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North Carolina - Democrats

06
A group of politicians called Justice for All North Carolinians have had an ad on TV slamming liberal Judge Robin Hudson for ‘siding with child molesters’ in a Supreme Court decision. 
 
Now if that sounds like a little political fact twisting – it is.
 
Here’s what happened: The state legislature passed new laws on child molesters, including new punishments like wearing electronic monitors – which was without a doubt a good idea.
 
Next there was a lawsuit – that landed in the Supreme Court – over whether to apply those new laws retroactively to varmints (child molesters) who’d been convicted before the laws passed.
 
Of course, it’s an old and cherished democratic principle politicians (and legislatures) ought not to have the power to pass a law one day then prosecute people who broke it the day before – it’d be like giving politicians the power to say, Sure, it was legal when you did it but it’s a crime now.
 
But in the hands of a group of politicos out to win a Supreme Court election standing up for an abstract democratic principle (which is what Hudson was doing) didn’t mean squat – in fact, it morphed into ‘Robin Hudson sides with child molesters.’
 
Judge Hudson’s not my cup of tea. But, now, there’s another abstract principle at play in her election that has to be weighed alongside her ideology: What is the consequence if Robin Hudson loses because a Super PAC told voters a lie?
 
And the answer is: More lies.
 
So here’s a perplexing dilemma: Which matters most? Defeating Robin Hudson and encouraging more lyin’ in politics?
 
Or electing a liberal Judge and demonstrating lying backfires?

 

 

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03

There’s been a lot of political foolishness going on over in Greensboro and I’ve been watching it pretty closely, working with one of Phil Berger Jr.’s opponents in the Republican Primary, Bruce VonCannon.

The other day Berger’s Super PAC broke bad and issued an edict: Voters, they said, ought not to trust Bruce VonCannon to oppose Obamacare.

Now, you might wonder, How can that be? A Republican candidate for Congress not opposing Obamacare?
 
Well, according to Berger’s Super PAC, the answer goes like this: Last December, Bruce VonCannon hired a prominent Republican lawyer with the Arent Fox Law Firm in Washington to handle his campaign’s financial reports with the Federal Elections Commission.
 
Now, in and of itself, that doesn’t sound too bad. But Berger’s Super PAC wasn’t done. It revealed another horrible fact: Arent Fox, it said, has a Democratic partner who’d lobbied for Obamacare.
 
And, to be frank, that’s true.
 
Just like it’s true Arent Fox represents Rand Paul and Ron Paul – which, of course, led Bruce VonCannon to ask Phil Berger, Jr. a simple question: Do you think Rand Paul can’t be trusted on Obamacare too?
 
Then, later on that same day, a friend called and pointed out an even odder fact. Phil Berger, he said, had hired Parker Poe (Terry Sanford’s old law firm) to be his attorney – which led to a final even simpler question for the folks at Berger’s Super PAC: Would you all say that proves Phil Berger, Jr. is for the Food Tax – or would you say there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking?

 

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02
Paul Tine is a rare and endangered species: a centrist Democrat who represents a Republican-leaning district in the N.C. House. The Democratic Party needs him – and more like him.
 
I met Paul for the first time at a fundraiser this week. He’s young, smart and candid. I know his district, House 6, which covers Dare, Hyde, Washington, and parts of Beaufort County. It has some of the poorest parts of the state, along with the beach, resort and retirement areas of Dare.
 
He was straightforward in telling his liberal-leaning audience that the issues important to them aren’t always what his constituents care about. They’re worried about just getting from Point A to Point B in places that depend on ferries that get delayed, bridges that get shut down and roads that get washed out.
 
Listening to him, it struck me that if he were in politics for personal ambition alone, he’d probably be a Republican. They’d love to have an articulate, attractive businessman with his record and family – his wife Whitney, who may be a better politician than he is, and their two sons.
 
So he’s got guts and principles, and I like that.
 
And I liked the karma. The reception was at the home of Joyce Fitzpatrick and Jay Stewart. Joyce and Jay bought the house from Al Adams, the former state representative from Raleigh. Al was Terry Sanford’s law partner and protégé. I suspect Terry had been in the house talking politics more than a few times.
 
To channel my inner Lloyd Bentsen: I knew Terry Sanford. Terry Sanford was a friend of mine. I worked with Terry Sanford. And I know what Terry would have said if he’d been there: “We need Paul Tine. And you need to help him.”
 
Listen to Terry. Help Paul. Click here.

 

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30
Democrats contemplating a comeback need to contemplate this. The Republican Party is spending at least $650,000 on “a blistering attack” against Justice Robin Hudson of the state Supreme Court.
 
Democrats need to face a sobering reality: They are up against a rich and ruthless opponent, one who will spend any amount and say anything to seize and hold power.
 
You can whine about it, you can complain about money in politics or you can hope that nobody believes an ad that accuses Hudson “of siding with child molesters.”
 
None of that does any good. There is only one solution, one antidote to the Pope-Koch Axis of Evil. Some rich, hard-headed individual who cares about North Carolina needs to step up, see what works and put up the seed money.
 
What works are independent-expenditure ads that destroy the opponent. That’s what politics has come to, like it or not.
 
Art Pope learned that lesson. For 20 years, he pumped millions into the John Locke Foundation. He got nowhere. Starting in 2010, he pumped millions into independent campaigns, and he started winning.
 
This is not rocket science. But it’s expensive, and it’s a rough game.

 

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24
Thom Tillis is already vulnerable over the sex scandal in his office, and he will invite more scandals if he remains Speaker in the short session. Those scandals will be about legislation, campaign contributions and pay-to-play.
 
It’s obvious why he wants to stay as Speaker: So he can raise money – either for a GOP runoff or for the fall campaign. So everything that happens in the House – every bill, every issue, every vote – will prompt sharp-eyed researchers to see who had a stake in that issue and who gives Tillis money.
 
If Tillis thinks the sex-scandal ads sting – and boy, do they ever – wait until he sees the pay-to-play ads.
 
On top of that, Tillis has shown an uncanny gift for turning a negative against him into an even bigger negative against him. Witness his shifting stories about where he went to college and, now, whether he “fired” the staffers in the sex scandals.
 
Between the primary and the session, Tillis could emerge as a badly wounded candidate. While Kay Hagan amasses a big war chest and a lot of ammo.

 

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21
Democrats are no doubt playing in the GOP Senate primary, but some of the parallels being drawn may be exaggerated.
 
Rob Christensen compared Democrats’ strategy against Thom Tillis to what Democrats did in Missouri in 2012 to help re-elect Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. There, Republicans nominated a Tea Party nut who promptly lost to the otherwise-vulnerable incumbent.
 
Yes, Democrats are running ads targeting Tillis in the primary. Both the Hagan campaign and Senator Harry Reid’s PAC are playing that game.
 
But Tillis is going to be the Republican nominee. And while I’m no expert on Republican politics, Tillis should win on May 6 without a runoff.
 
The more plausible strategy is to damage Tillis now, when people are looking at the Republican candidates. And it’s working. The negatives against Tillis are adding up. As Carter noted, the Speaker hurt himself by using taxpayers’ money to pay off staffers who had affairs. Remember Pearce’s Law: the worst wounds in politics are self-inflicted.
 
Now, it would be sweet for Hagan if Tillis is forced into a runoff. He then has to spend more time and money, as well as take more hits. And he has to decide whether to remain Speaker during this year’s legislative session. If he does, House Democrats should beat him like a piñata.
 
What’s important is that Democrats are learning to play hardball.

 

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18
When hundreds of teachers leave in the middle of the school year – in one of the nation’s best places to live and one of its best school systems – we have a crisis. But Republicans are in denial, and Democrats have a winning issue for this fall.
 
About one out of every 15 teachers in the Wake County schools has resigned this year. That’s up 41 percent from last year.
 
Republican leader Skip Stam sees no problem. His response was essentially, “Nothing to see here. Move along.”
 
You begin to think that Republicans’ callousness toward public schools and teachers has blinded them to the political consequences here. If your child loses a teacher, you want action and answers – not denial and evasion.
 
Underwood School Principal Jackie Jordan said she’ll lose five teachers, or 25 percent of the school’s total, by the end of this school year. The N&O said, “She noted that two of her teachers have had their houses foreclosed on this year and that one teacher is receiving food stamps.”
 
“If we’re losing teachers at this rate, what’s happening in other schools around the state that may not have as much support from the community, that may not have a beautiful facility?” Jordan said.
 
Amen.

 

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16
While Governor McCrory and his patrons at the John Locke Foundation were bragging about tax cuts on Tax Day, Republicans in the Legislative Building were digging an even deeper teacher-pay hole for themselves and McCrory.
 
The N&O’s page one headline said: “Broad teacher raises unlikely.” McCrory proclaimed, “we’re leaving a little extra money in everyone’s paycheck.”
 
Here’s the rub for the Republicans. Everybody in North Carolina knows the Governor and the legislature shafted teachers. But who really believes they got a tax cut?
 
Democrats don’t need to overdo this. They don’t need to say: “Republicans cut taxes and didn’t give teachers a pay raise.” They just need to say: “Republicans didn’t give teachers a pay raise.” Make Republicans try to tell people they cut taxes.

 

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13
Misery loves company and right here, in Raleigh, it’s led to a pretty strange alliance. Governor McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency have joined arms.
 
To whip the ‘coal ash’ problem.
 
According to the newspaper reports the Governor is “pleased” but, so far, the EPA hasn’t had much kind to say about DENR. In fact, the other morning the newspapers reported the EPA was unhappy with DENR because of its too cushy settlement with Duke Energy a year ago.
 
Even worse for the DENR folks, disposing of a mountain of coal ash (that’s been building up for forty years) may not be their diciest problem. Not by a long shot.
 
Coal ash is a catastrophe. But Grand Jury Investigations and subpoenas flying through the air are an altogether more worrisome development. Dancing the ‘ole political two step’ with an FBI agent doesn’t work. And in Grand Jury investigations people testify under oath so fibbing is off the table. If you’re a DENR employee or a lobbyist who lobbied a DENR employee you’re face to face with a cold hard fact – the Grand Jury is looking for an answer to a simple question: Did someone in DENR cut Duke Power a break? And did he or she get anything in return?
 
This kind of investigation can be the deadliest calamity in politics. There’re no backroom fixes. No quarter is given. And the consequences can be a lot more unfortunate than losing an election.

 

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09
This is a story about how even “good” money – that is, money spent for candidates and causes I like – can be bad.
 
It’s a story about how outside donors and independent campaigns, not candidates and office-holders, are setting the political agenda. You can walk, and run, but money talks.
 
Most every poll you see in North Carolina today shows that education is the number one issue. And the Republican legislature’s biggest vulnerability – as is Thom Tillis’s – is its war against teachers and public schools.
 
But what issue dominates the pro-Democratic TV ads? It’s not education. It’s the environment, clean air and water, and the coal ash spill.
 
Now, those are great issues. Great Democratic issues. But why is TV filled with ads about the environment, and not education?
 
Because the big donors – big national and in-state donors – care more about environmental issues than education issues.
 
This is what the United States Supreme Court in effect believes should happen: People with money should be able to decide the agenda and define the issues. The Court says that is fundamental in our Constitution.
 
You can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad. But how many ads can you afford?

 

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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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