Thursday, August 28, 2014

North Carolinians are a grumpy group

New polling data from Gallup depict North Carolina voters as trending Republican and bearish on the economy, President Obama and state government. The data, released Wednesday, confirm what most N.C. political observers have known for some time: The crucial U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis could boil down to who's more unpopular: Obama or the state legislature.

Gallup's surveys show that Democrats have lost about all of the 10-point advantage they had in North Carolina in 2008, when Obama and Hagan were swept into office. That year, 49 percent of respondents described themselves as Democrat or leaning Democrat, while 39 percent described themselves as Republican. Today, that Democratic advantage has vanished, Gallup finds: The state now is basically evenly divided, 42-41 in favor of Democrats.

Gallup says Obama has a 41 percent approval rating in the state, just below the national average of 43 percent. Just 51 percent of respondents have confidence in state government, which is significantly lower than the national average of 58 percent. And state residents' confidence in the economy is dramatically lower than that of residents in other states (+8 versus +23). Only three of 10 North Carolinians think it is a good time to find a job in their local area.

Only 34 percent said North Carolina is one of the best states to live in, compared with 46 percent who say that nationally.

So does this grumpy group blame Obama and Congress or the all-Republican legislature and governor in Raleigh? That could be the determining factor in the Senate race, Gallup says, echoing what N.C. pundits have said all along.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ex-lawmaker tops lobbyist list at N.C. legislature

It's no surprise the best lobbyists at the N.C. legislature are former lawmakers themselves. But the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research's latest findings provide a stark view of how quickly elected office can become ka-ching for legislators once they give up those public servant jobs. Whether and how much that lucrative work to come influences lawmakers while they're in office is something to ponder.

According to the rankings released Tuesday, 11 former legislators now rank among the most influential lobbyists. At the top sits former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, who served 18 terms in the House. Brubaker barely took a breather after leaving after the 2011-2012 session before he was mingling again at the legislature during this 2013-2014 session representing 21 clients as a contract lobbyist for such companies as GlaxoSmithKline, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Pepsico and GTECH Corporation, as well as organizations like the N.C. Association of Realtors, the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers and the NFL Players Association.

Coming in second is Dana E. Simpson, not a former legislator, of the Raleigh law firm Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan. Third is former N.C. Republican Party chairman Tom Fetzer, also not a former legislator.

Duke Energy Carolinas LLC has a lobbyist Kathy G. Hawkins focused solely only its interests. She comes in seventh. She had her work cut out for her as Duke tried to fend off legislation to better regulate coal ash production and disposal after a massive ash spill earlier this year. Environmentalists say the legislation that passed at the very end of the short session this year was "woefully inadequate," specicifying that Duke excavate ash at only four of its 14 coal-fired power plants. The long-term fate of other ponds isn’t clear but, for some, will likely include caps placed over ash that stays in place.

Paige Worsham, policy analyst with the Center that did this ranking, said the "high number of former legislators who are now influential lobbyists shows that these individuals continue to have impact on policy even after leaving elected office."

Brubaker attributes his effectiveness to knowing how to talk to legislators: "As a former legislator," he told the Center, " I appreciate brevity and know how important it is for a lobbyist to explain the issue in five to ten minutes."

Simpson, second best on the list, might have learned that from Brubaker (or taught it to him).

He served as Special Assistant for Communications and Policy when Brubaker was House Speaker in the late 1990s.

Rob Schofield of the Progressive Pulse takes the Center to task for the rankings, noting the Center is "a fine and venerable organization that has done many great services to the state" and that it has a commitment to sober and thorough research."

"That said, here’s a vote for doing away with one of the organization’s signature products — its annual 'rankings' of lobbyists and lawmakers," Schofield writes. "It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most offensive about the rankings. Maybe it’s the use of the word 'effectiveness,' which as a practical matter, has come to mean 'power and influence.' Surprise! This year, the 'most effective' lobbyist is former House Speaker and ALEC chairman emeritus-turned corporate mouthpiece Harold Brubaker."

The Center's Worsham said the "rankings ... help citizens understand which key interests and organizations have clout with legislators in North Carolina.... shed light on what is often an invisible process... show trends in the lobbying profession and illustrate which issues are hottest."

What do you think?

Under N.C. law, a legislator may register as a lobbyist six months after leaving office. Is that too short of an interval?

- Fannie Flono


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'I shouldn't know your name'

The unrest in Ferguson, Mo., continued last night, with two men shot and 31 people arrested in the ninth day of demonstrations following the death of Michael Brown. Kate Murphy, pastor at Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, offers a different, compelling perspective on the victim. It's worth a read. 

An Elegy for Michael Brown

I shouldn’t know your name.
And now there are so many people telling me who you were
Voices sorrynotsorry to show me
you’d robbed a convenience store
Stolen a box of cigars (they were very expensive cigars)
And other voices, shaking with rage
Telling me that you were a good kid
A gentle giant
Headed off for college
but all I need to know
is that I shouldn’t know your name
whether you were a great saint
or deeply troubled
or like every teenager
a maddening glorious mixture of the two
I still
shouldn’t know your name

here’s the first thing I do know
if your mother had tried to walk into an abortion clinic
18 years and some months ago
She would have been surrounded by Christians
White, middle class Christians
Some weeping with compassion for your life cut short
Some shaking with rage, calling her a murderer
All begging her to give you a chance at life
And the first thing I want to know is
Where is the weeping now?
Where is the rage now?
Where are the prophets crying out against the injustice
Of the one who played God & chose to end your life?

15 years ago I sat in a courtroom
Bearing witness to the sacred worth
of another teenage boy
Who was a brilliant beloved battlefield
And as we waited for his case to be called
We watched white boy after white boy
Walk up from the gallery
In suit and tie
And listen to the charges read against them
Assault and battery, possession with intent to distribute, driving while intoxicated
And nod respectfully as their lawyers got them probation
And sent them back to class
At their expensive private university just up the street

And black man after brown man entered the same courtroom
From the rear
In shackles and orange suit
And stood before the same judge
And heard the charges read against them
Possession, assault, possession
And one man—I kid you not, was there because he stole pampers, formula & baby food
And they were all were sent back to jail
To wait their trial
That day, every white boy (raping, dealing drugs, driving drunk)
That day, every black and brown boy (fighting, taking drugs, stealing diapers)
Returned from whence he came
And every time I tell that story it makes everyone mad
for different reasons
And I can’t get it out of my head this week
And you know why

Because I tell my daughters
If they get in trouble
To look for a police officer to help them
And your mother must have told you something so very different
And still, there you were, unarmed
Hands outstretched
Head bowed
Blown apart in the street
By the one who swore to protect you
Whether you were a good kid
Whether you were a thief
It doesn’t make your death more or less tragic
Your life was sacred
We all betrayed you
Like another young man
Whose body was broken for our sins

I wish I’d known you.
I wish I didn’t know your name.

Monday, August 18, 2014

McCrory's lawyer responds about Duke stock

The Observer editorial board on Sunday spelled out the troubling ways Gov. Pat McCrory has handled his ownership of Duke Energy stock. The governor owned a significant number of shares for 15 months after he was elected governor -- a role in which he leads an administration that is supposed to regulate the giant utility. He continued to own the stock for more than two months after Duke's coal ash spill into the Dan River, as he helped formulate the state's response. And he signed an inaccurate disclosure form, declaring that he held no Duke stock on Dec. 31, 2013, when in fact he did.

McCrory blamed the error on Bob Stephens, saying his general counsel misinterpreted the form and thought that it should reflect McCrory's holdings on April 15, 2014, a day after McCrory sold the last of his stock. That explanation does nothing to detail why McCrory thought it was OK to own stock in a company that was at the center of a debate about state regulation of its activities.

On Sunday, after the editorial ran, Stephens sent the Observer a letter in response. Stephens reiterates that he misinterpreted the disclosure form and vouches for McCrory's integrity. Read our editorial here, and read Stephens' response below.

To the editor:

I’m a proud native of the City of Charlotte. One of my first jobs was delivering the Observer when I was in junior high school. I attended the public schools and went on to Wake Forest University for undergraduate and law school. After two years in the U.S. Army, I practiced law in Charlotte for 40 years. I even had the honor of serving as president of the Mecklenburg County Bar Association.

I also love our entire state. That’s why I accepted the opportunity to serve as general counsel for our former mayor and current governor, Pat McCrory.

I understand a very liberal editorial board constantly challenging our administration on issues such as tax reform and unemployment reform. However, giving your readers the false impression that we intentionally hid the selling of his utility stock is totally misleading and disingenuous. In fact, it was Gov. McCrory that ensured that the media was notified shortly after divesting all of his retirement stock in April and the media reported it.

Let me be perfectly clear, my interpretation of the governor’s annual disclosure form was incorrect. At a minimum, the language is poorly worded. In fact, the ethics commission staff even acknowledged to us that many other public servants have interpreted the question the way I did. But the governor takes all ethics and integrity issues very seriously. Not surprisingly, Gov. McCrory immediately directed us to correct the error following my conversation with the ethics commission staff.

I’m proud of Gov. McCrory’s record of high ethics and integrity during his entire career in public service along with his 29 years as an employee of Duke Energy. In fact, one of the most often repeated directions I hear Gov. McCrory give to members of his administration is: “Do the right thing.”

As a mayor and now as governor, Pat McCrory continues to show strong leadership on issues such as education, economy and the environment. Our administration is holding Duke Energy accountable for the Dan River spill while developing a statewide plan that responsibly addresses a nearly 100-year-old problem. Our state has seen one of the largest drops in unemployment in the nation and we’ve cut our debt to the federal government by more than $2 billion. Teachers are receiving an average raise of more than 5.5 percent, plus longevity pay. And working North Carolinians are keeping a larger percentage of their paychecks.

I’m proud to be a part of this “Carolina Comeback.” I’m equally as proud to work for our own former mayor that now leads our state in the right direction while maintaining the highest of ethical standards.


Bob Stephens

General Counsel for Gov. Pat McCrory