Powell criticizes new state voter ID law at CEO Forum

Aug. 23, 2013 @ 10:28 AM

Speaking at a gathering of top state business leaders in Raleigh on Thursday, former U.S. Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell said the state had a “fine system” for voting without the new photo identification law signed by the governor last week.

Powell said the law, which requires photo identification at the polls starting in 2016, doesn’t help the Republican Party. He said it turns off a block of voters that the party needs beyond its traditional voter base. He also said that states that put voter restrictions in place in the past saw an outpouring of African Americans and Hispanics at the polls.

“You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud,” said Powell, who was a keynote speaker at the N.C. CEO Forum. The event, held at the North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh, was expected to draw more than 400 business leaders including the chief executives of California-based Cisco Systems Inc., Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Durham-based Quintiles Transnational Holdings and Cary-based SAS.

Gov. Pat McCrory also spoke at the event, touting tax reform legislation that he signed in July as a means to put the state in a better competitive position. The legislation will lower the corporate income tax and flatten the personal income tax to a single rate starting next year.

“We had to change, and in so doing, we’re stepping on some toes and making some decisions,” McCrory said. “It’s a long-term play; it’s not a quick fix.”

McCrory also said that the “biggest challenge” from an economic development perspective in the country and state is what to do about small and rural towns with economies based on manufacturing. He said North Carolina is often described as a “state of two states:” urban and rural.

“How do you bridge that divide between rural and urban?” he said.

The governor said he’s working with the state’s commerce secretary on a plan to tie rural and economic development regions so that rural areas can get spin-off business from the more urban centers, such as the Triangle. He said that will require infrastructure, including roads, rail, airports, ports and other technology.

“Instead of just having a plan for the Research Triangle Park that’s around the boundaries of the RTP, I want that plan to go 90 to 100 miles out to include Roxboro, Pittsboro – other regions …,” he said. “Is there a way that we can find talent to help industries and their suppliers move around?”

Powell spoke about his experience as a leader, about foreign events, and his views on issues including education. He highlighted the importance of respecting employees at every level of an organization, as well as of leaders having trust in them.

He described a meeting with President Ronald Reagan when he was national security adviser in which the president didn’t seem to pay attention and made a comment about squirrels in the Rose Garden at the end of his conversation. Powell said his take-away message was that security matters were his responsibility so that the president could spend time and energy elsewhere.

In other comments, Powell said he believes the United States is still an inspiration to the rest of the world. He touted the nation’s diversity, saying it’s unique for its “immigrant tradition.” Speaking on education, Powell emphasized the importance of children getting a head start from parents at home. He said he’s against policies that cut funding for education.

“Education begins in the home, not in school, in the home,” he said.

Powell also said he believes there’s a lack of willingness to compromise among Congressional leaders and that’s affecting the nation’s fiscal policy, economic activities and is giving a “terrible impression to the rest of the world.” He said he believes their ability to compromise is hindered by cable TV, bloggers and advocacy groups.