Thursday, September 01, 2011

Take a look at Rocky Knob Blog

Those who have spent time here over the past five years may like to take a look at my new blog, Rocky Knob Blog, ( abut life on the mountain.
 Hope to see you there!

Monday, May 23, 2011

End of the ride

Thanks for meeting me here over the years and letting me know what you thought.  See you in the hills.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ode to a rotary grater

Kathleen Purvis' story last Wednesday on five essential kitchen tools ("5  tools, 5 books, 5 do's and 5 don'ts for new cooks setting up their first real workspace" is a model of what we've come to expect from her writings on food over the years. It's always good, always helpful, always to the point. 

And it reminded me how much we depend on favorite kitchen tools, every bit as much as woodworkers depend upon their favorite woodworking tools.  And how much I hated it when a house fire burned up a tool bag with one of my favorite ratcheting screwdrivers. It had a spherical plastic handle about the size of a tennis ball with square holes on each side, into which a four-inch rod with a choice of Phillips or straight slot screwdriver tips could be inserted; depending on which side the rod was inserted in, the gizmo would drive screws or remove them. It was cheap, easy to use and with the large round handle, fast.  I was sorry to find they're no longer made, or at least no longer available in stores where I've looked and websites I've tried to Google.

And so it goes with the venerable Mouli Grater, one of my favorite kitchen tools.  Sad to say it's no longer made, but you can find them on E-bay and at flea markets in many places. A French company now called Moulinex once made them and we wore out a couple of them making the world's best pimento cheese for family and friends.  It was a simple tool made of lightweight tin -- sort of a tong with a cylindrical rotary grater turned by a little crank on one end.  We used it mostly to grate sharp cheddar cheese into the thinnest of shreds, which is essential in getting the cheese to meld properly with the Chinese hot sauce, mayonnaise, pickle relish and red and green peppers my wife puts into the cheese. My job is to grate the cheese; hers is to work her wonders on the blend until it's ready to try out with a handful of wheat crackers.  More hot sauce? A few more spoonfuls of relish?  I doubt that she ever made it exactly the same way as all the other times, but our friends have come to expect a tub of it when they visit.  I took at tub with me last week on an annual college-pal fishing trip. I had barely walked into the house on Beaufort's front street before one of my buddies looked up and asked, "Where's Martha's pimento cheese?" 

The Mouli Grater image atop this blogpost is from  (yep: no second 'i' in kitchen.) Here's a link:

So it's a shame they're no longer made like they once were. I've read that the availability of electronic gadgets crowded the Mouli out of the market. Some folks didn't like the way the tin would discolor; stainless steel looks better and sells better, I guess.

I know, I know: There are a lot of rotary graters on the market, and we've tried a handful of them. But none compares with the Mouli Grater for ease of use and quality of the cut. We've been nursing our last one along for years, and soon we'll probably be hunting for another one at a flea market somewhere. If you see one before I do, my advice is grab it and hoard it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Alcoa still on hold

A federal court has denied a request from Alcoa Power Generating Inc. to rule that the state of North Carolina had effectively waived its authority over a permit Alcoa needs to renew its federal license to generate electricity at dams it owns on the Yadkin River. It's another setback for Alcoa, which until a couple of years ago appeared to be on the verge of getting a new license to operate the hydroelectric plants.

 Alcoa once employed about 1,000 workers at its Badin smelter, which consumed much of the electricity it generates from the river's power. But the smelter has been closed down for years, Alcoa has only a relative handful of workers, and after years of supporting Alcoa, North Carolina has lately opposed another federal license for Alcoa. The state wants to recover the license, though it must depend upon Congress to do that. It's allowed under federal law, but that hasn't happened before.  So it's probably a long shot for North Carolina to "recapture" the license, to use the legal term. But the Perdue administration believes the river is a public resources that belongs to the people and that without the jobs that once earned Alcoa the state's support, the power of the river and its earning power should be held by the state.(A;coa continues to operate the dams under an annual license.)

Curiously to those not familiar with the complicated proceedings, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had appeared to support issuing something called a 401 certification, which Alcoa must have to get its federal license renewed. But last year the state withdrew its permit after concluding, based on some emails made public in an administrative law proceeding, that  Alcoa had withheld important information from the state about water guality in the river. Alcoa quickly announced it would fight the permit revocation and petitioned the U.S. court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Alcoa wanted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to go ahead and grant the license. The appeals court rejected Alcoa's argument and said FERC cannot issue the license pending completion of litigation over the permit.

Here's more background:

 The state had revoked the water quality permit after concluding that Alcoa “intentionally withheld information material to determining the project’s ability to meet the State’s water quality standards for dissolved oxygen.”

The House's 'War on voting'

The executive director of a non partisan, non profit organization devoted to expanding education about statewide elections raises a good question about what's going on in the legislature.  In a column about an apparent "war on voting" in the legislature based on bills that would make it harder to vote by requiring photo ID cards and reducing the opportunity for early voting, Damon Circosta notes that it's not unusual for the majority party to try to lock in its electoral gains in various ways. The Democrats nearly perfected that process during the century-plus that they ran the legislature, except for a couple of sessions when Republicans ran the House.

But, Circosta argues, voters elected the new Republican majority in hopes they wouldn't do the same things Democrats did. As he put it, "But lost in all of this partisan warfare is the notion that we did not elect this new crop of leadership to act like those who came before them. We elected them precisely because they told us that they would be different."

Because it isn't, the likely result is "voter discontent" and less involvement in politics.

Here's Circosta's column:

By Damon Circosta

RALEIGH - Perhaps the most overused rhetorical ploy is when politicians declare a "war" on something.

Formal declarations of real war -- the kind with tanks, missiles and opposing nations -- are thankfully exceedingly rare. But lawmakers often declare war to attract attention to their cause. Think Lyndon Johnson¹s "war on poverty" or Richard Nixon's "war on drugs." When a problem is so insidious that it merits a declaration of war, people take notice.

Given some of the recent bills proposed in the N.C. General Assembly, there seems to be a "war on voting."

So far this session we have seen proposals that would eliminate a popular program allowing people to register to vote during early voting; decrease the days and times early voting is accessible; limit the verification methods used on Election Day to only certain types of photo identification; and require ballot instructions to be in English only. As if that wasn't enough, the war on voting also includes a steep reduction in funding to our State Board of Elections and the end to programs that reduce corporate, union and other special-interest influence in elections.

I doubt we will see any lawmaker hold a press conference explaining why there are so many bills aimed at making it harder to vote while also making it easier for special-interest dollars to find their way into our political system. It's much more popular to declare wars on societal ills like poverty and drugs than to declare war on civic participation and voting.

Telling people that you prefer they don't participate in democracy won't win you a lot of friends. But make no mistake. If these proposals find their way into law, people will have a more difficult time getting involved with elections, and those who wish to use big money to tilt things in their favor will have a much easier time.

On some level, we should expect to see a slew of election-related legislation. In 2010, for the first time in over a century, we saw control of both chambers of the General Assembly switch political parties. When that happens there is a natural inclination by the new crowd to lock in their electoral gains by making it more difficult for voters who they think may not agree with them.

Democrats, when they were in charge, were not immune to such shenanigans and Republicans appear to be operating from the same playbook. But lost in all of this partisan warfare is the notion that we did not elect this new crop of leadership to act like those who came before them. We elected them precisely because they told us that they would be different.

Over the last decade we have seen a sharp increase in voter frustration.

Part of this frustration certainly stems from disenchantment with how our elected officials comport themselves when they are tasked with setting up the rules for elections.

By trying to shape election law for short-term partisan gain, our politicians fuel voter discontent. Fewer and fewer of us feel inclined to participate in a process we see as tainted. And when only a handful of us get involved with politics, then our representative democracy doesn¹t really represent us at all.

No lawmaker would be so foolish as to come out and openly declare a war on voting, but it would be refreshingly honest to at least hear our elected officials say that they are in fact making these changes for their own electoral gain. At least then we citizens would be on notice that our democracy is under assault.


(Damon Circosta is the executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, dedicated to helping citizens more fully participate in democracy.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

McCrory still leading Perdue in Civitas Poll

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2011

Analyst: Dem's best hope is Repubs

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

Here's what he had to say:

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

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

Very delicate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Say it ain't so, Woody!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Legislature would be a tossup, poll suggests.

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

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

Here's what PPP has to say:

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

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

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

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

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

This analysis is also available on our blog:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Craig Phillips, 88, worried about NC schools

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hunt, Hayes, Wilson now allies, of sorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rebirth at 3,200 feet

Rebirth at 3,200 feet

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 08, 2011

Senate Skulker unmasked -- and has a bright future

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Appeals Court: state grants to Johnson and Wales ok

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

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

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

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

A copy of the decision can be found online here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Rucho: No GOP steamroller in Senate

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

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

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

Best regards,


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

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

Friday, April 01, 2011

Shouldn't party leaders appoint committee members?

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

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

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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rucho: Only 'normal people' on committee

The Observer's Jim Morrill had a great story today on the launching of North Carolina's congressional and legislative redistricting efforts Wednesday. The process is always difficult, and it's not unusual to have lawsuits still pending over the shape of one district or another almost until it's time to redistrict again. The decennial U.S. Census shows population changes that require redrawing political districts every 10 years.

This year is different because for the first time in this state, Republicans will be in charge.  And state Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg, an energetic, passionate and outspoken legislator, is running the Senate redistricting committee.  I've always liked Rucho because, if you ask him a question, he won't beat around the bush. You get what he thinks, usually unvarnished and with the bark still on it.

Rucho has resisted entreaties from Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, to add two Democrats to the committee -- Rucho's Mecklenburg Delegation colleague Sen. Dan Clodfelter, and Wake Sen. Dan Blue, former Speaker of the House.  Nesbitt said he and Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg, would drop off the panel if Rucho would agree to name Clodfelter and Blue to the committee, but Rucho declined, saying he wanted "normal people" on the committee, not more lawyers:

"For the first time in a long time, we're going to try to have normal people lead this," Rucho said. "The last thing I want to do is replace non-attorneys in this process."

Nesbitt, of course, is a lawyer. Dannelly is not. (His resignation from the committee was announced at mid-morning Thursday, so there's a vacancy.) Both Clodfelter and Blue are lawyers, and they are regarded as among the best legislative technicians.

Rucho's reasoning for not putting them on the committee shows you just how far North Carolina has come in the last half-century.  When a Massachusetts-born dentist with a New England accent such as Bob Rucho can get away with saying he wanted "normal people" on the committee, you know that we have grown in many ways to accommodate views, political and otherwise, that once would have been regarded in some precincts of the Tar Heel state as either outlandish or, as they say Down East, not from around here.

You may or you may not like what the Republicans are doing in the General Assembly, but by golly they have livened the place up and given folks something to talk about.

Read more:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Charter school funding, and grammar

Sunday's column reflecting on how Democrats might have avoided some of the steamrollering in the 2011 session of the General Assembly included some background on legislation to lift the cap on charter schools and make other changes, including making charters eligible for some kinds of funding that public schools get.

The sentence read:

“So when Wake Republican Sen. Richard Stevens sponsored his charter school bill this year in the Senate to do away with the charter cap entirely and make a number of other changes, including making charters eligible for more public funds that traditional schools also get, Democrats were aghast.”

Amy Auth of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office emailed to say that some people evidently had read that sentence to say that charters would be eligible for more money THAN traditional public schools, and suggested a clarification to clear up any confusion. As she noted, "Counties would have the option under Senate Bill 8 to allocate funds for equipment and buildings. However, that does not mean a charter school would get more than a regular public school."

There is, of course, a distinction between that and than. Charter schools are public schools, but they don't get all the funding that public schools get. Charter advocates say they receive about 70 percent of the funding that traditional public schools receive, and the bill would make them eligible -- if counties approve -- for more of the funding sources that traditional public schools get -- not more THAN they get.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bury him in Madison County

Sunday's column mentioned a bill in the state House to require voters to show photo I.D. cards in order to cast ballots at the polls. One periodic correspondent with significant Washington experience e-mailed me with a suggestion: Require all those voters who attempt to vote in the names of the deceased to produce a valid death certificate before they can vote.

Dark humor, yes, but North Carolina does have some lamentable experience with votes cast in the names of the dead, particularly up in the mountains. I've heard or read about this joke being told by a number of politicians, including former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who at a speech in Asheville was reported to have said, "When I die I want to be buried in Madison County so I can remain active in politics."

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Senate Skulker and nickel bags of weed

Tongues were wagging in Raleigh this week as legislators and staff alike wondered who it was who placed material on senators' desks that sharply criticized former Gov. W.W. Holden -- the first governor in America to be impeached, convicted and removed from office -- and at least temporarily foiled a bipartisan plan to pardon Holden for his crimes. Holden has sought to counter violence by the Ku Klux Klan and had ordered the arrest of a number of people he held responsible.  The House in 1971 1871 impeached Holden for high crimes and misdemeanors and the Senate convicted and removed him from office. LINK HERE

Three state senators -- including Republican Sen. Neal Hunt and Democratic Sen. Dan Blue, both of Raleigh, plus Sen. Doug Berger, a Democrat from Franklin county -- were sponsoring the bill to pardon him

But the plan fell apart and the bill was sent back to the Senate Rules Committee after someone broke Senate rules and left material criticizing Holden and the pardon attempt on Senators desks.   Mark Binker of the Greensboro News Record traced the material to a blogger, but who got into the Senate to distribute the information now one knows. WRAL's Laura Leslie has more on the mystery, too. A Senate security camera was on the blink and does not show who it might have been. 
The Senate rule against leaving material on senator's desks is a curious one. I found out about it back in the 1980s when, as editor of North Carolina Insight magazine at the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, I thought it would be helpful to legislators to have a copy of some research we had done on a pressing legislative issue. It might have been prison policy but I don't recall.  Our plan was to put a copy of the magazine on each senator's desk in the Senate chamber, but we quickly found out about the legislative rules against that -- and why.

I'll say at the outset this story may be apocryphal.  Gerry Cohen, a legislative staffer who has been there very nearly forever, says he had never heard it before. And Gerry hears quite a lot, so maybe someone was pulling our legs.

But according to the story we were told by legislative staffers in the clerk's offices maybe 25 year ago, the rule was adopted in the 1970s when there was a bill  to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. And some supporters of that proposal had thoughtfully prepared cellophane bags with a small amount of marijuana in them, and place one on each legislators' desk.   When word got around, many lawmakers feared the public would perceive that as lawmakers possessing marijuana, and, the story goes, a rule against putting materials on desks was quickly adopted.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poll finds McCrory leading Perdue, other Dems

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory ought to be feeling pretty good about his chances in the 2012 governor's race. McCrory lost to Gov. Bev Perdue in 2008, but in current polling matchups with Perdue or any of three other potential contenders for the Democratic nomination, McCrory still is in the lead.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm that has tracked Perdue's weak popularity numbers since taking office, says regardless of whether it's Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton or state Sen. Dan Blue, McCrory  leads from the outset.  The upshot is that Democrats have a lot of overcoming to do in the next year, though after the legislative session things may look a bit different and Perdue may be in much better shape to capture a second term. For Republicans, the question is whether rank-and-file GOP members will coalesce enthusiastically behind McCrory. If they do, he's in an excellent position to win the nomination next year and to take the governorship for his party for the first time since Jim Martin last held the post from 1985-1993 (he won election in 1984 and reelection in 1988, of course, but governors take office in January).

Here's what PPP has to say:

Democrats' problems in next year's race for Governor of North Carolina go well beyond Bev Perdue. PPP's newest statewide survey finds that a trio of potential Democratic candidates in the event of a Perdue retirement- Attorney General Roy Cooper, Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, and state senator Dan Blue- would all start out trailing presumptive Republican nominee Pat McCrory by a significant margin. This is not a situation where if Perdue decided to step aside her party would all the sudden be even money to hold the Governor's office- the GOP will start out ahead in this race regardless of who the Democratic candidate ends up being.

After hitting a high point in December Perdue's numbers continue to slide back in the wrong direction. 30% of voters now approve of her with 52% disapproving, the worst her numbers have been since posting identical figures last August. Perdue's decline since December is across the board rather than coming primarily with one voter bloc- with Democrats she's down from 55% to 50% approval, with Republicans she's gone from 15% to 10%, and with independents her drop is from 26% to 21%. We're seeing Gubernatorial approval ratings across the country plummet in the first part of this year- budget time just does not tend to win Governors a whole lot of friends.

Perdue trails Pat McCrory 50-36 this month in a hypothetical rematch of their 2008 contest. Because Perdue's numbers are so poor there's been a lot of speculation about whether she might decide not to run again or whether another Democrat might take her out in the primary. We tested some alternate nominees for the party this month but their prospects don't look great either. Cooper does better than Perdue, trailing by only an 8 point margin at 43-35. But Dalton and Blue each do worse, trailing by 20 point margins at 47-27 and 48-28 respectively. Democrats would be facing an uphill battle with any candidate.

Cooper is mostly unknown statewide- 56% of voters have no opinion about him- but his numbers with the folks that do know him are impressive. 27% have a favorable opinion of him to 18% with an unfavorable one and that includes positive numbers with both Democrats (32/17) and Republicans (26/18). Cooper is probably the only politician in the state who has more voters across party lines that like him than dislike him. That appeal to GOP voters is also the biggest reason why Cooper performs better than Perdue against McCrory- he trails by 63 points with Republicans at 75-12 but that's a lot better than her 75 point deficit at 83-8.

Cooper might not be terribly well known but he's a celebrity at this point compared to Blue and Dalton. Only 33% of voters know Blue well enough to have an opinion about him and Dalton's even lower at 31%. That low name recognition means that their poll deficits are artificially high. 28% of Democrats are undecided in a Blue/McCrory match while only 14% of Republicans are and that gap is even wider for the Dalton match up with 32% of Democrats undecided to only 13% of Republicans. If either of those folks were to become the party nominee the base would likely rally around them and bring these margins a lot closer but make no mistake, they'd still be starting out double digits behind.

Right now North Carolinians are ready to elect a Republican Governor for the first time in more than two decades. Democrats' greatest ally is time- there's a long way to go and depending on how the new GOP legislative majority conducts itself over the next 20 months voters may change their minds about whether Republican control of state government is a particularly desirable outcome. If we voted today though there's little doubt McCrory would be elected Governor against anyone the Democrats put forward.
This analysis is also available on our blog:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Perdue wants new way to hold schools accountable

In the Friday rush I somehow missed Gov. Bev Perdue's announcement that she wouldn't sign House Bill 48, to eliminate public school testing, but she said she wouldn't veto it, either.  She's obviously trying to avoid an excessive number of confrontations with the Republican-dominated General Assembly, after vetoing two bills (including one that she first said she would not sign but wouldn't veto, either, before she did). Perdue said she would urge the legislature to work with the State Board of Education to create a new way to hold schools accountable for their performance.

 Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who oversees the ongoing improvement that is supposed to come under the N.C. Supreme Court's decision in the Leandro case requiring that every child have the opportunity for a sound education, is also troubled about the legislature's decision to end end-of-course testing. As noted in an earlier blogpost, Manning says that testing is constitutionally mandated because it's a critical part of assessing where the troubled schools are and figuring out whether they are making progress. A few weeks ago I spoke with Manning briefly asking him what he was going to do. At the time, he was planning to sit back and think about his options.  He may be thinking harder now.

Here's Perdue's statement.

"Personally, I believe the tests now used in school systems are due for change. I've talked to many teachers, and heard from education leaders across the state. It's clear that current testing does not accomplish our shared goal of excellent teachers in every classroom and the best schools for our children in every community.
"But let me be very clear: I do not support simply eliminating testing. This state must have some process in place for identifying areas in need of improvement.

"For those reasons, I will not sign this bill, nor will I veto it. Instead, I urge the General Assembly to work aggressively and deliberately with the State Board of Education to develop a new method of holding schools accountable to the people. This is the only way to ensure we meet the state's Constitutional obligation of a sound, basic education for our children."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rep. Bradley has done Raleigh a service

Freshman Republican Rep. Glen Bradley of Youngsville in Franklin County has been taking a derisive beating among those who have found his proposal absurd for North Carolina to adopt a new currency backed by gold and silver. Some have called it wacky. Some say it's outlandish.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to defend Rep. Bradley. The 2011 General Assembly session so far has been overly serious and without sufficient humor to release widespread stress over a huge shortfall in the state budget, not to mention some political tensions from a change in the balance of power. Rep. Bradley's proposal has provided other members, lobbyists, reporters, clerks, legislative staff and indeed the larger populace of downtown Raleigh with something to enjoy talking about. You can't walk across the Capitol grounds or down Fayetteville Street without being stopped by someone who wants to talk about it.

Why, just the other day a distinguished lawyer of long acquaintance beseeched me to write an editorial not only backing Rep. Bradley's plan, but also to endorse the lawyer for a newly created state job: Commissioner of Precious Metals, a post whose salary would be paid in gold, of course.

Shoot, I'm thinking of applying for a job myself in the new administration. I think the title of Deputy Commissioner for Sterling Silver and German Nickel would be just dandy.

Rep. Bradley, we owe you a debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More trivia about Gov. W.W. Holden

Sunday's column on Gov. W.W. Holden -- the first governor in the United States to be impeached, convicted and removed from office, reminded several folks that his 19th century  home in Raleigh stood at the corner of Hargett and McDowell Streets, hardly a stone's toss from my office in the building of the News & Observer.

 Holden began his career as a Democrat, supporting the same things many Southerners did including slavery, and wound up helping found the Republican Party, which opposed slavery.  The founder of the News & Observer was Josephus Daniels, who at the end of the 20th 19th century (Thanks to reader Marc Barnes for pointing out this 100-year mistake) worked in consort with Democrats and other newspapers, especially the Charlotte Observer, in the White Supremacy Movement that overthrew a legally elected government in Wilmington that had included black Republicans. The Daniels' family view of black people would change dramatically over the years and his descendants strongly supported reforms in the Civil Rights Era. 

One other historical note that will make good trivia: that house that Holden lived in in downtown Raleigh contained, according to biographer Horace Raper, "one of the first bathtubs" in the Capital City.  He also had a sunken garden, said to be unique at the time. Holden died in 1892 and is buried in old Oakwood Cemetery on the northeast side of downtown.

Monday, March 14, 2011

How did Sen. John "Chicken" Stephens die? Shot or stabbed?

I read up on some ancient history last week and wrote about the resolution pending in the state Senate to pardon former Gov. William Woods Holden, convicted March 22, 1871of high crimes and misdeanors. He was the first governor in the United State to be impeached and removed from office.

One of the things he was impeached for was trying to rein in violence by the Ki Ku Klux Klan. The column quoted from Edgar E. Folk and Bynum Shaw's "W.W. Holden: A Political Biography," that a state senator from Caswell County was shot and killed by the Klan while he was trying to help Holden gather information on the Klan. Specifically, they wrote, "the Klan ... in broad daylight in the Caswell County Courthhouse, before numerous witnesses, shot Republican State Senator John W. Stephens to death."

Sharp-eyed reader David Kinney, a student of history as well as editor in chief of Business North Carolina, sent a note point out that Stephens was assassinated by knife. "The ku-kluxers did lure John “Chicken” Stephens into the courthouse’s basement during the county Democratic convention, but they killed him by putting a noose around his neck and stabbing him with a pocket knife," Kinney wrote.

Online accounts support that version. Another interesting question: How did John "Chicken" Stephens get his nickname?  Well, of course, accounts vary, but they usually have to do with an altercation after he shot a chicken on his own property.

Read Wikipedia's version abou it here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

David Broder, gentleman of the press

In the rarified atmosphere that nationally syndicated columnists and talk show commentators breathe every day, I imagine it's hard to avoid getting an over-inflated view of your importance. We've heard about the big salaries and huge speaking fees some of them command, and we've seen puffed-up egos on TV, heard them on the radio and read their thoughts in print. It's fascinating to see how highly some of them value their own voices.

And then there was David Broder, the veteran columnist for The Washington Post who remained, at heart and in practice, a shoe-leather reporter all of his days in this business. Broder died at 81 Wednesday, and the world of journalism will miss his presence.

The soft-spoken Broder, a son of the Midwest, looked at both sides of issues and often empathized with the arguments of each. But more important, he listened. He knocked on doors, asked questions of ordinary Americans about what they saw going on in national and state politics and wrote thoughtful pieces about what he heard. On Sunday talk shows he seemed less inclined to shoot from the lip and more interested in understanding context and explaining it to folks who sometimes wanted only yes-or-no, good-or-bad, win-or-lose answers.

But Broder also wrote tough columns that raked politicians over the coals and sometimes called his own profession to account for its lapses. One memorable column was his Aug. 29, 2001 piece after N.C. Republican Sen. Jesse Helms announced his decision not to run for re-election. His column began:

"Those who believe that the "liberal press" always has its knives sharpened for Republicans and conservatives must have been flummoxed by the coverage of Sen. Jesse Helms's announcement last week that he will not run for reelection next year in North Carolina. The reporting on his retirement was circumspect to the point of pussyfooting.

"On the day his decision became known, the New York Times described him as "a conservative stalwart for nearly 30 years," the Boston Globe as "an unyielding icon of conservatives and an archenemy of liberals." The Washington Post identified Helms as "one of the most powerful conservatives on Capitol Hill for three decades."

"Those were accurate descriptions. But they skirted the point. There are plenty of powerful conservatives in government. A few, such as Don Rumsfeld and Henry Hyde, have been around as long as Helms and have their own significant roles in 20th century political history. What really sets Jesse Helms apart is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country -- a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired. A few editorials and columns came close to saying that. But the squeamishness of much of the press in characterizing Helms for what he is suggests an unwillingness to confront the reality of race in our national life."

I didn't know Broder well but spent a little time with him now and then, thanks to Walt DeVries, the political scientist from Wilmington who for years ran the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership. It was DeVries' vision that created a program that would train those interested in running and serving in political office in the technical details and creative art of campaigning and serving. His graduates include Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and independents -- and he frequently got his old friend David Broder to come to North Carolina to speak at training sessions or give a graduation address. He also helped other N.C. nonprofits who wanted Broder to appear at a seminar or make a speech.

On of them was the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, and DeVries arranged for Broder to make a visit to a session on political changes in North Carolina during the '80s. As editor of the center's quarterly, North Carolina Insight, it was my job to pick Broder up at RDU and make sure he was settled in at his hotel and got to where he needed to be. I expected a Very Important Person consumed in his own profound thoughts. But the man I picked up insisted on carrying his own bags, was interested in knowing my background, was already conversant in what was going on in Tar Heel politics but asked good questions about the nuances of our closely split electorate. He, too, liked to talk about baseball. In 10 minutes it was as if we had known one another a long time.

I'd run into Broder from time to time as he breezed through the state on the trail of one story or another, watched him question businessmen, college presidents and those who might know something he needed to know. His interviews always seemed more like conversations than interrogations.

In a business where the press corps is sometimes derided as a pack of hyenas on the trail of blood, and where the term Gentlemen of the Press most often sparks a round of derisive laughter, David Broder was a rare figure who lived up to the image. He was a gentleman of the press.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Manning considering his options on school tests

The N.C. General Assembly has pretty much ignored Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's 22-page memo urging legislators not to do away with four standardized end-of-course tests in high schools.  The legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill  meaning both Republicans and Democrats strongly supported the end to these tests. Gov. Bev Perdue, who has vetoed two bills approved by the legislature so far, says she won't veto this one.

Manning isn't saying what he might do about it, but he surely is considering his options.  In a brief conversation the other day, I asked him what his plans were.  He said, "We try to avoid a constitutional confrontation when it's possible. Right now I'm just going to think about it."

Manning had sent the Feb. 21 memo to Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger because he wanted to make sure legislators understood the value of the tests.  Manning has supervised, if that's the right word, the state's response to the N.C. Supreme Court's landmark Leandro ruling that ordered the state to provide a competent principal in every school, a competent teacher in every classroom, and adequate resources in every class so students can get a sound education. Manning has used test scores to help identify schools that are failing (and succeeding) and has pushed state education officials to respond more aggressively to failing schools.

In his memo, he told the legislative leaders that end of course testing in core Leando subjects "is constitutionally mandated as part of the accountability process and therefore, not subject to elimination by House Bill 48 or other legislative action."

No telling how this turns out, but since the Leandro case was filed nearly 17 years ago, it has provided a lot of work for litigators. I expect we'll see more.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

New poll shows McCrory leading Perdue in a rematch of '08

  A new poll taken for the N.C. Center for Voter Education and the national non-partisan advocacy group Justice at Stake shows former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory leading Gov. Bev Perdue by a 51-38 percent margin  in a rematch of their 2008 campaign.  The poll also shows President Barack Obama leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by 47-45, but Obama trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 49-43 in a head-to-head match.

The poll was taken for the groups by the firm 20/20 Insight Polling and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The groups are especially interested in judicial elections, and the poll found that half the voters polled would be disinclined to support a legislative candidate who wanted to do away with North Carolina's system of publicly funded campaigns for appellate judicial races. The program has proved popular with candidates from both parties because it frees judges from the potential conflict of interests inherent in having to ask lawyers who may appear in their courtrooms for political contributions to finance their campaigns.

The finding in the potential governor's race mirror what other polls have shown -- that Perdue is in some trouble -- but the more interesting poll results will come later this year, after the 2011 General Assembly has done its work and when voters can assess what kind of job the new Republican majority in the House and Senate have done. While Perdue only proposes a state budget, legislators have to adopt it, and voters' opinions will be shaped not only by legislation that passes this year but also by what services legislators cut in order to balance the budget and cover a shortfall.

Here's a link to the website. Here's the text of what the two groups said about the poll results:

RALEIGH – More than six in 10 North Carolina voters say the country is on the wrong track, according to a poll exploring attitudes on money, courts and politics, commissioned by the Justice at Stake Campaign and the N.C. Center for Voter Education.

That feeling is especially prominent among Republicans and independents, with 88 percent and 62 percent, respectively, saying the country is moving in the wrong direction. Just 35 percent of Democratic voters believe the country is on the wrong track.

Voters are evenly split on their feelings about the outcome of the 2010 legislative and congressional elections, with 46 percent satisfied with the results and 46 percent dissatisfied.

Not surprisingly, party affiliation greatly influences voter attitudes about last year’s election outcomes, with 82 percent of Democrats not satisfied and 83 percent of Republicans satisfied with November’s results. Among independent voters, 44 percent are satisfied and 42 percent are dissatisfied.

Looking ahead to potential 2012 match ups, the poll finds that voters favor Democratic President Barack Obama over Republican Sarah Palin, 47-45 percent. Republican Mitt Romney fares better, leading Obama 49-43 percent.

In a hypothetical gubernatorial rematch from 2008, Republican Pat McCrory leads Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue 51-38 percent. Among the key demographic of independent voters, McCrory leads 47-30 percent.

Likely Republican presidential primary voters are yet to throw their support behind a clear favorite, with 19 percent supporting Palin, 15 percent supporting Mike Huckabee and 13 percent supporting Romney. Twenty-eight percent say they are unsure of which candidate will get their vote.

These questions were part of a poll examining voter attitudes about the influence of political money on North Carolina’s courts. Released last week, those results found that 94 percent of state voters believe campaign contributions have some sway on a judge’s decision, including 43 percent who say campaign donations can greatly affect a ruling.

The poll also shows that when it comes to North Carolina’s first-in-the-nation system of public financing for judicial elections, 49 percent of voters say they would be less likely to support a legislative candidate who wants to eliminate the program. Only 20 percent of voters say they would be more likely to favor a candidate who sought to end the program.

Conducted Feb. 8-10 by 20/20 Insight Polling, the statewide poll of 600 registered North Carolina voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.  Questions asked of 229 likely 2012 Republican primary voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percent.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

McCrory vulnerable to primary challenge?

Not long ago pollsters found evidence that Gov. Bev Perdue might be vulnerable to a challenge from within her party in the 2012 Democratic primary.   Blogger Gary Pearce says he hears of at least two Democrats who might be considering a run against the state's first woman governor in the primary: State Sens. Dan Blue and Josh Stein of Wake County.  

Now Public Policy Polling also detects a potential vulnerability for the presumed Republican nominee, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who ran in 2008 but lost to Perdue because, among other things of a strong pull from Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

PPP said more than four out of 10 GOP voters want a candidate more conservative than McCrory, while about three in 10 voters ay they'd support him.  It certainly appears that McCrory is aware of the potential problem.  For more than a year he has worked to strengthen his conservative image. He has been outspoken about the Affordable Care Act and has spoken to conservative groups.  If McCrory is successful in building stronger ties to Republicans, he would be in better position to win the Republican nomination again. But whether that will help him win the governorship is a question that turns on other factors, including Obama's popularity, who the Democratic nominee is (I'd still find it hard to image Democrats turning out a governor, but in politics anything can happen) and, if it's Perdue again, whether her popularity numbers improve significantly.

Also: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee appears to be the top choice of Republicans for the presidential nomination next year, PPP says.  Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin remains popular but is running fourth.

Here's what Public Policy Polling has to say:

It's being treated as almost inevitable that Pat McCrory will be the Republican nominee for Governor of North Carolina next year but there's one thing that could trip him up: a Tea Party challenger. 43% of Republican voters in the state say they'd like their nominee next year to be someone more conservative than McCrory to only 29% who say they'd firmly support him for the nomination. It would take a strong well funded opponent to do it but McCrory is definitely vulnerable to a challenge from the right.

That shouldn't come as any great surprise. McCrory earned less than 50% of the primary vote in 2008 against a weak field of opponents and the reason he didn't get a majority of the votes was concern that he was too liberal, particularly on issues like bringing light rail to Charlotte and building the Bobcats Arena without taxpayer approval. He's tried to build up his conservative credentials over the last couple years by appearing frequently at events for Americans for Prosperity and speaking out against the health care bill but there's still a sense among a lot of GOP voters that they could get someone else more in tune with them ideologically.

McCrory's popular at this point with Republican voters- 47% have a favorable opinion of him to 12% with an unfavorable one. But the 41% with no opinion of him leaves a lot of voters an opponent could define McCrory in a negative light with. And McCrory's numbers aren't nearly as strong as Lisa Murkowski's were in Alaska and Mike Castle's were in Delaware before they were defeated by further right primary challengers last year. It'll be interesting to see whether a serious one pops up or not.

Mike Huckabee continues to be the top choice of Republicans in North Carolina to be their Presidential candidate next year at 24%. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are tied for second at 18%, and Sarah Palin comes in fourth at 16%. Leading the second tier of candidates at 6% is Ron Paul, followed by Tim Pawlenty at 5%, Mitch Daniels at 2%, and the now departed from the race John Thune at 1%.

The North Carolina numbers show one of the major perils ahead for Sarah Palin if she ends up deciding to run. She has the highest favorability of the Republicans in the state at 69%, followed by Huckabee at 68%, Romney at 56%, and Gingrich at 55%. But she's fourth place for Presidential preference anyway, indicating a significant disconnect between her popularity and the willingness of the folks who like her to support for President. Getting voters to take that next step from liking her to thinking she's White House material is going to be a big challenge if she jumps in the race.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The battle of the beaches, 2011

The N.C. Coastal Federation, one of several institutions that have worked to prevent manmade damage along the N.C. coastline, is worried about legislation in the 2011 General Assembly to allow the use of terminal groins or other hardened structures in an attempt to stabilize inlets.  Groins, jetties and seawalls have long been banned because of the damage they can create to adjoining property along the coast, often as the result of scouring away of adjacent beachfronts.

Todd Miller, the founder and executive director of the federation, sent the following letter to legislators Friday:

February 18, 2011

RE:  Please Protect Our Beaches

Dear Senator,  

Don’t succumb to demands to radically change 25 years of coastal policy that have made our barrier island beaches the envy of the nation.

Some oceanfront property owners built in dangerous places, and now they want to build rock walls to protect their risky investments. They are asking you to weaken the state’s longstanding ban on jetties, groins and seawalls to allow “terminal groins.” This will put the fate of our beaches into the hands of agencies and judges rather than the legislature.

Allowing terminal groins will ultimately force taxpayers to foot the bill to protect risky coastal investments. Weakening this prohibition commits taxpayers to a never-ending and escalating fight against the sea. Those who built too close to the sea will keep asking for more destructive remedies when terminal groins don’t work.  Attached is a fact sheet that explains why terminal groins are bad for our beaches and pocketbooks.

Take a moment before you cast your vote, and read a portion of our state Constitution you swore to uphold upon taking office. Article XIV, Section 5, reads:

It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry, and to this end it shall be a proper function of the State of North Carolina and its political subdivisions to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water, to control excessive noise, and in every other appropriate way to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, open lands, and places of beauty.

 How does marring our beaches with walls of rock that will destroy them meet that constitutional mandate?

 We hope you will bring wisdom and conservatism to this debate, and exercise extreme caution and skepticism about claims by high-priced consultants and their paid lobbyists that more government management of our beaches will result in quick, inexpensive fixes to erosion problems. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments or would like to talk more about this.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Battle of the ex-chiefs on med mal

Last week former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Bev Lake, a Republican, weighed in on a cap on medical malpractice claims. A monetary cap such as Senate Republicans are considering would be unconstitutional, he said. Here's a link to Lake's letter to lawmakers:
But this week another former chief justice, Democrat Burley Mitchell, took an opposite view. Under the Dome reports that in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chair Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, Mitchell wrote, "We are aware of no binding legal authority that should give the General Assembly any pause in enacting a statutory cap on recovery of noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions." In fact, he went on, "the law of North Carolina...indicates that the North Carolina Supreme Court would follow the majority of courts that have addressed this issue and hold that such a statute is constitutional."

Here's a link to the Dome report:

The proposed cap on jury awards, Senate Bill 33, will be discussed in a public hearing Thursday at 10 a.m. in room 1027 of the Legislative Building on Jones Street in Raleigh.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Will Guv's State of the State be a Valentine? Doubt it

The General Assembly has invited Gov. Bev Perdue to deliver her biennial State of the State message on Monday night -- Valentines Day. But given the verbal scuffling of the past week, no one expects the governor to deliver a Valentine to the honorables. Both sides are engaged in some interesting maneuvering as Republicans have begun running the General Assembly for the first time in more than 100 years and as Perdue considers how to make the most of her second legislature as governor leading up to next year's reelection campaign. 

Perdue and the Republican legislative leadership have made nice a few times and worked together on a couple of matters, but things got tense when, after agreeing to run a bill giving the governor more authority to order spending cuts worth $400 million, Republican leaders also added in $140 million or so worth of additional cuts. These included trimming more than $8 million in spending under two of the state's economic development funds that are used to seal the deal and persuade industries to create new jobs here. 

Democrats objected, saying that the Republican cut would hurt the state's job recovery. Republicans responded that they were only trimming spending in funds where there was still a hefty balance, and that in any case there was other money to recruit companies and in a pinch the Perdue administration could always ask Republicans to sponsor a bill for a really big project.  Democrats responded by criticizing Republicans' "job-killing" budget bill. (Sound familiar?) Republicans threw back some barbs.  And so it went, back and forth.

Here's my view: The Republican initiative was a reasonable way to get a head start on the job of cutting several billion from the 2011 budget that begins  July 1.   Perdue might have spoken up earlier to give Republicans time to find another place to cut the $8 million before their plan was announced. But even after Perdue raised objections, I believe Republicans could have found a place to trim what they needed. Surely a compromise could have been worked out. I think one almost was, but someone balked at the last moment.

Now both sides are staked out, and the question is whether Perdue will veto the spending cut the legislature just passed.  It certainly appears that both sides are making a statement they consider important.

Republicans are saying Look here: We worked fast, took on the tough job of finding cuts, picked some trims that aren't popular but represent the sort of hard work we have to do this year to balance next year's budget and get the state's finances back in good shape.

And if Perdue vetoes the bill, which is plausible because Republicans don't have enough GOP voter to override, she'll be saying this is all about jobs and neither party should tie her hands when she's trying to make up for the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs that disappeared in recent years, so lawmakers should find another place to cut.

Valentines Day might not be a time when many folks would willingly tune in to a political speech, but this one might be worth the time to watch.  It's a great opportunity for Perdue. And sure enough, Republican leaders Phil Berger, the Senate President Pro Tem, will respond to her speech right after, and House Speaker Thom Tillis will be standing by for further comment.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Former GOP chief justice says cap on medical claims "unconstitutional"

Former GOP Chief Justice says cap on awards "unconstitutional"

Former Republican Chief Justice Bev Lake, a one-time GOP nominee for governor, has told state Senate leaders that a proposed cap on jury awards would be unconstitutional. Lake's letter comes at an awkward time for the new Republican majority running the legislature for the first time in more than a century. The majority wants to impose a $250.000 limit on non-economic jury awards in medical malpractice cases, as a way to hold down medical insurance costs, and no doubt won't welcome Lake's conclusions about the proposal. 

Lake told Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, that such a cap is "unnecessary as well as unconstitutional."  The bill in question is S 33.
Lake said 'North Carolina citizens have a “sacred and inviolable” right to have a jury determine the amount of compensatory damages, including non-economic damages, under our Constitution.  The right to have a jury make that decision cannot be eliminated or restricted by the General Assembly.'

Lake has been a Democrat as well as Republican during his carrer. He served in the state Senate and as a depty attorney general, and was elected chief justice of the state Supreme Court in 2000.

Here's the text of Lake's letter to Brunstetter:

 Dear Senator Brunstetter:

I understand that the Senate Judiciary I Committee will soon be considering Senate Bill 33, which would implement several medical liability reforms.  In my opinion, Section 3 of the bill – the proposed  cap on non-economic damages – is unconstitutional.

I served on the North Carolina Supreme Court for 12 years, and was Chief Justice from 2000 to 2006.  I previously served as a Superior Court Judge for six years, was a State Senator for two terms, and was Deputy Attorney General for seven years. Throughout my legal career, which has spanned over 50 years, I have sought to uphold the North Carolina Constitution, the foundation of our laws.

For over 200 years, Article I, Section 25 of the North Carolina Constitution has provided that, in “matters respecting property,” the right to trial by jury is “sacred and inviolable.”  Our Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that, “under the North Carolina Constitution, a party has a right to a jury trial in ‘all controversies at law respecting property.’”  Dockery v. Hocutt, 357 N.C. 210, 217, 581 S.E.2d 431, 436 (2003) (quoting N.C. Const. art I, § 25).  The Court has also long recognized that compensatory damages is a form of  “property” protected by the constitutional right to a trial by jury.

In Osborn v. Leach, 135 N.C. 628, 633, 47 S.E. 811, 813 (1904), the Court determined that a libel law was constitutional, even though it abolished a plaintiff’s right to recover punitive damages.  Id. at 632-33, 47 S.E. at 813.  The Court noted, however, that if the law had restricted the recovery of actual or compensatory damages, it would have been unconstitutional.  Id. at 640, 47 S.E. at 815.  In drawing this distinction, the Court stated: “The right to have punitive damages assessed is . . . not property.  The right to recover actual or compensatory damages is property.”  Id. at 633, 47 S.E. at 813 (emphasis in original).  The Court elaborated:

The plaintiff is entitled to recover compensation for mental and physical pain and injury to reputation.  These are actual damages, and these are property.  The right to recover damages for an injury is a species of property and vests in the injured party immediately on the commission of the wrong.  . . . Being property, it is protected by the ordinary constitutional guarantees. . . . It cannot be extinguished except by act of the parties or by operation of the statute of limitation.

Id. (emphasis in original).

When I served as Chief Justice, a unanimous Court reaffirmed this principle in Rhyne v. K-Mart Corp., 358 N.C. 160, 594 S.E.2d 1 (2004).  We stated that compensatory damages “represent a type of property interest vesting in plaintiffs,” while punitive damages are not a vested property interest.  Id. at 177, 594 S.E.2d at 12; see also id. at 179, 594 S.E.2d at 14 (concluding that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-25 did not violate Article I, Section 25 because the statute restricted only punitive damages).

The clear import of Osborn and Rhyne is that Section 3 of SB 33 is unconstitutional.  North Carolina citizens have a “sacred and inviolable” right to have a jury determine the amount of compensatory damages, including non-economic damages, under our Constitution.  The right to have a jury make that decision cannot be eliminated or restricted by the General Assembly.

The Georgia Supreme Court recently reached the same conclusion, striking down a similar law in Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. v. Nestlehutt, 691 S.E.2d 218 (Ga. 2010).  In 2005, the Georgia legislature enacted a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.  Georgia’s state constitution protects the right to a jury trial, as does ours, stating “[t]he right to trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”  Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. I, Par. XI (a).  Because the determination of damages has always been the jury’s province, and non-economic damages have always been a component of compensatory damages, the damages cap unconstitutionally infringed on the right to a jury trial.  Id. at 223.  The Court concluded: “The very existence of the caps, in any amount, is violative of the right to trial by jury.”  Id. 

 Finally, the cap on non-economic damages is unnecessary as well as unconstitutional.  As a Superior Court Judge, I presided over many civil jury trials.  If a verdict is excessive, the trial judge has the well-established power and duty to offer the plaintiff the choice between a remittitur (decreased damages award) and a new trial.  The trial judge, unlike the legislature, has actually heard the evidence and can make a sound judgment about whether the verdict is excessive.  In doing so, the judge operates within the Constitution; instead of imposing his own view of the proper amount of the verdict, he must instead give the plaintiff the choice of a reduced verdict or a new trial.

The legislature has the responsibility to enact laws that are constitutional. With that duty in mind, I hope that your committee will remove Section 3 from SB 33. 

Thank you for your consideration.

With kindest personal regards, I am, cordially,

 I. Beverly Lake, Jr.

Cc: Members of the Senate


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

More pulling for UNC than Duke, poll says

Proving that you can poll on anything and get folks to read it, Public Policy Polling reports than more than a third of North Carolinians will be pulling for the UNC Tar Heels in Wednesday's matchup with Duke's Blue Devils in men's basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium while a little less than one-fourth will be pulling for the Blue Devils. Well, UNC has graduated a lot more people than Duke over the years. But what in the world are the other 40 percent or so of residents who don't favor either one thinking?

PPP, a firm that does a lot of work for Democrats and which throws in questions about other pressing issues of worldwide importance -- such as ACC basketball from time to time -- also found that Tar Heel fans have a better impression of Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski than Blue Devil fans have of Roy Williams  -- and that Coach K has better overall popularity numbers.

There's plenty of fodder here to hash over, so have at it. But as a former Carolina cheerleader (1965-67) I've got to say: Go Heels!

From PPP's news release this morning:

PPP's annual poll in conjunction with the first Carolina-Duke game finds that 37% of North Carolinians will be rooting for the Tar Heels tomorrow night compared to 22% in the Blue Devils' corner. The largest group of people in the state, at 41%, is indifferent.

The numbers show that Duke has not received any bounce in popularity from winning the national championship last year. The 2010 version of this poll found UNC favored by a 35-21 margin so things have basically remained exactly the same. Every demographic subgroup of the population we poll by ideology, gender, party, race, age, and region is rooting for UNC. There are some disparities though that match the conventional wisdom about each school's fan base. For instance Democrats prefer UNC by a greater than 2:1 margin at 43-21, but Republicans do so only narrowly at 31-26.

Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams both remain overwhelmingly popular with the North Carolinians who have an opinion about them. Krzyzewski is viewed favorably by 47% of voters in the state to 14% with a negative opinion. That's a very slight improvement from a 44/13 spread a year ago. 38% of voters have a positive view of Williams to just 10% with an unfavorable one, numbers nearly identical to the 39/10 he posted last year.

Contrary to what you would expect most respondents describing themselves as UNC fans have a favorable opinion of Krzyzewski- 45% see him favorably to 25% with a negative view. Even among those describing themselves as hardcore Carolina fans Coach K's favorability is 45/38. It's a relatively small segment of the UNC fan base- although in the interest of full disclosure that small segment includes me- that truly hates Krzyzewski.

Duke fans are not as charitable toward Williams. Overall Blue Devils are pretty evenly divided on the UNC coach with 32% holding a favorable opinion of him and 33% with a negative one. Self described 'hardcore' Duke fans are not friendly to Roy at all though- just 27% rate him positively while 51% say they don't like him.

The other interesting thing to look at within this poll is how Tar Heel fans feel toward Williams. This poll was conducted two weeks ago, before the team's impressive recent stretch against Miami, NC State, Boston College, and Florida State. 64% of Carolina fans at that time said they had a favorable opinion of Williams to only 3% with an unfavorable one. Among 'hardcore' UNC fans 90% expressed support for Williams with 1%- literally a single respondent- saying they had an unfavorable opinion of him. I can guarantee you Barack Obama would love it if 90% of Democrats were behind him. There may be some folks on message boards and calling in to radio talk shows who are UNC fans and unhappy with Williams but they account for a very, very meager portion of the overall fan base.

This analysis is also available on our blog:

Monday, February 07, 2011

Wind energy initiative coming to North Carolina

The U.S. Departments of the Interior and Energy have announced a $50 million strategic plan to encourage development of wind energy in offshore areas of the Mid-Atlantic -- and  it targets seven Wind Energy Areas, including offshore North Carolina, where environnmental studies and approval processes will be sped up.

 Four of those areas -- Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and 165 square miles off Virginia's coast -- will get early enviornmental reviews, reducing the time it takes to get approval of offshore wind turbine facilities, the departments said.

  In March, the departments expect to add Wind Energy Areas offshore of Massachusetts and Rhode island, and in the South Atlantic region, "namely North Carolina, this spring."

  You can read more about these initiatives at

  The $50 million in research and development funding is meant to help reach the president's goal of generating 80 percent of the country's electricity from clean sources by 2035. The list includes up to $25 million over 5 years to support technology development, including innovative wind turbine design tools; up to $18 million over 3 years for environmental studies and research as well as wind market analysis; and up to $7.5 million over three years to develop the next generation of wind turbine drivetrains, a technology considered critical to produce cost-effective power from wind turbines offshore.

Meanwhile, Pete Danko at the Wedsite Earth Techling writes that a Spanish company is proposing a 15O turbine wind farm on flat farmland in the northeastern part of the state:

Much of the attention regarding wind power generation in North Carolina has been focused offshore, but the world’s biggest wind-power developer has other ideas: Iberdrola Renewables, part of the Spanish company Iberdrola Renovables, said that after two years of laying the ground work it had officially applied to build the state’s first utility-scale plant.

Iberdrola has in mind a 150-turbine, 300-megawatt capacity plant on a 20,000-acre swath of private, flat farmland in the northeast corner of the state, but it struck a cautious tone in announcing the filing of an application with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. “The filing today represents the first step of many regulatory reviews that must be completed before Iberdrola Renewables makes a final decision on the project, which could begin construction as early as late 2011,” the company said.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Perdue: 'Senate cuts go too far'

For weeks the new Republican majority and Gov. Bev Perdue have been making nice about the upcoming job of trimming the 2011-12 budget by billions of dollars to cover a projected $3.7 billion shortfall. Yesterday the Senate announced it was moving toward giving Perdue authority to wrest $400 million in savings in the current fiscal year to get a head start on next year's savings.  Senate leaders really wanted $800 million in savings, but Perdue wanted to wait to see how the $400 million cut would affect this year's budget.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee this afternoon announced a plan for more cuts -- including taking $67 million billion from the money coming to the Golden LEAF Foundation (it still has $555 million) from a national tobacco settlement, $11.7 million from the Health and Wellness Trust Fund, $3 million from the Job Development Investment Grants, various unspent funds such as from  IT funds ($13.6 million) and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (8.5 million). Sponsors including Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, said the cuts would get the projected starting deficit down nearly a billion to about $2.7 billion.

Perdue said Wednesday afternoon the cuts would make it hard to recruit jobs and expand businesses. In a statement this afternoon, she said:

“The proposed cuts to North Carolina’s jobs and economic development funds will damage our ability to recruit new jobs and to expand existing businesses in the state. Other Southern states, notably Virginia, have called for an increase in similar funds so they can take our jobs away.

 "I am truly surprised that Senate leadership is considering taking North Carolina’s jobs money as a way to balance the budget. It won’t work – and what’s more, our people won’t work if we can’t bring new companies and new industries to our state. We have many hundreds of new jobs in the pipeline right now, and they depend on that money. If we don’t win those projects, those jobs go somewhere else. It’s that simple.”

The legislature is off to a very fast start, and it is moving to make whatever cuts it can now to get a handle on the worse budget shortfall in memory.  No one disputes that covering the shortfall is going to cause some pain. The governor's reaction today to the advance cuts is just the first of a number of reactions to various cuts from those directly affected as lawmakers and the governor try to find the right formula to cut the budget. It's worth noting that Perdue did not say she was against all the cuts -- just the ones she thinks will affect the state's ability to recruit jobs.  Many Republicans, on the other hand, are doubtful that spending tax money on economic development is all that effective in recruiting jobs.

4:20 p.m. update  from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office:

“We are actively tackling next year’s budget shortfall through savings and reductions in the current fiscal year,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham.) “These cuts represent immediate steps to help close the gap between spending and revenue.  While everything remains on the table, it is our belief these measures will minimize negative impacts to our classroom teachers and state employees.”