Tag Archives: north carolina

North Carolina’s Literary Capital

It seems that Hillsborough, NC is where the writers want to be:

At Christmastime each year, Michael Malone, a longtime TV writer, and Allan Gurganus, a bestselling novelist, put on a production of “A Christmas Carol” at an Episcopal church in Hillsborough, N.C. Mr. Gurganus plays Scrooge, and Mr. Malone plays nearly all the other characters. Jill McCorkle, another bestselling novelist, holds the record for perfect attendance.

In fact, more than two dozen of their fellow writers live in Hillsborough, population 6,087, where government meetings are held in the “town barn,” and the Wooden Nickel serves up fried green tomatoes. “Under the Tuscan Sun” author Frances Mayes lives in a 4,500-square-foot Federalist farm house here, and David Payne, author of the Southern saga “Back to Wando Passo,” lives in a renovated former clubhouse for local businessmen in the town’s historic district…

So what is it that draws writers to this small Southern town? Mr. Malone says it speaks to the nature of a writer’s work. Hillsborough allows writers to be at once isolated and close to friends and peers; while intensely focused on their next book or script, they still belong to a community that hosts barbecue festivals and a cemetery walking tour.

“Writers can get very isolated,” said Mr. Malone. “This is a real community. This is a real town, and it’s been a real town since the mid-18th century. That is the stuff of fiction.”

This tight-knit feel is attracting others to Hillsborough, said local Coldwell Banker real-estate agent Tom Sievert, driving up home prices. The median sales price in Hillsborough was $238,000 in July, up 25% from five years earlier, according to Triangle Multiple Listing Services.

“While we have this mecca for the authors, you’ll see them in front of Cup A Joe just having a cup of coffee. They’re just members of the community,” said Mr. Sievert. “I think that’s what drives people here. It’s a real friendly town.”

By the way, I highly recommend you read any of Malone’s books. They are great, entertaining reads and I particularly enjoyed Handling Sin, Time’s Witness and Uncivil Seasons.

West Forsyth High School Receives Accolades

The high school that all three of my kids attended (youngest is about to graduate) is one of the best in NC and in the top 400 in the nation according to US News & World Report:

West Forsyth High School ranks #2 and Lucy Ragsdale High ranks #6 in North Carolina, according to the publication.

In the 2014 rankings, 34 North Carolina schools received silver medals and 61 received bronze medals. The only two schools that earned gold medals were Green Hope High in Cary and West Forsyth High in Clemmons.

According to the publication, at West Forsyth High School “students have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement® course work and exams. The AP participation rate at West Forsyth High is 61 percent. The student body makeup is 51 percent male and 49 percent female, and the total minority enrollment is 32 percent. West Forsyth High is 1 of 15 high schools in the Forsyth County Schools.”

Amendment One Advocate Taking on Tillis for Republican Senatorial Nomination

There's an interesting article at Atlantic.com about the Rev. Mark Harris' run for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.  Rev. Harris was instrumental in getting Amendment One passed and is looking to use the same grassroots organization he used in that fight to boost his Senate run:

Now Harris is attempting to unseat Hagan in the Senate, vying to win the Republican nomination with assistance from his band of grassroots allies. He announced his Senate candidacy this month, and has the potential to give state Senate House Speaker Thom Tillis a serious challenge in the Republican primary.

Harris has sent early signals that he'll build his Senate campaign infrastructure out of that same grassroots organization that fought against gay marriage. He has already brought on Republican activist Mary Frances Forrester, who spearheaded the Amendment One campaign, and Rachel Lee Brady, who worked for the pro-Amendment One group Vote Marriage NC. That could be helpful in injecting cash into the relatively unknown first-time candidate's campaign and could help propel Harris to the Republican nomination…

The article goes to point out why the state-wide fight for Hagan's seat might not be as easy as the Amendment One results would seem to indicate:

Amendment One was on the ballot during last year's May primary, when there were no competitive statewide contests, not the general election when the presidential campaign and a heated gubernatorial race boosted turnout. As is typical of primary elections, the electorate was much older and much more conservative than in a typical general election, but the excitement around Amendment One exacerbated those differences. Over three-quarters of voters in the primary election were over the age of 50, according to Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling organization that worked with same-sex marriage proponents during the primary. That electorate was "enormously" helpful in getting Amendment One passed, pollster Celinda Lake said, and could be a boon to Harris in getting through the Republican primary.

The Democrats are going to be in a dogfight to retain control of the Senate so you can expect to see lots of national money injected into this campaign since Sen. Hagan's seat is seen as one of the most closely contested in the country. Things are gonna get interesting around here in the very near future.

Interesting Times

It sometimes takes living in interesting times to make you realize that boring is vastly underrated. The Great Housing Bubble followed by the Great Recession have caused many of us to live through some interesting times, and the reaction by our elected leaders to the fallout of those interesting times has led to even more interesting times.

Here in North Carolina we're starting to get national attention for the way our state leaders are reacting to the aftermath of the recession. The state is a perfect storm of economic hardship and political sea change that makes it a perfect political story on a national level. Unfortunately at the root of those stories is the suffering of real people, some of whom are our friends and neighbors, and the ideological response of the newly dominant political party to the economic reality that those people represent.

Lots of ink has been spilled about new conservative policies that have been put in place this legislative term and the Moral Monday protests that were prompted by those policies.  Quite frankly it's a complicated issue, and in defense of both sides of the arguments it should be noted that they almost certainly feel their way is the best way to address the whole of the problem, but from the point of view of those of us who are neighbors and friends of the very folks who are directly affected now by these policies it's hard to swallow the big picture economic arguments while they suffer.

Probably the best thing I've read about this issue is something a friend linked to on Facebook that addresses the Moral Monday protesters and why their protests are righteous even if you disagree with some of their specific remedies/arguments:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

God is far bigger than a single political party. There are many paths and policies for addressing poverty, reforming our broken immigration system, responding to climate change, and healing the racial divides that continue in our society. But what we cannot accept, nor allow, is for our own leaders to willfully exacerbate our problems and directly harm people who are already suffering — to sacrifice the common good to their own ideological agendas. In such moments and times, people of faith must speak out — not for the sake of politics, but because the beauty and simplicity of the gospel demands it. (Emphasis mine)

For those of us whose faith compels us to do everything we can to help the unemployed, hungry, homeless, etc. we cannot ignore the long-term economic policies that can lead to those states. We must acknowledge that there are many different ways to address the underlying sociological and economic issues that are the root of those problems. We must be ready to admit that perhaps some conservative ideals might be the way to go, or that perhaps some government-led initiatives truly are the only hammer that will work on that nail.  But, and this the crux of the argument for me, it doesn't matter which path is best if people get seriously hurt during the journey. It is our moral imperative to make sure that the least of us is cared for, and if our journey has to take a little longer or follow a crooked path, i.e. involves ideological comprises in order for us to be able to help carry those who need help, then so be it. 

Young Adults and Obamacare

We've all heard our fill about Obamacare, but because it is so complex most of us don't have a clue what's going to happen as its implementation kicks into gear next year. That's beginning to change as all kinds of research is being done and reports on the results of that research starts to hit the news.

Earlier this week we saw plenty of coverage of the Rand Corporation's analysis of the 14 states that have opted not to implement the Medicaid expansions called for in Obamacare, and the projections aren't good for those states which include North Carolina. Now comes this fascinating interview with the executive director of Young Invincibles, a group that studies young adults' role in health reform. The interview is about how young adults view health insurance and the likelihood that they will opt in to Obamacare, which everyone seems to agree is a critical factor in the success of the program. Here are the most interesting tidbits:

About 19 million young adults 18 to 34 lack health insurance. Our polling shows that less than 5 percent of young people choose not to have it. The number one reason they don’t have it is the cost. Most young people don’t qualify for Medicaid right now even if they have very low incomes because most states just don’t give childless adults Medicaid. That’s one of the biggest changes under Obamacare. If every state expanded Medicaid, about 8 million would qualify for Medicaid. Another 9 million would qualify for subsidies because they make less than 400 percent of poverty.

So then 17 of the 19 million uninsured young people are, in theory, eligible for either subsidies or Medicaid under Obamacare?

That’s right. It’s a pretty phenomenal percentage. So if we do our jobs right, young people will be one of the biggest winners in the health-care law…

 But the cost does matter. So is Obamacare actually going to make insurance affordable for this group? Or will it make insurance more expensive for young, healthy people by making it easier for sicker, older people to buy insurance without getting discriminated against? 

The first important point is the huge percentage of unemployed young people who get access to either subsidies or Medicaid. So you saw in California that many young people will end up having insurance options that cost them less than $100 or less than $50 simply because their income is low enough to qualify for subsidies. For someone making $20,000 a year, they’re going to have to pay $40 a month for health insurance. That’s a very good deal. And in a state like California, there are also millions of young people who qualify for Medicaid.

Now we’ve identified a population between 300 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level that’s going to have more problems. The subsidies aren’t that rich for them, and so whether to buy is a tougher question. They’ll have financial strain. They have financial strain now. That’s why they’re uninsured. If you’re just getting by, then $200 a month can be a lot. That’s where education can be key. It can still make good financial sense to be covered because there are real risks. But I think, in general, it will be a good enough deal to sign up. We saw that in Massachusetts where youth uninsurance dropped in half in the first year…

So given all the issues of implementation and the political opposition to the law and the difficulties in various states and the early information about premiums, where do you think this will end up in 2014 and 2015? Do you think young people will sign up or stay away?

I’m pretty hopeful, in part because the experience in Massachusetts showed this model can work. But it will play out differently in different states. A state like California is following the playbook. They’ll do a big promotional campaign. They’re investing in on-the-ground outreach and education. They’re expanding Medicaid so really low-income folks will qualify for health insurance. So I could see it being a huge success in a state like that. But not every state will do that. An important point for young people is that some of the states with the highest rates of youth uninsurance are in the south and some of those states aren’t expanding Medicaid or building their own exchanges. My fear is what happens in those states. So I could see some states coming out and looking much better than other states.

As a father of three children a couple of years away from entering the working world and as a resident of North Carolina, one of those southern states not "following the playbook", that last paragraph truly worries me.

This is How You Do It

First a disclaimer: the following is my personal opinion and in no way reflects an official stance of my employer.

Last week I was in Raleigh meeting with legislators about issues related to my day job. The North Carolina legislature is a pretty intense place right now and the legislators, who are always busy during the session, were busier than normal for a variety of reasons. As a result we were only able to meet in person with about half of the legislators from the Triad and luckily for me one of those people was Rep. Ed Hanes,  a freshman Democrat from Forsyth County. We talked about our issues and just before we said our goodbyes the subject of education came up. That's when it really got interesting.

One of the folks in my group has a child getting ready to enter the public school system. After listening to Rep. Hanes speak about public education she asked his advice about how to approach it. Rep. Hanes took a couple of minutes to talk to her about it, and then he started talking about co-sponsoring an education-related bill with a Republican. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. A Democrat and Republican co-sponsoring a piece of substantive legislation in this day and age? Whoa!

Not surprisingly Rep. Hanes said he was catching some heat over the bill, and given that it's about allowing vouchers to be used with private schools you can bet he's getting heat for multiple reasons: crossing party lines and "sabotaging public education" being the two most obvious. Sure enough the bill was hot enough that it became the subject of a front page article in the 5/30/13 Winston-Salem Journal:

House Bill 944, known as the private school voucher bill, passed the House education committee Tuesday by a narrow, 27-21 margin. It moves next to the House appropriations committee — likely next week, said co-sponsor Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth.

Hanes went against party lines in endorsing the bill, which has received sharp criticism from Democrats and opponents who fear the bill could damage public education. Hanes said that while the plan is not perfect, the latest version of the bill that passed the education committee Tuesday is a marked improvement from the bill’s original iteration.

“When you’re 27 seats down, you have to use the tools you have,” Hanes said. “Vouchers are not the answer. Charter schools are not the answer. Even public schools as we have them currently constituted are not the answer to educating economic disadvantaged students.

You don't have to like the bill in order to like what Rep. Hanes is doing. It's old-school legislating in that he's showing the gumption to take a potentially unpopular stance to do what he thinks is best for his constituents. The man is showing some real backbone because in a very partisan world he's willing to cross party lines and at the same time he's taking on one of the most infuential bodies in NC politics-the public education industrial complex. 

Wouldn't it be refreshing to see more action like this in Raleigh and Washington?

Battle of the Unpopulars

Who do you hate more: your municipal government or your phone/cable/internet company? The answer to that question probably depends on which one failed you or which one's bill you most recently grumbled about paying, but after reading about a battle in the NC legislature over the ability of municipalities to provide high speed internet, you might be surprised at how you feel about your local government. From "The Empire Lobbies Back":

After a city in North Carolina built a Fiber-to-the-Home network competing with Time Warner Cable, the cable giant successfully lobbied to take that decision away from other cities.

The city of Wilson’s decision and resulting network was recently examined in a case study by Todd O’Boyle and Christopher Mitchell titled Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. The new report picks up with Wilson’s legacy: an intense multiyear lobbying campaign by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others to bar communities from building their own networks. The report examines how millions of dollars bought restrictions that encourage cable and DSL monopolies rather than new choices for residents and businesses…

Big cable and DSL companies try year after year to create barriers to community­‐owned networks. They only have to succeed once; because of their lobbying might, they have near limitless power to stop future bills that would restore local authority. North Carolina’s residents and businesses are now stuck with higher prices and less opportunity for economic development due to these limitations on local authority.

The report, which details industries efforts over the years that eventually resulted in the 2011 legislation that effectively banned municipal netorks, can be found here – and yes it's fairly biased, but still raises some really good points. One excerpt:

Far from providing a "level playing field" the Act has stifled public investment in community broadband networks and no one anticipates a local government building a network as long as it remains in effect. This reality should trouble all in North Carolina, as it cannot be globally, or even regionally, competitive simply by relying on last-generation connections from Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, or AT&T.

Cities near the border of North Carolina, including Danville, Virginia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Bristol in both Tennessee and Virginia all offer gigabit services via municipal utilities. Chattanooga's minimum network spped of 50 Mbps both downstream and upstream dwarfs what is available from DSL or cable networks. Many east coast communities outside of the Carolinas have access to Verizon's fiber optic FiOS, which also dramatically outperforms cable and DSL services. Services from AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and CenturyLink cannot compare to the services offered on modern networks.

Sounds like we in the Carolinas are doomed to live in a digital backwater for the foreseeable future. Perhaps municipal networks aren't the answer, but in this era of intense competition between states/cities to recruit new businesses wouldn't it be nice if our municipalities had kick-butt networks in their economic development quivers? And if the private sector can't provide it do we really want our cities/towns hamstrung by the inability to provide it themselves?

Comedic Carolina

In a Slate piece written by Evan Smith Rackoff, a product of UNCG, we learn why North Carolina seems to be a breeding ground for comics, and the role that the School of the Arts plays in that development:

The Andy Griffith Show is not the only product of the early ’60s that has proven essential to the new wave of North Carolina comedy. In that same era, a Winston-Salem-born novelist, John Ehle, accepted a position on the staff of North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford. The two men devised a plan to create a new, publicly funded school, an arts conservatory, rooted in performance, rather than the academy, and taught by working artists. In 1963, the North Carolina School of the Arts was chartered. It’s a high school as well as an arts college, and it’s part of the 16 colleges in the UNC system. It’s one of the reasons that more North Carolina comedians have found their way out of the state in recent years, venturing away from small foothill towns and broadcasting their particular sensibilities to the wider world.

Among its graduates is the entire creative team behind Eastbound & Down, a show that, in Scott Jacobson’s words, is “North Carolina to the core.” Jody Hill would be pleased at the description, I think; he told me that when he and his fellow creators looked to the movies and television, “We really didn’t see the South we knew represented.” Kenny Powers, the central character of Eastbound & Down, is a modern-day Jack, of the Appalachian Jack Tales—which people have been retelling in North Carolina for centuries. Jack is a weak and shiftless character but clever and quick-witted. In the end he’s often taught an instructive lesson, though it doesn’t necessarily stick. This is part of the mystique of Kenny Powers. And like Griffith, Danny McBride knows not to play his character for laughs. He plays him with utter sincerity, and the laughs follow.

Hat tip to John Robinson, former editor of the Greensboro News & Record, who shared this on his excellent blog Media, Disrupted.

Bizarro Legislature

If you're a member of the NC House and make a mistake with your vote, and want to change it, you can do so only if changing your vote doesn't change the result. That sounds like something out of a Seinfeld episode.

The 10-year veteran lawmaker hit the wrong button on her desk. Carney punched the thumbnail-sized green button that says “AYE” just above the red one that says “NO.”

“Oh, my God,” she said on the floor. “It won’t let me change my vote.”

For all the maneuvering, arm-twisting and political horse-trading Republicans employed to get a handful of Democrats to void their party leader’s veto just before 11:30 p.m. Monday, it came down to a mistake.

“You ever see my golf game?” said state Sen. Bob Rucho, a bill sponsor, after the vote. “It’s based on luck, not on skill.”…

The vote took her by surprise. Republicans limited debate on the fracking legislation – Senate bill 820 – and called the vote. Green button to override. Red button to sustain.

Carney hit the button and looked to the board above the chamber that shows the results: 72 to 46. The color next to Carney’s name matched the Republicans.

She panicked. She hit a different button to turn on her microphone and called to the House speaker on the dais. He didn’t recognize her. So she rushed to the front, 20 steps from her seat in the eighth row down the red-carpeted middle aisle.

Carney asked the clerk to check her vote. Green. Override.

She then asked Tillis if she could change her vote. Tillis said House rules prevented it.

Lawmakers mistakenly vote all the time but they are not permitted to change a vote if it affects the outcome.

Is this really how we want our town/county/state/federal government to run? Wouldn't a time limit on changing your vote be adequate, whether or not it affects the outcome? Even Microsoft products ask you if you're sure you want to undelete something, so you have to ask yourself if we want to be governed by a system that's actually buggier than Word. Sometimes I think I've fallen asleep and been awakened in Bizarro World.