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17
Yes, the Republicans’ Wake County power grab is raw, cynical politics. But it could help Democrats win legislative seats, the Governor’s Office, the U.S. Senate race and even a U.S. Senate majority and the Presidency next year.
 
Wake is the biggest-voting county and the biggest swing-vote county in a big state that could decide elections up and down the ballot, all the way to the White House. Note that last year Republicans nearly lost several Wake County legislative races, even in gerrymandered districts and even in a good Republican year. And a presidential-year turnout in Wake County would have reelected Kay Hagan.
 
The Republicans did lose all four Wake County commissioners’ races. So now they want to gerrymander the commissioners. You know their scheme stinks when an even-handed old hand like Rob Christensen feels moved to observe, “This bill is about rigging the Wake County elections, just as the legislature has previously rigged legislative and congressional elections through gerrymandering.”
 
If legislative Republicans pass the election-rigging bill, they might awaken the Wake County electoral giant and suffer the consequences, both for gerrymandering and for what looks like a war on cities and urban areas.
 
By the way, Governor McCrory could use this bill to separate himself from an unpopular legislature, instead of fighting over his appointments (as a former Duke employee) to a coal ash commission. Speaking out against the Wake bill (he can’t veto it) would help him in precisely the areas where he could lose the election to Roy Cooper. Of course, if the Governor speaks up and the legislature ignores him, he’ll look even more impotent. In the meantime, we’ll assume silence is consent.
 
Democrats may not have made their best case against the scheme yet. They should tell Wake County voters – not just those in Raleigh and Cary, but ALL Wake County voters: The legislature is taking away your right to vote. Last year you voted for all seven commissioners. But Republicans don’t like how you voted. So next year you get to vote for only two commissioners.
 
Republicans are betting voters won’t get mad about gerrymandering and raw politics. Want to bet they get made at politicians taking away their votes?
 
Christensen also captured this gem from Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican: “Let’s get down to it. We’re talking rural vs. city.”
 
You wonder why Republicans want that war in a fast-growing and urbanizing state. But they got it.

 

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12
Claude Sitton was, indeed, forceful and fearless. But not without flaws, flaws that show what is great and what can be dangerous about journalism.
 
Sitton’s forcefulness shaped a controversy that rages more than two decades later: Did the N&O unfairly railroad Jim Valvano? Many State fans neither forgive nor forget. One said this week, “Roy Williams is lucky Sitton isn’t around today.”
 
It’s not just rabid Wolfpackers. Several old N&O hands now say Claude’s crusade against Valvano was a mistake.
 
Jay Price’s obituary of Sitton didn’t ignore the issue: “There was nothing unusual about Sitton’s two hats, running opinion and news pages….But Sitton was the last editor at the N&O to have both roles, and that sacred separation between the two worlds was sometimes too flimsy to stand up to his vigorously held views.”
 
That wasn’t the only time. I was at the N&O from the time Sitton arrived in 1969 until I left in December 1975. I saw his strong opposition to a medical school at East Carolina University drive not only editorials but also news coverage.
 
You like that forcefulness when you agree. But what about when you don’t? Watch Fox News.
 
All that said, Sitton was an extraordinary newsman. When he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1983, many regarded it as a makeup call. He should have won it for his coverage of the civil rights movement for The New York Times in the ‘60s.
 
He inspired fear and loyalty from people who worked for him and, often, fear and loathing from those he covered. He set high standards, and he was demanding. He wasn’t the kind of guy you sat around and shot the breeze with.
 
He once said, “Popularity is not a legitimate goal of a newspaper.” He didn’t chase popularity. He chased the story. He usually got it, and got it right.
 
Pat Stith, one of few reporters who could match Sitton’s chops, said it best: “He was a great man to have on your side, a man of tremendous personal courage, and I was honored to work for him. And lucky to work for him.”

 

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06
There will be more pain, more tears, more heartbreak as the trial goes on. But Jamie Kirk Hahn’s voice in the courtroom reminded us what was lost that awful April evening two years ago.
 
A witness who had talked to her by phone about a campaign billing problem described her as “genuine and honest.” You heard her characteristic cheerfulness and capableness.
 
A memory surfaced. Just months earlier, Jamie had been recruited to organize a nonprofit group’s bus tour across the state. The first morning, the bus had a flat tire in Winston-Salem. Jamie arranged alternate transportation for everyone, drove by herself to Boone, checked the setup for the next event, greeted everyone with a smile, then left to set up the next event in Hickory. She did everything but change the tire.
 
The media cliché is that she was a “rising star.” No. She was a star. Many a company, campaign or charity would love to have her skills and her smile today.
 
Because we are civilized people, we do not wreak revenge. We seek justice through a system in which 12 selfless citizens sit patiently, hear arguments, consider evidence, deliberate and decide. To the courtroom novice, there is a genius, dignity and even majesty to the system.
 
But this day there was just pain, tears and heartbreak.

 

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05
This is about as good a tale of conniving as I’ve heard: I can’t remember why but forty years ago back in 1976 the state legislature moved our Presidential primary up from May to March – then the unexpected struck and Ronald Reagan whipped Gerald Ford.
 
It was the first time Reagan won a primary. And the only time a sitting President ever lost a primary. And it turned the 1976 election upside down.
 
Down in South Carolina, watching, inspiration struck Lee Atwater and, after a bit of conniving of his own, Lee got South Carolina to move its primary up so in 1980 South Carolina was the ‘first primary in the South.’
 
Atwater’s plan worked better than he ever imagined. The winner of the South Carolina’s primary has gone on to win the Republican nomination in 8 of the last 9 Presidential elections.
 
In fact, South Carolina liked its new status so much, at some point, it got together with Iowa and New Hampshire and persuaded the Republican National Committee to pass a rule saying no other state could hold a primary before March 1.
 
At the same time, after the 1976 election, the North Carolina legislature went back to business as usual – and holding primaries in May – and for the last 40 years the North Carolina’s Republican Primary hasn’t mattered a toot.
 
Which suited Democrats just fine – after all about the last thing, say, Jim Hunt wanted was a liberal like Walter Mondale or Michael Duhakis or Al Gore traipsing across the state while he was running for reelection.
 
But, then, Republicans took control of the legislature and decided we’d been sitting on the Presidential sidelines long enough and moved our primary up to the week after South Carolina’s.
 
Which seemed reasonable.
 
But, oddly, sent national Republican Chairman Reince Preibus into a tizzy – Preibus announced North Carolina would not be allowed to hold its primary before March 1 and, he added, if we tried he’d take away 60 of North Carolina’s 72 delegates to the Republican Convention.
 
Those sounded like fighting words but, rather than calling Preibus out, North Carolina’s Republican Chairman decided to strike the flag and traipsed over to the legislature to ask it to move the primary.
 
The State House played its cards pretty close to the vest and didn’t say much either way about Priebus’s edict. But Republican State Senator Bob Rucho didn’t buy it – Rucho stuck to his guns and he’s got a point.
 
It’s as easy for the National Republican Committee to change its rule as it is for us to change our law – and, after 40 years of playing second fiddle to South Carolina, it’s time to unwind this bit of political conniving.


 

 

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27
Once upon a time, in the Shire of Raleigh, there was a company called Progress Energy, nee CP&L. The residents of the Shire oft complained about the company, but with affection. After all, its employees and managers and overlords and even its King lived amongst the people and even walked amongst them. The people knew that, when hurricane winds blew and wintry mixes fell, when lights blipped and power failed, and when their homes fell cold and dark, their friends at the company were hard at work getting things back in order. After all, their own families suffered with the people.
 
Then, one day, the Evil Empire of Duke invaded the Shire, seized control of Progress, beheaded the King, banished his court and moved the castle to the faraway Emerald City.
 
So when winter’s winds howled again and when ice and snow felled trees and snapped power lines, the people of the Shire wondered: Will the Empire come to our aid? Will the Emerald City care about our lowly Shire? Will the Queen even know of our plight?
 
For hours, thousands upon thousands of them shivered and shook in the cold and dark. They huddled together before fires. They trudged long distances to seek food and ale in nearby taverns. They looked for a hopeful word or a sign that they weren’t forgotten.
 
Whereupon one member of the Queen’s court decided to play a little joke on the people of the Shire. This courtier thought it amusing to tease the Shire with a picture of a warm and sunny waterfront in one of the Duke Empire’s far-flung colonies: St. Petersburg, Florida. The message to the Shire read: “To the snowy Carolinas: A picture from our St. Petersburg, FL office to warm you. Stay safe.”
 
To which the people of the Shire said, “Off with their heads.”

 

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25
Something was missing from the usual snow day TV fare. Bill and Renee ran down the shutdowns. Elizabeth and Greg kept predicting the snow would end any minute. Gilbert was giddy. Various teams showed us various roads. But…something just wasn’t there.
 
Oh yes! The Governor’s snow briefing! Where was Governor McCrory warning us not to put on our stupid hats? Where were the beefy, serious guys in uniforms standing behind him? Where, oh where, was DOT Secretary Tony Tata on a day when more than a thousand accidents were reported on the state’s roads?
 
WRAL tracked him down: “Tata traveled to Chicago Monday night and Tuesday to promote his new novel, ‘Foreign and Domestic,’ one of a number of titles the retired brigadier general has authored about fictional elite soldiers fighting threats overseas.”
 
We’ve twitted Tata before about thriller-novel-tweeting during snow emergencies and the State of the State. He good-naturedly assured us those tweets were from his publicist and he was full-time on the job.
 
But that was the real Tata on TV Tuesday, live from Chicago. (Note: You can do live links with CNN and Fox from Raleigh.)
 
His DOT spokesman made a heroic effort to make a molehill out of an ice mountain, assuring us that Tata had been on the phone back to Raleigh all day.
 
We must ask: With Tata reputedly being a master of logistics, would DOT trucks have been deployed earlier in the battle against snow and ice if he had been in command on the scene?
 
Governor McCrory’s office “did not immediately respond to a request for comment.” Which raises another question: Where was the Governor? He was last spotted in this odd clip with other Republican governors in Washington. The Governor appears to be blowing smoke rings in the cold. Or maybe hyperventilating as Bobby Jindal holds forth.
 
Democratic bloggers already are pouncing. Will the mainstream media pursue the issue?
 
No doubt the administration will profess nonchalance. But here’s betting that McCrory and Tata will be all over TV if there’s a repeat tomorrow.

 

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18
When the State Ethics Commission ruled that a lobbyist having sex with a legislator didn’t violate the ban on gifts to legislators because sex acts do not constitute “things of value,” it got the attention of the redoubtable Ira David Wood, who’s surely NC’s most respected artist.
 
Woods posted the entire newspaper article on Facebook then wrote beside it: Happy Valentine’s Day, NC! (Just take me now, Lord.)
 
Beneath his comment one of his friends added: This ruling is perfectly consistent as there are obviously no ethics rules prohibiting a politician from screwing his constituents.
 
Who says art has no practical purpose?


 

 

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17
For years, Dana Cope and the State Employees Association of North Carolina have pursued a vendetta against State Treasurer Janet Cowell. They didn’t like the way she manages the state’s pension fund.
 
They're the ones to talk.
 
Cope and SEANC demanded more answers and more transparency from the Treasurer’s Office. But, to them, openness and transparency apparently go only one way.
 
SEANC barred the media and public from its meeting this weekend to discuss the sorry mess, which reportedly heard a motion of no confidence in management and the executive committee.
 
Most remarkable was John Drescher’s account of how SEANC tried to head off the N&O’s story. During the meeting, Drescher wrote, SEANC’s lawyer read this statement: “SEANC requests that The News & Observer respect the integrity of SEANC’s ethics process and refrain from printing a story that not only is unsubstantiated but which has been disproven by our own democratically elected governing body.”
 
SEANC’s 13-member executive committee told the N&O “there was nothing to see.” SEANC president Wayne Fish said the story was “quite simply, not true,” but Drescher added, “he didn’t say what was not true.”
 
And there was this classic dodge: the lawyer “said at The N&O that there was an explanation” for a phony invoice, “but he would not discuss it because it was a personnel matter.”
 
Ah, “personnel matter.” The last resort of the stonewaller.
 
SEANC’s visit worked about as well as any first-year Journalism School student could have predicted. The N&O ran the story. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said she’d ask the State Bureau of Investigation to conduct a criminal inquiry. Then Cope resigned. And Drescher promised, “We’ll keep reporting.”

 

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12
Reverend William Barber went down to the newspaper and sat down with Ned Barnett to have a chat about the state’s soul.
 
Now the main problem with the state spiritually, according to Reverend Barber, is Republicans. He’s thundered from podiums from Asheville to Wilmington that Republicans are heartless varmints who stomp on women, children, and the blind, halt and lame.
 
You could search for years and not find a more remorseless demagogue – or partisan Democrat – than William Barber.
 
But that’s not how Ned Barnett saw it at all: The Reverend, he explained in his editorial, built his ‘Moral Mondays’ movement on morality, not politics. That as Barber himself says, Moral Mondays isn’t about left and right, it’s about right and wrong.
 
Pure baloney.


 

 

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11
Once when Democratic County Commissioner Betty Lou Ward was in the hospital she asked the Republican Commissioners to allow her to participate in a board meeting by phone – but the Republicans said no.
 
Another time, in the middle of a fight, the Republicans waited until Ward left the board room to go to the restroom then promptly held a vote.
 
All that orneriness didn’t sit well with a lot of folks and, last fall, every one of the Republicans were voted out of office and we ended up with seven Democratic County Commissioners.
 
Now Wake County is blessed: We have a solid economy and a growing population and both are bringing more money into the county’s exchequer each year but, as soon as they got sworn in, the new Democratic Commissioners proved there are more vices than orneriness: They announced it was time to raise taxes.
 
Those old Republican Commissioners were no saints but the new Democrats are making them look better every day.


 

 

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