Lewis abandons principles for politics

by Jim Longworth

I once referred to Ken Lewis as a “man of great character.” That observation was based on my personal conversations with him, as well as an extended interview I conducted for the “Triad Today” television program. I was also impressed by his statement back in March, in which he said, “We can’t change a broken

Senate simply by sending career politicians to Washington”. Yet after all that, Lewis last week endorsed one of North Carolina’s most recognized career politicians.

I must admit that Lewis’ announcement took me by surprise. First because of his antipathy for career politicians, and second because of a telephone call he made to me last Tuesday evening. I had invited Ken to tape a segment for “Triad Today” in which he would announce his pick for Senate. But Lewis declined the offer, saying, “I’m not ready to make an endorsement yet.” That next morning he stood before the news media at the state capitol and endorsed Elaine Marshall for Senate. As far as I’m concerned, Lewis has lost all credibility due to his hypocrisy and duplicity. Only Lewis can tell us why he made the announcement, but we do know what was brewing in the days leading up to his press conference.

When a runoff was announced, I invited both Cal Cunningham and Elaine Marshall to make a joint appearance on “Triad Today.” Cunningham called me personally to say he would be at the TV studio any day that Marshall could come. But the Marshall camp strung me along, saying, “We’ll get back to you.” I wasn’t surprised. Earlier in the year, Elaine had agreed to tape a solo interview with me on March 31, then at the last minute, one of her minions said that Marshall was backing out because it was “just too far for her to drive from Raleigh to Winston-Salem.” That’s the same Raleigh Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton had driven from just a week earlier to talk with me about jobs and economic empowerment. Perhaps Marshall lives on the far side of Raleigh. At any rate, I continued to pressure her scheduler for a date, but kept getting the same brush off. It should be noted that I was not the sole recipient of Marshall’s cold shoulder. Other TV stations and groups were also trying to secure a date from Elaine to appear at a debate.

Meanwhile, Cunningham initiated an online petition drive to force Marshall to come out of the comfort of her Raleigh digs and debate him at other venues around the state.

And during this same time frame, rumors circulated from reliable sources that the Marshall campaign had received the results of an internal poll which showed Cunningham leading with 49 percent of the vote.

A perfect storm was building for Marshall.

There was Cunningham’s petition drive, repeated invitations to debate, the reputed internal poll and my pressuring Lewis to make an endorsement. Marshall was desperate for a boost which would divert the media’s attention away from Cunningham’s rising popularity, and her refusal to meet him anywhere except in her backyard. Then, voila! It was Ken Lewis to the rescue!

As the third-place finisher in the first primary, Lewis’s endorsement was music to Marshall’s ears. But it was a sickening sweet kind of music. Said Lewis in his endorsement speech, “I was impressed by the courage and conviction Elaine Marshall has shown in this race. She has shown the kind of courage, strength and independence to create change in Washington, and fight for the people of North Carolina.” Somebody hand me a barf bag please.

First of all, Elaine Marshall has never done anything courageous in her political life. To the contrary. Dodging debates is the antithesis of courage. And what about her claim to fame in which she supposedly took on big insurance companies? A 2009 Kaiser Foundation report showed that in the past decade, insurance companies raised premiums by a rate of 131 percent while those of us lucky enough to have a job have only seen our wages rise by 38 percent. So much for courage, conviction and creating change. And that brings me back to Ken Lewis.

By endorsing Marshall, Lewis abandoned every principle he had ever espoused about the evils of career politicians. Now, because of that endorsement, Marshall no doubt feels confident that she can win the runoff and, thus, has no incentive to participate in a series of debates with Cunningham. By hiding in Raleigh, Marshall is denying her own party a shot at free media exposure, which it will need if it hopes to unseat Richard Burr in November. But, even worse, Lewis and Marshall’s partnership represents a disregard for the working men and women of this state.

Neither Marshall nor Lewis have articulated a viable plan to bring jobs back to North Carolina because neither was willing to rock the boat and call for a repeal of NAFTA and CAFTA. Cunningham, on the other hand, developed a proposal early on that would revamp bad trade agreements and end tax breaks to companies that have sent hundreds of thousands of North Carolina jobs overseas. In other words, he’s the kind of man Lewis should have endorsed.

Lewis made a bad decision last week. Now it’s up to voters to make a good one on June 22.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).