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North Carolina - Democrats

06
He helped answer two questions that I get a lot: Why are you helping Clay Aiken? And, of course: What’s he like?
 
When Holding said he was considering running against Renee Ellmers in the Republican primary (he didn’t, in the end), he said she “has gone Washington.” He added, “Do not underestimate Clay Aiken. He’s speaking from the heart. If he gets off the ground there is a concern on my side that he could get loose and win that thing.”
 
Bingo, Robert.
 
Aiken is known for his singing voice, but he has a unique political voice. As he showed in his announcement video, he tells his life story in a compelling way, he captures the public’s disgust with Washington dysfunction and he offers a clear and refreshing contrast. And he’s bringing attention to a race that wasn’t on the radar.
 
What’s he like? The first thing people say is: “You’re taller than I expected” (an inch or two over six feet.) He’s genuine, down-to-earth and likeable. Self-assured in the way successful people are, but not cocky. He’s not intimidated by cameras, media scrutiny or the Republican tracker who tapes his every move and utterance. Been there, done that.
 
He’s tougher, smarter and more informed than people expect. He’s a sponge for information and he sets high standards for himself and people around him.
 
He has a genuine distaste for what politics in America has become, just like many voters. And he has an internal compass that steers him clear of politics-as-usual. He’s a welcome contrast to a cynical, power-hungry, money-obsessed political world.
 
And his campaign is attracting smart, idealistic and committed young people. That’s good for the Democratic Party.
 

 

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05
These days just about every politician in Raleigh is saying (as often as he can) how he wants to spend more money on schools and give teachers raises. 
 
But what if the root of the problem with schools isn’t money. 
 
This is a bit simple but the prime movers in public education are: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Teachers Union. 
 
Now, the politicians have so many problems on their hands – budgets, Medicaid, Obamacare, and coal ash spills – that education only gets a piece of their time. 
 
A politician’s also got to fret over getting reelected, so if giving public school teachers tenure is popular he’s likely to be for it regardless of whether it’s good or bad education policy. 
 
On the other hand, bureaucrats in Raleigh and at local school boards work on running education day in and day out. And the teachers union wouldn’t even exist if there weren’t public schools.
 
Now, like most groups, bureaucrats have their own goals. A bureaucrat aims to keep his job, earn a comfortable wage, receive a raise or promotion now and then, and retire with a state pension.  A bureaucrat does not like making decisions.  Making decisions can cause controversy.  Which gives birth to risk. Which can land a bureaucrat in the soup.
 
The teachers union also has its own goals:  The union has members. And it wants to get them raises. Now, raises for teachers sounds fine but it turns out there’s a glitch there too. 
 
Republican legislators support ‘Merit Pay’ – a plan that pays good teachers more than not-so-good teachers. That sounds fine too.  But it doesn’t fit in with the teachers unions’ goal. Because poor teachers pay the union dues just like good teachers do .
 
Not long ago the State Legislature passed a bill so every local school board could give 25% of its teachers – the best teachers – bonuses.
 
You might think that would have been greeted with joy – but, instead it was greeted with horror.
 
Suddenly education bureaucrats were faced with making thousands of decisions – they had to choose who were the best teachers. And making those decisions didn’t appeal to them at all. It was going to be controversial.  And risk was sure to follow.
  
The teachers union wasn’t happy either.  Some of its members – the best teachers who got bonuses – would be happy.  But 75% of its members were going to be unhappy and the union couldn’t very well support a plan that left most of its members mad.
 
Awhile back Senate Leader Phil Berger passed a bill that said third graders had to learn to read before they could be promoted to fourth grade.  He also provided funds to help students who were struggling and, to insure flexibility, he left implementing the plan to local school boards. 
 
Again, the bureaucrats reacted with horror.
 
Deciding whether 3rd graders could read properly entailed more decisions and this time those decisions were bound to make parents unhappy.  
 
The local bureaucrats bucked the plan up to the state bureaucrats (at the Department of Public Instruction) who twisted and turned and created a plan so unwieldy that, when their first battery of tests landed on 3rd graders heads with a thud, parents’ screams could be heard all the way to Raleigh. 
 
The Superintendent of Public Instruction got so rattled she announced Senator Berger had made a terrible mistake and declared 3rd graders should be promoted whether they could read or not.
 
So it looks like – to improve schools – we’ve got to get the bureaucrats and unions out of the business of deciding policy – because their goals and what’s best for schools are two different things. 
 
Otherwise, we’ll simply end up running in circles.

 

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03
The other day I was feeling a little down and blue about Republicans’ foibles then thanks to Democratic Chairman Randy Vollmer the sun broke through the clouds.
 
Awhile back, the Democratic Party had to replace its Executive Director after he was accused of sexual harassment. Last week, Chairman Randy Vollmer fired the replacement and offered the job to a gentleman who’s been accused of sexual harassment not once but twice.
 
Mr. Vollmer’s choice, Ben Chavis, settled the first sexual harassment case while serving as Executive Director of the NAACP; he settled a second case, later, while serving as a Nation of Islam minister at a New York mosque.
 
Of course, the more astute Democrats saw right off Vollmer was on the wrong track – but they were rebuffed by a broadside claiming they were ‘disrespecting’ Ben Chavis’ Civil Rights legacy – which usually trumps anything in Democratic Party politics. But not this time. Wiser heads scuttled Vollmer’s choice and, in the end, all the Chairman accomplished was proving an old bit of political folk wisdom:  No matter how many mistakes Republicans make, if we just have a little patience, the Democrats will screw up worse.

 

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28
The internal politics of the North Carolina Democratic Party are a mystery to me, so I’m lost when people ask, essentially, “WTF is Randy Voller up to?” So I refer you to an insightful piece by an observer I trust: Bob Geary with Indy Week.
 
Geary begins: “After a stormy year as state Democratic Party chair, Randy Voller should step down for the sake of his party's candidates and North Carolina. I say this knowing that he won't, because Voller sees himself as a visionary leader—but he can't see that he's hurting Democratic prospects for 2014.”
 
And Geary concludes with a spot-on observation about a party chairman’s duty: “In election years, the job is to elect candidates—not be the story instead of them.”
 
Amen. The future of Democratic candidates – not to mention that of North Carolina, the nation and the free world – might depend on whether the party’s executive committee remembers this admonition when it meets March 9.

 

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25
Immigration, the newspaper says, is ‘bedeviling” Congresswoman Renee Ellmers. It’s also bedeviling Speaker John Boehner. And half the Republicans in Washington. 
 
It’s a knotty problem.
 
Part of the politicians have decided it’s best to send every single illegal immigrant back to where they came from – but no one’s quite sure how to go about rounding up 10 to 20 million people. 
 
Another group of politicians, who’re mostly Democrats, want to make all the illegal immigrants citizens. 
 
And, as  a sort of compromise, a third group of politicians propose to let the illegal immigrants stay here but not make them citizens.
 
It gets more complex.
 
Groups like the Farm Bureau say they desperately need workers and without illegal immigrants the crops won’t get picked.
 
And, to make it more complex still, amid all this hollering, no one’s answered a couple of questions.
 
For instance, how, in the middle of a recession with high unemployment, is there a lack of workers? Is there really no one to hire? Or are the farmers simply looking for cheap immigrant labor?
 
Farmers have given their answer to that question loud and clear.
 
But isn’t there an independent study by Harvard or North Carolina State that proves it’s a stone cold fact unemployed workers won’t touch a job on a farm with a ten foot pole?
 
There’s another question.
 
Out of the ten million or so illegal immigrants living here now there must be at least one who’s a saint. Or genius. 
 
Should we deport saints and geniuses?  Or let them stay here?
 
There’re also bound to be some thugs and gang members among the illegals. If we make everyone a citizen, what do we do about them?
 
The politicians are treating illegal immigrants as a class which is a lot simpler than treating people as individuals – but wouldn’t it be more practical to ship the ne’re-do-wells home and allow the saints and geniuses to stay?
 
Sorting out the good guys and bad guys would be another complex problem but, instead of answering tough questions, all we hear is politicians howling: Keep ‘em all here. Send ‘em all home.

 

 

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21
The number floated up off the page and hung shimmering in the air in front of my eyes: 580,834.
 
Surprised, and curious, I clicked on the computer, then stared at another number that looked dreary in comparison: 345.
 
580,834:  The number of people who have watched Clay Aiken’s video since he announced for Congress.
 
345:  The number of people who have watched Congresswoman Renee Ellmers’ last video.
 
Of course, Republicans are reeling in the face of this phenomenon.
 
How many, one said to me, of those 580,834 people live in the 2nd District? Those are people who read the Hollywood Reporter – not the News and Observer.
 
That’s fine – but, politically, that’s not the end of the story.  
 
What if a fraction (1%) of those 580,834 people send Clay Aiken a contribution of $100 – that’s $580,834?
 
When a celebrity abandons fame and fortune to run for political office the normal rule book flies out the window.  For example:   
 
38 years ago, next month, Ronald Reagan (an underdog running against Gerald Ford) flew into Greensboro, climbed onto a bus and for two weeks before the Republican Primary rolled through the small towns and rolling foothills of the Piedmont.  And each time that bus stopped in town squares, farmers and housewives and mill workers turned out in droves not to hear a candidate for President but to see the first movie star ever to roll into Wilkesboro or Morganton or Gastonia.  And an hour later, after Reagan finished speaking and he climbed back onto the bus, they’d been converted.
 
Of course, today a fellow doesn’t have to roll through town squares – we’ve invented this little widget they didn’t have back in 1976 called the Internet with little add-ons like YouTube so people can sit at home and watch videos. 
 
The Internet’s also the greatest rumor mill ever invented and the other day the gossip was flying with people claiming The National Enquirer’s in Raleigh doing a expose on Aiken. There’s a video of Aiken in a Kasbah.  In a bordello.  In a gay-chat room.  Aiken’s broke.  His records don’t sell.  He’s a washed up singer running for Congress.
 
Four years ago, Democratic Congressman Bob Etheridge handed Renee Ellmers a victory in a district a Democrat should have won. Then the State House handed her a district where a Republican should win. But now, she’s landed in a different world where the old rules no longer apply – which doesn’t mean she will lose but does bring a litany of earthshaking new realities.
 
This isn’t going to be a normal political race.  Old-standards – like the advantages of incumbency – no longer hold.  Just consider one change:  Clay Aiken is going to receive more press attention and scrutiny than any Congressional candidate ever in North Carolina. And so will Renee Ellmers.  No stone will be left unturned. 
 
580, 834 means this race is going to be on the front page of the newspaper – day after day.


 

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19
Governor McCrory walked into Reid’s Fine Food and ran head on into a cook who proceeded to tell him what he thought of the Governor’s politics; then, the way the cook tells it, the Governor started yelling, saying he was a customer and shouldn’t be treated that way – then the Governor’s security detail complained to the owner and the cook was fired.
 
Years ago, when ole Joe Hunt (who was Jim Hunt’s uncle) was running for re-election to the State House, as he walked down the street in Greensboro, a lady came up to him and chewed him out, cussing him up one side and down another, saying she wouldn’t vote for him if her life depended on it.
 
When she was done Joe doffed his hat and said, Well, ma’am, I never reckoned it would be unanimous.

It was a better response.

 

 

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18
The other day down at the News and Observer ole Rob Christensen wrote about how Republicans in Raleigh are cocksure there’s not a chance they’ll lose their majorities in the State House and State Senate – because of redistricting.
 
Then he pointed out a not-so-good thing:  When politicians get the idea they’re so powerful they’re invulnerable it leads to mischief. 
 
Now, the way Republican legislators see the next election they’re safe in their castle, manning the battlements, with the drawbridge pulled up.  It’ll take a mighty horde to whip them.  And no horde’s in site. 
 
But just as it was true three thousand years ago in the time of King Solomon, so it may be true today: Pride goeth before a fall.
 
The other morning out of a clear blue sky rumors started flying that former Governor-for-life Jim Hunt has started a mega-million-dollar Democratic Super-PAC – to whip Republican legislators.  Which just might be a horde on the horizon.

 

 

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14
One protestor waved a sign calling for legalizing medical marijuana and another held up a sign “Stop the War on Women” and Reverend Barber looked out at the multitude of marchers, lifted his arms, and thundered into the microphone how he meant to save the school children and save the poor and see that everyone got healthcare and how he wanted to put an end to sending people to jail because of their race then, without pausing for breath, he explained how he and the protestors standing in the street in front of him were the ‘trumpet of conscience’ in North Carolina walking in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King.
 
Now, I don’t know a southern male, black or white, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, who’s crazy enough to start a war on southern women. It’d be the worst mistake since Gettysburg.
 
Voice rising, gaining cadence, the Reverend started talking about morality and right off one thing was clear – the way he sees it he, Reverend Barber, right then, has a hammer-lock on righteousness and any fool and especially any politician who doesn’t see eye to eye with him has got to be immoral, amoral, or, worse, doesn’t give a toot about little school children and poor people.
 
The Governor, he thundered, was a varmint and Republican legislators were even worse varmints.
 
Of course Republicans have been known, occasionally, to sin. But it’s also true, if you boil away the Reverend’s thunder and brimstone, when he says he’s fighting for justice, generally speaking what he’s got in mind is taking money from one fellow and giving it to another.
 
There’s a pretty fair chance before he’s done the Reverend will do a fair amount of harm. But not to Republicans. To the people marching down the street beside him. Because they’re the poor souls he’s most likely to fool with his roaring self-righteousness. And there’s proof more folks than just Republicans have figured that out: No one saw Jim Hunt or Roy Cooper or Kay Hagen marching down Fayetteville Street beside Reverend Barber.

 

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14
Instead of exploiting the Tea Party’s war on Establishment Republicans, Randy Voller seems set on replicating it in the Democratic Party.
 
Behind this week’s chaos is a history of hostilities between some party activists and what they see as the Establishment Enemy: elected officials in Raleigh and consultants who help elect them. It goes back to Howard Dean’s candidacy in 2004, which brought in enthusiastic grassroots activists, and Jerry Meek’s election as chair in 2005.
 
Meek did a good job keeping everybody together. But Voller seems intent on keeping himself in power by driving a wedge. According to one party leader, Voller said he fired ex-ED Robert Dempsey because he “spent too much time working with the Hagan campaign.”
 
Hello? Too much time working on a race vital to North Carolina’s future, not to mention a majority in the United States Senate?
 
To get a full picture of the chaos, read the first-hand account by WRAL’s Mark Binker of Voller’s statewide conference call with party leaders Tuesday night. One person on the call texted: “Randy is selectively muting opponents, kicking reporters off the line….It’s like a dictatorship.”
 
Voller defends himself and his plan to make Ben Chavis ED of the party by saying it will “fire up the base.” But parties that focus solely on firing up the base forget to win a majority. Successful parties, like Democrats in the 1990s and President Obama (who disavowed Chavis’ support in 2008) do both.
 
The Tea Party is about to drive the Republican Party off a cliff. Why should the North Carolina Democratic Party join them?

 

 

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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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