Upfront: January 2006

Lawyers, guns and money

This Mover and Shaker of the Year, unlike last year’s, isn’t a lawyer even though he’s featured in an issue of the magazine riddled with them. But he did once work for one so deft that his parry of an adversary’s legal lunge still leaves minds agoggle. Who could ever forget: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

In fact, Erskine Bowles first made Mover and Shaker eight years ago when, as White House chief of staff, the Charlotte financier brought order, if not decorum, to the inner workings of the Clinton administration and brokered the deal that gave the nation, for the first time in decades, a balanced budget. At the time, he said he was honored to be recognized as a businessman and not a politician, a sentiment the electorate apparently shared, as evidenced by his two unsuccessful bids for Senate since.

But, as Contributing Editor Tim Gray (who also profiled him in our January 1998 issue) points out in the piece that begins in this month's feature story, he’ll need all the political skill he can muster in his new job as president of the University of North Carolina, especially as he sets about the Solomonic task of judging the wants and needs of its 16 campuses and divvying increasingly contested resources amongst them.

I can see the quandary that confronts him in my own family. I graduated from Carolina; my wife and daughter from UNC Greensboro; my son, N.C. State; my daughter-in-law, UNC Wilmington; and son-in-law, UNC Charlotte. Each of us has the utmost respect for the university system as a whole, but if the other schools must suffer so that our alma mater gets what it deserves, well, that’s only just.

It’s why I send that check to Chapel Hill each year. That way I can give something, specifically an edge to my three grandkids when they apply to Carolina and reverse the slippery generational slope their parents have perched them on.

As Ed Martin’s cover story shows, proponents of tort reform haven’t built a winning case. Maybe I can offer them a hand. Even though this magazine has never been sued, or even threatened with a lawsuit, our libel insurance premiums have soared. When I asked why, our broker explained that our errors-and-omissions rates are tied to reinsurance pools whose reserves had been drawn down by claims caused by the 9/11 attacks. Doesn’t that link trial lawyers to terrorists? We’ve gone to war on less.