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It’s hard to find a more bull-headed fellow walking the earth than a UNC professor dead-set on upholding the virtues of political correctness: He’s 100% for diversity and 100% against discrimination right up to the moment someone disagrees with him.

The other day the UNC Faculty Council gave the legislature and Senator Phil Berger down the road for interfering with academic freedom.  Now politicians are capable of almost anything but for once they’re innocent. The way the Faculty Council views it the legislature’s job is to give the University money and what the politicians ought not to do, ever, is tell the professors what to spend the money on. That interferes with their academic freedom.

Senate Leader Phil Berger also enraged the professors by saying there was “philosophical and partisan homogeneity at UNC,” which was about as polite a way Berger could have found to say that professors are often as receptive to other people’s ideas as a rock.

Meantime, at the same time, the Faculty Council was taking Senator Berger to the woodshed, the News & Observer was reporting how UNC professors taught bogus classes for athletes for twenty years.

Chapel Hill’s not as small as Mayberry but how likely is it one group of professors were teaching classes that never met and none of the professors ever had a clue what was going on – for twenty years?

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Trump blustered. Hillary smiled back unperturbed. Hillary talked about studies and facts and quotes. Trump didn’t seem to remember what he’d said in the past about Iraq, Libya, or Vladimir Putin.

“Donald,” Hillary said, “believes global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.”

“I did not. I did not. I do not say that. I do not say that,” Trump answered.

But in November 2012 Trump tweeted the “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese.”

To use an old battlefield metaphor Hillary charged, broke Trump’s line, and won the battle.

And next? Trump now needs time to fall back, regroup, and counter-attack.

Or, on the other hand, if Hillary presses her attack she may turn Trump’s retreat into a rout.

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Trump blew it. Bigly. 

One hundred million Americans watched last night for one reason: to see if they could see Trump as President. But they saw a bully. A braggart. And a blowhard. 

He easily could have won the debate – and maybe the election. All he had to do was pull a Reagan. Be genial, even humble.  “There you go again.” With a smile and a shake of the head. 

He actually started strong when he talked about job losses, trade deals and people hurting. But for most of the debate he reverted to talking about the only thing that matters to him: himself. His greatness, his wonderfulness, his buildings, his businesses. 

In a profession of towering egos, Trump is the Colossus of Rhodes. 

Clinton is by no means a great politician. She can’t translate her policy expertise in everyday language. But last night she stood up to the bully. She was calm and tough. She proved her “stamina” by giving as well as she got for 90 minutes. She bloodied him on his tax returns, “stiffing” people in business and the birther lie. 

She did, in short, what a dozen Republicans couldn’t do in debates with Trump. 

Trump has punched enough hot buttons and channeled enough anger – and Clinton has enough negatives – to keep this race close. But last night it was hard to see how Trump persuaded enough Independent and Republican women that he has the temperament to be in the Oval Office, in charge of our economy and in command of our military.

He barely seemed in command of himself. 

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A Washington Post reporter asked whether Republican legislators passed election laws to require voter I.D.s and limit early voting to keep African Americans from voting.  

Back in 2010, before Republicans redrew the State House and Senate districts, there were 98 Democrats in the State Legislature.  After redistricting, there were 60. 

Before redistricting, 33 African-Americans were elected to the State House and Senate. After redistricting, 34 African-Americans were elected.

The number of Democrats dropped. The number of African- Americans went up. Those two numbers tell the whole story.

So I explained to the Post’s reporter Republican legislators didn’t sit in a back-room and say, How do we keep African -Americans from voting? – they sat in the back-room and said, How do we keep Democrats from voting? The reason for passing the laws wasn’t race it was politics.

A day or so after the Post’s story another reporter for a political website – it may have been Vox – went on the Internet and ‘tweeted’ I’d said the Republicans laws were justified because they helped elect Republicans. Next on Twitter a horde of enraged liberals charged over the horizon in my direction.

There was hollering. And that was the end of it. No one was looking for a way to fix the problem.

Political parties passing laws to give themselves an edge at the ballot box shouldn’t happen but it does and neither party has clean hands. And whether we elect Republicans or Democrats this fall it’s a safe bet history will repeat itself.

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To be great, politicians – like athletes, performers and mythic heroes – must rise to moments of great challenge. Hillary Clinton’s moment comes in Monday’s debate.

The merciless beast Momentum has turned against her. It was with her for several weeks after the conventions. Then the media and the commentariat grew tired of talking about how truly awful Donald Trump is and would be as President. They turned their fire to Hillary:

She didn’t tell us she had pneumonia! Calling Trump voters “deplorables” was a gaffe! She can’t put the email scandal behind her! People don’t like her, her voice, her hair, her clothes! She doesn’t excite minorities and millennials the way Obama did!

Monday night, head to head with Trump, Clinton can turn it all around. For all the criticisms of her political skills, this is an arena where she has excelled.

In unscripted – and combative – settings, her warmth and her toughness both come through. Like when she faced down Republicans on the Benghazi committee.

Her knowledge, temperament and judgment – shaped by decades of policy and government work – come through.

Most of all, the X-ray of TV will let us see through two possible Presidents.

And one of them is Donald Trump.


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“Is HB2 the worst self-inflicted wound in the history of North Carolina politics?”

That’s what a young whippersnapper asked at breakfast the other day. (When you’re my age, you get a lot of questions about history.)

I couldn’t think of a worse one.

Terry Sanford’s food tax? It hurt him politically, but Sanford didn’t push for the food tax because he thought it was popular. He knew it wasn’t popular, but he thought it was right.

Republicans thought HB2 would be popular.


The Speaker Ban Law, maybe. But nobody lost an election over it, as best I recall. The ban was repealed because it was hurting North Carolina.

HB2 is doing worse damage to North Carolina, and that’s why it’s doing so much political damage to Governor McCrory and the legislators who supported it, especially those who are beating a hasty retreat weeks before the election.

Suddenly, they want to “stop playing politics.” After playing politics with the issue since April.

They say they want to “revisit” HB2 and “replace” it with something “just about bathrooms.”

No. They just need to get out of the bathrooms. There is no problem that needs solving here. It’s illegal now for men to go into a women’s bathroom (or men’s, for that matter) and peep or harass or molest or assault somebody.

HB2 was about politics from the beginning. Republicans thought they could gin up a wedge issue. They did. But they got caught on the wrong side of the wedge.

They thought they could use a vulnerable group of people as a political target. It backfired.


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Another police shooting of a black man. Another city ripped by unrest, protests and, the media says, “riots.”

This time it’s Charlotte. This time Charlotte is in the news for something other than bathrooms.

Carter’s blog on this, by the way, is thoughtful and insightful. I commend it to you.

So often in cases like this, the people we know take the positions we can predict. But there are two sides here.

As a white man, I can see it through the eyes of a police officer who is trying to enforce the law and is constantly alert to threats.

I also can see it as if I were a black man with a young son. I’d worry every day about what would happen if he encounters a police officer. Or if I did.

I have enormous respect for the difficult jobs – and the dangers – that police officers face every day. I have a brother and sister-in-law who were officers.

But we give police officers enormous powers. They carry guns. They are empowered to shoot to kill.

That’s a power that demands tight oversight. Because police officers aren’t perfect, and they aren’t free from bias and prejudice.

This inevitably becomes political: What will be the impact on the elections?

I don’t know. But I do know that our state, our nation and our society need leaders who build bridges, not walls. Leaders who bring us together, not drive us farther apart.


Posted in: General, Issues
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Yesterday two reporters asked me if the riots in Charlotte were going to have a ‘political impact.’  On the radio, while driving to work, I’d heard about the riots but hadn’t read any news reports and didn’t know the answer—then last night at home I turned on the television and the second night of riots was on every news channel.

This morning another reporter called and said, The Trump people are saying the riots will help Trump. Do you agree?

After watching television last night, I had no doubt the Charlotte riots will have, as Donald Trump would say, a huge impact on political campaigns in North Carolina.  But how they change Governor McCrory’s race against Roy Cooper, or Donald Trump’s against Hillary Clinton, will depend on each candidate’s judgement.

I can’t recall the last time we had riots and looting North Carolina, so this morning I’m sitting here wondering, Why did this happen?

Voters – or, more precisely, swing voters – are going to want to know the answer to that question and they’re going to watch what the Governor says and does, compare it to what Roy Cooper says and does, and decide who has sound judgment.

The same is true of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. If Mr. Trump speaks with judgment instead of political hyperbole – well, judgment matters right now. On the other hand, if Trump pours gas on the fire – that will matter too.

The same standard will apply, even more, to Governor McCrory and Roy Cooper.

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Pat McCrory acts like the Queen City has become Queer City.

Now, the city that made him may break him. He got elected because he had a reputation as a moderate, pragmatic, pro-business Mayor of Charlotte. He may lose reelection because he has a reputation now as a gay-bashing, bathroom-obsessed, bad-for-business Governor.

He won in 2012 because he won big margins in Charlotte and its media market. He may lose in 2016 because his embrace of HB2 chases away thousands of those voters.

It’s a product of a fundamental divide in the Republican Party, one McCrory never figured out how to bridge.

It’s Trump vs Romney/Bush/Establishment. It’s Megachurches vs Megabusiness. It’s City Mouse vs Country Mouse. It’s Charlotte vs Kings Mountain and Eden.

Unfortunately for McCrory, Kings Mountain, Eden & Co. control the legislature. They’ve gerrymandered themselves into a belief they’re bulletproof. He has never figured out how to handle them. And now he’s paying the price.


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One poll question asked, Should transgender men be allowed to use women’s bathrooms? and another question asked, Do you support HB2?  and the answer to both questions was ‘No’ which sounds like a contradiction but isn’t: It’s a paradox – a case of voters saying to Republicans, We agree with what you set out to do but don’t agree with the way you tried to do it.

When Charlotte passed its law to let transgender men use women’s bathrooms the Republicans in the General Assembly said ‘No way’ and passed HB2, then said allowing gay and transgender men to use women’s bathrooms meant letting sexual predators and child molesters into women’s bathrooms.

Democrats shot back saying equating gays with sexual predators was unfair and, suddenly, the debate was no longer about who used what bathroom – it was Democrats slamming Republicans for being ‘unfair’ and ‘discriminating’ and voters hearing Republicans shoot back saying unkind things about gays that sounded like they might not blink twice at a little unfairness.

It turned out we Republicans had shot our own foot off; now everyone from the NCAA to the ACC to Coach K opposes HB2 and the newspapers are running stories about Republican legislators striking the flag which is bound to be tempting to a lot of politicians – expediency has a way of triumphing over principle seven weeks before an election. But turning back the hands of the clock (by repealing HB2) won’t wipe away people’s memories of all that’s been said and done over the past six months.

Republicans didn’t lose the debate over HB2 because voters supported Charlotte’s ordinance – Republicans lost because of how they fought Charlotte’s ordinance and that’s a mistake we have to fix. Only then will Republicans be able to effectively make a case that transgender men using women’s restrooms isn’t a good idea.

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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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