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North Carolina - Republicans

01
“You have a Republican majority that is doing exactly what they were elected to do.” -
Claude Pope, state GOP chairman

“They really messed up when they screwed with the mothers, the teachers and the women.” - Shannon Shanks, Wilmington teacher
 
Well, in 2014 and 2016 we’ll find out who’s right.
 
Republicans may find that their biggest problem isn't just what they did, but how they did it. It was mean, angry and vengeful.
 
They fit right in with the face of the Republican Party nationally. In Washington, they are mean, angry obstructionists. In Raleigh, a mean, angry wrecking crew. Angry old white men lashing out at mothers, teachers and women, not to mention minorities, young people, older people, rural people, city people, gay people, sick people, not-rich people, you name it.
 
Republicans drew districts and passed a voter-suppression law to keep those people in their place. But Americans have this way of rising up when they’re told to sit down and shut up.
 
Even Republicans here worry about the overreach. They stay silent because they want to taste the fruits of victory.
 
But the way they’re going, the may be out of power for another 100 years.

 

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31
No sooner did the state legislators vamoose out of town than the pundits begin publishing post-mortems and obituaries.
 
Republicans, they opined, had a ‘breathtaking session,’ marched right off the right end of the earth, passed bills that hurt everyone from the poor to the lame, halt and maimed, and got pounded for their wicked ways by the new ‘star’ of the Democratic Party, Reverend William Barber.
 
Reverend Barber turned out to be an unexpected phenomenon.
 
His flamboyance propelled him into the spotlight and, overnight, he became the voice of the Democratic Party. He’s been in the newspaper more than the Governor and ten times more than any Democratic legislator.
 
In an editorial, Ned Barnett over at the News and Observer wrote, ‘Republicans became villains’ during the session of the legislature – and to the extent that’s so, in no small part is it due to Reverend Barber’s rhetorical fireballs.
 
After the election last fall there was a yawning vacuum in the North Carolina Democratic Party. It had no leader. Reverend Barber stepped forward and filled the vacuum. He’s now the most prominent Democrat in North Carolina politics. What he says on taxes, spending, education, and justice matters. He has invigorated Democratic activists beyond what was imaginable last fall. But when all’s said and done, for Democrats, will he turn out to be a two-edged sword?
 
For instance, his ‘Letter from the Wake County Jail’ was a demagogue’s pale mimic of Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail. And compare what President Obama said about the Trayvon Martin verdict to what Reverend Barber said. President Obama calmly explained why the verdict had a special – historical – meaning to African-Americans. He also made the point both sides had their say at a fair trial decided by a jury. Obama shed light. He explained African-Americans’ angst toward whites. And reminded African-Americans juries deserve respect.
 
What did Reverend Barber do? He stepped to a microphone at a Moral Monday demonstration and, milking the moment for all it was worth, bellowed Trayvon Martin was ‘lynched’ by Southern justice.
 
He shed no light.
 
Reverend Barber’s a force unto himself. Donning the vestments of the church before each demonstration – painting a self-portrait of himself as the voice of a higher ‘moral’ conscience – he steps to the microphone hurling rhetorical fireballs. But he is also an old-fashioned demagogue who is as radical to the left as he accuses to Republicans of being to the right. The Democratic faithful are hoping his fireballs will give birth to a tidal wave of indignation that will sweep them to victory next election – but beware, in the end, instead they may scorch the earth beneath Democrats’ feet.
 

 

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31
The absurdly awkward photo says it all: Governor McCrory turning away from a stunned protester left holding his plate of cookies.
 
Next time, Governor, give them hush puppies.
 
In truth, McCrory didn’t want the abortion bill. He didn’t want to sign it. He certainly didn’t want this WRAL headline: “Abortion law breaks McCrory promise.”
 
But he caved. And gave Democrats a gift even better than a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
 
Suppose McCrory had been bold. Suppose he kept his word. Suppose he vetoed the bill. Yes, he would have enraged the Republican right wing. But they can’t beat an incumbent Governor in a primary. And he would have inoculated himself against their toxic infection, defanged Democrats and impressed swing voters, moderates and women.
 
Most of all, he would have asserted his power in a political world that sees him as a lightweight. He would have made himself a force to be reckoned with. A tough cookie, as it were.

 

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30
Maybe Kieran Shanahan quit because Governor McCrory still hadn’t learned his name. The Governor called him “Sharon” and “Karen” at a press conference.
 
Whatever caused Shanahan’s abrupt and rumor-spawning resignation, it punctuates a rough start to McCrory’s administration.
 
He claimed he got 20 of his 22 legislative priorities. But he clearly was the tail to Republican legislators’ dog.
 
The Governor just as clearly will break a promise he made to the people of North Carolina in 2012. He will sign into law new restrictions on abortion. That’s the title and the clear purpose of the bill, and no amount of weasel-wording can make it not about abortion. As Abe Lincoln said, calling a horse chestnut a chestnut horse doesn’t make it one.
 
Then McCrory admitted he would sign voter restrictions into law even though he hadn’t read the bill and seemed unaware of a key provision.
 
So, when a much-hyped Cabinet secretary leaves with just weeks’ notice just six months into the job, the question arises: Is McCrory over his head in the Governor’s Office?
 
In fairness, new governors – and Presidents – often have a rough start. For all his legislative success in 1977, Governor Hunt struggled to get control of his administration.
 
Hunt learned and adjusted. He brought Joe Pell and John A. Williams onto his staff to strengthen his hand. Problem solved.
 
Hunt, on the other hand, never had to learn to read the words, watch his words and keep his word. And that gets to the heart of why even some Republicans judge McCrory a lightweight.
 
Does he do the hard, time-consuming homework that being Governor requires? Does he pay attention to small things that make a big difference? Does he choose his words carefully?
 
Or does he sign bills he hasn’t read – or at least made sure he gets a full and accurate report on what he’s about to sign into law? Does he talk without thinking: saying “none” when asked what abortion restrictions he’ll sign, promising “revenue-neutral” tax reform, bashing liberal arts studies in college and saying he was in a Moral Monday crowd when he wasn’t? Does he keep a close eye on his Cabinet, or does he lurch from crisis to crisis?
 
That’s the unglamorous work that separates success from failure in an executive. So far, McCrory hasn’t made the grade.

 

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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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25
The N&O’s striking front-page photo of Speaker Thom Tillis looks like a caricature of a pompous, puffed-up politician.
 
Now, all of us have been captured on film in less-than-flattering poses. But not on the front page. And not at a time and in a way that seems to capture all the things that people hate about politicians – and that a lot of North Carolinians hate about this legislature.
 
I ran into a Republican lobbyist who thought the picture did perfect justice to Tillis. I would have been surprised, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard Republicans speak ill of the Speaker. Unlike Senator Phil Berger, Tillis doesn’t seem to have helped himself this session with his own party. You can see that ill-will in the Forum section of this blog.
 
This on top of recent stories about national Republican operatives looking for another U.S. Senate and not-so-subtly questioning Tillis’ political skills.
 
For a guy who started out on top and with big plans, Tillis looks like a big loser this session.

 

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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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23
The Republican team’s best player this season is – the envelope please – Senator Phil Berger.
 
Now, this is a judgment about political skills, not philosophy. I disagree with Berger on probably every issue. But as I look at all the Republican players on the field this year – particularly compared to Governor McCrory and Speaker Tillis – Berger stands head and shoulders above the rest.
 
As Carter has noted, Berger knows what he wants. He has been throwing heat all season. He hasn’t won every game. But he won a lot. And he dominated the field. The other players had to respond to him.
 
He also gets points for driving Tillis crazy. First by throwing fast balls at the Speaker’s head: hot issues like abortion and tax cuts. Also by threatening to run for U.S. Senate. My guess is that Berger has no intention of running; he just likes to undermine Tillis.
 
Tillis hobbled himself by ruling out running again for Speaker. He tries to please everybody, and he gets pushed around all the time.
 
Governor McCrory looks like an outfielder who loses every fly ball in the sun. He’s been a follower, not a leader, and a confused-looking follower at that.
 
Next up: the Democrats’ MVP.

 

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17
Thankful yet? You get a tax cut. And North Carolinians get more jobs. At least, that’s the theory.
 
Cary Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar called it the “jobs bill of a generation.”
 
Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, called it “tax breaks for the wealthy and out-of-state corporations.”
 
Here’s the economic question: Will cutting taxes create more jobs than cutting education, interfering with women’s health care, polarizing the populace and bashing gays, minorities and young voters scare away?
 
Here’s the political question for Republicans: Will voters believe they got a tax cut? Will they believe it was “the jobs bill of a generation”?
 
Here’s the question for Democrats: Do you fight on taxes – or education?
 
The unarguable fact is that, contrary to what Governor McCrory seemed to say once, the tax bill is not revenue-neutral. It does what the Tea Party Republicans want: It starves government – especially public schools, early childhood education, community colleges and universities.
 
That’s the high ground where Democrats should fight.

 

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