Governor Cooper Maps an Alternative Path

North Carolina may go a third straight year without a new state budget. We definitely will go an 11th straight year without a budget written by Democrats.

What would such a creature look like? Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has shown us.

His plan is sweeping and starkly different from budgets passed by Republicans since 2011. Cooper would transform North Carolina’s healthcare, education, energy use, infrastructure, job training, pandemic assistance and approach to racial issues.

But few North Carolinians know that.

News tends to focus on the legislature; something newsworthy happens there nearly every day. Governor Cooper isn’t one to pound the podium and command the cameras. He prefers patient, persistent persuasion with legislators.

The Governor reiterated his “mission statement” in an email this month to supporters:

“I want a North Carolina where people are better educated, healthier, with more money in their pockets, and where there are more equitable opportunities for people to have lives of purpose and abundance. Every single day I come to work with this goal in mind.”

As political messages go, it’s somewhat clunky. But it’s clear. And Cooper has stuck to it consistently since he ran in 2016.

Senate Republicans, supported by four Democrats, passed their budget last month. (The Democrats’ districts would get a lot of money in the package.) The Senate budget is more of the same since 2011: more tax cuts for corporations, limited budget increases for public schools and paltry pay raises (3% over two years) for teachers.

The Governor’s says his approach “means fighting for access to affordable, quality healthcare.” He would expand Medicaid healthcare coverage to a half-million more people: “It makes people healthier. It uses tax dollars wisely and reduces health care costs for businesses. It makes health care more fair. It reaches rural areas.”

“It means a commitment to solving our climate crisis and making our state more resilient in the face of increasing storms.” He would “expand access to clean energy technologies, invest in clean energy economic development, promote offshore wind, and build the clean energy workforce to catalyze North Carolina’s economy.”

“It means investing in public schools.” He wants “more children getting high quality pre-K and a healthy start at birth. More children who learn to read in elementary school. More children inspired to learn trades in middle school. And more well-paid educators who can guide children as well as adults getting trained for a second career.”

“And that means paying teachers more” – 10% raises over the next two years. Cooper would spend $1.5 billion of the $6.5 billion in surplus revenue to “meet (the state’s) constitutional obligation of ensuring every student has access to a sound basic education.”

In a time of heightened attention to racial issues, the Governor says his vision “means fighting discrimination at every turn and promoting policies that make North Carolina a better, more inclusive place to live and work for everyone.”

He’d also make job training more affordable and available. He’d invest in infrastructure – from schools to bridges to broadband. He’d help businesses hurt by the pandemic – restaurants, hotels, conventions, hospitality and tourism.

In 2017 and 2018, the legislature overrode Cooper’s vetoes and passed its own budget. His vetoes withstood override attempts in 2019 and 2020, and the state went without an updated budget. Spending continued at prior levels, leaving needs unmet and issues unaddressed.

The Governor’s plan won’t pass this year, again. We’ll see if he persuades Republicans to make significant changes. But he has met his responsibility, as the state’s chief executive and the Democratic Party’s leader, to offer an alternative vision for North Carolina’s future.



Senate budget:

State revenue situation:

Governor’s budget:

UNC and the Debate Over Dissent

We Americans have a contradictory history when it comes to tolerating, or not tolerating, dissent. The latest chapter is the Nikole Hannah-Jones controversy at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The fight, fittingly, played out around July 4th, the most American of holidays. We take off work, grill hot dogs and set off fireworks to celebrate our Declaration of Independence – and, supposedly, our dedication to independence of speech and thought.

That dedication has been tested from the nation’s beginning.

In 1798, Congress and President John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The sedition law outlawed any “false, scandalous and malicious writing” against Congress or the President and made it illegal to conspire “to oppose any measure or measures of the government.” A congressman and a journalist were convicted and sent to jail. The laws were repealed or expired after Thomas Jefferson was elected President in 1800.

Race and dissent have long been intertwined. Before the Civil War, Southern states banned abolitionist writing and speaking. The U.S. House passed a Gag Resolution in 1836 to squelch discussion of abolishing slavery. For 100 years after the Civil War, advocating for Black Americans’ civil rights could be dangerous.

In the 1960s, racist demagogues like North Carolina’s Jesse Helms, a television editorialist then, conflated communism and civil rights. In 1983, Senator Helms filibustered against a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Helms said King followed a philosophy of ”action-oriented Marxism” that ”is not compatible with the concepts of this country.”

Helms was a father of the Speaker Ban Law that thrust UNC-Chapel Hill into a battle over free speech almost 60 years ago. On the last day of the 1963 session, after just an hour of debate, the legislature enacted the law, which “prohibited speeches on North Carolina public college campuses by ‘known’ members of the Communist Party, persons ‘known’ to advocate the overthrow of the constitutions of North Carolina or the United States, or individuals who had pleaded the Fifth Amendment in order to decline answering questions concerning communist subversion.”

For years, the ban embroiled the university in controversy. Its accreditation was threatened. In 1969, a three-judge federal court ruled that the law was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

Now the university is embattled over Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The New York Times’ “The 1619 Project.” The project tells how slavery has shaped America since slaves were first brought here over 400 years ago.

Conservatives claim the 1619 viewpoint somehow threatens our 1776 national narrative. But both stories shaped our nation’s history. Both should be studied.

When Hannah-Jones announced last week that she wouldn’t be coming to UNC, the state Republican Party exulted that she “will no longer be spreading her divisive agenda at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

Is that “cancel culture”?

Explaining her decision, Hannah-Jones criticized the university’s leadership. She called out Walter Hussman, the Arkansas publisher and big donor for whom the journalism school is now named and who opposed her hiring:

“I cannot imagine working at and advancing a school named for a man who lobbied against me, who used his wealth to influence the hires and ideology of the journalism school, who ignored my 20 years of journalism experience, all of my credentials, all of my work, because he believed that a project that centered on Black Americans equaled the denigration of white Americans.”

Her decision is understandable. But many people at UNC stuck out their necks for her – and may get their heads cut off in retaliation. The fight for freedom of speech and thought will go on without her voice at Chapel Hill.



Alien and Sedition Acts:

Squelching abolitionism:

Helms and the King holiday:

Speaker Ban Law:

The 1619 Project:

Hannah-Jones’ statement:

Did Politics Cost Wolfpack Their Shot?

As an N.C. State alum and avid fan, I was dismayed and disappointed when the NCAA threw the Wolfpack baseball team out of the College World Series.

Then it got political.

“Politics” was the word Head Coach Elliot Avent used when pressed about his team’s Covid vaccinations: “If you want to talk baseball, we can talk baseball. If you want to talk politics or stuff like that, you can go talk to my head of sports medicine.”

Then the politicians piled on. Former Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who is running for U.S. Senate, started a petition: “The NCAA may have tried to CANCEL the NC State Wolfpack, but we won’t let their nonsense continue. Sign our petition to DEMAND the NCAA President be FIRED and that NC State be able to compete for a championship!”

Coach Avent

The controversy reignited what The News & Observer called “a years-long feud between North Carolina Republicans and the NCAA.” The NCAA had cancelled events in North Carolina after the legislature enacted and McCrory signed the controversial House Bill 2 transgender-bathroom bill. The bill contributed to his narrow loss to Democrat Roy Cooper in 2016.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis took a swing at bat. He said the NCAA “embarrassed itself” and the Wolfpack deserved a shot to play for the championship.

More than 60 Republican legislators, and three Democrats, signed a letter demanding that NCAA officials answer questions about the disqualification.

All this raises a question: Why didn’t the players get vaccinated long ago and avoid the risk of disqualification?

The answer may be that universities were told they couldn’t require vaccinations. In an April 29 memo to university chancellors, UNC System President Peter Hans wrote:

“Public health officials across the country are working toward full vaccination by lowering barriers to access, creating incentives, and persuading hesitant community members. In the absence of clear legal authority for a mandate, the UNC System will follow a similar approach.”

Hans’ statement about “no clear legal authority for a mandate” is arguable, some lawyers maintain. “The government can require seatbelts,” said one. Another noted, “Decades ago the US Supreme Court held that a New York city could require citizens be vaccinated for smallpox.”

Universities can require them too. Duke University and Wake Forest University, both private universities, require vaccinations. The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, both public universities, do too. Students entering the UNC system students have to prove they’ve had a series of immunizations – diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella and Hepatitis B.

Hans, the UNC President, is a savvy and experienced political player. He’s a Republican who is liked and respected by Democrats, myself included. He has to be sensitive to the legislature, which appoints the Board of Governors, which has the power to hire and fire presidents.

UNC-Chapel Hill has been embroiled for weeks now in the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure controversy. In today’s climate, Hans may well have felt the need to consult with powerful Republican politicians like Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore about vaccination mandates.

Just as some people at UNC-Chapel Hill believe Berger opposed Hannah-Jones, some people at N.C. State are certain Berger’s hand was behind Hans’s stance.

Since the pandemic erupted last year, Republican politicians in North Carolina and across the country have mocked mask-wearing, opposed shutdowns and resisted vaccinations.

Now, when you see some of the same politicians blaming the NCAA for the Wolfpack’s fate, ask yourself where the ultimate responsibility lies. Covid vaccinations have become political, and that has consequences. N.C. State’s lost dream of a national baseball championship is the latest consequence.



NCAA-Republican feud:

Coach Avent on vaccinations:

Peter Hans memo:

Vaccine mandates at US universities:

Timeline of NC State’s removal:

When Jesse Helms Got Religion on Israel

Conservative evangelical Christians in America haven’t always been all-out supporters of Israel. They once were downright hostile.

That changed in 1984 when North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms ran for reelection against Governor Jim Hunt. Helms’s flip-flop on Israel had nothing to do with religion. It was about campaign contributions.

During his first two terms in the Senate, 1972-1984, Helms was a staunch foe of Israel. He proposed a resolution demanding that Israel return the West Bank to Jordan. He said Palestinian Arabs deserved a “just settlement of their grievances.” He called for breaking diplomatic relations with Israel during the 1982 Lebanon War.

Challenged on his views, he said, “Let me remind you that Menachem Begin (then prime minister of Israel) does not believe in Jesus Christ.”

Then politics intervened. I saw it first-hand working in Hunt’s campaign against Helms.

Arthur Cassell, a Jewish businessman and philanthropist from Greensboro, offered to help Hunt. Cassell said the Jewish community across the country viewed Helms as Israel’s number-one enemy in the Senate. There was a rich vein of financial support waiting to be tapped for Helms’s opponent.

Tap it we did.

Cassell lined up fundraising events across the country. We sent a blizzard of fundraising letters. One reporter wrote later, “Pro-Israel political action committees poured an astonishing $222,342” into Hunt’s campaign, big money then. That was only a fraction of the total raised.

Hunt, sadly, didn’t win. But Helms got the message. When he returned to the Senate in 1985, he suddenly proclaimed himself Israel’s best friend. One account reported:

“The senator gathered together as many of his North Carolina Jewish constituents as he could, and together they set out on a pilgrimage to Israel. There he had himself photographed wearing a yarmulke and kissing the Western Wall. Upon his return, the reborn Jesse Helms bombarded the media with a series of pro-Israel statements.”

The website of the Jesse Helms Center at Wingate University features photographs from that trip.

Helms in Israel, 1985

Until he retired from the Senate in 2002, including as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee (1995-2001), Helms couldn’t do enough for Israel. He even exempted the nation from his fervent opposition to foreign aid.

Helms’s switch coincided with evangelicals’ new-found devotion to Israel – and the Republican Party’s conversion. An analysis in Vox said:

“Two fundamental forces combined to transform the GOP into the hardcore pro-Israel party we know today. First, the rise of the religious right, which sees hardline support for Israel as a religious obligation. Second, the neoconservative movement successfully convinced most Republican leaders that being pro-Israel should be a core conservative value.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, put it this way: “God gave the land of Israel to the Jews, forever. And that God blesses those who bless the Jews, and God curses those who curse the Jews. And if we want God to bless us and God wants us to bless America, we’ve got to bless the Jews.”

Today, evangelicals are closely allied with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing, long-time and recently unseated prime minister. Netanyahu was a key supporter of and close to former President Trump and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump obliged by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.

Netanyahu was ousted by a shaky, slender and unlikely coalition of right-wing, left-wing, centrist and even Arab parties. They are united only by their opposition to Netanyahu, who faces criminal corruption charges.

Friends of Israel worry that close association with right-wing evangelicals will weaken support for Israel among Democrats. That would put at risk a long history of bipartisan support for Israel.


Helms’s evolution on Israel:

Helms in Israel, 1985:

Vox analysis:

Land quote:

What Boris Johnson Can Teach Democrats

To many Americans, especially Democrats, Boris Johnson is a clownish British version of former President Trump. But Democrats might take a page from Johnson, especially on how to talk to people.

The party is going through self-analysis now. Yes, President Biden beat Trump and Democrats won a 50-50 split in the Senate. But they’d hoped to do much better; they want to get to the bottom of why the bottom fell out on their high hopes.

Democrats being Democrats, they think they need a stronger economic-policy message – and the right set of policy proposals.

Not so fast. There’s a reason most people avoid economics classes in school. Economics is boring. Economic policy proposals are boring.

Americans want specifics, but they yearn for hope and optimism. They’re listening more for tone: confidence, strength and persistence. They want to hear music, not just read lyrics.

Boris Johnson gets it. He says his goal as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is “to recapture some of the energy and optimism that this country used to have.”

Democrats could use more energy and optimism – and less hectoring and lecturing.

Biden and Boris

Johnson’s style is analyzed in a new article in The Atlantic, “The Minister of Chaos: Boris Johnson knows exactly what he’s doing,” by Tom McTague. He wrote of Johnson, “To him, the point of politics—and life—is not to squabble over facts; it’s to offer people a story they can believe in.”

Johnson led the Brexit “Leave” campaign in 2016, just before Trump won the Presidency. McTague notes that the “two campaigns looked similar on the surface—populist, nationalist, anti-establishment.”

But Johnson’s story isn’t the same as Trump’s “American carnage.” Johnson says the UK, contrary to “claims of impending disaster…is a great and remarkable and interesting country in its own right’.”

Johnson is a former journalist. He knows the power of words. He says, “People live by narrative. Human beings are creatures of the imagination.”

The article added:

“Johnson understands the art of politics better than his critics and rivals do. He is right that his is a battle to write the national story, and that this requires offering people hope and agency, a sense of optimism and pride in place. He has shown that he is a master at finding the story voters want to hear.”

Writing the national story is the challenge Democrats face. Studying the UK makes sense; we share a mother tongue.

At this month’s G7 meeting in Cornwall, England, there was much talk about the “special relationship” between the US and the UK. There also has been, over the last 40 years, a rhythmic relationship between the two nation’s politics.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, both conservatives, came to power at the same time. So did New Democrat Bill Clinton and New Labour Tony Blair. Then came Trump and Johnson. Now Biden and Johnson.

Despite their parallels, Johnson isn’t a Trump clone. At the G7 meetings, he and President Biden agreed on climate change, women’s rights, sanctions against Russia and a middle-class economic agenda. Johnson’s compared Biden’s infrastructure bill to his promise of “leveling up” the economically struggling north of England with the more prosperous south.

He said, “When it comes to building back better, we’re totally on the same page. It’s been very interesting and very refreshing.”

As Democrats struggle to tell their story in today’s divided America, they might study how Johnson tells his. Sometimes he might be a clown. But sometimes clowns are on to something. And given today’s angry politics, it wouldn’t hurt to laugh and lighten up a bit.


Atlantic article:

How Democrats Win NC Senate Races

Can a Democrat win the race for U.S. Senate in North Carolina next year?

History isn’t encouraging. Since the two-party era began in 1972, Democrats have won only four of 17 U.S. Senate elections here – a puny .235 batting average.

Let’s look at the lessons those four wins might hold for 2022.

The first win was in 1974, when then-Attorney General Robert Morgan was elected to succeed retiring Senator Sam Ervin.

That was the Watergate year. President Nixon resigned in August; Republicans got routed in November. Only one Republican was left in the 50-member state Senate. Morgan won almost 62% of the vote.


Lesson One: Pick a good year to run.

After that, a Democrat didn’t win for a dozen years.

In 1986, former Governor and Duke University President Terry Sanford beat Jim Broyhill, a long-time congressman and furniture heir. Broyhill had been appointed to succeed John East, who resigned because of poor health and later committed suicide.

Like 1974, 1986 was a good year for Democrats. President Reagan was enmeshed in the Iran-Contra scandal. It was Reagan’s second mid-term election; historically, those are good for the opposition party.

Sanford was a respected senior statesman – and a savvy campaigner. When Republicans called him soft on defense, he put on his World War II paratrooper jacket and campaigned in a helicopter. He won 52-48%.

Lesson Two: Pick a strong candidate. And remember Lesson One.

The next win came another 12 years later, in 1998. John Edwards beat Lauch Faircloth, who had beaten Sanford in 1992.

Edwards was a fresh face, a newcomer to politics who had spent his legal career representing victims of accidents and malpractice. Edwards was good on TV and willing to spend millions of dollars of his own money putting himself on TV.


Faircloth was showing his age. He ducked debates and joint appearances. Edwards was the perfect contrast. He ran as a Washington outsider who would fight for North Carolinians, not take money from lobbyists and avoid politics as usual.

It was President Clinton’s second mid-term, and it was the year of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment. But Republicans overplayed their hand. They made the election about Clinton’s lies and sex life, not about the country.

Edwards won in an upset, 51-47%.

Lesson Three: Pick a weak opponent. And remember Lessons One and Two.

The final victory, 10 years later, was Kay Hagan in 2008 over incumbent Elizabeth Dole. Dole had been elected to succeed Helms in 2002.

Hagan was a popular and respected legislator and Greensboro civic leader. She picked a good year; Barack Obama carried North Carolina for President and helped elect Bev Perdue Governor.

Dole was hurt by independent ads suggesting she was too old for the job. She hurt herself by running an ad that suggested Hagan didn’t believe in God.

Hagan won comfortably, 52-44%.

Lesson Four: Pick the rare good year when the Democratic presidential candidate runs strong here. And remember Lessons One, Two and Three.

The 2022 race comes 14 years after Democrats’ last win. It will be a midterm election. Neither President Biden nor former President Trump will be on the ballot. But their records will be, for better or worse.

It will be a rare open-seat race, with no incumbent running.

In a year like that, you can’t do anything about the national political winds. You have to take what comes.

You can’t pick your opponent, although you can weaken him or her.

You can only pick your best candidate, run your best campaign and hope for the best.


Election links for 1974, 1986, 1998 and 2008:

One-Party Control = Campus Chaos

The School of Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill fostered North Carolina’s tradition of great newspapers, reporters and editors. Now it fosters a debate engulfing the school, the entire university and journalism itself.

The debate flows from one-party control of universities’ boards of trustees.

UNC-CH trustees refused to grant tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was offered a Knight Chair in Investigative Journalism. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Black journalist who led The New York Times 1619 examination of slavery in America. Both previous Knight Chairs, who were White, were tenured.

Each university’s Board of Trustees has 13 members. Before December 2016, the UNC Board of Governors elected eight trustees and the Governor appointed four. Each student body president is the 13th member.

Then Democrat Roy Cooper was elected Governor in November 2016. The next month, the Republican-majority legislature hurriedly passed – and outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed – a bill stripping the governor of trustees’ appointments.

The legislation gave the Governor’s appointments to the General Assembly, two elected by the House and two by the Senate. The legislature also selects all members of the Board of Governors – and always has.

So now, directly or indirectly, the legislature appoints all trustees.

According to research by a UNC alum, who asked not to be named, here’s a breakdown of the Board of Governors’ 25 members: 20 are male (80%), 21 are White (84%), 20 are Republicans (80%), four are Unaffiliated and one is a Democrat.

Of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees’ 13 members, 11 are male (84%), 12 are White (92%), seven are Republicans (53.8%), two are Unaffiliated (15.3%) and four are Democrats (30.8%).

The alum wrote me:

“More diversity on the board could theoretically rein in some of the craziness over there. Or would at least ensure that other perspectives are included before they do something.”

More diversity might also help keep strong women leaders.

First Margaret Spellings left as President of the UNC system. She had been Education Secretary for George W. Bush, but wasn’t conservative enough for the Board of Governors. Then Carol Folt was forced out as UNC-CH chancellor after she took a strong stand for removing the Silent Sam monument.

Dean King and Hussman

Will today’s controversy jeopardize Susan King, the dean of the journalism school since 2012?

John Drescher reported in The Assembly digital magazine that the man the journalism school was named for in 2019 – Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – emailed King and other UNC-CH leaders last December about Hannah-Jones:

“I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project…. Based on her own words, many will conclude she is trying to push an agenda, and they will assume she is manipulating historical facts to support it.”

Drescher wrote that the pushback from Hussman, who pledged $25 million to the school, “underscores issues about donor influence at the university, which is increasingly reliant on major gifts in light of mandated tuition freezes and minimal legislative-funding increases.”

Drescher, a graduate of the journalism school, is former executive editor of The News & Observer and a former editor at The Washington Post.

He wrote that a debate is raging between journalists like Hussman, “an evangelist of old-school objectivity,” and “a growing number, including many younger journalists, (who) see objectivity as a trap.”

Hannah-Jones put it this way in an NPR podcast:

“(W)hen white Americans say to me, ‘I just want factual reporting,’ what they’re saying to me is they want reporting from a white perspective … with a white normative view, and that simply has never been objective.”

The journalism school is the right place for that debate. But can the school survive the debate?


A personal note

My mother, Rebecca Parker Pearce Dickerson, died last week. She was 92.

After she and my father married, he was a printer and she was a proofreader at a newspaper in Murfreesboro, NC. Years later, she worked at Edwards & Broughton Printing Company in Raleigh as a proofreader and at the N.C. Department of Commerce as a statistical aide and proofreader.

She loved to read – books, magazines, newspapers, anything. To the day she died, she delighted in spotting a mistake in spelling or grammar.

I’ll always have her sharp eye looking over my shoulder.


Board of trustee appointments:,body%2C%20who%20serves%20ex%20officio.

Drescher article:

Hannah-Jones podcast:

Race Defines NC Politics – Again

A national political reporter recently asked me how I would explain North Carolina politics to a class of college students.

“One word,” I told him: “Race.”

It has always been about race. It still is.

The latest front is the battle at UNC-Chapel Hill over tenure for a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Conservatives cloak their objections to her in academic robes. But they dislike Nikole Hannah-Jones, a UNC alumna and New York Times reporter, because she produced “The 1619 Project” about slavery’s impact on America.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

As with conservative complaints about public schools teaching “critical race theory,” opposition to her is aimed at stifling uncomfortable discussions about history – and stirring political passions.

The 1619 Project goes to an inescapable and fundamental contradiction in American history: Our great nation is the only one founded on a set of ideals: freedom, liberty and equality. Yet, our nation was also built on the cruel, ugly brutality of human slavery.

Our Constitution was designed to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Yet, it also protected slavery.

Thomas Jefferson wrote eloquently in our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Yet, Jefferson owned slaves and fathered children by an enslaved woman. Four of our first five Presidents – George Washington, Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe – owned slaves.

Slavery caused secession and the Civil War.

This tension between the ideals of 1776 and the reality of 1619 – and its impact on our history – is worth studying.

But powerful forces in North Carolina don’t want that study: the UNC-CH Board of Trustees, the John Locke Foundation and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. The latter two are creations of conservative megadonor Art Pope, who sits on the UNC Board of Governors. The ultimate opposition to Hannah-Jones, some at UNC believe, comes from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

This is nothing new in North Carolina politics.

The right of Blacks to vote – and white opposition to that right – dominated the decades after the Civil War. The white supremacy campaign at the end of the 19th Century disenfranchised Blacks for 60 years. The civil rights movement in the 1960s led to the rise of the Republican Party and, ultimately, to today’s politics.

Race has infused modern campaigns since Willis Smith’s “White People Wake Up” campaign against Frank Porter Graham in 1950. Graham was President of UNC.

Conservatives have always resented the university; they think it turns too many young men and women into liberals. That’s why the General Assembly passed the infamous Speaker Ban Law in 1963.

Jesse Helms, who had a hand in the Willis Smith campaign, editorialized on television in the 1960s against alleged communists at UNC and against civil rights. Race-baiting helped him win five U.S. Senate campaigns. When Jim Hunt challenged him in 1984, Helms filibustered (unsuccessfully) against the national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since 2011, the conservative majority in North Carolina’s legislature has pursued a voter ID law that one court said targeted Blacks with “almost surgical precision.”

Now, the targets are “critical race theory” and the 1619 Project.

Growing up in North Carolina and working in politics, I’ve seen this over and over all my life. But I’m hopeful.

Last week, 1,619 UNC-CH alums signed a newspaper ad protesting the handling of Hannah-Jones’s tenure. More than 90% of them graduated after 1990.

They, like many young North Carolinians today, are free of the prejudices of older generations. They’re committed to a fair and just society.

They’re stepping up. They’re ready to move North Carolina forward, not backward.

More power to them.


Smith campaign flyer:

1950 campaign:

Poll Finds Cracks in Trump’s Base

When Carter Wrenn says Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is slipping, I listen.

Carter and I have fought on different sides of North Carolina’s political wars for years, most notably the Jim Hunt-Jesse Helms Senate race in 1984. Despite that bitter campaign and our political differences, we’ve become friends.

Carter is smart, tough and experienced. Above all, he’s blunt and candid; he calls them like he sees them.

Now, Carter is challenging the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party is Trump’s party.

He recently did a national poll with John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. Carter wrote:

“When a candidate’s popularity begins to wane it’s seldom like a titanic crash – it’s more like watching a row of dominoes fall: People who once said ‘He’s great’ roll downhill saying ‘He’s okay;’ people who used to shrug ‘He’s okay’ roll downhill saying ‘I no longer like him.’ That’s what’s happening to Donald Trump.”

Here were Trump’s numbers among Republican voters last October in a New York Times/Siena College poll: very favorable, 77; somewhat favorable, 15; unfavorable, 6.

Here were Trump’s numbers this April in Carter’s poll: very favorable, 58; somewhat favorable, 27; unfavorable, 13.

Carter and me

Carter wrote, “Trump’s ‘base’ – very favorable Republicans who say ‘He’s great’ – dropped by 19 points, from 77% to 58% – a 25% drop.”

He added, “That erosion, which ties to disapproval of Trump’s personality, is significant.”

What happens if Trump runs for President in 2024? The poll found that “44% of the primary voters said they’d vote for Trump – but 56% didn’t. And that’s not set in stone. Trump may decline more. Or rebound.”

Further. the poll found:

“Trump opposing a candidate in a Republican primary does not appear to matter a great deal to Republican primary voters. 50% said Trump opposing a candidate makes no difference to them. 26% said they would be more likely to vote against a candidate Trump opposes; 24% said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate Trump opposes – a margin of only 2 points.”

Trump would face even bigger problems in November 2024. Carter says, “Trump’s Republican ‘base’ is not large enough to elect him in 2024. To defeat Biden, Trump needs to win a majority of Independents.”

But the poll found that 55% of Independents are unfavorable to Trump; 44% are “very unfavorable.” Only 37% are favorable.

That’s not just a challenge in November; 29% of Republican primary voters are Independents.

The poll traced Trump’s negatives to his personality – “exaggerating, bragging, bullying, lying.” The big problem is the “Big Lie” – Trump’s claim he won the election and it was stolen from him.

Carter’s poll asked if voters agree or disagree that “Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election.” Most Republicans, 64%, agreed. But 23% disagreed. Democrats disagreed by 93%-6%. Most important, Independents disagreed by 61%-27%, more than 2-to-1.

This isn’t the only bad poll for Trump. The Washington Post reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recent polling in core battleground districts found that “Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones…. Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has stood up to Trump over the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, said NRCC staffers left out that finding when they briefed a party retreat in April.

Republican leaders are in denial – about the election, the January 6 riot and, now, Trump’s polls. If his poll numbers keep going down, will Republicans go down with him?


Link to Carter’s blog:

Link to poll:

Washington Post story:

Can Democrats Do the 2022 Math?

North Carolina Democrats want to change the U.S. Senate math in 2022. But is their problem math or English?

In 1990, Harvey Gantt lost the Senate race to Jesse Helms by 100,000 votes. Afterward, a Democratic consultant assured me: “North Carolina’s demographics are changing. We’ll win next time.”

Gantt in 1990

Thirty years later, Cal Cunningham lost the Senate race to Thom Tillis – again, by 100,000 votes.

The electorate definitely has changed. In 1990, 2 million people voted. In 2020, 5.5 million voted.

The percentages have changed. Gantt lost by 5%; Cunningham, by 1.7%.

But the outcome was the same. In fact, Democrats have lost nine of 11 Senate races since 1990.

Demographics haven’t changed Democrats’ destiny.

North Carolina is growing fast. We added nearly a million people between 2010 and 2020, from 9.5 million to 10.4 million, a 9.5% growth rate. We’re one of just six states that will get another congressional seat.

Many of the new people are urban, college-educated, younger, and racially and culturally diverse – more likely to be Democratic voters.

But many people moving here obviously aren’t voting Democratic. Many are older retirees, or military retirees. Many left other states because of high taxes.

There are still many rural, religious, conservative white voters. In both 2016 and 2020, the Trump turnout surprised Democratic pollsters.

James Carville, the sharp-tongued Democratic warhorse, thinks the problem is language. In a scathing interview with Vox, he said, “Wokeness is a problem, and we all know it.” Democrats are guilty of “faculty lounge language”:

“You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like “Latinx” that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like ‘communities of color.’ I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a ‘community of color.’ I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you’re talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language.”

He added, “And maybe tweeting that we should abolish the police isn’t the smartest thing to do.”

In an essay, “The Bitter Heartland,” Clinton Administration veteran William A. Galston says “social conservatives and white Christians” – that is, Trump voters – feel a powerful resentment toward political and cultural liberalism.


“They have a sense of displacement in a country they once dominated. Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life.

“They believe we (liberals) have a powerful desire for moral coercion. We tell them how to behave — and, worse, how to think. When they complain, we accuse them of racism and xenophobia….

“They believe we hold them in contempt.

“Finally, they think we are hypocrites. We claim to support free speech — until someone says something we don’t like. We claim to oppose violence — unless it serves a cause we approve of. We claim to defend the Constitution — except for the Second Amendment. We support tolerance, inclusion, and social justice — except for people like them.”

Carville concedes, “Democrats are never going to win a majority of these voters….  But the difference between getting beat 80-20 and 72-28 is all the difference in the world.”

For their 2022 homework, Democrats should study both math and messaging.


Carville interview:

Galston essay: