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Entries for January 2013

31
 
Gary is taking a break from blogging. Our guest Tapster today is Nation Hahn. 

It has been clear for several years that the NC Democratic Party has failed to build a deep bench of future leaders. It has become ever more clear during the Chairman race in recent weeks as people have tried to find a candidate who could rebuild our Party.
 
One of the points that Eric Mansfield made over and over again during his bid for Chair was that while Chair he would speak out on issues that mattered, but that we must have teachers to speak out on education, rural leaders to speak out on farming, while he spoke out as a Doctor on health issues as an example. The lack of a bench in recent years made this a salient point as we have been forced to turn to the same spokespeople regardless of issue.
 
The good news is that the next generation is here, if we only pay attention to them.
 
Andy Ball of Boone is running for 3rd Vice Chair and a talent worth noticing. He is a powerful speaker, he genuinely cares and he has a record to be proud of as a City Councilor. Zeb Smathers and Justin Conley are equally talented and remarkable. Zeb will likely make a career for himself out of building coalitions around shared values and getting things done regardless of party label.
 
Sam Spencer, President of the Young Democrats, Aisha Dew, and Tori Taylor are all associated with Charlotte and each bring unique skills to the table. Tori is one of the hardest working people that I know. Aisha has done a masterful job leading the Party in Mecklenburg. Sam has brought the Young Democrats back to a place of respectability.
 
Ryan Butler ought to be a future District Judge from Greensboro and his work as President of the LGBT Democrats has been tremendous.
 
In the Triangle, Zack Hawkins has been 2nd Vice Chair for one year and has a passion for public service. Matt Hughes, the young Chair of the Orange County Democrats, has built a fan club for himself over the last two years and is clearly a rising star.
 
We also know the names of young legislators, or would be legislators, that ought to be mentioned for Governor or Senator or another office in 2016. Eric Mansfield, Jennifer Weiss, Cal Cunningham, Deb Butler, Josh Stein and Deborah Ross among them.
 
I could go on, but I think you see the point.
 
We must begin to invest earlier than ever in recruiting and training candidates. We must develop leadership academies that teach people the essential skills of leadership. We have to provide the resources to move people into positions to make a difference and that includes our senior leadership beginning to make room at the table for young candidates, consultants, policy advisors and more.
 
If we are going to develop an agenda that can win today then we must move past tired ideas and the status quo. We have to figure out an agenda that builds the public will for education in age of choice. We must offer tax reform ideas that address the problems without falling inordinately on the poor and middle class. We have to invest in advanced manufacturing and the liberal arts.
 
The other key is that we must develop a Party that is not absolutist. President Obama was referencing Congressional Republicans and the DC crowd when he said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
 
He could well have been speaking to all of us who are meeting in Durham on Saturday for the State Executive Committee meeting.
 
In order to build the next generation of leaders we must retreat from absolutism, focus on getting the work of the people done and encourage reasoned debate.
 
Eric Mansfield would tell folks as he traveled the state that he judged a vote by three characteristics — people, policy and politics. A vote could be good for the people that you represent, in fact it should absolutely serve your constituents needs. A vote could be sound policy, even if it is unpopular, and those stands of principle must be regarded. Or, in the purely bad column, a vote could be just about politics. A vote that is cast only for politics should rightly be criticized, but we can’t be absolutists on the first two.
 
If we we are to build a new generation of leadership we must focus on shared values, even though we’ll occasionally disagree. We must accomplish work for the people of North Carolina, rather than fall victim to spectacles alone, and we can have debates that do not descend to name calling.
 
In order to figure out a new vision, a narrative that will work in the 21st Century and a path back to our progressive tradition we are all going to have work together. That is one lesson of leadership that the older generations can offer all of us, if only we’ll pay attention.

 

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30

 

Gary is taking a break from blogging. Our guest Tapster today is Joe Stewart of JRS Strategy Group.
 
Part of my work as former Political Director at NC Chamber involved seeking out solid business-minded people to run for the General Assembly.
 
Someone I met in 2010 pursing this goal was Rick Catlin. Personal and professional considerations precluded him from running then, but he did in 2012 and got elected to represent House District 20 in New Hanover County (and has been selected by his fellow freshmen Republicans as leader of that caucus).
 
Catlin fit perfectly the disposition I was looking for then, and I am glad he’s joined the legislature now.
 
The owner of a Wilmington-based environmental engineering firm (that does work internationally, so Catlin clearly get’s ‘global’ part of North Carolina's place in a global economy), he’s a pragmatic, bottom line kinda businessperson who understands the pressures faced making a payroll every week.
 
But, he’s also forward-looking (he told me back in 2010 that ‘you have to think ahead if your business involves building drinking water reservoirs’) and understands the connection between infrastructure investments, economic vitality and job creation.
 
I caught up with him recently and ask about initial impressions of legislative service: ‘We are moving fast and with a sense of urgency, a much quicker pace than in the past as those members with longer tenure keep telling us newbies.’
 
In terms of the issues faced this session: ‘We must focus on finding greater efficiencies so we can keep the cost of state government down. And just like in my business, if North Carolina is to encourage economic growth and the jobs that brings, it’s about making smart investments and figuring out how to be better than any of our competitors – and we must do more to promote North Carolina all around world.’
 
Other thoughts: ‘Engineers, by training, work to bring solutions to the problems they find. With three others from my profession in the House (the largest number anyone can remember being in this body at any one time), I’m pretty confident there’s not much we can’t handle.’
 
At a time when ideological divisions and partisan divides seem to drown out reasoned discussion and debate on public policies, I think North Carolina would be well served if both political parties could encourage a few more business-minded folks like Rick Catlin (and there are others in the body now, but we could always use more) to consider serving in the General Assembly.

 

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29

 

Gary is taking a break from blogging. Here's one from another Tapster.
 
When the legislature makes its biennial return to town, our usual tendency is to ridicule the members’ narrow mindedness, laugh at their lack of political sophistication and hold our collective breath that they won’t destroy the state.
 
The gavel drops again in Raleigh Wednesday. Instead of our usual cynicism and derision, this year we offer a more sincere and – hopefully -- meaningful send-off to the members of the General Assembly.
 
It comes in an excerpt from a prayer offered by a good ole South Carolina preacher at Nikki Haley’s gubernatorial inauguration a few years ago. Its simple eloquence speaks to the wish we all share for our elected leaders:
 
"We are honored and humbled to stand in honor of a long line of individuals, some of whom are present this day, who with their keen vision, sacrificial effort, sound judgment, and personal passion have served this state and our nation well. Keep our new leaders faithful in the days ahead so that their actions, and ours, may preserve the best of the traditions we have received and expand their benefits to generations yet unborn."


 

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29
The other day down at the News and Observer John Dresher wrote about the most enticing opening to an article I’ve seen in awhile. He wrote:

“For their first date, Pat and Tiffany walk to a neighborhood diner for dinner. Pat orders Raisin Bran. Tiffany, perhaps already giving up on Pat, orders tea.

They proceed to argue about who’s crazier. Not who’s more daring, quirky or eccentric. They argue about who’s more mentally ill.

Pat, just released from a mental institution, is obsessed with his estranged wife and prone to blurting every thought. Tiffany, recently widowed, has been on an insatiable sexual binge that has resulted in her firing from her office job.

In the debate about who’s more mentally ill, a good case could be made for either.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) are the lead characters in “Silver Linings Playbook,” which this week was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. “

That was clever enough to tempt even a dullard like me to keep on reading a story about mental health care in North Carolina – which turns out to be a kind of horror movie of its own.
 
About a decade ago, after he got elected Governor, Mike Easley put a new troupe of mandarins in charge of the state’s mental health care, and the new whizzes decided to close (or cut back) the state’s three big mental hospitals and start caring for mentally ill people in their own communities – which sounded fine. No one disagreed.
 
But what happened next is living proof it’s dangerous to put government in charge of anything.
 
The mandarins – under Governor Easley and then Governor Perdue – cut the hospitals but didn’t create the community care – instead they bungled and fumbled and wasted $400 million.
 
Which led to pure bedlam – just like in the old asylum named Bedlam in Victorian England.
 
Community care floundered, mental hospitals cut back, and mentally ill patients were left adrift on the streets, handcuffed to beds in emergency rooms, and locked in jails (under two ‘progressive’ Governors).
 
The whole thing is living proof of a simple fact: If you put enough politicians and bureaucrats to work on a problem there’s sure to be a train wreck at someone else’s expense.

 

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29

 

Our guest TAPster is Mark Ezzell, long time political observer and founder of Englewood Planning Group, a Raleigh-based public affairs firm:
 
I love a good Barack Obama speech as much as the next Democrat, but I always cringed when he used the banal sounding line “we are the ones we’ve been looking for’. What the heck does that mean?
 
After watching the race to find a new State Democratic Party chair, it makes more sense.
 
You see, the State Democratic Party, after a decade or so of relative neglect by Democratic Governors, is shockingly rudderless. Normally that wouldn’t matter because the Governor, House Speaker or President Pro Tempore of the Senate would speak for the progressive cause. Not this year. With Republicans in control of every branch of government, the press, seeking a response from the loyal opposition, will trotting down to Goodwin House every day, cameras and notepads in hand. And suddenly, shockingly, party leadership matters.
 
Only very few people are stepping up to take what seems in this particular year the political equivalent of a layup. Camera time every day. Press releases actually used in news stories. And the chance to lead a party that has no place to go but up. Why aren’t ambitious Democrats lining up for this role?
 
There have been a few up and comers interested. One candidate, Former Senator Eric Mansfield, one time Lt. Governor candidate and the favorite of the business and insider wing of the party, left the race last week due to family concerns. As of this writing that leaves Randy Voller, Mayor of Siler City and a favorite of the party’s Occupy Wall Street wing, as the sole candidate for chair.
 
Randy’s gifts for grassroots organizing may be just what the party needs, but the question remains: What’s behind this dearth of interest in serving as party chair?
 
Several reasons, including the common belief that “party elders” will meet in some (now) smoke free room and pull strings to provide ways out of the party’s deep problems. Newsflash, folks- there ARE no party elders. There are no powers that be.
 
President Obama was right. We’re the ones we’ve been looking for.

 

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28
Gary is taking a break from blogging. Our guest today is Joe Stewart.
 
Currently reaching their 18th birthday at a rate of 13,000 a day, the 80 million-strong Generation Y (those born 1982 - 1995) will be the majority of the US workforce and a full third of the voting population by 2015.

This surging tide is poised to become the replacements for the currently-in-charge Baby Boom Generation (today, the median age in Congress is 57, and is 60 among current US governors), leap frogging over Generation X (who kinda sat political life out) to dominate the America governing class.

Less cynical and more civically engaged than Gen X, and far more technology-oriented than Boomers (who are still getting political information from television news and newspapers), Gen Y is poised to be the biggest, most diverse and highly educated generation in American history.

Their enthusiasm about making history was a major factor for Obama in the 2008 presidential race, but hard economic reality cooled that a little in 2012.

So does either party have a lock on Gen Y going forward? It's hard to say.

I suspect if 'old' leaders of the Democrats and Republicans can't get past partisan sniping and ideological extremism, this group of spunky youngsters is likely to declare a pox on both the political party houses.

In all likelihood, Gen Y-ers are going to be America's first 'Imagecrats' - attracted more to charismatic, bigger-than-life, social media savvy candidates they 'like' (every Facebook pun intended) irrespective of party.

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28
When it comes to climbing up on a soap box and waving his arms and hollerin’ like a banshee there’s hardly anyone who can hold a candle to Newt Gingrich. But there’s a peculiar trait about people who talk a lot about their ‘bold ideas’— when you boil away their highfalutin rhetoric a lot of times what they’re doing is more like swatting flies than pondering the mysteries of the Universe.
 
Newt fired off a “tough memo” (as he put it) to the Republican Political Mandarins in Washington saying he was so badly shaken by how wrong he was about Romney winning that he’d been doing some hard thinking – then he launched his latest ‘bold idea’: To catch up with the Democrats, he said, the Republicans ought to (as quickly as possible) copy Obama’s playbook on Coalition Building, micro-targeting, Internet savvy, and connecting with Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and African Americans through ‘infotainment.’
 
That had a nice ring to it, especially since no one but political consultants and computer nerds have a clue what ‘micro-targeting’ and ‘infotainment’ mean.
 
But did ‘infotainment’ really whip Mitt Romney last fall? 
 
Last summer after the primaries the Republican Mandarins Karl Rove-types were sitting around rooms talking to one another and telling one another, Obama’s a failed President and voters know it and we’ve got the election in the bag.
 
They said it over and over like a mantra and Fox News repeated it so often it got to sounding like cold hard fact.
 
What they missed was that Obama wasn’t about to sit still as a lamb waiting for the axe to fall – instead he figured on getting out of the axe’s way. Obama rolled out his heavy artillery and commenced to pounding on Mitt Romney, calling him a polecat in seven different languages, and, then, the Mandarins sitting in rooms were watching Obama ads, shaking their heads and telling themselves, ‘None of that matters. Obama’s a failed President and we’ve got the election in the bag.’
 
It was a fatal case of miscalculation.
 
Because by September Obama’s pounding had suburban women in Virginia and autoworkers in Ohio thinking, Well, Obama’s done his best even if it’s not as good as I’d hoped – but that darn Mitt Romney’s a gazillionaire who doesn’t care a toot about my problems.
 
Newt fixing the Republican Party’s ‘micro-targeting’ or ‘infotainment’ is a fine thing. But the real big question is: Why did our Republican Mandarins figure Obama calling Romney a skunk didn’t matter?

 

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25
Gary is taking a break from blogging. Our guest blogger today is Nation Hahn.
 
In recent weeks North Carolinians have heard two inaugural addresses. One, from Governor Pat McCrory spoke to “Unlimited Opportunity.” The other, from President Barack Obama, was a call for the “country’s reasonable majority” to act.
 
For North Carolina Democrats, the President’s address was inspirational. The truth is that it also could also offer a rebuttal to Governor McCrory’s agenda to come.
The most memorable portion of McCrory’s speech came toward the middle as he hammered home his version of “Main Street.”
 
“As I look out toward Main Street with government at our back, I see unlimited opportunity. Government should not be a barricade or an obstacle to progress. Our face and our approach should be outward, not inward.”
 
In McCrory’s world, and the world of his most prominent supporters, government is a barrier for progress. As President Clinton said at the convention last August, their prescription remains the same — cut taxes, cut regulations and call me in the morning.
 
“We know this philosophy works because we've done it before… My parent's and your parent's North Carolina was a state filled with unlimited opportunity-- opportunity not only for them, but for their kids to get a good education, get a job and fulfill their potential… It is time for us to make sure that North Carolina fulfills and even exceeds that potential once more.”
 
Conservative narratives often harken back to the past. They tie themselves to the traditions of the 1950's — family, apple pie and drive-in movies. It has long been a successful strategy. My friend Jonah Sachs wrote “The Story Wars” explaining the power of partnering your present messaging with the stories that define our history.
 
The President’s inaugural address would also tie his narrative to history, however. President Obama warmed progressive hearts and minds with his own story.
 
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. 
 
“For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”
 
Jon Haidt, Jonah Sachs and others have correctly pointed out that the Democratic Party abdicating narratives tied to our history and our founding fathers has been one of our most glaring mistakes in recent decades. 
 
President Obama connected the threads between the battle for equality and progress to the Declaration of Independence. He noted that the right to vote has been constantly advanced — with a subtle notation that today people still must wait in line in some areas and voting rights are under attack in others. He noted that immigrants still see this as a
land of opportunity.
 
Earlier in the address he said, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”
 
On the issue of climate change he declared, “That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
 
His address was powerful because of his nod to our common history. Owning the story of progress, reminding people of our constant struggle to become a more perfect nation and stating that we must secure our “self-evident truths” and our “God given freedom” through our work.
 
North Carolina Democrats must not only be inspired by the President’s address, we must heed the lessons of storytelling that he showed on that bitterly cold January day.
 
We must own our history. We must tie our work to the work of those who came before us. We kept our schools open during the Great Depression and we founded the community college system. Terry Sanford stood up to the segregationists and invested in the war on poverty. Jim Hunt saw the roads being paved in rural NC and understood that government investment could be a force for good.
 
To be clear, we should not rely on tired ideas and narratives. Too often we have found ourselves defending the status quo rather than offering a new vision, but we must not abdicate the story of our state either.
 
It was the public investment in education that drove growth in our state. 
 
It was our dedication to environmental protections, not “regulation”, which preserved our natural beauty and led to our status as one of the top states for tourism.
 
It was the view of our state as a beacon of progress to the rest of the South that led to people moving here and great companies not only being founded but sticking around.
 
We need ideas, yes, but we also must tell the story of what made this state great. It was the people of North Carolina who did so, as McCrory would note, but it was the people working together to build progress. It was people believing in something bigger than themselves. It was people who understood that investing in education, good roads, environmental protections and fighting inequality did not mean a burden.
 
If McCrory’s vision was correct then Mississippi and South Carolina would be beacons of economic success. The truth is that his narrative is wrong, but it is up to all of us to respond with a narrative that reminds people of where we have been while inspiring them to move forward towards a brighter future if we hope to emerge victorious in the years ahead.

 

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25
Gary is taking a break from blogging.  Today’s pinch-hitter one of our Tapsters.
 
The choice of a press secretary is a blip on the personnel radar of North Carolina’s new governor, but this choice provides insight into the kind of governor Pat McCrory may become.
 
McCrory’s choice for media mouthpiece has plenty of GOP experience in DC and in places like Nevada and, for goodness sakes, California.
 
It seems the Governor would be better suited if a key staffer like this had spent more time in Mint Hill and Pink Hill than on Capitol Hill, and had been ordering off the menu in places like Lexington, Wilber’s and Wanchese rather than D Street’s snooty Monocle Restaurant. And it seems like a Governor who’s talking about job creation would create one for someone who already pays taxes in this state.
 
This choice makes it obvious that McCrory wants a press secretary who’s more adept at navigating tricky GOP messages than navigating Tar Heel back roads.

 

 

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25
The other day one of my more peculiar Jesuit friends emailed me an article written fifty years ago by Bishop Fulton Sheen who, contemplating the sharks and villains of his era, had lamented, ‘Our country is not so much overrun with the bigoted as it is with the broad-minded.’
 
After glancing at the opening I laid the article aside as a piece of history to read later when modern villains like Washington politicians weren’t providing so much entertainment.
 
But the next morning, when I opened the News & Observer, there was a story about how a tribe of modern broad-minded folks had body-slammed, pilloried and sent packing a preacher from Atlanta who was to pray at Obama’s inauguration because he’d once said homosexuality was ‘a sin in the eyes of God.’
 
So I pulled out Bishop Sheen’s article and read it.
 
And I’ve decided the Bishop had a more sophisticated way of looking at tolerance and intolerance than we do. He started started out explaining, ‘A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broad-minded man is one who will accept anything for a reason.’
 
Then he got right down to brass tacks laying out exactly what he meant by tolerance: ‘Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil and forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. But what is more important than the definition is the field of its application. The important point here is this: Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to truth. Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons. Tolerance applies to the erring; intolerance to the error.’
 
I guess that’s like what the Baptists mean when they say, ‘Hate the sin but love the sinner.’
 
Now there’s not much doubt we’ll go on arguing over gay rights for a while, maybe for years – but if you stop and take a deep breath and get beyond inflamed emotions and political posturing, running a preacher out of town on a rail for his beliefs isn’t exactly broad-minded – while letting him pray for Obama would have been a pretty good example of old-fashioned tolerance.
 

 

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