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Welcome to this week`s edition of SPINCycle.
This week on NC SPIN we will talk about the short session of the legislature, what they did and didn’t accomplish. We will examine a mysterious story about UNC-TV, Alcoa and the legislature. And we will discuss the firing of the ferry division head after less than 60 days on the job.
This week`s panel includes: Charlotte Observer reporter, Jack Betts; political analyst, Dan Blue III; Chris Fitzsimon, Director of NC Policy Watch and John Hood, President of the John Locke Foundation. The show will be moderated by Tom Campbell.
Tom Campbell`s Spin
Few would argue our economy is improving quickly. We are working on the wrong end of the job creation pendulum. Job 1 is creating jobs.
Heard on the Street
They’ve gone home to campaign
The legislature has adjourned and if current polls are accurate, some of our lawmakers have participated in their last session. Voters adamantly believe our state is headed in the wrong direction, think government is broken and don’t believe those currently in office know how to fix it.
Democrats should be worried at the signs that indicate they might be headed into a perfect storm scenario. Independent and unaffiliated voters say, by a two to one margin, they plan to vote Republican this year. Democrats didn’t help themselves in this past session with their constituent base vote of labor unions, teachers and state employees. In the closing days, the legislature agreed to allow state employees to be reduced in order to make up for the 500 million in federal Medicaid funds that don’t look like they will come. In addition to no pay increase for two years, teachers and state employees also face the threat of a large reduction in the contribution to the employee pension funds, putting their retirement in some jeopardy. These groups have no reason to turn out for Democrats.
But the biggest threat perhaps lies with minorities. In order to win elections in our state, political consultant Brad Crone says Democrats must have a 20 percent turnout from African Americans. If recent elections in New Jersey and Virginia are an indicator, that turnout may not exceed 16 percent.
Republicans, on the other hand, smell blood. While House Speaker Hackney and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight are still outraising the GOP in campaign funds, the margins are narrowing; in fact, the state GOP has more money on hand than do Democrats. Basnight’s on-hand totals are about 400,000 dollars less than at this point in 2008, meaning he has less money to dole out to the party to help elect Democratic Senators. Given the large number of retirements in that body, Basnight is rightfully worried.
To add insult to injury, we are hearing that Senator Richard Burr is considering giving the North Carolina Republican Party as much as 1 million dollars to conduct a full-blown Get Out the Vote effort in our state. Republicans got skunked in ’08 in turning out their voters and don’t want to do so again. Burr, with his 6 million dollar war chest and 10 point lead over Democrat Elaine Marshall can afford the contribution.
Should the Republicans take over the legislature, you can expect the Senate President Pro Tem to be Phil Berger, the Eden attorney who is currently Minority Leader. Senate Majority Leader will likely be Wake County’s Richard Stevens. If the GOP takes over the House we might see Thom Tillis, the Cornelius consultant, become Speaker and Wake’s Skip Stam to become Majority Leader. The East will lose power, more especially after redistricting following the 2010 census.
Some Democrats are quietly saying that if they lose control of both houses the big worry is over redistricting that will surely take place before the 2012 elections. With as much as a 3 billion shortfall looming for next year’s legislature, some are saying they would delight in seeing what solutions Republicans have….maybe they can cut another billion but it is highly unlikely they can make up 3 billion in budget cuts. Democrats smile and say they want to become the party of “No.”
For an interesting discussion on what the legislature accomplished in the short session, as well as what they didn’t, be sure to catch this week’s NC SPIN.
Ferry firing won’t float
Governor Perdue, sensitive to the flack her administration is receiving over the abrupt firing of the recently appointed head of the ferry division, decided to make a surprise visit to the Bayview and Aurora but she hasn’t commented on the firing. We will, this week on NC SPIN. Look for this discussion to get interesting.
Video poker isn’t finished
Lest we think the video sweepstakes parlors are going to vanish December 1, we understand legal challenges are being prepared to challenge the law passed by the legislature in the close of the short session. This should stall action for awhile. Even if the law stands, video poker operators are at work to increase the skill requirement for the games, which might render the new law unenforceable. As Yogi once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
But few think video games will disappear. A growing number believe we will see this issue once again in the next legislative session, with the Education Lottery ending up with authority to run video games throughout the state.
Another controversy that isn’t calming is with the UNC-TV, Alcoa and Freedom of Press issues. There are basically three issues here. First there is the issue of UNC-TV deciding not to air the Alcoa documentary. No one disputes this is a management decision that occurs in many newsrooms and organizations every day. But those same folks say that UNC-TV was disingenuous in their reasons for not airing the program. A spokesperson even denied the network even knew such an effort existed, but we have obtained evidence that they offered the tapes to a commercial TV outlet over a year ago with the suggestion that the station edit and air the documentary. If they felt it worthy of airing, why would they do so? The lingering impression is that UNC-TV management has displayed either a lack of courage, either in future funding from the legislature or from Alcoa, or a lack of understanding of what is expected of public broadcasters. Is there a cover up, as some suspect?
The rough cut of the program is now available for anyone to watch on Vimeo. But who actually owns the footage? Is it UNC-TV or Eszter Vajda, the reporter and producer? If the network doesn’t want to air the documentary, why would they allow it to be put on Vimeo?
The second issue concerns the actions of the legislature in issuing a subpoena for the film. They were clearly without merit or basis for doing so. How did this come about?
The third, and to most minds largest, issue surrounds the voluntary release of the documentary by UNC-TV, virtually surrendering their freedom of press privileges. Criticism from most every front has been severe and UNC-TV has done little to respond to it, other than saying they felt that as a public agency they were impacted by state sunshine laws. Jack Betts, columnist for the Charlotte Observer and NC SPIN panelist, has written well on the subject. Read his column, reprinted three days later in the News and Observer.
You can also hear Betts and the other NC SPIN panelists sound off on this subject on this week’s NC SPIN.
State GOP Chair Tom Fetzer is a proud new papa. Fetzer and wife Kate announce the candidacy of Thomas Harrison Fetzer, III, running for Governor in the 2032 election. While the candidate isn’t saying much, his father indicates the 7 pound 9 ounce candidate is crying…yes, crying to clean up state government, discontinue end of grade tests, end corruption in the State Highway Patrol and wrest authority from Marc Basnight. Some things never change.
Papa Fetzer started the ball rolling by calling for the ouster of Highway Patrol Colonel Randy Glover, saying that to clean up cronyism and corruption, a new leader who doesn’t come from within the ranks should be chosen.
A growing number of leaders and media voices are urging a change in the nepotism policy of the State Highway Patrol that dictates leadership must come from within the ranks. That’s the very reason we have the problem we currently have, many believe. Governor Perdue obviously recognizes this and is trying to remedy the situation without legislation. This organization has been under fire for years but the culture hasn’t changed much, so we will only have to wait to see if Perdue’s efforts yield results.
The sad result of all this recent flap about the SHP is that there are many dedicated and honorable troopers who, in many instances, dedicated their entire careers in service to the state, sometimes putting themselves at risk, who are being tarnished by the shenanigans of those who have misbehaved.
Merge the TransPark with rail and ports?
Governor Perdue has expressed her desire to make government more efficient. News stories this week indicated that the Governor’s Logistics Task Force is considering merging the Global TransPark, the North Carolina Railroad and the State Ports Authority into one agency. Republican Representative Danny McComas says the whole is greater than the parts and the combination would go far in helping economic development. But Representative Carolyn Justice says three wrongs don’t make a right. Find out what our panelists think next week on NC SPIN.
New biography coming
I recognized Ned Cline in the K&W Cafeteria line. We sat together and reminisced about old times, politicians and events over the past thirty years. Cline is retired now but was one of the most respected journalists to ever cover Capitol politics. I asked him what he was doing in town and he reported he is writing a book on former Lt. Governor Bob Jordan and was here doing research and conducting interviews. Cline has previously written books on Joe Bryan, the driving spirit behind Jefferson Pilot Life Insurance Company and also Walter Davis, the North Carolina-born oil man.
We look forward to reading about this underappreciated humble subject of Cline’s new book, Bob Jordan.
The Politician on the big screen
Meanwhile we learn that Andrew Young’s best seller, The Politician, will become a movie. Aaron Sorkin, who produced the West Wing TV series and The American President movie, has purchased the movie rights for an undisclosed sum. Who do you suspect with play John Edwards? Is Kevin Costner too old? How about Brad Pitt?
Happy birthday Bill
Our state has never seen a crowd like the one that showed up Tuesday for former UNC President Bill Friday’s 90th birthday party. The line in the Hill Alumni Center doubled around the inside of the auditorium. It was a great place to see and be seen. Some of our more recognizable politicians were glad handing guests. Even at 90, Friday took the time to speak to every one and it was remarkable how he was able to place every one, remember names and events connected to them and through it all was upbeat and positive about the state and the university he has loved.
Several asked about the Evening with Bill Friday videos we recorded and wanted to know if copies were still available. The 70 minute interview is $20 each, with $5 from each purchase donated to the Ida Friday Faculty Development Fund at Meredith College. You can purchase by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (919) 821-1416.
Hackney stops jetties
One of those we saw at the Friday birthday party was House Speaker Joe Hackney, obviously rested after Friday’s marathon legislative session that didn’t end until 5:32 a.m. Saturday morning. I had previously inquired whether or not the bill the Senate passed to allow jetties along our coast had made it to the floor of the House for a vote. Representative Pricey Harrison, a former member of the Coastal Resources Commission, said it had not because Speaker Hackney hadn’t allowed it.
Speaker Hackney confirmed the action, adding that he was catching flack for it. The Figure Eight and Bald Head Island crowd, McMansion owners along the coast, and some business owners weren’t happy. I told the Speaker this coastal property owner strongly supported his actions and I was betting plenty of others also applauded his leadership.
Speaking of the Coastal Resources Commission, that group is about to deal with the issue of sandbags again. Current permissions for the bags run out this summer and the legislature did not authorize another extension.
The lack of rainfall is causing drought conditions in 18 counties in North Carolina. Officials are becoming worried that we might see another serious drought like the one in 2007. All the more reason NC SPIN is going to be conducting a half day discussion on water issues in our state on October 12th. Save the date.
Was investigation stifled?
Kim Strach, deputy director of campaign finance at the State Board of Elections has revealed that she was asked to halt further investigation of witnesses in the matter of campaign flights for Governor Perdue. Chair Larry Leake ordered her to finalize her report without further interviews. Leake says it was just time to move on. Many, including GOP Chair Tom Fetzer, say it was a cover-up to prevent further damage to Governor Perdue.
Observers are asking what is the truth to the matter. SBOE has been even-handed in investigating Democrats in the past, giving Strach credit for being thorough and impartial. Leake has demonstrated a willingness to take on Democrats, even as he has been appointed by them.
Meanwhile The State Board has been given funding to hire a lawyer for investigations. Does this mean Strach is being shoved out? Looks like further discussion is needed here.
Prayers in the House
There’s the story of the House Chaplain who mention Jesus was asked not to return for the rest of his week-long engagement. There is no formal policy about using the name of a Deity in prayers that open each session, but each person offering prayer is required to furnish a written copy of the prayer in advance and, in at least one case, the Chaplain was told to delete a reference to Jesus.
The whole issue has raised the question as to freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Look for more discussion on this on next week’s NC SPIN.
Until next week, watch out for the SPIN!
Claire Cox-Woodlief, Editor
Tom Campbell, Publisher
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