Monday, June 29, 2009

Sex, lies -- and videotape?

More news today on the Carolinas' resident bad boys.

-- S.C. Republican Gov. Mark Sanford continues to fend off calls for his resignation following his admission of an affair with an Argentine woman and his use of state money to visit her a few years ago. Now a York County Republican says he's planning a tea party-size rally next week if the governor is still there.

Glenn McCall, chairman of the York County GOP and one of the state's two national party committeemen, says he wants GOP legislators to rise up and demand Sanford's resignation. If the governor refuses, McCall and others have already talked about organizing a rally at the Capitol next week to pressure him to step down.

"We’re just calling on our elected officials to be statesmen," he says, "and let's stop playing politics and do the right thing for the state of South Carolina and for the Republican Party.... It's not about the governor anymore. It's bigger. It's about the state of South Carolina."

-- Five years to the day after being picked to be John Kerry's 2004 running mate, former N.C. Sen. John Edwards was back in the news -- for an alleged sex tape.

Last year former aide Andrew Young claimed to be the father of Edwards' mistress Rielle Hunter's baby. He has been peddling a book to N.Y. publishers. Monday the New York Daily News reported that Young's book will claim that not only is Edwards the baby's father, but that
Young found a purported sex tape involving the former Democratic presidential candidate.

Stay tuned. Or not.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sanford: 'What I did was wrong.'

S.C. Mark Sanford, often mentioned as a possible Republican presidential, explained his mysterious six-day absence by acknowledging an affair with an Argentinian woman who he called "a dear, dear friend."

Hours after a reporter for The State spotted him in Atlanta getting off a plane from Argentina, Sanford held one of the most candid political news conferences in memory. He admitted his infidelity.

"The bottom line is I've been unfaithful to my wife," he said, his voice occasionally breaking. "I developed a relationship with a dear, dear friend from Argentina....

"I've let down a lot of people. Let me first of all apologize to my wife, Jenny,...and my boys ... who I've let down in a profound way. This is the first step on what will be a very long process on that front."

Sanford said he met the woman eight years ago and their friendship started on a casual basis but developed into more about a year ago. Asked if his wife knew about the affair, he said they had been "working through this thing for about the last five months."

He said he and the woman realized the affair couldn't last. "I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Want to weigh in on Jim Black? Here's how.

Judging from emails, phone calls and online comments, a lot of people have opinions about our story today on the effort to reduce Jim Black's prison sentence or move him closer to home.

Lawyers for the former N.C. House speaker, who is serving five years for corruption in Lewisburg, Pa., have organized a letter-writing campaign to commute his sentence or at least get him moved back to North Carolina. They cite his ailments as well as his wife's recent diagnosis with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

About 150 people have written in support of Black. Not everybody is sympathetic.

"The key piece to remember is that Jim Black had a chance to get a shorter prison sentence," says Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, whose research into Black's campaign contributions helped set the stage for his prosecution. "There was a considerable period of time between his conviction and his sentencing when prosecutors sought his cooperation in their investigation of corruption, but he gave them no help....

"So if he wants a reduced prison time now, does that mean he's changed his mind and is ready to tell the truth about the full extent of pay-to-play politics in North Carolina?"

How do you feel about Black's sentence?

To argue for or against the commutation of his sentence, write:

Ronald L. Rodgers

Pardon Attorney

Department of Justice

1425 New York Ave., Suite 11000

Washington, D.C. 20530

Re: James Boyce Black

Reg. No. 50655-056

To write for or against moving Black closer to home, write:

Harley Lappin

Director, U.S. Bureau of Prisons

320 1st St., NW

Washington, D.C. 20534

Re: James Boyce Black
Reg. No. 50655-056

Friday, June 19, 2009

Vinroots pledge $1 million for UNC

Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and his wife Judy have pledged $1 million to UNC Chapel Hill's School of Government to honor of his friend and former law partner, Bob Bradshaw Jr.

The university announced the gift this afternoon. It's the largest gift ever to the School of Government.

"Judy and Richard Vinroot have shown extraordinary generosity and thoughtfulness in creating this new professorship and fellowship," Mike Smith, the school's dean said in a statement.

Bradshaw, now retired, was a GOP leader in Mecklenburg County who went on to become chairman of the state party. Vinroot, one of his proteges, served two terms as mayor and ran for governor.

Of the money, $666,000 will be matched by a state fund to create the $1 million Robert W. Bradshaw Jr. Distinguished Professorship. Another $334,000 will establish the Robert W. Bradshaw Jr. Public Administration Fellowship.

"Bob Bradshaw spent many years encouraging good people to enter public service, and then mentoring them once they did so," Vinroot said in a statement. "Wonderful examples of this are former Gov. Jim Martin and 9th District Congressman Alex McMillan, both of whom are among Bob's protégés.

"I'm most grateful for what Bob did for me personally, but more so for what he's done for everyone in North Carolina throughout his professional life. Accordingly, Judy and I can think of no better way to honor Bob than at the School of Government, where public service is the essence of their mission."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Foxx, Lassiter put styles on display at JCSU

Adding police? Moving a bookstore? Those were among the ideas that Charlotte mayoral candidates Anthony Foxx and John Lassiter outlined this morning to help overcome Charlotte's economic barriers.

The two spoke at a breakfast for the Charlotte Chamber's Inter City Visit at Johnson C. Smith University.

Foxx, a Democrat, talked about the importance of reducing crime in areas such as the Beatties Ford Road corridor, and touted a new police substation in the area to do just that. He also wants to streamline zoning and other regulations to make it easier for low-income areas to develop.

Lassiter, a Republican, threw a challenge to their host, JCSU President Ron Carter. Move the campus bookstore outside the school's fences to create a link to the community that could also spur other development.

He said such moves, along with city-aided development along Trade Street west of I-77 would help break the "noose" formed by that interstate and I-277 around the center city.

The two added their own styles to the discussion.

Foxx got personal in underscoring the racial and economic gaps in Charlotte today. He showed slides of himself as a boy with his grandmother, growing up a couple miles from the campus. He also showed a picture of the late Joe Martin, who got to know Foxx at West Charlotte High and wrote a recommendation that helped him get into Davidson College.

"Where are the Anthony Foxx's and Joe Martin's coming together now?" he asked.

Lassiter outlined more specifics -- extension of the Gold Rush trolley to JCSU, for example -- and touted his own life experience as a member of the school board and city council.

He described how he's bridged community divides by supporting renovations of inner-city schools and reaching out to minority contractors. Charlotte, he said, has to "find a way to do the kinds of things that bridge our relationships and work together."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Edwards breaks silence in Post interview

Former Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards broke a long silence in an interview published online today in the Washington Post.

In his first extended interview since confirming an affair on ABC's Nightline last summer, he refused to discuss his mistress Rielle Hunter, her baby, his wife Elizabeth's new memoir or a grand jury probe into whether he illegally used campaign money to pay Hunter.

He did talk about a recent trip to El Salvador to build houses for the poor. But mostly, the paper said, he has spent "many long hours in the big house" in Chapel Hill.

He told the paper he has no plans to restore his reputation. That's not "something I'm focused on," he said. "The only relevance of it at all is my ability to help people," he told the Post. "That's the only reason it matters."

The story quoted a disappointed mother from Greene County where Edwards started a pilot program called College for Everyone that all but guaranteed a college education to kids who couldn't afford it. He ended the program a week after confirming his affair.

The paper also talked to residents of New Orleans who felt deceived after an aid program he promised in 2007 never fully materialized.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Perdue's popularity drops

Gov. Bev Perdue, in office less than six months, has seen her approval ratings go one way -- down.

A new survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, shows her popularity fell from 34 percent last month to 30 percent. And 53 percent of North Carolinians disapprove of the job she's doing. That's the lowest approval of a N.C. governor since the firm started in 2001.

According to PPP's Tom Jensen, Perdue has lost support in her own party. She once had a 66 percent approval among Democrats. It's now 46 percent.

Since taking office in January, Perdue's hands have been largely tied by a budget shortfall of over $4 billion. She's overseen a state government that's made painful cuts in education and other areas with more on the horizon.

"Previous polling showed she was unpopular with teachers and state employees, two key elements of the Democratic coalition," Jensen says on his blog. "And the realities of the economy have kept her from rolling out and developing the sorts of programs that might win her popularity with progressive voters.

"It's also pretty clear that voters in the state are now holding her responsible for the tough economic climate, where Washington absorbed most of the blame during the Bush years. PPP is finding unusually low approval ratings for Governors in several states right now even as the President remains popular."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Elizabeth Dole -- too busy to look back

Elizabeth Dole isn't slowing down.

North Carolina's former Republican senator was in Charlotte this morning for a fundraiser for two groups associated with Mike Huckabee, the former and possibly future GOP presidential candidate.

Dole said she sandwiched the appearance between a morning stop at Charlotte's Loaves & Fishes food bank and afternoon visits to the Charlotte Rescue Mission, Salvation Army and Thompson Child & Family Focus. She said she supports them all through the Elizabeth Dole Charitable Foundation.

On her way out, Dole, who turns 73 next month, was asked if she's enjoying retirement.

"Not retirement, no," she bristled. "Catching up on my life."

She talked about visiting Normandy last weekend with her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole. She recounted how they both spend a couple hours most Saturdays at Washington's World War II Memorial, which her husband raised money for, greeting vets flown in by the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit that flies vets to the memorials.

"It really is very emotional," Dole said.

She doesn't think much about her loss to Democrat Kay Hagan.

"I'm not one who looks back," she said. "I'm the kind of person who puts total energy and focus into whatever I'm doing."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How would YOU solve N.C.'s budget problem?

Yesterday's blog about Republican Pat McCrory's criticism of a Democratic tax proposal elicited a lot of comments. All of which beg the question: So what would you do?

Here's the deal. The state has a $4.6 billion plus budget shortfall. That amounts to more than 20% of the budget.

House Democrats have a $784 million tax package that includes hikes in the sales tax and income taxes on people earning more than $200,000. The Senate budget would raise taxes by $580 million. Both budgets -- along with the governor's -- would slash spending by billions.

Teachers, including my son's high school baseball coach, are already getting laid off. Prisons and museums would close. College tuition's going up. Other cuts are being felt across the state.

So what would you do?

Don't want taxes? Take a look at the House budget and let me know where you'd cut. For suggestions from the liberal side, go to the N.C. Justice Center budget reports. For a more conservative take, check out the John Locke Foundation's alternative budget.

Want to minimize cuts? Then how would you find some more money? What taxes would you raise? Or would you do what the Senate might do, extend the lost of services that could be taxed?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

McCrory blasts House tax proposal

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory this morning ripped a tax proposal by N.C. House Democrats that would raise some income taxes to help close a $4 billion budget shortfall.

The House is considering a $940 million tax package today that would raise the sales tax and income taxes for those earning more than $200,000 a year.
"It's the last thing you need to do during a recession," he said. "The income tax is the most harmful tax to raise because you're only punishing those who are actually working ... This hurts our economic development efforts here in Charlotte, North Carolina ... when there's a cheaper place to live."

McCrory, last year's GOP gubernatorial nominee, said he worries that raising income taxes on the affluent could drive businesses from North Carolina.

Asked how he would deal with the record shortfall, McCrory offered no specifics but referred back to his 2008 campaign.

In October, when forecasters predicted a $2 billion shortfall, McCrory and Democrat Bev Perdue both said they opposed tax hikes and would convene expert panels to identify cuts and efficiencies in state government. Perdue Monday called on the House to include new taxes in its budget.

Tax policy will be part of McCrory's speech Friday at the GOP state convention in Raleigh.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Vinroot in Tiananmen: Witness to history 20 years ago

Richard Vinroot had just been in China a few hours that June night in 1989 when he and two friends found themselves in a Tiananmen Square roiling with 200,000 pro-democracy protesters.

Not far away, protesters attacked a soldier atop an armored personnel carrier as he tried to shout through a megaphone. They beat him, then set him on fire.

“Right after that, I remember shots being fired over the crowd,” Vinroot recalls. “I realized I was in a county that was about to have a revolution.”

Then a Charlotte City Council member, Vinroot had just arrived with a delegation for a Sister City visit to Baoding. For a nerve-wracking week, they became not just tourists but witnesses to history.

For more, see Friday's Observer.