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North Carolina - Democrats

14
Without Duke Energy, Pat McCrory wouldn’t be Governor. Now, with Duke’s coal-ash spill, he may very well be a one-term Governor.
 
Get some popcorn and get a comfortable chair, because this movie is going to run for a long time. At least through the 2016 election. And it will dominate the rest of McCrory’s time as Governor.
 
He has to be thinking: “The damned pipe has to burst NOW, when I’m Governor?”
 
In all his years at Duke, McCrory probably never visited an ash pond. But he worked there for 29 years. He was an executive there while millions of tons of ash accumulated in Duke’s ponds. His administration made environmental regulatory reform a high-profile issue. Then – BOOM! – an environmental catastrophe hits on his watch.
 
Now he faces an endless reel of front-page stories, revelations about regulatory relationships and demagogic debates over who should pay. (Spoiler alert: In the end, the ratepayers will pay. They always do. No matter what posturing politicians promise.)
 
And then there’s the dead-serious matter of grand jury subpoenas and a federal investigation.
 
McCrory won’t get any cover from Republican legislators. They’ll be happy to throw him in the ash pit to save themselves.
 
That’s why the spill won’t be a deciding issue this year. Every candidate for the legislature will blast Duke and DENR. They’ll promise to get this mess cleaned up and it won’t cost ratepayers a cent. That will put off the day of reckoning to 2016.
 
When McCrory will find out how truly lonely it is at the top.

 

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10
It’s tough to stay a step ahead of a smart bureaucrat.   
 
About a week ago I wrote an article explaining how what a bureaucrat wants (for himself) and what’s best for public education isn’t always the same thing – and used Senator Phil Berger’s ‘Read to Achieve’ bill as an example.
 
What Senator Berger wanted was to teach third graders to read – so he passed a bill to end social promotions, saying a third grader had to learn to read before being promoted to fourth grade. Which sounded simple. But didn’t sit too well with the bureaucrats who run education. 
 
Because what bureaucrats love is job security – which means they avoid making controversial decisions like the plague.  And Senator Berger’s bill said one thing loud and clear: They were going to have to make a lot of tough decisions – like making third graders attend summer reading boot camps.
 
Well, the bureaucrats side-stepped the whole problem.   It was sheer brilliance.  They couldn’t repeal Senator Berger’s law – so they gutted it. By simply making the tests easier.
 
As a result, overnight, 11,000 third graders – who couldn’t read under the old standard – can now read!
 
Tammy Howard, the head of testing at the Department of Public Instruction, even told newspaper reporters with a straight face “This is not lowering standards.
 
Of course, that’s a non-sequitur. But, still, it’s worth remembering the next time the bureaucrats at DPI troop over to the legislature asking for more money.

 

 

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10
Will Randy Voller leave the Democratic Party homeless? What a tribute to his leadership.
 
WRAL reports: “An Executive Council member…said embattled party Chairman Randy Voller told members the party is ‘broke,’ with only $60,000 in the bank. According to the attendee, Voller told party members he may have to let some staffers go, and is even evaluating whether the party should continue to operate out of the Goodwin House, a historic house from 1903 on Hillsborough Street in downtown Raleigh.”
 
Earth to Voller: People don’t give you money if they don’t trust you. Some donors, like Auditor Beth Wood, have even asked for their money back. Senator Kay Hagan’s campaign is looking for an alternative channel for its money.
 
That’s a pretty clear lack of confidence.
 
Voller’s “power base” reportedly is grassroots activists who abhor the establishment, elected officials, professional consultants and any hint of money in politics. They sound like the Democratic equivalent of climate-change deniers. They pose as great a danger to Democrats as the Tea Party does to Republicans.
 
North Carolina is going down the tubes under Republicans. Democrats need to get their act together and win some elections this year and in 2016.
 
Get real, and get to work.
 

 

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07
This tribute was penned by Gene Upchurch, a veteran executive and lobbyist for CP&L and Progress Energy:
 
“For those of us who have toiled in the Raleigh political gig the last 30 years, Martin Nesbitt has always been there. Love him or hate him, agree or disagree, he was there, usually bigger than life. Impossible to miss. Impossible to misinterpret.
 
“He was a large man with a large, imposing personality. He was equal parts populism, pragmatism and grit. When he made up his mind, it was made up and could not be changed. You always knew where you stood with him whether you liked it or not. But at least you knew.
 
“People thought he loved politics, but his true love was the mountains and the simple, everyday people who lived there.
 
“I worked with him for several years on the Clean Smokestacks Act in the early 2000s. After the bill passed, it was many years before I understood his motivation wasn’t to beat up the electric utilities or kowtow to the environmentalists. Instead, he wanted to help mountain folks who thought their trees were dying from pollution drifting in from other states. He believed North Carolina couldn’t badger other states to clean their emissions if we weren’t doing something to clean ours. So, he patiently brokered a solution that took about four years but got the job done. In the end, his people were better off.
 
“He spent thousands of exhausting hours traveling to and from Raleigh, a testament to his commitment to take the mountain voices to the legislature. I remember so vividly the emotion in his voice and in the voice of his carpool buddy Senator Bob Swain when they talked about driving home from Raleigh, rounding a curve on I-40 and catching the first glimpse of their beloved mountains in the smoky distance.
 
“Nesbitt made his last trip to those mountains Wednesday, and it’s really difficult to imagine Raleigh without him.”

 

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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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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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