Monday, February 25, 2013

Yes, Seth MacFarlane, it's still too soon

Kate Murphy, pastor at Charlotte's The Grove Presbyterian church, watched along with millions of others last night as Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane said this:

Here's what Murphy thought: 

Like millions of others, I settled in Sunday evening to watch the Oscars. I was looking for glamour, escape and sly self-deprecating humor. What I got was a wake-up call as host Seth MacFarlane congratulated actor Daniel Day-Lewis for his extraordinary title performance in Lincoln, then noted that “the actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth."

There was an audible gasp from the audience, but MacFarlane was ready for it. “What? One hundred and fifty years later and it's still too soon?” he quipped, before warning us we really weren’t going to like his Napolean jokes. The message was clear — Lincoln was assassinated. Get over it. Why should we care about a violent death that occurred over a century ago?

When you hear actors, directors and producers talk about why movies matter—they always cite films like Lincoln—a movie that reveals the humanity of our heroes and forces us to relive the past. When we see how hard Lincoln and others had to fight to end the institution of slavery, we realize how easily a society can adapt to evil and come to see it as not only necessary but righteous. We walk away asking questions about present-day America. Isn’t it likely our society has similar blinders about current cultural institutions? What evils have we grown accustomed to? We see how history hinges on the moral courage of one individual, and we wonder about our own responsibility to challenge evil. We see that Abraham Lincoln isn’t a character in a tall black hat, but an extraordinary ordinary man who changed the course of history. And we grieve the terrible price of his victory. And if two weeks after seeing the movie we can laugh about a bullet entering his head — then God help us.

One hundred and fifty years later, it’s not funny that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Has America grown so indifferent to violence that we must now convince people that murder is a tragedy? In 150 years, will we be laughing about Newtown?

As a Christian, my life is centered on a cross. A man was brutally murdered upon that cross, and not by God. Jesus was murdered by people. As a pastor, my life’s work consists in telling others why that death still matters two thousand years later. I believe that the grace of God transforms and redeems violence—but it doesn’t make it funny. The murder of Jesus is still a tragedy and Lincoln’s murder is still a tragedy and so are the murders of Ghandi and MLK and JFK and RFK. Their deaths aren’t funny—and not because they were heroes, but because they were humans. I won’t dishonor their lives by mocking their deaths. There are a lot of ridiculous things to laugh about at the Oscars; murder just isn’t one of them.

Should N.C. require cursive in schools?

So I'm a hypocrite about cursive handwriting. In our house, we require our sons - one in elementary school and one in middle school - to practice it weekly on homework assignments. We think it's good to know - that despite the predominance of communication by texts, tweets and emails, there's still a social expectation of script in some places. Potential employers still notice a handwritten thank you. More importantly, so do grandmothers.

Do I use cursive? Well, um, no. My handwriting, like many adults, is a hybrid of sorts - printed letters with the occasional flourish of a cursive loop tossed in. It's nothing close to what Mrs. Mackey taught me in 3rd grade, but it gets the job done, at least for the few notes I still write by hand.

Now, some N.C. lawmakers are trying to make cursive handwriting a required part of the curriculum in state elementary schools. Sponsors of the "Back to Basics" bill say it teaches children discipline, makes them more well-rounded and, according to Rep. Chris Malone of Wake County, "lends to our humanity."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spokeswoman Stacy Sneed says the district teaches all students cursive starting in second grade. But in our sons' classrooms, busy with many other subjects, that "teaching" seems to have started and ended then. Each learned to write his name and the letters of the alphabet, but there's been no requirement to use cursive since. If not for their oppressive parents, they would have forgotten the skill by now. 

Is it worth it? Educators say that cursive isn't just about writing, but reading. Children benefit from knowing how to read script in school (think Declaration of Independence) and will benefit later when they have to decipher a doctor's or coworker's note. As for the writing skill, there might be some advantages even beyond the employer-to-be or happy grandma. About 15 percent of the College Board's SAT test takers submit their essay answers in cursive, and those essays also happen to score higher. Is that because those students tend to be from higher-scoring private schools, where cursive is still taught, or is there a judging bias toward nicely handwritten essays? No answers there, but there's no question that, rightly or wrongly, elegant handwriting signals sophistication to people in a position to judge.

The question, for lawmakers and parents, is whether that's enough to require the skill from our elementary students. Given the inescapable march of keyboarded communication, it seems that cursive handwriting has transitioned from critical to complementary. If lawmakers are going to start micromanaging what our students must learn, let's require something really useful like, say, Spanish.

Photo: Teacher Cindy Kusilek works with her third-grade class at Franklin Academy Charter School in Wake Forest. Students there work 20 to 30 minutes a day on cursive handwriting. Photo by Robert Willett, News & Observer.

- Peter St. Onge


Friday, February 22, 2013

Our middle-of-the-road senators

The National Journal is out with its annual rankings of members of Congress, and North Carolina's senators stand out for not standing out.

Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, ranked 48th most liberal, which put her right in the middle of the Senate and made her one of the least liberal -- or most conservative -- Senate Democrats in 2012. Forty-seven Democrats scored more liberally than Hagan while only five finished to her right.

Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, ranked the 23rd most conservative (or 77th most liberal), which put him smack in the middle of the 46 Republicans.

This is a ranking Sen. Hagan is likely to embrace, given that she faces reelection next year in a decidedly purple state. According to National Journal, her record in 2012 was decidedly purple itself.

In the 435-member House, Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte ranked 32nd most conservative, Rep. Mel Watt ranked 45th most liberal and Rep. Larry Kissell ranked 177th most liberal; only seven Democrats ranked more conservative than him.  

(In South Carolina, meanwhile, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who has since left for the Heritage Foundation, ranked as the Senate's third most conservative member. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham ranked 33rd most conservative. That might raise concerns about Graham's vulnerability to a challenge from the right during his reelection campaign next year.)

To see the complete rankings, click here.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The truth on teen sex

From the Chicago Tribune editorial board, good news and good perspective on teen sex:

American teenagers are awash in temptation, particularly the kind that involves pleasures of the flesh. They are exposed to racier images on television than ever before. Popular music celebrates carnal passion with unceasing gusto. And the Internet offers an endless array of graphic sexual fare. From watching “Glee” or “Gossip Girl,” you get the idea that high school is just one hookup after another.

This salacious environment is a lot for impressionable youngsters to deal with, but our kids are dealing with it surprisingly well.

So says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that when it comes to having babies, adolescents are not only doing better than they used to be, they’re doing better than they’ve ever done since 1946. The birth rate among teenagers fell by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011.

It wasn’t a fluke. The previous year, it fell by 9 percent. These represent just the continuation of a long and very impressive decline over the past two decades. Since 1991, the number of babies born to women ages 15 to 19 has fallen by 49 percent, despite an expanding population of teenagers.

Nor is the phenomenon peculiar to any one group or region. Among non-Hispanic blacks, the rate has plunged by 60 percent since 1991. Among Latinos, it’s 53 percent. Teen births have been falling across the country. If the rate had stayed where it was two decades ago, there would have been 3.6 million more births since then than there actually were.

There are some collateral benefits from the improvement. Premature births have fallen among all women, and so has the number of low-birth weight babies – both of which make for healthier infants.

What accounts for the dramatic progress? A combination of less sex and more contraception has played a big part. Since 1991, the proportion of high school students who have ever had sexual intercourse has declined from 82 percent to 60 percent – a drop of more than a quarter. Adolescents are also less likely to have had several partners.

The ones having sex have gotten more careful about the consequences. Among those who have sex, the use of condoms has risen by one-third. Lately, other types of birth control also appear to have gained in popularity as well. Some 14 percent of sexually experienced teen girls have used emergency (plan B) contraceptives. But abortion has gotten less common.

The picture we get is not the raunchy abandon so often depicted in popular culture. It’s one of growing awareness of the downside of sex, more willingness to postpone it, and taking measures to prevent it from causing pregnancy.

Those steps are what parents, teachers and public health professionals have been urging on adolescents for decades now. Surprise: They’ve been listening.

A GOP attack on straight-ticket voting?

We're a bit torn about a bill filed this month that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in North Carolina.

It comes from the party that has spent the past few years finding new and creative ways to keep its opponents' supporters from voting. In states across the country, Republicans have legislated limits on early voting and passed voter ID laws that attack a voter fraud problem that research shows doesn't exist at polling places.

Let's not forget the Republicans in four battleground states - Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania - who recently proposed changing how Electoral College votes are counted in their states. President Obama won each of those four last November; the proposed splitting of electoral votes by congressional district would likely favor future Republican presidential candidates.

So it's not a surprise that N.C. Republicans might turn their attention to straight-ticket voting. In the 2012 general election, about 300,000 more N.C. Democrats than Republicans chose the straight-party option. Remember, in North Carolina, voters who choose the straight ticket option still have to push an extra button to cast a presidential vote, but statewide offices are included in a straight-ticket vote. Some think that Democratic straight-ticket votes in Mecklenburg helped defeat Pat McCrory's bid for governor in 2008.

The short-and-sweet N.C. bill, introduced by Republican Sens. Thom Goolsby and Buck Newton, would eliminate the straight-party option. Voters could still fill their ballots with votes for Democrats, but they couldn't do it with one punch of a button.

And that is, whatever the intention behind it, a good idea.

Straight-ticket voting is a testament to electoral laziness. It was conceived and supported by legislators who think it's in their best interest to ride on the coattails of their party. It gives voters the opportunity to cast ballots without having to burden themselves with thinking about individual candidates and races.

It also results in embarrassments like Alvin Greene. Remember him? He was an unknown Democrat  who became the Democratic Party's nominee in the 2010 U.S. Senate race in South Carolina. It was bad enough that South Carolina Democrats awarded him a primary victory without knowing anything about him, but by the general election, most everyone had learned that Greene was unemployed, had been kicked out of the military, and faced federal obscenity charges. He still managed to receive 365,000 votes in losing to Republican Jim DeMint - but only 37,000 of those voters actually punched the button next to his name. The other 328,000 votes came from voters choosing a Democratic straight-ticket option.

Currently, 15 states offer a straight-party option to voters - down from more than 20 a couple decades ago. Yes, killing the straight ticket might result in longer lines at the polls, but it will at least nudge us closer toward what voting should be - looking at a ballot and deciding which person better represents you.

Peter St. Onge    

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hagan's U.S. Senate race deemed a toss-up

You're still recovering from the 2012 elections, we know. But pundits never tire of crystal-balling political campaigns, and a new forecast pegs North Carolina's U.S. Senate race next year as a toss-up.

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is expected to seek a second term. A number of Republicans are thought to be eyeing her seat, including state Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Thom Tillis and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx.

Larry Sabato, an oft-quoted political scientist at the University of Virginia, produces "The Crystal Ball," his take on upcoming races. This week, he issued his prognostications on all 35 Senate races in 2014. Here's how he sees Hagan's reelection battle shaping up:

North Carolina: Sen. Kay Hagan (D) was swept into office with the aid of presidential turnout in 2008. This time around, there's no presidential race above her on the ballot. Granted, she outperformed Obama in 2008, but turnout will certainly be down this time around, and Hagan won't be facing off against a vulnerable incumbent (then-Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole). For Hagan, much will depend on two factors: First, the state of the nation (Obama's popularity, economic revival) as we get closer to Election Day 2014; and second, the Republican opposing her on the ballot. Hagan has little control over either, though she could borrow from Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-MO) playbook and attempt to influence the GOP primary result. Among the possible Republican candidates are North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis and Reps. Renee Ellmers, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx and George Holding. While recent polling shows Hagan leading these potential opponents, her middling approval rating and the midterm dynamics make this race a TOSS-UP.

To read Sabato's full report, click here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

DMV, McCrory make right move on immigrants

Now here's a news bulletin: Common sense has ruled the day in North Carolina government.

DOT Secretary Tony Tata just announced that North Carolina will grant driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants who have been granted status to stay in the United States.

It's the right move, and Gov. Pat McCrory deserves accolades for backing it.

Under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, immigrants brought to the U.S. as children can work and live here while deportation is postponed for two years.

Yet North Carolina's DMV has been denying them driver's licenses even though the Department of Homeland Security has declared that the individuals are "lawfully present" and allowed to work. How it's consistent to then deny them a driver's license to get to that work is beyond us, as we said in an editorial last month.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper issued an opinion last month saying DMV not only could, but was required to, issue the licenses. Besides being legally required, granting the driver's licenses just makes sense. As the Latin American Coalition's Lacey Williams said, "I don't know who they think will benefit to have this class of people who can now work but cannot drive."

Gov. McCrory was surely getting an earful from political friends with hard-line views on immigration. It gives one hope that McCrory still has some of the centrist leanings he demonstrated in 14 years as Charlotte's mayor.

-- Taylor Batten

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserverstorylink=cpy

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama speech 'hollow'? - and that's from a liberal

Wednesday morning quarterbacking is all over the place on President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Here are a few interesting ones.

We journalists always love fact-checking. Here's an assessment from the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler. A sample?

From Obama: "After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs."
Kessler's assessment: "The president is cherry-picking a number that puts the improvement in the best possible light. The low point in jobs was reached in February 2010, and the there has indeed been a gain of about 6 million jobs since then... But the data also show that since the start of the presidencey, about 1.2 million have been created - and the number of jobs in the economy is about 3.2 million fewer than when the recession began in December 2007."

A quick hit of takeaways from the speech comes from columnist Chris Cillizza: His five? Obama goes big on guns, Obama expresses his vision of government - not bigger government but smarter government, Obama makes a major play for climate change, Obama gives voting rights advocates a victory and Obama talks about the economy, "kind of." What were your takeaways?

The speech got good marks, according to polling, from most viewers. The CNN/ORC poll released after Obama's address on Tuesday found that 53 percent of viewers said they had a "very positive" reaction. The poll also found that 24 percent of viewers said they had a "somewhat positive" response to Obama's speech and 22 percent said they had a negative response to the speech.

But it got whacked by conservative and liberal columnists.

 On the liberal side, Matt Miller called it "Obama's hollow speech."  He said "Obama’s framework was exactly right...  But when you look at the details the White House put out on the president’s proposals, it’s less clear that he’s offering real answers...  Even if Obama’s agenda becomes law, after eight years of the most progressive president in memory, America will still be a country in which work is less well-rewarded, college is far costlier, and poor children’s life chances more limited by accident of birth than in virtually every other wealthy nation. American exceptionalism indeed."

On the conservative side, Jennifer Rubin had this to say:  "If you were expecting a speech with no connection to the real economic problems we face and no concern about our crippling debt, then President Obama’s State of the Union did not disappoint...  Like his inaugural speech, Tuesday’s address has no bearing on the real legislative agenda nor on our economic situation. The debt is crushing the economy, yet the president spends with abandon. Growth remains anemic, yet he raises taxes and labor costs. We are flush with energy, yet he strangles the economy with uber-regulation. And we face a world of threats, yet he hollows out the military. It was a standard issue wish list, with little poetry or uplift, and even less smart policy."

By the way, Obama wasn't the only one with guests at Tuesday's speech. North Carolina's Sen. Kay Hagan said that she "was honored to have Terry Marquez of Aberdeen" as her  guest. "Terry’s presence reminds us that we cannot forget the sacrifices her son, Sgt. Justin Marquez, and so many brave Americans and their families have made protecting our country." 

North Carolina is the first stop for Obama as he tries to sell the initiatives he outlined in the State of the Union speech. He's already in Asheville for a speech.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Panthers agreement far from a done deal

A couple of tidbits from the sitdown Monday with Carolina Panthers' President Danny Morrison and Observer reporters and editors (see the fine reporting on the meeting from April Bethea and Jim Morrill, along with Joe Person's recap of what $250 million will buy the Panthers in stadium improvements):

1) The $143.75 million agreement between the team and city is more tentative than you might think.  Morrison indicated that the state has a lot to say about the deal - not only by approving the 1 percent prepared food and beverage tax that Charlotte officials want, but by contributing $62.5 million toward the stadium renovations. It's likely state lawmakers will give Charlotte the authority to levy at least some of that tax increase, but House Speaker Thom Tillis has been very clear that he doesn't support direct money to the Panthers from the state.

What happens if lawmakers say no to a direct contribution? Morrison demurred when I asked him if the agreement with the city was solid even if the state didn't come through with its millions. The team would reevaluate where it stands, he said, and he was unclear whether the team would even begin stadium improvements before getting its yes or no from the state on the $62.5 million.

Panthers officials, who have met with several leaders in Raleigh, will be heading back to make their case more thoroughly. Morrison hopes to have an answer by the end of the session this spring. If that answer is no? Any hypothetical help from South Carolina would involve the Panthers' preseason training camp in Spartanburg, and the Panthers haven't had any talks with Mecklenburg County commissioners. That leaves the Panthers a couple of choices: give up on getting that last $62.5 million from public dollars, or go back to the one public body that already has said yes. Count on the latter.

2) Morrison said that Jerry Richardson got involved in the negotiations with the city only once. That happened after City Council members urged that the Panthers agree to be tethered to Charlotte for 15 years, not the 10 that city staff and team officials had tentatively agreed to. It was then, Morrison said, that Richardson stepped in and agreed to 15.

From a strict bottom line perspective, that probably wasn't the best choice for the value of his franchise, which is one of very few in the NFL that's not tethered legally to the city it plays in. The negotiating team, said Morrison, "would have advised him differently." But, as Morrison said, it's a reminder that Richardson sees the team as part of his legacy, as he does its relationship with Charlotte.

That doesn't mean that all will be smooth from this point forward (see tidbit No. 1). But for those who think the Panthers and city have a mutually beneficial partnership - and the editorial board counts itself among that group - it's a good foundation to continue building upon.  

Peter St. Onge

Monday, February 11, 2013

Your View: What's the State of our Union?

The State of the Union address has its pomp and pageantry.  President Obama will press the flesh of eager hand-shakers as he enters, and the audience will include a number of Americans who will be used as symbols to emphasize his priorities.

But symbolism aside, the State of the Union speech can be more than political theater. In 1823, President James Monroe used it to explain what became known as the Monroe Doctrine urging European nations to end their practice of western colonization. Abraham Lincoln used it to profess in 1862 his desire for slavery to be abolished. In 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his famous Four Freedoms speech. Lyndon Baines Johnson pressed for an end to poverty and launched a major initiative in 1964. In 2002, George W. Bush announced his war on terrorism.

With the nation still suffering economically, President Obama has an opportunity to use this speech to provide direction and vision, with a detailed agenda, on how to tackle the nation's continuing economic woes. The Observer's editorial board gave our assessment of where the State of the Union stands and what's needed in Obama's speech in commentary on the editorial page. But we'd like your assessment.

Listen to Obama's State of the Union speech and tell us if you agree with his assessment. But even if you don't listen to the speech , join our conversation. We'd like to hear from you what your assessment is of the State of our Union, and what needs to be done to tackle our challenges.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

NRA targets Observer cartoonist

Award-winning Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers doesn't like to brag, but he's been bestowed with another honor: He's one of 37 journalists on the NRA's anti-gun list.

"I'm just glad to be recognized for a job well done," Siers said today, looking down at the carpet.

The NRA's list includes more than 500 organizations, corporations, celebrities and others who the NRA deems hostile. Siers is lumped in with such other well-known scourges as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, Hallmark and the Kansas City Chiefs. The list singles out companies, organizations and people that together cover pretty much all of America. Heck, even the American Firearms Association makes the NRA's anti-gun list.

The list came out last September but is only now being publicized. The NRA declined comment on it to the Washington Post on Tuesday.

A couple of Siers' recent NRA cartoons: (Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The kid with the Auburn tattoo

Reuben Foster
Lots of eye rolling in sports circles today about Reuben Foster, a spectacular high school football player and spectacularly indecisive high school football recruit. 

Foster is an inside linebacker, originally from Georgia, who's considered one of the Top 20 recruits in the country by experts in such matters. Two years ago, he committed to the University of Alabama, then this past June decided he liked Auburn University, where he now lives with his family, including a young daughter. 

Such fickleness is not unusual in college football recruiting. Up until National Signing Day, which is tomorrow, recruits regularly "commit" to one school then take visits to others. Coaches tend to whine about these flimsy pledges, but they have no problem pursuing kids who've already picked other schools. 

Foster, however, wanted to show his commitment to that official commitment, so after pledging his fidelity to Auburn, he got a substantial Auburn tattoo on his bicep. Not a good choice: On Monday night, he recommitted to Alabama at a televised news conference

Each year brings stories like these - minus the tattoo - along with dozens of news conferences in which teens participate in corny theatrical suspense (sometimes including puppies!) before declaring their team, er, school of choice. It's silly. It's self-aggrandizing. And it's also, for most, the last moment before they step into a college football machine that too often exploits their talents, cashes in on their names, and delivers a free but substandard education. So, good for them.  

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera writes today about one such case that's familiar to Carolinians. Michael McAdoo played football for the University of North Carolina for two years before being declared ineligible by the NCAA because in 2008, a tutor gave him too much help on a class paper. McAdoo, now with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, sued the NCAA and UNC but lost. 

McAdoo tells Nocera that he feels betrayed by UNC. As a high schooler, he wanted to major in criminal justice, but was told after he arrived at UNC that the school didn't have a criminal justice major. Instead, he says, a counselor picked his major - African-American studies - because it wouldn't interfere with his football commitments. 

Writes Nocera: 
Among the first classes he was “assigned” (as he phrases it) was a Swahili course, an “independent studies” class taught by the department chairman, Julius Nyang’oro. “There wasn’t any class,” McAdoo recalled. “It never met. You sign up for the class. You write the paper. You get credit. I had never seen anything like it.”

Most of us know the rest of the UNC story - 216 courses like the one McAdoo described. More than 500 grade changes. A shabby investigation by Gov. Jim Martin that concludes that because regular students were also in those classes, it doesn't matter that athletes were steered to them. 

It's all part of our grand enabling of big-time college sports. Schools, along with the NCAA, go through extraordinary contortions to further the notion that these athletes are actually students who happen to play sports. We lap it up - or at least ignore it enough so that we can put on the school colors on fall Saturdays. Then we smirk at the Reuben Fosters this week, and we frown at indecisive 18-year-olds, and we wonder, piously, whatever happened to integrity? 

Peter St. Onge



Monday, February 4, 2013

Put up your dukes! Stop meddling, guv!

Are they ready to rummmble? That's what some folks are saying given the recent tit-for-tat from two Charlotte political heavyweights.

In one corner is Governor, no Mayor, no Governor Pat McCrory. In the other corner is Mayor (with aspirations, some say, to be North Carolina's governor or perhaps U.S. House member in the not so distant future) Anthony Foxx.

The boxing gloves were donned last week when Gov. Pat made some comments to Charlotte city staffers that some took as meddling in city affairs and a veiled threat against the city  if officials continued to pursue a streetcar. At the end of a meeting with staffers about the city and state helping pay for renovations to Bank of America Stadium for the Carolina Panthers, McCrory said he told the staff that the city's pursuit of building the streetcar was "making my job harder" to keep state funding for the $1.1 billion Lynx Blue Line Extension. The state has pledged to spend $299 million on the light-rail extension, which is 25 percent of the construction costs. The money is set to be approved by the General Assembly in $25 million installments annually. He said if the city raises property taxes to build the streetcar, some may take it as a signal that Charlotte doesn't need help from the state. 

McCrory said Saturday he was only giving Charlotte officials "helpful advice" not issuing a threat. 

That's not implausible. The Great State of Mecklenburg, as we've been often derisively called by some of the honorables in the state capital, hasn't enjoyed great affection in the legislature. Even with some Mecklenburg lawmakers enjoying unprecedented power  - Mecklenburg's Thom Tillis is House speaker -  Charlotte has had a hard row to plow to get its urban needs addressed at the state level. 

Curiously, though, McCrory had no similar "helpful advice" to offer on the issue city staff members were actually discussing with him. He wouldn't discuss with us if lawmakers might have similar qualms about providing Charlotte with money if the city provided $125 million in local food and beverage tax dollars to the Panthers to upgrade their stadium. The City Council has asked the General Assembly to OK an increase in the tax to do so.

For their part, Foxx and other Democrats didn't think the streetcar was any of McCrory's business. It's a completely local decision, they said. He should focus on the pressing state issues - tax reform and health care for instance, they said.

Some of the rumblings between Foxx and McCrory is political theater. They're not best buds and both have political aspirations that go beyond the current offices they hold. There could be more face-offs in the future.

And Foxx wasn't backing down on his criticism of McCrory's remarks Monday. In his State of the City address he said again that McCrory inappropriately weighed in on local issues by suggesting Charlotte should not move forward with the streetcar as Foxx proposed in his capital plan. “Opposition to the streetcar is based on ‘smoke and mirrors,’” Foxx said. He suggested critics don’t support the project because of the type of neighborhoods and business corridors it would ultimately serve.

As we said last week, we've expressed skepticism about the streetcar. But we're dead certain that McCrory should have butted out of the issue. 

Maybe he was trying to be "helpful" but he's naive if he really believes a governor's "helpful advice" on how to spend local money wouldn't be viewed as the threat that many view it to be. 

Read more here:

Friday, February 1, 2013

McCrory should butt out

Well here's an interesting twist. Pat McCrory spent years plotting how to move up and out of the Charlotte mayor's office. Now that he has finally done it by becoming governor, McCrory apparently longs to be mayor again. But he's not mayor, and he needs to butt out of local decisions.

McCrory this week delivered a threat to Charlotte officials that both overstepped his bounds and, ironically, threatens to undercut one of his biggest accomplishments as mayor. He told two top city officials -- City Attorney Bob Hagemann and Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble -- that state funding of the Blue Line light-rail extension to University City (totaling $299 million) could be threatened if Charlotte funds a streetcar.

We've expressed skepticism about funding the streetcar, but the merits of that project are beside the point. The point is this: Whether to fund the streetcar with local money is a local decision, one to be made by Mayor Anthony Foxx and the Charlotte City Council. It is not a decision in which the governor has any reason to meddle.

After 14 years as mayor, this should be obvious to McCrory. How would he have reacted as mayor if Govs. Bev Perdue or Mike Easley threatened to strip state money from Charlotte if the city did something locally they didn't like? That his threat would spike the very light rail system he championed as mayor is even more puzzling.

McCrory's spokesman says McCrory isn't threatening to pull the state money, just informing the city of the potential political fallout of using property taxes for such a controversial transit project as the streetcar. But it sure comes across as a threat, especially since it's doubtful the funding would be pulled without McCrory's explicit or tacit approval.

Asked recently whether the state should allow Charlotte to raise taxes to pay for renovations to the Carolina Panthers' stadium, his spokesman said McCrory "believes that local leaders should make decisions on local issues - the same philosophy he employed as mayor of Charlotte."

Exactly. It was a good philosophy then and it's a good philosophy now. If McCrory wants to steer local affairs, candidate filing for mayor opens on Friday, July 5, at noon.

-- Taylor Batten