Friday, December 30, 2011

Our Thanks to eight for their good works

On Saturday's Opinion pages, the Observer editorial board thanks eight people for their good works and commitment. We've done this at the end of the year for more than two decades. Those we thank are more than worthy but they are examples of the thousands of people who give their time, money and talents to make this area a more compassionate, prosperous and livable place. Several work with organizations that could use public support. Here is a list of them all and where you can get information about their groups (find the full articles on each in the print paper or at

Thelma Reynolds works with Charlotte Family Housing, a group that helps the homeless. Reach Charlotte Family Housing at or by calling 704-335-5488. You can donate online.

Cate Martin is president of the Merry Oaks Neighborhood Association, and does dog rescue work, fostering does for the North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue. Reach North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue at or email

Candace Curlin Vance established a book club for the homeless called Turning Pages Book Club. It meets Tuesdays at the uptown branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Go to for information on the club and how to donate.

Ron Leeper founded Men Who Care Global, a group reaching out to young black males. Reach the group by email at or call 1-855-692-4562.

Ashley Armistead and Lori Klingman are president and vice president of Let Me Run, a running club for fourth-grade through middle-school-age boys designed to build self-esteem as well as physical health. Reach them at Their mailing address is Let Me Run, P.O. Box 473314, Charlotte, NC 28247. Donations can be made online or by mail.

Clair Lane founded Our Foundation for Children which aims to help keep families together by providing books, food, clothing and toys for needy families. Reach the group at or by phone at 704-503-3996 or 704-503-4964.

Jerry McGee is president of Wingate University in Union County and first chairman of the Union County Partners for Progress. Reach him by email at

Aimee Norman is head of outreach at Christ Episcopal Church. Reach the church at

Posted by Fannie Flono

Monday, December 26, 2011

Email threat deserves stern rebuke

Tuesday's Observer editorial:

Tracy Montross, special assistant to Mayor Anthony Foxx, embarrassed her boss and demeaned his office when she threatened leaders of Charlotte’s International Cabinet in November for failing to upgrade the mayor to first-class on a trip to China.

Montross told CIC officials in an email from China on Nov. 14 to “please expect hell” with upcoming budgets after she requested in vain that the CIC reimburse Foxx for the cost of his first-class ticket, the Observer reported last week. Foxx, who apologized to CIC’s executive director Sharon Reed in an email Friday, was apparently aware of the reimbursement requests, but not the threat that accompanied them.

Foxx led an 11-member delegation to China to meet with business and political leaders. The trip came two days after Foxx’s mayoral re-election campaign, and he understandably wanted to fly business class during the lengthy flight so as to be more physically and mentally ready for the 20 or so meetings he faced with Chinese leaders. The International Cabinet, which receives city funding, was not bound by city policy that reimburses only economy airline tickets, but CIC declined the requests, anyway.

Foxx paid for his upgraded flight out of his pocket before the trip. On Dec. 15, CIC’s executive board voted to reimburse Foxx $2,321, the difference between an economy and first-class ticket. When asked by the Observer if Montross’ threat had resulted in the reimbursement, CIC vice chair Charles Lansden said: “I can’t comment on that.”

In a letter to Foxx last Thursday, Montross was appropriately regretful that her actions “could bring into question your leadership and commitment to our community.” She neglected to add that those actions could undermine the public’s trust that city business isn’t conducted amid a culture of coercion.

We’re also skeptical about the depth of regret Montross feels, given that she sent her apologetic letter to Foxx more than a month after threatening the International Cabinet but shortly before a report on her actions was scheduled to air on a Charlotte TV station.

While Montross works for Foxx, she technically reports to City Manager Curt Walton. In an email to the Observer, Walton said he would not discuss an employee’s performance issues in public. He did say, however, that Montross “is an extremely talented employee that I look forward to working with for years to come.”

That seems to indicate that Montross will not be fired over this mistake. Fair enough - a singular error in judgment shouldn’t cost an otherwise valuable employee a job, unless that mistake is a whopper. Montross came close, in our opinion, and we hope the discipline she gets sends that message.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why do more Democrats dislike Tim Tebow?

Public Policy Polling has taken a break from Election 2012 to bring us the important news that the Green Bay Packers have surpassed the Dallas Cowboys as America’s team, according to the latest PPP survey. This is big, we think, because we like the Packers more, too.

The numbers: 22 percent of voters said the Packers were their favorite team, while only 11 percent named the Cowboys. The Bears, Steelers and Giants had 8 percent. Just two percent admitted to liking the Jets.

Another interesting tidbit, from PPP:
Tim Tebow is viewed favorably by 68% of Republicans but only 39% of Democrats. Just to put those numbers into some context, none of the Republican Presidential candidates are even seen positively by 68% of Republicans. He's more popular than any of them.
Just four out of 10 Democrats like Tebow, compared to seven in 10 Republicans. Why is that? After all, he spreads the wealth around selflessly in the Denver offense. Plus, you know, he’s a lefty.

Yes, we understand what’s behind the numbers. People are uncomfortable with Tebow’s overt faithfulness. Some dislike him instantly because he is against abortion - doctors recommended his mother have the procedure because pregnancy complications with him, but she declined.

Many don’t know that story, however, but they see such fervent belief from Tebow and assume it likely is accompanied by other things, such as the bigotry toward gays and Muslims displayed by the radical Christian right. It’s unfortunate, as always - not only because Tebow has indicated none of that, but because Christians (and Muslims) shouldn’t be defined by their extremes.

Nor should Democrats and Republicans, of course.

Back to the primaries.

Peter St. Onge

Time to investigate Beverly Perdue's flights

The Raleigh News & Observer offers an easy way today to ease the regrets of N.C. Board of Elections chairman Larry Leake, who has expressed misgivings for prematurely shutting down an investigation into Gov. Beverly Perdue's campaign flights.

Says the N&O's editorial board: Schedule a round of hearings.

Leake, a Democrat, told the Associated Press earlier this month that he regretted shutting down the investigation before it reached the hearing stage. We noted then and since that the smoke was certainly there if the Board wanted to look harder for wrongdoing. Sure enough, a Wake County grand jury has subsequently indicted Perdue's campaign finance director and another campaign employee, alleging a scheme to let a Morganton businessman give the campaign $32,000 more than state law allows. That follows the February indictment of another Morganton man alleging he hid money used to pay for a 2007 flight.

What would new Board of Elections hearings accomplish? Says the N&O:

The first time around, campaign figures were spared the potential awkwardness of having to answer questions from the elections board under oath. Perhaps the investigation's outcome would have remained the same if those folks had been heard from. But it's also conceivable such testimony would have generated more interest from Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, who has declined to prosecute campaign insiders over how the flights were handled even while moving against people who arranged or bankrolled the candidate's travel on private aircraft.

Another reason: The Board of Elections happens to be looking into Perdue's past and future opponent, Pat McCrory, because of old complaints about his 2008 gubernatorial campaign. That probe, couple with the early shutdown of the Perdue investigation, doesn't look good.

Let's hope Leake shows he has more than hollow regrets.

Peter St. Onge

Who's to blame for the payroll tax cut uncertainty?

U.S. House Republicans are getting assailed this morning for rejecting a bipartisan Senate compromise to extend the payroll tax cut.

As of this morning, the cuts are in jeopardy. House Republicans are ready to talk to the Senate about how to extend cuts for a full year, rather than the two months the Senate approved 89-10. That was rejected by the House on Tuesday, and the Senate and White House have said that there will be no more negotiating.

The Republicans are clearly betting that Americans will wonder why the Senate can't come back to work between now and Jan. 1 to work on improving the legislation. Senate Democrats and the White House believe that the public believes this is another obstructionist move by conservative Republicans.

Thus far, the Democrats are right. Opinion from the left and right is overwhelmingly against the House. Tell us what you think in our unscientific poll to the right.

First, our view: We can't vouch for the purity of Republican motives, but as our editorial says this morning, we think the two-month extension is bad policy. If the choice is that flawed legislation or no tax cut extension, we'll take the two months. But we think the Senate can and should try to do better.

What does everyone else think? A sampling:

A bad sign for the House: It has lost the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board, which lashed out at the GOP's "circular firing squad." Said the WSJ editorial:

The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.

Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank thinks the Republicans are more false-hearted than Bravehearts. (Post readers agree - 93 percent vote that the payroll tax uncertainty is John Boehner's fault.)

The Post's Ezra Klein, often the most sensible voice in the room, examines why Boehner has sent the bill to conference committee. Klein hints that Boehner is positioning himself to ultimately cave in to the Senate agreement.

Guy Benson of the conservative Town Hall says that Washington's dysfunction is on full display. He says there's plenty of blame for both parties to share.

The Hill has video of John McCain telling CNN that the House's move is "harming the Republican Party," plus a comment from GOP Senator Bob Corker urging the House to resolve the issue.

Finally, Time's Adam Sorenson says four things can happen from this point on:

Either the House swallows bile, bends to the will of the Senate and passes the two-month bill unconditionally. Senators return from their vacations to negotiate a new deal with the GOP. Democrats and Republicans simply let the tax cut expire and jostle for the coveted position of slightly less reviled political party while the economy suffers–a tax hike on 160 million Americans, the loss of unemployment benefits for millions of others, a 27% cut to doctors’ Medicare fees– in the aftermath. Or the two parties manage the kind of 11th-hour, mutually unsatisfactory, gimmicky deal that’s already inspired so many ill feelings this year, either through conference committee or some provision attached to the two-month extension that would set the stage for a new agreement when Congress returns in January. Happy holidays.

Tell us what you think.

Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Get back to work on payroll tax cut bill

Wednesday's editorial tonight:

We don’t often appreciate the obstinacy of the tea party, but U.S. House Republicans were right this week to call on the Senate to do better than produce a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut. Was the House right for the right reasons? We’re not so certain of that.

The House rejected on Tuesday a bipartisan Senate bill that would have extended the tax cut and unemployment benefits for two months instead of allowing them to expire on Jan. 1. Senators had approved the measure with an 89-10 vote before scooting home for a holiday break and promising to tackle a longer extension when they return.

House Republicans objected, however, saying that the solution really wasn’t much of one. We agree. This payroll tax cut and the extended unemployment benefits that are part of the package need to be extended for a year. A two-month extension is bad policy because its brevity doesn’t accomplish what the tax cut intends – giving consumers and businesses enough comfort that they’re emboldened to use the extra money to spend and hire and stimulate the economy. Compromise is laudable, but not so much when it results in a poor product.

Not that there aren’t items to build upon in the compromise bill – specifically, that lawmakers are paying for the tax cut extension. (It would be largely covered by an increase on the fee that government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge to insure new mortgages and refinancings.) But one House member told the Washington Post that “at minimum,” the extension should be 90 days to match the quarterly schedule on which many corporations pay taxes. Other House Republicans noted rightly that on principle, Washington shouldn’t nudge another important decision down the road.

Skeptics might argue that previous episodes of legislative can-kicking this year were due primarily to House inflexibility on debt reduction – and that this week’s principled stand is really about political maneuvering. What House Republicans really want, some believe, is to avoid a payroll tax cut they privately oppose while putting blame on a Democratic-led Senate for refusing to hammer out a solution.

All of which might be true. But if that gambit forces senators to come back to Washington and build on the two-month extension, we’re all for it. Last we checked, there’s still more than a week left before the new year. Most Americans are scheduled to work between now and then; we welcome the Senate to do the same.

Still, Republicans in the House are taking a significant risk. If senators choose not to open new payroll tax cut talks – or if they return to face House proposals as rigidly ideological as their debt proposals this summer and fall – then Americans will likely blame Republicans for the average of $1,000 that won’t appear in paychecks next year. Democrats will encourage that kind of thinking, as President Barack Obama previewed Tuesday. “Let’s be clear: the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January first – the only one,” he said at the White House.

If the choice facing Americans is a flawed two-month compromise or no payroll tax cut extension, the compromise sounds good to us. But Congress can do better than that. We sure hope it doesn’t do worse.

Free checked bags on all airlines?

Remember the popular outrage when Bank of America proposed a monthly $5 debit card fee? It should come as no surprise, then, that U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C., thinks government should be able to tell airlines what they can and can’t charge.

Kissell, who is expected to face a tough reelection bid in the coming year, has introduced a bill that would guarantee airline passengers one checked bag at no additional cost. This might be hugely popular with the traveling public. Airlines are down there with banks and Congress in public perception, and those baggage fees drive travelers nuts.

But should the federal government be able to block companies from operating in a free market? Instead of that heavy hand, how about letting passengers decide whether they’re willing to pay the fees? We bet Southwest Airlines, which is making hay over its lack of baggage fees, thinks competition is a good thing. Maybe Kissell will next require that the airlines can’t charge more for premium seating, or that they have to serve free meals on board.

Besides, we wonder if such a ban would even save passengers money. Wouldn’t the airlines just bake those fees into higher fares, or find other ways to recoup it? And if they couldn’t, might Kissell’s legislation spark bankruptcies and job losses in the airline industry?

“Hidden fees and charges are unfair to passengers, and it’s time we stand up for all Americans by ensuring these basic minimum standards for air travel,” Kissell said. Except the baggage fees aren’t hidden at all. In fact, banning them would probably prompt fees that actually are hidden.

We love the idea of free bags. But we love the idea of a free market even more.

-- Taylor Batten

Monday, December 19, 2011

Don't limit probe into Cogdell hiring

Tuesday's Observer editorial:

When Democrat Harold Cogdell first considered, then reconsidered, ousting Jennifer Roberts as chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners a year ago, we worried about the implications of his move.

Cogdell’s maneuvering, the Observer editorial board said then, “raises fears of two years of dysfunction, with politics and personal ambition a strong undercurrent.”

Fast forward to tonight. Politics and personal ambition helped Cogdell finish the job on Roberts this time. His rise prompted a jilted fellow Democrat to raise questions about his ethics. Those questions are important and demand answers. But if commissioners don’t handle things well tonight, the public’s distrust of Cogdell could deservedly creep over to the whole board.

Cogdell contracted with C.W. Williams Community Health Center for legal work last summer just two months after successfully arguing for a 39 percent boost in county money for the nonprofit. That had, at a minimum, the appearance of a possible impropriety. An independent investigation into Cogdell’s hiring is needed, and Cogdell tonight will ask commissioners to authorize exactly that.

Cogdell, though, also wants the probe to determine what other commissioners knew and when they knew it. If fellow Democrats were aware of Cogdell’s arrangement for months and raised concerns about it only when he broke up with them, that too would be unethical. (And if they didn’t know about it previously, who leaked it to them days before the chairmanship vote?)

Dumont Clarke, a Democratic commissioner, said Monday his “jaw dropped” when he saw Cogdell’s proposed investigation. Clarke said the most important question is whether Cogdell did anything improper and that Cogdell is trying to “muddy the waters” by also delving into what other commissioners knew. That’s a secondary question that can be answered later, Clarke said.

Clarke told the editorial board Monday that he first heard of Cogdell’s ties to C.W. Williams from commissioner George Dunlap the Friday before the Tuesday vote for chairman. Dunlap told us he first learned of it around that time when a source, whom he won’t name, told him about it.

Dunlap added that even if he suspected Cogdell had done something unethical, it would be OK for Dunlap not to report that because there is, apparently, no explicit board policy that would require him to. That is a puzzling take on ethics indeed.

Cogdell may very well be trying to push some of the spotlight off of him and on to other commissioners. But the public deserves a complete report on all aspects of this episode. Any effort by Clarke and fellow Democrats tonight to delay a full investigation will leave doubts in citizens’ minds about what’s not coming out. Better to have the probe cover all facets, draw its conclusions and put the matter to bed.

Courageous Cooksey

Republican commissioner Neil Cooksey, who is serving his second term, announced Monday that he won’t seek reelection next year. We haven’t always agreed with Cooksey on policy, but he has been a solid contributor to the board who asks good, tough questions. The courage he has demonstrated in his fight against pancreatic cancer has been inspiring, and we wish him the best.

Second thoughts about Gingrich in Iowa

Good morning and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's place for perspective and discussion. I'm Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial board, and I'll be hosting today.

We'll be watching the developing chaos surrounding a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut, which has stalled after Republican House members objected Sunday to a Senate agreement to extend the cut for two months. We're in favor of a payroll tax cut extension, if it's paid for, although a two-month extension is too temporary to prompt the consumer spending and business hiring that advocates have said a full-year extension would bring. It would be a stunner, however, if Republicans, despite their misgivings about the extension, handed Democrats a political gift by allowing the tax cut to expire at the first of the year.

The other big buzz this morning? The maligning of Newt Gingrich from within his own party is finally taking a toll.

A new Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa shows Gingrich sinking suddenly - "imploding," says PPP's Tom Jensen - with Ron Paul now taking the lead in the state and Gingrich sliding to a distant third.

Paul leads with 23 percent in the poll, released this morning. Mitt Romney has 20 percent, with 14 percent for Gingrich, 10 percent each for Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, 4 percent for Jon Huntsman, and two percent for Gary Johnson.

That's a 13 percent drop in the past two PPP polls for Gingrich, and Jensen says that negative ads have taken their toll: Gingrich's personal favorability numbers have gone from 62 percent positive to 52 percent, with respondents who have an unfavorable impression of him rising from 31 to 40 percent.

The polls in Iowa and elsewhere continue to be volatile as Republicans search for a candidate not named Romney. But, says Jensen, Paul's rise is a sign that campaigns actually do matter some in Iowa. Says Jensen:

22% of voters think he's run the best campaign in the state compared to only 8% for Gingrich and 5% for Romney. The only other candidate to hit double digits on that question is Bachmann at 19%. Paul also leads Romney 26-5 (with Gingrich at 13%) with the 22% of voters who say it's 'very important' that a candidate spends a lot of time in Iowa.
There's still two weeks of campaigning left before the Jan. 3 caucus, but historically, candidates that begin to decline in Iowa don't recover. A Gingrich loss - especially if he finishes third behind Romney - would clearly be a blow to his campaign. Given Romney's likely victory in New Hampshire, Gingrich would be reeling as the primaries move to South Carolina, where Newt would have to get a win.

Liberals are gleeful about the chaos. Says Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne: "The establishment was happy to use Gingrich’s tactics to win elections, but it never expected to lose control of the party to the voters it rallied with such grandiose negativity."

The New York Times Frank Bruni adds that while most politicians are full of themselves, Gingrich is overstuffed.

The Weekly Standard's William Kristol wonders if the volatility among Republicans could lead to a convention in which delegates didn't merely rubber-stamp what the primaries gave them. That might be a good thing, Kristol says.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Who won the final Iowa GOP debate?

The Republican debates have been the surprise hit of the fall political and TV season. They're entertaining and revealing. They've helped doom Rick Perry and launch Newt Gingrich, and they've given Ron Paul a new shot at exposure that pundits largely wouldn't give him.

Last night, the FOX News debate in Iowa offered voters a final chance at sifting before that state's caucus on Jan. 3.

Who did best?

Time's Mark Halperin says Mitt Romney, who gets an A- in Halperin's grading for how each candidate performed and improved their standing in the race. Romney recovered from a shaky performance in the last debate and was "smart, focused, big-brained and cool," said Halperin.

Other grades: Michele Bachmann B+, Rick Santorum B, Newt Gingrich B-, Ron Paul B-, John Huntsman C-, Rick Perry C-.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza picked a few winners, led by Bachmann, who "was forceful — and effective — when she lashed out at Gingrich for repeatedly acting dismissively toward her. A nice night for Bachmann," says Cillizza.

His other winners: Perry and Romney. His losers: Ron Paul ("spent WAY too much time defending his isolationist foreign policy views") and Gingrich, who "got caught in a philosophical discussion about government sponsored enterprises — GSE’s — that allowed his opponents to swing away on him taking lots and lots of money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae."

Conservative blogger Erick Erickson said Romney had a good debate, but "he continues to have little humor with handling his flip-flops, which will make the Democrats all the more eager to go after him on those."

Gingrich, said Erickson, held his own, but Ron Paul "proved yet again that while he can hit all the right notes on economics and spending these days, he is too nuts on foreign policy to be trusted with the Presidency."

We had Romney and Bachmann as our winners. Romney made the right choice in letting others, including Bachmann, go after Newt on his GSE "consulting." That allowed Romney to offer an affirming presence while turning questions into big-picture monologues that contrasted his policies with President Barack Obama's failures.

Gingrich took a beating from Bachmann and Paul the first half of the debate, and his body language and peevish, professorial responses didn't serve him well. He recovered in the second half with several crowd pleasers, although we're not sure viewers at home got quite as caught up in the crowd's approval at Newt's suggestion that Congress change the balance of power by reining in federal judges - including eliminating the 9th District Court of Appeals. Paul, and later Romney, offered a sobering whoa to that concept. Call it a wash for Gingrich.

Want a debate fact checker? Here are two: The New York Times takes a look, as does Politifact.

Peter St. Onge

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Will new Charlotte curfew make a difference?

There's little reason anyone other than youngsters out late would object to Charlotte's new curfew rules, in effect beginning today. The new rules require children 12 and under to be in by 10 p.m. each night if they're not with an adult, with children 13 to 15 getting an hour longer to make it home. Sixteen and 17-year-olds have no curfews, because state laws require them to be tried in adult courts, which would make it difficult for Charlotte to classify them as juveniles.

Those changes are slightly more restrictive than the previous curfew rules, which were first implemented in 1995. Nothing wrong with that.

But we're skeptical the new rules will result in much change in Charlotte, because Charlotte-Mecklenburg police didn't place a great deal of emphasis on enforcing the old rules. Through November, only 72 juveniles were arrested for curfew violations this year in Charlotte, just more than one a week, according to numbers CMPD provided me. Only 10 parents in 2011 were made subject to fines because their children were caught out late. Each of those numbers is up slightly from 2010.

That doesn't mean police aren't doing their job. Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon pushed the revised curfew after a late-night uptown shooting followed uptown's Food Lion Speed Street celebration in May. A subsequent uptown event, the annual July 4 festivities, didn't have similar problems, but the improvement came from a significant police presence that discouraged trouble before it began.

I asked CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano if the low number of curfew citations means that police believe other methods of policing better deal with youth issues. Could it be that arresting juveniles or finding and fining adults isn't the most effective use of police time?

Tufano's telling response: "This stricter ordinance isn't a be all to end all, but rather another tool we have to keep children safe."

Peter St. Onge

An extraordinary non-endorsement

The conservative National Review published an extraordinary editorial last evening, urging Republican voters not to cast their primary ballot for Newt Gingrich.

The reasons cited for the non-endorsement are nothing voters haven't heard already: "His impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas," the editorial offered, all of which led to a larger point - that Gingrich would cost Republicans a chance at a 2012 sweep of the White House and Congress, with all the conservative policy achievements that could follow.

Said the editorial:
If he is the nominee, a campaign that should be about whether the country will continue on the path to social democracy would inevitably become to a large extent a referendum on Gingrich instead. And there is reason to doubt that he has changed.
What's extraordinary isn't that the National Review is putting ink to the widespread frets of Republicans. It's the risk the editorial takes - that if Gingrich wins the nomination despite so many conservative pleas similar to this one, Republicans will be left with a candidate so many in the party have gone on the record as fearing.

Certainly, many conservatives would vote for nominee Gingrich anyway in the general election, given the alternative. But elections are won in part on enthusiasm, and Gingrich would be hitting November with a clearly conflicted base. It's hard for the National Review to walk back from this on Gingrich: "He appears unable to transform, or even govern, himself. He should be an adviser to the Republican party, but not again its head."

Are the conservative attacks on Gingrich just part of primary politics? To a degree. Hillary Clinton supporters were hard on Barack Obama in 2008, but in the end, prominent liberals didn't cross the bridge from calling Obama an "uncertain commodity" to "unfit leader." That's what we're seeing with conservatives and Gingrich.

Peter St. Onge

Another Washington stalemate? Sigh.

Good morning and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's place for discussion and perspective. I'm Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial board, and I'll be your host today.

What's everyone talking about this morning? Politics, of course, but let's take a temporary break from the GOP presidential race to see how things are moving along on critical legislation in Washington.

They're not? OK, back to the primaries.

Unfortunately, the payroll tax/government shutdown tug of war is likely your story of the day. Less than two days remain until the federal government shuts down because the latest in a series of stopgap spending bills is about to expire. Most everyone in Congress wants to pass a new spending bill, just as most in Congress want to extend the payroll tax cut. But because this is Congress, no one wants to give the appearance of doing what the other side wants, even if it's kinda maybe what you want, too.

Specifically, here's what's at stake: The Senate Appropriations Committee has produced a sweeping $1.043 trillion spending package to fund Cabinet operations and war spending. Given that the agreement was the product of weeks of bipartisan work, the package has a decent chance of passing with few tweaks by Friday night to avoid an embarrassing (if that's still possible for lawmakers) Washington shutdown.

But because President Barack Obama and Democrats want Republicans to extend or expand a payroll tax cut before the current version expires at the end of the month, they have refused to let the spending package come up for a vote. Republicans, as you might guess, won't let a payroll tax cut vote happen until the spending package is voted on.

We think a payroll tax cut extension is a good idea, if it's paid for. We also like the concept of not shutting down the government. What's going to happen? Both will get passed. It might happen right before Friday night, or government might get shut down for a few hours or a day until lawmakers realize, again, how silly they've become, again. Everyone knows this eventuality, including Congress. Which is what makes this taffy pull that much more maddening.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, who spent Wednesday watching members of the Senate insult each other in the name of legislating, searched and found the better word for it all: Moronic.

Politico's David Rogers offers even more details (if you dare) on the battle and how it fits into 2012.

A bigger legislative deal, perhaps, is a bipartisan plan introduced yesterday to overhaul Medicare. The plan was co-authored by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The plan will go nowhere this election year, but Wyden's participation surely will infuriate Democrats, who planned to spend 2012 informing voters how Republicans wanted to gut Medicare. Having a Democrat's name on the legislation takes that hammer out of the party's hands as the election approaches.

Closer to home

The O's editorial today says that the proposed Red Line commuter train from Charlotte to points north may sound too good to be true - but it brings good-enough possibilities that it should be vetted thoroughly by all involved.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don't put up red light yet on Red Line plan

The Observer's Thursday editorial:

After 10 years of starts and stops on building a 25-mile passenger rail line from Charlotte to Mooresville, transportation planners have an idea that sounds too good to be true.

Under the proposal, which state DOT officials and others started selling hard this week, trains would start running in 2017, commuters would make it through rush hour faster than in a car, new development (and jobs) would be burgeoning around 10 stations and most taxpayers would be on the hook for a fraction of the project’s cost.

If this vision sets off alarm bells, we understand. It does sound optimistic. Even so, the plan has promise and we hope the elected officials and other decision-makers who will decide its fate will give it a fair and thorough examination in the coming months. It surely needs exhaustive vetting, but at its best, it could create jobs, slow worsening traffic congestion and serve as a model for the kind of extraordinary regional cooperation that will be needed to solve this area’s challenges for years to come.

About 150 elected officials and staff from north Mecklenburg and Iredell counties gathered for four hours Tuesday to learn about the plan. Here’s how it would work: The Red Line, as it would be known, would cost $452 million (in 2018 dollars) to complete. The state would pay one-fourth of that ($113 million) and the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) would pay one-fourth.

The other half would be paid by special assessments and taxes paid by businesses and other commercial developments around the new stations. The thinking is that the rail line would spark new development ($4.9 billion worth in 30 years) and increase property values close to the line.

Much of the higher property taxes generated from those higher values would be used to help pay for construction costs. Separately, area businesses, attracted by the new business opportunities, would agree to pay a fee that would help pay for the line. The higher taxes and the fees would each generate more than $100 million over six years or so, DOT officials say.

The Red Line would take 5,000 or more people off I-77 and other roads each day and, theoretically, spark economic development up and down the route, including in places that badly need it such as Derita and other parts of north Charlotte. With federal money for commuter rail dried up and the state and CATS pinched as well, the latest plan hatches some much-needed innovation. That’s why elected boards in Charlotte, Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and Mecklenburg and Iredell counties should study the proposal, improve it and decide whether it deserves their support next spring.

They should also ask a lot of hard questions, including:

What if the anticipated development doesn’t come, or comes very slowly?

What protections do taxpayers have, and how bulletproof are they, if the state has to temporarily step in to cover shortfalls?

How will CATS come up with $113 million without failing to meet many other transit demands around Charlotte?

How do you protect residents on a fixed income who see their property values, and thus their property taxes, balloon?

Residents and elected officials would be wise to reserve judgment. They would also be wise to see if they can responsibly pull off this major transportation and economic development plum.

Obama in Carolina: Political or patriotic?

President Obama's (with First Lady Michelle Obama) visit just hours ago to Fort Bragg to mark the ending of the U.S. war in Iraq lured commentators worldwide and had some pointing to political views for his geographic choice of North Carolina for commemorating the war's finale. So the question is was it more political than patriotic?

For most journalists covering the event, it was news regardless. The BBC News was on hand with their reporters pointing to the fact that as a state senator Obama had once called the war "dumb." The Guardian was on hand also calling the idea "that the Iraq war is over attractive but deeply misleading."

Most news reports noted that the president made very few references to the divisiveness among Americans over the war and pointed out that he didn't mention his own opposition. Instead the speech was chocked with praise for the returning troops, those who were casualties of the war and the U.S. military in general.

But the New York Times and others took note of the probable political nature of his trip. This was Obama's first to the N.C. army base, and pundits said it is an especially meaningful one because of the president's potential path to reelection in 2012, which could include winning Virginia and North Carolina, a typically red state that Obama turned in 2008.

"But Fort Bragg and neighboring Fayetteville, with its large African-American population full of veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan, will need to join urban areas like Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham in turning out for Mr. Obama if the president is to have a chance of repeating that unlikely win next year," says the Times. Mitt Romney has also acknowledged the significance early on, and is already running anti-Obama ads locally.

Speaking of Romney, the GOP presidential contender tried to steal some of the president's limelight by writing a letter to the Fayetteville Observer that appeared in the morning's edition criticizing Obama's economic policies. In the letter, he also joined the president in "expressing our nation's gratitude" toward the returning troops.

The National Journal pointed to the fact that Gov. Bev Perdue was there with Obama and alluded to the notion that she tried to avoid him the last time he was in the state. She was overseas on a trade mission to Asia. The Journal said: "North Carolina will be an important swing state for the president's reelection team and the Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte next year. So it's difficult to imagine how Perdue can, in any effective way, dodge the president. Opponents will tie her to the president no matter what she does, so she's best served to appear with him when she can, especially since he has a fighting chance in the state."

Obama's fighting chance might be better against Newt Gingrich, who has surged recently in the polls among Republican presidential candidates, than against Romney. That's what N.C. registered voters said in a survey by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh. Obama wins against Gingrich, 49 percent to 45 percent, in a hypothetical matchup put before 865 registered voters.
Obama was tied against Romney with each getting 46 percent of the vote in the survey.

- Posted by Fannie Flono

CMS board's new leadership is not so novel

Hi there. Welcome to O-Pinion, the Observer editorial board's blog. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host for today.

There's a lot of buzz locally on the leadership change for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board. Newly-elected at-large board members Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Mary McCray were voted in by colleagues on the nine-member board as chair and vice-chair of the board. They made a little history but not in the way many might think.

This is not the first time a first-time politician has been chair. Eric Davis, who Ellis-Stewart replaced, was a novice too. It's not the first time two African Americans have been chair and vice chair. Arthur Griffin and Wilhelmenia Rembert did so more than a decade ago. And neither McCray nor Ellis-Stewart is the first woman or African American - or African American women - to hold their posts.

Phillip O. Berry was the first African American to chair the board. Winthrop University's Rembert was the first African American woman to be vice chair and later to become chair.

The two aren't even the first two women to hold the both leadership roles in the same year. That happened in 2002 when Rembert and board member Louise Woods were chair and vice chair respectively.

So what's the history? They are the first two African American women to hold both leadership roles at the same time.

The vote for Ellis-Stewart and McCray follows a tradition in Mecklenburg politics where the general election's top vote-getters of the majority party are usually elected by their peers to lead the body. That's one reason so many people were irked by Democrat Harold Cogdell last week when he ousted fellow Democrat Jennifer Roberts who was the top vote-getter for the majority party for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.

The CMS board has broken with tradition in the past, most recently with Eric Davis' elevation to board chair. And it wasn't clear until late Tuesday what would rule the day this year either. Board members were in talks and undecided for most of the day. But in the end they came out publicly unified behind Ellis-Stewart and McCray in an 8-0 vote (Tim Morgan's District 6 seat is vacant since he was elected to an at-large seat in November.) Such unity was not on display back in 2002 when Rembert and Woods were elected to lead the board. They got a bare majority of five votes.

Hopefully, the unified vote Tuesday night signals that this CMS board will work cooperatively with each other to tackle the serious challenges facing the schools.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lowe's misses chance to turn away bigotry

The Observer's Tuesday editorial:

Corporations are notorious fence-sitters on public issues, and understandably so. They’re in the business of making money, not taking moral stands, because you don’t want to take sides on topics that might divide your customers. But sometimes an issue confronts you, and like it or not, the fence disappears.

Lowe’s Inc. missed an opportunity to make the right choice this week when faced with outrage over advertising it pulled from a weekly cable TV series about Muslim-Americans. Instead, it issued a sorry-but-not-really apology, and in doing so, the Mooresville retailer has appeared weak-kneed in the face of bigotry.

Lowe’s stopped advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim” after complaints from the Florida Family Association, a conservative group that’s well practiced in getting advertisers to flee from shows that don’t fit the group’s worldview. “All-American Muslim,” if you haven’t seen it, chronicles the lives of five families from Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a substantial Muslim population. The show touches on the discrimination and profiling Muslims face in the U.S. because of their faith.

That message is lost on the Florida Family Association, which says on its web site: “The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”

Lowe’s, after receiving emails from FFA members, decided to yank its advertising, which prompted Ted Lieu, a state senator from California, to threaten his own boycott last week. Lieu called the Lowe’s decision “un-American.”

Cue the hollow apology. Lowe’s issued a statement Sunday saying it was sorry for having “managed to make some people very unhappy.” The statement explained that people had strong views about “All-American Muslim,” and that Lowe’s believes “it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”

Translation: This Muslim thing isn’t our fight.

The company said Monday it’s not going to resume advertising on the show.
Certainly, corporations can choose to advertise how they want, and it’s likely that marketing folks at Lowe’s saw “All-American Muslim” as intriguing but benign – a show that thoughtfully asks its viewers to examine their preconceptions on Muslims. It’s possible Lowe’s didn’t know its ads were running on that specific show.

But when faced with the demand to pull the advertising, Lowe’s became part of the fight, like it or not. What to do then? The company could have said: “Advertising buys have finite runs, and when this one concludes we’ll evaluate where our advertising is most effective.” Maybe that wouldn’t have satisfied the Florida Family Association, but it would’ve allowed Lowe’s to nod to the group’s concerns, yet maintain the values it trumpets on its web site, which says: “Lowe’s is committed to treating each customer, employee, community, investor and vendor with respect and dignity.”

Instead, Lowe’s made a decision to side with a group that encourages discrimination by declining to distinguish peaceful Islam from extremism – a group that promotes bigotry Lowe’s surely doesn’t condone. It’s not too late for the company to show us that.

In 1980, first woman Meck chair was ousted

Former Mecklenburg County commissioner Liz Hair puts a historical spin on Jennifer Roberts' ouster last week as chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners. It happened before - to Hair, who was the first female to serve on the county commission board in 1972 and became its first female chair two years later. Says Hair in Tuesday's Forum on the Opinion page, "I served six years as chair and top vote-getter, then was unseated by two Democratic, male board members (who wanted to be chairman). Both were defeated in the next election. Caveat emptor!"

Ah, the payback.

Look out, Harold Cogdell. Even the most recent other time a Democrat teamed with Republicans to oust a Democratic chair in 1997 brought defeat for the person colluding with the opposing party. Democrat Hoyle Martin joined forces with Republicans to dethrone Parks Helms for Republican Tom Bush. Martin, too, got the boot from voters a year later though he'd done so many crazy things as a member of the infamous "Gang of Five" his failed reelection bid could be attributed to any number of actions.

But Liz Hair's letter is a reminder of just how recent women began holding leadership roles in local politics in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Republican U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick became the first and so far only female mayor of Charlotte when she was elected in 1987 serving through 1991.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board could be poised to elect a female chair. The last time a woman was elected to that chairman's job was in the 2009, when Molly Griffin got the nod. Before that it was Wilhelmenia Rembert in 2002. Newly-elected member Ericka Ellis-Stewart, a Democrat, was the top votegetter in the at-large race in November. Eric Davis, an independent, is current board chair. Tom Tate, a Democrat, is vice chair. Observers say the chair's job will go to one of the three. Democrats hold a 5-3 advantage (one seat is unfilled since District 6 representative won an at-large seat in November) so the edge seems to go to Tate or Ellis-Stewart in the voting Tuesday. But who knows?

Women have come a long way in Charlotte-Mecklenburg politics regardless. But if Roberts had held onto her chairman's job there would have been the rare possibility of having two of the top three local political leadership jobs held by a woman.

- Posted By Associate Editor Fannie Flono

Bets on presidential race premature, risky

Good morning. Welcome to O-Pinion, the editorial board's daily blog. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host for today.

So, everybody's still talking about that $10,000 bet that Mitt Romney made Texas Gov. Rick Perry during in the Iowa GOP presidential debate Saturday. Romney was challenging Perry on his assertion that Romney had said in the first edition of his book that he wanted to impose a health insurance mandate at the federal level.

Romney had a right to challenge Perry because Perry was apparently WRONG. Romney never said that in his book, "No Apology," according to The Associated Press and the nonpartisan Both say Perry is wrong., another nonpartisan fact-checking group, also said the claim inaccurate.

But that truth has gotten lost in the smoke surrounding Romney's tone-deaf, bizarre of-the-cuff bet. With most Americans struggling to make ends meet, some say the millionaire Romney seemed out of step with the plight of everyday citizens with his cavalier bet.

Both the Democratic National Committee and Perry have launched ads calling attention to the gaffe. "Romneycare - A losing bet for America," Perry's video says. Even Jon Huntsman, perennially low in polling among Republican rivals for the GOP nomination, got in the act by saying pointing to other instances where Romney praised health mandates. Huntsman’s campaign is also running a website called, with a main headline on Sunday afternoon that read, “Why Mitt Romney Owes Rick Perry $10,000.,” according to the Fiscal Times.

Romney's people say no harm was done, according to the Washington Post. They say Romney came off looking assertive for forcing Perry to back down from his charge.

Maybe. But Ronald Brownstein in the National Journal in an article titled the "Five Takeaways from Saturday's debate" said "the 'bet' could be a costly swagger."

Other takeaways? "Bachmann did herself the most good on Saturday night. It's unclear whether voters will accept her attempt to yoke together the two front-runners as 'Newt Romney' on immigration, health care and climate change, but she made a strong case that conservative true believers should not settle for either. "

As for the opponent the Republicans would face, President Barack Obama, polls continue to show he'll have a hard campaign ahead if voters views on the economy and his job performance are a gauge. The Rasmussen Poll on Monday showed just 33 percent rate Obama's handling of the economy as good or excellent; 48 percent rate Obama's handling of the economy as poor. Only 20 percent strongly approve of his performance as president; 39 percent disapprove.

Obama is trying to put the best face as he treks from place to place trying to sell his jobs package but even with all the ups and downs on the GOP side, this presidential race looks like it will come down to the wire next November unless the economy takes a big upswing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cogdell: Let's have full investigation into my hiring

Mecklenburg commissioners Chairman Harold Cogdell said this morning that he will ask the board of C.W. Williams Community Health Center to make public how much the nonprofit is paying him.

"I'm going to seek their permission to release the employment contract," Cogdell told me this morning. "It describes the scope of services, and what I get paid, and what I get paid to do and when that relationship was formed."

Cogdell, a Democrat, has come under scrutiny for being hired by C.W. Williams about two months after he fought for a 39 percent hike in the county's allocation to the group.

Cogdell said he wants all the information about the arrangement to come out. He said he will ask commissioners at their Dec. 20 meeting to authorize a full investigation into his hiring.

"I absolutely want to bring that out. I think the public is entitled to that. We need to make sure there are answers to the questions that have been raised."

We called for such transparency in an editorial in this morning's paper, an opinion Cogdell said he doesn't disagree with.

Cogdell said he first started talking with C.W. Williams about a job in mid to late July, about a month after the budget talks. The group provides medical care to the poor.

He said he and other commissioners were lobbied by C.W. Williams for more than $1.7 million in county money, compared with the $280,000 that County Manager Harry Jones recommended. Cogdell said he supported giving C.W. Williams $110,000 more than Jones' recommendation in part because of difficult talks the county had been having with Carolinas Healthcare System about indigent care.

"I could see the potential moving forward that these centers are going to play a bigger role in providing indigent health care," Cogdell said.

We repeat our call for a thorough look into this matter, and applaud Cogdell for being open to that.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cogdell hiring needs independent probe

Friday's Observer editorial:

The public does not yet know all the details surrounding Harold Cogdell and how he landed a job with a local nonprofit. But if this thing that walks and quacks like a duck is indeed a duck, Mecklenburg County’s new commissioners chairman should resign from public office and authorities should determine whether he broke the law.

The county should have an independent investigation launched to determine exactly what happened. A dismissive “it’s politics” from Cogdell is not enough.

Here’s what we know: During county budget talks last summer, County Manager Harry Jones proposed cutting less than $2,000 from the county’s $281,957 allocation to C.W. Williams Community Health Center, a nonprofit that provides medical care for the poor. Cogdell, who supported cuts to other social service spending, successfully pushed for a $110,000 increase for C.W. Williams – a 39 percent hike in a tough budget year. Two months later, Cogdell took a job as a lawyer for the group.

Cogdell, a Democrat, says there’s no connection. That’s possible. But it looks extremely suspicious and the public deserves a full accounting of what happened. Had Cogdell started talking with C.W. Williams about a job before he pushed for sharply higher county funding for it? What promises, if any, were made? How much is Cogdell, now the county’s top public official, being paid by an organization he helps fund? How did this one nonprofit, of the many the county funded, get to the top of Cogdell’s funding priorities?

The public deserves answers to these and other questions. Cogdell and C.W. Williams CEO Beverly Irby did not return calls from the Observer editorial board before our deadline Thursday.

Even if there was no explicit quid pro quo, it would at a minimum be unethical to fight for more funding for an agency that is a prospective employer. If any talks of a job had already been held, Cogdell should have recused himself. And fellow Democrats should have raised questions as soon as they had them, not only after Cogdell sided with Republicans to become chairman.

If Cogdell used his public office and control of taxpayers’ wallets for his personal gain, it would be a betrayal of public trust of the highest order. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison this week for public corruption. We don’t want that kind of pay-to-play culture in our local government.

Maybe this is all a big misunderstanding. Maybe Cogdell was just a big C.W. Williams fan and pushed for a sizable budget increase because he thought the group does good work. Maybe C.W. Williams then offered Cogdell a job just weeks later completely independent from his work on its behalf at county budget meetings. Maybe. An investigation needs to find out.

When Cogdell dethroned fellow Democrat Jennifer Roberts for the chairman’s title this week, he said it was about getting away from politics as usual. But if Cogdell won a job by pushing tax dollars toward one nonprofit, it’s politics at its worst.

How to sell transit? Dumb it down, McCrory says

We've long believed one of Pat McCrory's strengths as Charlotte mayor - and a big reason he was never really challenged in elections here - was his willingness to buck his party on issues he felt were critical to the city's future.

The most prominent example of that? Transportation. McCrory understood the value of mass transit, and he encouraged people to bike and walk as well as drive. Many in his own party railed against his support of Charlotte's light rail system, but he didn't waver, and the system has been an early success.

How did he help get it done? On Wednesday, he told a group of transit managers in Georgia that selling a rail system to the public requires a combination of dumbing down and offering a big picture.

Says the Macon Telegraph:
McCrory's theme was "Mayberry & Metropolis," a discussion of how to get public transit projects done and integrate them into effective community revitalization.

Transit and revitalization efforts alike are not individual projects that can be considered finished at any point, he told the group. They're constant and eternal processes, with each project connected to the others, McCrory said.

And without an overall vision for an area, plus a strategy to achieve it, "you're wasting your time on the process," he said.

When selling that vision to the electorate, planners can't use technical language, McCrory said.

"The public does not understand the written word," he said. "They want pictures."

When selling that vision to the electorate, planners can't use technical language, McCrory said.

"The public does not understand the written word," he said. "They want pictures."

McCrory said those pictures should show not just shiny new stations, but the blight that might come to corridors that don't places that don't take advantage of rail. He also said that for transit systems to succeed, they must be integrated with other developments and have routes that transcend political boundaries.

That's all true, and it's also interesting. As McCrory continues to veer to the right in advance of his inevitable run for N.C. governor next year, he's still championing the thing N.C. conservatives most detest about his policies - rail.

That kind of big-picture McCrory could serve North Carolina well. Or maybe he just didn't think anyone here would find out.

Peter St. Onge

How do we dislike thee, Newt?

It's not surprising that Newt Gingrich's sudden ascendancy would be followed by a thorough examination of his flaws, real and perceived. What's surprising is that most of the criticism is coming from his own party.

This week, as Gingrich has begun to top Mitt Romney in national polls and key early primary states, conservatives have gone hard after the Georgian for transgressions past and present. Certainly, intra-party squabbling isn't unprecedented during primary season - Barack Obama still has scars left by Hillary Clinton supporters - but the range and depth of Republican distaste for Gingrich is startling.

What do they dislike about Newt this week? A lot of things.

It's his raging ego, says the Washington Post's right-wing blogger Jennifer Rubin, who says:

So one of Gingrich’s actual rivals will have to call out Gingrich, expose him as a charlatan and make the case that the GOP is heading for a trainwreck if Gingrich is the nominee. Is there someone able to do all that?
It's the serial infidelity, says Redstate's Eric Erickson, who says he has difficulty supporting a man who is on his third wife after cheating on the first two. Erickson says he'd have to support Gingrich over Obama, but it clearly would be a tortured choice. "At what point does winning so badly mean willing to risk one's principles or one's soul," he asks.

It's the grotesque opportunism, says conservative George Will, who is no fan of Romney, either. Will recounts how on the eve of the 1994 election, Gingrich said South Carolina mother Susan Smith's drowning of her children "Vividly reminds" Americans "how sick society is getting, and how much we need to change things ... The only way you get change is to vote Republican."

It's that the Christian right probably shouldn't be associated with him, says the New York Times Russ Douthat. He explains:

To many younger Americans, religious conservatism as they know it often seems to stand for a kind of institutionalized hypocrisy ... that's incensed by the idea of gay wedlock but tolerant of straight divorce, forgiving of Republican sins but judgmental about Democratic indiscretions, and eager to apply moral litmus tests only on issues that benefit the political right.

Rallying around Newt Gingrich, effectively making him the face of Christian conservatism in this Republican primary season, would ratify all these impressions.
It's the mind-blowingly bad idea, writes the Washington Post's Kathleen Parker (who's more conservative-lite). The idea, of course, is Gingrich's suggestion that kids from poor neighborhoods should work janitorial jobs at schools to learn a work ethic. Says Parker:
The former speaker's fumble is precisely what some Republicans have feared and others have breathlessly anticipated. The Washington Wager was whether Gingrich could make it four weeks without self-immolating before Iowa. Or would he find himself so irresistible that he just had to express himself?
It's that he's a poor leader, says Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who served under then House speaker Gingrich in 1994 and told FOX News: “There’s all types of leaders. Leaders that instill confidence, leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk. Leaders that have one standard for the people that they’re leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found his leadership lacking.”

And that's just a sampling. From one week. The easy explanation here is that the anti-Newt conservatives are pro-Mitt conservatives working for their guy. But Erickson, Will and others have been hard on Romney, too.

The other easy explanation is electability - Republicans see Newt's weaknesses as fatal in a general election, which would hand the White House back to Obama.

But there's one more explanation, offered up by Salon's Gene Lyons, who says that Gingrich's love of crude smears and absolutism about complex issues reflects the kind of tea party conservatism sweeping the GOP, and it's signaling the end of Republican intellectualism.

What you're seeing this week are Republican thinkers fighting back. At risk is not just an election, but perhaps the future of the party.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Welcome! You sure you want this job?

Tomorrow's editorial tonight:

A hearty welcome to Tom Murray, named Monday the new chief executive of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. Murray comes to Charlotte after three decades of hospitality work, mostly in hotels but most recently running a luxury cruise business. He’s going to need all that experience.

Here’s what Murray will face in his new job: A wacky organizational chart in which one of his subordinates is former CEO Tim Newman, now deposed but still with a great deal of influence in the organization and city. Murray also will work for a board that thoroughly bungled its handling of that deposed CEO, earning the ire and meddling of Mayor Anthony Foxx and Charlotte’s City Council, not to mention the public’s distrust.

And oh yes – in nine months, Murray also will be navigating the most important hospitality event in Charlotte’s history, the Democratic National Convention. We wouldn’t blame him if he decided instead to take the next cruise to the Galapagos.

Murray surely knows what he’s getting into, but just in case, a recap. Newman was demoted for a series of misdeeds and missteps, including lavishing thousands of dollars of dinners and tickets on local business leaders and public officials who weren’t clients; funneling bonus money from a client to an employee in a way that got around the organization’s ethics policy; and wildly overestimating attendance figures for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The board did its best to keep Newman atop the CRVA, at first promising reform and pretending to mean it by spending $25,000 on a consultant’s report. But that resulted in a few pages of laughably non-specific recommendations. Only when the mayor and council held a lit match to $10 million in CRVA money did the board stir in earnest.

But instead of firing Newman and starting over with a new culture, the board has saddled the CRVA with two quarter-million-dollar salaries – Newman at $240,000 and Murray at $275,000 – along with an awkward boss-subordinate dynamic.

Our hope is that another reality emerges. Murray comes to Charlotte with significant management and organizational experience. Newman, who wasn’t able to handle the challenges of running the CRVA, will oversee sales and marketing – a position that plays to his strength as an advocate for Charlotte. It’s a match, albeit an expensive one, that could serve the city well as the DNC revs up.

We’re encouraged that the CRVA has adopted policy changes regarding bonuses and perks, and the board has added new members such as Russ Sizemore, who helped lead United Way of Central Carolinas out of a public relations disaster over executive pay in 2008. Murray may lead the CRVA the rest of the way to credibility.

But to do so, he’ll have to remember that while the CRVA operates in the Wild West of hospitality, where perks and winks seem to be a part of life, the organization gets its money from the public and therefore must abide by standards of conduct and transparency. It’s something the board and Newman didn’t seem to get, and that created the mess we welcome Murray to repair.