D.G. Martin

The Most Important Thing The Legislature Did

The most important thing the legislature did this year is what it did not do. Adjourn. Instead of adjourning and closing down as is customary shortly after the state’s budget has been revised, the legislators resolved to stay in session indefinitely, coming back from time to time to respond to emergencies, to vote on various matters, and to work out a plan to deal with Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds. Maybe that sounds like a reasonable plan to you. Here is the problem. When the legislature is still in session, government officials and workers spend much of their time looking over their shoulders and wondering what will happen next. They cannot concentrate on following the directions the legislature has already given them while still wondering what the legislators might do the next day. Until the legislature adjourns, these government officials and other people whose living depends on getting the government to do something for them will be plotting, conjuring up ways to get the legislature to take some action that benefits them. Even if the body is not meeting every day, this whole mess of people gather around the legislative building and continue to work, not unlike what one observer said, like pigs at feeding time. Until 1974, the legislature met, biennially, ordinarily for only one session in odd numbered years. If we still followed that custom, our legislature...

Read More

Are Things That Bad?

Things are good! Sometimes, like the other day, I want to get up and shout it out. For instance, last week at a Rotary club meeting, Frank Hill, leader of The Institute for the Public Trust, was explaining his efforts to recruit and train public-spirited people to run for Congress and other political offices. In case you have not noticed, a lot of the kind of people drawn to politics in the past will not consider running for elective office today. Hill asked the group of Rotarians if any of them were serving in elective office. Nobody raised a hand. Hill, a former Morehead scholar who ran for Congress himself soon after graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that the participation of Morehead-Cane scholars at Carolina, the Angier B. Duke scholars at Duke, and Park scholars at N.C. State is dismal. Only an infinitesimal few have chosen to seek public office. Hill asked why the Rotarians themselves would not consider running for office. Then he asked whether they would encourage other talented, public-spirited people to participate in politics. The answers came back to the effect that places like Congress were just too broken, too mean-spirited, too partisan, too terrible, to be considered. That is when I wanted to jump up and say, “Things are good.” Good, at least when you compare them to the...

Read More

Read Others’ Views, Then Decide For Yourself

“I don’t read the Washington Post. That is not where I get my ideas.” Many years ago, when there were still lots of conservatives voting in Democratic primaries, a congressional candidate pandered to conservatives by trashing a liberal newspaper. But he lost ground with other voters who thought he should keep up with congressional issues covered in that newspaper even if he disagreed with its views. More recently, a widely respected conservative political commentator also lost a little ground when asked to comment about a recent article about North Carolina in The New York Times. He responded by saying that he did not read that paper because of its liberal slant. His questioner was taken aback and wondered aloud how anyone who followed public affairs could ignore what the influential paper wrote about our state. It would be just the same, the questioner remarked later, if a liberal commentator or politician bragged about ignoring the respected reporting of the Wall Street Journal because of its more conservative editorial stance. Liberal or conservative, we want our political and thought leaders to understand and consider the facts and opinions cited by smart people on all sides. There is another good reason to read papers like the Journal and Times. When they write about North Carolina, we get to see ourselves as others see us. We learn what parts of our public...

Read More

Where Did All The New Voters Come From?

“Voters born elsewhere make up nearly half of N.C. electorate.” So begins the latest DataNet report from the UNC Program on Public Life, directed by former journalist Ferrel Guillory. So what? What difference does it make to us that almost half of North Carolina voters were born somewhere else? To begin to show the importance of such a large number of non-North Carolina natives participating in the state’s election process, DataNet gives us a short history lesson: “One hundred years ago, when North Carolina had a population of about 2.5 million people, more than nine out of 10 residents were native Tar Heels.” Going back a little further, DataNet tells us, “During the Civil War era, barely five percent of North Carolina residents were born in another state.” That percentage stayed low, increasing only gradually: 10 percent in 1930, 13 percent in 1950, 16 percent in 1960, then marked increases to 22 percent in 1970, 30 percent in 1990, and 37 percent in 2000. “How will this change North Carolina’s electorate?” asks DataNet contributor Rebecca Tippett of Carolina Demography, and then she answers, “In-migrants to North Carolina are almost twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree as native-born residents. They are more diverse than native-born North Carolinians. And, because many are coming for work and school, in-migrants tend to move to cities more than rural areas.” The accelerating...

Read More

Books: Our World As It Was, Is, Or Could Be

Why do we read books? For entertainment, of course, first and foremost. But the best books also challenge us emotionally and intellectually to see the world in a different way, as it really is, or as it once was, as it could be, or, perhaps, as it will become. Here are some summer reading ideas of North Carolina books that could open your eyes to seeing our world differently and entertaining you at the same time. First of all, Crossroads of the Natural World: Exploring North Carolina with Tom Earnhardt shows our state’s plant and animal life as it exists in a rich and diverse environment as it was, is, and will be. Tom Earnhardt is a cheerleader for natural biodiversity in North Carolina’s environment, from the subtropical at Bald Head Island south of Wilmington to the sub-arctic conditions at Mount Mitchell and the other 6,000 feet-plus peaks in our state. He emphasizes the interdependency of various plants and animals upon each other. “Diverse, abundant flora,” he says, “supports diverse, abundant fauna. Each plant and animal in the forest is part of a food web, with the success or failure of each species tied to one another.” He will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch at noon on Sunday, July 20 and Thursday, July 24, at 5 p.m. (with a preview on the UNC-MX cable channel on...

Read More

Preserving The Monuments Of A Controversial Past

“You see him and ask: ‘Why is the statue still here? What was it he actually stood for?’ This is the kind of debate that a public work of art makes possible. We won’t change the way people think just by getting rid of a monument.” The mayor of one of Mecklenburg’s largest municipalities is defending the refusal to remove a statue of a hero of another era, but one who today offends many residents. This raises again the question of what to do about the statues, building names, and the nicknames and mascots of sports teams that offend and demean groups of our people. For example, how should we have responded when students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this spring demanded a name change for the building known as Saunders Hall, because William C. Saunders had been the leader of the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War? Or when students suggested that the “Silent Sam” statue in the center of the old campus should come down because it glorifies the institution of slavery that the soldier fought to preserve? Or when some American Indians, now backed by the United States government, insisted that the Washington Redskins change its name to something other than a derogatory term for an important American ethnic group? Or when a group of African-American law students at Washington and...

Read More

A Great Generation And A Great Book Title

“It turned out to be a hell of a book title.” Tom Brokaw, former NBC News anchor and productive author, was talking, with his usual modesty, about The Greatest Generation. It is the title of his 1998 best-selling book and the identification of the Americans who, after serving in World War II, came home to lead our country through an era of progress and prosperity. Last week, 16 years after the book’s publication, Brokaw talked about it with author Roger Rosenblatt at Chautauqua Institution in New York State, where I was on vacation. In his book, Brokaw explained how his passion for this generation developed. “In the spring of 1984, I went to the northwest of France, to Normandy, to prepare an NBC documentary on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. There, I underwent a life-changing experience. As I walked the beaches with the American veterans who had returned for this anniversary, men in their sixties and seventies, and listened to their stories, I was deeply moved and profoundly grateful for all they had done. Ten years later, I returned to Normandy for the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and by then I had come to understand what this generation of Americans meant to history. It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” With the seventieth anniversary of D-Day just past, there are few survivors of...

Read More

“Saving Texas” And Forgetting About Scotland

How does Harry Potter feel about the hotly contested proposal to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom? Edinburgh-based author J.K. Rowling, who created Harry Potter, opposes the proposal. She donated one million pounds to an organization fighting the proposal, which comes to a vote this fall. She worries that Scottish universities would lose funding for important research if Scotland was independent. Other opponents of independence point out a variety of problems that Scotland would face. What kind of currency would it use? How would it manage its defense? Could it be a member of NATO and the European Union? What would be the impact on its universities? Would the Scots living in England and the English living in Scotland have to choose which country would be their homeland? It is a complicated and interesting situation. But why should North Carolinians care? Remember that North Carolina and Scotland share a common heritage. A good reminder comes fall when UNC Press releases Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Doug Orr and Fiona Richie. Remember that we also separated from Great Britain ourselves almost 230 years ago. Scottish immigrants in North Carolina fought on both sides during out Revolutionary War, divided on the separation question just like today’s Scots. Then, 150 years ago, North Carolinians and other southerners tried to separate from the United States, ironically...

Read More

What We Learned Last Week

What was the lesson we were taught twice last week? Once by Dave Brat, the congressional candidate who defeated House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor? And again by the insurgent forces of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)? This simple (but too often forgotten) lesson applies in North Carolina and throughout the world. It is this: a committed minority can beat an unenthusiastic, unmotivated, unprepared majority. In the case of Cantor’s loss, we have heard countless reasons to explain the result: 1. Brat bested him on the immigration issue by casting Cantor as a weak, inconsistent, and unreliable opponent of immigration reform. 2. Cantor’s work in the Republican leadership distanced him from the concerns of his congressional district and made it easy to portray him as a Washington insider. 3. His efforts, meager as they might have been, to find common ground with Democrats made him more of a compromiser than many Tea Partiers and other conservatives could stomach. These factors help explain the enthusiasm of Brat’s supporters and the lack of excitement among Cantor’s supporters. Polls immediately before the elections showed Cantor with more support among likely voters than Brat, by a margin of 34 percent. The Washington Post reported, “The question in this race is how large Cantor’s margin of victory will be.” Voter turnout in the primary was 13.7 percent. If the polls were anywhere close...

Read More

Republicans’ Best Choice For 2016?

Romney for President. Get used to the idea. Again. But, you say, Mitt Romney has made it clear that he is not interested in running again. He is a two-time loser, which makes him damaged property. And the far-right wing of the party was never happy with him as a candidate. And by the time he would first become president he would be 69 years old. However, the super-conservatives in the party learned to live with Romney in 2012. If they think he has the best chance to beat a Democrat, they will work for him again. And who are the competitors? Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan. Of these, only Bush and Christie have the solid mainstream images that could make them attractive to independents and Democratic crossover voters. The others have strong conservative views that may inspire and mobilize the Republican base. However, those same views may be too far to the right to win over moderate and independent voters in the November election. As for Bush and Christie, the pragmatic credentials and mainstream views that might make them competitive in a national election turn off the Tea Party and other Republican conservative voters who dominate presidential primary elections in many states. To win Republican primaries and the party nomination, Bush and Christie would have to...

Read More