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National Republicans

27
The other day while I was having lunch with one of Raleigh’s Democratic wizards he said, You know a lot of people believe the Senate Republican Caucus has captured the Chamber of Commerce and turned it into an appendage of its political committee.
 
I said, How’s that? and he explained the Democrats, rooting through contribution reports, had discovered Senate President Phil Berger’s on the board of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC) in Washington, and that the National Chamber had given Berger’s group’s sister group the Republican State Legislative Committee (RSLC) $600,000, then a NC insurance company had given the sister group another $100,000, then, finally, the RSLC had given $900,000 to Justice for All NC a Republican group that ran ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Hudson by saying she’d sided with child molesters in a Supreme Court case. I asked:
 
So did you find any proof Senator Berger was behind that ad?
 
He said the ad had been made by the same folks who make ads for the Senate Republican Caucus then added the NC Chamber had contributed $200,000 to still another group that ran ads to defeat Hudson and, after the primary, Senator Bob Rucho sponsored a bill to give Chamber members like pharmaceutical companies legal immunity when they sell bad drugs. I asked:
 
So you don’t think that was simply good policy?
 
Do you think, he said, it was sheer coincidence?

 

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26
Mike, a young down-the-line rock-ribbed Republican partisan who sees eye to eye with Senator Bob Rucho (who once tweeted ‘Obamacare has done more damage than the Nazis’) but is too smart to say anything that foolish within earshot of a reporter, and Jim who would like Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President because Hilary’s too conservative were arguing across the table when Conor, a small town lawyer and, by my reckoning, the last of the Jessecrats, interrupted and said:
 
Alright. If Bob Rucho’s not the most powerful Old Bull in the Senate he’s pretty close to it so when he woke up one morning and in a flash of revelation saw there were too many frivolous lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies (when they sell a fellow a drug that’s supposed to cure his high blood pressure but instead lands him in the ER with a stroke) it was just a matter of time before he pulled the pin on the grenade and – Conor waved both hands – kaboom.
 
Well you have to admit, Mike said, there are way too many lawsuits, and Conor said one frivolous lawsuit was too many but there’s a simple way to stop that: Punish the people who file them. After all, nothing stops foolishness like a big fine or jail time but Senator Rucho’s hadn’t done that so now a lot of folks were wondering whether he’d  had a different goal in mind all along and all his talk about frivolous lawsuits was just a fig leaf.
 
Don’t get me wrong, Conor added, I’m not saying Bob Rucho’s malicious, a politician finding the wrong cure for a problem’s nothing new – it happens every day. But giving a guilty pharmaceutical company immunity from practically all lawsuits has to be some kind of a first.
 
Mike was trying to come up with a way to derail Conor but before he could say a word Conor struck again saying Republicans like to say people ought to work and stand on their own two feet and take care of themselves and when they get in a jam the government shouldn’t bail them out but for some strange reason when it comes to pharmaceutical companies (in Senator Rucho’s eyes) personal responsibility doesn’t apply – when a pharmaceutical company screws up the government ought to step in and take it off the hook.

 

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25
To quote Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles, “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?”
 
What is politics coming to when a deeply conservative Deep South Senator rallies black Democrats to win a Republican primary? When a GOP bridge-builder beats a fire-eater? When a big spender beats a budget slasher? When a courtly white-haired DC insider beats a take-no-prisoners Tea Party outsider? When GOP Washington PACs pour big money into turning out blacks and Democrats?
 
We have left the gravitational pull of Earth.
 
Thad Cochrane’s narrow victory was the opposite of Eric Cantor’s landslide defeat. But the cause was the same: Democrats and Independents voting in a Republican primary. Or, as some Republicans might say, interfering.
 
Cantor tried to out-Tea Party the Tea Party candidate. He moved right and lost. Cochrane went the opposite way. He moved left and won. He actually grew the electorate from the primary turnout.
 
Maybe there’s a lesson for those who bewail today’s polarized, hyper-partisan politics. Maybe politics should use some more openness – and competition. Like opening up primaries to more voters. Ending gerrymandering. Even getting more people to vote.
 
The results will be entertaining, if nothing else. 
 
 

 

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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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19
Great glee erupted among Democrats over Eric Cantor’s defeat – and also over the embarrassment to his pollster, who had predicted a landslide Cantor win.

Cantor’s pollster is John McLaughlin of New York, a Republican with whom I’ve worked on non-partisan projects. Full disclosure: I like John personally, and I greatly respect him professionally.
 
This week, McLaughlin sent out an email taking the blame and making an effort to understand and explain what happened. He wrote in part:
 
“There has been a great deal of speculation as to why our poll on May 28, was wrong. For this reason we undertook a post-primary survey. Knowing that our May 28, Republican primary voter poll was reflective of past Republican primary turnouts that were significantly smaller, we decided to conduct this study at our own expense to see which voters actually accounted for the much larger turnout in this year's Republican primary. The sample that we used for the May 28, poll was selected from any voter who voted in any one of three Republican primaries - March, 2012 for President; June, 2012 for Congress and March, 2008 for President. 
 
“The Virginia Republican primary system was totally open to all voters. It is now clear that Eric Cantor's national standing gave the race a lot of local interest among many more voters than just past Republican primary voters, including politically interested Independents and Democrats as well. Without a parallel Democrat primary, this election was very similar to a wide-open jungle-style primary. It created an organic turnout of new voters not included in our previous poll of past primary voters.”
 
The post-election survey concludes that Cantor won with Republicans, but the Democrats and Independents gave the victory to David Brat.
 
McLaughlin’s memo is worth reading in full. It takes issue with some widely held views about the result (the role of immigration, for example). And it provides valuable insight into how polls work – and how they can be wrong.
 
It’s easy – and fun – to ridicule pollsters and rejoice when they’re wrong. It’s a lot more useful to learn something about polls and about politics in America today. I salute McLaughlin for how he handled this: with class and courage.
 
And I’m not surprised by that.

 

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17
Eric Cantor’s defeat, immigration reform, gerrymandering and Republican presidential hopes all got rolled up together last week in a classic demonstration of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
 
Cantor’s opponent, David Brat (I love that name), attacked him for being soft on immigrants. That struck fear in the hearts of other Republicans in Congress. That killed all hopes of passing reform this year.
 
That, in turn, spelled trouble for Republicans who want to win the White House in 2016. They not only lose the growing Hispanic vote, but also the growing South Asian vote. Plus, the GOP’s perceived hostility to immigrants and their children also alienates independent suburban women, polls show.
 
All of this, in a particularly ironic turn, stems from the Republicans’ great success at gerrymandering congressional districts. They drew themselves districts that have few Hispanics. The result: Republican members of Congress benefit from immigrant-bashing, while Republican candidates for President pay the price.

 

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12
The unexpected almost always happens – but who’d have expected this: Down in Mississippi the Tea Party has been battling it out with the Republican Establishment, trying to whip Senator Thad Cochran and when all the votes were counted the Tea Party candidate led Cochrane by an eyelash 49.6% to 49%. 
 
The surprise?
 
On Election Day African-American Democrats ‘crossed over’ to vote in the Republican Primary – for Thad Cochran.  Helping him make the runoff.
 
Which is about as unexpected as it gets.

 

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12
Everybody has a theory about why Eric Cantor lost, one that usually reflects their overall theory about politics: It was about immigration. Cantor was aloof and arrogant. The Tea Party is still a force in the GOP. Voters lie to pollsters. Pollsters are stupid.

Let’s consider another possible factor, one that echoes last month’s primaries in North Carolina: Are voters growing more resistant to traditional paid media?
 
Cantor spent $5.4 million. David Brat spent $200,000. That’s 27-to-1. The usual rules say that if you outspend your opponent 27-to-1, you can relax and drink a latte with lobbyists Election Day (which Cantor did).
 
Another number: Cantor’s pollster reportedly had him winning 62-28. He lost by 11 points.
 
Last numbers: About 65,000 people voted. One analyst said the turnout was 14 percent.
 
Again, I invoke the Thomas Mills Primary Poll Rule: primary polls are unreliable because it’s hard to predict who will vote. Especially with a low turnout.
 
But there’s something more. Cantor dominated the traditional paid media – TV ads and direct mail. He drowned Brat (what a name!) there.
 
But Brat had his own channels of communication: Talk radio (Glenn Beck, Rush and Laura Ingraham), social media and the beehive-like Tea Party grassroots network.
 
The reason big money always beat less money is that money got information to voters. In today’s world, voters – especially interested, involved voters – have lots of ways to get information on their own. And they seem to have less trust in the old ways, like TV ads and direct mail. Especially negative messages.
 
You saw that in North Carolina’s primaries: Robin Hudson’s ability to survive a negative TV assault and Clay Aiken’s victory despite being outspent 2-1.
 
We’ve got smart phones and smart cars. Why not smart voters? 

 

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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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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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