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05
Bev Perdue’s poll numbers have been upside down – meaning her ‘unpopularity’ is greater than her ‘popularity’ – almost since the day she took office.
 
Twenty-seven years ago Jesse Helms faced similar ‘upside down’ poll numbers; his pollster Arthur Finkelstein gently explained the root of the problem was what he called a ‘character issue.’
 
Back then when Jesse used to rear up on his hind legs and let fly with both barrels, say, at Ted Kennedy those of us who supported him hurrahed that ‘Jesse was fighting for principle’ – but not everybody felt that way. In fact, most people felt Jesse was being just plain ornery.
 
‘Ornery’ is a ‘character’ issue.
 
And Perdue has one of her own. And it may be worse than Jesse’s.
 
Worse because Jesse’s way of dealing with opponents was, well, rough edged but his stands weren’t unpopular at all. Most voters agreed with him. And Jesse’s ideology worked in his favor.
 
Unlike Jesse, ideologically, Perdue’s in a mess. She got elected by embracing Obama but  she’s paid a price – embracing her national Democratic cousins landed her in office as North Carolina’s first left of center Governor, which is no place to be politically.
 
In addition she’s in a mess because the liberal shoe doesn’t fit. If anything, Perdue’s almost completely non-ideological. One day she’s railing against tax increases. The next she introduces a budget that raises taxes a billion dollars.
 
No doubt the Governor would like to get shed of the liberal label but right now her support is so decimated that her base has been reduced to the left-wing of the Democratic Party and staunch Democratic loyalists like African-Americans. Being ‘left of center’ is no place to be in North Carolina politics but given Perdue’s 35% Favorable rating there’s a real risk if next she alienates her own party’s ideologues.
 
Plus, while Jesse may have been seen as mean nobody ever doubted his competence – and sometimes mean and competent was a pretty good combination. Perdue, on the other hand, chirrups. And vacillates. Which leaves her with a deadly character problem: The perception that she is ‘in over her head’ may be unfair but that cement has been hardening for two years and she may find changing it is like chiseling granite.
 
Of course, she has one other alternative: Back in 1984 Jesse was never going to be able to convince voters he was actually a warm and fuzzy grandfather figure but he was able to convince them his ‘orneriness’ was less important than Jim Hunt’s ‘flip-flops.’ So Perdue has a choice:  She can ignore her other problems and set to work convincing voters that, whatever her flaws, her Republican opposition is worse.
 

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05
Let others talk about what Marc Basnight did for the university system, clean water, open records, the Democratic Party, etc., etc.
 
Those of us who love and live on the Outer Banks have selfish reasons to thank him.
 
When Governor Hunt put Marc on the Board of Transportation in 1977, getting to Nags Head was a harrowing, exhausting five-hour drive along two-lane roads that wound through every city and little town along the way.
 
Today, it takes just over three hours to get from North Raleigh to our condo just north of Jockey’s Ridge. Along smooth four-lane highways where the biggest danger is running into a black bear.
 
And there’s more to come – like four-laning the final stretches of US 64 in Tyrrell and Dare counties. And replacing the aging and dangerous Alligator River Bridge. All in the TIP.
 
Not to mention replacing Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet. Obviously, the new bridge should be the Basnight Bridge.
 
Then there are the bike and walking paths. The public beach access areas. The four-lane beach bypass. The big bridge from the mainland to the beach that bypasses Manteo – saving another 15 or 20 minutes’ drive.
 
There’s an old joke that someone wanted to name that six-mile, high-rise, four-lane bridge – the Virginia Dare bridge – for Basnight. “No, no,” he supposedly said. “Too small.”
 
Don’t forget the commercial fisherman who are still in business. And all the locals who got good state jobs. All the businesses – and jobs – that sprang up. The new Jeannette’s Pier. The road scrapers that showed up promptly – prompted by Marc – after every storm.
 
There’s another old story told by a DOT hand who got a call from Basnight late one night about a road problem. “We’ll get on it first thing in the morning, Senator,” the DOT man promised. “The hell you say,” erupted Basnight, who has a legendary temper. “I want somebody there TONIGHT!” And DOT did.
 
And I should mention that our condo development got Marc’s help on its wastewater system.
 
Call it patronage and pork barrel. That’s what we all call something that somebody else got from government.
 
And it wasn’t all for the good. Catch me on a summer afternoon stuck in unending traffic with cars from Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
 
But for making the OBX an easier place to get to and enjoy when you’re there, we owe Marc Basnight.
 
And we salute him for showing that politicians could serve average people - figuratively and literally.
 
He may not be serving up the pork from Raleigh anymore, but we trust he’ll be serving up the local fish, shrimp and oysters from local waters – and plenty of iced tea – for years to come.
 

 

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04
We’ve waited nearly 30 years, but it’s finally here.
 
Thirty years ago this month, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. He said government was the problem, not the solution. He promised that – finally – someone would really, really cut government spending.
 
We’ve waited. And waited. And waited.
 
Reagan didn’t cut anything big. Nor did two Republican Presidents after him who talked the same talk. Nor did two Democrats, for that matter.
 
But now the politicians in Raleigh are serious, really serious.
 
The new legislative leaders told yesterday’s business forum that they mean business: “There are no sacred cows at this point," “We’re going to tighten our belts…match spending to revenue.”
 
But we’re still waiting. Waiting for someone to name one big, expensive government program that they are willing to cut. Just one.
 
This time – for the first time in our lifetimes – somebody is going to have to do it. Not in Washington, probably; they already punted that one in the lame-duck session. But Raleigh can’t print money.
 
Here’s a safe New Year’s prediction: By the time this budget is finished in six or seven months, politics here will look like an earthquake hit.
 

 

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03
The N&O front-pager about “North Carolina's three conservative Democrats” – Congressmen Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre – asks whether there’s a place for Blue Dogs in today’s Democratic Party.
 
For perspective, I turn as always to my work on Jim Hunt’s biography. (I can’t help it; I spent four years on it. I’ll probably spend four more years blogging about it.)
 
Hunt faced this situation throughout his career. In 1966, he returned from two years in Nepal and got involved in Young Democrats. That was two years after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act and the South began going Republican.
 
From then until today, Hunt tried to keep the Democratic Party open to moderates and conservatives. Here’s how he described his approach back in the 60s, one he maintained through five decades:
 
“I knew that, to win, you had to reach across lines, build bridges, get people to work together, so that we could have a broad-based majority.”
 
There’s an impulse to reject that approach in today’s Democratic Party, just as the Republican Party has rejected moderates.
 
Hard-core liberals argue that Obama’s victory in 2008 upholds their long-held theory that a purely progressive party can win by expanding the electorate. But North Carolina – and the nation, for that matter – is more conservative than liberal. Obama won in 2008 by occupying the center. And he came back in late 2010 by returning to the center.
 
I think Hunt’s track record speaks for itself. A big-tent party is more likely to win.
 

 

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