Special Report

John Edwards’ Successor Lives It Up

UNC poverty center chief does nicely, thanks.

By 3.6.14

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The man who succeeded disgraced former vice presidential candidate John Edwards as leader of a special poverty center at the University of North Carolina School of Law is no less hypocritical — in his luxurious living versus his hyperbolic rhetoric — than his predecessor.

Gene Nichol, who was once dean of UNC’s law school before a controversial stint as president of the College of William and Mary, regularly attacks elected Republicans in the Tar Heel State over policies that allegedly benefit “the rich” at the expense of the poor — most prominently in the opinion pages of the News & Observer of Raleigh. Most recently he attacked reforms that lowered taxes broadly and reeled in generous unemployment benefits (compared to neighboring states), among other things, in an effort to lower North Carolina’s high jobless rate. Those reforms have been working.

Political observers may recall that long before his adultery problems — after Edwards’s failed campaign to become No. 2 to a President John Kerry in 2004 — that UNC allowed him to create and lead the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at its law school. The project was designed to keep him in the public eye while at the same time giving his “Two Americas” class warfare rhetoric an appropriate vehicle for dissemination. As the multi-millionaire personal injury attorney/politician waited for the 2008 presidential election to arrive so he could run for the top office himself, the ostensible poverty expert had built a 28,200-square-foot home outside of Chapel Hill, which reportedly included a squash court, full-length indoor basketball court, and a man-cave called “John’s lounge.” The Edwards’s home was projected to be one of the largest in Orange County and its tax value was projected above $6 million.

Nichol, a wealth redistributionist philosophically, shares Edwards’s worldview if not his riches — at least not to the same degree. However, the former University of Colorado law dean does enjoy significant resources thanks to his own salary, his wife’s, and his real estate investments. As the Civitas Institute has reported in the past (from public information it obtained), Nichol receives a salary of at least $200,000 annually and his wife, Glenn George, is paid $407,410 per year as chief of staff for the UNC Health Care System and the UNC School of Medicine.

The welcoming arms and university vault were thrown wide open in 2008 for the Nicholses after Gene ended his embarrassing turn at William and Mary, where trustees sacked him after he removed a cross from Wren Chapel and he allowed a sex workers’ art show on campus, among other things. But don’t feel sorry for Gene, as he has accumulated a significant amount of treasure after years as dean of University of Colorado’s law school, his first go-round as UNC law’s dean, almost four years at Virginia’s “Public Ivy,” and now his UNC return.

How much treasure? Enough that he and his family can live comfortably in a Chapel Hill home with a tax value of more than $1 million. And when the Nicholses tire of the stress and bustle of North Carolina’s Triangle area, they can escape to their bungalow on the beach at Emerald Isle, valued by Carteret County at more than $512,000. In the summer months when they don’t want to hang out at the coast, they rent their four-bedroom retreat for nearly $2,000 per week.

All this “hardship” has (mis)informed Gene Nichols’s rants about economic inequality caused by free markets, frequently published by the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina’s influential state capitol newspaper.

“The obsession to ‘reform’ our education system,” Nichols wrote on Jan. 25 of Republican efforts to expand school choice for the poor, “through vouchers, charters, endless tests, performance measures and the like — is matched only by an unequaled, defining pledge to ignore and, in operation, actually increase child poverty.”

“Yawning chasms of inequality and the advanced world’s highest levels of poverty are central to America’s particular economic genius,” Nichols opined on Feb. 20. “Only as a result of our unfettered, rapacious, investor-subsidized version of capitalism can such astonishing mountains of wealth be produced.”

With the passion he infuses in his writings, which reveals his deep contempt for Republicans, you’d think he’d target much of his vast financial resources to help elect their opposition. It is not so.

In the 2010 election cycle, when Republicans won full control of the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction, Nichol’s contributions to Democrat state legislative candidates totaled a measly $1,450. Of that total, $750 went to House Speaker Joe Hackney and $250 went to Rep. Verla Insko, both of whom had no chance of losing their seats. For the 2012 cycle he donated $1,800 to Democrat state-level candidates, which included a $100 cash gift to Democrat gubernatorial nominee Walter Dalton, who was soundly defeated by current Gov. Pat McCrory. Nichol also made an in-kind donation to Dalton valued at $2,715.45.

At the national level, Nichol gave an unimpressive $1,000 to the NC Democratic Party and $1,250 to Barack Obama in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For the 2012 electoral cycle, all the law professor could muster was $200 for the incumbent president’s campaign.

So while Nichol employed his bizarre leadership skills in academia, while shooting his mouth off about economic inequality, he has vacuumed up taxpayer dollars to pad his luxurious lifestyle. Adding insults to the injuries, when Civitas Institute sought documents from his public employment at UNC regarding his activities, he and fellow liberal academics complained about “intimidation tactics” and tried to stake out a mythical “right to privacy” for his taxpayer-funded records.

If Nichol truly believed in evening out the balance of wealth, he would abdicate much of his for the benefit of the poor he purports to advocate for. But he instead enriches himself thanks to the coercive power of the government, rather than employ any skills he might have that would be of actual value to consumers who would want them.

He advocates the infinite expansion of government programs to provide a safety net for those in poverty, but doesn’t realize that all they do is keep most of them ensnared. Meanwhile he’s on his own government “program” that only serves to enrich his bank account and inflate his ego. 

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.