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North Carolina - Democrats

24
For years they’ve been the best of buddies. Soul mates. Like peas and carrots.  But, now, they’ve had a falling out…followed by blows being struck.
 
Reaching into the treasury in Washington and pulling out a wad of other people’s money to give to your friends is as old an American tradition as apple pie. 
 
Back before the Civil War, Congressmen in the Western and Northern states got together to take money from people in the South (with tariffs) to build ‘internal improvements’ (like roads) in the West and protect textile mills in New England.
 
During the Gilded Age, Congressmen from just about everywhere voted to give cash and land and subsidies to railroad tycoons.
 
Today, Democrats, like Obama,  give cash to their friends like Solyndra and Republicans do the same with their friends. More prickly, no matter how much you love Social Security and Medicare there’s no avoiding the awkward fact that, in all likelihood, mom’s going to get more money back from Social Security than she ever paid in and the difference is going to be paid with other people’s money.
 
The same malady – corporate subsidies – led to the ultra-right-wing-Koch Brothers-Art Pope-funded-Americans for Prosperity’s falling out with the ultra-right wing Republican State Senate led by Phil Berger.
 
The rumbling started when the Senate voted to take hard cash out of the state exchequer and hand it to movie production companies.
 
The first blow was struck when Americans for Prosperity branded the plan ‘Hollywood handouts.’
 
Of course, that was bound to rile the Old Bulls in the Senate: AFP running ads calling Republican Senators scoundrels six months before the election was not a happy development.

 

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23

Each year hospitals pay the state $135 million which, through some mysterious alchemy, morphs into the federal government paying the state a second $135 million (to care for Medicaid patients).  Trying to decipher the magic a newspaper described a circular flow of money that seems to work like this:

1)     The hospitals pay the state $135 million;
 
2)     The hospitals then send the state $135 million in bills for caring for Medicaid patients;
 
3)     The state then sends Washington the $135 million in bills;
 
4)     Washington then sends the state a check for $90 million – its share of the Medicaid bills;
 
5)     The state then returns the original $135 million to the hospitals;
 
6)     And, finally, the state and the hospitals figure out how to divvy up the $90 million (from Washington) that’s left in the pot. 
 
That arrangement rolled along fine (for everyone but Washington) until this year when Governor McCrory proposed the hospitals send the state another $15 million without getting their money back – which didn’t sit well with the hospitals whose lobbyist announced they were in such dire need of cash the Governor’s plan might leave ERs with no choice but to, with deep regret, turn away patients.
 
A Democratic legislator also jumped into the melee accusing the Governor of taxing ‘sick people’ – which was pretty much the end of any illuminating debate.
 
I asked a friend who’s served on his local hospital board, Are the hospitals really broke?  and he said many rural hospitals – like his – are having a tough time making ends meet but the big urban hospitals – like Carolina’s Medical Center in Charlotte – own airplanes and helicopters and pay executives seven figure salaries (and don’t have to pay taxes on profits or pay property taxes). 
 
Of course, it wouldn’t be correct to say not taxing a hospital is the same as subsidizing it but, still, being tax free is helpful – so can the hospitals afford to do as the Governor asks and pay another $15 million?
 
What we need is a little clarity.
 
If a hospital’s strapped for cash I doubt the Governor (or even the State Senate) would mind lending a helping hand but, if, on the other hand, a hospital owns an airplane or helicopter, maybe it ought to provide a bit of proof it’s broke as a church mouse.

 

 

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22
 The prevailing Democratic view of Governor McCrory is summed up by this bumper sticker a friend saw:
 
My child is an honor student.
My Governor is a moron.
 
But Governor McCrory has a chance to mount his own “Carolina Comeback” in the next few weeks.
 
He could stand up to the legislature – and even pick a fight – on something big.  Especially something big on education: Teacher pay? Common Core?
 
Now, Democrats wouldn’t fall in love with him, although they’d love to see Republicans fighting openly with each other.
 
But Democrats would suddenly start, as the voice on your GPS says, recalculating the route to 2016. They’d suddenly be faced with an incumbent who might appeal to Independents. He might even start looking like one of those rare politicians that voters yearn for, but never find. One who can stand up to both parties.

 

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20
The Old Bull Mooses in the State Senate had seen enough so they went on a rampage to repair Medicaid and, before they were done, they’d gored hospitals, doctors, the Governor and  just about everyone in sight except the people who’d written the budget that made them mad in the first place.
 
Surveying the carnage a reporter, respectfully, asked one of the Young Bulls, It appears to me you just passed a plan that ends care to 12,000 old and blind and disabled people – do I read that right?
 
The best answer the Young Bull could have given would have been to stop to explain why those blind people don’t need Medicaid.
 
A less happy (but still reasonable) answer would have been to explain why, even though they do need Medicaid, there wasn’t money to pay for it.
 
Instead, he said candidly, We didn’t cut care to 12,000 old, lame and disabled people – we only cut care to 5,300.
 
It was unfortunate.  It’s a safe bet every Republican Senator fighting a tough re-election campaign this fall is going to see that line again.
 
A moment later, the Young Bull must have felt a twinge of unease because he tried to put things in a better light but, instead, tripping over his own feet he turned a somersault head over heels, legs, hooves and tail flying.
 
A lot of the folks we’re cutting, he explained, won’t have a problem getting care because they can go on Obamacare.
 
That, of course, raised eyebrows.
 
Because the Old Bulls in the Senate are the most dead-set against Obamacare folks around. They voted down the Obamacare exchange. And killed President Obama’s Medicaid expansion, so the Young Bull’s answer didn’t quite ring true.
 
They’ve had a long and happy run ruling the roost in Raleigh but, this time, going on a rampage simply made the Old Bulls look ornery.

 

 

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19
It turns out there’s a three member state commission (named the ‘Board of Review’) – where each Board member is paid $120,000 – for working part-time.
 
Of course, three appointments of that magnitude had to be a temptation to any keen-eyed politician – so, as might be expected, a month ago a committee of legislators suggested taking two of the appointments from the Governor and giving one to the Speaker of the House and the other to the Senate President.
 
That didn’t sit too well with Dale Folwell, the head of the Employment Security Commission, where the ‘Board of Review’ is located, so he attended a House Finance Committee meeting where he explained the legislature’s idea was not just unkind but dead-wrong.  When that appeal didn’t turn the tide, voice sharpening, Folwell told legislators the way he saw it his agency was being bullied.
 
That, normally, wouldn’t have ruffled many feathers but this time the legislators in the room knew Folwell was talking about one particular legislator who was sitting right there in the room too.
 
Now the General Assembly is a small, insular place – not unlike a sewing circle – where rumors fly back and forth like wildfire and most legislators had heard the rumor that Representative Julia Howard last fall, had wanted the Governor to appoint her to the ‘Board of Review’ but Dale Folwell had said, No way.  No how.  No time
 
When Folwell fired his broadside at her in the committee, Representative Howard, who’s no shrinking violet, wasn’t intimidated one bit.
 
She shot back Dale Folwell’s outburst was ‘totally out of place’ then Folwell shot back that Howard ‘just wanted to get herself appointed to the best part-time job in NC’ and then Howard shot back Folwell was just spinning a tall tale because she’d never sought that appointment and never would.
 
House of Cards is a big hit about the conniving that goes on in Congress.  But, if they make a sequel, they might take a look at politics in Raleigh.

 

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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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Carter & Gary
 
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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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