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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

29
One reason politics (and state legislatures in particular) are fascinating is they put an endless parade of foibles in a fallen world on display every day. There’s probably no place on earth better to study sin or foolishness than a state legislature.
 
Since way back when, political wheel-horses in Raleigh have been quietly rewarding contributors with appointments to the UNC Board of Governors – but, up until now, no wheel-horse has ever said in writing the reason he appointed someone was because they contributed money to their campaigns.
 
Thom Tillis’ email – that landed on the front page of the News and Observer – raises a litany of questions: Was it legal? I guess prosecutors are going to answer that question. Did Tillis not see it was wrong? And, if he did, why did he send that email anyway?
 
Which foible was at work when Thom Tillis pressed send and shot that email to legislators? Blindness? Foolishness? Mendacity? Hubris?
 
One thing’s for sure – the old-Adam will trip a fellow up every time.

 

 

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26

Most of the political pundits in the newspaper said the disagreements between the three tribes of Raleigh Republicans were ideological – they broke it down like this: Tribe #1 – Conservative; Tribe #2 – Less Conservative; Tribe #3 – Least Conservative.

But a college professor (who’s usually dry as a bone when talking about the mendacity in politics) offered an odd idea: He ruminated around a bit then said the real reason the three Republican tribes were at war might be where they live. Because Phil Berger lives in a small town – while Thom Tillis and Pat McCrory live in the rolling Charlotte suburbs.
 
A spirit whispered and the professor’s words rose off the page in a vision of the land of corporate mergers, high powered consultants and legions of gadgets (iPods, iPads, iPhones), where success is measured by modern alchemy to the nth fraction of a decimal point on unforgiving P&Ls as MBAs fixated on dodging blame (if fate sends those decimal points spiraling in the wrong direction) tiptoed through corporate labyrinths.
 
It was a land as far from the magnolia laden air of Eden, North Carolina – Phil Berger’s home – as the mountains of the moon.
 
In Eden old-fashioned folks frown on people talking on cell phones in restaurants – but are too polite to complain. Home truths like ‘If he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank’ still abide and manicured graphs with curves mapping the vagrancies of human behavior are viewed, like voodoo, as superstition. Small town folks attend church more often, divorce less often and commit fewer crimes. They’re also poorer and more likely to be out of work.
 
In a small town a woman having an abortion is seen as a misfortune (that makes angels weep) and to Phil Berger, I’m guessing, less of it just plain made common sense.
 
At the same time, over in the suburbs, being against abortion is seen as unenlightened and insensitive to women – an abortion is a medical procedure (angels weeping or not) and limiting it is just plain inconvenient.
 
So the moment the Senate passed its bill limiting abortion a, say, Republican State Representative inhaling the eclectic air of suburbs found himself staring at a political time bomb – so after he’d carefully calculated where the decimal point was going to land the moment he opened his mouth to answer the question some pesky reporter was bound to ask, he was likely to say something a lot like what Governor McCrory told the pesky reporter who cornered him: I don’t support more limits on abortion but I do support changes to safeguard women’s health.
 
Which, of course, was a bit of tap-dancing.
 
There’s more to the story.
 
In small town Eden folks look to heaven for blessed assurance and at government with skepticism. They know government does some good. But know it does harm too. So they figure it ought to be limited so it doesn’t do too much harm.
 
Over in the suburbs folks tend to see government as one fine thing – more government means more schools, higher paid teachers, and  Medicare paying grandma’s hospital bills.
 
In Eden government’s a necessary evil. In the suburbs it’s a positive good.
 
So, here again, a Republican legislator weighing the time-bomb that’s going to go off under him if he votes to cut government spending is likely to say something a lot like what Governor McCrory told the reporter who asked where he stood on the State Budget.
 
He’s ‘revenue neutral.’
 
He’s for less government after we pay for everything we need -- which turns out to be a long list.
 
So I owe a professor I’ve never met (and a spirit that arrived during breakfast) for a revelation: The rhubarb in Raleigh doesn’t start with ideology. Its roots run past politics back to the place a man calls home. Or, if he happens to be a small town exile living in the rolling suburbs, where his heart is.

 

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23
Over a week ago in a newspaper story – after a day of women chanting “shame, shame, shame” – a Republican consultant declared bluntly House Speaker Thom Tillis had better support the Senate’s abortion bill or just about every Republican was going to be mad with him.
 
Next, in the same story, a Democratic consultant declared if Thom Tillis supported that bill just about every woman in North Carolina was going to vote for Kay Hagan.
 
Then, finally, a professor said Kay Hagan needs 65% of the women’s vote to win – so Tillis endorsing that Senate bill would be good news for Hagan. But, then, some mathematical genie slipped through the ether and curled into the professor’s logic and next he said the Republican candidate for Senate needs 50% of the women’s vote to win.
 
Of course, both of those facts can’t be true. 100% - 65% does not equal 50%. Not even in political science.
 
And that’s politics as the curtain comes down at the legislature: Demonstrators chanting, consultants grinding axes, confused professors and a mischievous genie.

 

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15
The other day Thomas Edsall of the New York Times reported that a terrible thing has happened. Since the Voting Rights Act passed, the number of Black state legislators has grown from fewer than 5 to 313 – but at the same time, Black political power has diminished. The problem: Most Black legislators are Democrats which makes them members of the minority party now that Republicans control every state legislature in the “former Confederacy.”’
 
It’s what’s called, Edsall reported, the ‘Re-segregation in Southern Politics.’
 
The way Edsall sees it, two varmints are responsible for this sorry state: Southern whites leaving the Democratic Party and Republicans drawing redistricting plans.
 
Now there is a whole dollop of subtle forces at work here which make this lament a little like the fellow who got exactly what he asked for – but then cried foul because it wasn’t what he expected.
 
North Carolina’s an example.
 
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to remove roadblocks on Black voter registration. And it did. Then it evolved into a kind of affirmative action program to help elect African-Americans to office. And it did that too.
 
But, in 2011, after Republicans got control of redistricting, one of those subtle forces (with an acute sense of irony) moved, and when it finished moving Republicans were taking electing African-American politicians a lot more seriously than Democrats ever had.
 
Once, years ago, a friend who wanted to run for State Senate came to see me and said, What do you think? And I looked at the demographics in his district and said, I’d pass. Thirty percent of the registered voters in the district are African-Americans – I don’t see much chance you or any other Republican will win it.
 
That was just harsh reality. When 30% or 40% of a district’s voters were African-Americans, demographically, it meant the district was almost always going elect a Democrat. And Democrats understood that. So when they redistricted they always created lots of districts where 30% to 40% of the voters were African-Americans.
 
That elected the most Democrats.
 
But it didn’t necessarily elect the most African-Americans – because a lot of the Democrats representing those districts were white.
 
 
Then, in 2011, when Republicans controlled redistricting – maybe due to temptation or just plain calculation or, maybe, listening to that subtle voice – they reached two straightforward conclusions.
 
The first was that the way to comply with the Voting Rights Act (and elect more African-Americans) was to create more districts where African-Americans were a majority of voters.
 
And that’s what they did.
 
Republicans legislators drew more ‘majority-minority’ districts than Democrats ever had, and the next election more African-American legislators were elected than ever before.
 
The second conclusion was that creating more districts where 50% or 51% of the voters were African-Americans meant the other districts would be more likely to elect Republicans.
 
And that happened too. It worked just as planned – so far.
 
Of course, the Democrats were unhappy so they sued to overturn the Republican redistricting plan – which led to the ironic circumstance of Democrats standing up in court arguing only 40% of the voters in a district should be African-Americans while Republicans were arguing, Well, if 40% is a good idea why isn’t 50% better – it means more African-Americans will be elected.
 
And, of course, the only answer Democrats had was odd too – faced with a plan to elect more African-Americans but fewer Democrats they said, No way.
 
So, in the end, the Voting Rights Act worked just as it was intended. African-American registration grew. Turnout grew. More African-Americans were elected. The Democrats got exactly what they wanted. But then – in what must have seemed like an act of malicious magic to Democrats – the whole thing backfired.
 

 

 

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10
The other morning there was a picture on the front page of the News and Observer of a hundred angry women, every one of them mad as blazes, carrying signs, shaking fists and chanting, ‘Shame, shame, shame’ at Republican Senators who’d just passed a new abortion bill (that required abortion centers to meet the same standards as outpatient surgery centers).
 
Looking at those ladies’ faces no one could have a single doubt they were sincere.
 
But, at the same time,  a lot of the folks who are against putting more regulations on abortion doctors favor more regulations to protect the ozone, prevent global warming, stop the seas from rising and on just about everything else.
 
Now, of course, I know the ladies will say the Senate bill was just a backdoor way to limit abortion – and they have a point. Gary hit the same point so strongly in his blog (“Where do you Stand, Pat?”) he gave me the political tremors. But, still, it’s odd for folks to believe there’s hardly a creature walking or breathing or moving that couldn’t benefit from a little more government regulation – except abortion doctors.
 

 

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10
Monday was a hard day for Reverend William Barber.
 
For months, Reverend Barber has been leading ‘crusades’ for the poor, the needy, against racism, and against Republicanism.
 
But Monday, the Civitas Institute put a dent in his image – it reported the groups sponsoring Reverend Barber’s ‘Moral Monday’ protests have received over $100 million in tax funding and then asked whether his demonstrations were really about the poor – or about stopping budget cuts that would hurt the groups’ funding?
 
The second blow fell just after the Civitas report; for months, Reverend Barber’s been saying Republicans drew districts to return North Carolina to the days of Jim Crow – but Monday a three judge court ruled against his lawsuit to stop redistricting. Two of the judges were Democrats. And one judge was an African-American woman.
 
But before the sun set, the wily ole fox was back on his feet telling the News & Observer the judges hadn’t disagreed with him about the facts in his case – there’d simply been a little disagreement over the interpretation of the law.
 
It sounded pretty good. But if you think about it, it was a little like John Dillinger saying, The Judge and I saw eye to eye on the facts – we just didn’t see eye to eye on the law (when it comes to robbing banks).
 

 

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09
When Reverend William Barber steps up to a microphone wearing his vestments and clerical collar and lets fly with a haymaker calling Republicans immoral or characterizing Republican legislators as George Wallaces who want to turn back the clock to the days of Jim Crow – it’s just natural some Republican’s going to feel an itch to throw a punch back.
 
And that’s what the Civitas Institute did: It just reported Reverend Barber’s ‘raking in taxpayers’ money’ through his Rebuilding Broken Places Community Development Corporation – which has received $1.15 million in grants from taxpayers.
 
That haymaker, naturally, struck a nerve.
 
One of Barber’s supporters clicked onto Civitas’ website and punched back saying, Here’re fourteen reasons Republicans are fascists.
 
Which, of course, provoked a Civitas supporter into throwing another punch writing, How did Barber’s group spend its money? And did it pay him his salary?
 
Now Rev. Barber’s said some unkind things about Republicans and, in response, Civitas has asked him a harsh question – but it’s also a simple question for Rev. Barber to answer and clear the air.
 
And, if he does, that haymaker Civitas just threw may backfire.
 
But if he doesn’t, well, Rev. Barber’s likely to hear that question over and over again – every time he steps up to a podium.  
 

 

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09
Up in Virginia they’re locked into a donnybrook of a Governor’s race – the Republican candidate’s saying the Democratic candidate’s a hypocrite and a poor family man and a threat to every woman in Virginia (because of something he said about abortion clinics).
 
The Democrat’s wife is saying she’s fed up with the Republicans attacking her family and the Democrats are attacking the Republican candidate for saying Obama is worse than George III…and may have been born in Kenya.
 
It’s pure modern political melodrama – but there is a sign of hope: The pollsters report both candidates’ popularity ratings have tanked and five months before the election voters are saying, A plague on both their houses.
 
 

 

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08
Colon Willoughby, the District Attorney, is catching it from all sides.
 
Faced with the chore of prosecuting hundreds of ‘Moral Monday’ demonstrators, Willoughby suggested to the protestors they were wreaking more havoc on the Wake County Courts than on Republicans and politely suggested maybe they ought to reconsider the virtues of getting themselves arrested every Monday.
 
That didn’t appeal to Reverend William Barber (who’s leading the protests) – so with arrests piling up Willoughby tried a different tack, suggesting to the State Capital Police Chief that, perhaps, it would make more sense to give the protestors citations rather than arresting them. “It doesn’t lessen the charge or the court’s ability to try the cases,” Willoughby explained, “and it would probably save the taxpayers of Wake County over $100,000.”
 
That earned Willoughby a broadside from the other end of the political spectrum – the Wake County Republican Chairman blasted Willoughby saying he’s a Democrat who wants to give the Democrats protesting against Republican legislators a break.
 
And that’s politics: Democrats shoot at Republicans, Republicans shoot back, then some well-meaning fellow comes along with a reasonable suggestion and both sides shoot him.
 

 

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02
Back during the Korean War, when the Marines were surrounded by the Chinese at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a reporter asked Major General Oliver P. Smith if he was retreating and Smith said, “Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction." That was tough leadership.
 
Back in the 1990’s when times were good, with no recession and no wars, John Boehner would probably have done just fine as House Speaker, but these days the good times are a fading memory and with war and recession all over the place it’s time for tough leadership again – but instead Boehner’s getting bounced around from pillar to post like a pinball.
 
Take the Farm Bill: If Boehner’d sided with conservatives to fight for deep spending cuts he’d have to take a big risk: The Farm State Republicans could abandon him, team up with the Democrats, and defeat his bill.
 
That prospect wasn’t palatable, so instead Boehner sided with the Farm State Republicans and supported a bill to spend $940 billion – or 1% less than the Democrats in the Senate. Of course, that meant Boehner was sure to lose conservative votes but, at least, with the help of a few Democrats he might just squeeze by.  
 
What happened next was pure Washington politics: The Democrats sandbagged him. And voted against the Farm Bill. To put the squeeze on Boehner to get a better deal.
 
And, for Boehner, there’s even worse news: He faces that same conundrum every time a major spending bill comes up – because the cuts are almost always going to be controversial and there’re almost always going to be some group of Republican Congressmen who’ll say, No way, Jose – we’re not voting for those cuts.
 
So, at least on the Farm Bill, in an exercise in what’s called ‘realism’ in Washington, Boehner’s opted for little cuts rather than fighting for big cuts.
 
But that lands Boehner in another conundrum: Cutting spending a hair less than Democrats isn’t likely to wash on Election Day. Republican Congressmen can’t very well vote to spend $940 billion on a Farm Bill then turn around and rant to voters about Democrats raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.
 
 
 

 

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