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The Daily Tar Heel

Letter: Op-ed uses decade-old progressive propaganda to accuse Roberts of partisanship in 2024

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To the editor:

The Daily Tar Heel published a Feb. 20 op-ed, “‘Nonpartisan’ Lee Roberts receives income from far-right megadonor’s company,” that ineloquently claimed it was “bullshit” that interim UNC Chancellor Lee Roberts is nonpartisan in 2024 because he is now associated with my retail company, and way back in 2010, a decade before I ever knew Roberts, I was a Republican who gave to Republican candidates and my company gave to conservative organizations engaged in constitutionally protected free speech. The DTH published recycled leftwing propaganda, from more than a decade ago, about how horrible Republicans, conservatives and my company were in 2010, in order to claim that makes Roberts partisan in 2024.

In particular, the op-ed writers accused my company of “targeting its store locations in Black and low-income neighborhoods.” I am proud to say that my company has stores which provide thousands of jobs and serve hundreds of low income and diverse communities, in competition with the big box multinational corporations. Would the progressive op-ed writers prefer that I engage in redlining and not provide jobs, goods and services in low income and minority neighborhoods?

I am fortunate to have had the benefit of the advice and experience of Roberts as a member of my company's board of directors since 2019, before either of us was members of the UNC Board of Governors. My company, that Roberts is associated with, generates millions of dollars a year in taxes to support state and local government, including public education.

The organizations I support do not “push agendas aiming to defund public higher education.” I have supported reducing the cost of public higher education while maintaining its quality, in order to avoid tuition increases, lower student fees and reduce crushing student debt. That is part of our constitutional mandate to provide public higher education "as free as practicable."

Also contrary to the op-ed, I have been a leading opponent to legislative gerrymandering by either party and have for decades advocated and proposed amendments to the state constitution to provide for nonpartisan redistricting.

The writers' lazy use of the pejorative term “climate denialism” to describe opposing views on the multitude of climate related government policies, regulations, subsidies and incentives does not merit a response.

In regard to the op-ed’s overall accusation of partisanship, the University of North Carolina has been served in the past by former Democratic Party candidates. Former UNC System President Erskine Bowles was twice the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate and served in former President Bill Clinton's administration. Former UNC System president Thomas Ross ran as a Democrat to be elected as a state judge, and later served as executive director of the progressive Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. I respect both men, and I appreciate their public service.

While Roberts, who is an unaffiliated voter, does not have a partisan history like Bowles and Ross, I believe we should appreciate his willingness to leave his business and serve the public as our interim chancellor.