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13
A reader writes: “Were you as astonished as me at the reaction to Bev’s consolidation plan?”
 
State Controller David McCoy told WRAL he is opposed to Governor Perdue’s Cabinet-consolidation plan.  Linda Hayes, Perdue’s Secretary of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, dragged her feet about how difficult it would be.
 
The reader notes: “If John A. Williams were still around, they both would’ve been in the governor’s office Saturday morning and told to leave their keys on the desk!”
 
(For you youngsters, John A. was Governor Hunt’s legendarily ruthless Executive Assistant and Budget Director from 1977-1984.)
 
The reader suggests you click here to see how many people are on Secretary Hayes’ “leadership team.”

 

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13
Over the last month I’ve watched stories converge for three politicians I’ve known: Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and John Edwards.
 
First I published my biography of Hunt, and we made a 10-stop book tour. Then Mike Easley was convicted of a felony. Then John Edwards reemerged after Elizabeth’s death.
 
Toward the end of my book, I tried to make sense of their varying fates. I saw a fundamental difference between Hunt and Edwards: Hunt was in politics to do something and Edwards was in it to be something. I never figured why Easley was in it. Maybe to get some stuff for free.
 
I noted how Hunt – and North Carolina – benefitted from the way he came up in politics. He spent years criss-crossing the state, meeting people and being evaluated by them. Neither Easley nor Edwards had that experience, and North Carolinians never had that chance to size them up face to face.
 
Here’s the lesson I draw – for casual voters, for journalists and for those of us who make politics our life’s work: Character counts.
 
Don’t be snowed just because somebody is right on your issues or good on TV or electable. In fact, the more those things impress you, the deeper you need to probe.
 
It’s probably like advising your children about picking a spouse. At bottom, what drives this person? Where do they come from? What is his or her history? What do people who know them say about them?
 
I was lucky to work with Hunt. I got fooled by Edwards, for a time. I never felt quite comfortable with Easley.
 
You can bet I’ll take a harder look at all politicians from now on.

 

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10
Governor Perdue’s Cabinet reorganization demonstrates the advantage a governor always has over a legislature.
 
While Republican legislators organize themselves and talk about what they plan to do, she can act.
 
In the context of a near-$4 billion hole, her plan may not look huge. But her changes look good; even Republicans praised them. And the message was perfect: I’m serious about cutting waste.
 
Both she and President Obama have the right strategy now. He has picked a fight with his party’s left in Congress – and put together Son of Stimulus. The Governor has positioned herself for a potentially politically potent fight with Republicans over budget cuts.
 
Stay tuned.

 

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10
The Southern Pines Pilot opined optimistically:
 
“During the years in which they were out of power, GOP legislators long argued in vain for taking redistricting out of the hands of the General Assembly and turning it over to an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. Now, maybe that can finally happen.”
 
Ha!
 
As an insightful friend of mine said, “Losers call for bipartisan redistricting commissions. Winners draw up districts to their liking.”
 

 

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09
A wise Raleigh hand told me about a capital-city event this week that was unique in all his years: a show of real bipartisanship.
 
Two veteran House members – Republican Danny McComas and Democrat Pryor Gibson – cohosted a reception in the Capitol for new legislators.
 
Most people came, of course, to see the powers-to-be, not the newcomers. But my friend said the center of attention was the tone: as he described it, “The campaigns are over. The people have spoken. Let’s work together and get the job done.”
 
Incoming Speaker Thom Tills praised outgoing Speaker Joe Hackney. Governor Perdue dropped by. Democrats and Republicans pledged a cooperative spirit. One Democrat who was there called it “a love feast.”
 
This is a disturbing development, of course, for those of us who thrive on conflict. We can only hope that all this bipartisan amity will be thrown out with the Christmas wrappings.

 

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08
A friend wondered why Elizabeth Edwards’ life and death transfixed so many people. Maybe it’s the American fascination with the lives of the rich and famous – especially when they are marked by so many triumphs and tragedies.
 
For her they were, in order: the death of a child, her husband’s meteoric rise in politics, late-life birth of children, her outspoken public and private roles, two campaigns for President, cancer, a fight for life – and the cruel ending of sex, lies and videotape. Then death too young.
 
Although I worked in John Edwards’ Senate campaign in 1997 and 1998, I never knew Elizabeth well. She was recovering from their son’s death and then was pregnant with a new child. But she clearly was a smart and forceful presence.
 
My involvement with the Edwardses ended after the 1998 election.  I learned later that I had run afoul of Elizabeth over how the campaign was run. Any resentment I ever held melted away when I was fortunate enough to miss all that was to come.
 
On the public stage, the real person often gets lost. For better and for worse, she was more real than most. Whatever life brought her way, she was totally open and honest about it. Every new chapter brought her a new legion of fans – and eventually detractors. But people who knew her well say she was, above all, a good mother.
 
The irony is that, in the end, this most non-traditional of political wives may have a far greater impact than her husband.
 

 

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07
Twenty-seven year old Jeremiah Love – who’s schizophrenic – was murdered in a Rest Home by another schizophrenic who attacked him swinging a metal cane at his head like a baseball bat.  In another Rest Home across the state a forty-three year old schizophrenic beat a sixty-seven year old patient to death in an argument over $4.25.
 
Now how did two violent schizophrenics end up as murderers in Rest Homes for the elderly?  Well, a few years ago the state in its wisdom decided to close mental hospitals and start treating mental patients at community care centers.  But it backfired.  Because the state closed the mental hospitals and didn’t open the community centers (it spent part of the money elsewhere).   Then, to make matters worse, the Department of Health and Human Resources bungled spending the other part of the money and wasted over $400 million. 
 
So now we’ve got shuttered hospitals and no real community care and if you’re mentally ill the state puts you in a Retirement Home where, if you end up sharing a room with a violent schizophrenic, you could literally get killed.
 
In all, right now, the state is treating six thousand mental patients in Rest Homes and there’ve been four murders and you’d think heads would be rolling over at the Department of Health and Human Services but instead state government just keeps plodding along like it’s business as usual.
 
Who is upset is a fellow who lives 260 miles away in Washington and he works for President Obama in the Justice Department and he’s not plodding at all – he’s sending a cohort of agents to Raleigh to investigate how DENR treats mental patients.
 
So now we have the unheard of spectacle of our Democratic President investigating our Democratic Governor as she launches her bid for reelection.
 

 

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07
President Obama sent two signals about 2012 on today’s front page.
 
First, he’s going to contest North Carolina.
 
Second, he’s going to run the same way he ran the first time, even if it drives die-hard Democrats crazy: as an adult trying to rise above a Washington filled with immature partisans.
 
Despite what happened here this year, he’d be smart to try to win North Carolina’s electoral votes again in 2012. There are over a million Democrats who voted for him in 2008 but didn’t vote in 2010.
 
The icing on the cake: If he wins North Carolina, he wins reelection. Electoral math says no Republican can be elected President without carrying this state. In fact, Obama gains by simply making a Republican fight for North Carolina.
 
As for his positioning, both his visit to Winston-Salem and his deal with Republicans on the tax cut show that he’s going back to what worked for him before: trying to unite Blue America and Red America.
 
That’s not what his party jihadists want. But it may be what the voters want in two years.

 

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06
By not indicting Governor Easley, Joe Cheshire says, District Attorney William Kenerly proved Easley’s innocent and not just innocent but a victim too.  The Governor, Cheshire says, has been ‘trashed’ by the villains in the press.
 
And he has a case:  The newspapers report the Governor’s done everything from swapping developers permits in exchange for sweetheart deals on beach front lots to getting his wife a $850,000 job at NCSU and now Cheshire’s arguing, ‘If the prosecutors could have proved one of these sweetheart deals they would have. They couldn’t. So they didn’t. Which proves the Governor’s hands are clean.
 
For his part, Prosecutor Kenerly says his plea bargain with the Governor did serve the ends of justice.  And he has a point too:   No one really wanted Mike Easley to go to prison and Easley’s been paying lawyers so long he’s broke and out of work and all but unemployable and I suspect Easley has the same need as other Governors, Senators and rock stars for acclaim and the political equivalent of fan worship and with the word ‘felon’ attached to his name for Easley those days are gone.  That a pretty fair dose of punishment.
 
Still, there is a gremlin lurking in the works. A restless ghost in the machine. Because the Easley case wasn’t just about law it was about democracy and Prosecutor Kenerly’s plea bargain means we will never hear McQueen Campbell testify about his deals with Easley or hear the Chancellor at NCSU tell how Mrs. Easley got her job or hear from the other wheeler-dealers who gave Easley free cars and airplane flights and vacations.
 
Those stories are now buried and the reason they’re buried may be because it’s politicians who write the laws and they’ve written them so one of the hardest things on earth is to convict a North Carolina politician of corruption – so maybe the graft was legal and Kenerly couldn’t convict Easley.
 
As one lawyer told me bluntly: Look.  Easley gave a developer environmental permits. And the developer gave Easley a $137,000 discount on a lot. But that doesn’t prove anything. To convict Easley the prosecutor has to prove Easley said to the developer, ‘Okay, here’s the deal:  I get the discount and in return you get the permits.’  But what if Easley (who’s a former Attorney General) had enough sense to say, ‘I want the discount and I think you deserve those permits’ – then winked and added – ‘but there can’t be any connection between the two’ – if that’s what happened no matter how morally outraged you or the News and Observer are, legally, that’s not a bribe.’
 
So maybe a plea bargain for one measly helicopter flight was as close to justice as Kenerly could get but at the same time he might have been wiser to have tried the case and lost because at least he’d have laid the answers to the questions out on the table where the people who elect Governors could see them and make up their own minds about corruption but now that’s never going to happen. Because the secret’s are buried.
 

 

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06
Erskine Bowles said his deficit-commission’s recommendations would help start an adult conversation in Washington.
 
So the first thing the Senate does is extend tax cuts, which we can’t afford, and unemployment benefits, which we also can’t afford.
 
Both make wonderful sense. But voting for popular things without paying for them is what got us in this mess, right?

 

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