Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Merge Charlotte, Mecklenburg governments? Effort stumbles

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx's latest effort to study the consolidation of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County governments is off to a rough start. Local politicos are buzzing about the topic today, but the talk, sadly, is less about whether to study consolidation and more about whether Foxx was trying to sneak something past anyone.

Foxx, a Democrat, and former Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, sent a letter to 46 community leaders this month. The letter urged them to push Mecklenburg commissioners to approve a study of consolidation. The City Council approved such a study but commissioners must go along too.

Republican commissioner Bill James was miffed -- or amused -- that he was left off Foxx's mailing list. He said the effort shows how urgently part of south Charlotte needs to secede and create its own town.

"It does seem to (be) a surreptitious effort to use government resources behind the scenes. Not that it is illegal, just sneaky," James wrote in an email.

Another Republican commissioner, Karen Bentley, said she too didn't like being "kept in the dark."

"Is this really how we conduct business here? ..." Bentley said in an email. "This type of gamesmanship is completely ineffective with me, in fact, it has the opposite effect."

We're not sure what was sneaky about this. Foxx has been a frequent and vocal advocate for consolidation. The City Council publicly endorsed the study. That Foxx (and Vinroot) would try to get powerful people to lobby county commissioners on the issue doesn't surprise us.

Still, purely from a strategic perspective, Foxx might have given commissioners a heads-up he was sending the notice. That way there would be no allegations of sneakiness, and the debate could be on how to best govern the community rather than on political tactics.

By the way, all that's being proposed here is studying the idea. The study would be funded privately, with no taxpayer dollars. What's the harm?

-- Taylor Batten

Is McCrory ducking no-tax pledge?

Will Republican Pat McCrory pledge not to raise taxes if he's elected governor?

You would think it's a political no-brainer, but maybe not.

Last week, national Republicans and the McCrory campaign jumped on their opponent, Democrat Walter Dalton, for declining to pledge not to raise any taxes under any circumstances. But when asked whether they would make that pledge, the McCrory campaign wouldn't be pinned down.

On July 24, the McCrory campaign and the Republican Governors Association separately trumpeted a quote from Dalton's interview with WECT in Wilmington. Asked by the station's Jon Evans whether he could promise not to raise taxes as governor, Dalton said: "No, I would not make that type of promise." He went on to list some taxes he voted to cut when he was in the state Senate, then acknowledged, "I have voted to increase some taxes. I think you have to look at where you are in time and what can happen." (You can watch the clip here.)

Music to the McCrory campaign's ears, and they promptly made an online ad using Dalton's quote.

So I asked the McCrory campaign if this meant that McCrory would pledge not to raise taxes as governor.

Press Secretary Ricky Diaz responded: "Unlike Lt. Governor Dalton, Pat has outlined his economic vision for the state and he calls for tax relief and tax reform, not tax increases. Pat also disagrees with Lt. Governor Dalton's proposed plan to continue Governor Perdue's never-ending 'temporary' tax increase."

Not exactly yes or no on whether McCrory would rule out any tax increases. So I asked again. Diaz and the campaign never responded in the week since.

Making a blanket pledge against raising taxes regardless of what comes an executive's way is bad policy -- not to mention politically dicey. Just ask the first President George Bush. McCrory himself, of course, championed a half-cent sales tax increase for light rail as mayor. Regardless, if you're not willing to make the pledge, then it's hypocritical to hit your opponent for doing the same thing.

-- Taylor Batten

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dubois: Lessons from Penn State for UNCC?

The Penn State child sexual abuse scandal and the unprecedented NCAA sanctions levied against the school are making other schools take notice of their governance structures too.

UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois told the Observer's editorial board today that he'll be going through, with the UNC Charlotte board of trustees, the Freeh report. That report lambasted Penn State officials including legendary Coach Joe Paterno and former school president Graham Spanier for failing to protect at least 10 children who were victimized by Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach.

The report also took to task the Penn State board of trustees for failing in its oversight duties.

The Freeh report has a number of recommendations about structural or systemic changes and checks and balances needed at Penn State.

"I want to go through them with our board to see if there is anything we need to take a look at," said Dubois. "For example, if you talk about something at your board meeting involving litigation, making sure that you also talk about other things that are risk issues that don't relate to litigation - yet...
It's just a simple thing. But the [Freeh] report pointed out that after the [Penn State] president first talked to the board [about the Sandusky allegations] that there was no subsequent conversation."

Dubois said he'd be "very surprised" if other universities were not having similar conversations about their "governance" following what happened at Penn.

He also noted that one issue that was pinpointed in the report about "the president's span of control" was one he could relate to. The report posed the question of whether the job as Penn State president had become so big that it was difficult to pay sufficient attention to all the things needing attention. "You've got too many people throwing things at you everyday."

It's good to hear Dubois talk about delving into the Freeh report to see what lessons can be learned so such a failure of governance can be avoided at UNC Charlotte. Hopefully other universities are doing the same, and not simply chalking up what happened at Penn State as an anomaly that couldn't happen anywhere else. The scale of the failure at Penn State might be hard to replicate elsewhere. But a culture that gives athletics out-sized influence, or that is not diligent about investigating and probing allegations of wrong-doing can happen anywhere.

With football coming to UNC Charlotte in the fall of 2013, school officials already have a structure in place that puts the right emphasis on academics over athletics. Dubois says the culture between athletics and academics is strong at UNC Charlotte.
"The athletics director has sat on the chancellor's cabinet since forever," he said. "The academic advisors [for athletes] report to academic affairs. The support services for the student athletes are in the academic center."

That seems to put the focus exactly where it belongs. Student-athletes are students first. It's good to hear some college presidents have the priority in the right order.

Fannie Flono

Scalia surprise: Some guns can be banned

Good morning. Welcome to O-Pinion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today. The summer Olympics is the hot news right now - and there's been so far only one minor political dustup with Mitt Romney inspiring some angry retorts from Brits when he questioned whether London was ready to host the games. It was a minor slip-up but any slip of the tongue from a presidential candidate is going to get over-the-top news coverage.

But back here at home Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the high court's most vocal and conservative justices, said something that should have gotten a bit more coverage. On Fox News Sunday, Scalia seemed to scale back from what has become entrenched conservative dogma about gun control, saying that Second Amendment leaves room for U.S. legislatures to regulate guns, including menacing hand-held weapons.

According to the National Journal, Scalia said there were legal precedents from the days of the Founding Fathers that banned some dangerous weapons, and a strict constitutionalist recognizes that. He also said that "there were also locational limitations" on where weapons could be carried. Regulation of weapons, he said, "will have to be decided in future cases." Scalia said. But there were legal precedents from the days of the Founding Fathers,

When asked if that kind of precedent would apply to assault weapons, or 100-round ammunition magazines like those used in the recent Colorado movie theater massacre, Scalia declined to speculate. "We'll see," he said. '"It will have to be decided."

"Some [bans or limitations] undoubtedly are [permissible] because there were some that were acknowledged at the time" the Constitution was written, Scalia said. He cited a practice from that era known as "frighting," where people "carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head axe or something. That was, I believe, a misdemeanor."

“My starting point and probably my ending point will be what limitations are within the understood limitations that the society had at the time,” he said. “They had some limitations on the nature of arms that could be borne. So we’ll see what those limitations are as applied to modern weapons.”

Well now.

Following the recent Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings where 12 were killed and dozens were injured, Scalia's view that the constitution does put limits on a person's right to bear arms is a welcome view. It might not be one in which some conservatives or the National Rifle Association share however.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

US Airways CEO: Merger 'good news' for Charlotte

US Airways CEO Doug Parker visited the editorial board this morning as part of his nationwide tour to promote the benefits of his airline's potential merger with American Airlines. The merger would make the combined airline the largest in the world, and it has the support of Wall Street analysts and American's unions - but not senior executives at American, who seem to prefer at the moment to emerge from bankruptcy and navigate their own course. Hence, Parker's publicity tour.

If you're a consumer, airline mergers generally aren't things to celebrate, because they typically result in less competition, fewer flights, and higher fares. In Charlotte, there's the additional worry about a US Airways merger's impact on our city's hub status.

No worries, says Parker, of the possible marriage. "It's only good news for Charlotte," he said.

Parker said that American, which operates primarily out of Dallas-Ft. Worth and Chicago, has few overlapping routes with US Airways. For consumers, he said, that means the merger likely wouldn't result in fewer flights and increased fares.

For Charlotte's hub, the merger would create more flights as new route opportunities emerge to connect passengers to small cities in the Midwest and East, Parker said. US Airways estimates the combined networks will result in 806 daily departures in Charlotte, up from the current 650 the carrier now has here.

That's important news for Charlotte and its airport, which announced earlier this year a $1 billion expansion planned over the next seven years. The proposals include an expanded main terminal, a fifth runway and a new eight-lane entrance road. It's a risky plan, given the industry trend of shrinking hubs. Two other cities, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, embarked on similar $1 billion expansions in recent years, only to lose hub status and flights.

Parker said he supports the expansion - and so have we - and he said a merger with American would help strengthen Charlotte, which is the fourth largest single airline hub in departures in the world. The airline's commitment to Charlotte would not change, he said.

There's a lot left to happen before US Airways becomes a merged American Airlines. Parker still has some wooing to do - he had oatmeal with American CEO Tom Horton this morning, the Wall Street Journal reports - and American has to work its way through the bankruptcy process whether it merges or not. Don't look for any news until late this year or early in 2013.

Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Um, DNC host committee? It's not 'Panthers Stadium'

Some possible convention silliness: Politico's Maggie Haberman notes this morning that the Democratic National Convention host committee seems to be confused about the place where the Carolina Panthers play their football.

Haberman says:

A recent email from the host committee signed by former Al Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile urged people to win a trip to Charlotte for the event, which will wrap "Thursday night at Panthers Stadium with President Obama."

Another email in June made the same pitch about the stadium.

Haberman wonders if there's a political statement going on here. National Democrats, she says, have been touting their stand against taking political money for the convention. Could the snub of Bank of America stadium be intentional?

We hope not, and we doubt it. The boasting about corporate-free money has come mostly from the Democratic National Convention Committee, in part because the host committee has raised millions of dollars of corporate money to pay for an array of expenses. Plus, the host committee's executive director is a CEO - Dan Murrey, on leave from OrthoCarolina - and the co-chairs of the committee are Duke executive Jim Rogers and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx. All three know better than to take a slap at a corporate neighbor. We'll write this one off as sloppiness.

P.S. - The host committee's official name? It's the Charlotte in 2012 host committee

Peter St. Onge

Friday, July 13, 2012

McCrory responds: Is N.C. bad for business?

N.C. Republican Pat McCrory, who is running for governor, responds to our Wednesday post “N.C. bad for business? That’s a myth.”

Says McCrory:

In the Observer’s opinion piece, the author makes the assertion that if a handful of publications say North Carolina is a good place to do business, it must be true. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s business friendly environment has been diminished by high taxes, regulations, and a broken government. Even neighboring states through strong executive leadership are reforming and successfully competing with us for jobs while North Carolina remains stuck with the 4th highest unemployment rate in the nation.

We live in the greatest state in the country blessed with many wonderful resources. Should we be satisfied with the 4th highest unemployment rate? I’m not.

The Observer touched on but glossed over an alarming recent study conducted in conjunction with the Kaufman Foundation that interviewed small businesses, the top job creators in our economy. Here is a review of North Carolina’s grades that the Observer didn’t mention: 34th in tax code friendliness or a D+, 33rd in friendliness of licensing regulations or a C-, 38th in publicity of training programs or a D, 38th in friendliness of employment, hiring, and hiring regulations or a D, and a C- in overall regulatory friendliness.

These grades from actual small businesses are much more in line with the feedback personally received from small and large companies while traveling throughout our state. In order to fix our broken economy, businesses need state government to be responsive to their needs, not a hindrance by imposing burdensome taxes and cumbersome regulations.

We can’t expect our businesses to create jobs and generate economic growth if our political leaders don’t listen to or understand their problems and concerns. And the rosy picture both the Observer and my opponent paint are disconnected from the reality that North Carolina businesses face every day.

I have outlined an economic platform that focuses on creating a business climate in North Carolina that will provide tax reform and regulatory relief in order to allow our job creators the chance to flourish. These are just a few of the many tools we can use to fix North Carolina’s broken economy. Our state’s economy is near the bottom now, but with the right leadership and policies we can and we will have a North Carolina comeback.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Was Romney 'less than truthful' about his time at Bain?

Your lit fuse of the week: A Boston Globe story today that says documents filed with Securities and Exchange Commission show that Mitt Romney served at Bain Capital until 2002, three years after he said he left the firm.

The Romney campaign says that Romney did indeed leave to rescue and run the Salt Lake City Olympics, and that he no longer had input or managed at Bain after that point. The Globe, expanding on earlier reporting at Mother Jones and Talking Points Memo, counters: "Romney remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control, even creating five new investment partnerships during that time."

Update: Here's Bain's response, from Politico:

"Mitt Romney left Bain Capital in February 1999 to run the Olympics and has had absolutely no involvement with the management or investment activities of the firm or with any of its portfolio companies since the day of his departure. Due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney's departure, he remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999. Accordingly, Mr. Romney was reported in various capacities on SEC filings during this period."

On a micro level are some potential legal issues: Politico reports that if Romney worked at Bain after he claimed on federal financial disclosure forms, he could be guilty of a federal felony, according to FactCheck.org. The suggestion of that is more harmful to the Romney camp than the reality that it won't likely won't ever be pursued.

Another issue: If Romney did participate in the company after 1999, he would have played a role in Bain investments that resulted in companies shuttering or laying off workers since then. The White House already is pouncing on that today, saying Romney wasn't "telling the truth" about that timeline.

The Globe story puts Romney in the odd position of defending something he's said he shouldn't have to defend - his time at the private-equity company. The denials coming thus far from the Romney camp today are missing something important: A sense that he's proud of his time at Bain, no matter the timeline. Look for that to be corrected soon.

The bigger concern for Romney is how the news cycle tends to discard specifics of stories like these in favor of the easier, larger narrative. In this case, that narrative could be that, coupled with Romney's reluctance to issue some tax returns, he is secretive - and perhaps less-than-proud - of the money he makes and how he makes it.

That's been a real struggle for the Romney campaign at times through the primaries. Now, another test.

Peter St. Onge

Are Voter ID laws 'poll taxes'?

Perhaps Eric Holder is trying to recover some of the stature his Fast & Furious battle has cost him. Or perhaps he feels as strongly as the fiery words he used this week at the NAACP's national convention about Texas' Voter ID law.

The full quote:

"Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not. Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes."

We're not sure that's the kind of discourse that moves discussions forward, but that barn has long been empty in Washington. The slap, however, has done what slaps do: Prompt an outcry. Texas Sen. John Cornyn called Holder's remarks "irresponsible" and added: "Shame on him." Conservatives have followed suit with varying levels of indignant condemnation.

We've said in editorials that Voter ID solve a problem that doesn't exist - widespread impersonation voter fraud - by creating a larger problem of potentially disenfranchising millions of voters. Most of them are poor. Most are black or elderly. They usually vote Democrat. The authors and supporters of state Voter ID legislation, of course, are Republicans. One, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, even boasted that his state's Voter ID law would help Mitt Romney in November.

In Texas, the law's proponents note that the IDs would be issued free to anyone who requests them, but Holder is correct in noting that the paperwork required to get the IDs is not free or, for some, easy to obtain. Voter ID proponents also argue that plenty of other democracies require their citizens to show ID when voting, but a Harvard University study showed that many of those countries either automatically give their citizens ID or allow them to bring non-photo IDs to the polls if they don't have a photo ID handy. Canada, for example, allows 45 different types of identification, including utility bills and student transcripts.

This is a sensible approach that can soothe those who note that we need ID for a lot of things - without making it unduly hard for people to vote. When Republicans start passing more Voter ID legislation like that, they'll have a better defense against the attorney general's words.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Boos, applause for Romney at NAACP confab

The boos presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney got during his appearance before the NAACP convention today was the headline captured by many media outlets. The boos, according to this MSNBC clip, came as Romney declared he would repeal "Obamacare" if he became president.

But interestingly, the boos became applause moments later when Romney said he'd also strengthen and save Medicare and Social Security. In fact, as MSNBC.com's Michael O'Brien said, "Romney otherwise encountered polite applause in his speech, which hit on themes of jobs and the economy - mainstays of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's overall stump speech - as well as education reform."

Romney's speech, which Mediate called his "better angels" speech, included ideas that the mostly black audience could embrace such as the persistence of racial inequality.

Romney said: "If someone had told us in the 1950s or 60s that a black citizen would serve as the forty-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised. Picturing that day, we might have assumed that the American presidency would be the very last door of opportunity to be opened. Before that came to pass, every other barrier on the path to equal opportunity would surely have to come down.

"Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way. Many barriers remain. Old inequities persist. In some ways, the challenges are even more complicated than before. And across America — and even within your own ranks — there are serious, honest debates about the way forward."

He also noted that black unemployment is significantly higher than joblessness for other demographic groups and rose in June from 13.6 to 14.4 percent. “Americans of every background are asking when this economy will finally recover – and you, in particular, are entitled to an answer,” he said.

Romney added, according to the Hill blog, that "if equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, black families could send their sons and daughters to public schools that truly offer the hope of a better life. Instead, for generations, the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for that promise to be kept. Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide — but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst-performing schools.”

Romney's answer was school choice, which many blacks agree with and many do not.

But a big omission from the speech was any mention of voter ID laws, which the NAACP and its President Ben Jealous have tagged as "the greatest attack on voting rights since segregation." The laws that have been pushed through Republican dominated state legislatures across the nation are considered by many to be designed to suppress black and Hispanic voter turnout - traditionally favoring Democrats. North Carolina lawmakers pushed through a bill but Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed it.

It's surprising that Romney did not attempt to defend the laws, given that he was speaking in Houston, and in Texas the Obama administration's Justice Department has blocked the state's voter ID law claiming civil rights violations. A panel of three federal judges in Washington is hearing testimony this week in a trial to determine whether the Texas law violates the Voting Rights Act. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday compared the Texas law to an illegal poll tax. Romney was silent on the issue before the NAACP.

All in all, Romney's speech can be viewed a legitimate attempt to reach out to a constituency that the Republicans have not done a good job of luring into their fold. Much of it got applause - though tepid at times.

Pundits said Romney deserves credit for even agreeing to talk to the black civil rights groups, given that polls show more than 90percent of blacks have expressed support for President Obama. But Romney would have been breaking with recent tradition to decline the invitation. Both John McCain, who was the GOP nominee in 2008, and President George W. Bush, Obama's predecessor, spoke to the group while running for president.

The Lonely Conservative has the complete video of Romney's 20-minute or so speech. It gives a fuller representation of what Romney had to say, and the audience's reaction to it.

Posted by Fannie Flono

N.C. bad for business? That's a myth

Welcome to O-Pinion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today. Let's talk business. Make that business rankings.

Tuesday, CNBC counted down its rankings for top states for business in 2012, and guess what? North Carolina came in at No. 4. If you've been listening to the haranguing from many Republicans especially Charlotte's former mayor Pat McCrory, who's salivating for the N.C. governor's job, about the state's alleged bad environment for business, you'd be shocked to hear that. Republican McCrory has said Gov. Bev Perdue and other Democratic policymakers have tarnished the N.C. "brand" with bad economic and political decisions.

Don't tell that to business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness, who helped rank the 50 states for CNBC on 51 measures of business competitiveness that were then narrowed to 10 broad categories. The 10 metrics CNBC used included cost of doing business, quality of workforce, infrastructure, education, economy, business friendliness, technology and innovation, cost of living, access to capital and quality of life.

And on this score, Gov. Perdue has another reason to say we don't want to be Mississippi. That state came in 46th on the list. Florida, another alleged role model, came in 29th. Our neighbor to the south, who some lawmakers also want to mistakenly emulate on economic and education issues, South Carolina, came in 32nd. Coming in at No. 1 was Texas, followed by Utah and Virginia.

North Carolina has finished in the top 10 in all six years of CNBC’s business rankings. It was No. 3 in 2011. North Carolina has also come in No. 3 in ranking for the best states for business by Chief Executive, Site Selection and Forbes magazines over the last year.

To be sure, policymakers have work to do on making the state more competitive, getting people back to work, helping small businesses (a Thumbtack poll had the Tar Heel state 26th in small business friendliness - what do you think, N.C. small business owners?) and improving the state's overall economy. True tax reform needs to be on lawmakers' to-do list to accomplish that. But this is not a bad state for business by any stretch of the imagination. Politicians should stop promoting the myth that it is.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Obama, Romney tied in N.C., poll says

The debate over whether North Carolina is a presidential swing state ratchets up today with a new poll showing the race a dead heat.

Many pundits consider North Carolina to be clearly leaning toward Republican Mitt Romney. The New York Times lists it that way, not including the state among its nine "tossup" states. The Washington Post agrees.

We ran a piece by longtime N.C. political analyst John Davis on our editorial page Sunday in which he argues the state is Romney's to lose. "The lack of strong Democratic leaders in North Carolina gives the Obama camp no other choice but to begin to discreetly redirect the campaign's North Carolina resources to greener pastures," Davis said.

The folks at Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, though, have evidence that suggests they're all wrong. PPP released a new poll today that shows President Obama up 47-46 in North Carolina, a statistical tie. Obama and Romney have been within three points of each other in North Carolina in 21 of the 22 polls PPP has done since November 2010. "The state's about as much of a toss up as it could possibly be," said director Tom Jensen.

Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to win the state in 32 years.

We'd still be surprised if Obama wins North Carolina. Everything went just right for him in 2008 and he barely won here. At the same time, PPP has a solid predictive record, so the race in North Carolina may be tighter than it feels.

Details on the latest poll, which includes presidential polling in Virginia, can be found at PPP's website: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/07/obama-holding-serve-in-the-upper-south.html

-- Posted by Taylor Batten

Pendergraph isn't Pittenger's only opponent

Republican Robert Pittenger is in a vitriolic primary fight against Jim Pendergraph in his bid to replace Sue Myrick in the 9th Congressional District. But he's also mired in a battle against another fellow Republican -- his former colleague in the state Senate, Fern Shubert.

The two are engaged in quite a back-and-forth, which could obscure the bottom line fact that Pittenger voted for a bill that increased the value of property he owned.

Shubert told Observer reporter Jim Morrill in a story this month that Pittenger asked her in 2003 to support Waxhaw's proposed annexing of land that Pittenger's partnership partly owned. The annexation went through and, the developer acknowledged, increased the value of the land. Pittenger voted for that bill even though it directly benefited him.

"He came to me on the Senate floor with (Sen. Fletcher Hartsell) in tow and said he wished I would support it. I remember that ... vividly," said Shubert, who has endorsed Pendergraph.

Pittenger responded in an op-ed column on the Observer editorial page. He said Shubert had already pledged her support for the annexation and so there was no need to request her support. He pointed out that Shubert lost an election to Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Pittenger supporter.

Shubert, in turn, sent us 1,500 words in rebuttal. "I don't like being lied to and I really don't like it when people spread lies about me," she wrote. She argued that Pittenger actively pushed the annexation bill. In a letter to the editor today, Shubert said: "I didn't criticize Pittenger because I endorsed Jim Pendergraph. I endorsed Pendergraph because I don't think government should operate as a private investment club."

Now, Pittenger urges publication of a letter to the Observer from former state Sen. Patrick Ballantine. Ballantine writes, in part: "When he arrived, he hit the ground running. Robert Pittenger wanted to shake things up. In my opinion, rightfully so. After over 100 years of one-party rule, state government was bloated and didn't prioritize spending tax dollars very well. Robert is man of ideas but more importantly he is a doer. Sometimes, such a results-oriented, hard-charging attitude from a freshman legislator can upset the establishment, the old guard, so to speak. As Minority Leader, I welcomed Robert's enthusiasm, vigor, and tenacity."

Ballantine adds: "Moreover, in all my years of knowing Robert, I can say with certainty that his actions as an elected official were never self-serving. He always had the best interests of the public he served in every vote and every action he made."

Below is Shubert's condensed (500 words, not 1,500) response to Pittenger.

To us, the most important fact has gotten lost in all this back and forth. Pittenger voted for a bill that increased the value of property he partly owned. That's wrong. The rest is detail.

From Fern Shubert:

It seems odd to defend The Charlotte Observer, but Robert Pittenger’s attempt to make me the fall guy in his Waxhaw annexation leaves me no choice.

I’ve wondered why so many people seemed to blame me for an annexation that I did not initiate and could not block. The 2003 letter signed by Waxhaw Mayor Jack Hemby, which I first saw recently, makes it clear lies were spread about me to help Pittenger.

“The Town of Waxhaw has been attempting to annex the area in question for over two years. After failed attempts we asked Senator Fletcher Hartsell and Senator Fern Shubert to sponsor a bill to bring this land into Waxhaw. This bill was requested by the Town of Waxhaw and not Senator Robert Pittenger.”

The letter, obviously written to take heat off of Pittenger, is completely false. No one from Waxhaw asked me to run a bill or even contacted me about Pittenger’s annexation amendment.
Pittenger cites “An email from Councilman and Waxhaw Town Administrator Mike Simpson to senators requesting their support...” He fails to mention the email was only sent to Democrats. I was not contacted.

Pittenger’s feedback column continues the myth of a bill when it references a statement from Curtis Blackwood, who actually represented the affected area, and says “Without his critical support, there never would have been a bill. He would say I never discussed it with him.”
If you ask Blackwood, and I did, he doesn’t remember anyone asking him to take a role in the Waxhaw annexation, which makes sense as it was never debated in the House. Adding an unrelated issue to a bill that has already passed one house is a well known legislative trick, but it only works with the support of the legislature’s leaders.

Pittenger had already lined up the support of the legislature’s leaders before he came to me on the floor of the Senate, with Fletcher Hartsell following him, and told me Hartsell was going to amend a bill coming over from the House, H705, to help Waxhaw with a satellite annexation and he hoped I would support the amendment. At Pittenger’s request, I arranged a meeting with Steve Pace to learn about his proposed development. Pittenger led me to believe that Pace-Dowd owned the land.

When I met with Pace, I was relieved to learn that what was planned was not nearly as bad as I feared. I agreed not to oppose Pittenger’s annexation amendment (made by Hartsell) if I could amend the bill to make it clear a bill I’d filed dealing with satellites did not apply to that particular annexation.

So I readily admit, as I always have, that I agreed to accept the annexation provided it could not be used to anchor additional development that might be considerably less desirable, but I had nothing to do with initiating or carrying forward the annexation. So who did?

Robert Pittenger. And I can prove it.

Sorry, Robert, but you picked the wrong fall guy.

-- Posted by Taylor Batten