Thursday, January 31, 2013

Can McCrory help Tillis on a top priority?

Thom Tillis
Maybe Gov. Pat McCrory is what House Speaker Thom Tillis needs to achieve one of his top priorities: Paying $50,000 each to people who were forcibly sterilized by the state. Tillis, a Republican, passed such legislation through the House last year, but it died in Sen. Phil Berger's Senate.

Now, a Republican is in the governor's office, and McCrory says the compensation is a high priority for him as well. If basic principle isn't enough to persuade fellow Republican Berger to let the bill through, perhaps the McCrory-Tillis duo can work out some behind-the-scenes horse-trading to make it happen.

Tillis deserves complete credit for keeping the possibility alive. He is the chief sponsor of a bipartisan bill filed Wednesday that would pay the $50,000 lump sum to survivors of the invasive program the state carried out for decades. It's one of only three bills Tillis expects to file all session, signifying its importance to him.

Berger was noncommittal when asked about the proposal earlier this month. It seems he doesn't understand, as Tillis does, that few things violate small-government conservatism more than state government invading its citizens' bodies, often against their will. North Carolina's program, which ran for 45 years until 1974, was one of the nation's most aggressive. The state deemed certain individuals "feeble-minded" and sterilized them so they wouldn't procreate. It was inhumane and is a stain on North Carolina's history. Compensating the few remaining living victims is a minimal nod to that fact.

McCrory's spokesman told the Winston-Salem Journal in August that McCrory is fully supportive of the compensation and "would like to see it happen as soon as possible." The Journal said the spokesman reiterated that stance shortly before the legislature convened.

To read Tillis' bill, click here.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that the Virginia House is considering a bipartisan bill that would compensate that state's eugenics victims as well.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On immigration, no's to amnesty and political posturing

Now that we're talking seriously about immigration reform, with both Democrats and Republicans on board that something must be done now, here are some "do's and don'ts" about how to discuss it. At least that's what a Latino conservative group told Republicans in a memo this week. Buzzfeed got hold of the memo and shared it. Among the no-no's The Hispanic Leadership Network highlighted:

Don't call children of undocumented immigrants "anchor babies" - it's considered offensive.

Do use "undocumented immigrant" when referring to those here without documentation, but "Don't use the word 'illegals' or 'aliens.'"

And here's a new one: Don't use "pathway to citizenship" (a phrase President Obama uses) when talking about the process for those in the U.S. without documentation to become a resident. Say "earned legal status." Pathway to citizenship is too akin to amnesty in people's minds, the group says.

But it's not just phrases, the group says to avoid. Their last point sends Republicans scurrying away from their icon, Ronald Reagan. The group says "Don't use President Reagan's immigration reform as an example applicable today." The reason is given in even smaller print in the memo. It says: "That legislation was true amnesty...."

Well now.

While the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network was listing talking points to GOP lawmakers, the more liberal Latin American Coalition came out Tuesday encouraged by the immigration frameworks but with some concerns. The Observer editorial board listed some of ours on Tuesday in our editorial. Here are theirs:

"Immigration reform is about keeping families together, first and foremost. This ultimate goal is not mentioned in either framework. Families across the country are being torn apart by our country’s current patchwork of failed and mismanaged immigration policies. President Obama’s administration alone has separated more parents from their children through deportation than any other administration. The moral case for immigration reform is overwhelming and getting louder.

"Making a path to citizenship contingent on any type of border security and increased enforcement is unnecessary. The United States currently spends more on immigration enforcement and border security than it does on all other federal law enforcement combined, including the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, and ATF. The past 10 years have seen unprecedented and overwhelming increases in the number of border patrol agents, border wall construction, unmanned aerial vehicles and border militarization. Such vigorous enforcement and security, coupled with President Obama’s sharp increase in removals, have decreased undocumented migration into the U.S. Any plan linking citizenship to border security and more enforcement is mere political posturing.

"A plan for immigration reform must fairly and equally include the “world’s best and brightest” who receive a PhD or Master’s degree in American universities to the low-skilled, but extremely valuable immigrants who perform the very important and difficult work that Americans are unavailable or unwilling to do. Most of these people have worked very hard for many years and have contributed so much to our economy to earn a path to citizenship. Forcing them to the “back of the line”- an immigration line that, frankly, doesn’t exist - is deferring the details instead of dealing with them now.

"A clear and realistic path to citizenship- more fair than tough- will be far more effective in reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants than billions spent on punitive enforcement measures. 2013 must be the year that Congress will pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans. This is because the American people support it; Democrats want it; and Republicans need it. And our movement- which gets stronger every day- stands ready to make sure it happens. This is the right 

thing to do for the country, and now is the time."

What are your concerns?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Will Obama get in the way of immigration reform?

President Obama will follow yesterday's unveiling of a strong bipartisan immigration reform plan with some thoughts of his own today in Las Vegas. He's expected to applaud the reform principles discussed by a group of eight senators yesterday, and he's going to add some improvements he thinks should be a part of any reform legislation. Conservatives are already bristling. Immigration advocates are already fretting. Will the president kill immigration reform by butting in? 

Probably not. Obama will make sure today to praise the general principles laid out Monday, most notably the call for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants without criminal records. That proposed path has scuttled previous attempts to overhaul immigration, and it's still a thorny point with Republicans. Obama should and likely will acknowledge progress.
But according to reports, Obama will call for even more. He wants undocumented workers and students to have an even quicker route to a green card. And like us, he's wary about a proposal that a commission of governors and other Southwest state leaders would get to declare the border secure before the path to citizenship can begin for illegal immigrants. It's not hard to imagine Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer taking a very long time to give that kind of nod.

So expect Obama to call for more thorough overhaul - a quicker and easier path for many illegal immigrants to citizenship, and perhaps a less open-ended definition of what makes a border secure. We wish he'd made this pitch in his first four years instead of cowing to politics and opening the door for states to pass their own, harsh immigration laws, but as a second-termer, he's unburdened. 
So expect a full-throated pitch effort to take the bipartisan plan even further. By doing so, Obama accomplishes a few things.  He reminds Latinos - and Latino voters - which party has been on their side all along. And by asking for more than the group of Senators, he helps make their proposals more centrist and palatable to conservatives. 
Yes, you'll hear the requisite Republican barking today about Obama's proposals, but ultimately it won't be enough to do any real damage to reform. Because although Democrats have long wanted immigration reform, Republicans need it more now than anyone.  
Peter St. Onge

Monday, January 28, 2013

With Super Bowl on Sunday, a new effort to protect women

A large number of women will be abused by their husbands and boyfriends this weekend, if history is any indication. The number usually jumps on Super Bowl Sunday.

It's hard to think of an area with a bigger disconnect between the scope of a problem and the public's awareness of it than with domestic violence.

One in four women will report abuse by an intimate partner during their lifetimes, advocates say, and domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children. Yet public awareness of the problem lags.

That might change soon, at least in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties. Advocates today launched the "eNOugh" campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence in those two counties. Organizers will run ads in print, online, on billboards, radio, TV and in movie theaters, heightening awareness and helping victims get help. The Duke Energy building uptown will be lit purple today as part of the campaign.

Charlotte's Jill Dinwiddie, the former head of the N.C. Council for Women, has led efforts over the past year to make the campaign a reality. State legislators handed the Council an unfunded mandate, telling it to create a public awareness campaign but giving it no money to do so. So Dinwiddie and her group have raised $283,000 in mostly private money. They need $400,000 more to keep the ads running all year. Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Bank of America and other corporate leaders have helped the campaign get rolling.

They plan to return to the legislature next year with proof that public awareness pays off, and hope that legislators will then fund the campaign statewide. They'll track more than a half-dozen metrics to measure their success.

The ad campaign features survivors of domestic violence bravely coming forward, hoping their stories will prevent someone else's from ever taking shape. One, Tana Greene, told her story at today's kickoff event. She got pregnant around the ninth grade. She married the father but within the first year he was beating her. Fighting back tears, Greene told the crowd: "This campaign means everything to me, because it will name it." Meaning, it will not let domestic violence lurk in the shadows.

We've written about the good work Safe Alliance, formerly United Family Services, has done by building an expanded shelter for abused women and children. This public awareness campaign could help prevent women from ever needing Safe Alliance's services.

This campaign has the potential to dramatically raise awareness of domestic violence, thus helping eliminate it. We hope the public, other corporate leaders in Charlotte and, most of all, state legislators, take note.

For more information, and to watch a powerful video featuring survivors, go to

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to get through airport security more quickly

John Pistole knows the TSA is the federal agency lots of folks love to hate. The head of the Transportation Security Administration met with the Observer editorial board this morning to talk about how he's trying to change his agency's image - and make things easier for travelers.

Charlotte was the first stop on a tour designed to make the public aware of changes at the TSA. Pistole said his agency is undergoing "a paradigm shift" designed to make getting through airport security less of a hassle for regular travelers while remaining vigilant about catching potential terrorists.

At the heart of the shift: What the TSA calls "risk-based security." The theory: TSA screens about 1.8 million people at airports each day, and almost every single one of them poses no terrorist threat. So the TSA is moving away from a "one-size-fits-all" approach to security checks to one that Pistole says is more tailored and precise. The idea is to figure out who poses a very low risk, let them through a bit more easily and focus the agency's resources on higher-risk passengers.

How to do that? Pistole says the TSA has developed objective criteria -- characteristics of passengers that make them higher or lower risks. Passengers who are "known and trusted" can go through a more streamlined security check.

One example: A program called PreCheck. Starting last summer, the top airlines began inviting some of their elite frequent flyers to share information about themselves in exchange for expedited screening. Those passengers get their own line, can keep their shoes on, can keep their fluids in their bags, among other things. The TSA has made other changes to streamline checks on kids, passengers over age 75, active-duty military and others.

Now Pistole, who traveled armed and didn't go through normal airport security checks while working for the FBI, wants to expand PreCheck dramatically. The TSA is working through details but plans soon to invite anyone to apply for the program, not just elite frequent flyers. Stay tuned for that.

Pistole acknowledges that the new approach could lead to profiling if not conducted properly. He expects an outside report in the next 30 to 60 days that will help the TSA better train its officers on how to ensure they don't profile. We're glad the TSA wants to target its resources at higher-risk passengers, but hope it's extremely vigilant about using objective, behavior-based criteria, not arbitrary measures like race and ethnicity.

Pistole says improving the TSA's public image is a high priority. The agency is training its officers on how to defuse tense situations before they escalate, and he has created an Office of Professional Responsibility to establish clear standards for employees.

I asked Pistole how the TSA is doing on improving its image, if 0 is where everyone hates them and 100 is where everyone considers them hard-working and professional. He wouldn't give a specific number but said, "I think we've moved off zero and are making progress. ... But we still have a long way to go."

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Victory, for now, for Dan Bishop and Mecklenburg

Good news arrived today for Mecklenburg County taxpayers, mental health patients and scores of newly hired county employees.

The county won a reprieve from an earlier order that stripped Mecklenburg of its control of more than $200 million in federal Medicaid money. Now it has a second chance to show that it can successfully launch a new operation to administer that money under new state rules.

N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos reversed her earlier ruling that had confirmed control of the program would move to Cardinal Innovations Health Solutions in Kannapolis. Mecklenburg will have to be up and running by March 1, and twice before then will have to demonstrate to an outside consultant that its preparations are on track.

Wos’s decision is good news for Mecklenburg. The county stood to waste $3 million it had already spent preparing, and dozens of employees faced being let go. Most importantly, residents with mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities might now continue to be part of a system that is overseen locally. Credit goes to Charlotte lawyer Dan Bishop, who represented Mecklenburg in its dealings with the state; to top county staff; and to commissioners, who in a unanimous, bipartisan vote decided to fight the original order.

There are at least two risks still pending. The first is that as part of the settlement, Mecklenburg agreed to give up the program, and its rights to appeal, if the outside consultant finds the county is running behind. The second is that taxpayers could be at risk if the county keeps the program but then fails to monitor Medicaid claims closely enough. The state’s whole effort exists, after all, to rein in costs.

It’s not surprising that Mecklenburg commissioners learned Wednesday’s news not from Bishop or county staff but from reporters asking questions about it. The county’s communications troubles continue. On this day, however, applause over the outcome drowns out criticism of how it was communicated. 
-- Taylor Batten

Friday, January 18, 2013

To shut up or not to shut up?

Parks Helms and Pat Cotham.
Democrats are atwitter over whether one of the area's top Democrats of the past 20 years told fellow Democrat Vilma Leake "to shut up." The bigger question, though, is whether Pat Cotham should shut up, which was the intended message.

Parks Helms, a former chairman of the Mecklenburg County commissioners, met with a group of Democrats Friday, including commissioners Cotham, Leake and some past board chairs. Helms was concerned about friction between Cotham and county staff, and wanted Cotham to dial back her aggressive approach toward County Manager Harry Jones and his crew.

The aftermath has focused on whether Helms shook his finger in Leake's face and told her to "shut up and don't say anything," as Leake alleges. All in attendance agree words got heated, and Helms acknowledges "I speak with my hands." Accounts differ on whether he told Leake to shut up.

More important, however, was what Helms wanted to convey to Cotham. She is the new chairman of the Mecklenburg board, and has been ruffling the staff's feathers in questioning how things have been done in the past. Helms said he wanted to impress upon Cotham the importance of "a good working relationship with the management team."

"I wanted us to give Pat some suggestions and advice about how she might avoid what I call unhealthy tension," Helms told Observer reporter David Perlmutt. "... I was trying to say that the public perception of how you conduct meetings and business is very important. The reports we're hearing indicate that the public does not have a good perception of what you're doing."

Not a good perception? The public hasn't had a good perception of commissioners for years when they repeatedly rolled over as county staff mishandled an embezzlement case, lied to the public over a severance agreement, mismanaged the Department of Social Services, botched a property revaluation and lost control of more than $200 million in Medicaid money.

Maybe Helms had good intentions in advising Cotham to smooth things over with Jones. But a little tension between commissioners and staff is long overdue.

-- Taylor Batten


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants

Illegal immigrants may soon be able to get North Carolina driver's licenses.

Attorney General Roy Cooper's office issued a highly anticipated opinion today saying that illegal immigrants who have been granted federal deferrals from deportation should be allowed to obtain driver's licenses. The DMV had said it would not issue such licenses until Cooper weighed in. It now should begin granting those licenses without delay.

Immigrants who have gotten the deferrals "are lawfully present in the United States during the period of deferment," Grayson Kelley, the chief deputy attorney general, wrote. "As such, (a state law provision) ... requires that such licenses be issued."

Cooper and his office made the right call. As we said in an editorial Monday, it makes little sense for the government to say that a person has the right to stay in the United States and work, but does not have the right to drive to that job legally. Under the deferred deportation program announced last June, qualifying immigrants receive two-year work permits.

Cooper's opinion puts North Carolina in the mainstream nationwide. Most states already allow noncitizens who hold work permits or who are granted deferred action to apply for driver's licenses. Only a handful do not.

Whether the deferred deporation program is an effective initiative is a separate debate. As long as it is the law of the land, it is in North Carolina's best interests to have those people on the roads legally, having demonstrated that they know traffic laws and can drive well enough to pass the state test.

Kelley's full letter to the DMV is available here.

-- Taylor Batten


Read more here:

Read more here:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NRA gun ad referencing Obama's girls is wrong

President Obama's proposed initiatives to tackle gun violence in this country have already drawn heated debate. Some of the debate about the initiatives was under way even before he announced them Wednesday. There should be debate about these initiatives as long as the debate doesn't squash meaningful strategies. This is a problem that you'd have to be living under a rock not to know is serious and in need of addressing promptly.

But there should be no debate about whether to condemn the National Rifle Association's use of Obama's children in an ad to push for armed guards in schools. The ad was inappropriate. The family of presidents, especially their children, should not be dragged into these political fights. Traditionally, political opponents and the media have respected that line.

This ad is particularly repugnant given the nature of this conversation - one that focuses on lethal weapons and how their misuse can and have had devastating impact on children. Zealots, particularly unbalanced zealots, need little encouragement to do destructive things. They don't need the NRA giving them ideas about where to inappropriately focus their ire.

Moreover, the ad is off point in its contentions. Trying to draw a parallel between the president's family receiving Secret Service protection and schools having armed guards to protect school children is a specious connection. The president's family faces danger because of the nature of his job. There is an ongoing risk that a president's family can be harmed or endangered. Credible threats are made against the family often in attempts to intimidate the president and use such circumstances to try to force him to do things that would harm this country. That makes protection of the president's family a matter of national security.

Protecting our school children is a serious issue but it is not the same thing. Trying to portray President Obama as an "elitist" for questioning whether armed guards in schools is the only solution to tackling gun violence - a stance of the NRA - while his children receive the necessary protection all presidents families have been accorded is nonsensical. It was wrong of the NRA to trot out this ridiculous contention, and the group made a big misstep in trotting out this ad.

Republican talk show host and former Congressman Joe Scarborough of the "Morning Joe" show shared the feelings of many on both sides of the political aisle: "What's wrong with these people?" he asked his co-host Mika Brzezinski. Her answer: "They are out of step, out of the mainstream, totally out of sync with what's going on in our society, and quite frankly after seeing that, I think some of the people who run that thing are sick... I think they are sick in the head."

Added John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked for presidential candidates John McCain and Jon Huntsman: "It's wrong to target in advertising the family of the president of the United States, regardless of the issue. If they're trying to appeal to the broad cross section of America, or they're trying to appeal to swing votes in the Congress, this was not their best first step they could have taken. It comes across as unhinged.''

Worse, as Ron Fournier of National Journal noted: “The ad is indisputably misleading, and is arguably a dangerous appeal to the base instincts of gun-rights activists.”

It was wrong. Period. The NRA should take it down, if it hasn't already. Focus on the real debate.

Posted by Fannie Flono 

Will S.C. voters trust trysting Mark Sanford?

This is shaping up as quite a news day. President Obama unveiled his strategies to fight gun violence and former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford has thrown his hat into the race for his old seat in Congress.

The gun debate has already ramped up to dizzying heights with U.S. congressman Steve Stockman of Texas comparing Obama to Iran's murderous maniac dictator Saddam Hussein. More to come from both sides of that debate as this fight continues. Hopefully reason will prevail on this issue.

But back to Sanford. You remember him, right? He of the Appalachian Trail-Argentine mistress-where-the-heck-is-the-governor fame? He wants the seat in the House of Representatives that Tim Scott vacated when Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to the U.S. Senate to complete the term of former Sen. Jim DeMint.

Sanford wisely didn't mention his mischief with his mistress in the written announcement today of his plan to run for South Carolina's 1st Congressional District seat that he held before he became S.C. governor. He said: "I am running because our country's future is at stake if we don't get our hands around runaway government spending in Washington.. And given our nation's long-term financial problems, we need more who have shown themselves to be leaders in standing up to the big spenders, regardless of party."

Sanford isn't paying attention. There is no dearth of Republicans in this or the last Congress professing to be leaders who stand up to big spenders. But he may be unique in having left the state he was governing - without the knowledge of political leaders or even law enforcement officials -for several days for a tryst with his mistress - and then lied to and misled the public about his whereabouts. He said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He was in Argentina. Maybe he got those "A" names confused.

Will S.C. voters be able to forgive and forget, and more importantly, trust him to be honest in the future? We'll see.

The special election is in May.

Unfortunately, we won't have the treat of seeing him run against his former wife Jenny Sanford. She divorced Sanford in 2010 after learning of the affair and is held in higher regard in the state than Sanford. She said recently she won't run for the seat.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One good call, one bad choice

The Charlotte City Council doesn't seem to get it, but Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Heath Morrison made the right call today in changing his mind about public access to the upcoming meetings of 22 CMS task forces.

Morrison had previously said the meetings would be closed because task force leaders felt that things would move along better that way. The task forces, comprised of dozens of volunteers, are set to discuss topics important to the future of the district, including closing the achievement gap and, yes, public trust.

Morrison, in a statement this afternoon, said the initial organizing meeting of each task force will remain closed, but that "all subsequent meetings" would be open. Said Morrison: "It has always been our goal to conduct this work inclusively, and in a way that both engenders public trust and fosters the kind of free exchange of ideas that will lead to the best outcomes."

As we said in an editorial last month, we get that. Having a reporter or curious citizen in the corner of the room can sometimes change how the rest of the room acts. But closing off that room costs more - and not only because doing so likely violates open meetings laws. The task force discussions might offer a window into how people feel about major issues confronting our schools. The public benefits when everyone can look in that window, and Morrison benefits, too, if people feel like they're a welcome part of the process.

Too bad the City Council took the opposite approach Monday night, discussing and endorsing in closed session a proposal to give the Carolina Panthers $125 million in public money for stadium renovations. Councilwoman Beth Pickering explained the shut door by noting that the Panthers are "important" to the city. Debating the Panthers request in front of the public, she said, could have led to "mis-impressions."

Translation: She doesn't trust you. But you should trust them.  Peter St. Onge

Think our stadium renovations are pricey?

Few things kindle public outrage like professional sports teams asking local governments to help pay for stadiums and stadium renovations. That's what the Panthers did Monday night with a $125 million request to spruce up Bank of America Stadium. The angry letters already are hitting the inbox here at O-pinion. We'll be publishing some in tomorrow's Observer, and we're crafting an editorial today explaining our view of the request.

Meanwhile, in Miami, an NFL team went big with an ask of its own Monday. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants to make $400 million in renovations at Sun Life Stadium - including a canopy to protect fans from the elements. Ross says he'll pay for half of the renovations, which he says are necessary if Miami wants to keep attracting Super Bowls. Miami is a candidate to host the 2016 title game - the 50th Super Bowl - but the 2007 game there was a washout.

Ross also pulled out the relocation card in a Monday press conference, promising that he would keep his team in Miami for 25 years if public officials came through with the money. The implication: no fix-it-up money, no promise we'll stay.

You can guess how that went over. "This is welfare for a billionaire," said Norman Braman, himself a billionaire Miami auto magnate. Said Miami NewTimes writer Tim Elfrink: "For decades now, team owners have exploited the emotional ties between the public and their franchises to extort ever more cash."

There's some history to justify at least some of the bad feelings in Miami, where city and county officials spent $500 million on a new Florida Marlins stadium that opened last year. After a dismal 2012 season, the team traded away most of its top talent, infuriating fans.   

Give the Dolphins' owner credit, though: Ross made his request in front of the cameras and notebooks Monday, unlike the Panthers, who were allowed to discuss theirs in a closed-door City Council meeting. The team and the city have both benefited from a strong partnership throughout the years, but taxpayers deserve a public explanation of the $125 million request. The Panthers should offer their perspective soon.  Peter St. Onge


Monday, January 14, 2013

Finally, Jerry Reese bows out

Charlotte and Mecklenburg County officials are surely celebrating today the end of Jerry Alan Reese's very long day in court. Moments ago, city attorney Bob Hagemann and county attorney Marvin Bethune announced that Reese, a Charlotte attorney, has agreed to drop an appeal of two lawsuits - his sixth and seventh - against the construction of an uptown baseball stadium. Reese also will withdraw an eighth lawsuit and promise not to file any others challenging the stadium.

The reason Reese is giving up? The city and county had asked Superior Court Judge W. David Lee for sanctions against Reese on the grounds that the sixth and seventh lawsuits were frivolous and "sought to relitigate issues that had already been decided by the court." Reese, by backing off, will avoid those sanctions.

Good. There once was a time when Reese asked legitimate questions to the courts about the city's and county's pursuit of minor league baseball in uptown. But when he didn't get the answers he wanted, he threw the equivalent of a legal tantrum, suing the city again and again until he had cost taxpayers more than $1.1 million.

Reese disagrees with this. He told me this afternoon that he would not file a frivolous lawsuit - "I pride myself on my professionalism" he said - and he has long contended he was suing Charlotte for the good of Charlotte.

City leaders, he believed, didn't think grandly enough about Charlotte's baseball and uptown possibilities. Reese, of course, had his own plan - a $4 billion project that included an uptown ballpark among dozens of acres of retail, offices and housing. He said he'd engaged in conversations with a Major League Baseball team, but he never was willing to provide convincing evidence that anyone in pro baseball had real interest in Charlotte.

The plan, however, was spectacular in its scope and detail. He rolled it out for me one day on a conference table at the Observer, then stepped back, beaming at it proudly. I thought then that he shared more with Charlotte leaders than they might want to admit. He believed his city should reach for bigger things. He thought self-doubt was unnecessarily holding us back.   

Reese still thinks so. "At the turn of this century, uptown Charlotte was poised to position itself as a major urban center," he said today. "That opportunity has passed as resources and opportunities have been wasted." He says he still believes in the concept of major league baseball in the Carolinas, and he continues to pursue that outside of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. "I guess time will tell," he said.  

We've long celebrated that kind of thinking in Charlotte. Visionary, we called it, and in some ways, Jerry Reese might have been. But visions ultimately need a partner, and for whatever reason - politics, practicality, or Reese himself - he never was close to finding one here. It took him far too long, at a cost to him and the city, to realize it.  Peter St. Onge

Is Lance Armstrong really sorry?

(Updated, 12:57 p.m.) Lance Armstrong sits down today with Oprah Winfrey for an interview to be broadcast Thursday. His representatives are hinting at a confession, and Armstrong told a reporter Saturday that he'll candidly answer Oprah's questions. But if you're expecting a full, tearful, annotated doping disclosure, you're bound to be disappointed. Grand public admissions of wrongdoing are a lot like the private kind, which is to say situational. People tend to confess to only as much as they think they have to. (See John Edwards.)

So how much do we need Lance to admit? It's a legitimate question. The point of the whole Oprah confessional is that Armstrong needs something from us in return - sympathy, support, or at least some form of public acceptance to rebuild on. That won't happen unless we think he's actually sorry. And the bar, for most of us, is high.

The bar is also about more than doping. Yes, Armstrong cheated, and because that cheating was so spectacular - and so spectacularly denied - there will be a satisfaction in hearing from his mouth what we've suspected all along. But the damage Armstrong did went beyond stealing the title of his sport's biggest event. It involved protecting those lies with brutal threats and attacks on those who dared dent the Armstrong brand.

Here's the confession I want to hear: Is he sorry for trying to destroy the teammates, journalists and others who talked about the doping he's now ready to admit? Will he mention their names publicly and apologize? Has he contacted them? Fair questions for Oprah to ask. (Let's hope for at least half the outrage she famously had for "A Million Little Pieces" author James Frey.)

(Update, 12:57 p.m.: The Washington Post is reporting that in advance of the Oprah interview, Armstrong called members of the cycling community to apologize for lying to them. The Post isn't specific about who received the calls, but they seem to be colleagues, not critics.)

If Armstrong hopes to compete again in marathons and triathlons, his confession eventually will have to come with details. Doping officials want the public to hear all the ways they were right about Lance, plus they can better catch the next guy if they learn how they were fooled by the best cheater ever. But for that public to believe that Lance is actually sorry, he needs to begin with the hardest kind of contrition - an apology to the people who wanted to ruin him. In the end, they were right.  Peter St. Onge

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ted Nugent shows how not to debate gun control

Both sides in the gun control debate are working overtime to sway public opinion. But former rocker Ted Nugent is showing exactly how not to do it.

With Vice President Joe Biden saying today that his task force will deliver recommendations for reducing gun violence to President Obama by Tuesday, the rhetoric is flying. The 64-year-old Motor City Madman, as fans sometimes call Nugent, is way out there for the pro-gun forces.

Biden's recommendations are thought to include initiatives such as universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines. Nugent, though, worries that Obama would just confiscate all guns.

If that happens, Nugent told WorldNetDaily, "there are enough soulless sheep within our government who would act on such an illegal order..." Nugent added: "But there will come a time when the gun owners of America, the law-abiding gun owners of America, will be the Rosa Parks and we will sit down on the front seat of the bus, case closed."

Last week, liberal nonprofit Media Matters notes, former NRA president Marion Hammer claimed that a proposal to ban assault weapons was similar to racial discrimination. Hammer said that "banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago."

With recent polls showing a majority of the public supporting stricter gun control measures, this kind of rhetoric from Nugent and Hammer is likely to backfire. Meanwhile, pro gun control forces are raising millions in an effort to sway public opinion, the Washington Post reported this morning.

Biden was scheduled to meet today with the NRA and other gun-owner groups. Perhaps that private meeting will have more rational conversation about real answers for reducing gun violence, in which America leads the world. No one is pro-violence. Surely there are common-sense steps, like universal background checks, that everyone can support.

Taylor Batten

Some common sense on voter ID

Kudos to the N.C. Board of Elections, Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

The Board of Elections has determined that there are some 613,000 registered voters who do not have photo IDs issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles (which issues both driver's licenses and other photo IDs). That's almost one in 10 of North Carolina's registered voters.

These are the people whose constitutional rights could be infringed by a strict photo voter ID law. Faced with this data, Gov. McCrory and Speaker Tillis, both Republicans, said Wednesday that they could support a voter ID law that permits other kinds of ID, without a photo. That paves the way for a reasonable compromise on this controversial issue.

Republicans passed a photo voter ID bill last year, but didn't have the votes to override a veto from then-Gov. Bev Perdue. They plan to make voter ID one of their earliest priorities when they reconvene Jan. 30, and McCrory said on the campaign trail that he would sign such a bill.

The Board of Elections' analysis puts some specifics on an argument that we and others opposed to a strict photo ID bill have made many times: Unlike driving or boarding a plane, voting is a fundamental right guaranteed by our Founders in the Constitution. The government overreach of taking away that right from people who do not have a photo ID (now pegged at more than 613,000 in North Carolina) far outweighs any benefit from using it to try to counter phantom voter fraud.

Virtually no one favors voter fraud, but it's almost nonexistent, and potential fraud is more likely to involve absentee ballots or registration hijinks than massive numbers of people showing up at the polls claiming they are someone they're not. The photo voter ID law does nothing to address that.

We think the whole voter ID push is more about keeping Democratic voters away from the polls than about rooting out real fraud. But we could live with a law that allows for other kinds of ID without a photo, such as a voter registration card or utility bill. That would block the kind of activity Republicans say concerns them without stripping 613,000 voters of their basic rights.

Good for Gov. McCrory and Speaker Tillis for understanding that.

Taylor Batten

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

N.C.'s Berger: We're no Washington Republicans

Phil Berger
Sen. Phil Berger,  unanimously re-elected N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore this morning, vowed to accomplish three things this session: cut taxes, reduce regulations and reform public education.

He portrayed North Carolina as a state that had lost its way and had fallen from its perch as an economic leader of the South.

And he took a dig at fellow Republicans in D.C.: "To my Republican colleagues: We must show our constituents, this state, and this country that there is a real difference between a Washington Republican and a North Carolina Republican! North Carolina Republicans deliver! We keep our word. And we act on the promises we've made," Berger, R-Rockingham, said in prepared remarks.

The main promises Berger's focused on: Tax reform, regulatory reform and public education reform. Those are all needed, but the question is how to accomplish those things. Will tax reform mean more than just cutting taxes and reducing revenues? Will regulatory reform mean more than gutting important regulations that protect N.C. citzens' environment and safety? Will public education reform mean more than shifting money out of the traditional public school system and into private and quasi-private schools?

We hope so. We encourage Gov. McCrory, Sen. Berger and the legislature to accomplish all three goals in a way that extends North Carolina's legacy as a state serious about educating its children and fostering economic growth in an enlightened way.

Below are Sen. Berger's complete remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you for that warm welcome and for the trust you’ve placed in me. It is a true honor, and a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

“Today, we renew the fight for reform that started two years ago when the voters sent a new General Assembly to Raleigh to change the way our government operates.

“For too many years, North Carolina tried to tax and spend its way to prosperity. And for too many years, North Carolina lost jobs, lost businesses, failed to educate many of our children and struggled to compete.

“Our leaders had lost their way. And our state lost its place as the leader of the South, and the envy of the nation.

“We vowed two years ago in this chamber to begin fixing those problems. And we’ve made great progress in just a short period of time.

“Today, that work continues.

“Senators, as we make tough decisions, think of the families out there struggling to make ends meet, sitting around their kitchen tables, balancing their check books, saving for retirement or a college education for their children.  Think of them as we craft bills and cast votes.

“Ask yourself: how can we help them create a better life? How can we work together to help small businesses become more successful?  And help working families take home more pay?

“Ask yourself: how can we help their kids get a better education regardless of the political consequences?

“Ask yourself how we, as a body, can come together to help our local towns and communities compete in order to create jobs and grow the economy?

“The voters have placed in our hands enormous trust and responsibility. We have the opportunity to set sweeping policy, to change the direction of North Carolina and to make a real and lasting difference.

“To my Republican colleagues: we must show our constituents, this state, and this country that there is a real difference between a Washington Republican and a North Carolina Republican!

“North Carolina Republicans deliver! We keep our word. And we act on the promises we’ve made.

“We made that clear last session. We cut taxes – unleashing private enterprise to grow our economy and create new jobs. We cut government red tape and bureaucracy. We began the long process of retooling our public education system, to make it more focused on delivering positive results for our children.

“Those were great achievements. But they were only the beginning.

“These next two years, Republicans and Democrats must set the bar even higher.

“With Gov. McCrory, his administration, and leaders in every branch of government, we will reform our old and outdated tax code. Today our tax system slows economic growth, kills jobs, and hurts businesses. It’s one of the single greatest roadblocks to our recovery, and we will not stop until it’s improved.

“We will continue making government more efficient and more responsive. Taxes on working families are still way too high. Regulations on our job creators are still way too cumbersome –and we have an obligation to change them.

“We will never back down from the effort to reform our public schools. No child should be forced to attend a failing school. And while we are committed to rewarding and recognizing our best teachers, no teacher should be guaranteed a job if they fail in their responsibility to educate our children.

“Every month, every week, every day that we accept mediocrity, another child slips through the cracks. We will move on this critical issue – and we will move quickly.

“Most of you know me. I grew up in a working class home. My dad worked with his hands for a living.

“Throughout my life, I’ve had to work hard, as many of you have. I worked multiple jobs while raising a young family to get through college and law school.  My wife, Pat, and I both understand what it takes to make ends meet.

“We’ve seen firsthand how hard work and determination makes anything possible.

“Education reform. Tax reform. Regulatory reform. They are lofty goals.

“But if we work hard, we can change our state, make it more competitive, more successful and help the families of North Carolina.

“I know many North Carolinians have lost hope. They feel stuck. They wonder if they’ll ever get ahead.

“Each and every day that we walk into this chamber, remember. We have an obligation to those in our state who are working hard and doing their best to provide for their families.

“Now is the time that we – as leaders – roll up our sleeves and get to work. We will not waste this great opportunity.

“Will there be tough battles? You bet. Will we have to make decisions that take us outside our comfort zone? Yes. But it is the right thing for us to do.

“And no matter how difficult or daunting the task, we must keep our eyes on what’s best
for the people of this great state.

“Thank you.  And may God bless this body and the people of North Carolina.”

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

County leader jabs at Mecklenburg chairman Cotham

UPDATED at 1:30 p.m. with Harry Jones's response.

Things seem to be getting off to a rocky start between the Mecklenburg County government leadership and the new county commissioners' chairman, punctuated by a tart email from an assistant county manager to her boss's boss.

Democrat Pat Cotham was the leading vote-getter in the November elections and was named chairman of the board last month. She has jumped in with an aggressive, constituent-focused, critical eye on county government, something that has been long overdue. She is asking, with a raised eyebrow, a lot of questions about how things are done and why they've been done that way. That's healthy and something that has not been a strong suit of recent Mecklenburg boards.

That approach seems to be angering county leadership, at least on one topic. Cotham called a special meeting for this afternoon for commissioners and staff to talk about what went wrong with MeckLINK. Last week, the state stripped the county from overseeing about $200 million in Medicaid money for mental illness, substance abuse and other services. Commissioners and staff have exchanged a flurry of emails on the topic.

The most surprising comes this morning from Michelle Lancaster-Sandlin, the county's general manager. In an email to Cotham and cc'd to others, Lancaster gives some background about the MeckLINK situation. She closes her email to Cotham this way:

"Perhaps, if you would take the time to talk to staff and ask questions instead of leaping to inaccurate conclusions we could have a productive and useful dialogue about what is right for the community and Mecklenburg County.

"I will note that I emailed you twice this weekend, telephoned you and sent a text offering to meet with you to answer questions and provide information - you declined to respond. I can only assume that means you are not interested in understanding the facts."

Whew! Mecklenburg's loss of the Medicaid money is a complicated development with many details still not publicly known. But Lancaster's insubordinate tone reveals, yet again, who County Manager Harry Jones and his staff thinks is in charge at the county. And it's not the county commissioners or their chairman.

In case Lancaster's email left any doubt about where things stand, Jones followed up with an email to Cotham this afternoon.

"... Some of our staff feel that you have made comments that devalue and demean them. Michelle Lancaster's email to you today is a tiny reflection of that sentiment," Jones wrote. "You shared your thoughts that you felt her email was 'rude.' ... We disagree. We have a very competent staff that understands that the success of this organization has been built on trust and teamwork by and between the staff and elected officials."

Jones expresses his desire to have a good relationship with Cotham. But Lancaster's email and Jones's support of it speak volumes. With hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars at stake in the MeckLINK episode, Mecklenburg's residents  would have hoped for a more professional dialogue.

-- Taylor Batten

Monday, January 7, 2013

Locke Foundation, Gov. McCrory in lock-step?

It seems the John Locke Foundation might have the inside track on policy moves to come from the N.C.governor's office now that Republican Pat McCrory is at the helm.

How else to explain the "coincidence" of McCrory's first executive order restoring the governor's sole authority to fill vacant judgeships on the same day Locke Foundation head John Hood publishes a column entitled "Reform Judicial Elections."

The column ends with an imperative for lawmakers to either "repeal the government-funding system entirely and restore party labels to our statewide judicial races" or "submit a constitutional amendment to voter referendum that emulates the federal model by having governors appoint the judges, subject to legislative confirmation and perhaps a subsequent retention election by voters."

The coincidence isn't all that surprising. The Locke Foundation has been funded primarily by Art Pope, the conservative philanthropist and activist who McCrory tapped to be his budget guru. Pope long controlled the foundation's agenda. Now, is he getting to make that agenda the state's and the governor's too? We're just asking.

McCrory signed a repeal of an order from Democratic predecessor Bev Perdue in 2011 creating a
state commission to nominate new judges. Perdue's goal was to remove politics from the process by selecting appeals and superior court judges from candidates nominated by the non-partisan commission.

McCrory said he was also concerned about the potential for politics to influence judicial appointments, but he says Perdue's order simply didn't work.

Perdue of course subverted her own strategy by failing to get a panel up and running, and at the end of her term bypassing the process to appoint her own choices to have them in place before McCrory took office -a move that brought her deserved criticism for hypocrisy.

The Observer editorial board has advocated for judicial appointments using a bipartisan panel to recommend nominees to the governor, followed by retention elections in which the citizens have a say in whether a judge stays on. So we agree with parts of the Locke Foundation suggestions. But we contend that the bipartisan, merit selections panel and the retention elections are key components, not options.

Hood's urging that lawmakers abandon public financing for judicial elections raises more concerns.  The state saw clearly the impact of monied interests on judgeship races last year in the N.C. Supreme Court race where nearly $2 million was spent. The race was targeted for big money because the outcome dictated the balance on the court - 4-3 right leaning or 4-3 left leaning. And because controversial laws the Republican-led legislature passed over the last couple of years could wind up before the high court, the balance could matter. Hood argues the current system attracts super PACs - such as the ones that got involved in ad buys in the state high court race - and other independent expenditure groups because public financing rules restrict candidates from running "real campaigns" and appealing to partisan voters with their political affiliation. But it's a stretch to think that by relinquishing the one restraining influence on special interests - public financing - that those monied interests would have less influence not more.

But the campaign to end public financing is clearly under way. Where does McCrory stand? Maybe John Hood and the Locke Foundation are giving us a clue.

Posted by Fannie Flono