Blog Articles
21
They’re not highway numbers, or ages. They are the two big numbers driving North Carolina’s education debate this year.
 
When you take an eight-miles-high view of the legislature, setting aside the partisan debates and vitriol, the most striking thing is that Republicans are arguing this year over whether to raise teacher pay 5-6 per cent (the House and Governor McCrory) or 11 percent (the Senate).
 
Now, set aside for a moment Democrats’ objections that neither 5,6 or 11 is real, as all the pay raise proposals come with big holes and big cuts in other education areas. The point is that, one year after freezing teacher pay, Republicans are competing to claim they raised teacher pay.
 
Enter this story and map by Dave Dewitt and Keith Weston from WUNC radio: “Why is a teacher raise suddenly so important?...In 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, a local school system is the largest single employer. A local school system is the second-largest employer in 24 other counties. In only 12 counties a school system not in the top two.”
 
These numbers recall what a long-time lobbyist predicted last year: “The legislators are going to go home and find out that a lot of school teachers and school employees are Republicans.”
 
And so they did.
 
Which leads to the other number: 48. That’s where education advocates say North Carolina ranks in per-pupil spending, and they say we’re in race to the bottom.
 
Behind all this, you can be sure, is another set of numbers that has caught Republican’s attention: the polls on their approval ratings.

 

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18
New Yorker magazine, as I recall, once had a department called: “Which newspaper do you read?” It juxtaposed totally opposite headlines about the same story. To wit this week:
 
“Clay Aiken outpaces GOP candidate in 2nd quarter fundraising” (Sandhills Tribune).
             
“Rep. Ellmers ahead of Aiken in fundraising in 2nd Congressional District” (Fayetteville Observer).
 
In fairness, if you study the numbers hard enough, you might find that both stories are true. But, as it’s beyond me, I’m hoping Representative Ellmers will bring it down to my level. Maybe a pie chart or something.

 

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16
A discerning reader adds a twist to my theory (see “Pat Versus Phil” blog below) that Senator Berger might back a primary opponent against Governor McCrory: It could be Lt. Governor Dan Forest: “Can't help but notice Senate budget included Forest's pet project for more education revenue but they didn't include any of Gov’s pet projects. If I was Phil Berger I could see how Forrest is just the right empty suit for the Governor’s Mansion.”
 
Of course, Phil Berger Jr.’s loss in the Sixth Congressional District might give Forrest pause.
 
On that topic, the same reader reported this nugget: “McCrory controversial former Press Flack is busy rubbing salt in the Berger family wound this morning.”
 
That would be Ricky Diaz – late of DHHS $80,000-a-year fame – who tweeted: “With loss of his son in NC-6, BIG defeat for Senate President Phil Berger.”
 
No love lost here.
 

 

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16
Republican primaries are the best entertainment you can find this summer.
 
First Eric Cantor loses in a monumental upset. Then black Democrats save Thad Cochrane’s hide. Then two former Democrats running for Wake County DA fight over who’s the best Republican. And now Phil Berger Jr. loses big despite outspending his opponent big, plus getting help from every lobbyist, superPAC and special interest his father could line up.
 
You can almost feel the ripples of glee running through the Democratic Party, the Republican House leadership and the Governor’s Mansion.
 
How we love to see the mighty fall.
 
Carter knows far more about this race than I do, but I refuse to let ignorance stand in the way of analysis.
 
John Davis wrote that the winner, Mark Walker, “fanned the flames of resentment of super PAC attack ads run against him and two other Guilford County candidates during April and May, and tied Berger to Washington and Raleigh political insiders wielding outside money.”
 
So maybe it was a backlash against big outside money and negative attacks.
 
Or maybe it was just geography. As Davis noted, Guilford County, Walker’s home, has 43 percent of the district’s voters and Berger’s home of Rockingham, only 12 percent.
 
Or maybe it was resentment at Berger Sr. flaunting his power in the legislature – and fighting with a Republican Governor.
 
Or maybe nobody knew who Phil Berger Sr. is.
 
Or maybe you should never underestimate the power of a Baptist minister’s organization in a low-turnout primary.
 
Or maybe Allen Johnson at the Greensboro News & Record got it: “The Berger Jr. campaign may have turned off some voters by holding too firmly to Dad’s coattails and not running on his own merits. But I’m betting also that Berger Jr. failed to connect on personal level with voters. That they didn’t find him engaging or likable. He seemed in a hurry at times to get on with his anointment…. Berger (Sr.) is a master at wielding his influence through the sheer force of his grip. But that kind of politics will get you only so far. It helps if people like you, too.”
 
(By the way, great headline on Johnson’s piece: “The son doesn’t rise: Why did Berger Jr. lose?”)
 
In the end, I think my wise young friend, consultant Nation Hahn, nailed the essential lesson: “Seems like Berger Jr's loss should cause Renee (Ellmers) some heartburn. Another establishment candidate going down. Walker was really a joke, but he was in the same vein as Brat in VA. Gadfly, who organized, and who tapped in to the incredible anger sweeping the country.”

 

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15
The Old Bull Mooses walked into a meeting with the House to wrangle over the state budget but before they could fire a shot the House’s lead wrangler, Nelson Dollar, threw them a curve ball: He announced he was calling half a dozen school superintendents to testify at the hearing.
 
The Bull Mooses had been ambushed – Dollar had invited the nice, earnest school superintendents to tell the Senators all the ways their budget  was wrong – while the TV cameras rolled.
 
Then the Bull Mooses did something that played into Dollar’s hands – they turned a little media event into a big media event: They got mad, stood up, and stalked out of the room.
 
Later, after the superintendents had left, when the Senators trooped back into the room they were still mad and, right off, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown raked Dollar over the coals. After Brown finished, Senator Jerry Tillman waved the latest House budget proposal at Dollar and told him it wasn’t worth the paper it had been written on.
 
The Old Bull Mooses had been sandbagged. Trapped.  Gotten mad.   Dug the hole deeper. Then, still mad, acted like grumpy old men.
 
In their bones, the Bull Mooses surely believe they’re the true defenders of virtue standing up to House whiffenpoos  but, by the end of the meeting, instead of pillars of rectitude they looked like Liberty Valance pummeling Jimmy Stewart.
 
They’d turned themselves into the perfect foils and Governor McCrory – who’d already fired a broadside accusing the Senators were playing “inside the beltline politics” and comparing them “to Democrats” – let fly with still another broadside.
           
Senate Leader Phil Berger’s generally a soft spoken man but a couple more meetings like this and, instead the Old Bull Mooses being defenders of virtue, everybody’s going to be cheering for the man who shot Liberty Valance.

 

 

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15
This increasingly looks like a political death match – with one survivor in the end. I’m betting on Phil Berger.
 
Yesterday Governor McCrory compared Senator Berger & Co. to Marc Basnight, Tony Rand and – yes – Harry Reid.
 
Ouch. Them’s fighting words. Imagine Jim Hunt comparing a Democratic House Speaker in the 90s to Newt Gingrich.
 
A veteran observer of the legislature wrote, “Wow.  You'd think McCrory and Berger were locked in a tight election campaign.  Against each other.” And asked, “Is McCrory making a huge tactical and strategic mistake by taking sides in the budget battle?  I don't recall seeing that before.  The typical gubernatorial stance would be, ‘The House and Senate need to work out their differences and pass a budget.  That's what the taxpayers sent them here to do’."
 
It’s common for Governors to put public pressure on the legislature. But no matter how close Governors Hunt, Easley and Perdue were to Senate leaders, they never picked sides the way McCrory has.
 
Berger’s response to the Basnight-Rand-Reid comment was straight out of the Bugs Bunny Rule for Winning Debates. He said, “The governor and Senate have honest but resolvable differences over the state budget – these differences do not warrant personal criticisms of one another.”
 
(The Bugs Bunny Rule comes from Jeff Greenfield, the longtime TV political analyst: “The most comfortable person in the room always wins. Think Bugs Bunny Versus Daffy Duck.”)
 
This fight surely will last long beyond this session. What will the next two years be like for the Governor? And will he be running in 2016 against a Republican opponent backed by Berger?

 

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14
What is it about our sports teams that possesses us so?
 
Brazil’s soccer team loses in the World Cup, and a nation plunges into despair, mourning and an angry orgy of recrimination. A national tragedy, it seems.
 
LeBron James takes his talents home, and a city erupts in joy and thanks. The Second Coming, if you will.
 
We’ve all been to college football and basketball games and seen fans in a frenzy – either of uncontrolled ecstasy or of rage directed at the refs, the other team and sometimes their own team and coach.  You expect fists to fly and heads to explode.
 
We’ve seen the obsession with winning and losing games sully the reputation of a great University, cost it the leadership of an able Chancellor and force it to suffer through year after year of lurid news headlines and embarrassing, never-ending investigations.
 
A psychologist or sociologist probably could easily explain some primal, tribal need that these rituals satisfy: wearing the colors, joining in the chants and losing ourselves in the outcome of a contest between two groups of physically gifted but often emotionally or even mentally stunted young men. (And it is only for the teams composed of young men.)
 
Maybe we need to get a grip. It’s just a game.

 

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11
What on earth do you do when a eight-year-old lands on your doorstep?
 
I heard two spokesmen on the radio today with answers – the first told a story of a lone girl, one of the border children, who after being repeatedly raped by gangs in Honduras, trudged or rode on the tops of trains, clinging to boxcar roofs, 500 miles across Mexico to arrive in Texas hollow-cheeked with hunger.
 
The other spokesman explained half the border children hadn’t trudged across Mexico alone at all – they’d been carried by smugglers paid by families who were desperate to get their sons and daughters out of El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala.
 
Of course, up in Congress, Republicans say Obama’s to blame for the whole mess.  He  threw open the door to the border children when he decided not to deport the “Dream Children.”
 
And the Democrats, of course, say Republicans are ogres with no hearts.
 
And, finally, President Obama wants Congress to give him $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis – which comes to $74,000 per child. 
 
So with all this passion and all these political agendas clouding the rhetorical air who can we believe?  And how do we figure out what we ought to do?
 
In a way the answer’s simple: If a weary, bedraggled eight-year-old turned up on your doorstep one night would you turn him away? 
 
No.  Lord willing, you’d lend him or her a helping hand.
 
Beyond that, since there are 50,000 children on our doorstep, there’s one other question to ask we have to answer: Are these children refugees or illegal immigrants?
 
Because if a child’s fleeing in terror – whether it’s from gang rapes or other sins – well, to put it bluntly: In America we help refugees.  We may not make them citizens.  But we don’t turn them away either.
 
And if these children are illegal immigrants? If they’re not fleeing from violence or abuse?
 
Well, then, like all runaway children, we return them to their parents.

 

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10
You hear that North Carolina is growing and changing. Now you can see just how and how much – and what that may mean for politics – thanks to Ferrel Guillory and his colleagues at the UNC Program on Public Life.
 
They have just posted their new issue of NC DataNet on their website. Check it out here. And check out how you can help them keep doing their great work.
 
Highlights:
·       42 percent of North Carolinians were born in another state or country, and 48 percent of those who voted in 2012 were born elsewhere.
·       In-migration is the reason we’re growing faster than the rest of the nation, and why we’re becoming more powerful politically.
·       In-migrants are almost twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree, and they tend to move to cities more than rural areas.
 
Where are they coming from? In order: Florida, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, Georgia. Also, Pennsylvania, Maryland and California.
 
Where are they moving to? Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, Buncombe and Cumberland. Also to a mix of major urban centers (Guilford and Forsyth), coastal counties (Onslow and New Hanover), recreational and retirement meccas (Moore and Brunswick), and suburban-style communities near major cities (Cabarrus, Union, Orange and Henderson).
 
What does it mean for politics? “While the data, as provided by the state Board of Elections, do not show precisely how many in-migrants registered as Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, they clearly have contributed to a surge in new voters deciding not to affiliate with a major political party. Mecklenburg and Wake, along with four other counties, had gains in unaffiliated voters of 100 percent or higher.”

 

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09
It is a well-known fact that the not-so-great state of South Carolina has only two things going for it: the coast and the city of Charleston.
 
The coast is there by the grace of God and the gifts of nature. But it turns out that much of what makes Charleston a great place – the arts, the historic preservation, the restaurants – is there thanks in part to a liberal Democrat who has been Mayor for nearly 40 years.
 
A New York Times column Sunday about Mayor Joe Riley called him “America’s Best-Loved Mayor.” He pushed for the Spoleto arts festival as a way of making the city aim higher, and he sees the arts as vital to a great city. He has concentrated on concrete accomplishments: public safety, parks, housing and the beauty and vibrancy of the city’s historic streets.
 
Most amazing, he stayed in office in South Carolina’s rabidly red-hot Republican politics despite being an early supporter of a Martin Luther King holiday, hiring a black police chief in 1982 and leading a five-day, 120-mile march to Columbia calling for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol in 2000.
 
Maybe it’s that Riley is accessible and personable. Maybe it’s that he’s Old Charleston; he looks like we walked right out of the famous (and famously expensive) Ben Silver men’s store downtown.
 
Maybe it’s that some cities – like Raleigh with Mayors Meeker and McFarlane – take to progressive mayors who push policies that attract bright, creative people who transform the quality of life downtown. And maybe that’s a sign that government can work.

 

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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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