Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Legislative panel subpoenas unaired WUNC TV documentary

5 p.m. UPDATE:  UNC TV spokesman Steve Volstad says  there's not a documentary, but three reports in the works that UNC TV plans to air. They're unfinished at the moment, he says.

Here's something new: the Senate Judiciary II Committee, chaired by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, has subpoenaed UNC-TV for a copy of a documentary the television agency has prepared but has not broadcast. Hartsell said Wednesday night the committee met after the legislative session Wednesday and agreed to request the documentary and, just to make sure, to formally subpoena it as well.

The subject of the documentary is Alcoa, which is seeking renewal of its federal license to operate hydroelectric generating stations on the Yadkin River. The Perdue administration has opposed the license renewal before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and wants the legislature to pass a bill that would create a way for the state to purchase the hydro plants.

What's especially interesting is that this represents a fairly rare issuance of a subpoena for materials by a legislative committee -- but it's extremely rare, sources say, for a committee to subpoena a documentary or a news story that has not run. I don't know if this has happened before. This raises all kinds of questions about the relationship between branches of the government -- in this case, legislative versus executive, in that UNC-TV is an agency overseen by the UNC Board of Governors. And it also involves the power of the state versus the academy. Yikes! Controversy? Complications? Clashes of conscience? Oh, you bet.

I have no clue what the documentary would say or why UNC-TV has not broadcast the documentary. I can tell you that if the agency complies and hands over the documentary, Hartsell's plan is to show it in a committee session on Tuesday, July 6 at 9 a.m in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh.

I don't have any information about compliance, but if I were running UNC-TV, I wouldn't wait. I'd run the documentary over the weekend and then give the committee all the copies of  the thing it wants. When you've got people demanding to see something you're put together, it seems a fair bet that the ratings would be high.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

UNC historian finds himself in Obama speech

H.G. Jones, curator emeritus of the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill and a former N.C. cabinet secretary, passed along a note the other day about a recent discovery: President Obama had quoted him as a "Navy man" in a speech last year commemorating the extension of the G.I. Bill.On Aug. 3, 2009, the president spoke about the adoption of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. In that speech, he took note of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's thinking on post-war education for veterans that made college possible for millions of returning veterans, and mentioned something Jones had written about it.

Obama said:

"The GI Bill was approved just weeks after D-Day, and carried with it a simple promise to all who had served: You pick the school, we'll help pick up the bill. And what followed was not simply an opportunity for our veterans -- it was a transformation for our country. By 1947, half of all Americans enrolled in college were veterans. Ultimately, this would lead to three Presidents, three Supreme Court justices, 14 Nobel Prize winners, and two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners. But more importantly, it produced hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers, doctors and nurses -- the backbone of the largest middle class in history. All told, nearly 8 million Americans were educated under the original GI Bill, including my grandfather.

"No number can sum up this sea change in our society. Reginald Wilson, a fighter pilot from Detroit, said, "I didn't know anyone who went to college. I never would have gone to college had it not been for the GI Bill." H.G. Jones, a Navy man from North Carolina, said, "What happened in my rural Caswell County community happened all over the country -- going to college was no longer a novelty." Indeed, one of the men who went to college on the GI Bill, as I mentioned, was my grandfather, and I would not be standing here today if that opportunity had not led him West in search of opportunity."

Jones sent me a note about that speech after an exchange he and I had had about the use of the word "sendup" -- defined as a funny imitation or parody of something. Here's what Jones wrote back:

"You've just taught me a new term. Back in Caswell County, 'send up' would mean to send something up to Rockingham County.

"I don't feel too bad, however, for I have recently learned that President Obama quoted me in a speech on the passage of the new GI Bill last year. Have no idea how his speech-writer got ahold of my Kemp Plummer Battle Lecture to Di/Phi Societies in 1990. Anyway, I was honored to be compared to his grandfather. If interested, click on this link, then click on video, and go to the 7 minute 22 minute mark. HGJ"

Jones is a bit more than a "Navy man'" though he did serve in the Navy in World War II. Here's a brief bio from the UNC website: Dr. H. G. Jones is Curator Emeritus of the North Carolina Collection and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is currently the Thomas Whitmell Davis Research Historian. Prior to coming to UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Jones served as State Archivist of North Carolina and Director of the North Carolina State Department of Archives and History. He is the founder and secretary of the North Caroliniana Society. He has written widely on North Carolina history, including the state historical column "In Light of History," which was distributed by the Associated Press for seventeen years, and the books North Carolina Illustrated and North Carolina History: An Annotated Bibliography.

Monday, June 28, 2010

'Third' senator from North Carolina has died

A political footnote: Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.VA., has died after more than half a century in the U.S. Senate. He was the third U.S.. Senator from North Carolina serving in the Senate. Byrd was born as Cornelius Calvin Sale JR. in Wilkes County, N.C. in North Wilkesboro, but after his mother died in a devastating flu epidemic, he went to live with relatives in West Virginia and took their family name.

Here's part of Wikipedia's entry:

"Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr., in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1917. When he was one year old, his mother, Ada Mae Kirby, died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father, Cornelius Calvin Sale, dispersed the family children among relatives. Sale Jr. was given to the custody of Titus and Vlurma Byrd, his uncle and aunt, who renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd and raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia.

Byrd had a fascinating career, at one point joining the Ku Klux Klan and later repudiating that organization.
Here's the Washington Post story on Byrd and his place in Congressional history.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Latest battle in 'war' over diversity

The latest fireworks at the Wake County Board of Education came yesterday with the arrest of four people after a sit-in disrupted the board's Tuesday meeting. The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, Nancy Petty, senior minister at Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, author and Prof. Tim Tyson, who teaches at Duke University and parent Nancy Williams were arrested on charges of second-degree trespass. They were later released. See the News & Observer's story on it here.

The arrests came after the four said they would continue to occupy school board members' seats and speak about the board's decision to end its diversity-based school assignment policies until they were arrested. The arrests came about an hour after the meeting was to begin.

What's really interesting is that Gov. Bev Perdue recently weighed in on the board's move to assign students to neighborhood schools and said the state was in a war. The Wilmington Journal covered last week's meeting of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus and had this report, which blogger Gary Pearce of quoted the other day in these paragraphs:

Declaring that the state was ''in a war,'' Governor Beverly Perdue told members of the NC Legislative Black Caucus last weekend that she, as a citizen, fully supported the efforts of NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber in challenging the resegregation of public schools across the state. Even if that ''war'' ultimately ends up in the US Supreme Court.

''North Carolina is in a war,'' the governor declared last Friday during the opening night banquet of the 24th Annual NC Legislative Black Caucus Foundation's Education Scholarship Weekend at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in the ResearchTrianglePark….

''If it takes going to the Supreme Court of this great country from WayneCounty and for Wake County, and for other counties in North Carolina, so be it,'' the governor continued. ''We will stand together, to make sure that all of the children of this state have a chance.''

It’s not clear whether Gov. Perdue will make this war a part of her administration or whether she will intervene in any court action, including any Supreme Court litigation, or whether this was just political talk. She’s already got quite a lot on her plate, but she does sound mighty fired-up about the Wake board.

Second debate more civil, and maybe more help for Cal

Tuesday night's debate between the Democratic candidates for their party's U.S. Senate nomination was a more civil affair than last week's debate, which was marked by sniping from the candidates and a short, messy format. And just guessing here, but it seemed to me Cal Cunningham helped himself a little more than Elaine Marshall as they head into the June 22 runoff.

Early voting has already begun, of course, but expectations are that turnout will be, in technical terms, lame bordering on dismal. Those who've watched the debates -- sponsored last week by WRAL-TV and Tuesday by NBC 17 and the N.C. League of Women Voters -- were likely looking for distinctions between the two candidates that would help make up their minds on whom to support or even whether to go to the polls.

I liked Tuesday's debate better. For one thing, NBC 17 used just one moderator, Kim Gernardo, in an hour-long format rather than the two moderators in a half-hour format that WRAL-TV had. If I were WRAL, I'd scrap the two-moderator arrangement and rethink the lightning-round, yes-or-no answers it wanted from candidates last week.  Asking candidates if they'd vote for a tax increase, yes or no, seems to me to emphasize the worst about politics by failing to provide context of what might be in such a proposed tax increase. Raise taxes on retired school teachers? Nobody would want to do that. Raise taxes to, say, keep Ft. Bragg open another 10 years? Maybe so. Or keep the nation's school teachers in the classroom? That's also might bring a different result.

It seemed to me that NBC 17's and the League's format worked smoother and gave the candidates a bit more time to answer the questions, which generally focused on the same topics as last week: The oil spill, immigration, Social Security, don't ask, don't tell and the record of incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

One place where Cunningham scored points, I thought, was his emphasis on his service in Iraq and his support of the surge in Afghanistan. Cunningham pointed out that if elected, he would be the first Iraq veteran in the Senate. Cunningham is a military lawyer. He would also be the first U.S. senator from North Carolina with military experience since Sen. Jesse Helms, who served in the Senate from 1972-2002, and who was in the Navy during World War II, though he stayed stateside. Former U.S. Sen. Terry Sanford, who served from 1986-1992, was, I think, the last U.S. senator from North Carolina who served in combat. He was an Army paratrooper in World War II. Lauch Faircloth, the Republican who beat Sanford in the 1992 Senate race and served one term, also served in the Army in the mid-1950s.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kissell better off facing D'Annunzio?

U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell would be a lot better off if he faces Republican Tim D'Annunzio in the general election Nov. 2 than if he faces Harold Johnson, the former broadcaster who's in next week's runoff with D'Annunzio.

So says PPP's Tom Jensen, who has the numbers showing Kissell leads Johnson only 41-35 in a hypothetical race but whips D'Annunzio 48-26. The reason? The negative controversies over D'Annunzio's checkered record have damaged his standing with voters. No wonder D'Annunzio was mad enough to sue.

Here's what Jensen had to say in a news release:

The various controversies that have cropped up around D'Annunzio over the last six weeks have been devastating for his poll numbers. 39% of voters say their opinion of him has become more negative over the last month while just 10% say they now hold more positive feelings about him. Overall 38% have an unfavorable opinion of him now compared to just 19% with a favorable one. And only 25% think he's fit to hold public office while 41% think he is not.

Kissell's seen a steep decline in his approval numbers since PPP last polled the district in January. Then he was at a positive 45/30 spread, now he's at a negative 30/39 spread. The decline has come across partisan lines but has been most dramatic with Democrats. What was a +37 approval at 58/21 is now just +7 at 40/33, a drop of 30 points. With Republicans he's gone from -14 at 28/42 to -33 at 15/48 for a drop of 19 points. And with independents he's gone from +3 at 40/37 to -9 at 31/40 for a 12 point drop.

At this point a third party bid from Wendell Fant actually works to Kissell's benefit, likely because voters haven't heard anything from Fant yet and don't know what his angle is. When he's included in a three way match Kissell gets 40% to 30% for Johnson and 14% for Fant. Fant actually gets slightly more Republican support at 12% than he does Democratic support at 11%.

Although there's no doubt Kissell's health care vote has eroded enthusiasm for him with the Democratic base it appears to largely be a wash politically. With voters who can correctly identify that he opposed the bill he leads Johnson 42-35. Among those who erroneously think he supported it he's up 45-42. As much attention as Kissell's vote has received, still only 46% of voters know that he voted against it with 31% thinking he was in favor and 22% not making a guess.

No matter what happens next Tuesday Kissell is favored for a second term but the outcome of the GOP runoff will determine how hard he needs to work for it.

'Oil spill residuals' on Outer Banks in September-April time frame?

Michael Voiland, head of the N.C. Sea Grant program at N.C. State University, met with his counterparts in other Southern states last week to discuss the oil spill in the Gulf and what might happen if things go wrong and the oil comes up the East Coast. Oil residuals in some form might show up at Cape Hatteras and other Outer Banks beaches in the September-April time frame, the group things.  Here are a few of the group's conclusions:

* Despite estimates by BP and federal agencies, the amount of oil that has spilled into the Gulf is essentially unknown. The actual volume of oil spilled there will affect the chances of it reaching South Atlantic waters.

* It is still highly speculative to pinpoint the location, depth, and amounts of GoM oil that might eventually be captured and transported by the Loop Current over specific periods of time.

* The first major step in any movement of Gulf oil to the South Atlantic would be its entrainment in the GoM's Loop Current. In recent weeks and at present (June 11, 2010), the Loop Current has been “pinched” at its ox-bowed (loop) narrowing, creating an eddy or gyre separated from the Loop Current itself. This fluctuation, manifested as a separated eddy, has acted as a barrier to major movement of oil into the Loop Current.

* Once oil borne by the Loop Current reaches the southeast end of the Florida peninsula, it then could become captured by the Gulf Steam and move to the north, offshore of the east coasts of FL, GA, SC and NC.

(See: )

* The risk of having oil spill residuals come ashore would be greatest along the southern portion of Florida’s east coast, due to closer proximity of the Gulf Stream to that shore. Factors affecting the prospects and amounts of oil reaching the shoreline include shearing and eddy effects along the Gulf Stream’s west (inshore) edge, prevailing winds and their speeds, and acute weather events.

* A second area in the South Atlantic that would be at higher risk for oil spill residuals coming ashore is at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras and neighboring Outer Banks beaches, and especially in the September to April time frame. Again, this would be mainly driven by proximity of the Gulf Stream to the shore and weather events, but also by onshore eddies and jetting actions caused by interactions of the Gulf Stream near Hatteras with southerly flowing currents of cooler water from the north.

* Shorelines and waters between south Florida and Cape Hatteras also could experience visible oil deposits, diluted concentrations of oil, and other effects. Manifestations of oil will likely be more highly dependent on acute weather events (significant coastal storms), prevailing wind direction and speeds over set periods of time, and seasonally-related perturbations (e.g., eddies, meanders, “spin-offs”) along the inshore (western) edge of the Gulf Stream.

* The expert panel noted that the longer Gulf oil remains at sea, the more likely natural degradation of the oil could take place. As such, it is possible that oil reaching south Florida waters may be in more visible forms such as sheens, slugs, and tarballs; while oil that makes it to Hatteras waters may be more diluted and dissolved — and, if conspicuous at all, perhaps only seen in forms such as water color/turbidity differences, thin oily residues on contact objects, and smaller tarballs.

Katie Mosher, spokesperson for the program, cautions that Voiland's comments about residual oil coming ashore at Hatteras were not meant to be ominous or dire

"The reference to oil spill residuals is vague because we do not know what exact form degraded oil from the Deepwater Horizon would have after weeks of weathering as it may move. The experts do not want to speculate so far out. But the panel did want to note that Cape Hatteras is closer to the Gulf Stream than other parts of the NC coast, or the coastlines for SC, GA and northern FL. Of course, the southern FL area is closest to the Gulf Stream."

Coincidentally, Gov. Bev Perdue is briefing legislators and local government officials this morning on the state's Emergency Preparedness office's plans for dealing with the oil spill should the need arise.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Whatever happened to Chevy's "Belchfire Eight?"

The headline on today's New York Times front page came almost like heresy: General Motors is directing its employees and dealers to stop saying "Chevy" as part of an effort to promote consistency in the Chevrolet brand.

I know, it didn't make any sense to me either, but there it was, quoting Chevy's vice present for sales and service, Alan Batey, asking the company's workers and associates to "communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward."

This might not be the dumbest thing I've ever heard, but it's surely the dumbest thing since Coke decided it was a good idea to change the formula for the iconic soft drink. While Louis Chevrolet may have been a fine race car driver and Chevrolet made a mighty good car (we Bettses were Chevrolet people for most of the post-World War II era), the notion that it makes sense to ask folks not to call the company's products a Chevy is downright puzzling. It made me think there's a Chevy official somewhere who just does not have enough to do.

3:25 pm update: Just read that Chevrolet has backed off on its "poorly worded" memo and says folks can call a Chevy a Chevy.

I say this as an old Chevy fan. My first car was a Chevy, a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Aire 4-door with the small block V-8 engine that revolutionized the car business in the 1950s. Mine had a snazzy blue and white paint job similar to the photo of the 2-door model taken by John Filiss, president of Serious Wheels Inc., and posted on its website at

I bought mine from my father for $50 when I was a sophomore in college and I wish I still had it. The Bel Aire was loaded: It had an AM radio, a heater and wing windows port and starboard that directed cooling breezes on a hot day. And it had bench seats big enough to take nap on or remove in the back to carry serious cargo if the spacious trunk was full. When I was a cheerleader at Carolina, I left the back seat at the Beta House and drove out to Bob Hogan's farm to pick up Rameses, the Tar Heel mascot, for mid-week pep rallies. (The Hogans delivered Rameses to and picked him up after football games, but for mid-week pep rallies they were busy running the family dairy farm, so I volunteered to chauffeur Rameses around.) I would lead Rameses into the back through the right rear door, drive him down to Y-court or the old baseball field for the pep rally, and lead him out the other side. Ramses liked the '56 Chevy. He never messed it up but that one time when we had a near-miss near the corner of Franklin and Columbia. At least that's when I figured it happened.

The small-block V-8 was a marvelous engine that was fairly easy to tune up, and you didn't have to be able to do hot Yoga just to get at the spark plugs when they needed replacing. It had some quirky design features. Back in those days, gas stations had attendants who would come out and fill your gas tank and wash the front windshield; I always waited to see whether they knew where the fill pipe was, located within the signal and brake-light housing next to the trunk. You turned a vertical piece of chrome to open it up and the whole assembly plopped back on a hinge to reveal the gas cap.

Chevy was selling the car with a pair of four-barrel carburetors for a bit of extra money and calling it the Super Turbo Fire V-8. My '56 didn't have the Super Turbo Fire, so we just called it the Belchfire Eight, after a cartoon somebody saw in one of the Greensboro newspapers. That car lasted me though college and well into my first year in newspapering. It ran well in snow and particularly liked running in the rain, for some reason. It made more beach trips than the Embers and it was still running just fine when I sold it to a Burlington accountant for $65 the week before I went off to the Army in the spring of 1969. I saw an online ad somewhere pegging the price of a really nice restored '56 at about $29,500. For a car that sold in 1956 for about $2,200, that wasn't bad. Boy, I miss that Chevy.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Tar Heel 25: And how about the Sunnyside Oyster Bar?

The Observer's Kathy Purvis and the News & Observer's Andrea Weigl had a wonderful piece in today's newspapers about "The Tar Heel 25 -- From the mountains to the sea, the tastes that define the state." It was both fun to read and illuminating, too -- which is what readers have come to expect from Purvis and Weigl. Their list includes stand-bys such as barbecue (No. 4 on the list) and banana puddin' (No. 1 on the list) and the truly unusual -- the fried herring at the Cypress Grill in Jamesville, open only a few months of the year when the herring run in the Roanoke River. Last time we ate there, I had mine "cremated." You can also order your herring "total wreck" and other stages of doneness. The key is to get it done enough to where those bones don't matter anymore.

The thing everyone likes about these lists is it makes you think of other candidates for the list, or a longer list. Mine would include the Sunnyside Oyster Bar in Williamston, which features an old-timey step-down room with a U-shaped bar and stools where the guys who shuck oysters can keep them coming all night. The Sunnyside is an Eastern N.C. institution not to be missed by those in search of serious shellfish.

I'd also put Paul's Place Famus Hotdogs in Castle Hayne on my list. It's worth a stop there on the way to Wrightsville Beach just for the little rolls and the terrific relish that Paul's serves its dogs in. Last time I was in there he had on the wall pictures of two local football heroes who made it bigtime in the NFL: Sonny Jurgensen and Roman Gabriel. Both were quarterbacks who played their high school ball down the road at New Hanover High.

And I suppose I ought to mention the pink slaw at the A. & M. Grill in Mebane. It's an acquired taste, or sight, I guess, but it's one of those unusual foods that mark the tastes of North Carolina: It's memorable. So is the A.& M.: It open shortly after World War II and remains a venerable part of the landscape in the central Piedmont.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Not good news for Democrats in Senate runoff

-There's not much good news for Democrats in Public Policy Polling's latest findings on the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina. A post-primary bump in name recognition and popularity that Democratic leader Elaine Marshall and runner-up Cal Cunningham enjoyed has disappeared and negative ratings have increased.

That spells trouble in the fall campaign for Democrats' hopes of turning out of office freshman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. But Burr has some problems of his own -- more voters disapprove of the job he doing than approve, though it's a narrow margin, PPP said.  Still, Burr beats either Marshall or Cunningham in a head-to-head match in a survey taken over the weekend.

The company posted results that show Burr beating Marshall 46 percent to 39 percent with 16 percent undecided, and beating Cunningham 46 percent to 35 percent with 19 percent undecided.

The lack of name recognition obviously hurts, and no one expects a big turnout for the June 22 primary runoff between Cunningham, a former state senator, and Marshall, the N.C. secretary of state. The margin of error was +/-3.9 percent.

"Voter turnout is typically lower in run-off elections as voter interest decreases," said  PPP. "But both Cunningham and Marshall need to rally voters to wage a successful campaign against Republican Senator Richard Burr."

Marshall led the primary voting but could not win the minimum 40 percent vote to avoid a runoff. Some Democrats hoped Cunningham would not call for a runoff and allow Marshall to concentrate on challenging Burr.  But Burr has amassed a large re-election fund of $10 million, and although his approval ratings are mediocre, the money he has available to put on a media campaign is a daunting sum to Democrats.

Burr occupies a Senate seat that has turned over in every election since Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., chose not to run for re-election in 1974.  But Burr looks to be the first incumbent to be able to hang on to that seat in modern state history.

Tuesday afternoon, NC Democratic Party Executive Director issued the following:

“The fact that Richard Burr’s campaign is trumpeting a poll that says barely one in three voters approve of his job performance shows just how out of touch with reality they are. What’s more, the poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, the same firm that Burr’s top consultant previously accused of having an ‘agenda’ and being biased when he didn’t like their results. Burr may think he’s entitled to have it his both ways when it comes to public polling, but no pollster is going to be able to help him on Nov. 2, when North Carolinians fire him with cause.”

Monday, June 07, 2010

Environmental advocate making mark in House

State Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, has become one of the General Assembly's most energetic advocates of environmental legislation since coming to Raleigh in 2005. No surprise there -- Harrison has always been interested in things environmental, but after an uncertain start in the legislature when she first voted for the state lottery and then got permission to change her vote into one of opposition, she has become a more sure-footed lawmaker. Last year, for example, she led the charge to make coal ash ponds in this state subject to the dam safety act after a TVA dam burst in Tennessee and spread toxic sludge across the landscape.

Last week, she successfully engineered an amendment during debate on the House version of the 2010-11 state budget to exclude state funding for a feasibility study for a $3 billion international port near Southport on the lower Cape Fear River. When first proposed the project was to have been a public-private partnership with the N.C. Ports Authority. But so far a private partner has not be found to share the costs. Harrison called the proposal a "Global TransPark on steroids," a reference to an air cargo facility that would enable just-in-time manufacturing near Kinston that has yet to fulfill its promise.

Now Harrison is leading an effort to get the state of North Carolina to withdraw its investment in Massey Energy, the coal company with a poor safety record that ran the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. An explosion there earlier this year killed 29 miners. She and fellow House members Paul Luebke, D-Durham, Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe and Earl Jones, D-Guilford, are sponsoring a bill to require state retirement funds to divest their shares in Massey Energy. The state owns about 385,000 shares of Massey, valued at about $12 million, Harrison says.

Massey Energy Company is a rogue corporation that puts company profits before the safety of miners," Harrison said in a statement Monday. "North Carolina has no business investing state funds in a corporation that routinely places its workers at risk and has absolutely no regard for environmental protection."

Harrison has also pushed for other legislation, including phasing out the use of coal in N.C. power plants obtained from mountaintop removal mining. She played a key role in setting up the N.C. Innocence Commission, and has pushed hard to strip from the state budget a feature that allows athletic scholarship programs to pay in-state tuition rates for out-of-state students on athletic scholarships. She doesn't win on every issue, but she's been a determined lawmaker who is making her mark in the House.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

New poll finds S.C. senator in hot water

There may be millions of Americans who want to see more bipartisanship and cooperation in politics, but a new poll from Public Policy Polling suggests the South Carolina Republicans don't want anything to do with it -- or at least with one of the more prominent practitioners of bipartisanship in Washington: Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Of course, what party regulars want and what voters including independents generally want can be two different things, but a fellow running for re-election has to get past a primary first, and if PPP is right, Graham would face a hard time if he were running this year. But he isn't. He won't be up for renewal until 2014.

That'll give him time to mend some fences -- or else time to turn to the right. I'm one of those who has always appreciated Graham's moderate approach to some key issues, and even when I don't agree with his stances, I find he's got useful things to say about where he stands and why.

Here's the analysis from Tom Jensen of PPP:

South Carolina Republicans are ready to give Lindsey Graham the boot. The good news for him is that they can't do it for another four years.

57% of likely voters for next week's Gubernatorial primary in the state say they would vote for a more conservative alternative to Graham the next time he is up for reelection compared to only 32% who say they would vote to renominate him.

It's clear that Graham has in particular alienated the conservative base of his party in the state. Moderate Republicans say they would vote to keep Graham by a 57-24 margin but conservatives ones are even stronger in their desire to dump him, saying by a 68-23 spread they'd like to replace him.

Graham's overall approval with Republican voters is 40% with 45% of them disapproving of him. To put those numbers in context Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln both still had positive approval ratings within their own parties as they failed to win their respective primaries two weeks ago.

53% of GOP voters think Graham is too liberal to 41% who think he's about right and 6% who aren't sure.

The immediate relevance of these numbers is limited but when you look at these and the ones we found for Olympia Snowe late last year the message gets clearer and clearer- Republican Senators cooperate with Democrats at their own peril.

This analysis is also available on our blog:

Supremes side with N.C. on nuke wastes

It's hard to believe now, but just two decades ago, a lot of smart folks thought it would be a great idea for states to band together in regional compacts to build and operate multi-state centers where low-level nuclear wastes could be safely stored and monitored. Some still do. Seven Southeastern states including North Carolina agreed to pick a site, pay for construction of a new storage facility to replace an aging facility in Barnwell, S.C. and have a place to manage low-level wastes. The agreement started fraying when some states stopped paying their share of the costs and when North Carolina was picked for the first site. Then-Gov. Jim Martin backed Rep. Joe Mavretic's idea to put the waste site -- many called it a dump -- in Edgecombe County near the little town of Conetoe.

The site was first projected to cost around $20 million, but by the mid-1990s the cost had escalated to a projected $140 million. In all North Carolina spent about $37 million on the project, nearly one-third the total amount spent by the compact, before legislators decided they were holding the short end of a radioactive stick. Then-Rep. George Miller, D-Durham, who had sponsored the legislation committing North Carolina to the compact, also sponsored the bill withdrawing the state from the group. Other states sued in a long-running dispute about who did what to whom, and at what cost. They wanted money from this state.

Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court came down on North Carolina's side that it didn't owe its one-time partners any money for withdrawing from the compact. It was a big victory for the state because, among other things, it means the state doesn't owe more money it doesn't have. Here's a link to the story.

But North Carolinians have realized for a while it was probably a good thing the waste site wasn’t put in Edgecombe County. They realized that after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, when much of the county was heavily deluged and Conetoe was cut off from land by floodwaters, as my colleague Anna Griffin reported on Oct. 7 that year.

“…folks in the Conetoe area shudder even more when they talk about what might have been, had they not succeeded in persuading local leaders - through brute grass-roots political pressure - to rescind their 1988 offer to host the controversial dump.

"Earlier this year, state officials ultimately decided to ditch the dump altogether.

"'Have I thought about it? Heck, yes," said Conetoe farmer Bert Peeler. "I thought about it a lot those first few days, when I had dead chickens and slicks of oil and who knows what else floating by my front door."

State low-level radioactive waste experts say the dump they planned to build would have been safe from a flood - or at least as safe as such facilities can be.

"'These aren't like sewage treatment plants or water treatment plants, which are generally designed against a 100-year flood," said Mel Fry, director of the state's Division of Radiation Protection. "Low-level waste facilities are designed to guard against things we can't even predict over the life of the facility. You can't design anything to zero risk, but you can design it so any release involves as little material as possible.'"

Still, some residents were skeptical of claims that the waste site would have been protected from flooding, Griffin reported.

“We’ve got hog waste and human waste and gasoline and dead birds,” said Ben Hardy, who owns a gas station outside Conetoe, “But our water doesn’t glow in the dark.”