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Liberal Democrats are rejoicing at the discovery of kindred spirits within the North Carolina Republican Party. Join us, comrades! Together we can make a New World.

The revelation comes courtesy of conservative super-donor Bob Luddy, who attacked House Republicans for their “liberal” budget. Apparently some of them believe the state should invest money in education and health care instead of more tax cuts for rich people and corporations. What heresy.

Luddy and other conservatives also are mad about “Big Solar.” “Solar” sounds like “Solyndra,” which sounds like “Obama,” which is all they need to know.

The Civitas Institute, which Luddy chairs, also launched a pointedly personal attack on the “Gang of 5” House members for their love of Big Solar.

Now, attacking legislators is fair game. But Civitas went too far when it attacked Republican consultants and lobbyists by name. Some things should be out of bounds in politics!

Besides, what has our system come to when $25,000 can’t buy one lousy house of the General Assembly?


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MCOs (Managed Care Companies) are a species of corporate locust but a cohort of silver-tongued Super PAC Managers and I.E. Campaign Managers are hard at work to convince legislators MCOs can heal by touch and walk on water – and save the state a billion dollars on Medicaid.

But here’re two facts from the General Assembly’s own Fiscal Research staff: In 2011, state Medicaid spent $3.8 billion and this year it’s spending $3.7 billion, a decrease of $100 million;—compare that to what pro-MCO groups are telling legislators: In one email the Carolina Partnership for Reform (CPR) told legislators state Medicaid spending has soared by $1.2 billion. In another email, it said Medicaid overspent its budget by $5 billion.

Here’s another example: In a third email, CPR said state Medicaid spent $3.4 billion in 2013. In a fourth, it told legislators Medicaid spent $4.5 billion the same year.

What MCO supporters are doing isn’t subtle or obscure: They’re trying to fool people into believing Medicaid spending is soaring, wildly out of control – and MCOs are the cure.

Not long ago the-powers-that-be-in-Raleigh decided to ‘privatize’ I-77 leading to Charlotte by turning it into a toll road. It sounded like a fine idea. Until later, when legislators learned the state had given the toll road builders a non-compete that said the state wouldn’t expand a major highway leading into Charlotte for fifty years – unless it paid the toll road owners first.

MCOs are this year’s I-77 toll road and political magicians promising they’ll save the state a billion dollars is pure hoodoo.

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John Fennebresque is the political equivalent of Nepal. He sits squarely astride the two giant, grinding tectonic plates of North Carolina’s political world as he leads the UNC Board of Governors’ search for a new President.

This demands leadership skills, political skills and communications skills. And Fennebresque didn’t exactly get off to a great start on the public stage. He admits his performance at a January news conference announcing President Tom Ross’ departure was “a fiasco.” He never explained why Ross was asked to leave, so everybody assumed it was politics, a Republican board wanting a Republican hire.

Yesterday’s N&O editorial headline summed up where that leaves Fennebresque: “UNC board chair must hire well after botched firing of Ross.” It began, “It might have been one of the worst public appearances by an official in the history of North Carolina.”

Judging from Pam Kelley’s excellent Charlotte Observer profile, Fennebresque’s instinct appears to be to seek a solution somewhere in the middle. But what are the odds he can please both the Republican red-hots and the Chapel Hill lefties?

He described himself as a “moderate Republican.” The description sums up his dilemma, because it’s a formula for making everybody mad. Republicans distrust moderate Republicans, Democrats dislike all Republicans and Independents dislike both parties

Fennebresque is no dummy. You don’t get to be vice chairman of McGuire Woods by being a dummy. But this is high-stakes politics. It’s a decision that will have far-reaching consequences for the university system and the state. The media spotlight will be hot and unforgiving. The political pressures will be about a 10 on the Richter scale. And the board’s choice naturally will be compared to Tom Ross, Erskine Bowles and the sainted Bill Friday.

Good luck.

Fennebresque may be due some sympathy. But the only sympathy in politics is between symbolism and syphilis in the dictionary.


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A TAPster has an elegant solution to two problems facing our nation today:

“Why don’t we take all the biker gangs from Waco and ship them to Iraq with their bikes to take on ISIS. If they win we win. If they lose we win. It can’t get any better than that.”


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When you’ve been in politics some 40 years, as Carter and I have, you’ve heard a few great speeches and many bad ones. And written some of both (we like to think). Which must be why the N&O’s John Drescher turned to us for his column on “what makes a good speech.”

John was reacting to a great speech at a Triangle YMCA by football-player-turned-farmer Jason Brown and an awful one by physician Paul Farmer at Duke’s commencement. John wrote, “Farmer spoke for about 40 minutes. It seemed longer.”

Well, there’s your problem. Nobody gives a good 40-minute speech. Of course, there is an exception that proves the rule: Bill Clinton.

Carter and I reviewed the basics: brevity, clarity, knowing your audience and talking to them, not reading at them. Carter had a real insight into what distinguishes a great speaker: an authentic voice. “It’s an ephemeral thing to describe. Reagan had a voice that was all him. When you hear one, you know it. Churchill was the same way. A great speaker has a voice like a writer does.”

Asked to name the three best speakers among North Carolinians, Carter named Senator Jesse Helms, Billy Graham and Ira David Wood. My three were Governor Jim Hunt (you can tell who we worked for), Jim Valvano and Betty McCain.

Why McCain? Because she had the single best line ever in a commencement speech, to my daughter’s graduating class at St. Mary’s: “You think this is a small school? The high school I went to was so small we had to use the same car for driver’s ed and sex ed.”


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British elections are entertaining. For Democrats this year, they’re also instructive.

First the entertainment. On election night, all candidates for a Parliamentary seat stand on stage whilst the results are announced, like American Idol contestants waiting to see if they won or lost. They all wear big badges with their party colors. Then they all speak.

In one “constituency” last week, a bewildered Labour loser made his tearful remarks in front of a minor-party candidate wearing a huge hat and grinning madly, looking for all the world like Wavy Gravy at Woodstock.

Then there are the wonderfully British names of the 650 constituencies: Altrincham and Sale West, Barking, Chingford and Woodford Green, Maidenhead, Mole Valley, Old Bexley and Sidcup, South Basildon and East Thurrock, Wantage….very Monty Python.

But enough fun. Is there a lesson for us? Righto.

The Labour Party, the UK’s Democrats, got whacked. Conservatives (Republicans) defied the polls and won an outright majority. They are now free to plunder and pillage just like Republicans here in North Carolina.

In the campaign, Labour took a tack just like many Democrats would take in 2016: hard left, away from the much-despised business-friendly centrism of the Tony Blair years, which after all only won three consecutive national elections for Labour.

Blair neatly summed it up. He said Labour must stand for aspiration and achievement, not just compassion and care.

You see the same battle among Democrats today. As always, there is the urge to be real, full-throated liberals. And, Lord save us, a suicidal impulse to embrace Bernie Sanders’ socialism.

It played out this week in the unusually personal battle over trade between President Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren. He called her a politician; she called him, in so many words, a corporate appeaser. Hillary Clinton, the husband of well-known corporate appeaser Bill Clinton, tried to be inconspicuous.

The urge to go to extremes infects Democrats and Republicans periodically: Barry Goldwater in 1964, George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984. The results are predictable.

No, we’re not exactly like the UK. (Unless Texas, like Scotland, keeps talking secession.)

But Democrats should take heed.


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From time to time I post blogs from an anonymous TAPster. His offerings are welcome and refreshing, welcome because they save me work, and refreshing because they offer the perspective of a seasoned observer of the Raleigh scene, as well as a certain inspired looniness that comes over a man who is all but retired and free to explore his innate gifts: playing golf, drinking wine and making fun of politicians.

Henceforth, he shall be known as The Golfer. Here is today’s epistle:

Our state is in worse financial shape than we realized if our government raises money by selling advertising space on DOT trucks.

If this pathetic, tacky response to budget woes is the answer, let’s not stop there. Here are some other ideas for monetizing state assets:

Highway Patrol cars. They are everywhere, especially when you’re speeding. Sell ad space on their fenders to bail bondsmen and personal injury lawyers. The cars will look just like NASCAR!

State parks. Sell the timber. We can’t afford to fix the bathrooms, pave the roads or pay the rangers, so why not?

Legislative Building. Rent it for wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs. It has a certain charm – when the legislators are gone.

Highway overpasses. Hang some billboards from them. Who says garish advertising, especially the kind that lights up, has to be confined to woods on the side of the road?

The Carolinian. Sell advertising on the side of the train, just like city buses. These ads would get high visibility when the train is parked in various communities along its route for police investigations after its frequent encounters with cars and people on the tracks.

Chimney Rock. Sell ad space to a beer company. They could paint the entire thing to look like a beer bottle.

DOT. Privatize it and sell it to the Fred Smith Company. Why is the state in the dump truck and motor grader business, anyway? Maybe Fred could figure out how to build enough roads in the right places before they’re actually needed, and fill the holes in the current ones.

Dix Hill. Never mind. It was just sold – from one set of taxpayers to another.

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Governor McCrory says our universities’ mission is to put butts in jobs. Bill Friday believed their mission is to set minds and spirits soaring so they can make North Carolina a better place.

The contrast between that blinkered view and that broad vision was never captured better than in Jane Stancill’s remarkable story Sunday about the 50-year-old hairdresser who earned her degree this year from UNC-CH, with Bill Friday’s support and encouragement (“Student mentored by former UNC leader William Friday perseveres.”)

Gail Markland, the hairdresser, tells her about her journey from the yellow table for “stupid” students, where she was forced to sit in her native England, to American citizenship, to a dyslexia diagnosis thanks to one of her clients, to classes at Durham Tech and ultimately to the remarkable mentorship of Friday.

She opened her shop early to cut his hair, and so she could have him alone. He gently prodded her, as he did thousands of people through his life, with polite, persistent questions: “What are you learning? What are you working on? What are your grades like?”

After she finished Durham Tech with a 3.99 GPA, Friday arranged a scholarship for her at Chapel Hill. Sunday, she graduated. Inside her cap was a picture of Bill Friday.

Today, Friday’s spirit at UNC has been replaced by something far different. Governor McCrory, legislators and even members of UNC’s Board of Governors seem sometimes to denigrate UNC’s value. They see its purpose as simply serving business.

Bill Friday saw it as serving something larger – namely, the spirit, potential and promise within every single man and woman in North Carolina, whatever their age, family, color, money or national origin.

History has judged Friday. As it will judge today’s leaders.


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Little White Lies. Outright Lies. Artful Lies.

Once a bartender told a sailor on leave for the weekend, There’re a lot of prostitutes down at the bus station. Say hello to Anna if you see her.

Listening you’d think Anna was a prostitute but you’d be wrong: She was the sixty year-old clerk working behind the Greyhound ticket counter.

It’s the devil’s own trick: A wizard of deception puts two facts – both true – side by side and creates a fiction. That’s an Artful Lie.

Here’s another example: The Carolina Partnership for Reform is a political bull-terrier that’s fond of two things: Phil Berger and Medicaid MCOs (Managed Care Organizations). Its magic trick works like this: In one breath it tells legislators ‘Medicaid has overspent its budget by $5 billion since 2009’ and in the next breath it tells them that ‘the Medicaid Monster is devouring the state budget and that’s why we can’t give teachers a pay raise’ – then it adds putting MCOs in charge of Medicaid is the cure.

Reading CPFR’s emails you’d believe state Medicaid spending has soared $5 billion but, again, you’d be wrong: The truth is since 2009 state Medicaid spending has dropped.

So how did Medicaid ‘overspend its budget’ while spending dropped?

Look at the first budget (for State Fiscal Year 2011-12) Republicans passed after they took control of the General Assembly: Phil Berger & Company budgeted $894.5 million less for state Medicaid than Medicaid actually spent the year before – which lead straight to a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. Even though actual state Medicaid spending didn’t increase a penny.

And CPFR almost surely knows that.

But, like the bartender, it also knows how to put two facts side by side and create a fiction.

Which is an unhappy portent for Phil Berger & Company.

Because CPFR’s artful emails are drawing a bulls-eye on the multi-million dollar hole in the first state Medicaid budget Berger & Company passed.

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There are two competing political narratives on the state’s budget picture. The question is whether voters will buy either one.

When a budget surplus was predicted last week, Democrats and Republicans pounced.

“Chicken Littles on the left loudly cried North Carolina would lose so much tax revenue that students wouldn’t have teachers, roads wouldn’t be built and our universities might have to close,” said Senate Boss Phil Berger.

Democratic Sen. Dan Blue responded: “Thanks to this Republican tax code, people are making less money, giant corporations are keeping more, and middle class families are paying an enormous price.”

The same happened on paying off North Carolina’s unemployment debt early. Republicans called it good management. Democrats called it cruel treatment of people without jobs.

No doubt, both parties will keep pushing these conflicting narratives. No doubt the media and pundits will debate who’s winning.

But how much difference will it all make in 2016?

Voters will vote – focusing mainly on President and Governor – based on who they believe can best manage the overall economy.

Raleigh-centric debates about surpluses and deficits aren’t likely to get many toes tapping.


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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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