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Comments by Tom Campbell of NC SPIN, N.C.'s Most Intelligent TV and Radio Talk Show

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50 Percent Legislative Turnover Projected

I've been following North Carolina politics since the early 1960's and I've never seen anything like what we can expect come November.

There are always shakeouts, dropouts and knockouts following redistricting, but this year could see a turnover in our legislature approaching 50 percent. In normal cycles you can expect changes, even as high as one-third of the 170 members can take the oath for the first time, but this time is different. Many Democrats, out of power for the first time since Reconstruction, just don't find the reward or fun in serving...especially if they are "double-bunked" with other incumbents. But when we see Richard Stevens, a Republican Senate leader, announce he won't run we must acknowledge that things are not well on Jones Street.

What's the problem with new faces, you ask? We need fresh ideas and energy, especially in this time when the economy still languishes. That's a good thing and certainly needed, but with the exodus in tenure we also lose the historical memory and experience that go with it. Lacking that experience and memory lawmakers must depend on legislative staff more than is currently the case. We never voted for a single staffer, yet they bring their biases and political leanings into conducting research, drafting bills and guiding legislation. 

If pollsters are correct folks aren't pleased with the direction our legislature has been taking...not just in this past session but even when Democrats were in control. We were likely to see that displeasure voiced come November, but this legislative election cycle is going to be unique. The flag has dropped and the races are on. Should be fun to watch.

Bring on the discussion

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has a good idea. He proposes a debate between himself and Governor Perdue over whether to restore he ¾ cent sales tax. He says Perdue is using her bully pulpit to mount a re-election campaign and wants an equal opportunity to make his case for why the tax should not be imposed.  House Speaker Thom Tillis says he wants in on the debate, too. But a two-against-one matchup wouldn’t be fair or productive.

It isn’t likely to happen. Governor Perdue quickly ruled out the idea. With all her experience in state government she doesn’t perform well in a debate setting. But it would be refreshing to hear some honest dialogue instead of the recent finger pointing and partisan rhetoric North Carolina has heard.

NC SPIN would like to offer an alternative. We would gladly host a discussion between Berger and Perdue over the issue on our next statewide television show. We would even be willing to expand the forum to include Tillis and perhaps Representative Bill Faison, who has been a vocal advocate for this tax. NC SPIN pledges to keep the discussion civil, on topic and give each side equal opportunity and time to advocate the issue.

The people of our state would benefit from such a discussion and we encourage the governor and the pro tem to take us up on our offer. We deserve an honest presentation of this important issue.


Lessons learned from Tuesday's elections

Democrats are joyous over their gains in Wake County following Tuesday’s school board elections. But after a bit of revelry and celebration we hope they will understand the primary message in this election.

Two years ago these same voters sent a message to the administration and existing board they weren’t happy at what they perceived to be arrogance in frequent and often misguided student reassignments. Parents were unhappy when their questions and protests were dismissed or not honestly addressed so they voted out the power structure and put in a new board. Yes, it was led by Republicans, but voters weren’t choosing party so much as choosing change.

The new Wake School Board assumed control in 2010, promising change, but it became soon obvious they didn’t understand their mandate. Instead of being more responsive and open they quickly became more arrogant than those they replaced, assuming their mandate was to radically restructure Wake Schools. And they did, turning the school board into a place where contention, poorly conceived and defined policies and power politics were the rule.

Once again the voters spoke to power Tuesday night, telling those in leadership they weren’t happy. Once again the board has changed, regardless of whether a fifth Democrat is elected or not. This isn’t about political party and never has been. Instead of fighting with each other, neighborhoods, groups or political factions Wake citizens want a school board that will honestly, intelligently and humbly work to improve the education opportunities for every child.

If the new board truly understands why they won office and will judiciously use their positions to seek understanding, provide positive direction, challenge the status quo when necessary and listen to those who put them there we will all benefit.

If, on the other hand, they misunderstand their mandate, abuse their power and prove as contentious as the current board they, too, will be out of power in two years. The children are not the only ones with lessons to learn.

Our legislature would also do well to learn this lesson.

We Need a BHAG Goal

Fifty years ago last week the USS North Carolina pulled into its final permanent birth in Wilmington, culminating many months of dreaming, planning, fundraising and logistical hurdles.

The dream started with two visionaries, Jimmy Craig and Hugh Morton. These two knew something as big as bringing a battleship to North Carolina would require more than a dream. They enlisted support from a local steering committee, then convinced Governors Luther Hodges and later Terry Sanford to form a statewide battleship commission of prominent persons to make this dream become a reality. At times it seemed an insurmountable task, requiring large sums of money and incredible persuasive ability to convince first the federal government to give the North Carolina to our state then to raise the money.

I was a teen at the time but I remember a part of the campaign that asked students to save our dimes to help bring the North Carolina home. In the late 50’s a Pepsi or Coke cost 7 cents, admission to the Saturday movie matinee was 9 cents, gas was 19 cents a gallon and a Hardee’s hamburger was 15 cents. A dime was a sacrifice to a young person in those days but this was a challenge, a big goal and our entire state was engaged in making this dream become a reality. I remember well how good we felt when it was announced that we had achieved this ambitious task. It feels good to succeed.

Our nation and our state could use a victory right. Just as was the case 50 years ago in bringing home the North Carolina we need to dream big, enlist visionary leadership and develop a plan of action that would inspire and engage us to action. Dr. Jim Collins once called this a BHAG, a big hairy audacious goal.

Calling all dreamers.

Good Riddance to Continental

Don’t you just love the blame game antics by our politicians? I don’t like the conduct of any of them in this Continental Tire elephant hunt. Evidence indicates all were involved in the chase to land Continental. If they had been successful they would break their arms trying to take creditfor the catch.

Let’s be very clear about this. The entire episode was a terrible case of corporate greed and blackmail from the very beginning. We had experience with this company when they tried to blackmail us into keeping their corporate headquarters in Charlotte. They left and we should have used the “fool me once” excuse for dismissing them. North Carolina had no business even thinking about giving them 45 million dollars up front to build a plant that MIGHT create 1,300 jobs several years from now. And don’t forget there was another 55 million to follow. The taxpayers of this state would have paid $71,000 per job…and the record will show that seldom, if ever, does any company create the jobs they promised. And never forget they will pull up and leave when someone else waves more dollars in front of them. This is a fools game!

Enough. I don’t know which is worse, the corporate greed, the amount of the blackmail or the willingness of our politicians to play this ridiculous game.

If North Carolina has 100 million dollars to spend let’s incentivize our small businesses to create those jobs all across our state. They would be immediate, longer lasting and more beneficial to all our citizens.

We say good riddance to Continental. 

Indictments Coming Next Week

If the buzz on the street is correct we will see at least two indictments next week, resulting from campaign finance irregularities by Bev Perdue’s gubernatorial campaign. We are hearing there might be two surprises: one is who won’t be indicted, the other is who will be. All agree that Perdue won’t be but indictments will come very close to her, with one long-time supporter and her campaign fundraiser reportedly in DA Colon Willoughby’s crosshairs.

Many are speculating how this will affect Perdue’s re-election chances and a consensus is forming she can’t survive many more blows to her already low popularity ratings. Talk is focusing on possible Democratic primary candidates, which is why you saw Bill Faison send up trial balloons a week ago. Despite his on-again, off-again candidacy, few of the party faithful got excited about his offering. AG Roy Cooper’s name has been mentioned, as has Lt. Governor Walter Dalton’s, but both are dismissed as unable to top the campaign from former Charlotte Mayor, Republican Pat McCrory.

Only two names seem to generate excitement as possible replacements for Perdue: former UNC President Erskine Bowles and former House Speaker Dan Blue. Neither has indicated interest but both have attempted statewide campaigns in the past; neither has been successful and again the question is whether either could beat McCrory. Look for speculation to escalate, as less than half a year remains before May’s primary elections.  There remains plenty of time to organize and stage a campaign but no time to tarry.

Meanwhile, Governor Perdue is preparing for a trade mission to China next month. Questions are emerging about the costs and propriety for such a trip. We understand much of the funding is provided by a group called “Friends of North Carolina,” a nonprofit housed within the NC Department of Commerce. The fund’s IRS tax form 990 for 2010 indicates the organization received more than $421,000 in 2009 and $231,000 in 2010. Who are these friends? We’re told that Lenovo and Longistics, both with a strong presence in RTP and China, are among the big contributors and the published itinerary for the China trip indicates receptions will be held with both organizations while there.

Unless she brings back solid plant relocation announcements this economic development trip is likely to add further fuel to the fire that Bev Perdue will be the first one-term governor since succession was passed in the 1970’s. 

Thanks, Bev and all who worked on our behalf

In times of emergency you learn a lot about humankind. To be sure there are stupid people who do stupid things, like jumping off the end of fishing piers to surf storm waves, but most of us pay attention to weather conditions, use common sense and prepare when we have sufficient warning.

Our public servants rise to extraordinary levels during storms and other emergencies, demonstrating care and concern that leave us in wonder. They’ve had far too many instances where they have been called upon but every time the energy and dedication seems to notch up higher.

Let us also say our news media was marvelous in keeping us informed of where the storm was and where it was likely to impact, then showing us in real time the affect this hurricane was having in our state. As Jim Rothschild of WRAL said, “If you can’t love being in the broadcasting profession during a hurricane you are in the wrong profession.” He wasn’t indicating anyone loved the devastation or hardship the emergency wrought but perhaps more than any other time TV and radio professionals know with their very being they are indeed serving the public interest, need and necessity.

And none performed better than Governor, Bev Perdue. She was on top of things from the first indication we might be under threat. Her tone, her message and her obvious concern for our people were evident, even when obviously tired. In our eyes she was very gubernatorial and said the right things at the right time. 

Skinning the Cat a Different Way

The legislature, unable to override Governor Perdue’s veto, is considering another way to enact a law requiring voters to show a picture ID at the polls. We understand that when the legislature comes back for the Constitutional Amendment session on September 12th there will be an attempt to resurrect voter ID using local bills. Our laws prohibit the Governor from vetoing local bills so lawmakers will lump together several counties and pass bills requiring that a photo ID be presented when voting. That same law also prohibits the entire population from being included in such a local bill so only a few counties can be included in each bill.

Leaders will no doubt cite the revelations in Wake County that several persons voted more than once in a recent election. One has to wonder why so much effort is being expended on an issue that has so little importance to our state. Why not spend the same time on creating new jobs for our state?

Send Them a Message

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is fed up with politicians who have “chosen to put partisan and ideological purity over the well being of the people.” Schultz has vowed not to make any more political donations to anybody and has asked other CEO’s to do the same.

“I am asking that all of us forgo political contributions until the Congress and the President return to Washington and deliver a fiscally, disciplined long term debt and deficit plan to the American people. All it seems people are interested in is re-election. And that re-election – the lifeblood of it is fundraising.”

Money is the mother’s milk of politicians. The facts indicate that only 0.04 percent of Americans give in excess of $200 to candidates, parties or PAC’s, amounting to almost 65 percent of all contributions.

Withholding contributions, regardless of party, regardless of candidate, will send a message louder and stronger than anything else. Not only should we refuse to donate but we should send all incumbents a message telling them why.

This is a movement I can join. How about you? The Tea Party proved a small group can control Congress and the President. If we did the same, using Schultz's message, we could get action.