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Raleigh

19
It was a simple question but back in February after the big coal ash spill it needed a quick answer:  Were the coal ash ponds a ticking time bomb or nothing to worry about?
 
A few days ago the State Official in charge of the coal ash cleanup told the Environmental Review Commission, “We don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on under these coal ash ponds.”
 
How can that be?
 
Government is slow and cumbersome and moves like a herd of turtles but you’d have thought this once the herd would be charging but, alas, turtles are turtles – ten months later we still don’t know if coal ash ponds are leaking microscopic vermin into groundwater and who is – or isn’t – drinking it.   


 

 

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18
About a week ago the Governor went on a tear about 60 Minutes, saying Leslie Stahl had done him wrong; that he’d sat sweating under the hot lights for an hour answering questions but she hadn’t even blamed Democrats once for the coal ash spill – all his work had been for nothing. Worse than nothing.
 
Then, next, he went on a tear against the Associated Press saying they’d treated him worse than Leslie Stahl – that they’d smeared him with innuendo and that no matter what AP said the payments he’d received from Lending Tree (where he’d served as a Director) were 100% legal and he’d earned every penny of the money and he didn’t appreciate getting whacked by “drive-by journalism.”
 
Now the AP story said the Governor’s stock bonus was unusual and raised red flags but about the worse fact in the story was the Governor had been paid $185,000 by Lending Tree, an online loan company that’s a cut above a pay day lender and got fined $3 million by South Carolina for misleading consumers. The AP didn’t say the Governor had done anything illegal. Or that he’d done anything unethical (as Governor ) to help Lending Tree.  
 
So here’s an odd fact: While the AP story wasn’t exactly flattering it didn’t amount to much until the Governor stood up and did something I haven’t seen in 40 years: He announced, I’m not a crook.


 

 

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17
He’d been through, he said, the ordeal of sitting for a whole hour and fifteen minutes under hot lights, sweating, answering questions but then, he added, when he saw the interview on TV he had been shocked.
He sounded – not in the TV interview but, later, when he described the interview to a reporter – like a well-meaning boy saying, I was good, I behaved, and I got punched.
 
Wondering, What did he expect? next I watched the 60 Minutes program about Duke Energy’s coal ash spill – and he was hardly in it:
 
Leslie Stahl asked: Tell us how much the fine was?
 
Pat McCrory said: I don’t have the list but…
 
Stahl interrupted: It was $99,111.
 
And McCrory said: That’s correct. It wasn’t a big fine.
 
That was the only tough question Leslie Stahl asked Pat McCrory.
 
Still boyish at fifty-eight, Pat McCrory’s run head on into a mountain of coal ash, a posse of reporters and a battalion of cold-hearted lobbyists with no respect for boyish charm.     

 


 

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09

 

Generally speaking it looks folks see the riots in Missouri two ways – Jim Martin who serves on the local School Board gave an example in the newspaper of one way: After the riots he explained to his fellow School Board members they were watching a ‘classic disconnect between how officialdom and people in the community view things.’
 
The seed of wickedness was a breakdown in communications.
 
Other folks see a fellow throw a brick through a shop window and figure they’re not watching a failure of communications – they’re watching a fellow after a new iPhone.
 
You have to appreciate folks who put their faith in empathy but if Jim Martin, standing on the street corner in Ferguson, had said to a rioter, Hold on, we need to communicate – how do you reckon that would have worked out?

 

 

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05
Talk about a fellow being star-crossed – after the election as everyone took a deep breath and settled back peacefully for Thanksgiving the Governor, without a lot of hoopla,  quietly launched his reelection campaign, blanketing the Internet with a nice pleasant new video – then, the next day, an environmental group announced it had found a new coal ash spill (or leak) and this time the arsenic wasn’t pouring into a river that runs into Virginia.
           
The Southern Environmental Law Center reports its testing proves coal ash ponds at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant near Salisbury are (and have been) leaking vile chemicals into the Yadkin River and both Duke Power and the State (which by now has surely tested every coal-ash pond in existence) have hushed it up.
 
Meantime, while fate was unkind to the Governor, down the street in John Skvarla’s office the sun was shining.
 
Talk about good fortune: The day before the new spill (or leak) landed in the newspapers Skvarla resigned as head of DENR (the department in charge of coal ash) to become Secretary of Commerce.


 

 

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20
The Governor sent a letter to Thom Tillis and Phil Berger taking the legislature to task for asking for an independent audit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Then the next day, when the Governor needed it least, the News and Observer reported that when DHHS’ new computer didn’t work the Department got into such a tizzy the number of mistakes it made processing food stamp claims quadrupled and it paid out $440,000 in excess benefits.
 
Here’s how government works: DHHS spends a hundred  or so million dollars on a computer program, it  doesn’t work, the department makes four times more mistakes than it did the year before and pays out $440,000 in excess benefits – and the Governor tells the legislature an audit’s a waste of time.


 

 

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19
Pat McCrory had one of those days.
             
First, a typist switched an ‘h’ for an ‘f’ so he sent out a press release announcing a Wilmington company was ‘firing’ 1300 new workers instead of ‘hiring’ 1300 workers.
 
Then a passing photographer snapped a photo of the Governor with his arm draped across Rep. Tim Moore’s shoulder and sent it sailing across the Internet – which sure looked like the Governor  was diving into the middle of the Speaker’s race – which left him backpedaling, saying it wasn’t so.
 
Then, piling Pelion on Ossa, the Governor sued Senator Phil Berger – which is like walking into a grizzly bears cage and whopping him on the nose.
 
Sometime between now and next June Berger and the Senate are going to vote on a budget which includes the Governor’s salary and how many staff the Governor has and right now it’s even money by next summer the Governor will be down to one part-time assistant and won’t have a penny to pay the lawyer he just hired to sue Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis).
 
So why would the Governor pick a fight with Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis)?
           
He says last session the legislature set up three Independent Commissions (on coal ash, fracking and Medicaid) but didn’t give him all the appointments to the Commissions. Instead the legislature gave him some and kept some for itself which, according to the Governor, is downright unconstitutional.  
 
Phil Berger answered the Governor’s charge pretty simply, saying if he thought the laws were unconstitutional he should have vetoed them which he hadn’t.
 
It’s hard to figure out: The Governor’s fighting Phil Berger over control of the Coal Ash Commission. Think about that: If you were Governor and the legislature said it wanted to own two thirds the biggest tarbaby in North Carolina you’d hardly  be able to believe your luck – you’d say, Sure, in fact, if you want, you can have it all.
 
But Pat McCrory wants to own the whole tarbaby.           


 

 

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29
A pollster will usually ask voters: Would you say you 1) Always vote Democratic, 2) Usually vote Democratic, 3) Always vote Republican, 4) Usually vote Republican or 5) would you say you split your ticket and vote for about as many Republicans as Democrats?
 
Down at the Editorial Board (not in the news room) at the News and Observer the boys have gone 5 for 5 in the local Congressional Races – picking five Democrats and not a single Republican.  
 
They also went 4 for 4 in the County Commissioners races – picking 4 Democrats.  
 
And they endorsed Lorrin Freeman, the Democrat in the District Attorney’s race.
 
Then they went 12 of 12 – endorsing 12 Democrats in the State House races.
 
They did endorse one Republican – Sheriff Donnie Harrison – in a backhanded way, spending most of their editorial explaining what Donnie had done wrong and praising his opponent.
 
At any rate, one thing’s clear: Whoever’s doing the picking down at the N&O Editorial Board isn’t a ticket splitter.

 

 

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24
 
 
36% Approve
46% Disapprove
 
The WRAL Poll painted a bleak picture  of a Governor caught between a rock and a hard place.  As Mark Binker wrote, only a little over a third of the voters approve of the job Governor McCrory is doing.
 
But worse news lurked beneath the surface.
 
These days you see polarized groups of voters everywhere. Left, right, up, down, Republican, Democrat; everyone is mad at someone and can’t wait to vote ‘em out of office: Republicans don’t like Obama so they’re voting against Kay Hagan. Democrats don’t like the state legislature so they’re voting against Thom Tillis.
 
But, buried in the crosstabs of WRAL’s poll, two pitfalls lie in wait for Pat McCrory. Consider the Governor’s job approval rating among Republicans:

    Approve 64%
    Disapprove 22%
 
Almost a quarter of the Republicans believe Governor McCrory is doing a poor job. That doesn’t mean they won’t vote for him but whoever heard of a Republican winning a statewide election without winning 90% plus of the Republican vote.
 
One last statistic: The Governor needs half the Independents vote for him to win. Here’re the numbers:
  
Independent Voters
Pat McCrory Approve: 33%
Pat McCrory Disapprove: 46%

 

 

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20
The paper’s print-edition changes were up for discussion at breakfast. Jim likes it: “That’s how I used to read the paper: front page first, then local and state news and Under the Dome. Now they’re all right there at the front.”
 
Gil’s not so happy. “My wife and I used to divvy up the front section and the local section. Now we have to fight over one section.”
 
But Patty nailed the real issue: “Why didn’t they just come out and say they did it to save money?”
 
In the time-honored tradition of editors talking to readers, John Drescher said the change “gives us more flexibility to use our space better” and “we’ll get the news to you in whichever form you prefer.”
 
Well, that’s not the entire explanation. The N&O is fighting incredible economic headwinds – and a plunge in print ads. They should be upfront about that, just as they would press somebody in government or business for more.
 
In truth, Drescher & Co. aren’t giving themselves enough credit. Because they’re still giving us great journalism despite the challenges. Take the Page One story about a chain for-profit charter schools getting millions of our tax dollars, which ran the day the new format debuted. The story came from Pro Publica, which calls itself “an independent, non-profit newsroom.” That’s a smart partnership when resources are overstretched and the staff is overworked.

In the months and years ahead, we’ll see more independent, nonprofit groups filling the gaps in subjects where newspapers have cut back, like education and politics.
 
In the meantime, good for the N&O for being creative. Good for them for still producing in-house investigative journalism like Mandy Locke’s Contract to Cheat series. And good for them for still delivering a print edition to our driveways when we could see exactly the same thing on our computers and tablets and save us all money.
 
Just give us the story straight. We get it, and we appreciate it.

 

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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. 
 
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