My Last Column, But Not the Last Word

This is my last column, but not the last you’ll hear from me. I’m going to slip the bonds of a weekly deadline and write a book about my life and experiences in North Carolina politics.

Writing a book takes work. I learned that when I wrote Jim Hunt: A Biography, published in 2010. (Copies are still available online, at fine bookstores and in my garage.)

I started writing these weekly columns for North Carolina newspapers, plus occasional extra blogs, on August 27, 2019 – two years ago. Counting this one, that’s 138 posts.

Many papers and news outlets published the columns. They were emailed to more than 2,000 people each week.

The response has been gratifying. For writers, praise is a tonic. Right as I began thinking about stopping, a reader emailed me: “Just a note to tell you how much I look forward to reading these.”

I almost changed my mind.

I even like it when somebody complains and criticizes what I wrote. Thanks for reading, even if you didn’t like it.

The columns were the idea of my long-time friend Phil Carlton, retired Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. He believed that the state’s newspapers, especially in smaller communities, needed more information and insight about politics and public policy.

I tried to provide that, without the ranting and raving that mark too much political discourse. I sought to be thoughtful, reasonable and educational – to provide history, context and explanation that would help make sense of politics today.

Not that it’s easy to make sense of politics today. How do you make sense of politicians who resist common-sense protections against a virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans – and 14,000 North Carolinians? People are dying, and children are suffering, because of politics.

The Republican Party has been taken over by an anti-science, anti-government, anti-democracy ideology. We expected the worst from Donald Trump, and he was worse than we expected. He has disrespected and trashed our great country’s history, laws and Constitution.

Too many otherwise thoughtful and responsible Republicans are unable or unwilling to resist, even after Trump tried to overturn the election and his supporters ransacked the Capitol.

Democrats have their hearts in the right place, but I fear they’re not ready to win in 2022 and 2024.

As one reader said, “It takes courage not to get discouraged.”

He was a Republican, by the way.

Stubbornly, I remain an optimist. I’ve seen and studied enough history to believe our state and nation will come through today’s trials. My book will talk about that.

I close with words of thanks.

I’ve been helped immeasurably by the advice and support of the New Day team and board of directors: Judge Carlton, Wendy Wilson, Joyce Fitzpatrick, Stephanie Bass, Cy Stewart, David Woronoff and Frank Daniels, Jr.

Frank gave me wise advice: “The best way to advocate is to educate.” Wendy was a great legal counsel who turned out to be a great editor. Cy built and maintained the website and e-mail list. Phil, Joyce, Stephanie and David gave me insightful ideas and candid critiques.

I thank the newspaper editors who ran my columns. They work long hours, with short staffs and tight budgets. Do them, and yourself, a favor: Pay for a subscription. Yes, there’s a lot of free stuff online. Facts and truth cost money.

Above all, I thank you – the reader. You’re a rare breed these days, because you read newspapers and you read columns like this, even if you disagree.

Keep reading. And stay tuned.

You can read all the columns and blogs at

Where Will We Get Our News?

I used to get my news in the driveway every morning, from print editions of The News & Observer and The New York Times. Now I scroll through a half-dozen news digests on my iPhone while I digest my cereal.

Even though I’m an old newspaper guy, I like many of the changes in the news business. But will the future bring good news or bad news?

Newspapers are struggling financially. More and more are owned by hedge funds, nonprofit foundations or billionaires. Newsrooms have been decimated and deserted.

I came up in the glory days of state-capital news. When I was Governor Jim Hunt’s press secretary (1977-1984), dozens of reporters came to his weekly news conferences to hurl hardball questions at him. The N&O would send two or three people. There were bureau reporters from papers in Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham, Fayetteville and Asheville. There were reporters from AP and UPI, TV stations across the state and radio stations like WPTF and WKIX in Raleigh and WBT in Charlotte.

With that crew crawling through every nook and cranny in state government, there wasn’t much a Governor, legislator, Cabinet secretary or lowly bureaucrat could get away with.

The news business has fragmented since then. Newspapers today don’t have enough money to throw reporters at state government. There are fewer editors to review stories for clarity, fairness and accuracy. Readers have to be more discerning.

But North Carolina, which has a tradition of great newspapers and great journalism, has a bubbling cauldron of journalistic creativity today that bodes well.

The N&O and The Charlotte Observer – now merged under the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, which bought the McClatchy chain – have deployed a strong team of reporters covering North Carolina politics and government.

(One quibble. The N&O emails me a good morning news summary. But it comes from an “Audience Growth Producer.” Am I a houseplant? Can’t I get my news from an Editor or News Director?)

Here’s the rest of my morning diet: Business North Carolina Daily Digest, Capitol Broadcasting Opinion Newsletter, The Morning from The New York Times, INDY Week Daily, The Economist Espresso and Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American.

There are success stories in North Carolina journalism. There’s The Pilot in Southern Pines, which publishes the paper there as well as Business North Carolina and the magazines Walter, Pine Straw, O. Henry and SouthPark. (Full disclosure: Pilot Publisher David Woronoff is on the board of directors of New Day for NC, which publishes my blog.)

Business North Carolina recently hired Colin Campbell, formerly editor of the N&O’s Insider. Watch that space.

EdNC and North Carolina Health News do a superb job covering their areas. The Assembly publishes great long-form stories. Carolina Public Press focuses on investigative pieces.

You can get state news from the left, Policy Watch and Cardinal & Pine, and from the right, the John Locke Foundation and the North State Journal. Just beware their agendas.

There are blogs, like Carter Wrenn at Talking About Politics and Thomas Mills at PoliticsNC.

There are local websites like Charlotte Axios. Asheville Watchdog is run by veteran journalists who retired to the Blue Ridge. One is Tom Fiedler, a Pulitzer Prize winner famous for breaking the Gary Hart scandal in 1988.

The Daily Tar Heel does an excellent job covering UNC. Duke students cover Durham and state politics in the 9th Street Journal.

You can keep up with the news ferment at the NC Local News Workshop, based at Elon University’s School of Communications.

And you can keep good news coming by subscribing to good news sources.

Can Democrats Defuse “Defund the Police”?

Crime issues have bedeviled Democrats for decades. Every time they get painted as soft on crime, they lose elections.

In 1968, it was “law and order” campaigns by George Wallace and Richard Nixon. In 1988, it was the Willie Horton ad that George H.W. Bush and Lee Atwater used against Michael Dukakis. In 2020, it was “Defund the Police,” which some Democrats say kept them from winning a majority in the North Carolina House or Senate.

There’s always a racial edge. “Defund the Police” came out of Black Lives Matter protests. “Law and order” came in the wake of the civil rights movement and urban riots in the Sixties. Willie Horton was a convicted felon who, while out on a Massachusetts weekend furlough program, committed assault, armed robbery and rape. He was Black.

Willie Horton ad

Pat McCrory already has raised the issue in the 2022 Senate campaign. On August 6, he tweeted that Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley “refuses to denounce Cori Bush’s latest anti-law enforcement comments…. she’s just not fit to represent North Carolina families in the US Senate!”

Beasley’s campaign made clear that she doesn’t support defunding the police.

Bush – who, like Beasley, is Black – is a Democratic congresswoman from Missouri who recently said “defunding the police has to happen. We need to defund the police and put that money into social safety nets because we’re trying to save lives.”

Democrats don’t have to fall into this trap.

President Biden didn’t. In 2016, he made a point of opposing defunding police. He also had a record of supporting anti-crime bills in the Senate.

Eric Adams

One key to former Governor Jim Hunt’s victories in 1976, 1980, 1992 and 1996 was that he took strong stands on fighting crime. Governors Mike Easley and Roy Cooper earned crime-fighting credentials as Attorneys General. Easley had been a prosecutor and District Attorney; a drug kingpin once threatened to kill him.

Bill Clinton ran in 1992 as a “new kind of Democrat” – meaning, in part, not soft on crime like the hapless Dukakis. In 1994, President Clinton supported a tough law that was blamed for causing mass incarceration.

As with many things Bill Clinton did, Hillary Clinton paid the price in 2016. She was criticized for a 1996 campaign speech (for Bill) in which she described gang members as “super-predators.”

In 2020, Donald Trump falsely claimed Biden used the term. He also falsely claimed Biden supported defunding police. Trump, in effect, attacked Biden as too tough on crime and too soft on crime. That didn’t add up.

There is a tension here: balancing legitimate concerns about crime with legitimate concerns about police conduct.

Which is why Democrats are taking a close look at Eric Adams, the party’s nominee for mayor of New York City. Adams is a former New York police captain. The New York Times called him “a Democrat who speaks with uncommon authority about both public safety and police reform.”

Adams, who is Black, grew up in poverty. He says he was beaten by police officers before he joined the force. The Times said:

“He spent years drawing attention for challenging police misconduct, only to emerge as the most public safety-minded candidate in this year’s mayoral primary. His striking trajectory and promises to combat inequality helped him connect with a broad swath of Black and Latino voters and with some white working-class New Yorkers.”

Adams shows you can be tough on crime – and tough on police racism and misconduct. Democrats will need to be both in 2022 and 2024.



Willie Horton ad:

Rep. Cori Bush on police:

Hillary Clinton and “super-predators”:

Eric Adams:

Will Pat McCrory Pop Trump’s Balloon?

Former Governor Pat McCrory is something of a political punching bag in North Carolina. But he could go from chump to champ in 2022 if he shatters the conventional wisdom that the state Republican Party belongs to Donald Trump.

In June, Trump endorsed Congressman Ted Budd in the 2022 Republican Senate primary. Conventional wisdom saw that as a mortal blow to McCrory.

But two Republican strategists in North Carolina – Paul Shumaker and Carter Wrenn – think McCrory, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, might expose the man behind the curtain.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Shumaker, who is working with McCrory’s campaign, “released polling last month in a memo arguing that (Trump’s) endorsement might actually hurt a Republican’s chances in the general election.”

Noting that “the memo was not paid for or commissioned by the McCrory campaign,” the Observer said:

“Among the unaffiliated voters cited in Shumaker’s poll, 47% said they would prefer a candidate who pledged to help President Joe Biden’s agenda over one who voted against certifying the presidential election results…. Just 30% said they would prefer a candidate who voted against certifying the election, and 23 percent declined to answer.”

Budd voted against election certification, while McCrory said he would have voted to certify Biden as the winner. They’re running to succeed retiring Senator Richard Burr, who was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump for inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

The poll Shumaker cited said voters prefer a Biden-endorsed candidate over one endorsed by Trump by 49-39%. Shumaker wrote:

“When comparing a Trump endorsed candidate to a Biden endorsed candidate, (Republicans’) advantage with the Unaffiliated voters evaporates. Candidates for state and federal office at any level who are on the wrong side of these issues will alienate suburban voters and jeopardize Republicans’ chances of winning in 2022.”

Shumaker isn’t a disinterested source, of course. And his poll was about the general election, not the primary. But Carter Wrenn isn’t working for anybody, and he wrote in his blog about a national poll that found weakness in Trump’s support among Republicans:

“Half the Republican primary voters…said Trump’s endorsement didn’t matter to them; the rest split, some for Trump’s candidate, some against.”

Wrenn said “Texas’ Special Election confirmed the numbers didn’t lie.” Trump’s candidate lost a special congressional race there last month. Trump’s candidate won a special primary in Ohio, but that’s a safe Democratic seat.

Wrenn and Shumaker are both smart, veteran strategists – from different wings of the party. Shumaker is from the Burr/Jim Martin/Jim Broyhill tradition. Wrenn is from the more ideological Jesse Helms school.

McCrory, like Shumaker, came out of the Charlotte- and Western-based Chamber of Commerce, country-club, big-business wing. He was elected governor in 2012, when nobody imagined a President Trump. He lost reelection in 2016 even though Trump carried North Carolina.

McCrory’s GOP pretty much was the state party until 1972, when Richard Nixon and Jesse Helms began bringing in white voters who didn’t like the Democratic Party’s liberal tilt, especially on civil rights.

The party changed again in the 1980s with an influx of white evangelical Christians, led by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. They opposed abortion, and they wanted tax subsidies for all-white Christian academies.

Now the GOP has changed again as Trump has brought in displaced and disaffected working-class whites – as well as the neo-Nazi, QAnon, Confederate-flag-waving white supremacists like those who attacked the Capitol.

The Senate primary next year will tell us whether North Carolina Republicans are more at home with the Chamber of Commerce or with the Proud Boys.



Charlotte Observer story:

Carter Wrenn blog:

Texas primary: 

Democrats Debate Left or Center – Again

The headline raised the dreaded c-word that deeply divides Democrats – Centrist: “Jackson projects centrist platform in NC campaign for Senate.”

Jackson is state Senator Jeff Jackson of Charlotte. The story was by Will Wright in The News & Observer/The Charlotte Observer, who wrote:

“(Jackson’s) primary message is rooted in the idea that he can restore a sense of professionalism and honesty to Washington that some feel has been lost. He couples that message with policy points that most moderate Democrats support: passing new voting rights legislation; ending gerrymandering; and supporting the right of workers to form unions.

“But it is unclear if moderate campaigns will lead the Democrats to success in the upcoming midterms.”

Also unclear is whether Jackson embraces the “centrist” and “moderate” labels. But the story shows that centrist-or-progressive will be one frame for the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 2022.

The same divide marked Democrats’ 2020 presidential race. Centrist Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders, a “democratic socialist.”

A recent New York Times analysis of data from Pew Research Center concluded that Biden’s “apparent strength among traditionally moderate or even conservative constituencies, and especially men, is emerging as one of the hallmarks of his victory” in November.

Those groups included married men and veteran households – “probably not the demographic groups that Democrats assumed would carry the party to victory,” the Times noted.

Jeff Jackson

Trump won married men in 2020 by 54-44%, a 20-point decline from his 62-32% victory in 2016. He won veteran households by 55-43%, down 14 points from 61-35% in 2016.

The Times said:

“The data suggests that the progressive vision of winning a presidential election simply by mobilizing strong support from Democratic constituencies simply did not materialize for Mr. Biden.”

Looking at the same Pew data in a different way, The Washington Post concluded that Independents and suburban voters swung the election to Biden:

“Pew’s figures show Trump winning independents by a single point in 2016…. Biden then won them by nine points.

“The battle for suburban voters, long the key geographic battleground in presidential elections, went decisively for Biden, by Pew’s findings. Trump won them by two points in 2016. Biden carried them by 11 points in 2020.”

The data has disquieting news for Democrats: Trump gained among Black and Hispanic voters. Biden won both groups, but Trump got 12% of the votes of Blacks under 50 (compared to 4% of Blacks 50 and older). In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Hispanics by 38 points. Biden carried them by 21 points, according to Pew’s findings.

Race and gender also will define the Democratic Senate race here. Jeff Jackson is white; two other leading candidates are Black women, former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and former state Senator Erica Smith.

Some Democrats believe the key to victory will be to register and mobilize new, progressive-minded voters – most of them young, Black and Hispanic. Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham lost the 2020 Senate race by less than 100,000 votes, even after his personal scandal.

But does that strategy jibe with the reality of President Biden’s victory in 2020, in both the race for the nomination and the November election? Moderate voters swung both contests to a candidate who some progressive Democrats viewed as out of date and out of step.

It’s a familiar Democratic debate: go left or go down the middle? It will get a new hearing in North Carolina in 2022.



N&O/Charlotte Observer story:

The New York Times story:

The Washington Post story:

Pew report (“Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory”):

What You’ll Hear in Politics Next Year

It’s clear how the two political parties want to define the debate in next year’s elections, in North Carolina and nationally. Republicans want to argue about race and culture. Democrats want to argue that government can work and can help people.

The dueling agendas show how far apart the parties are today. They inhabit separate worlds spinning faster and farther away from each other like matter after the Big Bang.

I’ve got bad news for my fellow Democrats: race-based campaigns have a history of working. And I’ve got good news: America – and North Carolina – may be different next year.

We’ll witness the parties’ debate in North Carolina, with the U.S. Senate race and legislative races. We’ve had the fight at UNC-Chapel Hill over the history of American slavery. Now the state’s most powerful Republican, Senate leader Phil Berger, wants a law to prevent public schools from “indoctrinating” students with Critical Race Theory. He also proposed a state constitutional amendment to ban affirmative action.

Berger reflects the national Republican/Fox News agenda, which focuses on racial and “culture war” issues. This poses a dilemma for Democrats. Do they engage on Republicans’ turf, at the risk of inflaming emotions, boosting GOP turnout and losing swing voters?

There is another path, similar to the one Joe Biden took to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 – and the path Biden is pursuing as President. Call it the “For the People” path.

Because of the pandemic and its economic damage, Biden has abandoned the governing doctrine of the last three Democratic Presidents: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and, yes, even Barack Obama.

All three were scarred by the Democratic Party’s “tax and spend” reputation from the 1960s. They strove mightily to show they were fiscally responsible and deeply concerned about deficit spending. They made a show of reaching out to Republicans in (usually futile) hopes of finding common ground and governing in a bipartisan spirit.

Biden, the blue-collar kid from Scranton, has followed a more blue-collar strategy. More than any other Democratic President – more even than FDR, who worried about budget deficits – Biden has embraced aggressive government action to rebuild the economy, lift people out of poverty and give every American a better shot at a better life.

He wants to reduce child poverty, make child care and pre-K more available and affordable, make college more affordable, reduce student debt and rebuild the nation’s physical infrastructure. He wants to attack climate change, and he says it’s real. He wants to reduce high healthcare costs, lower sky-high prescription drug prices and make housing more affordable. He wants to focus on helping people who live paycheck to paycheck, instead of cutting taxes for the wealthy and big corporations.

It’s an audacious agenda. It’s hard to achieve without Republican votes. But Biden could end the cycle of seeking Republican help. His three Democratic predecessors attacked “Congress” for things undone. Biden instead could blame “Republicans.”

He could say the GOP’s race-culture focus is a “fake issue” designed to distract and divide. He could say the Covid-vaccination program and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan prove that government can work. He could even say President Trump’s “Warp Speed” vaccine-development drive proved government works.

There will also be an unpredictable X Factor next year. It will be the first election since Trump refused to admit he lost and since his supporters attacked the Capitol January 6. Democrats might have a potent one-two punch: “We make government work for the people, and Republicans tried to take away the people’s democratic government.”

That strategy could mobilize Democrats, sway Independents and define 2022.



Biden agenda:

Berger bill:

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: