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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

03

There’s been a lot of political foolishness going on over in Greensboro and I’ve been watching it pretty closely, working with one of Phil Berger Jr.’s opponents in the Republican Primary, Bruce VonCannon.

The other day Berger’s Super PAC broke bad and issued an edict: Voters, they said, ought not to trust Bruce VonCannon to oppose Obamacare.

Now, you might wonder, How can that be? A Republican candidate for Congress not opposing Obamacare?
 
Well, according to Berger’s Super PAC, the answer goes like this: Last December, Bruce VonCannon hired a prominent Republican lawyer with the Arent Fox Law Firm in Washington to handle his campaign’s financial reports with the Federal Elections Commission.
 
Now, in and of itself, that doesn’t sound too bad. But Berger’s Super PAC wasn’t done. It revealed another horrible fact: Arent Fox, it said, has a Democratic partner who’d lobbied for Obamacare.
 
And, to be frank, that’s true.
 
Just like it’s true Arent Fox represents Rand Paul and Ron Paul – which, of course, led Bruce VonCannon to ask Phil Berger, Jr. a simple question: Do you think Rand Paul can’t be trusted on Obamacare too?
 
Then, later on that same day, a friend called and pointed out an even odder fact. Phil Berger, he said, had hired Parker Poe (Terry Sanford’s old law firm) to be his attorney – which led to a final even simpler question for the folks at Berger’s Super PAC: Would you all say that proves Phil Berger, Jr. is for the Food Tax – or would you say there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking?

 

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17
Harry Reid’s new ad is hardball with a thud. Here’s Reid’s story in a nutshell: He says Thom Tillis shared an apartment with his Chief of Staff, who had an affair with a married lobbyist, and then resigned. And Tillis said he knew nothing. Then, a week later, another Tillis staffer resigned after having had an affair with a lobbyist. And Tillis gave both aides severance pay.
 
What could Tillis say? He couldn’t contest the facts. They’d been reported in the newspapers. And he couldn’t debate the policy. How could he defend giving severance pay to aides he, himself, said acted improperly.
 
He might have said, I made a mistake. But didn’t.
 
Instead he announced to the press, “Harry Reid hit the panic button.” And blasted Reid for meddling in the Republican Primary.
 
That’s called the old bait and switch. But it won’t cut the mustard.
 
This time, Harry Reid’s tackled Thom Tillis’ judgment head-on. And, unless Tillis comes up with an answer, that’s a game changer.

 

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13
Misery loves company and right here, in Raleigh, it’s led to a pretty strange alliance. Governor McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency have joined arms.
 
To whip the ‘coal ash’ problem.
 
According to the newspaper reports the Governor is “pleased” but, so far, the EPA hasn’t had much kind to say about DENR. In fact, the other morning the newspapers reported the EPA was unhappy with DENR because of its too cushy settlement with Duke Energy a year ago.
 
Even worse for the DENR folks, disposing of a mountain of coal ash (that’s been building up for forty years) may not be their diciest problem. Not by a long shot.
 
Coal ash is a catastrophe. But Grand Jury Investigations and subpoenas flying through the air are an altogether more worrisome development. Dancing the ‘ole political two step’ with an FBI agent doesn’t work. And in Grand Jury investigations people testify under oath so fibbing is off the table. If you’re a DENR employee or a lobbyist who lobbied a DENR employee you’re face to face with a cold hard fact – the Grand Jury is looking for an answer to a simple question: Did someone in DENR cut Duke Power a break? And did he or she get anything in return?
 
This kind of investigation can be the deadliest calamity in politics. There’re no backroom fixes. No quarter is given. And the consequences can be a lot more unfortunate than losing an election.

 

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10
When it comes to straw polls, from cradle to grave, there’s a whiff of deception in the air. Hardly anything is what it seems.
 
For instance, political groups don’t take straw polls to measure voters’ opinions or candidates’ strengths – they take them to gin-up attendance for meetings. By telling a cash-strapped candidate, We’re taking a straw poll at our next meeting so you’d better turn out your supporters. Then the poor candidate starts scrambling, spending precious dollars to get people to go to the meeting to vote for him. To win a straw poll, candidates have been known to pay for supporters’ registration fees to conventions or tickets to dinners.
 
Last election when the Wake County Republican Party held a straw poll during the Republican Primary, my friend George Holding’s campaign didn’t spend a penny. George attended, spoke  and his campaign went right on spending its money on TV or radio ads to reach thousands of voters.
 
That night, after the convention, on his way home George called me and said, Well, I finished last.
 
How many votes did you get?
 
17%.
 
It wasn’t George’s happiest night of the campaign. But later, on Election Day, talking to voters rather than winning straw polls paid off.
 
The other night the Wake County Republican Party held another straw poll and, true to form, a candidate who hasn’t aired a single TV ad won. The next morning the News and Observer reported Greg Brannon had beaten Thom Tillis by 12 points and, naturally, anyone reading the story might think Brannon’s cruising to victory in the primary too. But that’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s just one more straw poll that isn’t what it seems.

 

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08
Long ago and far away, in bygone days, during Jim Hunt’s first incarnation as Governor, we (Jesse Helms’ political organization) lit on what we thought was a grand idea: We ’d do a TV ad attacking Governor Hunt for giving AFL-CIO boss Wilber Hobby government CETA grants.
 
We made the ad, tore into Wilbur Hobby, then polled. Wilbur was about as popular as a skunk. But we hadn’t laid a glove on Jim Hunt.
 
Chuckling at our chagrin our pollster explained, You guys may not like Jim Hunt much but that’s nothing compared to how much you dislike Wilbur Hobby. Then he added, That’s why you went for ‘the cape and not the bull.’
 
What he meant was we disliked Hobby so much we’d gotten carried away pummeling him and completely missed Hunt. As Tom Ellis said shaking his head, Well, boys, that was a complete waste of money.
 
Judging by their TV ads the Democrats like the Koch brothers even less than we liked Wilber Hobby. They’re spending $3 million to tell folks the Kochs are villains and varmints and they’ll probably blow the Kochs to kingdom come. But they’re going for the cape and not the bull.

 

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04
A year ago when my health insurance went up I grumbled and blamed Blue Cross. Then, this year, my new bill arrived and the premium went up again even more. But this time I didn’t blame Blue Cross. I laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of one man: Barack Obama.
 
In bygone days, when George Bush wanted to invade Iraq Colin Powell warned, Sure, you can whip Iraq, but that’s not the problem – the problem is after you whip Iraq you own it. What happens then?
 
Back in 2009, someone should have warned President Obama, Sure, you can pass Obamacare, but the problem is after you do you ‘own’ healthcare – every premium increase is going to be your premium increase.  
 
The President moved heaven and earth and won but now, five years later, it hasn’t turned out the way he expected: Every time a premium goes up he gets blamed. Which proves the old proverb, Be careful what you wish for…

 

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01
A doctor is a simple creature. He measures achievement by a straightforward standard – the Hippocratic Oath.
 
A businessman also measures success by a simple standard – money, income and outgo.
 
But a bureaucrat has the misfortune of breathing and walking in the murky world of insider politics. Which is like no other world on earth.
 
Take Medicaid.
 
State Bureaucrats who work for state government run the program, but Washington pays most (roughly 2/3rds) of the bills. 
 
And, awhile back, some well-intentioned soul, I guess in Congress, decided if the bureaucrats in Raleigh mismanaged Medicaid and wasted Washington’s money the state should pay the money back. 
 
Which sounded fine.  It sounded like ‘accountability’ in the normal world.
 
But, in politics, ‘accountability’ led to an unintended consequence. 
 
The other day the News & Observer reported the State Auditor had reviewed a sample of 280 Medicaid claims and found $439,000 in overpayments.
 
That doesn’t sound too bad – but, in fact, last year the state paid 88 million Medicaid claims. So if an audit of 280 claims turned up $440,000 in waste – what on earth would an audit of all the claims turn up?
 
The answer is no one has a clue. Not the State Auditor. Or the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Or the Governor. 
 
And there’s a simple reason why:  That well-intended law someone in Washington passed years ago.
 
Follow the math.
 
If an audit (of the entire Medicaid program) found, say, $500 million in waste the state would be out its third of the money – $167,000 million. And it’d probably never see that money again.
 
But, in addition, the state would have to repay Washington for its 2/3rds of the money – $333 million.
 
So, in all, the state’s out a total of $500 million.
 
On the other hand, if the state does nothing, and doesn’t look for any waste, it doesn’t have to repay Washington a penny. It’s still out $167 million. But that beats being out $500 million. And that’s where the law of unintended consequences comes into play.
 
Naturally, no bureaucrat in state government is set on rooting out the waste in Medicaid.

 

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31
I don’t know why but I’ve become absorbed by the machinations of bureaucrats – it’s a bit like watching Alice in Wonderland: Down is up, and up is down.
 
Take hard work.
 
Businessmen work hard to get ahead.
 
Students work hard for better grades.
 
But who joins a bureaucracy to work hard?
 
The most prominent bureaucracies in North Carolina are the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. DHHS has the most problems. Because it’s biggest. But lately, with the Duke coal ash spill, DENR’s been in the most trouble.
 
For several years, on behalf of a client, I’ve been studying how DENR works with corporations (in this case Alcoa) and it’s not as dull as it sounds.
 
DENR’s supposed to protect the environment but how the bureaucrats go about it depends on their individual wants and needs which brings us back to hard work.
 
The bureaucrats, basically, don’t go out and find pollution. Instead they tell a corporation like Alcoa or Duke Power, File a report, tell us if you’ve polluted, and what you’re doing about it.
 
The corporation hires lawyers who file hundreds or thousands of pages of reports that primarily say, We haven’t polluted very much and none of the pollution is a threat to anyone, so we simply propose to monitor it.
 
After that, corporate lawyers go on filing reports for years saying, We’re still monitoring – and DENR bureaucrats stamp the reports and file them and that’s it.
 
No one breaks a sweat.
 
Of course, sometimes, an unfortunate bureaucrat runs into a trickier problem.
 
A couple of years ago a group of corporations who own dams on rivers had to renew their ‘State Water Quality Certificates,’ so they all got together with the bureaucrats at DENR and more or less said, Let’s all agree this isn’t going to be a hardship for anyone.
 
That was civil enough but the bureaucrats looking at the businessmen, right off, spotted an unspoken undercurrent. Duke Energy and Progress Energy had plenty of friends in places like the Governor’s office and the legislature and, of course, no bureaucrat in his right mind wants to get on the wrong side of a powerful politician – everyone of those corporations got their ‘Water Quality Certificate.’
 
And that’s, more or less, how DENR’s worked for years.
 
The bureaucrats survived peacefully by not offending powerful politicians and, beyond that, avoided over-exertion. It all worked out happily until, as almost always happens, there was a day of reckoning.
 
The coal ash spill.
 
Suddenly the bureaucrats found themselves being slammed in newspapers and on the six o’clock news and found themselves answering awkward questions at press conferences. They were in a media maelstrom.
 
Then a worse blow fell: Subpoenas started arriving on their desks from the U.S. Attorney.  
And, in all likelihood, an even worse blow is in the works: The politicians, who they’ve been accommodating for years, are going to say, Don’t blame us. If the bureaucrats had done their job we wouldn’t have had a spill.

 

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28
About a month ago Greg Brannon, dead-set on getting elected to the Senate,  was trying to build momentum and gain ground on front-runner Thom Tillis then, out of a clear blue sky, two investors sued Brannon for flamoozling them out of $250,000 and a jury ruled he had to repay the money.
 
That opened a window for Reverend Mark Harris, who promptly released a poll showing he’d surged past Brannon and was now the one gaining on Tillis then a reporter pointed out a flaw in Harris’ claim – he’d polled the wrong voters.  
 
Everything looked rosy for Thom Tillis until the roof fell in on him too: The press reported he’d claimed he’d graduated from the University of Maryland – when he hadn’t.     
 
Tillis’ campaign changed two websites, changed his official legislative page, and the front runner told voters where he went to college didn’t matter but, then, before the smoke cleared, former Representative John Rhodes slammed Tillis with a broadside:  Tillis, he said, had violated state ethics laws by appointing political donors to the UNC Board.
 
Politicians appointing donors to the UNC Board is nothing new – but Tillis had made an unusual mistake.  Trying to smooth out a rough patch that had landed one of his appointees in the soup, Tillis had emailed House Republicans explaining just how much money his nominee had donated. You don’t see that every day.
 
Then Rhodes (who Tillis had defeated in a primary back in 2006) fired another broadside:  Tillis, he said, was a paintballer.
 
Holding a canister of green paintballs, Rhodes passed out two letters to reporters:  One from a farmer near Cornelius, asking Tillis to reimburse him $200 for paintballing his barn. And the other from Tillis back to the farmer, saying, Yes, he was a paintballer but he was innocent in this case.
 
It was better than a reality show.

 

 

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26
Charlotte minister Mark Harris, who’s running for Senate, hit a rough patch when he released a poll showing him trailing Thom Tillis by 11 points – an inconvenient fact his political aide, Tom Perdue, brushed aside by saying, “The fact that we are down actually means we are way up.”
 
Saying down is up may sound odd, but in politics, when the news is bad, spreading a little confusion can’t make it worse and may make it better.
 
Of course, Harris also had a subtler reason for releasing his poll.  He’d asked voters a series of questions about Thom Tillis’ ‘foibles’ like the “sex scandal”  in Tillis’ office (when his Chief of Staff had an affair with a lobbyist) and Tillis appointing his donors to the UNC Board. Then Harris had asked voters a second time whether they’d vote for him or Tillis.
 
Naturally, Harris’ prospects brightened:  For one moment, at least in that poll, he was soaring with the wind beneath his wings.
 
But then the ground shifted beneath his feet: The press had spotted a peculiar number in the poll – according to Harris, 12% of the folks who vote in Republican primaries are African-Americans and that’s never (or, at least, never in memory) happened. 
 
The Reverend had polled the wrong people.
 
It was a tough day for Mark Harris but look on the bright side: There’re better ways to run for office. He doesn’t have to learn one mistake at a time.

 

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