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North Carolina - Democrats

18
Kay Hagan didn’t put it quite this bluntly but, basically, what she said was Thom Tillis is a Neanderthal.
 
Now, no one, except for State Senators, believes being called a relic of the Stone Age is a compliment so, understandably unhappy, Tillis blasted Hagan right back saying the environmental regulations she supports (to end global warming) will cost jobs.
 
The press then asked Tillis if it was true – as Hagan said – that he didn’t believe in global warming.  And Tillis dodged.
 
Then the press asked Hagan which environmental regulations she supported and she not only dodged but added saving the planet might have to wait because new regulations might cost jobs.
 
That, of course, left Hagan in a fix.
 
But it left Tillis in a fix, too, because disagreeing with Al Gore (about saving the planet) means opening the newspaper and reading that all the scientists and every intellectual and every sensible person walking around on two legs believes the icecaps are melting – except that troglodyte Thom Tillis.
 
And lying in the dust, nursing his wounds, after being trampled by scientific infallibility what could Tillis say?
 
There are possibilities.
 
Like the words: Malthusian Catastrophe.  Piltdown Man.  And Population Bomb.
 
Back in 1798 an English scientist-economist, Thomas Malthus, produced a study that proved beyond a doubt the population was growing so fast doom was unavoidable. And just about every scientist and intellectual agreed.  The coming Malthusian Catastrophe was a fact. It was just a matter of time.
 
In 1912 an English scientist dug up a skull and jawbone from the Pleistocene Era buried in a pit in Piltdown, England, rushed back to London and announced he’d found the missing link – ‘Piltdown Man’ – and that was accepted as scientific fact, too, until, years later, carbon testing proved he’d found the skull of a man and jawbone of an ape.
 
In 1968 Paul Ehrlich, a scientist at Stanford University, wrote The Population Bomb and prophesized, ‘The battle to feed humanity is over…  In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.’
 
Ehrlich’s book sold 2 million copies and the intellectual community went wild – it was required reading at UNC.  Only Neanderthals disagreed.
 
All those scientific facts turned out to be fads.
 
Of course, ‘Piltdown Man’ doesn’t mean Al Gore’s prediction of doom is wrong but on the other hand it is cause for a reasonable man to cast a discerning eye on scientific infallibility – without being a Neanderthal.

 

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17
In May as soon as the Notables and Honorables who serve in the State Senate arrived in Raleigh and settled into their seats, they glanced at Governor McCrory’s Budget, flipped it into the waste bin, and substituted their own budget.
 
What happened to Medicaid’s an example. With their usual delicacy, the Old Bull’s in the Senate discarded the Governor’s plan then, after a few moments debate, passed their own plan.
 
Now one problem with Medicaid is the darn thing always ends up over budget – no one in the Department of Health and Human Services (or in the legislature) can figure out how to write a budget that’s accurate – so at the end of each year Medicaid’s awash in red ink and, to their chagrin, at the last minute Senators have had to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to plug the holes. 
 
Finally, the Old Bulls had had enough and came up with their own plan – they decided to dump the whole train wreck on Managed Care Organizations (corporations that manage state Medicaid programs for a fee) which didn’t sound too bad except no cure is perfect and this one had a glitch the Old Bulls hadn’t fixed: The more care the Managed Care Organizations deny sick people the more money they make.
 
Now Senator Phil Berger’s as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet.  He’s soft-spoken. Polite.  Courteous to a fault.  But when it comes to passing legislation the State Senate – where he rules the roost – is like a dyspeptic elephant wielding a blunderbuss.
 
It’s either shooting something or stomping someone all the time.
 
But when the Honorable Senators fired both barrels at the Governor an odd thing happened – the Governor showed a flash of temper and said a nasty four letter word: Veto.
 
It was like zapping the elephant with a cattle prod.
 
The Senate and Governor were eyeball to eyeball with the Old Bulls betting the Governor wouldn’t have the temerity to make good on his threat – but, in a way, they’d also handed the Governor an opportunity.
 
For the last year, every time they’ve had a disagreement with the Governor, the Senate Republicans – who have a veto-proof majority – have marched in lock-step and rolled right over him. 
 
The Older Bulls pointed the way and Younger Bulls dutifully fell in line.
 
But it’s a hard truth that, in fact, the Governor has more power than the Old Bulls. He has a bigger soap-box.  He’s more popular with Republicans.  Has more supporters.  More money.  And, this fall, the Governor can do a lot more to help a struggling Senator – facing a tough campaign – than the Old Bulls in the Senate.
 
And if the Governor had a handful of loyal Republican friends in the Senate who’d work with him (instead of marching in lock-step when the Old Bulls point the way) there would be an earth-shaking shift in the balance of power in Raleigh.
 
And Governor Pat McCrory wouldn’t be watching his budgets land in the waste bin.

 

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17
Thirty years ago it sounded fine when Democrats set out to save North Carolina from the wickedness of a Republican Governor firing Democratic state employees – they were ridding state government of nasty old politics.  
 
But it didn’t turn out quite the way they expected because, when all was said and done, they’d created a new tribe that had never been seen before in North Carolina. 
 
Back then, the new tribe began its journey in unchartered territory but its first members quickly adapted and prospered, learning a wise bureaucrat avoided controversy (like the plague) and with a modicum of common sense could happily avoid the strain of long hours and hard work.
 
When Governor McCrory arrived in Raleigh the seeds planted three decades earlier had flowered and flourished like kudzu. 
 
After he was sworn in, the Governor learned the state’s bureaucratic elite had been steadily working on NC Tracks (a $500 million computer program) for a decade and, a little shocked so much time had passed, he told them, No more delays. Let’s get it done.
 
Six months later the bureaucrats reported the program was ready to launch so the Governor pushed the go button – and there was a meltdown.
 
The same thing happened when he launched another computer program, NC Fast.
 
Then the Coal Ash spill hit him right between the eyes and, by then, the Governor must have begun to suspect what he needed most were not people to set policies but people who could fix things and, maybe in the next breath, he figured out he was caught between a rock and a hard place – because the people he’d just ordered to fix the coal ash ponds were the same people who’d failed to fix them for decades.
 
A less patient man would have proposed getting shed of the state personnel laws so he could get shed of bureaucrats who’d mismanaged a $500 million computer program but, instead, the Governor made a milder request: He simply asked the legislature to make it a little easier to replace a neglectful bureaucrat.
 
It’s hard to tell what he expected but his proposal was greeted with a howl of outrage.  The press let fly.  The Democrats let fly.  The bureaucrats let fly.
 
Giving the Governor more power to fire bureaucrats, the State Employees Association said, would lead to corruption.
 
Now, even in a fallen world that’s a bleak picture: Because Democrats set out to prevent wickedness thirty years ago, today, to avoid corruption we have to protect bungling.

 

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13
When it comes to avoiding another coal ash spill, the problem may not be (as the environmentalists believe) the villainy of Governor McCrory.  The problem may be more subtle. 
 
Going back decades, the career state employees over at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have told Duke Energy it was handling coal ash just fine.   
 
That seems odd now.  But it really wasn’t all that unusual then.
 
Back in 1917, before Duke Energy ever built the first coal ash pond, Alcoa Corporation was smelting aluminum down on the Yadkin River and in those days – since the EPA didn’t even exist – it simply loaded the waste (which is more toxic than coal ash) onto trucks and dumped it in the woods around Badin. Later, after the EPA came along, Alcoa began dumping the waste in unlined landfills and, over the years, regular as clockwork, state bureaucrats would write Alcoa and ask, Send us a report about your pollution. 
 
And Alcoa would send a long report back which basically said, As you know, there’s been pollution (in the past) but none of it is an immediate threat to anyone so rather than cleaning it up we propose to leave it as is and go on monitoring.  
 
Then the state bureaucrats would write back, Fine, and stamp the report and file it in a warehouse full of other state documents.
 
 Apparently no one stopped to wonder if it made sense to ask the folks who’d have to clean up the pollution whether it was a problem.
 
Then Duke’s coal ash pond ruptured and Governor Pat McCrory found himself face to face with another unusual fact: The folks he had to put to work (at DENR) cleaning up the mess were the same folks who’d been telling Duke Energy – for years – it was doing just fine.
 
Now the environmentalists aren’t fond of the Governor and they’ve got their reasons but maybe, this once, the Governor’s not the villain.

 

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11
I’m very, very nervous… Democratic State Representative Marcus Brandon said.
 
Disagreeing, Republican Representative Michael Specialecountered, What’s the price of selling our souls?
 
When it comes to keeping ‘Common Core’ the politicians in Raleigh have divided into two armed camps.
 
Rep. Michael Speciale is dead-set against it. Rep. Marcus Brandon is for it.
 
Thom Tillis is against it. Kay Hagan is for it. 
 
Governor McCrory is for it (with reservations). Lt. Governor Dan Forest is against it without reservations.
 
In the News and Observer one Common Core opponent declared it ‘violates the Constitution’ – while the Chamber of Commerce declared it’s great and killing it will kill jobs.
 
A lady from New Bern declared, Common Core is anti-American. The readings teach kids to hate America – and I stopped reading right there, thinking, Governor McCrory anti-American?
 
Curious, I went online to find out exactly what about Common Core was un-American but finding an answer wasn’t as easy as it sounded. A search turned up hundreds of muddled rants scattered across websites from Raleigh to Timbuktu, none clearly explaining how Common Core was ‘anti-American.’ I was about to give up, thinking, This is just another political howl – when I spotted a nugget.
 
According to The Daily Caller, the experts at Common Core have perfected a sophisticated formula to rate the complexity of books so they can assign each book to the appropriate grade level – using the formula they rated The Sun Also Rises too simple for 4th graders and assigned it to third graders to read along with Curious George Gets a Medal
 
Which settles it. 
 
They ought to shut the whole thing down

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11
"This is a miracle from God that just happened." - David Brat, who rocked the political world Tuesday by upsetting Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican primary.
 
Well, that’s certainly one explanation. A more earthly one came from former Representative Thomas M. Davis III, another Virginia Republican: “There are some very angry people upset with the status quo, and Eric became part of that.”
 
Washington will bloviate all day today about what happened, why and what it means. But let’s look at what it means right here in our backyard, namely for Rep. (Just Walk Away) Renee Ellmers. She’s one Republican incumbent in North Carolina who faces just the kind of outsider challenge that toppled Cantor.
 
Yes, hers is in a general election, from special ed teacher/singer/foundation founder/UNICEF ambassador Clay Aiken. But the lesson holds.
 
This is a classic case of an outsider challenging the status quo. You’ll remember, a few years back, when Ellmers won election as an outsider. Then she crawled inside the Washington woodwork and made herself quite comfortable, standing by John (of Orange) Boehner on camera and voting to shut down the government and cut veterans’ health care, while complaining she needed her paycheck.
 
So when you hear the Political Wise Men and Women intoning that Ellmers is safe in a Republican-drawn, Republican-leaning district, remember how sure that crowd was that Cantor would win big.
 
A side note here: Uber-blogger Thomas Mills told me not long ago that he is skeptical of primary polls. It’s hard to predict who will vote, he said. The same thing could be true in this year’s off-year elections, especially considering the conflicting currents of public anger from right, left and middle.
 
Bottom line: Expect the unexpected. And as I’ve said before, don’t underestimate Clay Aiken. 

 

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11
Everybody knows Republicans, and especially conservative Republicans, don’t like government subsidies. They’re corporate welfare. They’re government picking winners and losers.  And interfering with the free marketplace. 
 
That’s why Republicans opposed Obama’s solar energy subsidies like Solyandro – a solar business ought to be able to stand on its own two feet and if it can’t government handing it cash is bad false economics.
 
That’s logical.
 
But even if you’re a saint it’s a struggle to avoid temptation – and politicians have the added burden of being able to use other people’s money to help their friends.
 
Bottom line: Just a few days ago, in Raleigh, Republican State Senators voted to give fracking companies a million dollar subsidy.

 

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09

 

Horrified by the vision of legions of fired Democratic state employees, back when Jim Martin was elected Governor, Democrats changed the law so Martin couldn’t fire much of anyone – then announced (with a show of virtue) they’d gotten nasty old politics out of the state government.
 
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray: One day the typical state employee had a boss and the next he didn’t, then he figured out in place of a boss he had not a person but a set of rules (called the ‘Personnel Act’): He didn’t have quite the same job security as a tenured professor but he wasn’t far from it as long as he didn’t do anything egregious like larceny. 
 
Which turned out to be a temptation no self-respecting man should have to bear. 
 
The typical state employee’s day subtly changed.  He fell into a rhythm, eating, sleeping, tending to his wants and needs, and placidly spending eight hours in his office receiving and filing reports on, say, coal ash ponds.  Then, as the years rolled by, placidness compounded and compounded again and deepened into somnambulance until, one fine day, reality reared its head: A coal ash pond ruptured.
 
Pat McCrory had run for governor in 2008 and lost, toiled three years preparing to run again, built a new and stronger campaign, whipped Walter Dalton, and arrived in Raleigh full of new ideas but, when that coal ash pond ruptured, found himself face to face with an unforgiving fact: He had no one to clean up the mess except the same bureaucrats who’d spent decades blissfully asleep at the switch ignoring what had turned out to be a ticking time bomb.
 
Worse, wherever he looked he had the same problem. Over in the Department of Health and Human Services, they’d spent eight years and $500 million working on a new computer program but the minute the Governor pressed the go button there was a meltdown.
 
The program sputtered then settled into a smoking heap and the only people he had to fix it were the people who’d told him to press the button.
 
It seemed the Governor could set policy (and had plenty of well-meaning people like State Senators telling him what his policy ought to be) but what he really needed were people who could do things – who could fix problems.  Like coal ash ponds. 
 
So he tried a logical step: He asked the legislature to give him not the kind of unlimited power Jim Hunt had during his first two terms but a bit more power so he could replace somnambulant bureaucrats but as soon as the words were out of his mouth the State Employees Association and Democratic Legislators started hollering, accusing him of putting nasty old politics back into state government.

 

 

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02
As Democrats look to counter Senate Republicans on teacher pay, they should look outside the revenue box.
 
The 11 percent raise/end tenure plan caught the headlines and seemed to catch Democrats (and Governor McCrory) off guard. Democrats responded that the plan would gut education, UNC and Medicaid to fund an election-year pay raise that comes with strings attached.
 
But suppose Democrats raise the bidding now. Suppose they say: 11 percent is a nice start, Senator Berger, but not nearly enough. Let’s raise teacher pay 33 percent, so Houston can’t hire away our good teachers. And let’s pay for it by raising taxes on upper incomes and raising sales taxes on everybody.
 
(Why 33 percent? Well, it sounds good. And that’s how much North Carolina raised teacher pay in Governor Hunt’s last term in the ‘90s.)
 
Some Democrats fear opening the tax-increase box. But that may be a false fear, left over from the politics of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
 
If voters are truly angry about the damage done to public schools, then they may be ready to pay to fix it, if the fix seems fair enough and broad enough.

 

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29
If you did a poll – and Senator Berger surely has – you’d probably get overwhelming support for this proposition: “Should public school teachers get an 11 per cent raise in exchange for giving up tenure?”
 
Therein lies the challenge to Senate Democrats. Berger says: “You say you want higher teacher pay. Here it is.”  But here’s the trap: Teachers have to give up “tenure,” which most people think means that after you’ve been in a job for a while you can’t be fired, no matter how lazy, unproductive or incompetent you are.
 
Democrats have an education job to do here. They have to define what “tenure” really is. Not automatic protection for incompetent teachers, but minimal protection against arbitrary and capricious personnel decisions by principals and administrators who may not like a teacher for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with their performance or ability.
 
Like, say, a teacher who speaks up about a lousy principal, or objects to a bad central-office decision, or raises an uncomfortable question about school policies, or is so good an incompetent principal feels threatened or – yes – is a member of the “wrong” political party.
 
One education expert I talked to described Berger’s proposal this way: “It's another one of their manipulative political moves. People automatically think ‘yay! Higher teacher pay!’ But that's such a small part of the picture. Lack of tenure turns teachers into obedient minions. It completely eliminates creativity, innovation, teacher leadership, and progress within schools. If teachers are too worried about their jobs to speak up, education hits a stalemate. Which in turn makes all these ‘liberal ideas’ (read: common core) nearly impossible to implement successfully. Which is exactly what they want. Raising teacher pay is great, but they're doing it to hide the fact that they're throwing teacher autonomy and creativity in the trash.”
 
Long ago, a wise man gave me good advice about politics: Never underestimate the intelligence of voters, and never overestimate the information they have.
 
To escape this trap, Democrats need to fill the information gap.

 

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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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