News: CJ Exclusives

CJ politics week in review, Sept. 28-Oct. 2

Cal Cunningham, Ambassador for North Carolina BBQ (Image from Cal Cunningham's Twitter account)
Cal Cunningham, Ambassador for North Carolina BBQ (Image from Cal Cunningham's Twitter account)

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed.

Grillgate: In North Carolina, barbecue is for fighting. Cal Cunningham learned that the hard way. The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate tweeted an image of himself preparing to grill some hot dogs and hamburgers on a gas grill. He was wearing an apron reading, “Ambassador for North Carolina Barbecue,” which he sells on his campaign website. After getting roasted on Twitter, Cunningham told the News & Observer that “no self-respecting son of Lexington” would conflate barbecue with grilling. Remember folks, barbecue is a noun, not a verb, in North Carolina.

Voter confidence: Republican voters are less likely to have confidence in the 2020 election results than Democratic voters, a poll from Meredith College found. The Meredith Poll surveyed 705 respondents from Sept. 18-22. The credibility interval is plus or minus 3.5%. Of the 705 respondents, roughly 75% of Republican and 86% of Democratic voters are confident that voting processes in North Carolina will be accurate this year. Voter confidence is being tested as the two major political parties are blaming each other for undermining the election’s integrity. Be sure to check Carolina Journal for regular updates on the legal challenges to absentee voting laws and rules. 

Nursing home rules: Some nursing homes can accept visitors again, but with limits. Nursing homes that haven’t had a COVID-19 case in 14 days and in a county where the percentage positive number of cases is less than 10% can welcome visitors. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen signed the order on Sept. 28. The new rules take effect immediately. Nursing homes must still screen visitors and require face masks. Nursing homes were some of the early hotspots for COVID-19 outbreaks, in North Carolina and across the country. 

UNC resignation: Darrell Allison resigned suddenly from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, WRAL reported on Sept. 30. Allison sent a letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, last week announcing his resignation, but the news didn’t break until immediately. In his letter, Allison cited personal reasons for resigning, but didn’t go into specifics. “And while I am most confident that our UNC System will find its way through the many challenges it currently faces, it must do so without my continued service on this board,” Allison wrote. Allison has been a member of the board since 2017. He chaired the board’s Racial Equity Task Force. 

McGrady resigns: Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, officially resigned from the General Assembly on Sept. 30, ending his final term earlier than expected. His resignation is effective at noon on Oct. 5. McGrady has served five years in the House where he championed easing restrictions against craft brewers and sought to reform the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system. The Henderson County lawmaker is moving on to serve on the revamped Board of Transportation.

Online learning: North Carolina must move faster to embrace online learning, says Marty Kotis, a board member of the UNC System. Amid COVID-19, UNC, community colleges, and private universities have been forced to embrace virtual classes. The shift was inevitable even before COVID-19 became the ultimate catalyst, Kotis said during a Thursday, Oct. 1, webinar hosted by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Kotis, joined by Catherine Truitt, the Republican candidate for N.C. superintendent, extolled the benefits of online higher education. Truitt is the chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina, a nonprofit online college catering to working adults and other nontraditional students. Established three years ago, WGU’s North Carolina affiliate now has almost 4,000 in-state students who earn bachelors and masters degrees entirely online. UNC for months has worked to move its courses to an online format. Faculty and administrators are doing their best, Kotis said, but simply moving lessons to a Zoom format isn’t enough. For years Kotis has encouraged the UNC Board of Governors to devote more time and resources to building out online coursework at all 17 campuses. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how those resources are critical, Kotis said. He pointed to WGU as a good example of accessible, high quality learning for North Carolinians. UNC doesn’t need to compete with WGU, but it does need to adapt in its own way. “I don’t think we’re treating it seriously enough,” Kotis said of online learning. “At some point it could result in some very empty buildings if we don’t adjust or adapt.”