Thursday, March 29, 2012

We're confused: Marriage, unions and Amendment 1

Opponents of an amendment to ban same sex marriage in North Carolina have long known their success depends on educating the public - not only about homosexuals in our communities, but about what the amendment will do.

A new Public Policy Polling survey released moments ago drives that challenge home. The survey of voters shows that North Carolinians are firmly in favor of an amendment that would constitutionally ban same sex marriage. But once those voters understand that the amendment also bans civil unions - as most experts believe it does - its prospects suddenly become a toss-up.

The numbers, from PPP's Tom Jensen: 58% of voters in the state say that they'll vote yes on Amendment 1, while 38% are opposed to it. Republicans pretty universally support it, 76/20. Democrats are closely divided with 48% in support and 47% opposed. The group most opposed is actually independents, who say they'll vote against it 55/42.

Says Jensen: "That's an important commentary on unaffiliated voters beyond this issue - they lean Republican in North Carolina right now because they're unhappy with the economy, but they're not hardcore social conservatives. The GOP needs to be careful about going too far out on a limb on social issues if it wants to keep its support with independents."

But here's where some contradictions begin: The poll also finds that 51% of voters in the state support some form of legal recognition for gay couples - 26% for marriage and 25% for civil unions - with 45% completely opposed to any.

How can you be for Amendment One but also in favor of legal recognition for gay couples? By not understanding what most believe the amendment does - ban both same sex marriage and legal recognition of civil unions. Only 31 percent got that right, while 28 percent thought the amendment banned only same sex marriage. Seven percent thought the amendment actually legalized gay marriage. Thirty-four percent said they didn't know.

Which leads us to the big stat: When voters are informed that the amendment bans both gay marriage and civil unions, only 41% of voters say they'll support it knowing that, while 42% are opposed.

One more interesting, if not new, note: White Democrats are opposed to the proposed ban, but African Americans support it 61/30. Yet another challenge for Amendment One opponents to overcome. With less than six weeks to go before the May 8 vote, that's a lot of needles to move.

Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thom Tillis: Gay marriage amendment will come, then go

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis told a small crowd of N.C. State students last night that Amendment One, which constitutionally bans same sex marriage in North Carolina, would likely pass in May and be repealed within a generation.

The Technician, N.C. State's student newspaper, reported that Tillis talked about energy, his experiences as a politician, and Amendment One in a question-and-answer session. On the latter, he said: “It’s a generational issue. The data shows right now that you are a generation away from that issue.”

That means although Tillis expects the amendment to pass - he cited research saying 54 percent will vote to approve - he expects it's only temporary. "If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years," he said.

Tillis is right. There's already a shift in public sentiment, with national polls showing a majority of Americans in favor of allowing same sex marriages. It's happening in some states, too.
In Maine, where voters overturned a law legalizing gay marriage in 2009, polls show that a referendum allowing gay marriage will pass in a vote later this year. If North Carolina doesn't vote down Amendment One in May, Maine would be the first state where voters didn't reject homosexual marriage.

That's partly why N.C. lawmakers dug in harder on keeping the wedding day away from gays, despite our state already having a law against same sex marriage. Gay marriage opponents are stacking their sandbags as high as possible against the inevitable wave.

Problem is, that puts us further behind states that understand gay marriage amendments are both discriminatory and bad for business. Bank of America executive Cathy Bessant reiterated that Monday, calling Amendment One "disastrous" for recruiting talented employees and "
a direct challenge to our ability to compete nationally for jobs and economic growth."

Tillis, a businessman and pragmatist, surely understands that, too. While it's nice to appear forward thinking in telling young folks that gay marriage is just a matter of time in our state, it's hardly visionary to shrug at inevitability after trying to block it. The "data" may tell the house speaker that we're a generation away from gay marriage; it's too bad he doesn't want to participate in leading us there sooner.

Peter St. Onge

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rick Santorum tees off on NY Times reporter

Rick Santorum went ballistic at New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny on Sunday and accused him of publishing "bulls---" about Santorum's campaign.

At a campaign event in Wisconsin, Santorum called Mitt Romney "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."

When Zeleny repeated Santorum's quote and asked for clarification, Santorum lost it.

"What speech did you listen to? ... Stop lying!" Santorum said, jabbing his finger at Zeleny. "I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare and that's what I was talking about. ... For every speech I give, I have said he is uniquely disqualified to run against Barack Obama on the issue of health care. Will you guys quit distorting what I'm saying?"

"Quit distorting our words," Santorum continued. "If I see it (in print), it's bulls---. C'mon man, what are you doing?"

Zeleny responded that Santorum seemed upset about something.

"I'm upset when the media distorts what I say, yeah I am. I do get upset. Because you knew exactly what I was saying and you're misrepresenting.

"What are you guys in the business of doing, reporting the truth? Or are you here to try to spin and make news? Stop it. You don't care about the truth at all, do you?"

Santorum defended his profanity today, telling Fox News it proves he's "a real Republican."

Zeleny talked about the exchange on "CBS This Morning" today and said he thinks Santorum was playing to the cameras. Romney spokesman Ryan Williams quickly pounced, saying Santorum was getting more desperate and "unhinged" in the final days of his campaign.

Either explanation makes sense. While it's probably true that Santorum meant to say Romney was the worst Republican against Obama on health care, that's not what he said at the Wisconsin event. Zeleny at least asked for clarification, rather than just running with Santorum's actual quote. That gave Santorum the opportunity to explain that he was talking about Romney on health care. Instead, he gave viewers another reason to feel a little skittish about having Santorum lead the free world.

Santorum's exchange with Zeleny is below.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In this no-limits era, a welcome limit

Tara Servatius has long seemed to revel in low-level discourse, so we suspect it wasn't conscience that prompted her to resign from the conservative John Locke Foundation this week after posting a truly detestable photo of President Barack Obama in chains and high heels with a bucket of fried chicken.

John Hood, president of the foundation, provided some easy lines to read between regarding how Servatius became an ex-Locke blogger. "Earlier this week," Hood said on his Facebook page, "a freelancer who blogs at the John Locke Foundation's Charlotte site posted a piece about President Obama's opposition to North Carolina's marriage amendment. It included an illustration that was offensive and utterly inappropriate for our blog or anyone else's. A reader brought it to my attention yesterday, and I had it removed immediately, but the damage was done."

So Servatius likely got a nudge out the blogging door - or saw it coming. That's not only an appropriate thing, but a heartening thing. If you saw the photo, which went locally viral this week, you probably shook your head at the depths to which our discourse has fallen. It's not hard to find ugliness out there, if that's what you're looking for, but it's jarring to find it in places where you expect a reasonable exchange of ideas.

[Update, 3:48 p.m.: In a statement to the Observer moments ago, Servatius apologized for the controversy but insisted she meant no offense by the photo.
I also wanted to add that, at the time, I was searching for a picture of the president in drag to illustrate his Southern political strategy of courting young voters, a majority of whom support gay marriage. It was one of the first photos to come up on Google Images. Regrettably, I didn't think about the racial implications of the picture when I posted it. I simply don't think in those terms. Unfortunately some people do.

To me, fried chicken is simply a Southern cuisine. So the picture seemed perfect to illustrate Obama's Southern strategy.]
But what happened, eventually, was what should have happened. An offensive post went up on a blog. People complained. Someone in charge realized that a threshold had been crossed.

Do we wish that a staffer at the Locke Foundation had preemptively stopped the photo from ever disgracing the site? Sure. But in this understaffed, shoot-first-and-edit-later digital media universe, perhaps the best we can expect is the sort of self-policing that our community provided here.

As for Servatius, once one of Charlotte's most dogged reporters: The former WBT talk radio host/Meck Deck blogger is running out of platforms to belch from. The beauty of the First Amendment is that she can rev up a new blog anytime she wants, maybe even for an employer willing to laugh at her next Obama joke. The rest of us can applaud the John Locke Foundation - whether we agree with its politics or not - for affirming that even in this open, raucous exchange of voices we treasure, there are still places we don't want to go.

Peter St. Onge

Read ore here:

Will the Etch A Sketch haunt Mitt Romney?

We think we get what Mitt Romney's senior advisor meant yesterday when he compared the transition from primary to general election to an Etch A Sketch.

Eric Fehrnstrom, in answering a question on CNN about Romney hurting himself with moderates by taking conservative positions during the primaries, seemed to be trying to say that dynamics naturally change in a general election. Different issues take prominence. Candidates draw different contrasts with each other. It's a wholly different campaign to prepare for.

All that is true. But here are the words Fehrnstrom used those conservative primary positions: "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes ... It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."

Well. Republican candidates dutifully pounced on this apparent affirmation of Romney's flip-floppedness. Rick Santorum shook an Etch A Sketch and mocked Romney at a Louisiana rally. Newt Gingrich, also in Louisiana, handed one to a child at a rally and said "She could now be a presidential candidate."

Democrats, of course, were gleeful. Republicans were troubled, including Rush Limbaugh, who wondered if the Etch A Sketch remark was a message that "We'll do the right things to get the moderates."

But will the gaffe do any damage? In the short term, probably not. Democrats and Obama supporters have made their point with it, and Santorum and Gingrich will carry Etch A Sketches around for a couple of days, to no avail. Republican voters have already considered Romney's reputation for shape-shifting, and they've settled with the inevitability of his nomination. Etch A Sketch doesn't break any new storylines - it's just a colorful illustration of the suspicions some already have.

Come summer and fall, however, Democrats will be warning moderates that they don't know which Mitt Romney they'd get as president - a theme they've already hammered - and the Etch A Sketch could provide a handy reminder of that. Voters like narratives they can visualize - George H.W. Bush at the supermarket scanner - and the Democrats just got one that will be hard to shake away.

What others are saying:

ABC News' The Note says it's a mess for Romney.

The Wall Street Journal says the gaffe has shaken Romney's camp.

Red State says conservatives should embrace Romney's malleability.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Freedom Fries? Uncle Chang? Walter, please

The blogosphere is lighting up with a slur or slang our own U.S. Rep. Walter Jones used Tuesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Republican Jones got so bent out of shape about the prolonged war in Afghanistan that he referred to the Chinese, who is said is "lending us the money that we're spending on Afghanistan", as "Uncle Chang."
It sounds like a slur and as the reminiscent feel of derogatory and demeaning language once used to belittle minorities in this country. But some folks said they'd give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was trying to make a parallel to to the United States as "Uncle Sam". Uncle Sam? Uncle Chang? Ummm.
You might remember Jones from another dustup when he got mad at the French, who opposed the invasion of Iraq after 9-11. He proposed renaming French fries as Freedom Fries in the House cafeteria. Yeah, that Walter Jones.
Well, whatever Jones meant with his label for the Chinese, here's some advice: Don't use the phrase again. It's subject to way too much misinterpretation. Members of Congress should be more circumspect.

A Bush for Romney
OK. So, now Jeb Bush has thrown his full weight behind Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential race. Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post on why it really matters and how that announcement today fits into his "endorsement hierarchy." Well, if the party can't get another Bush to run, the endorsement of the Bush they wanted to run should matter. But Alex Roarty of the National Journal writes that the endorsement won't make Rick Santorum cry uncle and end his campaign. But it does make the Lousiana primary and a big Santorum win there critical.

Romney's Latino problem?
In today's paper, New York Times' columnist Frank Bruni tagged Rick Santorum as having a Catholic problem. Tim Egan also of the New York Times weighed in again on the issue, factoring in last night's Illinois Catholic vote too. The Catholic vote is still going primarily to Mormon Mitt Romney over devout Catholic Rick Santorum. Egan calls them the commonsense Catholics.

But does Romney have a Latino problem?

That's the word from the liberal leaning Daily Kos, quoting of all things, a recent poll by Fox News. "The latest data on Latino voter preferences, commissioned by Fox News no less, shows that Republicans are getting absolutely crushed among Latinos," said the Kos' Markos Moulitsas.
"Among the findings, 69.5 percent consider themselves Democrats or lean that way, while just 15.9 percent consider themselves Republican or lean that way. Romney is so hated in the Latino community that he is actually underperforming among Latino Republicans! When the votes are counted, he will be lucky to clear 20 percent. THAT is how toxic the GOP and Romney are to Latinos right now."
The story touts five “Latino battleground” states - Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico - states with significant Latino populations. It also takes note of our own North Carolina and Virginia with Latino populations of about 8 percent which would have an impact. Kos doesn't include Florida because of the state’s heavily Cuban-American voting bloc which is more conservative.

“There's no way Republicans can suffer electoral swings of that magnitude and survive...I've given Romney every marginal state, including ones he clearly won't win like Wisconsin, and yet he still can't get to 270 votes if Latinos cost him every battleground state in which they are a factor," Markos writes.

"Bank it—Latino turnout will be higher this year than in 2008, and Democrats will fare dramatically better with them than in the past. The short-term prognosis for the GOP is difficult. But remember, this isn't just a short-term phenomenon. Latino growth continues unabated, so this will be an even bigger factor in future election cycles."

Posted by Fannie Flono

Romney getting some respect now? Yes and no

Good morning. Welcome to O-Pinion, the editorial board's online space for commentary and discussion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney keeps trying to lasso the Republican nod for president with primary wins. Yesterday, it was Illinois, where he swamped opponents Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul by getting 47 percent of the vote. He's not expected to do as well in Louisiana but some pundits are finally giving Mitt his due. Columnist Howard Fineman of the liberal Huffington Post called him the "best in a brutal business. Jay Cost of the conservative Weekly Standard also weighs in. The Standard's William Kristol was still "feeling blue" however over Romney as the choice.

Biden and his blarney
Vice President Joe Biden is always saying some crazy things. But Columnist Jason Linkins, editor of Eat Press, wasn't letting him get away with his absurd comment about that mission to raid Osama bin Laden's Abbotabad hideout which resulted in bin Laden's death: "You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan."
Linkins has some fun with that comment in a piece for the HuffPost.

The lowdown on N.C.'s integrity, and lack thereof
You might have missed the story about a nationwide analysis of "integrity" in state governments. Our story focused mostly on South Carolina and the five other states at the bottom of rankings in the study's "corruption risk" index. But North Carolinians need not get puffed up with pride about being tied for 19th best among the 50 states ranked. There's plenty to cover our faces in shame about.

In the report based on an 18-month investigation by the nonpartisan, good-government group the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, North Carolina could only muster a C- overall grade. That's because our policymakers - on both sides of the political aisle - have stretched the limits of ethical conduct, and gone over the line more than once.

Of the incidents cited? A North Carolina legislator sponsored and voted on a bill to loosen regulations on billboard construction, even though he co-owned five billboards in the state. When the ethics commission reviewed the case, it found no conflict; after all, the panel reasoned, the legislation would benefit all billboard owners in the state – not just the lawmaker who pushed for the bill. The N.C. Report Card showed the state with F's in Public Access to Information, the state budget process and redistricting. It got D's in judicial accountability and legislative accountability. Argh.
Getting overall F's in this report in addition to South Carolina were Michigan, North Dakota, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Georgia. Read more at this site.

Monday, March 19, 2012

'This is not about trees vs. billboards'

Backlash has been strong against a new N.C. billboard law that could cost the state tens of thousands of trees. The 2011 law, which went into effect March 1, allows for a wider swath of trees to be cut around billboards, and it transfers control over the trees from cities and town to the N.C. Department of Transportation. It was written with help from the outdoor advertising industry.

We've said the law is a bad idea and encouraged lawmakers and N.C. DOT to find a better balance between business, beauty and local control as they work through the process of making permanent rules for the law's application.

The Observer reported last week that Charlotte's Adams Outdoor has submitted 21 applications with the state to remove hundreds of trees in the city. Kevin Madrzykowski, General Manager of Charlotte's Adams Outdoor Advertising, responds to criticism of the law in an op-ed that will appear in tomorrow's print Observer.

From Madrzykowski:

Senate Bill 183 was approved in the House and Senate with overwhelming Republican and Democratic support.  The result is, without question, a bipartisan statute.

It is the responsibility of legislators, especially in challenged economic times, to support legislation that fosters economic development and job creation, at the same time balancing the impact such legislation has on the environment, quality of life, and a constructive business climate.  It’s also their responsibility to intervene when overly restrictive regulations threaten to put people out of work and an industry out of business. That is exactly the situation the Outdoor Advertising Industry finds itself.

When our signs were permitted and built, clear visibility existed. That is no longer the case as subsequent vegetation removal regulations have been put into effect by municipalities and the NCDOT.  Until SB183, which only pertains to NCDOT Right of Way, the industry and Adams were required to conform to both municipality and NCDOT regulations.  This duality created an environment where we could not maintain our assets properly.

As the Charlotte arborist acknowledged, contradiction existed between State and city regulation resulting in a scenario where we could remove little to no vegetation on property under NCDOT’s jurisdiction. These are vegetation concerns that did not exist when the billboards were originally constructed.

For a business that survives by providing advertisers exposure on high-trafficked roadways, visibility is a must.  It’s not a stretch to construe this contradiction as a means to put us out of business. With record levels of unemployment, putting additional jobs at risk is criminal.

Who is Adams Outdoor?  Adams is the premier provider of outdoor advertising in Charlotte, locally headquartered and employs over 65 people; Adams is our livelihood.

Adams also partners with over 715 landowners from whom we lease property.  These  property owners rely on income from the billboard structures to pay their bills, support their families . . . . and enjoy their basic property rights.

Further, Adams works with more than 470 advertisers striving to grow their businesses and achieve the best return for their advertising dollar.  For many outdoor advertising is the foundation of their media strategy and integral to driving potential customers to their business.

Finally, Adams is privileged to annually contribute over $1.5 million in advertising space to local non-profit organizations, community interest causes, schools, and municipalities.  Additionally, many employees have selflessly donated their time volunteering with these organizations.  We do this because it’s the right thing to do.

This legislation is not about trees vs. billboards.  It’s not about pushing the envelope in regard to the environment and asking for extremes.  In fact, it’s not even about protecting   visibility that existed when the billboards were first constructed.  This legislation is about doing what is fair, right and reasonable, rather than requiring that a legitimate, viable, giving company go out of business.

It is about supporting a business that cares deeply for this community so that it can continue to exist and do good.

Kevin Madrzykowski
General Manager
Adams Outdoor Advertising

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

There once was a candidate named Newt...

We're sure at least one group of election watchers held out hope for a Newt Gingrich resurgence Tuesday in the Alabama and Mississippi Republican primaries. That group, of course, would be the contestants in the Charlotte Observer Limericks contest.

After all, who would want such a prolific supplier of fine subject matter to walk away?

The former House speaker obliged our thirst for material again last week by extolling the virtues of natural gas to Mississippi voters last week. John Long of Stanley couldn’t resist:

But Newt Gingrich…and natural gas?
Though it may cause a stink,
Thanks Observer (wink wink),
This gift is just too good to pass.
Lou Breaux of Charlotte also knows some prime material when he sees it:
Filmed a gas rig for Obama to see.
Some folks say it’s all show
But it seems apropos
That Newt favors his gas naturally.
Good thing others can step up and fill the Gingrich void. Evangelist Pat Robertson, say hello to Charlotte’s Loyd Dillon:
So for hipness, he did something galling:
His “Legalize pot!”
Is now smokin’ hot
And part of his new “higher calling.”
It’s not just the national figures who supply the good stuff to our entrants. N.C. Rep. George Cleveland of Onslow County, who declared there is no “extreme poverty in North Carolina,” caught the eye of Ken Burrows of Charlotte:
Under bridges, in woods – by the score.
No tongue can recite
Their relief and delight
To learn, after all, they’re not poor.
Charlotte’s Bill McGloughlin saw communications possibilities in Brad Keselowski tweeting from his car during a Daytona 500 delay:
And they are quite a talented bunch.
It’s OK, don’t you know,
We’re professionals, so,
Multitasking’s no problem for ...CRUNCH!
Charleen Bolt of Charlotte is dealing with her own distractions:
Here comes the coughing and wheezing.
Inhale the Flonase,
Walk around in a daze.
Achoo! I wish it was still freezing.
Wes Long of Cramerton sees some improvements Donald Trump could make to The Point Golf Club in Mooresville, should they accept his purchase bid:
Of ideas to solve disrepair.
To save money restoring
He’d redo the Club’s flooring
With cheap rugs, or as Trump calls ‘em, hair.
Great entries, all of them. But our winner this week, John Long, returns us appropriately to Newt Gingrich, one more time:
To hubris, this guy is no stranger.
I read yesterday,
In his thick resume,
For “Place of Birth” it says “a manger.”
The best of the rest:

Lou Breaux, Charlotte
Romney’s family pet dog was exposed
In that car rooftop crate, locked and closed.

If Mitt does gets elected

Then I guess it’s expected,

Just like Seamus, we’re about to get hosed…
Ken Burrows, Charlotte

You're not poor in NC, the pols. say,
If you're getting $2 a day.

After all, grits and beans

And fatback and greens

Are more wholesome than steak or souffle.
Tommy Forney, on those ubiquitous ED commercials
If for loving you don't need cold showers
Take a pill, not just silly old flowers

There's no reason to grieve,

Those ads have you believe

And you'll be fine for three point five hours.

Madeleine Begun Kane
Mitt Romney would love all this over:
Nomination sewn up, in like clover,
All primed for a fight
To be Prez with the right
To ride Limo One topped with Rover.
Constance Kolpitcke

Fast food chains to their credit did declare
No more pink slime in their fare.

But the USDAA approves serving the stuff
In school lunch programs, sure 'nuff.

Let parents and students beware!
Wes Long, Cramerton:
The CMS wireless conception
Has gotten an ice-cold reception

From some folks on the right

Who think iPads just might

Be some kind of new contraception.

John Long, Stanley

My Lake Norman home value's week,
So now reassessment I seek.
My house, like an otter,
Has gone underwater
My current address? Up a creek.

Ballantyne thinks that Charlotte's a bore.
Independence, they'd like to explore.
If you're thinking secession,
Show a little discretion.
Ask a native. We've tried this before.
Joel Zauss, of Charlotte:
To keep ladies’ rights tightly confined.
War on women is waged
And the girls are enraged
Now “goodbye” he can kiss his behind.

Taylor Batten is back in charge next week. Send entries to him at Deadline: Noon Monday for Wednesday publication.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is poll of Ala., Miss. voters cultural profiling?

Hello. Welcome to O-Pinion, the editorial board's online place for commentary and discussion.

Lots of discussion on this primary voting day in two deep South states, Alabama and Mississippi, about a Public Policy Polling survey that showed significant numbers of prospective Republican voters with views more aligned with the 1950s than 2012.

But The Daily Beast's Michelle Cottle asks a good question: Why did the pollsters only ask those in this deep South primary questions about evolution and interracial marriage. "It’s scary that a quarter of Mississippi and Alabama Republicans are against interracial marriage, and half believe Obama’s a Muslim," Cottle writes. "But can the Democratic-affiliated pollster explain what this has to do with the current Republican presidential race—and why only Southerners are being asked?"

This smacks of "cultural profiling," she said. She has a point.

So here are the poll results: Only 26 percent of Alabama GOP voters believe in evolution; 60 percent don't and 13 percent aren't sure about it. Twenty-one percent still think interracial marriage should be illegal; 12 percent aren't sure whether it should be. Given that it was just in the year 2000 that Alabama changed its law banning interracial marriage - about 30 years after the Supreme Court outlawed it - maybe that's no surprise.

Even fewer prospective Mississippi voters believe in evolution: 22 percent do; 66 percent don't; 11 percent aren't sure. On interracial marriage, nearly half think it should be illegal or they aren't sure - 29 percent still think it should be illegal; 17 percent aren't sure. 54 percent think it should be legal.

Given that even some Republicans who want to be president - ahem, Donald Trump - expressed doubts about President Barack Obama's citizenship, and evangelist Franklin Graham challenged (and later retracted) Obama's Christianity, this poll result is hardly surprising. In both Alabama and Mississippi, most respondents think Obama is a Muslim eventhough he says he's a Christian. Fifty-two percent of Mississippi voters said he was a Muslim and 36 weren't sure; only 12 percent believe he's Christian. In Alabama, just 14 percent believe he's a Christian; 45 percent think he's Muslim and 41 percent aren't sure.

But hold up, Margie Omero of the liberal Huffington Post says. Before you go out and label the GOP voters in Alabama and Mississippi backward, you should know that polls show their views aren't inconsistent with the general population.

"Most Americans believe in creationism of some sort. Gallup tracking on this question shows only 16 percent believe 'humans evolved, but God had no part of the process' and twice as many believe creationism is 'definitely true' as believe the same about evolution (39 percent, 18 percent). Similarly, in 2005 Pew showed a third believe evolution is the 'explanation for the origin of human life.'

"On interracial marriage, PPP's April 2011 poll, also with Mississippi Republicans, showed far more (46 percent) wanting to see these marriages illegal. And the new polling suggests Mississippi and Alabama Republicans are not necessarily that far removed from voters overall. Gallup tracking on this question shows huge movement since 1958, when only 4 percent 'approved' of interracial marriages. But even at its new high of 86 percent in 2011, it falls short of unanimous."

oh. boy.

On the election front, today's Southern Super Tuesday is a toss-up for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Polls show they're all bunched up close to each other with around 30 percent - more or less - of the vote. Jay Cost of the conservative Weekly Standard has a good assessment. The National Journal has an interesting take too, and points out that Hawaii's primary is today also though results will be overshadowed by the Southern hoopla.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Doonesbury on abortion: Publish or not?

Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau told the Washington Post this weekend that it would have been "comedy malpractice" to ignore the topic of restrictive new state laws and bills surrounding abortion. The newspapers that publish his strip, including the O, have different dynamics to consider.

Several have decided not to run Doonesbury this week, with some publishing a week of substitute Doonesburys provided by Trudeau. (That includes, by the way, papers in progressive cities like Portland, Ore.) Among North Carolina's larger newspapers, the Greensboro News & Record and Winston-Salem Journal are not running the strip. Our neighbor, the Rock-Hill Herald, also decided no. Our sister paper in Raleigh decided yes.

Rick Thames, editor of the Observer, tells me today that the O will be publishing the comic in our print edition on all but one day - Thursday. That day's strip was deemed too graphic, Rick said, and losing the one day won't disrupt the narrative of the week.

It's a decision newspapers confront frequently - especially on our editorial pages, where we choose among dozens of letters to the editor and submissions to the Buzz each day. When does something add to the collective conversation about an issue, and when does it detract? When is shock an effective communications tool, and when is it merely gratuitous? In Doonesbury's case, while some might find his humor a powerful way to expose absurdity, some might consider it offensive to seek chuckles in so serious a topic.

With comics, there's an additional consideration, of course: audience. The journalist in me prefers to err on the side of including more voices in debates, not less, but as a dad with a 10-year old who goes directly to the comics when he gets home from school, welllllll...

Says Thames: "Readers of Doonesbury expect its creator to delve into politically and socially sensitive topics. That comes with the strip. But our comics page is a destination for all ages. Many would find that one day's installment too explicit."

John Robinson, former editor of the News & Record, writes in his excellent blog today that as an editor, he would have substituted the Doonesbury strip this week because if he's going to make readers angry, he'd rather do it with a news story.

But, he says:
Now, as a reader, I feel cheated. Doonesbury is an institution and by this time, you know what you’re going to get. Doonesbury is The Daily Show on the comics page. When people would complain that they didn’t like a particular strip, I would say, “That’s OK. We don’t expect people to like every comic we print. That’s why we publish two dozen of them with different styles and tones. You can pick and choose.”

I wish I had listened to myself and let readers pick and choose.

We don't always get these decisions right - on the editorial pages or elsewhere - but the O is finding a good balance this week. Thames notes that anyone who wants to see Thursday's strip has the option of viewing it online, in the comics section of, which can be found by going to the entertainment page.

Tell us what you think. Is the strip appropriate for the funny pages, the editorial pages, or no pages?

Peter St. Onge

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mitt Romney. A dog. A roof. A legend.

You know the story by now, surely. In 1983, during a 12-hour drive from Boston to Canada, Mitt Romney's oldest son, Tagg, noticed something brown on the family station wagon's rear window. It was the family dog, Seamus, having a post-digestive event while in the carrier that was attached to the roof of the car.

Romney pulled the car off the road and into a gas station, where he found a hose to wash off the car and dog (although not necessarily in that order). Then Mitt put Seamus back in the carrier and hit the road again.

The story was broken rather innocently by Boston Globe reporter Neil Swidey as part of a profile of Romney in 2007. It has found its way into political coverage and dog shows and, frequently, the columns of New York Times writer Gail Collins, who has made great sport of finding ways to mention Seamus, including a whole column this week.

Also this week, a riff on the story made our new favorite cover of the New Yorker.

The tale is, first of all, kind of funny, given that Seamus survived the rest of the trip just fine. Swidey says he included it in his series because he thought it was a telling example of how Romney operates on logic, not emotion. It's also a clear illustration of Romney's not-like-us-ness, and although we might not like what that says about us as voters, it matters at least a little in the selling of a candidate. (See George H.W. Bush, supermarket scanner.)

Is it, however, a political cheap shot to keep bringing this up? There's an interesting discussion on the matter at Politico, where Democratic and Republican strategists are debating if and why the story should matter.

One interesting take, from Democratic strategist Margie Omero:
"Lots of people have a story of the safety risks they took in the 70s and 80s. So I wonder if this story actually makes Romney seem more like a regular guy than his real-time gaffes about working people."
The panelists' consensus on Seamus and Romney: It's politics, and it's America. Maybe it's easier to buy into these narratives - Mitt and his dog, Gerald Ford and his clumsiness, George H.W. Bush and the checkout line - than it is to pursue the substance of candidates. Or maybe it's just a fun story.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joe the Plumber, Obama win on Tuesday too!

President Barack Obama was in Mount Holly today, beaming from his Super Tuesday win in Ohio. Say what?

No, this isn't some screed about how Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum nearly tied in Ohio and somehow that meant a win for Obama. There was an actual Democratic primary Tuesday too, and President Obama actually got more votes than Romney in the crucial battleground state - 547,588 to 456,205 - according to the Ohio secretary of state.

Pundits say that statistic is another indicator of Romney’s weaknesses as a candidate. Polling showed self-identified Republicans made up 69 percent of GOP primary voters in Ohio, but only 65 percent of GOP primary voters said they would “definitely” vote for the GOP nominee in November.

But polls also showed that the majority of Ohio Republican voters think Romney has the best chance of beating Obama in the fall general election.

The conservative Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes lists four things that Romney did right to help his cause for the GOP nod.

Ohio's Democratic primary also provided a precursor for some Democratic Congressional races in North Carolina. Longtime Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a liberal establishment in the House (and a Democratic presidential contender more than once), lost his seat in Ohio's 9th district to another longtime Democratic House member Rep. Marcy Kaptur. The Washington Post has an interesting story on Kucinich's rise and possible future.

Both Kucinich and Kaptur had been put into the same district when Republican redistricting in the state. The new district wound up having slightly more of Kaptur's previous constituents.

North Carolina's districts were realigned by the Republican-controlled legislature last year too. And though the maps have been challenged in court, the courts agreed to let the May 8th primaries proceed with the disputed maps. And those maps, like the ones in Ohio, double-bunked several Democratic incumbents in districts - giving them the choice of running against each other.

When legislators redrew election maps, they threw 38 of the 170 incumbent N.C. lawmakers into districts with others and "double-bunked" four of 13 members of Congress. Some like Brad Miller, who represented the 13th District in Congress, decided not to seek reelection. He was put into the 4th District with Democratic colleague David Price.

Look for redistricting to play a prominent role in election day results all across the nation.

One other interesting tidbit about Super Tuesday and the Kucinich race. Kaptur has a Republican opponent in November: Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe the Plumber" - the average Joe who became one of the faces of Republican opposition to Obama in his run for president in 2008 against Republican John McCain. Wurzelbacher won his GOP primary race against Steven Kraus. Notes the San Francisco Chronicle: "Joe the Plumber... member of Congress? Could happen."

Posted by Fannie Flono

How Santorum would drag down the GOP ticket

North Carolina's John Hood, president of the conservative John Locke Foundation (a think tank in Raleigh), had quite an interesting take on the Republican presidential primary race today. He took note of the "probability calculus" showing that despite all the cat-fighting that's going on now among GOP contenders, and the less than warm reception Mitt Romney gets from conservative conservatives - "the base" - Romney will be President Barack Obama's opponent come November.

That "probability calculus"? "Romney leads in delegates. He leads in the popular vote to date. He leads in fundraising, endorsements, and organization," Hood writes. "Unless something bizarre happens – some embarrassing new disclosure or gaffe on his part – Mitt Romney will be Barack Obama’s general-election opponent."

Most pundits (and non-pundits) assume the same. Just take a look at Josh Putnam's Frontloading HQ (Putnam is a visiting professor at Davidson College specializing in election campaigns). His website calculates how neither Santorum nor Gingrich has a real path to getting the 1144 delegates needed to get the Republican nod. "It isn't mathematically impossible, but it would take either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum over-performing their established level of support in the contests already in the history books to such an extent that it is all but mathematically impossible." Putnam's modeling is intriguing both in his calculations of how Gingrich and Santorum can't reach the magic number and how Romney can.

Back to Hood's analysis. The really interesting part is what he predicts for election day:

"While Romney’s ability to defeat Obama may remain debatable, there is little doubt that many Republican politicians wanted him at the top of the ticket rather than Santorum or Gingrich because they thought a Romney candidacy posed less of a risk to their own electoral prospects. While losing the presidential race would disappoint them, they’d rather live through another 1992 or 1996 – when GOP losses for president were accompanied by some offsetting GOP victories elsewhere – than go through another disastrous cycle like 1964 or 2008.

"Their statistical assessment of the 2012 election is entirely defensible. I continue to think that current trends predict a very close presidential contest in November. It might well come down to a point or two difference in the popular vote and key battles in swing states such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and our own North Carolina.

"Under those circumstances, one plausible scenario would be an Obama reelection combined with a Republican retention of the U.S. House, takeover of the U.S. Senate, and net gain of three to four governorships. Another plausible scenario would be a Romney victory combined with Republican losses in U.S. House seats and Democratic retention of the U.S. Senate.

"Right now, in other words, it looks like the 2012 cycle won’t be a wave election like 2006 and 2008 were for the Democrats and 2010 was for the Republicans."

Sounds about right. The U.S. electorate has said in several votes now that they like divided government, not wanting to give one party all the keys to the car. They have good reasons. Too often, politicians holding all the keys tend to try to drive the car off the cliff. Even with some of the keys, they can and have stalled traffic.

Ah, the wisdom of checks and balance.

Fannie Flono

Mitt Romney = Rodney Dangerfield

Mitt Romney has to be thinking: My goodness, what do I have to do to get a bounce in the press?

Romney showed some muscle on Super Tuesday, winning the crucial state of Ohio in addition to Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, Idaho, Alaska and Wyoming. Rick Santorum won Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. For those of you scoring at home, that's Romney 7, Santorum 3, Gingrich 1 and Ron Paul 0. And one of Romney's seven, Ohio, was far and away more important than any of the others.

The performance followed Romney's victories in Michigan, Arizona and Washington state last week. Those followed victories in Nevada, Maine, Florida and New Hampshire. All those victories, plus how the states and rules stack up going forward, give Romney a commanding lead in the delegate count.

So the media has Romney in the driver's seat, right? Wrong.

The narrative this morning was consistent: Super Tuesday was a split decision, confirmed Romney's weaknesses and did nothing to solidify Romney's hold on the eventual nomination.

The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg concludes: "Far from bringing more clarity to the race as some in the party had hoped, Tuesday's elections gave every candidate cause to keep driving forward." The headline in the Times on Jeff Zeleny's analysis: "With no knockout punch, a bruising battle plods on." "Mitt Romney won the delegates," Zeleny writes, "but not necessarily the argument."

The LA Times said: "Romney's slim victory over Santorum brings little clarity to the race for the party's nomination." USA Today called Super Tuesday "split." Politico's Maggie Haberman says "Win, no bounce, repeat... (Romney's) campaign and its backers had hoped to use a strong night to start making the case that it's time to wind this down, ... but in the end, he underperformed."

Politico's Jonathan Martin said in his analysis: "Mitt Romney's weaknesses show no sign of going away. ... All of his flaws were on full display Tuesday as he failed to wrap up the GOP nomination on an evening when it was within his grasp."

David Gregory on MSNBC: "Make no mistake: Rick Santorum had a SUPER Tuesday night. ... There's a lot for Mitt Romney to be concerned about."

Look: There's no question Santorum, and maybe even Gingrich and Paul, are going to linger a while longer. But that's partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the media universally say that this is a dogfight, that goes a long way to allowing it to be one. If the media emphasized instead that Romney has won 14 states (including Florida, Ohio and Michigan) and Santorum just six, the national conventional wisdom would be considerably different.

This has been a topsy-turvy race and we suppose anything could happen. But we'd be stunned if Romney didn't win the nomination. The rest of the world knows that too, but that's not as compelling a story.

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mental health facility fears are unfounded

Tomorrow's editorial today:

Commissioners did disservice bowing to misconceptions.

Huntersville town commissioners’ rejection Monday of rezoning for a psychiatric hospital was sadly summed up in the words of one resident. Said Steve Owens: “We need this facility, just not right in my backyard.”

It’s easy to empathize with Owens and other residents of a neighboring subdivision who opposed a Carolinas HealthCare System mental health facility near their homes. The residents noted traffic concerns but focused most comments on their true concern – a fear that mental health patients could harm their children.

Yet as it is with most NIMBY (not in my back yard) fears, these are largely unfounded. They are based on lack of knowledge and persistent stigma and myths about mental illness. Commissioners should not have bowed to such fears. But they did, in a 4-2 vote. Now critically needed services are in limbo.

How badly are those services needed? A 2010 mental health alliance report showed people across the state languishing in hospital emergency rooms for days unable to get treatment. A 2001 state reform that cut the number of state psychiatric hospitals to treat more patients privately spawned the problem. About half of the state-operated hospital beds have closed, but there have not been enough private beds created to meet the needs. Mecklenburg County’s lack of beds has resulted in some patients being held in observation in hospital emergency departments or acute care beds while waiting for placement. Overcrowding at Mecklenburg County’s CMC-Randolph, the county’s behavioral mental health hospital, has been so bad that patients have been sent home without ever getting hospital care.

The Huntersville facility would have been a great help in getting patients needed services in a timelier manner. The facility was to house patients with behavioral issues only, not those with substance abuse or sexual disorders.

The hospital had already gotten the approval of the town planning board in an 8-1 vote and support from the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, whose president touted both the economic benefits (155 jobs were expected) and the fact that such facilities have proven to have positive, not detrimental, impact on neighborhoods.

The two commissioners who voted for the rezoning educated themselves by visiting CMC-Randolph in Charlotte. Melinda Bales, who had concerns, said the visit was an eye-opener. “It was very tranquil,” she said of CMC-Randolph, “and not what I was expecting.”

More people should educate themselves about such facilities and about mental illness in general. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical condition that needs treatment.

It is also a common malady. One fifth of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder during any given year. One fifth of school-age children do too.

Sadly, the biggest misconception about the mentally ill continues to be the most persuasive against them – that people with mental illnesses are violent. The vast majority are not. Experts note rightly that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

The mentally ill are not strangers. They are our friends, neighbors and family – and sometimes they are us. An action like Huntersville’s, based on misconceptions and unfounded fears, is a disservice to our communities and everyone in them.

Posted by the Observer editorial board