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When I opened the newspaper and read the Governor explaining he was having a side conversation and didn’t hear Graeme Keith say he wanted a state contract in return for his contributions, I thought, That sounds thin.

When Phil Berger called a hearing about Graeme Keith’s state contract, I thought, This could get out of hand.

Because there were nine people in the room when the Governor met with Keith so I figured a Democratic legislator was sure to ask Secretary Frank Perry: You were sitting there – so tell me: Exactly who was the Governor having that side conversation with?

Years ago, back in the dark days after Obama was first elected, Gary consoled me by saying, Stop worrying. We Democrats are capable of finding a way to blow it.

It was true. And still is. No one asked the question.

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Roy Cooper caught flak from the left when he said Washington should pause before admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees and make sure we balance humanitarianism with security. He’s right, and his critics are wrong. And it’s not a case of “he had to do it politically.” It’s the right thing to do. Period.

It’s wrong for Republicans to say that all refugees and all Muslims pose a threat to America. It’s also wrong for Democrats to dismiss any chance that ISIS would try to sneak in terrorists amidst the refugees. That’s exactly what a gang of brutal, inhuman thugs would do.

The first responsibility of government is to protect the American people against enemies, foreign and domestic. Our leaders not only have to do that, they also have to give us confidence they’re doing it.

Unfortunately, President Obama fails that test. He acts as though anyone who has any fear about terrorists slipping into the country is a bigoted, heartless right-winger. In fact, a lot of decent, fair-minded Americans who aren’t bigoted and aren’t heartless are fearful. They rightly expect their leaders to understand their concerns, take them seriously and address them.

Instead, the President dismisses their concerns with what smacks of contempt. He seems petulant that anyone would even presume to question him.

Hillary Clinton gets it. That’s why she quickly distanced herself from Obama on ISIS. She gave a speech making clear she’d be a lot tougher.

Roy Cooper gets it. He’s been North Carolina’s chief law enforcement officer for 15 years. He takes it seriously when terrorists are blowing up and gunning down innocent people in Paris.

The media was wrong to paint Cooper in the same corner with Governor McCrory. McCrory passed up a White House briefing on the issue and instead started fundraising on it. Cooper explicitly said we have to balance security with compassion. There’s a big difference in tone and attitude.

Roy got it right.


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When the Chancellor called the Town Hall meeting the demonstrators saw their opportunity: Marching to the front of Memorial Hall they took over the meeting and read a list of demands they said were needed to end racism.

When the meeting was over the Chancellor, emoting sincerity, told the students, I feel your pain.

Now, students are students. They’re young. And passionate. And go astray. And forget good manners. But Chancellors are supposed to be adults. The next morning across North Carolina folks opened their newspapers and read the cures for racism at Chapel Hill are free tuition, no more SAT tests and gender neutral bathrooms but didn’t see a word of common sense from the Chancellor, a Dean, or a Trustee.

Posted in: General, Issues
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There was ole Pat Caudell the pollster saying, ‘Obama’s bubble just burst,’ but he wasn’t talking about polls he was saying what burst (on the streets of Paris) was Obama’s illusion he was whipping ISIS.

But, then, the next day there was Obama standing at the microphone at the G-20 meeting talking about how ISIS’s the face of evil but still clinging steadfastly to his illusions, saying his strategy “just needs more time” to work and what mattered was accepting more Syrian refugees.

Folks used to say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog – the roots of the President’s problem go deeper than his illusions: He lacks the will to fight.

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The Great Ebola Panic hit America a year ago this October, right before the 2014 midterm elections. President Obama’s poll ratings plunged, and races that had been within Democrats’ reach – including the U.S. Senate and legislative races in North Carolina – shifted to Republicans.

This year, the Paris terrorist attacks remind us how dangerously unpredictable the world is. And how quickly and dramatically the political landscape can change.

So now every Republican candidate for President and every Republican governor is scrambling to be tough on hapless refugees fleeing terrorists.

(Wonder why? A national poll done before Paris found that 73 percent of white evangelical Protestants, a core Republican base, agree with this statement: “The values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life.”)

Americans have short attention spans, and Paris is over there, so memories will fade and other events will seize the stage. But terrorism is a fundamental security issue. Whether it stays out front or just under the surface, it will shape the 2016 elections.

For Democrats, it assures the nomination of Hillary Clinton. With the constant caveat you hear, even from Clinton supporters: “Unless something….”

For Republicans, it helps Donald Trump. Early on, Trump captured the franchise on Tough, Strong and Anti-Immigrant. His only real rival now is Ted Cruz. Terror trumps (so to speak) Ben Carson and Marco Rubio; Rubio looks too young and callow to take on ISIS, and Carson can’t tell ISIS from an iris. And poor Jeb Bush? He’s like a 1990s bag phone competing with iPhones.

Which leaves Rubio as Trump’s running mate. Because Florida. Which means Hillary has to win North Carolina.

Which means North Carolina decides whether Trump or Hillary is elected President.

If terrorism doesn’t scare you, that will.


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It starts with seeing a tiny cloud on the horizon – and that’s the first sign; then, next, out of nowhere chains of emails start floating across the Internet – and that’s the second sign: After studying Donald Trump with unease (and amazement) and Ben Carson with hope (but doubt) conservatives’ eyes have now locked on Ted Cruz.

Their voices (asking: Could he be the one?) are not a roar or even a blip in a poll but, even though they’re half-expecting disappointment, they’re also hoping maybe, just maybe, this time they’re watching a tide rising.

There’s a moment in a campaign when voters look at a candidate and ask: Who is he? Ted Cruz is about to have his moment.

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He flattened the Governor to get a $3 million state contract then like a one-man wrecking ball crashed into Senator Phil Berger to keep his contract and after the press chewed on the Governor the reporters made a beeline straight for Berger – who didn’t mince words.

Yes, he said, Graeme Keith called him about that contract.

Yes, he said, Keith wanted him to change a bill.

Yes, he talked to the Governor’s office about the bill.

Yes, the Governor’s office told him to change it.

No, no one in the Governor’s Office ever told him the FBI was investigating how Keith got that contract and, Yes, if they had he (Berger) wouldn’t have changed one word in that bill.

Then Berger dropped a bombshell.

The Government Operations Committee, he said, was going to hold its own investigation and Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry, Prisons Commissioner David Guice and Budget Director Lee Roberts were going to appear at the hearing and that’s where Berger stopped – because he’d made his point and didn’t need to go one step further.

But that’s not the whole story by a long-shot because there’re going to be Democratic legislators on that committee and they’re going to be asking questions the Governor won’t want to hear such as:

  • The Budget Director gave the order to give Graeme Keith the contract. But who made the decision? Was it the Director? Or the Governor?
  • Nine people were sitting in the room when Graeme Keith said the time had come to see what he was going to get in return for his contributions – which the Governor says he didn’t hear because he was in a ‘side conversation.’ So when the Governor left that meeting he didn’t know he’d just had a close-up head-on brush with play to pay politics – but he did know later. And the question the Democrats are going to ask is ‘When?’ and the next question they’re going to ask is was it before the state gave Graeme Keith that contract?

The Governor’s folks have landed in hot water and, at that hearing, they’re going to be staring across the table at Democrats dead-set on turning up the heat.

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The Paris attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis quickly brought out the worst in Republicans. Will it now bring out the best in Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton?

Of course Republican politicians are doing what they do best: stoking Americans’ worst fears, deepest suspicions and darkest prejudices. No surprise. The politicians saw what bashing Mexicans did for Donald Trump. They’re not going to miss out on bashing Muslims.

Of course Governor McCrory is going to join the chorus. He’d rather talk about that than special favors for campaign contributors. And he’s behind in the polls.

“So what if hundreds of thousands of desperate people are fleeing from their homes, abandoning everything they have and risking their lives to escape bloodthirsty barbarians? We’ve got elections to win here!”

After all, America has a long history of hostility to refugees – Jews in the 1930s, Vietnamese and Cambodians in the 1970s and Cubans in the 1980s.

Yes, Democrats are right to slam the Republican politicians as untrue to America’s best traditions and unmoved by the Christian injunction to shelter and succor the suffering.

But that’s not enough.

Most Americans want to help refugees. But they also want to know how we will screen out terrorists.

Most Americans see that more bombing can create more refugees – and more terrorists. They know that more boots on the ground can end badly (See: Iraq). But they want to defeat ISIS.

We want smart AND strong.

This is where President Obama, for all his good judgment, disappoints. His cerebral detachment doesn’t communicate the strength and resolve that Americans want in a President.

The one presidential candidate who could be both strong and smart is Hillary Clinton. She alone could calm our worst fears and call forth our best selves.

So, memo to Hillary: Worry less about being likable. Be more like Margaret Thatcher.

Rise to this moment. That’s what great leaders – and great Presidents – do.


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How do you figure it? Obama’s sending fifty soldiers to Iraq to whip ISIS. Fifty soldiers.

We’re at war with the craziest bunch of mean-eyed terrorists anyone’s laid eyes on since Genghis Khan rolled out of Mongolia – and 50,000 soldiers might scare them. But fifty? Colonel Travis had more men than that at the Alamo.

Weak as water’s not going to whip ISIS. As they used to say back in the days when Americans fought wars to win, It’s time for Obama to get tough – or get out of the way.

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Governor McCrory is in hot water, and his spokesman sounds like a teapot on a hot stove.

Democratic Rep. Larry Hall said of Prison-Gate, “It’s obvious they went to great lengths to ensure this contractor had special access and opportunity. There’s a pay-to-play, quid pro quo way of doing business that’s happening right now.”

Josh Ellis, McCrory’s communications director, shot back, “The smear campaign and lies by the left-wing Democrats continue in order to deflect attention away from an improving economy along with a government that’s more efficient. Rep. Hall’s comments are ones of desperation and destructive politics in order to regain power to implement past failed policies. It’s obvious his goal is to seek misleading stories and false headlines in an effort to fool the people of North Carolina.”

That’s overreacting to the point of hysteria. Whoever wrote it had too much coffee. Or maybe a tongue-lashing from a notoriously thin-skinned Governor.

Regardless, Democrats don’t need to overreach on this one. When your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, don’t get in the line of fire. The prison deal is now the subject of an FBI investigation. The media is all over it. It will go on for a while. Let the story tell itself.

Let the Governor’s flacks flog “left-wing Democrats” and “the left-wing media.” McCrory’s very real problems now are the FBI, his own political appointees and Republicans in the legislature. The FBI is investigating. His appointees are pointing fingers and covering their behinds. And GOP legislators are none too happy at being dragged into this.

Like Phil Berger. He gets a call from Graeme Keith and – presto! – a special provision disappears from the budget. Berger says he wouldn’t have done it if he’d known the FBI was investigating. In other words, he had no problem doing it, he just didn’t know the FBI was on the case.

Then there’s the Dollar mystery, the dog that hasn’t barked – yet. Rep. Nelson Dollar was chief author of a budget that had the provision Keith didn’t like and got Berger to take out. But nobody seems to recall who wrote the provision or why. And Dollar’s wife was working in the prison system at the time, but then lost her job.  Discuss among yourselves.

And then there are McCrory’s other appointees in the department. They obviously smelled trouble from the beginning and went to great lengths to document their concerns about Keith, his prison deal, the special meeting the Governor called and the eventual decision by the Governor’s Office to override their concerns.

In other words, the water is getting hot in Raleigh. And when the water gets hot, teapots sing.

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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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