Thursday, May 24, 2012

McCrory accepts Observer's challenge; Dalton ducks

Pat McCrory, the Republican candidate for N.C. governor, this afternoon accepted the challenge we posed in our editorial this morning: To keep his political ads fair throughout this campaign. His opponent, Democrat Walter Dalton, ducked the question.

The Observer editorial board urged McCrory and Dalton, and candidates in other races, to pledge "not to run ads that are clearly unfair (and) to denounce sleazy ads from independent groups."

This afternoon, McCrory, a Republican who is ahead in the polls, agreed and called on Dalton, a Democrat, to as well.

“This election should be about the serious issues facing our state and two competing visions for North Carolina,” McCrory said. “There’s enough that differentiates Lt. Governor Walter Dalton and I [sic] without having to resort to airing sleazy and unfair ads that don't tell the truth in an attempt to tear down the opponent."

Dalton spokesman Ford Porter then issued a statement that declined to take a position on the pledge.

"We're glad McCrory's got an opinion on something," Porter's statement said. "This election should be about the serious issues facing our state and two competing visions for North Carolina. Pat McCrory should stop talking out of both sides of his mouth and join Walter Dalton in debating the issues that matter in North Carolina: jobs and education."

UPDATE: Walton Robinson, a spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party, issued a statement this afternoon saying McCrory had made and broken the same promise in 2008. He said McCrory "has a history of negative campaigning," but could point only to one radio ad McCrory ran late in the 2008 campaign that accused then-Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue of seeking to spend road money on a teapot museum, a charge that was not accurate.

McCrory's campaign is challenging a TV ad paid for by the Democratic Governors Association that suggests McCrory unethically tried to help a company on whose board he sat. The campaign has asked the FCC to intervene and is threatening to sue stations that continue to air it.

Shortly after that ad hit the airwaves, a Raleigh pollster, Dustin Ingalls, told a Democratic group in Fayetteville:
“To win, we have to raise a lot of money, first of all, and we have to absolutely eviscerate McCrory. There’s no way to prop up Dalton enough. We have to just slash McCrory – death by a thousand cuts.” He added: “It’s going to have to be a very negative campaign.”

For their part, the Republican Governors Association launched the first TV ad of the campaign with a spot that makes very selective use of statistics to link Dalton to job losses, in a way that experts told WRAL was “lazy economic analysis.”

That was all a bad sign to us, prompting the editorial challenging the candidates to have a little more respect for voters. Negative ads have their place; highlighting an opponent's record is fair game, and can be helpful to voters -- if it is true. But often those ads cross a line, using innuendo or lack of context or other tricks to mislead.

Where that line lies is in the eye of each viewer, of course. We're encouraged that McCrory has agreed to run a fair campaign and denounce those groups that don't, and wish Dalton would as well. Now we just hope that McCrory's idea of where to draw that line is not wildly different from where most North Carolinians would.

-- Taylor Batten

Monday, May 21, 2012

Are Republicans intentionally sabotaging the economy?

That's the question asked by the AP's Charles Babington, who writes that top Democrats believe House Speaker John Boehner's saber rattling on the debt last week has a purpose: to cause economic anxiety and stall growth in advance of November's election.

Among those Democrats is N.Y. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who said in a statement: "The last thing the country needs is a rerun of last summer's debacle that nearly brought down our economy."

That "debacle" was the parties' inability to agree on anything regarding the debt - other than to punt it to a supercommittee that also couldn't come up with an agreement. The result: a hit to the country's credit rating, plus looming Draconian cuts set to trigger in January.

Those cuts are prompting this early rush to capture a new debt narrative with the election approaching. For Republicans, led by Boehner, that means announcing that this time, there will be no raising the debt ceiling without "dramatic steps" to reduce spending.

Boehner again isn't publicly entertaining the possibility of revenue increases/taxes to go with those spending cuts - a curious strategy given that last summer, Americans were largely scornful of the GOP's stubborn resistance to a debt plan that included both. (Americans also weren't terribly pleased that President Obama eventually chose to tsk-tsk both sides of the debt debate, rather than take the political risk of leading them toward a consensus.)

But is Boehner's new posturing an attempt to slow the fragile but growing economy? (It's not the first time one party has accused the other of fiscal sabotage.) Boehner says no, but it certainly won't calm the anxiety businesses are already feeling about our shaky economic landscape. The Washington Post reported last week that firms, hospitals and contractors already are delaying hiring and readying for cuts if Congress can't resolve debt, cuts and tax issues by January.

At the least, Boehner's remarks and the Democratic response add to the overwrought, unproductive political theatre we see from both sides, on most every issue, in what's become a perpetual election season.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Should Charlotte snub Amendment One on same-sex benefits?

Our first instinct, as opponents of North Carolina's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, is to challenge it any way possible and show the harm it inflicts. So we understand those who encourage the Charlotte City Council to offer same-sex benefits to its employees - even if it gets the city sued.

But council members made a smarter decision last night, voting 9-2 to get an opinion from the N.C. Attorney General on the issue before including the benefits in the next fiscal year budget. The city doesn't currently offer benefits to same-sex partners, but Curt Walton recommended doing so in his budget proposal earlier this month.

Most of us know the basics at hand: North Carolina's same-sex amendment says that the only union the state recognizes is a marriage between a man and a woman. That jeopardizes benefits for same-sex partners - as well as heterosexual, unmarried domestic partners - offered by local governments and state universities. A UNC study published last November said there's no iffyness about it - based on what courts in other states have ruled, same-sex benefits in Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, and Mecklenburg and Orange counties would become illegal when the amendment passed.

Mecklenburg County commissioner Bill James, in the wake of last week's vote, already has asked the board to eliminate those benefits.

The problem facing the City Council: The AG's office probably won't get back to the city with an opinion by the time the council has to approve its budget in June. That would leave council members with a new question - do they plow ahead with the benefits and invite a lawsuit challenging their legality, or do they wait a city or county already offering the benefits to have their inevitable day before a judge?

We think Charlotte should wait. The amendment's language clearly makes same-sex benefits from governments illegal. Offering them might make a momentarily satisfying statement, but a lawsuit would surely follow, and that would result in a costly defense for a losing effort. We've criticized N.C. Republicans in the past for their costly pursuit of mandates involving abortion visits that already had been struck down by a federal judge. Same principle applies here. Conscientious objection might be a fine tool for individuals, but governments shouldn't be in the business of snubbing the law.

The best the City Council can do for now is ask the attorney general about alternatives. Amendment One author and House Majority Leader Paul Stam suggested that local governments can get around the amendment by allowing homosexual employees in partnerships to designate another person to receive benefits. It's not an ideal solution - and it's potentially more costly. But North Carolina voters have made their decision. The City Council should abide by it.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yes, yes, to N.C. sterilization compensation

We're glad to see that N.C. lawmakers, back for their short session, got to work immediately in righting a wrong done to thousands of North Carolinians with the state's eugenics program - a sterilization program that lasted to the 1970s, the longest-running such program in the nation. A bipartisan group in the N.C. House filed a bill today to compensate victims. Primary sponsors included Rep. Larry Womble,D-Forsyth, Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg and Rep. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth and House Majority Leader, Rep. Skip Stam, R-Wake. Rep. Martha Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, was a co-sponsor. A Senate companion bill was also expected to be filed.

As we said this morning in an editorial, this action is long past due. It was shameful that the state conducted such a program. There were more than 7,600 victims of the program that ran from 1929 to 1974, including and adults and children. Males and females were victims. Many were lied to about the operations; others were given explanations they were unable to understand. Currently, 132 individuals have been verified by the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, of which 118 (about 90 percent) are living.

Titled HB947: Eugenics Compensation Program, the bill reflects the recommendations of the Governor’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force, which filed its final report in January. It will establish a $10 million fund from which to issue a lump-sum, tax-free payment of $50,000 to eligible recipients and sets a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, to file a claim.

Additionally, the bill provides continued funding for the Sterilization Victims Foundation, which serves as a clearinghouse for verification requests and will be empowered to advocate on behalf of verified victims.

If the bill is signed into law, the state would become the first in the country to give money to living victims of sterilization.

We commend Rep. Womble, who was an early and persistent supporter and sponsor of compensation legislation. “There are some folks who doubted that this day would finally come. It’s taken too long, but we now stand ready to open the door and financially acknowledge the suffering the state brought to so many.”

He's right. Today's bill is a first step. By the end of this session - July at the latest, we hope - this bill should be law, and sterilization victims will be on the way to getting their justified compensation.

The sterilization bill was just one of the bills lawmakers moved quickly on. A bill to allow fracking - horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas, also moved forward. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is now in favor of fracking but the bill being pushed by Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, is said to be controversial even among Republicans. A more moderate approach is being pushed by Sen. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, who favors greater public safeguards. We think more research and regulations are needed before fracking is allowed.

Here's what pundits across the state are saying about the short session of the General Assembly that started at noon:

From the Wilmington Star News: Surprisingly, Perdue and Republican leaders actually do agree on some things, including capping the tax on gasoline. But it is state Sen. Bill Rabon who has injected some reality into the conversation.

From the Fayetteville Observer: Push for fracking defies common sense.

From the (Raleigh) News and Observer: No to Voter ID

From the Greenville Daily Reflector: Seek common ground

From the Winston-Salem Journal: Compensation for sterilization victims now.

Posted by Fannie Flono

DNC CEO Steve Kerrigan talks convention -- sort of

Steve Kerrigan, the CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, stopped by the editorial board this morning. Kerrigan is bright and engaging, a guy with whom it'd be fun to have a beer. But for the leader of "the most open and accessible convention in history," he sure dodged a lot of questions.

When, for example, will Charlotte residents and uptown businesses be informed about security requirements and how their lives will be affected?

"Months in advance," Kerrigan said. How many months? Kerrigan declined to be more specific. For families and businesses trying to plan for summer, yesterday would be good.

How much have you raised toward the $37 million the convention needs?

"We're right on track." How much is that? "We're right on track."

Are you concerned about any potential damage to Democrats resulting from the mess with David Parker, the chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party who promised to resign after a sexual harassment scandal at party headquarters but has decided to stay on?

"David Parker is a good Democrat," he said, preferring to let the state party sort out its own matters.

Kerrigan was more talkative on other issues. He repeated that he was proud of the Democrats' promise not to raise money from corporations or lobbyists for the convention. When we pointed out that the host committee is raising millions of corporate dollars to pay for an array of expenses, he said that the host committee and the DNC committee are separate, and if the host committee wants to raise corporate dollars, that's their business. When we suggested that to the public that may appear to be splitting hairs, he said, "It's an important hair to split."

Kerrigan was also refreshingly open about the fact that politics was a major consideration in bringing the convention to Charlotte. "This is going to be a nail-biter of a state, a nail-biter of an election," he said, and that swing-state status was one of the main reasons Obama is coming here in September. Kerrigan said that when he worked to bring the DNC to safely Democratic Boston in 2004, he argued that where the convention is held matters little when it comes to winning a state. Now he argues the opposite, and says that's because the convention has changed -- from just "a TV show" to a tool for recruiting volunteers, registering people to vote and otherwise engaging with voters.

Asked how a proposed new voter ID law could affect President Obama's chances in North Carolina, Kerrigan said: "It's people playing politics with people's rights. Voting is a fundamental American right."

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Perdue won't apologize to Mississippi governor

N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue is not backing down from taking a shot at Mississippi.

After N.C. voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, Perdue told WITN in Greenville on Friday: "People are saying, 'What in the world is going on in North Carolina?' We look like Mississippi."

That irritated Mississippi's governor, Republican Phil Bryant, as well as some former Mississippi residents (read a letter from one of them on Wednesday's Opinion page).

Perdue talked with Bryant on the phone Monday, but didn't apologize, WRAL reports.

It's a fact "that Mississippi, for years, tended to be more conservative and North Carolina tended to be more progressive," Perdue said, WRAL reported.

"I thought we had a really good conversation about public policy between North Carolina and Mississippi."

Bryant, who opposes same-sex marriage, called the conversation with Perdue "disappointing" and said Perdue is mischaracterizing his state.

Meanwhile, Rob Schofield, who writes about state government for the Progressive Pulse blog, defends Perdue's comment.

"Think about it," Schofield writes. "If one of your main jobs was selling North Carolina to businesspeople from all over the nation and the world, you too would feel embarrassed by having to explain such nonsense."

What do you think? Was Perdue out of bounds to say the Amendment One vote makes North Carolina look like Mississippi?

-- Taylor Batten

National Republicans dive into N.C. gov race

And we're off!

Republicans today  launched the first TV ad in the race for N.C. governor, pursuing an expected -- and possibly effective -- strategy: Tying Democrat Walter Dalton to unpopular Gov. Bev Perdue.

The Republican Governors Association is believed to be spending at least $865,000 to air the ad in Raleigh, Greenville and the Triad. It labels Dalton as Perdue's right-hand man, and portrays him as a big tax-and-spender. The ad should be an early boost for Republican Pat McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor who is expected to be the favorite.

It also raises this question: Will the Democratic Governors Association jump in to support Dalton, despite the lack of trust between Dalton and the chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, David Parker? Parker assured Dalton he would resign after a sexual harassment scandal at the party, but then went back on that promise.

Here's the script to the Republican ad:

“Walter Dalton is Bev Perdue’s right-hand man.
Now, Walter Dalton is running away from Perdue.
But, under Perdue and Dalton’s high tax policies, 40,000 more North Carolinians are out of work.
Unemployment is 9.7 percent; one of the nation’s highest.
The Dalton-Perdue new 15 percent sales tax increase will kill 8,000 more North Carolina jobs.
Walter Dalton can’t escape the failed Perdue-Dalton record: Higher taxes – job killing policies.”

Perdue temporarily raised the sales tax and pushed to keep that hike in place, but Republican legislators let it expire. Perdue and Dalton both support restoring it now. But, with Republicans blocking that, taxes aren't higher right now than when Perdue and Dalton took office.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt was mean. What does that mean?

So we're not sure what to do about today's Washington Post story on Mitt Romney being a bully almost a half-century ago. The story, published the morning after President Barack Obama endorsed gay marriage, recounts how Romney tormented a private high school classmate for his "presumed homosexuality."

Already, the report has prompted some serious buzz, and it's sure to be affirmational for many who see a troubling lack of compassion in Romney's conservatism. But should it be?

First, a few details. The incident happened 46 years ago at the prestigious Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Writes reporter Jason Horowitz:
John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
Romney, through a spokesman, initially said he didn't remember the incident. Five classmates, including one who has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan, say it happened, and moments ago Romney offered an apology for doing "dumb things" in high school.

Does it matter? The story is emblematic of a time where society's attitudes about bullying and homosexuals were starkly different than today. That certainly doesn't excuse an incident that clearly traumatized the victim, as the story goes on to say.

But is it a window into Romney's soul - or the ugly immaturity of a teenage boy? Considering our teen years, we'd be inclined to lean toward the latter, but Romney nevertheless was smart to take another sweep through his memory and find some regret.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bill James: County needs to end domestic partner benefits

It didn't take Mecklenburg County commissioner Bill James long after Amendment One passed to start targetting eliminating benefits the county provides same-sex and other unmarried couples. In an early morning email to County Attorney Marvin Bethune and County Manager Harry Jones, he made his pitch:

"Since Amendment One has passed when will we get a memo or something that outlines what changes we need to make to our health plan to be in compliance? I recall when the Democrats on the Commission forced the issue and added these benefits for homosexuals that a number of legal experts said it was illegal then – including the City attorney. Now that Amendment one has passed it obviously is illegal to offer this benefit as there is now only one ‘domestic legal union’ recognized in the state.

"Prior to the vote most scholars (left and right) said that Amendment One would eliminate local faux ‘marriage’ benefits for homosexual employees. I would cite them but you know them all too well.

"Still, I would like to know when the Board can expect information on the changes Amendment One wrought (or are we going to break the law and spend scarce resources on litigation we will likely loose)?"

In a reply, Harry Jones said:
This will acknowledge receipt of your email regarding the above subject. Our legal and human resources staffs are evaluating the Amendment, as well our policy, to determine what, if any, potential impact the Amendment will have on Mecklenburg County. As soon as we complete our evaluation we will brief the board at a future meeting on our findings, conclusions, and policy options available to you."

James also tweeted hours after the vote: "Now that #4Marriage #amendment 1 has passed - we need to eliminate those illegal benefits."

This is, of course, one of the fallouts many legal scholars predicted would occur if N.C. voters approved the constitutional ban lawmakers put on the ballot, one that not only banned same-sex marriage which was already banned in the state by law anyway, but also declared invalid as a "domestic legal union" in the state any relationship other than that of one man and one woman married to each other. Hopefully, other commissioners won't follow James' lead in trying to eliminate domestic partner benefits. They should look to Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Asheville whose leaders have reportedly already vowed to stand strong on keeping such benefits in place.

They also should pay attention to what the city of Charlotte is doing. City Manager Curt Walton included same-sex benefits in his budget proposal outlined today. The benefits would start in Jan. of 2013. Good for Walton in sticking to this proposal, the day after the amendment vote.

It's hardly surprising to see James once again hawking intolerance and prejudice. He said that voters in his district, by making him the winner in his District 6 primary race Tuesday night, showed they like what he does so he'll keep on doing it.

The rest of us - especially his colleagues on the commission - should keep telling and showing him WE don't like what he does and we will fight to keep him from getting his way.

Posted by Fannie Flono

Repercussions from Amendment One vote?

Hello. Welcome to O-Pinion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today.

No need to wonder what folks are talking about today. The buzz is all about North Carolina's vote approving a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage - a ban that wasn't even necessary since N.C. law has banned same-sex marriage for 16 years. The amendment of course goes further than the state ban of course. It outlaws civil unions and domestic partnerships as well which several legal experts say affects straight and gay couples who are unmarried.

Here's what some other pundits had to say about North Carolina's vote:
From the conservative Weekly Standard, Jeffrey Bell takes note of the vote's impact on the issue platform of Democratic National Convention: "Yesterday’s overwhelming approval of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions by the voters of North Carolina underlines the growing likelihood that the issue will be a major factor in the 2012 presidential election," he wrote.
"The gulf between the American people and what the Democratic party is likely to write into its platform this September in Charlotte is rendering the issue of gay marriage unavoidable this November. The unanimity of Democratic elites has made a gay marriage platform plank unstoppable. The Republican platform will continue to oppose gay marriage, and by election day more voters than ever before will be aware that, for better or worse, reelection of the Obama-Biden ticket could well mean federal imposition of gay marriage in the president’s second term."
Bill Kristol, the Standard's editor, takes note of the "cultural divide" in Tuesday's vote. "Take a look at the county results. Orange (which includes the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Durham (Duke) voted 5 to 1 and 5 to 2, respectively, against the amendment. Neighboring counties like Alamance, Person, and Granville were 2 to 1, or more, in favor. So there's a pretty considerable culture gap between adjacent counties in North Carolina."

Alex Roarty of the National Journal joins Bell in taking the long view - of how North Carolina's marriage amendment vote will affect the presidential elections
"The overwhelming North Carolina vote to define marriage as legal only between a man and woman is an unequivocal reminder that gay marriage remains unappealing in many parts of the country, even as its support grows overall nationally," he writes.

"That’s a warning for President Obama, who is currently positioned somewhere between supporters of gay marriage – who include campaign backers and members of his own administration -- and resistant voters like those who helped pass the gay marriage ban this week in the Tar Heel State... Obama’s description of himself as 'evolving' on the issue amounts to a public flirtation, and has prompted speculation that he’ll become a gay-marriage supporter in time for the Democratic National Convention this summer in Charlotte. But the president is counting on North Carolina and demographically similar states, like Virginia, to lift him to a second term. Assuming an unpopular position on such a high-profile issue is politically perilous in those states and others where he may need every last vote to beat back Republican foe Mitt Romney."

Shane L. Windmeyer, a national LBGT leader in higher education, wrote in the liberal Huffington Post that "this constitutional amendment vote brought out the worst in the people of our state. The divisive nature of the political atmosphere was disheartening along with the disappointment of the final vote." But he concluded that "all this vote proves is that education takes more time. As individuals became educated about the amendment, their support for passing the measure declined. And with more time, more conversations, we will undoubtedly win. History is on the side of equality in North Carolina and for all LGBT Americans."

This editorial board thinks history is on that side too. It's a shame voters in the state - but not here in Mecklenburg County, thankfully - decided to look to the past, and repeat civil rights mistakes that many lived to regret, rather than to the future.

Remember Tim?I couldn't resist including this tidbit from the Daily Kos' election round-up about North Carolina's primary: "(David Jarman): Is the name Tim D'Annunzio sounding vaguely familiar? He's on track to be the GOP's nominee in NC-04. (A path to sheer irrelevance, of course, seeing as how that already-blue district got transformed into a 70%+ Obama vote sink.) If you don't remember him, he made it as far as the runoff in 2010 in old NC-08, despite the fact that he's crazy. And not just "crazy" in the Allen West/Joe Walsh sense of being unable to rein in his mouth, but in the clinically insane sense, as in (for starters) believing that he found the Ark of the Covenant in the Arizona desert."

It's great to get mentioned in the national news. Isn't it?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Obama, Romney target North Carolina

The New York Times does not think North Carolina is an important swing state, but President Obama and  Mitt Romney apparently do.

The Romney super PAC launched one of his biggest TV ad buys in North Carolina last week, and Obama will start airing ads this week in North Carolina and eight other states. The race will turn on how a handful of swing states vote, and both campaigns are starting early in the Tar Heel state.

Restore our Future, the Romney super PAC, is spending $652,000 airing ads this month. It's part of a nine-state push, with North Carolina attracting a bigger ad budget than Ohio, Michigan and every other state but Florida. Politico's Alex Burns says the ads mark a new point in the race, which until now had been funded by outside GOP groups, but not ones explicitly supporting Romney such as Restore our Future.

At the same time, Obama is running a 60-second ad saying the economy is starting to rebound. It's running  here and in eight other states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Word didn't get to the New York Times, though, which says in a story this morning that the presidential race hinges on nine swing states -- and North Carolina is not one of them. The nine, according to the Times: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. All nine voted for Obama in 2008, but Republicans have made big gains since then.

Our hunch? November is a lifetime away, but right now it seems Obama will have a hard time winning North Carolina. He won by a tiny 14,000 votes in 2008 in the biggest Democratic tidal wave this state has seen in decades. With the enthusiasm around Obama waning considerably, it's hard to imagine he can pull it off again.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Should residents participate in revaluation review?

County Manager Harry Jones told the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners this morning that he will recommend that the board create a citizens' review panel to watch over the independent audit of Mecklenburg's property revaluation.

The board voted for that audit Tuesday, and on Wednesday, commissioner Bill James suggested in an email to Jones that a group of citizens be appointed "to work with the auditor providing the information they have collected about the flaws in the revaluation process." James recommended that each of the commissioners nominate a Mecklenburg resident to be on the committee.

Such committees have been formed before to help tackle county issues, James told the editorial board - including a "blue ribbon" committee that tackled the size and makeup of the board of commissioners in the 1990s.

It's a good idea, with some caveats. As we said Monday, the 2011 revaluation has prompted some legitimate questions and concerns. The effect of foreclosures was not treated the same across the county, and pockets of the county were assessed values that seemed out of whack with the market. County residents need to have faith in the reval - and the tax system it helps support.

A citizens review panel works, however, only if the commissioners appoint responsibly. That means level-headed citizens who approach the assignment with a discerning but fair skepticism - not angry residents inclined to dismiss any explanation that doesn't fit a predetermined agenda. We'd also like to see appointed members with relevant backgrounds - real estate, of course, but also accounting and knowledge of research methodology.

Most important, the purpose of the audit and citizens' review board - and how they work with each other - should be made clear. We want a review that determines if the 2011 reval was equitable and reflected true values of Mecklenburg properties. We want the review board to have access to the research and input into the process - but not to the point where it becomes meddlesome and disruptive.

A note: Citizens already can have some say in the reval process as appointed members of the Board of Equalization and Review, which hears taxpayers' appeals on assessed values. The issue at hand, however, is more systemic. The county needs to know what, if anything, is wrong with the revaluation process. An auditor is a good step toward finding those answers. A citizens' review panel provides an extra layer of comfort.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Brunstetter, wife deny Amendment 1 comments

Amy Auth, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and Operations for Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger's office, sent us this response to alleged comments Sen. Pete Brunstetter’s wife, Jodie.

"Sen. Brunstetter’s wife denies making these comments (see the Winston Salem Journal) and there is absolutely no proof to the contrary."

Auth said the reports were "based on the hear-say remarks of a political activist as reported by left-leaning websites." She also included this statement from Sen. Brunstetter:

“Today my wife became the target of a malicious, false attack by someone with a clear political agenda. Jodie and I support the marriage amendment because we think the voters – not judges, bureaucrats, or politicians – should define marriage. We refuse to dignify these false allegations with any further response since it is impossible to have a meaningful dialogue with those who engage in character assassination.”

Posted by Fannie Flono

Amendment One to preserve white race?!

Oh boy. Say it's not so...
The Huffington Post is reporting that the wife of a North Carolina state senator reportedly told a poll worker during early voting Monday in Winston-Salem that the amendment to constitutionally define marriage between a man and woman as the only legal domestic union in North Carolina was intended partially to protect the Caucasian race.

The HuffPost said that according to the alternative Yes! Weekly, writer and campaigner Chad Nance spoke to a pollworker who told him that Jodie Brunstetter, wife of Republican state Sen. Peter Brunstetter, said: "The reason my husband wrote Amendment 1 was because the Caucasian race is diminishing and we need to uh, reproduce."

Talking Points Memo also reports on the alleged conversation between Nance and Jodie Brunstetter. The Daily Kos weighs in on the alleged comments too. Both TPM and the HuffPost detail an exchange Nance says he recorded between him and Jodie Brunstetter. Here's an excerpt:

"You didn’t tell that one lady that it was to preserve the Caucasian race because they were becoming a minority?"


"She’s lying?"

"No. It’s just that same sex marriages are not having children."

"Yea but you didn’t say anything about Caucasians, white people, preserving them that’s why it was written?"

"No I’m afraid they have made it a racial issue when it is not."

"She didn’t say it was a racial issue. She said that you had said that part of the reason it had been sponsored and written was to preserve the white race."
(a moment later) "… you didn’t say anything about Caucasians?"

"I probably said the word."

Sigh. There's more to the exchange, with Brunstetter allegedly ending up saying her comments were "hard to explain."

If true, yes, they are.

Posted by Fannie Flono

Amendment One still ahead in N.C.

Welcome to O-Pinion. I'm Associate Editor Fannie Flono, your host today.

Opposition to Amendment One, the N.C. constitutional amendment on the May 8 ballot that would define marriage between a man and a woman as the only legal domestic union, got the nod from a narrow majority of the Mecklenburg County commissioners last night. But polling still shows the amendment getting approved in next week's vote by a 14 point margin of 55-41.

But opposition to this unnecessary and problematic proposal is rising. According to Public Policy Polling, "opposition is rising slightly with Republicans, independents, and African Americans, from 17 percent to 21 percent with the GOP, from 43 percent to 46 percent with independents, and from 39 percent to 43 percent with black voters. Democrats on the whole are opposed by a 54-42 spread. Reports of strong youth turnout in parts of the state could be a good sign for opponents; voters under the age of 30 oppose the amendment by 26 points, while the elder age brackets all support it by spreads of nine to 24 points—though that is down from margins of 16 to 32 points last week."

The pollsters said the "good news" for the amendment’s opponents is that more voters are now aware of the amendment’s consequences. If all voters were informed of those consequences, the amendment would fail by a 38-46 margin. The bad news is that a significant number of people still aren't well-versed on the ramifications - that it would ban both civil unions and gay marriage, and could affect benefits and protections of heterosexual unmarried couples and their children. Many don't know that state law already prohibits same-sex marriage so this move is unnecessary to just preserve that view. It simply writes discrimination into the state constitution. And even one of the state's top Republican leaders, Thom Tillis, acknowledges that view won't stand the test of time.

Voters still have time to get educated about this troubling proposal, and vote it down.

In other statewide PPP polling, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton is surging in the North Carolina Democratic primary for Governor. He now leads with 36 percent fo 26 percent for Bob Etheridge, 5 percent for Bill Faison, 3 percent each for Gardenia Henley and Bruce Blackmon, and 2 percent for Gary Dunn.

Dalton has gone from 15 percent to 26 percent to 36 percent over the course of PPP's last three polls on the race. A poll by the Civitas Institute also found Dalton moving ahead. Pundits who had been predicting a runoff in this race now aren't too sure.