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Their facts are the same. But they’re telling two different stories.

The Governor’s folks explain how Graeme Keith got his $3 million state contract this way: The Governor met with Keith and Secretary Frank Perry and Keith made his case – that it would be cheaper for his company to provide maintenance for the state prisons – and Perry disagreed.

Keith did say, at the meeting, that he’d made political contributions and it was time to see what he got in return but the Governor didn’t hear him say it – he was having a side conversation.

After the meeting, the Governor told the Budget Director to figure out who was right: Keith or Perry and the Director decided Keith was right – and gave him the contract.

The other side’s version goes like this: Keith asked Perry for a contract. But Perry said No. Keith then went around Perry to the Governor – who called a meeting. After the meeting, Perry still said No.

The Governor then took the decision out of Perry’s hands and told the Budget Director, Lee Roberts, to decide. Roberts did a brief study and gave Keith the contract.

Same facts. Two stories Who’s right?

There’re no clear answers. But there are signs.

Lee Roberts, the Budget Director, did do a study. And he did conclude Keith’s contract would save the state money. But the study was also only a quarter of a page long.

Roberts never put Keith’s contract out for competitive bids – he just gave it to Keith.

And finally, just the other day, the state did an about face and reversed course – Secretary Perry announced he’s cancelling Keith’s contract.



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It was like a curtain parting and catching a glimpse of a backroom filled with politicians – there, sitting in the middle of the hearing, were two of the Governor’s aides testifying and doing their best to wriggle out of the pickle they’d landed in.

A businessman – who’d given $12,000 to the Governor’s campaign – had met with the Governor and his aides and told them bluntly that he’d made his contributions and now wanted to see what he got in return.

What he wanted was a $3 million state contract.

But the Cabinet Secretary who had to approve the contract had told him no.

Which is the reason Governor had called the meeting.

But nothing the Secretary heard in the meeting changed his mind. The contract, he maintained, was a bad deal for the state.

Which didn’t sit well with the donor much at all.

The Governor solved that problem by ordering the Budget Director to take charge of the contract – which meant the Budget Director and not the Secretary would decide what to do.

The Budget Director decided the contract was a good deal and gave the donor what he wanted – but then the unexpected happened: The newspapers got wind of what had happened and the $3 million contract landed on the front pages and the Budget Director and Secretary landed in front of a legislative hearing.

Did that donor really say blunt as a corncob that he’d made contributions and wanted a contract? a legislator asked.

Yes, sir, the Secretary said, He did.

But the Governor says he didn’t hear it?

He was having a side conversation.

Later, did you tell the Governor what he said?

The Secretary was less specific. Well, no, sir… not in a detailed way.

No one asked what ‘not in a detailed way’ meant but the Secretary went on to explain that he felt what the donor had said was inappropriate but since there was no ‘quid pro quo’ he saw no reason to report it to the Governor.

Of course that part about there being ‘no quid pro quo’ sounded odd because the donor got the contract.

But that’s not how the Secretary saw it – and why seems to go back to the Budget Director: The Secretary was arguing the donor got the contract because the Budget Director said it was a good deal – not because he’d given the Governor’s campaign $12,000.

But, then, in the middle of the hearing, backroom politics took another turn and the Secretary announced at the end of this year he wasn’t going to renew the contract that the Budget Director had said was a good deal.

So the contract was a bad deal, then a good deal, then a bad deal again – but never, at any time, was it a quid pro quo.

Years ago Ronald Reagan said, ‘Watching backstage politics is like looking at civilization with its pants down.’ Amen.

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Brussels is on lockdown. Paris has hospital wards full of wounded. Russia has an airliner in pieces. Mali has a blown-up hotel. And, in Kuala Lumpur, President Obama is explaining how terrorists’ attacks on restaurants and concert halls are not the new normal.

The five bullet riddled restaurants, the men firing Kalashnikovs, the blown up concert hall, and the woman wearing the suicide bomber vest are right there in front of him to see.

But he averts his eyes. And hopes they will go away. It’s called denial.

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Several Democratic friends took issue with my defense of Roy Cooper on the refugee issue. One tweeted, “Absolute bull!” Another sidled up to me at the Y: “I agree with your blog 97 percent of the time, but this….” On Facebook, another posted a line-by-line rebuttal.

Certainly, I take no offense. My reaction is more like Sally Fields: “They read me! They really, really read me!”

Several argued that it’s morally wrong for America to turn its back on refugees fleeing war, death and terror. Some questioned whether Cooper took the right position politically.

That helped me see the gap between us on political strategy. Forty years of political combat taught me that Democratic politicians should reach beyond the party’s base and attract moderate and even some conservative voters.

But one critic essentially said that’s old thinking, that Democrats today must stay true to the party’s base. Like President Obama has done.

I’m thankful for these friends and for their comments, pro and con. I’m also thankful that their hearts are in the right place.

I just hope their political strategy is right. A lot is at stake in 2016.


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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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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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