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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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16
Governor McCrory has a bad habit: He says what he thinks will impress the person in front of him. That gets a politician in trouble. And it has him.
 
It’s why he’s breaking his promise on abortion. It’s why he made himself a punching bag over whether he was in a Moral Monday crowd.
 
His eventual Moral Monday story sounded like Jon Lovitz’s “Pathological Liar” character: “Yeah, that’s it: I was walking down the street and somebody in a crowd cussed me. It was a Moral Monday crowd. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
 
When asked at a debate last year what abortion restrictions he would support, McCrory shot back: “None.” It sounded good at the time. But now he has to resort to almost Clintonesque word-parsing to explain his about-face.
 
Same thing with Moral Monday crowds. Maybe he figured nobody in Raleigh would hear what he said in Wilson. Sorry, Governor, there is that darned Internet.
 
It took his communications office 24 hours to even try to explain that away.
 
Early on, McCrory got carried away in a radio interview with Big Bill Bennett and blasted college liberal-arts studies. He has been backing away from that gaffe for months.
 
Rob Christensen wrote Sunday: “McCrory, who, like many politicians, has a strong desire to be liked and a thin skin for criticism, seems shell-shocked. The turmoil has left him muttering about ‘outsiders’ protesting in Raleigh and complaining about his treatment in the news media.”
 
The way things are going, he may fire his communications staff again.
 

 

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11
Nine times out of 10 in politics, what you think is a conspiracy is just incompetence. So it is with the Republicans and abortion.
 
Several TAP readers believe that all the GOP’s thrashing on abortion is a well-thought-out plan to pass new restrictions and avoid the political consequences.
 
They may achieve the first goal, but they have already lost the second.
 
Look at it this way: For days now, the news out of the legislature has been all abortion, all the time. Not jobs, not education, not Governor McCrory’s “efficiency.” Not even tax “reform.”
 
(Speaking of efficiency, we are now 11 days into the fiscal year. Do you know where your state budget is? McCrory doesn’t have enough clout to even get his much-hyped economic-reorganization bill through the Senate.)
 
Here’s the Democratic message: “With all the work that our leaders in Raleigh should be doing – jobs, better schools, health care, mental health care, better government, you name it – why are they spending all their time talking about more government regulations on abortion?”
 
This is just like 1992. The economy was tanking. But the Republicans spent their convention talking about “culture wars” – abortion and a host of social issues. Voters wondered: “Why aren’t they talking about the economy?” Bill Clinton got it, and he got elected President.
 
Democrats need to take this fight to the ballot box.

 

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