Former advisor to Presidents Reagan, Ford, Nixon and Clinton blasts NC GOP leaders

David Gergen's Profile Photo


In case you missed it over the weekend, a veteran of three Republican White Houses with longstanding ties to North Carolina called on his native state to repeal HB2 over the weekend. In a commencement speech at Elon University, David Gergen called on state leaders to repeal the law, which he described as taking the state “backwards” and “damaging” its reputation. This is from a CNN story:

“Straying from the norm of giving personal advice while acknowledging some would disagree, CNN political analyst David Gergen blasted North Carolina’s Republican Party during his Elon University Commencement address Saturday, calling for the repeal of the highly controversial House Bill 2.

He spoke of how far North Carolina had come from when Gergen grew up in the state, when racism was prevalent and industries were poor, only to go ‘backwards’ with legislation like HB2.

‘We are not only damaging our reputation, but putting our fellow citizens at risk,’ Gergen said.

Gergen went on to blast the state’s GOP leadership on an array of issues. This is from the speech itself, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here.

“Let’s be clear: the people elected to state office got there fair and square. They had the gumption to run for public office and voters chose them to serve. I am sure most of these newcomers also meant well.

But the signals coming out of the State Capitol in Raleigh have sent a thunderous message rolling out across America: that North Carolina is no longer a pioneer in advancing people of color, people who are gay, people living on the margins. Instead, many here want to go back, far back to a darker time.

This is not the place to re-litigate each and every issue but what other message did state legislators intend when they:

— seriously restricted access to voting;

— embraced a constitutional amendment to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians;

— placed more restrictions on abortion;

— enacted a flatter tax imposing heavier burdens on the less fortunate and lightening burdens for the wealthy;

— rejected federal funding for Medicaid and unemployment benefits;

— and cut funds for public schools as well as state universities, our pride and joy.

This is not the North Carolina that we all loved — a North Carolina dedicated to equal opportunity and a growing, inclusive prosperity.

Now, incredibly, we have wandered into a needless fight over the bathroom rights of transgender people. It is hard to believe that we have broken two of the cardinal rules of politics — first, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Second, leave as much power as you can in the hands of local people.

Until now, nothing seemed really broken. In the few instances when problems arose, good folks in places like Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh found ways to settle them without fanfare.

But the sudden rush by the state legislature to pass a law imposing a one-size-fits-all solution — and worse yet, a solution that seems to punish transgender people — has made North Carolina the poster child of backward-looking leadership. Now we are in the same headlines as Mississippi.”

Commentary, News

This week’s top five on N.C. Policy Watch

ECU_Staton1. ECU chancellor-elect brings complicated, political past to new role:
Critics question whether ideology trumps academics in Cecil Staton’s hiring

Late last month, when Cecil Staton—Republican politician, religious scholar, businessman and right-wing book publisher—was named the future chancellor of East Carolina University, the news came and went with little reaction from most North Carolinians.

Staton, one of the first major university appointments under controversial new UNC system President Margaret Spellings, was hailed as a celebrated academic with an Oxford degree, a successful entrepreneur, a vaunted academic fundraiser and a “cheerleader” for higher education at his former home in Georgia. But, based on a N.C. Policy Watch investigation, Staton’s past is more complicated and, apparently, much more bizarre than that.

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Coal ash pollution2. Did the McCrory administration fail to perform the most basic job of government?
Deposition indicates administration officials and Duke Energy pressured regulators to loosen water safety standards, jeopardize public health

There are a lot of serious indictments that can be leveled at a public official. Corruption, ineptitude, disloyalty – the list of potential offenses is a lengthy one. At some basic level, however, it’s hard to imagine a more damning allegation than that he or she knowingly jeopardized the physical health and well-being of his or her constituents.

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Budget choices3. More ill-conceived tax cuts and MIA investments: Why the House budget proposal comes up short

The $22.225 billion budget proposal that the state House of Representatives released for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year reflects the limited aspirations for North Carolina that the House and Senate leadership have agreed on. Legislative leadership used a flawed formula to set a low budget target — even lower than the Governor’s $22.33 billion proposal — that has no basis in economic realities or community needs and leaves $127.4 million on the table unspent.

Overall, the House proposal represents a 2.26 percent — or $490.3 million — increase over the current 2016 fiscal year budget. This proposal reflects leadership’s loyalty to severe budget constraints and lopsided tax cuts, which primarily benefit profitable corporations and the wealthy.

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McCrory bathroom4. On HB2, warning signs abound, but state leaders just keep on driving

As the fallout from HB2 continues to pile up, one bad news story at a time, I am reminded of the time a friend of mine drove from Washington, DC to Birmingham, Alabama, unintentionally by way of Miami, Florida. (In case anyone is wondering, Miami is not exactly on a direct route, being about 10 hours further south than one needs to drive when traveling to west Alabama from points north and east). When I asked my friend why he took the scenic route (this was before the advent of GPS), he answered that he didn’t have a map, wasn’t quite sure where all the other exits went, and felt like he should just keep driving south, because he knew eventually he’d hit water.

Right about now, Governor McCrory is behaving a lot like my friend.

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Classroom5. A brief lesson on the reality of immigration and the lives of immigrants in North Carolina

Immigration is one of the most contentious issues of our time. Debates on the matter — both generally and with respect to the specifics of various proposals surrounding it — are pervasive in homes, schools, workplaces, television and social media.

Given this backdrop, I probably should not have been surprised when I received an email recently that was purportedly from a North Carolina fifth grader. But I was. And I was sad to see unauthorized immigrants painted in such a negative light – even by such a youngster. Hopefully my response, which follows below, can help shed some light and maybe even open and change some minds.

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2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, Commentary

Five of the biggest problems with the state budget passed by the NC House this week

Budget choicesThere are actually dozens of things not to like about the 2017 budget proposal advanced by the North Carolina House of Representatives yesterday. Unfortunately, caring and thinking people have become so numbed and cowed by the relentless and regressive assault on progress and modernity that conservatives have been waging in recent years that many have acquiesced passively. Others have simply allowed themselves to be bought off by mere crumbs and/or simply shrugged their shoulders and expressed gratitude that things weren’t worse. Add to this the vindictive and mean-spirited brand of politics that is practiced by so many conservative leaders on Jones Street these days and it’s no particular surprise that numerous state lawmakers who know better simply waved the white flag this week.

Fortunately, despite the blather from bill sponsors and their apologists and the mostly milquetoast media coverage the muted legislative debate generated, some experts are tolling the damage that the budget bill will wreak (especially when combined with the destructive impact of budgets enacted in recent years).

Here are some of the biggest “sore thumb” problems that are already evident — even before the state Senate likely starts making things worse next week — according to the experts at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center:

#1 – The destructive use of artificial and crippling spending caps – “The House budget would keep state support for services below pre-recession levels, when adjusted for inflation. That would be fine if public needs had shrunk. But they have grown. The budget also caps off the only period as far back as 1971 in which state spending would decline as a share of the economy for eight years in a row while the economy itself grows. As such, many unmet needs will persist in programs that support vulnerable communities, despite a slight increase in investments and a modest compensation package for teachers and state employees.”

#2 – Adding still more, poorly targeted tax cuts – Despite the huge need for new dollars to rebuild structures and services decimated by years of cuts, the House doubles down on the use of poorly targeted tax cuts — much of which will inure to the benefit of the state’s wealthiest individuals. As the BTC notes: “Their proposal reduces General Fund availability by $25 million due to raising the standard deduction to a maximum $16,000 from $15,500, based on filing status. It also raises the maximum by $500 each year over the subsequent three fiscal years. This approach is more costly and not as well targeted as restore the state EITC, which does a better job of helping working families and addressing inequities in our tax code. They reduce General Fund availability by another $51.5 million for a tax break exempting mill machinery from state taxes.”

#3 – Providing inadequate pay to teachers and other state employees – Teacher raises will be decent for some teachers under the House plan (up to 5% for some), but the proposal has the distinct feel of an election year bone that will do little-to-nothing to make up for years of neglect — especially for veteran teachers. Add to the fact that other state employees will go for the umpteenth year in a row without a truly meaningful raise (just 2% this year) during a time of significant national economic growth and falling unemployment and it seems fair to ask: “If not now, when?”

#4 – Shortchanging a bevy of essential structures and systemsRead more


Coal ash: The chorus exposing and opposing Duke Energy grows

Coal AshBe sure to check out a couple of excellent new opinion pieces on Duke Energy’s coal ash mess in two of the state’s major dailies this morning.

The first, which isn’t yet online for some reason, is letter from Amy Brown — a woman who lives near a Duke Coal Ash site in Belmont — that ran in the print edition of this morning’s News & Observer. In it, Brown is as articulate and convincing as she is passionate in skewering a recent op-ed from the President of Duke Energy North Carolina. Here’s an excerpt:

“Duke continues to claim that our well water is just as safe or better than city water, and that is a false claim. Duke has had meetings with the state to discuss our water, without us, and that is a breach of trust. Nothing is impossible, but Duke must be willing to listen and try to understand its neighbors’ concerns to move forward.

Capping the coal ash in place will always leave people questioning why Duke didn’t just remove it when it had a chance. Cap-in-place is like an old house that has siding added on. The outside looks great, but the inside is still that same old house that has many problems….

If [Duke President] Fountain believes that the cleanup request is coming only from ‘special interest groups’ then he’s wrong because we aren’t followers of things that we don’t understand. We are leaders because we understand the danger of Duke’s toxic waste being left in the ground. Duke’s neighbors didn’t ask for this, and we want our peace of mind back. When referring to ‘special interest groups,’ maybe Fountain should look within his own company or look to those that Duke has been meeting with. Remember, we aren’t the enemy. We are simply Duke’s neighbors.”

Meanwhile, the lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal (“Residents deserve clean, safe water”) puts it this way:

“We’re glad a tentative directive announced Wednesday by state environmental regulators says Duke Energy must excavate its coal-ash basins statewide within eight years. But there’s still a long way to go before that happens. Read more


More on Itzhak Perlman’s courageous and inspiring stand against “ugly and hostile” HB2



In case you missed it, WUNC radio reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas posted a fine story yesterday afternoon that includes an interview with world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman in which he sheds more light on his decision to cancel his planned concert last night in Raleigh in protest over HB2.

This is from the story:

“One of the world’s best-known and best-loved classical musicians has joined the ranks of artists refusing to perform in North Carolina. Violinist Itzhak Perlman canceled an appearance scheduled for Wednesday with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh to protest HB2, the controversial North Carolina law limiting civil rights protections for LGBT people.

HB2 excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the state’s non-discrimination laws and prevents local governments from offering discrimination protections that go beyond the state’s. It also requires people to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex indicated on their birth certificates.

Speaking by phone Wednesday, Perlman said he had been contemplating a cancellation and its repercussions for weeks. ‘The first thought was to cancel,’ he said. ‘And then I thought, ‘Well, what’s going to happen to the orchestra musicians? They’re going to suffer. It’s not their fault.’ So I thought that I was going to go, and that I would donate my fee to Equality North Carolina. And I wanted to put fliers into the program explaining my position. So I thought that was all set.’

‘And then yesterday morning at 9:30 AM,’ Perlman continued, ‘I get a phone call — and the symphony said, no, the state would not allow that statement. After that exchange, I thought, “I am going into a hostile situation.” And that’s when I said, “As much as I hate to cause problems and stress, I have to have a stand. I’m canceling.”‘

‘The law is ugly and hostile, as far as I’m concerned,’ said the violinist, who was born in Israel in 1945 and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015. ‘I feel that it is discriminatory — and it’s not just about bathrooms. It’s about dignity, like [U.S. Attorney General] Loretta Lynch said. I’ve been an advocate of equality for the disabled, and this is just another situation in which this is the subject. We are dealing with the equality and dignity of citizens.’

Perlman went on in the interview to take a mild and deserved shot at the orchestra management which said in a statement that it was “nonpartisan” and that their performances “are not an appropriate forum for political commentary.”

“The orchestra cannot say that they are non-partisan. How can they say that? They’re getting help from the state. And the state is very partisan. That’s a little bit inaccurate. They’re caught in the middle here, but they are very concerned about their support from the state. I don’t blame them, and the orchestra is not at fault, but that is the fact.”

The bottom line:  Yet another brilliant and talented world citizen has told North Carolina the truth about its hateful and outrageous law. Meanwhile, the people of our once great state continue to suffer as a result of their elected leaders’ blindness and ignorance. What a mess. Click here to read Tsioulcas’ entire story.