If there’s yet to be a nonpartisan defense of Governor Pat McCrory’s behavior in the festering prison-contractor controversy, it sure has been hard to find.

Two days ago, his hometown newspaper (which endorsed him in 2012) called McCrory’s explanation his “latest dog ate my homework excuse” and essentially blasted his claim that he was in a “side conversation” when Graeme Keith made his explicit quid pro quo pitch as unbelievable.

This morning, the Greensboro News & Record termed his response to the story “unconvincing” and said the following:

“The governor’s response does not show that nothing improper or illegal was done. More investigation is needed to make such determinations. The appearance of impropriety is strong, however. If the governor arranges a high-level meeting on behalf of a donor who wants a state contract, that looks like the sort of pay-to-play access that has gotten politicians, such as former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, in trouble in the past.”

But one of the most damning critiques of McCrory’s behavior and explanation comes from veteran arch-conservative politico Carter Wrenn. As Wrenn wrote on the blog he co-authors with veteran Democrat Gary Pearce yesterday:

“There were nine people in the room when the Governor and the donor met with Prisons Department officials and according to the newspaper, right off, the donor, Graeme Keith, said he’d given a lot of money and it was time he got something in return.

Keith later said he’d never said any such thing but four prison department officials said he had and the Department Secretary, who’s a retired FBI agent, who was sitting at the table said he heard Keith say it, himself, and that Keith said the same thing to him two other times – once in another meeting and once on the phone.

The Governor told the newspaper he didn’t hear Keith say it but added he believed the Prison Department folks were telling the truth….

Graeme Keith got his contract from the Prisons Department and there’s been a lot of squabbling over whether it was a good deal or a bad deal for the state but, at the end of the day, only one fact matters: Did Keith really say he’d made his donations and now it was time for the quid pro quo? Because if he did, that should have been the end of that meeting. And of that contract.”


One of the best commentaries yet on the brewing scandal surrounding the McCrory administration’s boneheaded interactions with a prison contractor/campaign contributor comes from the always amusing Barry Saunders of Raleigh’s News & Observer. This is from Saunders’ latest column (“My outrage about this prison story? How cheap it all is”):

“Great day in the morning! The real estate magnate contributed $12,000 to McCrory’s gubernatorial campaign, yet McCrory – according to our story – trekked to Charlotte on Oct. 28, 2014, to help Keith make the case that he should keep his $3-million-per-year prison maintenance contracts. Never mind that state officials felt the state could handle the job more efficiently and with more safety, savings and accountability.

Keith’s little-bitty largess bought a place at the table with the governor and other state officials, a table at which – according to a memo of the meeting – Keith proclaimed that since politicians had danced to the music, they now had to pay the piper. That since he had greased their palms, it was time for them to grease his, too.

Only difference appears to be that he greased theirs with a thimbleful and they greased his with a big ol’ tub o’ lard.

McCrory acknowledged being at the meeting, at the table, even, but said he didn’t hear the big payback pronouncement because he must’ve been engaged in a side deal – I mean a side conversation.

Anything is possible, but it’s hard to believe that McCrory, seated at the same table, didn’t hear what the stentorian, 6’5” former jock said about the reciprocation he expected. According to the memo, ‘The meeting began with the Governor McCrory making a few remarks and turning the meeting over to Graeme Keith.’”

Saunders goes on to point out that Keith gave lots of dough to Democrats in his time too and just how modest and commonplace such a contribution is:

“Who knew you could buy influence for that kind of lightweight lettuce?

I’ll tell you what: If we’d known that political influence could be bought so cheaply in North Carolina, my buddies and I would have churched up 10 years ago, bought us a pol and ensured that we kept the late, lamented 14 Karat Dinner Theater open.

If word gets out that our governor can be summoned for less than the bag boy at Piggly Wiggly makes annually – $12,000 comes out to about $6 an hour – McCrory will be a laughingstock at the next national governors’ ball.”

Sadly, Saunders is probably right on the money. Read the entire column by clicking here.


Pat McCrory 4There have been a lot of troubling and ultimately destructive things about the governorship of Pat McCrory — perhaps most notably his willingness to approve or roll over in the face of any hard right, ideologically-driven proposal the General Assembly can concoct.

If there’s a most aggravating thing, however, it has to be his posture as a perpetually aggrieved man.

Pick an issue — almost any issue — and you’ll find a moment in which McCrory is complaining that the media or other public figures “don’t understand the facts” or trying to manufacture an ex post facto explanation of something he’s done and for which he is being criticized.

This week has already brought us at least two more examples of this tiresome phenomenon.

First, of course, have been the Guv’s unconvincing attempts to explain away the damning McClatchy story about his intervention on behalf of a prison contractor who also happened to be a friend and big campaign contributor. As Raleigh’s N&O explained in detail yesterday, McCrory’s explanation/attack on the reporters who broke the story comes up woefully short.

Now, this morning, there’s word that the Governor has launched a similar effort vis a vis the critics of his new anti-immigrant law. The Greensboro News & Record reports that McCrory sent a “damage control” email to immigrant advocates in which he tried to lecture them about what the new law does and doesn’t do. This is from the N&R article:

“Mayor Nancy Vaughan said the letter seemed confusing and condescending.

‘But I think the fact that they sent the letter at all shows that it was good that the City Council voted to oppose the bill,’ Vaughan said. ‘Obviously, our opposing it drew attention to the problems with the law and now they’re trying to explain themselves.’”

Sometimes, one almost gets the impression that the Governor is trying to convince himself with these efforts. As with his repeated attacks on the Charlotte Observer (his hometown newspaper that endorsed him for Governor but that has been mostly critical on its editorial pages since he took office), it’s almost as if the Guv can’t believe that other people don’t still see him as the reasonable and moderate fellow he clearly thinks of himself as. Unfortunately, however, that’s what happens when you endorse and implement radical, far right policy proposals over and over.

A great irony in all this, of course, is that it’s an article of faith among modern American conservatives that it’s liberals who perpetuate a culture of “victimhood” in which various groups — women, minorities, gay men and lesbians — are somehow encouraged to feel victimized and seek “special protections.”

As Governor McCrory has repeatedly demonstrated, however, victimhood is a state that wealthy and powerful, middle aged white guys can readily embrace and revel in as well. Somewhere, Richard Nixon is probably nodding in approval.


The biggest North Carolina political development over the weekend was the Saturday story in Raleigh’s News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer about Governor McCrory’s involvement in helping a longtime friend and political donor obtain a state contract to provide prison maintenance services over the objections of top prison officials. In case you somehow missed it, here was the lead:

“Last fall, Gov. Pat McCrory personally intervened on behalf of a friend and major political donor who wanted to renew $3 million in private prison contracts over the objections of McCrory’s top prison officials, records and interviews show.

Graeme Keith Sr., a Charlotte developer and retired banker once known as “Billy Graham’s banker,” has aggressively pursued private maintenance contracts in state prisons since 1999. Keith’s contracts at two prisons were set to expire Dec. 31, 2014; a third would have ended four months later.

The governor convened an October 2014 meeting in Charlotte, where, according to a Department of Public Safety memo, Keith told prison officials and McCrory that ‘he had been working on this project ‘private prison maintenance’ for over ten (10) years and during that time had given a lot of money to candidates running for public office and it was now time for him to get something in return.’”

As the N&O also reported yesterday, the Governor’s office is disputing the story and claiming that it wrongfully gives the impression that something improper or illegal transpired. Needless to say, we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the days ahead, especially with the FBI looking into the matter. The N&O is standing by the story.

Here’s one thing, however, that really stood out in the original story: the fact that state Commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice David Guice was not interviewed. This is from the original story:

“[Secretary of Public Safety Frank] Perry said Guice raised ethical concerns, including the governor’s presence and the necessity of bidding any contract that would expand maintenance to more prisons. McCrory soon ended the meeting.

The department would not allow The N&O to interview Guice.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Say what? In such a huge and troubling story, the fact that one of the key figures — himself a veteran public official and former state legislator — was apparently prevented by his superiors from talking to the reporters digging into the matter would sure seem to raise a bit of a red flag. It’s hard to imagine that Guice will be able to remain silent for very long. Stay tuned.


The University of North Carolina has a new president. As Jim Jenkins notes in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, let’s hope that Margaret Spellings makes her mark and does a good job.

That said, there are good reasons to be concerned about Spellings. Be sure to check out yesterday afternoon’s news story by Sarah Ovaska-Few and this afternoon’s Fitzsimon File for a thorough list of the reasons.

And here’s one area that will bear close watching: let’s hope Spellings resists the temptation to bash the liberal arts.

As most North Carolinians are well aware, it has become a bit of a right-wing parlor game to attack university programs that are not exclusively about cranking out worker bees for corporate employers. Gov. Pat McCrory made a big splash early in his term spouting such nonsense and, as the Charlotte Observer editorial page highlights this morning, the game continues. Over the weekend, presidential candidate Jeb Bush said the following:

“Universities ought to have skin in the game. When a student shows up, they ought to say ‘Hey, that psych major deal, that philosophy major thing, that’s great, it’s important to have liberal arts … but realize, you’re going to be working at Chick-fil-A.'”

By all indications, Mr. Bush was serious.

Spellings, of course, worked for Bush’s brother and a decade ago helped to churn out a big study that arguably gave voice to a similar position — even if it was stated in a less boneheaded way. Let’s hope that since that time, Spellings has learned a thing or two and realizes that, in her new position, she should be working to promote a truly diverse vision of higher education.

Perhaps there is hope though. After all, Spellings was a liberal arts major herself as an undergrad. Then again, so was Pat McCrory.