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28

Do we want political consultants running our government? We got one: Rep. Nelson Dollar, the chief House budget writer.

The N&O reported: “Dollar, 54, is a longtime political and public relations consultant who helps coordinate campaigns for fellow House Republicans and other GOP candidates. His firm, J. N. Dollar & Associates, booked nearly $150,000 of work for the N.C. Republican Party in the last election cycle, according to reports filed with the State Board of Elections.”

In other words, Dollar makes a living consulting for politicians he serves with.

Any ethical issues here?

For my part, I’ve known a lot of political consultants and a lot of politicians. Some of the consultants would be a big improvement.

 

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27

A diehard Democrat faced a dilemma after reading about House budget leader Nelson Dollar in the N&O. “Should we be helping him?” she wondered.

What caught her eye and caused her soul-searching was Dollar saying the Senate budget “makes it difficult to pay for…a 2 percent raise for state employees, additional money for teacher pay and protecting teacher assistants’ jobs.”

Just what a Democrat would want.

A similar dilemma faced a Democratic elected official in one of the state’s bigger counties. His county had a problem with a provision in a Senate bill. So he went to a Republican Senator from the county. The Senator got the provision taken out.

The official lamented: “I’d like a Democrat in that seat. But he’d be in the minority and couldn’t help us like that.”

Are we reduced to this? Do we focus on helping less-conservative Republicans prevail over more-conservative Republicans? If so, maybe we should make the best of it by registering unaffiliated and voting for moderates in Republican primaries.

The possibilities for mischief are limitless.

 

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26

Seventeen years ago, our daughter went to her first day of kindergarten in the Wake County public schools. This week, she went to her first day as a student teacher in the Wake County public schools.

Seventeen years ago, Jim Hunt had just been elected to his fourth term on a promise to raise teacher salaries to the national average. Democrats and Republicans in the legislature had enacted a law and appropriated the money to do it.

North Carolina reached that goal. We got into the top 20 states in teacher pay. Student test scores were rising, and national measures showed North Carolina students making more progress than students in any other state.

Teachers were getting more than pay. They were getting respect. They made more money if they got a master’s degree or earned national board certification. High school graduates could get their college tuition paid if they became teachers.

So much for that.

In five years, the legislature has managed to undo all that good, undermine all that progress and demoralize our best teachers. They’ve driven us down to the bottom 10 states in teacher pay. Governor McCrory adds insult to injury with his insipid video “thanking” teachers.

One teacher, Jen Painter of Carrboro, penned a searing portrait of how teachers feel about their thanks: “…as I prepare to welcome my students back next week on my 15th first day of school, I’m wondering whether it might be my last as a North Carolina schoolteacher.”

After 17 years, we’re hoping the tide turns again. Soon.

 

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25

A now-retired lobbyist who observed the legislature for many years offers this take on the current session:

The revelation that the General Assembly needs more time to agree to a state budget is not startling and, frankly, shouldn’t be troubling.

Sure, the school systems are in a knot about drivers’ ed and teachers assistants, and citizens are exasperated with their do-nothing political leaders at the federal and state levels.

This means the system is working. It’s happened many times before, and will happen again. Our government is brilliantly designed to be frustrating and hard to get things done. It’s a mighty struggle to pass new legislation, and good ideas are often compromised into bland pabulum. In a bicameral system, even the most mighty of legislators is at the whim of a nut in the opposite legislative body.

The ship of state sails with many hands on the rudder, all trying to steer it in the direction of their philosophy. The beauty of our process prevents zealots or crazies from seizing the rudder completely, thus preventing a dramatic and dangerous change of course.

So, let’s urge legislators to take all the time they need to fight and cuss and grandstand. This is how it’s supposed to work, and the end result will be better with debate, scrutiny and the passage of time.

 

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24

Jimmy Carter certainly wasn’t our best President, but he’s clearly one of the best human beings to be President. At the core of his goodness is a powerful Christian faith that has sustained him throughout his life, even as it complicated his political life.

My then-N&O colleague Ferrel Guillory was one of the first reporters to highlight how Carter talked about his faith in the 1976 presidential campaign. In a front-page story on March 20, 1976, the Saturday before the presidential primary that year, Ferrel wrote about Carter’s two-day swing through the state, including a press conference in Raleigh, for the Democratic primary:

Jimmy Carter demonstrated here Friday a willingness to talk about his personal religious feelings in a way no other presidential candidate has.

While campaigning for next Tuesday’s North Carolina Democratic presidential primary, Carter said that in 1967 he had a “profound religious experience that changed my life dramatically” and that he prays before making important decisions.

“I spent more time on my knees the four years I was governor in the seclusion of a little private room off the governor’s office than I did in all the rest of my life because I felt so heavily on my shoulders that the decisions I made might very well affect many, many people,” said Carter, who was governor of Georgia from 1970 to 1974.

As he sought support in a state with more than one million Baptists, Carter, who is a Baptist, has gone into detail on his own concept of the role of religion in his life as a politician.

Voters liked it. The next Tuesday, Carter defeated George Wallace in the North Carolina primary. He also carried North Carolina against Gerald Ford in the fall, giving a huge boost to Jim Hunt’s first campaign for Governor. Four years earlier, Wallace had beaten Terry Sanford in the North Carolina primary.

Today, Ferrel recalls:

“I remember the day writing the story because it was such a vivid moment in that campaign. You have to remember 1976 came before the dramatic emergence of the religious right as a key Republican constituency; it was in 1980 that Ronald Reagan, not much of a church-goer, associated his candidacy with the forces of conservative Christianity. Did Carter open the door, even inadvertently? Good question, open to debate. In retrospect, you can see Carter as a Democrat, scrambling as did Jim Hunt and others at the time, to assemble a coalition that included newly enfranchised black voters as well as moderate to conservative white voters. Aside from political strategy, Carter’s appeal to voters, in the aftermath of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, had to do with his personal story of rootedness in a Southern place and his sense of rectitude.”

Carter’s outer show of his inner faith didn’t always play well in a Democratic Party that was torn between Southern moderates and Northern liberals. In fact, many Democrats were uncomfortable with Carter’s religiousness, his accent and his conservative instincts. We Southern Democrats saw – and felt – that wariness and even hostility during Carter’s term and, especially, during Ted Kennedy’s challenge to Carter in 1980.

In his press conference last week, talking about his cancer and his life, Carter said he would have been reelected if he had sent one more helicopter on the hostage mission. He also might have won if Kennedy hadn’t challenged him, or if Carter – like JFK with LBJ and President Obama with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden – had brought a potential rival into his administration.

Today, though, you have to marvel at Carter’s grace and strength as he faces the end of his long and remarkable life. Especially these words:

“I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve had thousands of friends, I’ve had an exciting, adventurous and gratifying existence. So I was surprisingly at ease, much more so than my wife was. But now I feel it’s in the hands of God who I worship, and I’ll be prepared for anything that comes.”

 

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21

Admit it. You love it. We all love it. That’s why the Donald Trump for President Show rolls on and on and on. That’s why all political news – from the New York Times to Fox News to MSNBC to Inside Edition and Entertainment Tonight – is all Trump, all the time.

Staid, sober observers decry Trump’s brashness, his polarization, his over-simplifications, his insults, his obnoxiousness and offensiveness, his exaggerations, his outright lies, his braggadocio – his very Trumpery.

The serious pundits tell us it’s time to get back to serious people having serious discussions about serious issues. They offer deep political and sociological explanations for the Trump phenomenon.

But it’s simple. We watch Trump because it’s fun!

Tell the truth. Do you really want to hear Jeb Bush talk about his economic program? Do you really care what Scott Walker’s immigration plan is? Unless you’re a dedicated, decades-long Hillary-hater, do you really want to read one more deep-dive into her emails?

Hell no! Give us the Donald. Above all, he entertains us.

He says things that offend about everybody. But he also says things that ring true. Like when he calls other politicians “stupid” and “morons.” Or says he knows that politicians can be bought, because he’s bought them.

Listen to an interview or press conference with Trump. Unlike all the droning, calculating politicians we’re used to, his answers are crisp, short and blunt. They may make no sense whatsoever, but you understand them.

Trump is full color in a political world that’s all gray.

We’re disgusted with politics as usual. Now the Donald comes along and make it fun again. No wonder we don’t want to change the channel and watch the other guys.

Would you rather eat ice cream or turnips?

Posted in: General
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20

Republicans hate government. Too big and bloated, they say. Too many people on the public payroll. Too many seat-warmers, Governor McCrory says.

But something magical happens when they get their turn at the tax-paid trough.

To wit:

Former state Rep. Nathan Ramsey got a job in the Asheville office of the state Division of Workforce Solutions as a “liaison between the state and area employers.”

Former Raleigh mayor and Wake County commissioner Paul Coble got a state job as “legislative services officer” for the General Assembly.

This is not to pick on Coble or Ramsey. They aren’t the first to get patronage jobs. Remember the two 20-somethings who got DHHS jobs paying $80,000-plus? Or the rich, no-bid, sweetheart contracts handed out by DHHS?

Plenty more Republicans jumped at the chance to jump from the private sector to the government payroll.

You know who you are.

 

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19

After years of damaging disclosures and disastrous PR, you’d think there’s no way UNC could make its grades-and-athletes scandal worse.

As George W. Bush would say, don’t misunderestimate them. They could make it worse by making Sylvia Hatchell the scapegoat and Roy Williams the escape ram.

A Page One story by the N&O’s Dan Kane and Andrew Carter suggests that’s about to happen. The story reported that, while both the men’s and women’s basketball programs are under investigation, Williams got a contract extension and Hatchell didn’t.

Nice.

Like many things in the world, it’s about sex and money. From the story:

“Men’s basketball and football are the money-making sports at UNC and other top Division I schools. Men’s basketball feeds the coffers of the NCAA. The organization collected nearly a billion dollars in revenue last year, USA Today reported, nearly all of it from the ‘March Madness’ tournament. The majority of the money goes back to the member schools.

“Women’s sports typically lose money, but universities are required under the federal anti-discrimination Title IX law to carry them if they want to have men’s programs.”

Who’d be surprised if athletics officials sacrificed the women to save the men?

Word is that UNC AD Bubba Cunningham didn’t want to extend either coach’s contract while the investigation was going on. But the Big Rams pressured him, and Bubba caved on Roy.

Already, women’s-sports advocates are calling foul. They see a “war on women’s coaches.”

It could get even worse for UNC. Note the N&O’s last paragraph: “Hatchell…has retained a prominent lawyer, Wade Smith of Raleigh….”

As Scooby Doo would say if he knew Wade Smith, “Ruh-roh.”

Posted in: General
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14

To hear the good ole boys in the State Senate tell it they’re going to cure all our Medicaid ills: No more soaring costs. Better care. Budgets that balance. No more meltdowns. MCOs, they say, will heal our wounds and stop our hemorrhaging.

If that sounds too good to be true, well, take a look around.

Down in Florida top MCO executives were convicted of ‘scheming to rip-off Medicaid.’ The MCO paid $80 million in criminal penalties and $137 million in civil penalties (for fraud).

In Illinois, state officials lambasted MCOs for providing ‘abysmal’ care to patients and one MCO, Amerigroup paid a whopping $225 million fine to the federal government and Illinois – because it “avoided enrolling pregnant women, unhealthy patients and submitted thousands of false claims.”

In Ohio, another MCO was fined $26 million.

But none of those foibles have fazed the good ole boys in the Senate. MCOs, they insist, are the cure.

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13

The Senate Leaders said it was terrible, just terrible that when people who live in rural counties shop in Charlotte, the sales taxes they pay stay in Charlotte to build schools and roads in Charlotte – and introduced a plan to cure the devilment. By changing the way the state allocates sales taxes between counties to be sure nearly half the sales taxes paid in Charlotte don’t stay in Charlotte.

Under their plan 20 urban counties (and 5 million people) lose. And 80 rural counties (and 5 million people) win.

Senate Republican Leaders – most of whom live in rural counties – have no doubt the result is justice.

Meantime, House Republican Leaders (who’re more likely to be from urban counties) and the Governor (who has to run in all the counties) aren’t so sure.

Either way, there’s one question Senators Phil Berger and Harry Brown haven’t answered: Under their plan, will people in Charlotte (and the other losing counties) now be paying for schools and roads in the winning (rural) counties?

As best I can tell neither Senator ever even asked.

The answer’s a mystery.

For now.

Posted in: General
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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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