Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells the Huffington Post that his Democrats are in pretty good shape to hold the Senate in the fall elections. In Hawaii, Montana, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the Democratic candidates have pulled ahead, Reid says.
And then he added—
"We feel comfortable in the Senate," [Reid] said. "Where the problem is, is this: Because of the Citizens United decision, Karl Rove and the Republicans are looking forward to a breakfast the day after the election. They are going to assemble 17 angry old white men for breakfast, some of them will slobber in their food, some will have scrambled eggs, some will have oatmeal, their teeth are gone. But these 17 angry old white men will say, 'Hey, we just bought America. Wasn't so bad. We still have a whole lot of money left.'"
"So that's the only problem we have with our candidates," Reid said.
That, and there are more than 17 of them, Harry.
Former state Sen. Howard Lee, a Democrat, who is also former chair of the N.C. Board of Education (also, former chair of the N.C. Utilities Commission and, back in the day, former mayor of Chapel Hill), moderated the debate today between DPI Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat seeking re-election, and John Tedesco, a Wake County school board member and the Republican nominee for DPI super. "We're fortunate to have two well-qualified candidates," Lee said.
The debate, shown below, lasted 50 minutes, including Lee's introduction. This was at the N.C. Alliance for Public Charter Schools convention in Concord. Lee, not coincidentally, is one-half of the eponymous couple for whom the proposed Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School is named. The school got a charter to open this fall, but it didn't meet the deadline for finding a facility, so it reapplied for 2013-14.
[Update, 3:50 pm: Phase one of the case is over. Chairman Finley announced that the Commission is following the evidence where it leads, and where it leads is a next phase that will be more "traditional" and "evidentiary." Meaning it's going to be long and hard-fought. Duke Energy's attorneys, up to and including former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, have been complaining that they weren't allowed to cross-examine witnesses. Next phase, that will change. But so will the stakes.
[Finley, in afternoon questioning, elicited from Gray an acknowledgement that it's within the Commission's power to rescind its approval of the merger. If that's true, he asked, isn't it also true that we have other, less severe options here, including — he implied — putting Johnson back in as CEO? Gray said choosing the CEO was solely within the Duke board's corporate prerogatives. So do you think we're "helpless," Finley asked Gray, to enforce a promise you made in the merger hearings [that Johnson would be CEO]? No, Gray replied.
[Last word from Finley: Duke should think about settling this thing before it goes to a full-blast confrontation with cross-examinations and such. "We never rule out settlements," Finley said. He added that the Commission will do whatever it must to maintain the "reputation and integrity of this governmental body."]
What follows is the original post from noon today —
It's hard enough — often — to know what one person is thinking even when you're talking to him/her face to face. So fathoming what was in the minds of the 10 outside directors of Duke Energy over an 18-month period, or in the minds and hearts of the Duke Energy executives who were in contact with their board, is better handled by a novelist.
I do think it's a fair inference from the testimony yesterday and today at the N.C. Utilities Commission that the Duke board — at least three of them and, from what their lead director Ann Maynard Gray has said, probably more than three — took an instant dislike to Bill Johnson the first time they met him. That was in June, 2011, some six months into the Duke-Progress Energy merger deal.
Whether they took this dislike to him because they didn't ever intend Johnson to be CEO of the merged firm, we'll never know and perhaps they don't even know. But Gray's testimony is clear that the Duke board spent the next year looking for reasons to justify their low opinion of Johnson. They found one — or she did, anyway — in "the Crystal River incident," which she described as an unacceptable failure by a prospective CEO.
(I won't digress to describe the "incident." I'll just say that the way Gray talked about it, she was gunning for Johnson by then and was determined to see the thing in the worst possible light for Johnson — without any effort to hear what Johnson himself might have to say about it.)
So whether the Duke board decided from the jump, or in mid-2011, or in the spring of 2012 that Johnson would not do as CEO of the post-merger Duke, it's obvious that they were eyeing his neck and sharpening their axes long before the merger was consummated, and the blade dropped, on July 2.
Yet Duke Energy officials told the Utilities Commission again and again that Johnson would be the CEO and that the fact that he would be the CEO was an important reason why the merger would serve the public interest.
I was present at the hearing yesterday. (This morning, I watched on WRAL.) A big topic in the room was, What's the Utilities Commission after? And what will they do about it?
From the questioning, there's no doubt at all that the commissioners are pissed and do, indeed, think (suspect? are trying to prove?) that they were intentionally misled.
The second question, though, continues to hang in the air. If the Commission was intentionally misled, what will it do?
Commission Chairman Ed Finley was explicit yesterday when he said that he and his fellow commissioners considered the merger a good deal for the public when they approved it — and they still do.
Whether it is a good deal for the public — for consumers, that is — is arguable. My point here is that if the Commission still thinks it is, it won't attempt to unravel the merger by reversing their decision to approve it. That would be bold. And probably proper. But they'd need to do it fast, and from what I read, they're hiring investigators, and the Attorney General is investigating, so this won't be fast.
We (media) are not allowed to approach the commissioners during or after the sessions (!). So what follows is speculative. Short of reversing the merger approval, I think the Commission may:
1) Hit Duke with a whopping fine.
2) Require a shake-up of the Duke board as a condition for leaving the merger in place.
3) Force Jim Rogers out as CEO, and require that his replacement be named by the newly reconfigured Duke board or by some combination of the legacy Progress Energy and the pre-merger Duke Energy board, with the Progress Energy side given an equal voice. (Or more.)
On the third point, I was struck yesterday by Bill Johnson's testimony about the merger deal and its contingency plan had either Johnson, as the CEO named in the deal, or Jim Rogers, as the prospective executive chairman, turned out to be "unable or unwilling" to perform their designated role(s).
In that case, the Duke board and the Progress were to agree on a mutually acceptable replacement.
Well, obviously the Duke board, perhaps as early as 2011, decided that Johnson was unable to be the CEO.
Under the merger deal, the Duke board would have been obligated to raise that concern with the Progress board, to say nothing of being obligated to share it with the Utilities Commission.
But it didn't. Not until the merger was completed. When it was complete, the Duke board cut Johnson from the roster without bothering — as Commissioner Bill Culpepper sarcastically said — even to make it appear like they'd tried to work with him. (And honor their word to the Commission.)
Johnson himself testified that, at that first meeting with Duke board members in June, 2011, he'd been told that his job as the prospective (promised) CEO was to "fold Progress into Duke," and not to bring Progress's values to Duke.
Gray just testified that, at that same meeting, Johnson tangled with a Duke board member (apparently in a sidebar conversation) over some question about a Duke "regulatory asset" and how it should be handled.
Several board members, she said, had a bad feeling about him over that.
It sounds to me like what Duke had in mind in designating Johnson as the future CEO was this:
Johnson would be their patsy. He'd be the CEO, but his job was to merge Progress out of existence and into Duke.
When he clashed, early on, with some of Duke's leaders over how business should be done, they realized he wasn't going to be their patsy.
Maybe they always planned to show him the door, and they had total disdain for the Utilities Commission's ability (or stones) to do anything about it.
Maybe they changed their minds in mid-course and only then decided to show Johnson the door. But as Culpepper said, they didn't worry at all about how firing him after 20 minutes as CEO would strike the Commission — and they didn't even try to hide their disdain for the Commission's feelings.
One more thought, and I'm sure I'll return to this subject.
Duke Energy is a political corporation. Post-merger, it's one of the biggest companies in the country.
Is it concerned that it has made the N.C. Utilities Commission, its ostensible regulator in this state anyway, look like idiots?
The Commission is currently dominated by appointees of former Gov. Mike Easley. Chairman Finley is an Easley appointee. Commissioners Beatty and Susan Rabon are too, and both were top aides of and friends of Easley's.
But the next governor may well be Pat McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee who was paid by Duke while he was mayor of Charlotte. Nothing illegal about that — the mayor of Charlotte is part-time, just like the mayor of Raleigh — and the fact the mayor was on Duke's payroll was remarkable only for the fact that he wasn't on one of the big banks' payrolls.
Still, if the current commissioners are pissed at Duke, future commissioners may all be FOD. Friends of Duke.
That's the whole idea of being a political corporation.
Watching the returns in runoff primaries. (That's right, today was the day. Were you among the
98 97 percent of registered voters who forgot?)
[Update x 2: At 9:17 pm, with 87 percent of precincts in, on the Republican side John Tedesco is solidly ahead, Tony Gurley is far behind and Kenn Gardner looks like he's lost too. John Brooks is at 54% and looks to the the Democratic nominee for labor commissioner. Results here.
[With three GOP runoffs for congressional seats out west, the Wake candidates needed to pile up a big margin at home to have a chance. Tedesco did, leading in Wake by more than 12,000 votes. He ran even in Mecklenburg. Gardner's margin in Wake was less than half as much. Gurley is trailing in Wake and got killed in M'berg.
[By the way, Mike Causey won easily in the GOP primary for Insurance Commissioner, defeating former House Speaker Richard Morgan.
[Turnout in the only statewide Democratic runoff, for Labor Commissioner, was pitiful. Oddly, the apparent winner John Brooks lost Wake, his home county, and he also lost Durham, Orange and Medklenburg. But he won over Marlowe Foster, who is black, is almost all of the rural counties. Whoever wins, he'll be a weak challenger to incumbent Republican Cherie Berry.]
[Update: At 9 pm, two-thirds of the precincts are in, and on the GOP side, it looks like Tedesco will win. Gurley is losing badly. Gardner's behind and slipping, looks like he'll lose too. Brooks is pulling away from Foster on the Democratic side.]
In the early going With 59 percent of precincts reporting, the trio of Wake County Republicans are heading in different directions:
* John Tedesco is ahead in the race for DPI Superintendent, though not decisively.
* Tony Gurley is getting clobbered in the primary for Lieutenant Governor. (Come to think of it, there are four Wake Republicans running. Gurley, a county commissioner, is losing to Raleigh architect Dan Forest, whose political claim to fame is that former Congresswoman Sue Myrick, darling of Mecklenburg County, is his mom.)
* It's close in the primary for Secretary of State, but former Wake Commissioner Kenn Gardner is trailing Eddie Goodwin.
In the only statewide Democratic runoff, former Labor Commissioner John Brooks, a Raleigh resident, is ahead in his latest effort to win back the job he had and lost 20 years ago. He leads lobbyist Marlowe Foster.
These are primaries, remember. None of these folks, if they're nominated, will be a lock to win. I'd say Forest is the only one who'd be favored, in fact.
This will be in the Indy tomorrow. (Look for a piece about the Visual Art Exchange.) But the VAE has a press release out, so no need to wait. I love Sparkcon. Moving it to the Warehouse District should make it even better — as a spark for the new downtown arts hub. And the fashion show in the Amphitheater will spark-le.
If you don't know Sparkcon, it's all here on the website. It's September 13-16.
This is from Sarah Powers at VAE:
SPARKcon will be moving to the Warehouse District and the Raleigh Amphitheatre for 2012. Organizers are looking forward to creating a new and distinct look for SPARKcon against the industrial backdrop of Raleigh’s new art district.
The event is September 13-16, 2012, kicking off at the Raleigh Amphitheater for its first Opening Ceremony on September 13. All of the outdoor programming during September 14-16 will be held in the Warehouse District between Martin, Davie, Dawson and West Streets.
SPARKcon will showcase the talent of more than 1,700 artists and attract a crowd of more than 25,000 people over four days. This will be a boon to the emerging arts district and SPARKcon believes this event can help secure the Warehouse district as an arts destination.
SPARKcon is an interdisciplinary arts festival created by designers, artists and community organizers to celebrate creativity in the Triangle. SPARKcon’s name comes from being a “con”ference to “spark” the local art community and seeks to brand the Triangle as “the creative hub of the South.” The event is organized by Visual Art Exchange, which moved its gallery space to the Warehouse District in 2011.
By moving the event, SPARKcon organizers can invest in VAE’s new neighborhood and help brand the neighborhood as an art district. Further, the move will help keep the event fresh and keep SPARKcon distinct amongst the growing number of events and festivals held in downtown Raleigh. The area is also close to transit (take the train to SPARKcon from Cary and Durham!) and provides a combination of indoor art spaces and street space that work with the organizer’s vision for the event.
The Opening Ceremony will be hosted in the Raleigh Amphitheater and will feature fashionSPARK’s runway show as well as dance, circus and music performances. The amphitheater will raise the profile of these events and SPARKcon is thrilled to used this new, professional venue for their production.
Ah, Mitt. You know as well as anyone that the whole point of a corporation is to shield the people who run it from personal liability — while letting them reap the profits, of course. So, yes, there are people in corporations. And these people are entitled to their rights (free speech, political activity). They're just not entitled, or they shouldn't be, to exercise their rights from behind a corporate shield.
So glad to get that off my chest. Now for the news.
"Move to Amend" is meeting tonight, 6:30-8:30, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, 3313 Wade Ave. This is, as the title suggests, a movement to amend the Constitution to make it clear that corporations are not entitled to the same First Amendment rights as individual citizens. The effect would be to reverse the Supreme Court's detestable Citizens United ruling that corporations do enjoy the same political rights as people.
From the local organizers:
Move to Amend executive committee member George Friday, an anti-oppression trainer and community organizer, will be touring North Carolina this July, in an effort to build connections, inspire activism, and reveal the origins of corporate power in America.
Move to Amend is a national coalition of over 212,900 people and organizations whose goal is amending the United States Constitution to end corporate rule by building a multiracial, cross-class democracy movement. George's presentations are part history lesson and part heart-felt call-to-action! "Challenging Corporate Rule & Creating Democracy" aims to help local folks understand how they can work to abolish corporate personhood and establish a government of, by, and for the people.
This event is free and open to the public. We appreciate your donations to help us finance these tours, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
And, catching up on some news from last week that doesn't seem to have been reported anywhere (which is strange), the Raleigh City Council voted 6-2 to take a position in favor of a constitutional amendment and against Citizens United. Councilor Thomas Crowder's resolution is framed as supporting the original McCain-Feingold curbs on corporate political action that Citizens United overturned. Voting no, Republican John Odom and Bonner Gaylord, unaffiliated. The five Democrats and Mayor Nancy McFarlane, also unaffiliated, voted in favor.
Here's the full resolution:
When there's a thorny legal question staring them in the face, local officials in North Carolina look to the UNC School of Government for guidance. It's not that UNC is the last word; the courts are. But it helps, when you're considering whether something's a good idea, to know that the experts at UNC are of the opinion that at least it's allowed by law.
In that vein, the 34-page brief written by Diane Juffras, Associate Professor of Public Law and Government at the School of Government and a specialist in the areas of employment and employment discrimination law, will be influential for local governments wrestling, after the passage of Amendment One, with the question of whether they're still permitted to offer employee benefits to the domestic partners — gay or straight — of their employees.
The answer, Juffras argues, is yes:
In my opinion, Amendment One does not take away the authority of North Carolina local government employers to offer domestic partner benefits.
First, Amendment One has plain meaning on its face: (1) the state can allow only a man and a woman to enter into a marriage, (2) marriage is the only legal status that the state can grant an opposite-sex couple, and (3) the state cannot grant any legal status whatsoever to relationships between same-sex couples.
With this plain meaning, Amendment One merely puts into the constitution the North Carolina statuory law on marriage and civil unions between same-sex couples as it existed on May 8, 2012, and therefore effects no change on the ability of North Carolina local governments to offer their employees domestic partner benefits.
Second, there is no legal precedent in North Carolina or elsewhere for the proposition that a government employer’s coverage of its employees’ domestic partners under benefits plans makes valid or constitutes legal recognition of any union or confers rights and responsibilities to any union under the law. To extend benefits is not to “recognize” any kind of union.
Third, there appears to be a good chance that a court would find the denial of domestic partner benefits a violation of either the federal or the North Carolina equal protection clauses.
I believe nine local governments offer such benefits, including Durham and Durham County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough. I've read that Charlotte was ready to join the list if officials there were assured that doing so would be legal following Amendment One. Juffrus' opinion may clinch it for Charlotte.
Juffras' bulletin is here in pdf form:
Gov. Perdue’s statement on Andy Griffith’s death at 86:
“North Carolina has lost its favorite son. Andy Griffith graciously stepped into the living rooms of generations of Americans, always with the playful charm that made him the standard by which entertainers would be measured for decades.
Throughout his career, he represented everything that was good about North Carolina: a small town boy and UNC graduate who took a light-hearted approach to some of the attributes he grew up with and turned them into a spectacularly successful career. And regardless of where that career took him, he always came back to North Carolina and spent his final years here.
In an increasingly complicated world, we all yearn for the days of Mayberry. We all will miss Andy, and I will dearly miss my friend.”
Update: President Obama remembers Andy fondly:
Statement by the President on the Passing of Andy Griffith
Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Andy Griffith this morning. A performer of extraordinary talent, Andy was beloved by generations of fans and revered by entertainers who followed in his footsteps. He brought us characters from Sheriff Andy Taylor to Ben Matlock, and in the process, warmed the hearts of Americans everywhere. Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy’s family.