No Joking Matter, Mr. Speaker

As UNC students were being removed from the North Carolina House gallery last week for protesting against gun violence, Speaker Tim Moore laughed, joked that the protesters must secretly be Duke students and quipped; “This is not a pep rally.”  

They know that, Mr. Speaker.

The next day, the campus was on lockdown again. Another man with a gun was on campus. Students hid under desks, and faculty and staff sequestered in dark offices to the sound of sirens and helicopters.  

Speaker Moore’s response? He questioned why the campus is a gun-free zone.

“You’re not just going to snap your fingers and get rid of guns,” he said. “That’s not reality; criminals are going to have guns. And the best deterrent against a criminal with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

More guns and more jokes are not what we need, Mr. Speaker.

As we went on lockdown for the second time this month, we wondered: Would another member of the Carolina family be dead? Should we expect copycats or clusters? Are we doing better in our preparation than we were two weeks ago? Is this how we live on this campus?

Some of us have been with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz during these terrible and terrifying moments. He feels the impact deeply. He knows how these incidents compromise the work of this institution and the well-being of those who work, live and study here.

He takes calls from worried parents, provides counseling resources for the campus and sits with grieving families.

Speaker Moore, you are supposed to represent every North Carolinian, not just those who agree with you on policy issues. Students were asking for action that ensures their safety on campus. That is no joking matter.

The Chancellor met the test of leadership. Speaker Moore failed it.

Political Paycheck Protection

Jim Blaine’s Firms Took PPP: Political Paycheck Protection.

Consulting firms owned by Jim Blaine, the long-time Republican political operative who was recently appointed to the UNC Board of Trustees, took over $80,000 in federal PPP bailouts – while being paid $800,000 by the UNC system.

Yes, a firm that advises right-wing clients on bashing the big-spending federal government’s bailouts and handouts happily took federal bailouts.

Danielle Battaglia of The News & Observer reported the PPP loans, which were forgiven, in a story headlined, “How US allowed pandemic relief to go to NC companies involved in politics and lobbying.”

The story said:

“Martin & Blaine, also known as The Differentiators and based in Raleigh, received a $59,620 loan on April 15, 2020, according to a database maintained by ProPublica. Jim Blaine and Ray Martin, who both previously worked for state Senate leader Phil Berger, own the firm….”

“A former company of Blaine’s, Blaine Consulting, LLC, also received a $20,832 PPP loan and had the loan and interest forgiven.”

The two loans totaled $80,452.

The N&O noted that companies engaged in lobbying or political activities could get loans “only if lobbying or political activity were not their ‘primary’ lines of work.”

In 2020, the N&O reported, Blaine and Martin worked together on a lieutenant governor’s race, a congressional race and with an organization raising money to ensure that Republicans maintain control of the North Carolina House and Senate.

Blaine is former chief of staff to Berger, the state Senate leader, and Martin is Berger’s former spokesman. Currently, they are advising Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop on his campaign for state attorney general.

They also work closely with Club for Growth Action, a conservative super PAC, the N&O reported.

From 2019 until this year, Blaine and Martin’s firm had a $15,000-a-month contract as “strategic advisers” to the UNC system.

They were paid over $800,000 during the same time they received PPP money.

They had to give up the contract when Blaine was appointed recently to the UNC Board of Trustees.

Martin told the N&O: “Our business has diverse revenue streams — very few of them involve political campaigns and zero of them involve lobbying. Like many small businesses, we lost work when the pandemic hit and we were concerned about the future.”

Bob Hall, a longtime elections watchdog and analyst of North Carolina politics, told the N&O that The Differentiators get a “huge amount of money” for political work.

“Maybe they also get a huge amount of money through corporate work,” Hall said. “But there’s no question that they’re a substantial political force in North Carolina. They remain behind the scenes but they’re still well-known and well paid.”

Perhaps, given his PPP experience, Blaine will be a strong supporter of student-loan forgiveness on the Board of Trustees.

N&O story:

Image source:

A Campus United by Tragedy

We at the Coalition have grieved with the Carolina family this past week, and we have been moved by the response on campus.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz was a strong, steady leader in a tragic time. He spoke for all of us in his heartfelt video message, which he ended, “Remember, we are Carolina Strong.”

With the Chancellor, we mourn the death of Zijie Yan, a friend, father and respected faculty member.

We salute the public safety team and law enforcement officers who responded to the emergency, the faculty and staff who acted so professionally and the custodial workers who saw that doors were locked and everyone was safe, even if it may have put them in harm’s way.

Above all, we stand with the students who went through this experience and witnessed what can happen to any one of us in today’s world.

Faculty members have told us that, in many ways, the students were better prepared than anyone else. They’ve been doing lockdown drills in school since they were very young, some of them since kindergarten.

Surely, concerns will be raised and questions asked about some events that grim afternoon. Some doors wouldn’t lock. Some faculty didn’t take the first alerts seriously and kept teaching.

We are confident the University will review those issues and take all necessary steps to remedy problems.

As you can expect, some people in leadership positions expressed “thoughts and prayers” – but little more.

Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. Firm action is needed.

Guns are the leading cause of death of young people in America. Assault weapons get the most attention, but handguns cause the most deaths.

Yet, earlier this year, the North Carolina legislature – against the advice of sheriffs and law enforcement – repealed the state’s pistol-permit law.

It isn’t right for students at Carolina – or anyone – to live in fear.

For Carolina to be strong, Carolina must be safe.

Chancellor’s message: