub and the Chatham County Courthouse

A regular correspondent of mine from Charlotte took note of the heartbreaking fire Thursday that destroyed the Chatham County courthouse, a marvelous structure erected in the 19th century and later added onto. His note evoked one of the most colorful political characters of the 20th century, a lawyer who lived in Carthage in nearby Moore County and who likely practiced his trade in Pittsboro from time to time. He wrote:

"The rumble you felt this morning was probably Chub Seawell rolling over when he heard about the Chatham County courthouse burning down."

Herbert F. (Chub) Seawell was a conservative Baptist teetotaler who ran for governor unsuccessfully in 1952 and who brightened the editorial pages of newspapers across the state with his frequent commentaries, always written with as much wit as passion. He also filled in for Jesse Helms in his Viewpoint commentaries on WRAL TV in Raleigh. It was Seawell, not Helms, as is often thought, who remarked back in the 1970s when the legislature was thinking of building a state zoo, that they just ought to "put a fence around Chapel Hill."

I grew up reading his letters in the 1950s and 60s in my hometown newspaper, the Greensboro Daily News, and thought they were funny -- describing Gov. Dan Moore as "Gov. Dan Klan" and referring to President Lyndon Baines Johnson as "Lendem Billions Nimrod Fountain Pen Beulah Father Divine Johnson." He sometimes stuck the phrase "Let the true church roll on" in his commentaries and often signed his letters, "Call your next case."

He called himself a "consecrated layman" and, as historian Julian Pleasants has noted, an "old-fashioned, deep water, missionary, pre-millennial, spirit-filled Bible-believing Baptist" and made sure people knew it. And, Pleasants has written, Seawell laid the groundwork for the development of the Republican Party in North Carolina.

I expect that Seawell, who died in 1983, would indeed have had a few things to say about the loss of the Chatham Courthouse, where he perhaps held judge, juries and spectators in rapturous awe from time to time with his orations in one trial or another.

Call your next case

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Governor still backs ban on coastal groins

During the 2008 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Bev Perdue told the N.C. Conservation Council she supported retaining the state's longtime ban on groins, jetties and other hardened structures such as seawall on the N.C. coast. The policy is meant to prevent the beach erosion at other sites near such structures. The question whether Perdue still supports the longtime ban, first imposed by the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, arose in recent days after a study of proposals to allow "terminal groins" to be built at the terminal ends of coastal inlets to keep the inlet from moving. The study found that such groins can help stabilize inlets, but they require inlet management plans and also require beach renourishment -- pumping or bulldozing sand from other sources -- to rebuild and maintain beaches.

Coastal Resources Commission Chairman Bob Emory said the study showed no compelling reasons to do away with the ban on hardened structures or to amend it. But, he said in a letter last week, if the General Assembly -- which required the terminal groin study last year -- were to insist on altering the ban, then the commission should be given specific authority to do so with tight controls on their placement and power to require their removal. Additional alternatives to the ban have developed in recent days, prompting speculation that the Perdue administration had backed off on its support of the ban or was pushing a different view.

Not so, said Perdue's spokesperson, Chrissy Pearson. She said the governor continued to support the ban on hardened structures -- "Her position has not changed " -- and that she trusted the commission to study the data and make its own decision based on the study.

$25 million subsidy for out-of-state athletes?

N.C. Spin Host Tom Campbell turned the tables on UNC President Emeritus William C. "Bill" Friday Tuesday night at the N.C. State University Alumni Center. Friday usually does the interviewing on "North Carolina People with Bill Friday," but Campbell got Friday to agree to a videotaped interview to be used in conjunction with NC Spin's upcoming 599th and 600th programs. Friday is comfortably in the lead, by the way, with about 1,500 programs under his belt. Friday talked about public issues and controversial points in his 30 years as president of the UNC system as well as his unofficial work as the conscience of North Carolina since then. And he showed why people listen to him with several thought-provoking comments.

One with huge currency right now, given the headlines in this morning's Observer about CMS beginning to lay off 600 teachers, was his observation about how North Carolina's priorities are sometimes misplaced.

Noting that Gov. Bev Perdue had recently informed the state's teachers that there would be no money available in the upcoming year for salary raises, he said that as of yesterday, the taxpayers of North Carolina have spent a total of $25 million to subsidize the tuition costs of out-of-state athletes at UNC system campuses. The legislature decided in 2005 to allow athletic scholarships (and some academic scholarships as well) for out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition costs rather than the much higher out-of-state tuition costs. It saves athletics departments at UNC campuses a bundle – and costs taxpayers that same bundle.

There's something wrong with the policy of the state of North Carolina when it values out-of-state athletes so highly but the state's public school teachers so poorly, and everyone knows it. Point to Bill Friday.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Chief': Good cop whose words cost him House seat

Former Raleigh police chief and U.S. Rep. Fred Heineman died Saturday at age 80. Martha Quillen had the story this morning. U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat representing North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, issued a gracious statement about Heineman:

"Lisa and I are saddened to learn of Fred Heineman’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. Long before he ran for Congress, I worked with him and admired his service as Raleigh’s Chief of Police. His work in law enforcement helped make the Capital City one of the best places in the country to live and raise a family. His colleagues in Congress well understood his commitment to public safety; he was known on Capitol Hill as “The Chief.” One could never doubt Fred’s strength of conviction and dedication to public service," Price said in a statement Sunday.

The warmth of Price's statement masks the sharp competitiveness of two races going back to the mid-1990s when Heineman, a popular police chief known for his compassion and willingness to give those in trouble a second chance, knocked off Price from the House in the 1994 election, only to lose the seat back to Price in 1996.

In 1995, then-Rep. Heineman was quoted in a newspaper story for remarks that set the tone for 1996. In that 1995 story, he said, "When I see a first-class individual who makes $80,000 a year, he's lower middle class. When I see someone who is making anywhere from $300,000 to $750,000, that's middle class. When I see anyone above that, that's upper middle class."

Heineman's income at the time was about $183,000, including his congressional salary of $133,000 and police pension of about $50,000. The statement made Heineman look arrogant as well as out of touch in a state where many families were struggling to rise above the poverty level, let alone dream about making $80,000 a year.

And in the 1996 campaign, Price's campaign took advantage with a funny but biting ad now known in political lore as "Earth to Fred." It played on the far-out character of Heineman's remarks and included such lines as "Earth to Fred. Come in Congressman" and "Fred Heineman, he's out of touch with average families here. Way out."

But that wasn't the only thing that beat Heineman that year. He was also ill, in the hospital for a while and losing weight, and could not campaign hard for weeks. Heineman had beaten Price by about 1,200 votes in 1994, but Price beat him soundly in 1996, winning 54 percent of the vote to Heineman's 45 percent.

Heineman and his allies argued that his remarks about income and class levels were taken badly out of context, but it was hard to find a way to put them in any context where they didn’t look dumb prior to the 1996 election.

As I wrote at the time 15 years ago, “Egad. The chief got elected to Congress barely a year ago and has been in Washington only 10 months. That's mighty quick to lose touch with so many constituents who make considerably less than Heineman's salary but who thought they were in the middle class. The fact is that per capita N.C. income is $18,760; median family income is about $28,424. Less than 8 percent of N.C. families had incomes of $75,000 or over. Perhaps 1 percent have incomes as high as the chief.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Drye dropping run for 104th House District seat

Republican Jerry Drye, who filed to challenge Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, in the May primary for the GOP nomination for the 104th House District, has withdrawn from the race. Drye, who ran unsuccessfully for the Charlotte City Council last year, said Wednesday he had decided not to pursue the campaign. His decision enter the race came late in the filing period, and his decision to withdraw was difficult, he said, but this was not the time to seek the seat.
Samuelson said Thursday that she and Drye had talked earlier and that he had said he would support her -- and would even hold a fundraiser for her. Drye's name will remain on the ballot.
The Republican nominee will face Democrat Frank Deaton in the fall.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Treasurer touts Innovation Fund; criticism emerges

State Treasurer Janet Cowell has what sounds like a winning idea: an N.C. Innovation Fund that would invest some state pension funds in businesses with significant operations in North Carolina. By investing in those companies with the $230 million fund, the treasurer hopes not only to help North Carolina businesses but also realize a handsome return for the pension fund. Cowell said Monday that Credit Suisse will manage the fund.

"North Carolina is a good investment,” Cowell said in a news release. “As we look globally for opportunities to achieve a high rate of return for our pensioners, we need to be diligent in looking into the possibilities that are in our own backyard.”
Her office said that investments "will be aimed at building upon the strengths of the North Carolina economy" and will target high growth industries such as life sciences, technology, and clean energy.

The fund has the support of UNC President Erskine Bowles, an investment banker prior to taking the UNC job, and Gov. Bev Perdue. Cowell's office quoted Perdue as saying, “North Carolina has always been a state of innovation, and if we are to continue to compete in today’s global economy, we must support and encourage innovative thinking. Our creative thinkers are helping us emerge from tough economic times poised to take on the world.”

It was interesting that Perdue gave a fairly ringing endorsement to Cowell's idea, because Perdue's office was steaming last fall when Cowell raised objections about the Perdue administration's plan to use design-build-finance legislation to complete I-485 around Charlotte. Cowell was worried, among other things, about whether the financing scheme amounted to taking on more debt, though Perdue's office argued that the proposal did not involve incurring debt.

While Cowell's plan sounds attractive, one fellow Democrat was raising questions about the plan. Michael Weisel, a lawyer with extensive experience in corporate finance and investments, called the plan "ill-advised" and fashioned with insufficient analysis.

There may be those who think Weisel is crushing some sour grapes, given that he ran unsuccessfully for treasurer in 2008 when Cowell won the Democratic primary and the general election.

Here's part of what Weisel had to say:

"I believe this is an ill-advised investment allocation – hastily made with insufficient analysis and due diligence. Particularly in light of the fact that the Office of the North Carolina State Treasurer still lacks the professional oversight of an experienced Chief Investment Officer.

"Historically, targeted geographic and social pension fund investing in other states has turned into slippery slopes of cronyism and subpar investment returns.
"North Carolina will be joining targeted investing with California, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana in making pension fund investment decisions to save/create jobs. These Economically Targeted Investments (ETIs) may be a laudable goal; however, there is normally a policy debate about the merits of such actions with the legislature, the public and various pension fund constituency groups (e.g. the pension fund recipients) weighing in on the merits and risks prior to the investment allocation decision.

"Many of the states implementing these investments passed specific legislation authorizing such an investment. This did not happen in North Carolina. One might conclude there was deliberate action to sidestep the debate about economically targeted investments by rushing a Request for Proposal (RFP) through at year-end….
"This is a Fund of Funds, meaning CFIG will invest in ‘local’ fund managers. This raises a question; will local fund managers who made political contributions be prohibited from receiving NC pension fund dollars from CFIG?

"….. Economically Targeted Investing may be a goal most North Carolinians wish to pursue. "Without a vigorous public and legislative debate, we will never know the true answer. The potentially disastrous consequences of failing to engage in that debate are evident!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Marshall still leading in Democratic primary

Tom Jensen over at Public Policy Polling says the latest PPP numbers show that N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is still leading in (revised 4:36pm) polling for the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, but that Kenneth Lewis and Cal Cunningham are making gains on her lead in the contest to challenge what will surely be Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's first Senate reelection bid. Burr has challengers, but he's not likely to be engineered out of the GOP primary.

But in the Democratic primary, the choice is between a veteran campaigner like Marshall, the first woman elected to statewide executive branch office in North Carolina, and two attractive candidates such as Lewis and Cunningham who are making their first statewide runs. Cunningham has benefitted from national Democratic backing in the fund-raising department, and in North Carolina the best-funded candidate has a much improved change of winning. It's not a lock, but it's a big help. It's also worth noting for disclosure purposes that Dean Debnam, principal in PPP, has contributed $2,400 to Cunningham.

Here's what Jensen has to say:

"Marshall has 20% to 16% for Cunningham and 11% for Lewis. Minor candidates Susan Harris, Marcus Williams, and Ann Worthy combine for another 6% and the big winner remains 'undecided' at 47%.

"Lewis is up six points from a month ago while Cunningham has improved by four points. The candidates continue to be largely unknown. 63% of primary voters have no opinion about Marshall and that makes her the prominent one in the race. 79% are ambivalent toward Lewis and 83% are toward Cunningham.

Most of the findings in the crosstabs are within the margin of error. Marshall does have a clear lead with conservatives (23-9 over Lewis), whites (23-14 over Cunningham), and senior citizens (29-14 over Cunningham.)

"Little of what's going on with these campaigns in public right now will have much relevance to the final outcome. These folks are not seeing their name recognition increase and there hasn't been much of a decrease in the percentage of undecided voters. For all intents and purposes this is likely to be a two or three week campaign in late April/early May when the candidates go on the air and the voters start getting more exposure to them and really thinking about the primary. There's a plausible path to victory for all three of the front runners.

"On the Republican side Richard Burr has nothing to worry about with 58% to 5% for Brad Jones, 4% for Eddie Burks, and 1% for Larry Linney. The 33% who remain undecided is a small source of worry not so much for the primary as for the general because it shows many Republican voters are ambivalent toward Burr, which could make it hard to make them motivated to go vote in the fall. But for May he has nothing to worry about.

"Burr said last month it would be impossible for any candidate to get to the right of him, and for the most part voters within his party agree. 68% think that ideologically he is 'about right' compared to only 14% who believe he is too liberal."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bill Friday, nearly 90, still teaching

What would we do without Bill Friday?

At a ceremony in Raleigh the other day to celebrate the dedication of the Kerr Scott and Robert W. Scott Courtyard at N.C. State University, I was struck by the fact that just about all my life I have been listening to the thoughts of William Clyde "Bill" Friday reminding us of the things we ought to be thinking about.

He was president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina when I went down to Chapel Hill in 1962 for Boys State, he was the leader of the university when I attended from 1964-68 and he was president of the new 16 campus University of North Carolina system when I first became a reporter and later Washington and Raleigh correspondent for the Greensboro Daily News.

He often seemed to be everywhere, but he was always no further away than a telephone, willing to talk about state history, fully cognizant of the state's many needs and always enthusiastic about the progress the state could make through its various educational enterprises, especially the university. He was a university president, but at heart he has always been a teacher.

Sometime in the 1980s I was sitting by Thomas W. Lambeth at a presentation in Chapel Hill that was a mix of an awards ceremony, an exhortation to go out and do good and a lesson on all the things that ought to be done to make this state the best -- not just pretty good, but the things that would make it a national leader in important endeavors. Tom leaned over and whispered, "You know, nobody in the world can do this like Bill Friday can."

So it was Tuesday when he covered the broad sweep of history during the time of Govs. Kerr Scott and Bob Scott. My colleague Rob Christensen wrote about it here. Friday told a funny story about meetings in Kerr Scott's office, and the wagering whether the meeting would last one cigar or two. He also talked about the monumental decision Bob Scott made in pressing the legislation that created the 16-campus university system of which he became president, and how important that was to the state.

Now, here's the thing: Bill Friday, the president of the consolidated university at the time Bob Scott proposed the much larger merger of the public colleges and universities, didn't exactly want what Scott was proposing, at least not in the way Scott was proposing it. And it was not clear how the legislation would go, or how the system would look, or whether it would even work. The genius of Bill Friday, as biographer William Link noted, was that he took what the legislature approved and made it work -- made it into one of the best systems in the country, in fact.

Friday is nearly 90 now, and doesn't make evening appearances anymore. But he still has clear thoughts about what the state needs to do, and not just on education issues, either. Last week Friday spoke to a gathering of scientists, policymakers, government regulators, business officials and environmental advocates about global warming. Here are a few excerpts that are worth reading when you've got time. They are quintessential Bill Friday:

"….The environment, among other critical matters, has now for more than two decades been disturbing the minds of quite a few North Carolinians, but no concrete, organized action has followed…..
I regret our inability to move forward. Issues often cannot any longer be put aside. So, today and at this hour you and I have a responsibility to be specific as to actions necessary and to report to the citizens on what is being achieved.
Let me illustrate: North Carolina has no more critical issue than that of the availability of water. Twenty years ago, the great river basins of North Carolina supplied adequate water for a population substantially smaller than that of today. This morning, these same river basins are endeavoring to supply a vastly increased population with greater demands and environmental stresses, and already North Carolina and South Carolina are involved in litigation over the control of the river flow. How long will it take us to arrive and serious and rational decisions and adaptations to husband so fundamental a resource to our well being?
Like you, I am here today to hear what concerned and qualified leaders have to say about our ability to adapt what we already know about the dramatic climate-change taking place. It is the quality of life that is really at issue. This meeting is imperative, if for no other reason because the second largest industry we have, tourism--$16 billion annually—is fundamentally based on the natural endowment of our mountains, our sea coast, our parks, our streams—all of which are impacted by climate conditions.
I try to spend as much time as I can at a place in Kill Devil Hills. Recently, the Associated Press carried an account of a report by competent personnel that the sea level on our coast could rise from one to as much as four feet in this century. As you can see, I am not one to be worrying about eighty years down the road, but I am concerned for my grandson and my granddaughter. Yes, the debate rages; but when competent engineering and scientific intelligence documents the evidence it is time for you and met to think seriously about adaptations we can make to prepare consequences which can only be avoided by major changes in our industrial, agricultural and personal practices—changes that must occur now.
So, we gather to reach fundamental and basic decisions that we as North Carolinians must now make in adapting ourselves to the inevitability of climate change already in progress. The question you and I must face is the clear acceptance of our role as trustees of the environment we enjoy looking to the future for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The issues are clear, the time is now and the work is ours to do. Let us earnestly hope that once again North Carolinians will do as they’ve always done in time of great crisis, we rise to the challenge and fulfill the trusteeship our generation holds. Esse quam videri."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New N.C. State chief jabs a few stakes in the ground

New N.C. State chief jabs a few stakes in the ground

Randy Woodson, incoming chancellor at N.C. State University, was in town this week to make the rounds, including spending the day with legislative leaders Tuesday, breakfasting with former Gov. Jim Hunt (and and N.C. State grad) and dropping by the News & Observer to chat with reporters and editors. Woodson showed right off the bat a willingness to talk candidly about academic matters at N.C. State, the largest public university in North Carolina. In his words, he stuck a few stakes in the ground to make points about the university. Among them:

-- He thinks N.C. State has become "a bit risk averse" in academic matters and that it should take more risks that make an impact upon the state and the nation -- for example, declaring a goal for the university's program to become the best anywhere in chemical engineering, say, or other disciplines. "Academic risk is where you … put a stake in the ground" and say you're going to the next level. That includes budget choices, and some departments clearly need to grow to meet challenges. "It's time to decide where you're going to expand" -- and N.C. State needs a clearly articulated strategic plan that includes targets and measurements.

-- N.C. State's endowment, he says, is far too small and ought to be three times as large. N.C. State, he said, "has one of the smallest endowments of a research university… that I've ever seen." On paper, he noted, the endowment is $400 million, but $100 million of that is land. So the investment endowment that produces income is about $300 million. It ought to be, he said, $1 billion. He also sounds unconvinced that N.C. State's model of school-based foundations raising money is the best way to proceed. "It's very unusual," he said and added, "It doesn't appear to have been very effective."

-- And the university's faculty, he thinks, is too small. North Carolina's high schools are graduating more students, creating demand for space in higher education, and a larger endowment will help attract the best faculty and keep them to serve the students.

-- The N.C. State freshman class generally has about 9 or 10 percent out-of-state students, considerably less than the 18 percent allowed by state policy. He'd like to see N.C. State's freshman class proportion of out-of-state students rise because of the mix of intellect and experience a broader mix of students brings to the class and to the state.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Dan Pollitt: He loved to argue

If you've paid attention to the major social controversies for the last half-century or so in North Carolina, chances are you're familiar with the name of Dan Pollitt, a law professor at UNC Chapel Hill and one of the most aggressively outspoken champions for free speech, the little guy and individual rights of our times. He was also the standard by which liberals were often measured, and he seemed to relish a good fight. He'd smile and tell a good story, too, but you could tell he loved to argue.

Pollitt, spouse of state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, died Friday in Chapel Hill at the age of 88. Anne Blythe had a story on him here.

The short take is that he had one of the most interesting careers of anyone I've known in public life. He was a Marine who fought in the South Pacific, where he was awarded two Purple Hearts, one of them occurred in a fight with a Japanese soldier where Pollitt was armed with a canteen, of all unlikely weapons. He practices with Joe Rauh and often represented clients before the notorious House Unamerican Activities Committee before coming to UNC in 1957.

Taylor Sisk of The Independent had a terrific long-form story on him in 2000. I can't get the link on the story to work consistently, but if you Google "Taking Liberties: Dan Pollitt unfashionably defends 'free speech, nude dancing, the works,' published March 15, 2000, you should find the piece.

One Pollitt story I had never heard, also related in the Indy's story, was his role in the recruiting of basketball star Charlie Scott to Chapel Hill back n the late 1960s. Pollitt was, as his obituary in the N&O noted, an outspoken advocate of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Holden Beach and the Tar Heels.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Carry (not Carrie) Nation in Raleigh

Sunday's column about the choices facing policymakers about the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission mentions a historical anecdote from 1907, when the well-known temperance leader Carry Nation visited Raleigh. Sharp-eyed readers may recall seeing her name spelled "Carrie" -- but her real name was Carry Amelia Nation. She authored a book entitled "The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation" and signed it Carry A. Nation. Still, you'll see her name spelled "Carrie" in a lot of places.

She was afraid of no one and was famous for having taken a hatchet to saloons in her campaign against liquor, tobacco and other devilish substances. When she visited Durham in 1907, she called Duke's tobacco "all the works of the Devil." The story goes that when she took a hatchett into a saloon where prize fighter John Sullivan was having a few drinks one day, he ran and hid.

She is pictured in a visit to Raleigh with the Rev. Sylvester Betts. I've been asked before if I'm related to Rev. Betts, and while I've long thought that possible, I have never found a connection. But who knows? My great grandfather was the Rev. A.D. Betts, a Civil War chaplain and longtime Methodist minister who was still living when Sylvester Betts was preaching from time to time at what became Pullen Baptist Church in Raleigh. And in 1907, my father was one year old, having been born the previous year in a house where his grandparents lived near the corner of Bloodworth and Jones Street across from the Governor's Mansion. It's my guess that old A.D. Betts and his son W.A. Betts, also a Methodist minister, both of them teetotalers, would have at least known Sylvester Betts -- and might have campaigned with Carry Nation in her war on Demon Rum.

Friday, March 05, 2010

In elections, who's buying whom?

Michael Weisel, a Raleigh lawyer and law professor who represented a real estate agent Thursday in a complaint before the State Board of Elections that involved the difficulty of finding out where and how much the N.C. Association of Realtors had spent on local anti-tax campaigns, is trying to help focus attention on some big changes wrought by a recent Supreme Court decision.

Weisel brought along a complicated multi-colored chart that showed a dizzying array of connections between where the money began and where it wound up -- all legally reported, but in different places because the campaigns were in separate counties.

But the board didn't want to spend time Thursday on what changes the court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will require in state campaign law.

Weisel says it starts with a simple understanding: "All this board is going to have in the future is reporting," he warned the board Thursday, if I heard him correctly.

I asked him via email if that's what he said, and here's how he responded:

"Basically, the only enforcement mechanism that will be available to the Board is the ability to enforce substantive, timely disclosure of contributions and expenditures in the post Citizens United world. This disclosure will be complicated/obfuscated by the money trail outlined in the chart. You can (and people have) move money around to evade date specific reporting requirements.

"No one cares how much money was spent on an election 3 or 4 months after the election. Particularly what the losers are whining about."

I think he's right about this. The courts have made it difficult to regulate campaigns in so many ways because they often get wrapped up in First Amendment questions of free speech. But courts have regularly endorsed one key tool that regulators can use so at least the public will know who's spending how much to affect which elections: public disclosure requirement for campaign finance. It's an ugly way to put it, but the question is the same: Who's buying whom? Or what?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Money and politics: more hard questions

At a State Board of Elections hearing this afternoon, a lawyer for the N.C. Assocation of Realtors and a lawyer for real estate agents are facing off over the question whether the association violated state law in assessing members $70 extra in 2007 to fight proposed referenda in two dozen counties that would have raised the local real estate transfer tax.

The lawyers are still going through a lot of throat-clearing while board chairman Larry Leake of Buncombe County has pressed each of them to say whether they think it's a violation of the law to require trade association members to pay fees such as assessments to pursue a political end. To remain members of the association and have access to the multiple listing service, agents had to pay the assessment. Was that a form of coercion to support a political issue? Cary real estate agency Becky Harper, who filed the original complaint, said access to the multiple listings is like a carpenter's hammer -- absolutely necessary to make a living.

But the key subtext of the hearing is how a recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission affects this issue and many other state laws. The decision allows corporations, labor unions and trade associations to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, and it's fairly clear that states are going to grapple with how to require disclosure of the sums spent.

In the audience at the State Board of Elections hearing is Damon Circostsa, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education. He sent around this electronic comment a few minutes ago:

"Listening to this hearing and trying to decipher when and how money was spent to influence elections in 2007 makes my head hurt... And I am an elections lawyer.

"The supreme court has opened the doors for groups like the realtors to spend freely in future elections.

If we are going to have any idea how money is spent to influence elections we are going to need some serious reform of our disclosure laws.

"At the very least we need to know where the money is coming from. Listening to this hearing is proof positive that the general assembly is going to do some serious work, soon, so we can know why and how money is spent in our campaigns.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Wake school board dumping diversity policy

Readers following the upheaval in Wake County over the change of direction a newly-elected majority of the Wake Board of Education is taking may have missed a short item by News & Observer reporter Tommy Goldsmith: a conservative think tank financed by businessman and former legislator Art Pope, and closely associated with the John Locke Foundation and other non-profits that favor limited government, will provide training for the new board. (Update: This sentence should have said "will be on the list of those who can provide training for the new board members," as a commentor points out below.)

Goldsmith writes:

"Wake County school board members agreed Tuesday to accept the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank, as a provider of annual training for school board members.

"Under state law, members must receive at least 12 hours of training annually. Previously, they have received it from the N.C. School Boards Association or the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"The Civitas Institute, founded by Raleigh businessman Art Pope, says its mission is to "facilitate the implementation of conservative policy solutions to improve the lives of all North Carolinians."

Pope is a smart fellow and so are those who run the various non-profits his business funds. There's little question about where they stand on a number of education issues, and they must be happy with the board's direction.

And the new school board majority clearly is happy, too. There's little pretense about what the board is doing as it moves to dismantle a diversity program and bring about more neighborhood schools starting in 2011. The board may have only a 5-4 majority, but it's sending a pointed message in its recent dealings that it is closely allied with the conservative goals and policies of the Pope-supported foundations and other nonprofits.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Perdue: Private liquor stores would operate as concessions

Gov. Bev Perdue has told legislative leaders that if they decide to privatize the state's ABC system -- either ABC stores, the wholesale and distribution, or both -- then the developing stores or wholesalers would be concessionaires for a fixed period of time. They may also be allowed to renew their terms.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Perdue said she was concerned about a number of ABC issues, including ethical performance and business operations. "It has become very clear to me that ethical standards, operations, control and oversight of local ABC boards and stores must be strengthened. I have set and enforced the highest standards for openness and transparency of any administration in our state’s history. I expect that those high standards will be upheld down to the local level if state government has any responsibility or oversight for actions and standards at the local level," she said.

Perdue also said she wants a close look at the financial side of ABC system changes. "In order to fully grasp the implications and opportunities associated with privatization, we must have a very clear understanding of the revenue the state may derive, and possibly forego, as a result of selling a concession to private interests. She has ordered up an analysis by a valuation firm to help determine the best course. But if the state does privatize any or all of the system, she said, there are three elements she wants in any such plan:¬

"1) If local ABC Boards remain in the business of selling liquor, ABC Boards and their employees will have more stringent ethical standards, they will be more accountable to and under more direct control by the state.
"2) North Carolina will remain a “control” state. If we opt to privatize any part of the ABC system, it will only do so through the sale of a concession for a limited period of time, which may be renewable.
"3) Any fees paid to the state from the sale of any part of the ABC system must be used to fund critical, long-term investments in our people and our state – not to fill current or near-term budget shortfalls."

It's not knowable, of course, if the state of North Carolina will make this big change in the way alcohol is sold. It's worth noting that if the change does occur on Perdue's watch, it will be at least the second significant cultural change in the state due to her influence. The first was creation of the state lottery, which went forward after she cast a tie-breaking vote as lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the Senate to create what is now the N.C. Education Lottery.