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North Carolina - Republicans

28
The judge, after I asked about Eric Holder’s lawsuit, grunted and said, Whatever gave you the idea that law and justice are the same thing – the law can be a darn peculiar beast.
 
Not long ago the Attorney General of the whole United States sued the whole state of North Carolina to put a stone cold stop to the state’s new ‘voter laws.’
 
Republican legislators, outraged at being accused of trampling on the Constitution, but also unintimidated, shot back their new laws were not only 100% legal but, what’s more, were urgently needed to stop the state’s rampant voter fraud (which, oddly, hardly a soul seems to have seen or heard a word about before the new law passed).
 
The Attorney General didn’t flinch: He declared all that talk about voter fraud was a ruse hiding what legislators were really doing – scheming to make it harder for African Americans to vote.
 
Which was a pretty unkind thing to say.
 
It sounded more like Reverend Barber on a rant than a distinguished jurist solemnly defending the constitution.
 
But that’s not what’s odd about Eric Holder’s case.
 
It seems, according to the newspapers, the law is crystal clear on one fact: Making it harder for African Americans to vote because they’re African Americans is taboo. That’s discrimination. Pure and simple. And it’s illegal.
 
But, and this is the odd fact, passing a law to make it harder for Democrats to vote because they’re Democrats is fine. That’s not racial discrimination. It’s just hardball politics. And, strange as it sounds, it’s perfectly legal.
 
That’s odd, you say.
 
Well, I thought so too – but the newspaper gave an example it’s hard to get around: Redistricting.
 
For the better part of a century Democrats redistricted to make it harder for Republican voters to elect Republican candidates then, when the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans did the same thing (only the other way around). And every bit of that political-advantage-grabbing by one party over the other was perfectly legal.
 
In fact, a three judge panel just bluntly told a group of Democrats who’d sued because they didn’t like being on the receiving end of the Republican redistricting plan: Political losses and partisan disadvantages are not the proper subject for judicial review.
 
So there it is.
 
Which in the inerrant logic of the law means: Republicans requiring voters to have IDs, because they figured out that Democrats are less likely to have them, is fine. That’s perfectly legal.
 
Now, of course, like most logic there’s a limit to how much light it can shed. And that’s where the high-minded workings of law and logic run afoul of a murky kind of devilment in the form of a series of shoal-like facts, including: a) African Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates; and b) African Americans are less likely to have IDs; so c) targeting Democrats without IDs also means targeting African Americans.
 
So here’s how the law works: If you want fewer African Americans to vote because they’re African Americans, it’s illegal. But if you want fewer Democrats to vote because they’re Democrats, and as a result fewer African Americans vote, it’s legal.
 
Which was the judges’ point about the law: It’s a peculiar beast.
 
 
 

 

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28
We all are shocked – shocked, I say – that Governor McCrory and the Republican Party are putting political cronies in state jobs. Like that has never happened before.
 
I’m reminded of the Jim Hunt supporter who wanted to get a state job for a local boy. The Governor’s patronage chief, Joe Pell, asked, “Is he qualified?” The supporter said, “Hell, Joe, if he was qualified we wouldn’t need you down here.”
 
But here is the catch: Governor McCrory promised to hold himself and his administration to a higher standard. He promised to do away with the old crony-ridden, “good old boy and good old girl” system. No more politics as usual, he said.
 
Yes, he could say, “Everybody did it.” But the fact remains: He broke his promise.

 

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16
Back in the throes of winter the State Auditor audited the North Carolina Medicaid Department and reported it had the highest administrative costs of just about any state Medicaid Department around – which sure sounded right because, as just about everyone knows, North Carolina’s Medicaid program has been a bollixed mess for years.
 
But it turned out the auditor had made a mistake.
 
For instance, she’d reported Arizona Medicaid’s Administrative costs were 2% when, in fact, they were closer to 13% -- which were higher than North Carolina’s.
 
The Perdue Administration (which was in charge of the Medicaid program back then) promptly drafted a rebuttal letter to the auditor pointing out the error, but before the letter was sent Governor Perdue left office and Governor McCrory was sworn in – which dropped the problem in new Medicaid Director Carol Steckel’s lap.
 
Mrs. Steckel looked at the audit, looked at the Perdue folks’ rebuttal, and deleted the correction – so the audit went to legislators who hit the roof when they saw North Carolina’s Medicaid administrative costs were through the roof.
 
Now there’re a lot of reasons Mrs. Steckel may have done that. But they’re mostly conjecture. No one really knows. She may have simply figured it wasn’t her responsibility to defend her predecessors. Or she may have figured high Medicaid administrative costs would be a good argument for privatizing Medicaid – which she favored.
 
At any rate, North Carolina’s high administrative costs became an accepted fact – until a reporter, plowing through stacks of public documents, turned a page and up popped the Perdue Administration’s rebuttal with Mrs. Steckel’s edits (or deletions) on it.
 
The reporter published her story the morning the legislature’s Joint House-Senate Health Care Committee met for a hearing with DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and, of course, in no time, a Democratic Senator asked Secretary Wos, Is it true – that we don’t have the highest Medicaid costs around?
 
A Republican legislator, trying to help Wos, pointed out the reporter hadn’t published that article the morning of the hearing by accident and added it sure looked like the reporter was on a witch hunt. Democratic Senator Martin Nesbitt then quipped, if the reporter was a witch hunt, it sure looked like she may have found a witch.
 
The next morning the Vice Chairperson of the Republican Party tore into Martin Nesbitt calling him a no-good misogynist who’d insulted every young girl in North Carolina by slurring one of North Carolina’s most prominent female leaders, calling her (Secretary Wos) a witch.
 
That broadside provoked a rambling denial from a flustered Nesbitt, saying he’d never, ever, ever, once called Aldona Wos a witch.
 
So the auditor made a mistake, the head of Medicaid deleted the correction, a reporter dug up the truth, a Republican attacked the reporter, a Democrat made a joke, and the Vice Chairman of the GOP called the Democrat a sexist.
 
Back in my youth we had this antiquated idea that when we landed in a political soup, fibbing would land us deeper in the soup. But these days Reverend William Barber can stand up and say Republicans are dead-set on taking North Carolina back to the days of Jim Crow or folks can start hollering about witches and witch hunts and, in the blink of an eye, the howl rises, vision fails, and the blind lead the blind astray.
 

 

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14
Spend $230,000 in taxpayers’ money fixing up the private bathrooms at the Executive Mansion? You could hear howls across the state when that news leaked. (Get it? “Leaked”?)
 
OK, time out. No more potty humor. This has already been a headline-writer’s dream: “Flushed,” “in loo of,” “down the drain,” “taxpayers take bath.” Let’s deal with the serious political issues swirling – excuse me – involved here.
 
Like, whose bright idea was this? Who in the McCrory administration thought this made sense?
 
Well, the list came from none other than Budget Czar Art Pope. The news release about the $90 million in repairs and renovations came from the Department of Administration (Secretary Bill Daughtridge and PIO Chris Mears).
 
The release quoted Governor McCrory himself: “This is the first step of fulfilling my promise to the people of North Carolina to rebuild and repair state facilities that have been ignored for far too long. These long-needed renovations will not only produce more efficient buildings, they will also protect and enhance the public’s investment, particularly at our state universities.”
 
The bathroom redo sank fast. Governor McCrory had to put out a statement Saturday pulling the plug. (Stop me. I can’t help myself.)
 
But this is just like paying inexperienced 24-year-old campaign aides $87,000 a year. The public gets it. They may not get all the Medicaid debate. But they get $87,000 salaries. They get spending more on bathrooms that most people’s homes cost in North Carolina.
 
Yes, McCrory canceled the project. But his people approved it, and they would have done it if they hadn’t got caught.
 
Governor McCrory is learning a harsh political lesson: the worst wounds are self-inflicted.

 

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11
The legislature’s gendarmes were searching in all the wrong places.
 
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver revealed this week that his 18-officer department is collecting intel on “anarchists,” including Moral Monday protestors. The Chief and his sleuths are on alert for people who are “against government.”
 
Here’s a clue, Inspector Clouseau: You’ll find a whole nest of “anarchists” and people “against government” in the legislature – specifically, in the House and Senate Republican caucuses.
 
The Moral Monday protestors want more government – higher teacher salaries, more help for the unemployed, better health care, etc.
 
By “against government,” does the Chief mean: “against Republicans”?
 
Republicans were outraged by the IRS auditing anti-tax Tea Party groups. As Bob Dole would say, “Where is the outrage now?”

 

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10
A Republican legislator did a fine job of stating the case against Governor McCrory and the Republican legislature: “It makes it awfully difficult…to hear from teachers making $30,000 a year and not receiving raises in five years, and you hire someone one year out of college with an English degree and pay him $85,000.”
 
McCrory probably blew a gasket when he heard Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County say that at the DHHS hearing. With friends like Senator Tucker….
 
Tucker hit on what some savvy advisor should have told Governor McCrory, “Governor, the average person’s interest in state government is about as wide and deep as their thumbnail. They’re not paying attention to Medicaid, tax reform, Department of Commerce privatization, Common Core and all the things we obsess about. But there is one thing they will pay attention to – and remember: You paying these guys $85,000-plus and not giving teachers raises.”
 
It is the one thing that will stick with voters. Yes, McCrory’s ads will buff up his image, if Democrats don’t respond. But he can’t erase this black mark.
 
Democrats should remember the old political adage: “When your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil.”

 

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09
So all the DHHS scandals are based on a report that was doctored to mislead legislators and taxpayers.  The $87,000 salaries for young campaign aides, lucrative contracts for political allies, eyebrow-raising sudden exits by top department officials and sweet severance payouts.
 
All that is based on the McCrory’s administration claim that it inherited a “broken” Medicaid system. Now that claim is exposed as a selective, slanted editing of the facts.
 
No wonder Secretary Vos doesn’t like requests for public information. No wonder one of the $87,000-a-year aides shepherded her away from pesky reporters after Tuesday’s brutal legislative hearing.
 
We know all this thanks to Rose Hoban, a smart, persistent reporter for North Carolina Health News. Renewed proof, by the way, that great journalism no longer comes only from traditional journalism.
 
The slated editing is worse than the usual Republican tendency to ignore facts, like evolution and global warming. This is leaving out facts. It is substituting factual information with made-up gobbledygook. It is deliberately misleading the public and their elected officials.
 
Hoban’s expose shows that, in doctoring a report on the state Medicaid program, “McCrory officials sat on information that would have depicted the state’s much-lauded Medicaid program in a better light.” They “eliminated detailed explanations.” They deleted the fact that “North Carolina’s administrative costs are lower than most states rather than 30 percent higher, as maintained by McCrory administration officials.”
 
Governor McCrory probably had enjoyed Obamacare and the federal government shutdown pushing DHHS scandals off the front page recently.
 
Now DHHS is back on the front burner. And the kitchen is getting hotter.

 

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07
Houston, we have a problem.
 
Last weekend, in Asheville, Roy Cooper threw down the gauntlet. He’s running for Governor.
 
This isn’t quite a tsunami or earthquake. But Democrats now have a bona-fide candidate (with name identification and money) standing eyeball to eyeball with Governor McCrory – pouring gas on the fire of the Democrats' campaign to 'Stop the Nasty Republicans.'
 

 

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04
The government is shut down, so Congressman George Holding got some shuteye. On camera.
 
At the moment one of his Republican colleagues declaimed, “It’s about time to do what’s right for the whole country,” the distinguished gentleman from North Carolina was catching a few winks. CSPAN’s camera caught him. Unfortunately for Holding, he was presiding over the House at the time.
 
Now, I will not criticize Congressman Holding. I feel his pain. It was the House. It was a Republican congressman speaking. It was 3:36 pm. A lot of us need a mid-afternoon shot of caffeine.
 
But think back to the infamous clip of ex-Congressman Bob Etheridge throttling an obnoxious political operative on the streets of Washington. The clip haunted Etheridge and hounded him out of office.
 
Congressman Holding’s seat may be secure enough that he can sleepwalk his way to reelection. But when and if he runs statewide, he can count on his opponents gleefully seizing on the moment he fell asleep on the job.

 

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02
I opened the newspaper yesterday morning and stared at a picture of a lonely fellow standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, putting up a sign that said: Closed.
 
The headline above the picture said: “Government starts shutting down” – and the story explained Social Security checks will be late, parks shuttered, and 800,000 workers furloughed.
 
But, then, on the same page, another headline announced: “Raleigh gets another $15 million” – from Washington to build its new train station.
 
The government’s closing the Lincoln Memorial and giving Raleigh $15 million?
 
Something’s not quite right here.
 

 

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