By ROB CHRISTENSEN, DAN KANE AND J. ANDREW CURLISS, Staff Writers
Call it the inevitability of Erskine Bowles. But the former White House chief of staff seems to be emerging as the favorite to become the next president of the University of North Carolina system.
"I think he is the only one," state Senate leader Marc Basnight said Thursday. "Erskine should be it. I’m saying he will be."
Basnight suggested that the UNC Board of Governors could "save a little money" by short-circuiting the selection process and choosing Bowles.
The UNC Board of Governors has yet to begin interviewing candidates. But Bowles is already picking up key endorsements. Bill Friday, who was the highly regarded president of UNC for 30 years, has been prepping Bowles for his interview.
Current UNC President Molly Broad has been criticized because she didn’t have enough clout in the legislature, was not a native North Carolinian and was not tied to the state’s business leadership.
But Basnight said Bowles filled all those criteria.
"He is just fabulous," Basnight said.
He noted that Bowles, a Charlotte investment banker, is independently wealthy. And he said Bowles understood the problems of rural North Carolina by having been chairman of a rural prosperity task force.
And there are his roots.
"You got a North Carolinian," Basnight said. "That’s pretty good. He’s not leaving. They’ll bury him here."
Bowles, who lost two U.S. Senate races, was head of the Small Business Administration and was White House chief of staff under President Clinton. Most recently, he has been working as Clinton’s deputy in heading the United Nations tsunami recovery effort in Southeast Asia.
House to Senate: Bills due
Basnight shut down all Senate committees, except for those working on budget matters, nearly a month ago so that his colleagues would focus on getting the budget done. But it may not be helping budget negotiations with the House.
The shutdown has allowed the Senate to pass much of its legislation that had already cleared committees. Many of the bills that still need to pass Senate committees come from the House.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Jim Black has not suspended committee work, and in many cases those committees are passing Senate legislation.
"There are bills that need to be dealt with," Black said Wednesday. "We’re dealing with the Senate’s bills, they ought to be taking up ours."
Black conceded one point to Basnight — that the House has more members who can work on legislation other than the budget. The House has 120 representatives, while the Senate has 50 members.
Some House members are calling for tit for tat, but Black said he won’t go there.
"We need to be handling legislation and taking up the business of the people of North Carolina," Black said.
By the end of Thursday, Basnight announced he would end the shutdown starting Monday. He said the budget negotiations were now primarily between him and Black, so the rest of the Senate could return to regular business.
"We’re not going to hold anything back," he said.
By staff writers Rob Christensen, Dan Kane and J. Andrew Curliss. Christensen can be reached at 829-4532 or [email protected]