Commentary, News

McCrory_berger_moore1. Lessons from the disappearing budget provision in McCrory’s pay to play scandal

The newest revelations in the pay to play scandal now swirling around the McCrory Administration don’t make the governor look any better but they are a reminder of how concentrated power has become in the General Assembly and how absurd the state budget process remains.

Reporters with the Raleigh News & Observer and Charlotte Observer broke the story more than a week ago of how Gov. McCrory convened a meeting last year between his political donor Graeme Keith, Sr. and officials in his administration about Keith’s $3 million prison maintenance contract that was about to expire.

A memo prepared by officials in the Department of Public Safety says that McCrory turned the meeting over to Keith who said that he had given money to politicians and it was time he received something in return. [Continue reading…]

VETERANSDAY2. Veterans deserve more than parades
Steps we should take if we’re really serious about helping those who’ve served our country

American politicians have a strange relationship with those who serve in the military. On the one hand, most love to pay lip service to the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Today, across the country, politicians of all stripes and ideologies will appear at parades and other events to issue solemn pronouncements that lift up and salute veterans.

Last night, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s office distributed a video of this ilk in which, to the accompaniment of soft piano music, the Governor talked of his family members who served in the military, lamented the lack of respect accorded to some Vietnam vets decades ago and listed a couple of modest steps the state has taken in recent years to promote the employment of veterans.

Unfortunately, that will be about as far as things go. [Continue reading…]

pv-POVERTY11-123. North Carolina’s hunger problem: Set to get worse just in time for the holidays

As many of us plan and prepare for family gatherings and celebratory meals in the upcoming holiday season, here’s a startling and disturbing fact to consider: Only a handful of U.S. states have higher hunger rates than North Carolina. The weak and uneven economic recovery hasn’t reduced hunger in our communities: the share of North Carolinians who don’t have a consistent supply of food has actually not budged since 2009, evidence of the state’s large job shortage and boom in low-wage jobs that make it difficult to buy food.

Next year, this harsh reality will get even worse for many North Carolinians who are very poor and struggle to find work in communities where job opportunities are scarce. That’s when, thanks to the recent action of the General Assembly and Governor McCrory, a three-month time limit for food assistance returns for childless, non-disabled adults.

As a point of reference, the average income of the people who will lose their food assistance is just $2,236…per year. [Continue reading…]

domestic_violence4. Want to reduce domestic violence? Then expand Medicaid

Speaking at a recent press event on North Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid, I highlighted the fact that October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m sure many were initially surprised to hear me make the connection between these two subjects. It’s clear that many important state leaders who often pay lip service to the issue of domestic violence don’t see it.

Having personally spent more than a decade providing support to victims of domestic and sexual violence, however, I can affirm that they are linked on multiple levels.

How can expanding Medicaid benefit victims of domestic violence? There are many ways, not the least of which is making healthcare more affordable to the approximately 500,000 North Carolinians who currently do not have access to quality health care, some of whom are surely experiencing domestic abuse. [Continue reading…]

WB-11-10-UNC5. University leaders or superstar CEO’s?
Five reasons why giant salaries for UNC bosses are not the answer

North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson is very clearly a good guy. He is also, by many accounts, a fine chancellor and, if the recent gift that he and his wife gave to N.C. State to establish a scholarship fund is any indication, a person who cares about those less fortunate than himself.

All of that said, Professor Michael Behrent of Appalachian State was absolutely correct in a Progressive Voices column he wrote for N.C. Policy Watch last week in which he called on 12 UNC chancellors including Dr. Woodson to return the money they were recently awarded in massive pay raises.

Simply put, however excellent a chancellor Woodson is, it is simply wrong for the people of North Carolina to be paying him $590,000 per year. (A “stipend” from the private N.C. State Foundation actually raises Woodson’s overall compensation to $790,000 annually.) The same is true for the $570,000 UNC Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt now pulls in – not to mention the near $1 million per year package bestowed upon new UNC system president Margaret Spellings. [Continue reading…]


The governing board of the state’s public university system decided Friday to hand over audio recordings and documents to legislative leaders from a closed-door discussion last month raising the pay of a dozen chancellors.

Friday’s  meeting of the university system’s Board of Governors was called in order to deal with a request from Republicans state Senate leader Phil Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore for details on whether the board complied with open meeting laws when it decided  to raise the pay for 12 of the system’s 17 chancellors.


The UNC Board of Governors voted Oct. 30 to give pay raises of up to 20 percent, or $70,000, in a closed session portion of their meeting. Media outlets with reporters at the meeting, including N.C. Policy Watch, objected to the secrecy of the discussions and the vote behind closed doors.  (Click here to read more about the raises.)

UNC officials have also been called to appear at a Nov. 18 legislative hearing, to discuss open meeting concerns over the Oct. 30 vote.

On Friday, several board members made vague references to the October closed session discussion, saying discussions had been robust and the votes for pay raises close.  N.C. Policy Watch, and several other media outlets, has requested details about the votes, but no information has been released.

Friday’s meeting also included a request by acting chair Lou Bissette for a briefing at the board’s December meeting about its requirements under the state’s open meeting and public record laws.

Bissette said Friday he would release a summary of the closed-session vote to offer more information about what transpired.

Members of the state’ public university governing board also aired some of their differences Friday with each other and lawmakers.

Joe Knott, a Raleigh board member appointed this summer, said he was wary of interference from the political forces at the legislature and feared a “dangerous precedent” could be set by acquiescing to the lawmaker’s requests.

In his comments, Knott then said that a lawmaker pressured former UNC Board Chair John Fennebresque to favor a particular candidate in the search for a new president.

Knott, when asked by reporters, would not provide details about how he obtained that information, nor the name of the lawmaker allegedly involved. Fennebresque, whose leadership of the board was marked by discord, resigned days after former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was hired in mid-October.

Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington attorney and board member who previously served in the state Senate, said he has not faced any pressure from his former colleagues.

“Nobody told me who I should vote for,” he said. He also added that he welcomed scrutiny from lawmakers. The UNC Board of Governors consists of 32 members, all of whom received their appointments from the state legislature.

“They should be looking at us,” Goolsby said.

Marty Kotis, another board member from Greensboro, said he objected to Knott’s allegations, and that the board has the duty to act in a transparent manner with lawmakers as well as the public as a whole.




Supreme courtIn orders released this afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court added two controversial cases to this term’s docket, agreeing to hear a case out of Texas concerning a requirement that abortion physicians have hospital admitting privileges and a case out of Virginia concerning the redistricting of one of the state’s congressional districts.

The Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Colemarks the high court’s first foray into an abortion controversy since 2007, when the justices in a 5-4 decision upheld a ban on “partial-birth abortions.”

The New York Times summarizes the issue in Cole here:  

The case concerns two parts of a state law that imposes strict requirements on abortion providers. It was passed by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

The Virginia case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, involves the one congressional district in the state that has a majority-black population.  The question is whether race was used unconstitutionally in shaping that district’s lines. Although granting review, the court left open the possibility that the case might be dismissed on procedural grounds, asking for briefing on the question of whether plaintiffs had standing to bring the case in the first instance since none resided in or represented the subject district.


In case you missed it, the recent featured article in the New York Times on discriminatory, race-based policing in North Carolina and, in particular, the city of Greensboro, has spurred a positive response. As the Times reported Wednesday:

“The police chief in Greensboro, N.C., has ordered his officers to stop pulling over motorists for minor infractions involving vehicle flaws like broken taillights, an action he called a first step toward eliminating ‘alarming’ racial disparities in traffic stops.

Chief Wayne Scott’s directive, issued Tuesday, followed an article last month in The New York Times that documented wide racial disparities in traffic-law enforcement in Greensboro, imbalances that were mirrored across North Carolina and appeared in some traffic stop data collected by half a dozen other states.

‘As your police chief, I am deeply disturbed by these issues,’ Chief Scott said at a Tuesday night City Council meeting largely devoted to discussion of the investigation by The Times. He said stopping vehicles for minor equipment infractions had a needlessly negative impact on minority drivers.

The chief also promised to better supervise young officers, a response to data showing that four times as many blacks as whites were charged with the sole offense of resisting, obstructing or delaying an officer after traffic stops and other police encounters. That, too, is alarming,’ he said.

Though encouraging, this is far from the end of the story on the matter. To get a more complete grasp on where things stand in our state with respect to this hugely important problem, please join us next Tuesday for a special Crucial Conversation luncheon, “The problem of race-based policing: can we finally overcome it?”  The event will feature three of North Carolina’s leading experts on the subject.

Frank Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill. Prof. Baumgartner has conducted extensive research and written at length about the issue of race with particular focus on the death penalty and on traffic stops.

James Williams has served as the Public Defender for Orange and Chatham Counties since 1990. He has helped lead multiple efforts in and out of government to address the issue of racial bias in the justice system.

Harold Medlock is the Chief of Police in Fayetteville. Since assuming office in 2013, he has effected a transformation in how his department conducts business in an effort to end discriminatory targeting of people of color.

Here are the event details:

Click here to register

When: Tuesday, November 17, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or


vote2State Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) offers up five ways North Carolina could make voting easier in this post on Medium this morning, all of which are simple and common sense moves that have been time-tested and proven successful in other states.

They include automatic registration through the DMV, vote by mail, permanent absentee voting, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and online voter registration.

Jackson points out that almost every other state has adopted at least one of these measures, but North Carolina has instead passed laws making it harder to vote:

Our state had been pre-registering high school students to vote in their required Civics and Economics classes, but in 2013, it cut this initiative because… well, nobody really knows why. We also had 17 days of early voting, but now it’s 10. We ended same-day registration. We made it mandatory that voters present photo ID at the polls, despite there being thousands of legally registered voters who do not have photo ID.

We know what to do to make voting more convenient, more efficient, and more accessible for North Carolinians. Other states have completed the trial runs of these initiatives and we can choose to follow and improve on their success. If we truly believe in encouraging citizens to participate in our democracy, this is the path forward.

As U.S. Circuit Court Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. asked during oral argument in the Fourth Circuit appeal concerning the state’s 2013 election law changes, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?”