CHARLOTTE, N.C. - On Sept. 2, the Charlotte Observer and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a panel discussion entitled "Southern Politics and the 2012 Election." The moderator for the talk was Judy Woodruff, a PBS NewsHour senior correspondent and native North Carolinian.
Hodding Carter, currently Public Policy and Leadership professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill, opened the discussion with allusions to his days as a Washington staffer from the late 1950s until 1980. Carter expressed optimism about the state of politics in his home state as well as throughout the South.
"There's been a fundamental change in the politics of America," he said "It's not static in it's population base (the south); these aren't the same black and white folks that have been looking at each other for the past 300 years," Carter said.
He found it "revolutionary" that three Southern states (Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia) voted predominately for a multi-ethnic presidential candidate.
"We're practically American now," he said to laughter from the audience.
Peter Coclanis, also a UNC public policy professor was noticeably more subdued in his assesment of both the economic and political progress made and the territory yet to be covered.
Coclanis called the south a "middle income trap" comparable to those in developing markerts such as Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil and Argentina. This is because, according to Coclanis, companies employ outdated and uncompetitive business models, causing local economies to stagnate. This is then exacerbated by a modestly skilled workforce.
To combat this, Coclanis suggests that, "We ensure post-secondary education for all North Carolinians and southerners to move up the value chain."
Jacquelyn Hall and Gene Nichol expressed similar concerns, in terms of poverty levels and race relations.
Hall acknowledged the successes of the civil rights movement that so dramatically changed the legal landscape in southern states, but also mentioned the failures of social policy here.
"Racial attitudes have changed profoundly," she said. "But the degree to which those resentments and stereotypes linger are not just because of the legacies of slavery and segregation...but because of deliberate policies and propoganda."
The demonization of affirmative action by certain administrations and policy makers, as a policy that gave opportunities to blacks and women by taking them away from white men, was used as an example.
Nichol further elaborated by remarking about the untold issue of poverty in the south.
According to a Census Bureau report from 2010, the most recent year from which data is available,15.1% of the country lives in poverty. That number is doubled for people of color.
In his home state of North Carolina, Nichol says the numbers are even more starkly representative of failed policy. 17% of Southerners live in poverty; you'd have to more than double that number to cover people of color in the south.
Despite having the largest population of poor people, Nichol says, "The south is not congenial to policies that would alleviate poverty. We've got the most poor people and politics that are deadly opposed to doing something about it."
Written by Benjamin Burton Jr.
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