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28
Mrs. Edna Street is an elderly lady and a double amputee; last May when she was in the hospital her doctor sent a form to the Department of Health and Human Services asking that she be provided – under Medicaid – in-home care when she went home to convalesce.
 
The doctor never heard back.
 
So Mrs. Street’s daughter called CCME (the former client of lobbyist-turned-Cabinet-Secretary Lanier Cansler) who Cansler picked (and gave a no bid contract) to handle the medical needs of home care patients. 
 
Mrs. Street’s daughter called again and again. And got no reply.
 
Finally she learned the problem.  The doctor had left a ‘code’ off the form.
 
So the doctor added the code and sent the updated form in – and more weeks passed. Still, Mrs. Street heard nothing.
 
Next her home care provider, trying to help, called the Department of Medical Assistance – which is over CCME and Medicaid.
 
No one returned the call.
 
So the provider contacted Secretary Cansler.
 
Again no one called back.
 
More calls and more emails to CCME – and, still, no reply.
 
Finally, after two months, CCME turned up with bad news. It said since Mrs. Street had not seen a physician in the last ninety days it would not review her application for home care.  Of course, Mrs. Street had seen her doctor in the last ninety days – when she was in the hospital.
 
Nonetheless, an ambulance carried Mrs. Street to her doctor, who conducted another examination and sent another updated form to CCME.
 
Again, no reply.
 
In September, Mrs. Street’s home care provider tried again, contacting the Department of Medical Assistance again. This time the department said it was forwarding her inquiry to CCME.
 
No reply from CCME.
 
In October, Mrs. Street’s provider contacted the state again and, this time, the Division of Medical Assistance told her that on Mrs. Street’s form – filled out back in May – the doctor had  (in error) checked a block that said she was not medically stable. That information made its way back to the doctor who said, ‘Of course she wasn’t stable when I filled out the form – she was in the hospital.’
 
The doctor corrected the form, sent it back and another week passed.
 
Then Mrs. Street’s provider emailed the Department of Medical Assistance and told them WRAL-TV was about to interview Mrs. Street.
 
The next day CCME showed up, did an examination of Mrs. Street and determined she did need the care her doctor prescribed.
 
Then WRAL aired its report and Secretary Cansler’s Department went into crisis mode: It had a mess on its hands with reporters calling and legislators asking for explanations. It was a public relations nightmare. And the department needed an answer. And it found one. Overnight. It announced that Mrs. Street was what is called a ‘Special Low Income Medicaid Beneficiary’ – which means she was not eligible for any Medicaid home-care at all.
 
So, Secretary Cansler’s former client (CCME) had ruled she needed care, his division of Division of Aging had said she was eligible for care, but the Division of Medical Assistance – trumping everyone else – said she was not. 
 
Then six weeks after the WRAL report Mrs. Street died.
 
Which is all a pretty fair example of how government works.
 
The doctor leaves off a code, no one returns calls, nothing happens until the press reports the bureaucratic train wreck, the poor patient is told twice she’s eligible and once she’s not and before it can all be straightened out, dies.
 

 

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28
Even Republicans are giving up gay-bashing. But, as always, and to paraphrase Rob Christensen, paradox rules North Carolina politics.
 
In the last 10 years, North Carolina went from a Republican Senator, Jesse Helms, who bashed “queers” and “the homosexual lobby” to a Republican Senator, Richard Burr, who surprised people by voting to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
 
But then Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James howled in an email to his board colleagues that gays are “sexual predators.”
 
Burr’s vote is the truer sign of where society is headed. To the extent that Republicans remain reflexively anti-gay – and try to ban gay marriage – they’re out of touch with society at large. And that attitude is an anchor on their growth.
 
The gap between Helms and Burr shows how much North Carolina has changed. There are two explanations: the 1.5 million new people who showed up here in the last decade and society’s growing awareness and acceptance of gays.
 
Burr, like so many of us, probably has come to know a number of gay people – and found that they aren’t perverts or predators.
 
His explanation was refreshing and revealing. According to the National Review, which struggled to understand, Burr told reporters:
 
“This is a policy that is generationally right. A majority of Americans have grown up at a time [when] they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do. It’s not the accepted practice anywhere else in our society, and it only makes sense.”
 
Give him credit: Senator Burr did the right thing.
 

 

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27
Of course Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour doesn’t remember race relations “being that bad” in the 1960s; he’s a white guy!
 
I grew up in the 60s in North Carolina, and I don’t remember race relations being bad at all for us whites. We could go anywhere we wanted and do anything we wanted.
 
We didn’t have to go to segregated schools, drink from “colored” water fountains or sit upstairs in the “colored” section at movies.
 
And if we lived in Mississippi, we didn’t get shot, beaten and killed if we tried to vote or demonstrate for integration.
 
But shouldn’t a man who’s been involved in politics for all these years, as Barbour has, now realize: “Hmmm, maybe things were pretty bad if you were black”?
 
What is it in the Republican/conservative mindset that persists – 40 years later – in denying that what went on in the South then was wrong? Are they morally blind – or just politically cynical? Either way, it’s a sorry way to be.

 

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24
General Tata better bring his helmet.
 
The new WakeCounty schools superintendent is already taking incoming. He might be starting the job with half of WakeCounty mad at him.
 
People who don’t like the board’s (sometime) majority welcome his selection like a poke in the eye with a stick: a Fox-commentating, Sarah Palin-admiring, conservative-blogging retired Army general with 18 months’ school experience.
 
But there’s an issue here bigger than Tata. (Can that really be his name?) Call it the Great Republican Education Gamble – both in the legislature and in Wake County.
 
There is a whole raft of education reforms rising around the country – in the D.C. schools, in New York City and even in President Obama’s Department of Education. These are the next iteration of the standards and accountability reforms that Governor Hunt started here. But many Democrats shy away from reforms because teacher associations (or unions, if you like) oppose them.
 
That’s an opening for Republicans. The public is willing to put more money in the schools, but only if the money is spent well and produces results.
 
If Republicans play it right in Wake County and in the legislature, they could seize the education edge that Democrats long have held.
 
But if they fumble – and come across as anti-public schools – they could pay a price come 2012.
 
Another question about Tata is admittedly provincial: Can someone who’s not from here – or even from North Carolina – navigate the cultural and political shoals he will face? That never worked at UNC. And I remember Governor Hunt bringing in nationally known experts in fields like prisons and community colleges who turned out to be disasters. They didn’t get how we-all do things down here.
 
Tata is walking into a minefield. He’ll need a lot of skill and help. Without it, it will be ta-ta for him. And he’ll earn a few Purple Hearts.
 

 

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23
 
North Carolina’s own Senator Kay Hagan climbed up on her high horse in the Charlotte Observer the other day and denounced the fiscal irresponsibility of the $858 billion tax-cut bill – which she voted against.
In her op-ed lambasting government spending Hagan thundered:
 
“On Dec. 1, the bipartisan debt commission released its report, and North Carolina's own Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the commission, called the national debt 'a cancer destroying our nation from within.' Just two weeks later, Congress passed a tax bill that adds a staggering $858 billion to our already severely bloated national debt.
 
“I voted no because I could not, in good conscience, approve adding nearly a trillion dollars to the national debt without any long-term plan to address the deficit.
 
“This bill makes none of the hard decisions. Instead, it delays them for another two years. Unfortunately, this happens far too frequently in Washington. All year, politicians pay lip service to doing something about our deficit. But at the end of the year, when the rubber meets the road, it's much easier to pass the buck.”
 
Hagan went on at some length about the vice of sending “today's enormous bill to our children and grandchildren” and how “it is time for Congress to tighten its belt, just like American families must do daily.”
 
How refreshing, I thought, to see a Democrat denouncing irresponsible spending.
 
Then somebody pointed out to me that the Civitas Carolina Transparency report discovered that the very same Senator Hagan has requested a grand total of 338 earmarks in the federal budget – earmarks that would cost the taxpayers a whopping $724 million.
 
So Senator Hagan, come down off your high horse, take a deep breath and read – and heed – the conclusion of your own op-ed:
 
“It is up to those of us who are serious about this problem to lead the way in tackling our country's most pressing challenge.”
 
 
 

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22
One of my favorite questions to ask people when I’m speaking about my Jim Hunt book is: “How many of you were living in North Carolina in 1960?”
 
I use 1960 because it was a seminal year in Hunt’s life – and North Carolina’s. It marks a neat half-century, for one thing. It was the year Terry Sanford was elected governor. Sanford’s campaign was the first one Hunt worked in, and Sanford was one of his political heroes.  And 1960 is a useful starting point to measure how far the state has come.
 
Yesterday’s Census announcement drove that change home.
 
North Carolina has more than doubled in size in 50 years – from 4.5 million in 1960 to 9.5 million now.
 
Back then, we were a state of small cities, small towns and farms. Today, this is truly an urban megastate.
 
Imagine North Carolinians in 1960 being told all that would happen in 50 years: the ResearchTrianglePark, the explosive growth of the Triangle and Charlotte Metro, the economic change, the end of segregation, the traffic and the four-lane highways, on and on.
 
Imagine them being told that every decade would bring, on average, one million new people into the state.
 
Now you try to imagine what lies ahead. We grew the last decade by 1.5 million people. By 2020, we may add two million more. Imagine the changes that will bring.
 
Not many people raise their hands when I ask who was here in 1960. And none of them can believe what happened.
 
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
 

 

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20
Floyd Brown’s a grown man who has the mental capacity of a seven year old boy; seventeen years ago he was arrested and confessed to an SBI Agent who wrote down his confession word for word, that he’d murdered an elderly woman in Anson County when he broke into her home.
 
He was never convicted because at his trial the judge took one look at Brown and decided he wasn’t capable of defending himself in the courtroom.
 
Brown spent the next seven years in state mental hospitals – in a kind of legal limbo – until a public defender noticed something odd about his confession:  It didn’t sound like anything that had been written (or spoken) by a grown man with a seven-year-olds intelligence. In fact, it downright erudite.
 
For the next seven years Brown continued to sit in legal limbo in mental hospitals as his lawyer argued the confession was phony: Then in 2007 the whole mess landed in Judge Orlando Hudson’s court and Judge Hudson read his confession and promptly threw out the case.
 
Next Brown’s lawyers sued the state and the SBI Agent, Mark Isley.
 
At that point you might think the Attorney General, Roy Cooper, staring at what Judge Hudson had ruled was a bogus confession (and the fact Brown had spend fourteen years in mental hospitals as a result) might have asked the SBI, What in hell went on here? – and set about dispensing a little justice of his own.
 
But Attorney General Cooper didn’t.
 
Instead he and his deputy Thomas Ziko – to stop the lawsuit against the SBI – went back to court and told the judge it didn’t matter one bit that the state had locked Brown in mental hospitals for fourteen years or even, as Ziko delicately put it, if Agent Isley had “elaborated” Brown’s confession – none of that proved the state was liable for anything. At least not legally.
 
Ziko went on to say Brown’s lawsuit ought to be dismissed because in all North Carolina history there’d never been a case like it where a man with the mental capacity of a seven year old had spent years in mental hospitals because of a false confession. And, Ziko added, since there were no other cases there were no precedents to go by and since, on top of the lack of precedents, the laws were vague the judge ought to throw out Brown’s lawsuit against Agent Isley and the SBI.
 
Which sure sounded odd coming from the Attorney General who’s elected to ‘fight for truth, justice and the American Way’ – instead it sounded like Attorney General Cooper was saying when it comes to an SBI agent fabricating a confession the facts don’t matter and the truth doesn’t matter or at least – when it comes to suing the SBI – they don’t matter as much as the loophole he found in the law.

 

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20
Chrissy Pearson, Governor Perdue’s communications director, took me to task for my blog “Smile, Gov.” (But she did it nicely. Her email began: “Season’s greetings.”)
 
I’m happy to oblige any elected official – or their representative – who reads my blog and wants to respond. So here is Chrissy’s full message:
 
“I’m sorry you only selected a single quote out of an entire hour of discussion during which our governor frankly and compassionately talked about the challenges facing this state. She painted the realistic picture, and she told reporters – all dozen of them – how this state is positioned to muscle through this recession and come out better on the other side.
 
“Nothing sums up better than this quote, taken from the end of our talk:
 
‘I think that people are rightly worried about the economy still. I’m worried about my children and grandchildren now. I think everybody’s worried about their kids’ future. [But] I think we all have to figure out that the best days are not over yet. I tried to say that yesterday.
 
‘I think that it’s really incumbent on all of us and the media if you can help that it’s not going to be worse. I think the fact that it’s a global economy and you hear so much about China and you hear so much about India and you look at those numbers on math and science and you see how crummy it is that America’s doing that you just say whoa...we’re like England in the last century.... our best days are behind us. I refuse to feel that way. During the next year, I systematically am going to focus on the future and what positive things we can do to turn around that kind of malaise, especially in our state. But I think it’s an American malaise and I think our national leaders need to stop snarking at each other and begin to focus on the future for America.’
 
“And, peppered throughout:
 
‘Once again we were selected as the best state in the country by Site Selection Magazine to do business. That’s not an easy award to get in this kind of climate. We kept our AAA bond rating, which to me is the lynch pin of North Carolina’s ability to recover. It sends such a strong message. It’s one of the things that’s discussed in every economic development meeting I have. We have been talked about [as one of the] most successful states in America on growing jobs…. But I say all that to really lay down the marker that North Carolina is very successful. We are still seeing tremendous opportunities for businesses….”
 

‘…at the end of the day I feel pretty good about where we are today as compared to how I felt in January, February, March and April of 2009 and I know that we’re coming out.  The core missions I’ve defined in my mind -- and I guess that’s one of the beauties of being older -- is that I know fundamentally what’s important to me and what I’m willing to risk. In my mind the hallmark of North Carolina’s success generation after generation has been our investment in education…. it’s up to me and other people to continue to remind those folks who have moved to North Carolina of why this state is so successful and about the investments and history -- the legacy that education has helped North Carolina have for our children and grandchildren. Our prior generations have defined us today.”

‘This cycle this next year is about what’s at stake for North Carolina. It’s about the future. Where do you want to go, not where have you been?’”

 

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20
Two stories on the N&O’s Page One Sunday struck me as related.
 
One was the fight over a chicken processing plant in Nash County. The other was whether a state government “reset” can balance the budget.
 
Like many things these days, the linkage hit me because of the work I’ve done on my Jim Hunt biography.
 
Hunt was a jobs governor, a relentless recruiter for the state. He also was – and remains – a “grow the pie” guy. He became convinced early on – including after spending two years as an economic adviser in Nepal – that the best way to improve society is to grow the economic pie.
 
The budget debate focuses on two strategies: cutting spending and raising revenues. But there’s another way to raise revenues: create jobs, generate economic growth and watch more money flow into the state’s coffers.
 
Today, though, job creation seems to take a back seat to environmental protection. There’s the Nash chicken plant. There’s the long-running fight over the Titan cement plant in NewHanoverCounty. And there’s the recent sinking of the state’s megaport project.
 
All would create jobs – lots of jobs. All would generate more economic activity. And I wager that the environmental challengers each present are manageable with today’s technology (which, by the way, creates jobs).
 
Democrats pursue the holy grail of “green jobs.” But there aren’t that many such jobs, and it’s going to be a long haul before wind and solar power create the numbers of jobs involved in the chicken plant, cement plant and megaport – construction jobs and permanent jobs.
 
Governor Perdue has struggled to find the balance. But Republicans maintain that lower taxes and less regulation will get us out of this economic and budgetary hole.
 
We’ll set aside the megaport plan for megacost reasons. That leaves the chicken and cement plants as opportunities for the Governor and the Republicans to grow the pie.
 
Will either – or both – step up? Or will they duck?
 

 

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17
Off and running hard for reelection the other day Governor Perdue charged over to the legislature to confront the newly elected Republican Majority and right off she threw the gauntlet down challenging the Republicans to limit the legislative session to 45 days and to appoint an independent commission to handle redistricting both of which Republicans have supported in the past – but the Governor forgot one minor problem.
 
In other words she set out to nail the Republicans for flip-flopping and instead got nailed for flip-flopping herself which, all in all, is a pretty self-immolating way to launch a reelection campaign.
 

 

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