Friday, June 27, 2014

Hagan and Tillis dine together in Charlotte -- sort of

Attorney Steve Hockfield had just arrived at the Charlotte City Club Friday for a fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. When he got off the elevator, he was surprised to see people wearing name tags with the logo of her Republican opponent, Thom Tillis.

Turns out both candidates were there for simultaneous fundraising luncheons.

Separated only by a floor, they greeted supporters and introduced special guests. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan was there for Hagan. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stumped for Tillis.

Neither of the candidates met in the hallway or the elevator.

Said Tillis: "She apparently booked her fundraiser there after we did."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Debates are hot topic in Senate debate

Debates over debates are a ritual in political campaigns. Who asks the questions? How long for rebuttals? How high the podium?

The debate in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race hasn't even gotten that far.

Negotiators for Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis have yet to get to the table themselves.

Hagan laid out her debate plan in a May 29 letter to Tillis. She proposed accepting a request for a televised debate from the N.C. Association of Broadcasters.

"Once this debate has been finalized," she wrote, "I look forward to setting a productive and mutually agreed upon public debate schedule with mainstream media and moderators with ties to North Carolina."

On Thursday Paul Shumaker, Tillis's debate point person, emailed his counterpart Jim Phillips proposing a meeting to establish a schedule of debates. At least a half dozen other groups have asked to host one.

"The Tillis Campaign sees this process as one that is much larger than just finalizing debate details with the N.C. Broadcasters Association," he wrote. "In fact I assumed that as a seasoned political veteran you would see the value of a planning process that finalized a complete debate schedule through an inclusive process with all the organizations rather than an exclusive process with just one."

Phillips responded Thursday afternoon.

"It's clear we all agree that we need a spirited and productive public debate schedule like we proposed in our initial letter... Based on my experience negotiating debates in the past, I believe we will have the most effective process if we sit down with the Broadcasters and come to an agreement on all the many details involved in setting and conducting a debate. The first step will make it easier to determine the rest of the public debate schedule."

Shumaker says voters deserve many chances to the differences between the candidates, especially in a pivotal election nationally. He thinks Hagan is trying to avoid that.

"It appears this is about her trying to avoid multiple debates," he says. "We don't want an exclusive process where we're showing favoritism to one group over another."

There's no debate-ducking, according to Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner.

"We're open to as many as it takes to make sure voters have the opportunity to see the contrast between her record of putting North Carolina voters first and Speaker Tillis's record of putting special interests first."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Airport bill creates turbulence between colleagues

It didn't take long for Mecklenburg County's newest senator to get into a virtual shouting match with its senior senator.

It started when Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, publicly criticized a bill involving Charlotte's airport earlier this month. He called the bill, which came as a surprise to city officials as well as most lawmakers, a "sneak attack." That didn't sit well with Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican and a chief sponsor of the bill.

Neither did Jackson's subsequent fundraising appeal.

"Moments ago, Senator Rucho and the Republican majority slammed a bill through session that could strip Charlotte of its airport," he wrote in an email to supporters. "Right now the court is settling the matter. Apparently Senator Rucho has run out of patience. We all know this isn't about policy -- it's about control."

That prompted the following exchange between the two senators.

-- "Senator Jackson, we need leaders to tell the truth," he emailed back. "The court and the FAA are at an impasse and need clarification of the law. Shame on you for politicizing this most important economic issue for our community. The people of Mecklenburg county deserve better."

-- "Sen. Rucho, Our concerns about this bill were completely appropriate. 1) There was zero consultation with any of the stakeholders. 2) The bill was plainly substantive and not technical. 
3) The whole thing just smelled awful. I’m genuinely ready to work with you on this and any piece of legislation that impacts our county.  I think you’d find that I’m a flexible and reasonable person.  If there’s ever anything you’d like to collaborate on, my door is always open."
-- "Your political exploitation of an important economic issue and your fund raising letter is what smells," Rucho responded this week. "You apparently speak before you know the facts especially since you were not engaged in the original debate. You can't ignore the pay to play actions of the former mayor and the on going investigation by the FBI. There is already a pay to play connection with the airport taxi service and there is no telling who else will be implicated.
"It is all about insulating the airport from pay to play politics and cronyism but maybe that does not concern you."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Did Mayor Clodfelter part ways with law firm?

Dan Clodfelter has worked for Moore & Van Allen since 1978, long before he was elected to the Charlotte City Council, the state Senate and most recently as mayor.

But it now appears Clodfelter is no longer with the firm.

His name is not listed among the professionals on the firm's web site.

Google Clodfelter and the firm and one result that pops up is a Moore & Van Allen press release that touts his 2013 recognition by a legal magazine as a "Leader in Law." Click on the link and you get this: "The link you followed .... does not correspond to a valid address on this web site."

Through a spokeswoman, Clodfelter has repeatedly declined to talk about his relationship with the firm.

Ernie Reigel, chairman of the firm's management committee, did not return repeated calls.

As a lawyer with the firm, Clodfelter was scrupulous about avoiding potential conflicts involving his or his firm's clients.

Now, according to the city attorney, he doesn't have to disclose his employment until the next disclosure forms are due in January.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Mecklenburg senator wins office, loses job

When Democrat Jeff Jackson was declared the winner of a special party election to the N.C. Senate last month, he thanked his supporters, hugged his wife Marisa and whispered in her ear.

"Honey, I just lost my job," he told her.

Winning election cost Jackson his job as an assistant district attorney in Gaston County, a position he'd had for three years.

Jackson, 31, was elected by Mecklenburg County Democrats to fill the term of Dan Clodfelter, who left the Senate after his own selection as mayor of Charlotte following Patrick Cannon's arrest and resignation.

Jackson said the Administrative Office of the Courts had originally told him the Senate wouldn't interfere with his day job. But four days before the party vote, an official told him it would.

At issue is Article 6 Section 9 of the state constitution. It says, "No person who holds any office or place of trust or profit under the United States or ... under any other state or government, shall be eligible to hold any office in this State that is filled by election by the people."

"I knew that it was a risk," Jackson says. "But ... I had decided that even if it as going to cost me my job, it was still worth it.”
As a senator, Jackson makes $13,951 a year. A captain in the Army National Guard, he also gets Guard pay.

Now he's looking for someone willing to hire somebody who has a demanding, if part-time job in the General Assembly as well as annual two-week Guard duty.

Still, he saw his income drop almost 75 percent. That's one reason he told his wife with the applause still in the air after he was elected.

"I figured that was the safest time to tell her," he says.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Alexander high on hope for pot bill

State Rep. Kelly Alexander is nothing if not persistent.

The Charlotte Democrat is sponsoring yet another bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana. His bill, HB 1161, would amend the state constitution by adding a new section called the "Medical Cannabis Protection Act."

Alexander has sponsored medical marijuana bills before.
"I can see attitudes changing," he said this week in his legislative office.
Pot is legal for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state. And a total of 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, have medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
To Alexander, pot, at least for medical use, is no longer a Cheech and Chong fantasy, even in North Carolina.
A Republican, Rep. Pat McElraft of Emerald Isle, is co-sponsoring a bill along with Charlotte Democrat Becky Carney and others that would allow the use of hemp oil, derived from the cannabis plant, for treatment of certain disorders.
Not many people give Alexander's bill a chance. At least not yet.
"The trend is going in my direction," Alexander says. "I talk to conservatives. I talk to liberals. I talk to old folks. To people of all political persuasions united in their belief that the law needs to change, and where we are now just doesn't make any sense."

Monday, June 02, 2014

25 years ago, ex-mayor witnessed Tiananmen Square

Twenty-five years ago this week Chinese soldiers opened fire on protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. A future Charlotte mayor was there to witness it.

Richard Vinroot had been in China a few hours when he and a pair of friends found themselves in a in the square with 200,000 pro-democracy protesters.

Nearby, he saw protesters attack a soldier standing atop an armored personnel carrier, beating him and setting him on fire. Then he heard shots fired over the crowd. "I realized I was in a country that was about to have a revolution," he would recall later.

Vinroot was a city council member in the country with a delegation to visit Charlotte's Sister City, Baoding. They didn't expect to witness history.

Bill Guerrant, then the city's public information director, remembered feeling the tension from the moment they arrived. Troops packed the airport. Crowds lined the road as their bus took them to the Peace Hotel a few blocks from Tiananmen Square.

Despite orders not to leave the hotel, he and Vinroot snuck out with a friend and made their way toward the crowded square. There they stayed on the periphery, close to the walls of the Forbidden City.

They heard what Guerrant would remember as a strange vibration under their feet. They turned to each other. "Tanks," they said simultaneously.

At least hundreds died that night in Tiananmen Square. The next day the Charlotte delegation rode buses past bodies and charred vehicles on their way to the Great Wall. They went on to Baoding, where TV images of the Beijing riots were muted.

Years later, Vinroot would recall it a "never-never land."
"TV portrayed (Tiananmen Square) like a minor uprising," he later recalled. "It showed pictures of soldiers helping old ladies across the street."

Another Charlotte Republican also remembered the night.
For years, former Gov. Jim Martin kept a framed photo on the wall of his offices at Carolinas HealthCare System. It was the iconic photo of the lone protester standing in the path of a Chinese tank.