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North Carolina - Republicans

09
When Charles Meeker let fly his Governor-in-2016 trial balloon, you saw two things about where the political winds are blowing today.
 
First, Democrats sense Governor McCrory is vulnerable. That’s no news flash. Everybody has concluded that over the last month. Including McCrory and his allies. That’s why they’re denouncing the media, promising to whack Medicaid to pay teachers and state employees, running ads supporting him and trying to distance himself from the legislature by vetoing bills few people care about.
 
Second, as population shifts to metropolitan areas, the center of political gravity shifts there too.
 
It’s no accident that McCrory is the first Charlotte mayor elected Governor. Or that a challenger could be the first Raleigh mayor to run for Governor.
 
Wake County is 10 percent of the vote statewide. It’s even more in a Democratic primary. And the Raleigh-Durham media market probably reaches 40 percent of the primary electorate.
 
Regardless of whether Meeker has the requisite money and the magic, politics has changed. Since World War II, Democratic governors have been from, in order: Haw River, Spray now Eden), Laurinbug/Fayetteville, Canton, Haw River, Rock Ridge, Rocky Mount and New Bern. Republican governors were from Boone, Davidson (really Charlotte) and really Charlotte.
 
Will North Carolina ever see another small-town Governor?

 

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06
Every day I say: Today I won’t pick on Governor McCrory. Then he does something so boneheaded I can’t resist.
 
Like his parting shots at the legislature. He looked like the 98-pound weakling sticking out his tongue long after the bully who kicked sand in his face walked down the beach.
 
The legislature made quick work this week of his two vetoes. Then the Governor said that, notwithstanding his oath of office, he wouldn’t carry out one law and would work around the other. And he came up with a “solution” to the teachers masters’ degree debacle that even his own Board of Education chairman said won’t work and that his communications director and education adviser couldn’t explain
 
Senate leaders shot back. "It seems a little instrument called the state constitution is being ignored," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said, "All governors, without regard to party, swear an oath to uphold the constitution. We expect Gov. McCrory to perform his constitutional duty to enforce the law."
 
When McCrory called the drug-testing bill an “unfunded mandate,” Apodaca had this memorable line: "Well, I guess you could cut a few salaries and find the money to put into this program."
 
Point, set and match, Apodaca.
 
(Apodaca gives me an excuse to mention again – for only the second time this week – that McCrory is paying 24-year-old ex-campaign aides $85,000 and $87,000 a year, but not giving teachers and state employees a raise.)
 
In fairness, given the news today that an adviser to state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has been paid more than $228,000 for eight months of work, the two young aides should demand raises.
 
Here’s some free advice to the Governor: You could have spoken out during the session on the bills you complain about now. You could have put money for teachers with masters’ degree in your budget. You could have vetoed the budget if it was so bad.
 
You could have been a leader and not a 98-pound weakling who gets bullied.

 

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05
The Governor climbed into the ring with the State House Monday morning and thirty minutes later he was lying sprawled flat on his back on the canvas then, the next morning, he climbed back into the ring – this time with the State Senate – and the same thing happened again.  
 
Pat McCrory’s not down for the count and he’s probably not wobbly-kneed but getting whipped on two vetoes in less than thirty minutes each is a sign – like a low-grade fever – that somewhere beneath the surface something’s not right.
 
Of course, the Governor’s friends say sure he lost two votes but he also accomplished his bigger goal of putting some distance between himself and the smelly, cantankerous legislators – and there’s some truth in that but there’s no avoiding the bigger fact the cantankerous legislators also gave the Governor an education in who’s boss in Raleigh. 

Had the Governor lost fighting for a noble cause, redemption would be waiting down the road but this thirty minute brawl wasn’t the least bit noble – it was an old-fashioned political tug-o-war over power and the Governor lost. He’s taken a hard but not a crippling blow – now the question is: Will the Governor rise from the ashes like a phoenix or does a low-grade fever turn into a heart attack?

 

 

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04
A local CEO was shocked by Governor McCrory’s comments in Rob Christensen’s Sunday N&O story (“During session and beyond, McCrory has rough start”).
Here’s the message he left on voice mail:
 
“I can’t tell you a CEO in any organization who could get away with saying I have no agenda, I have no legacy, my job is boring.  Is there a board in the country that would accept a CEO who doesn’t have a desire to move whatever organization they’re running in big way? Or allow them to get away with saying their job is boring, which by the way I think is insulting to the people who elected him?”
 
He rated the Governor this way: “midlevel McCrory.”
 
Christensen wrote, “McCrory said he is not seeking some big legacy project of the type that past governors have promoted.”
 
He added this about McCrory’s mood: “The Republicans are winning every political battle, but McCrory sometimes sounds as if he is in a political bunker. He talks darkly about efforts to ‘eviscerate’ him.”
 
McCrory said, “Other governors have called themselves the education governor or the jobs governor.” But not Pat. On education, “His administration is working on an education program.”
 
Working on an education program? He spent four years running for Governor. Did he ever think about what he would do if he got there?

 

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03
What did Governor McCrory pay the DHHS Gold Dust Twins when he was spending his money, not the taxpayers’?
 
A curious TAPster decided to find out. The answer: You (the taxpayer) are paying the two 24-year-olds a lot more than Pat did. Maybe twice as much.
 
The TAPster looked at McCrory’s campaign reports for 3rd and 4th quarters of 2012 on the State Board of Elections website.
 
Ricky Diaz was paid $3,410 per month. Matt McKillip, $2,786 per month.
 
Now Diaz makes $85,500 a year. McKillip, $87,500.
 
That’s something north of $7,000 a month. You do the math.
 
Politicians like to say they’ll spend the taxpayers’ money like it’s their own. McCrory spends your money twice as fast.
 
Will Republican legislators let this stand?

 

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31
An Old Wise Lobbyist (OWL) gives me a Labor Day break by sharing this:
 
“Contributors to Rep Edgar Starnes' campaign should be disgusted and dismayed that he used their contributions to beautify his Raleigh legislative office.
 
“The Republican House leader used $7,000 of campaign money for furniture and other niceties at the legislative building. He defended his expensive upgrade by saying his constituents deserve to find him in comfortable surroundings when they visit.
 
“He forgot that his contributors supported him financially to help him and his colleagues win elections, not lounge in luxury. It's tantamount to misappropriation of funds when he uses dollars entrusted to his campaign to do a Martha Stewart on his office so he has a comfy place to park his rump.
 
“He's not the first arrogant legislator to suffer this financial brain spasm. Plenty of others used campaign funds to buy cars, clothes and other fun stuff for themselves with the best kind of money – other people's money. They forget that their contributors are largely working stiffs who have to pay for things with their own money.
 
“During the many, many years he was in the minority party, Starnes had a crap office in a dark hallway. No one visited nor cared what he thought.
 
“But he’s a leader now, and his poor judgment further erodes what's left of public trust in
legislators. If Starnes is such a poor steward of his campaign funds, can he be trusted with the people's money? Or the future of the state?”

 

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29
There is growing talk in Raleigh – by Republicans and Democrats – that Governor McCrory will be one and done. And he’s not going to the NBA.
 
The consensus, which could always turn out wrong, is that he’s over his head. Some people even say he won’t run again. The job isn’t what he expected, they say. It’s hard work, the spotlight can be brutal and he didn’t count on that.
 
Democrats sense weakness. He looks emasculated by the legislature, befuddled by the challenge of managing his Cabinet and flummoxed by how to handle controversies like the $87,000-a-year salaries for inexperienced, 24-year-old ex-campaign aides. (That’s four times I mentioned it this week!)
 
Part of all this, to be blunt, is a skepticism about McCrory’s intellectual depth. Not to knock a liberal arts degree from Catawba College, but it’s not a law degree (Jim Holshouser), a chemistry Ph.D. (Jim Martin) or economics, masters and law degrees (Jim Hunt).
 
With all due respect to indifferent students (like myself), being Governor requires a certain level of intellectual rigor, the mental stamina to master a mass of material and the ability to think critically.
 
McCrory invited the scrutiny of his academic and intellectual credentials when he suggested that stories about economics are too complex for reporters. Actually, it was the first thing he ever said I agreed with. I know they’re too complex for me.
 
But his griping betrayed defensiveness and a thin skin that cause political pros, who are a brutal and cold-blooded lot, to smell blood in the waters. Not to mention needlessly irritating reporters.
 
If the legislature comes back and overturns his vetoes, he will look even weaker. Once that perception sets in, it can prove hard to shake. McCrory is at a critical point. Does he recognize it, and can he change the story line?

 

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29
A long-time Raleigh veteran warns that next year's short legislative session could bring a “hopeless muddle” in the office of speaker Thom Tillis. I quote:


“Tillis is forsaking the best political job in the state to run for the US Senate. If he remains speaker for the short session, the possibilities are endless for conflicts of interest, ethical dilemmas and back-room shakedowns


“We can't recall a sitting speaker running for another office (we would check this, but the Republicans cut funding to our research department). If he wins the primary, it will be impossible for him to separate his legislative agenda from his campaign agenda (i.e. fundraising) no matter how hard he tries. It's simply not humanly possible for him to listen to a plea from a desperate lobbyist during the legislative session without an implied or overt link to his campaign.


“If he loses the primary and his political career is ending, it would be natural to remember who helped his Senate campaign and get even with those who didn't.


“Tillis emasculated himself in the legislature by announcing his Senate plans, creating a leadership void and chaos among his already unruly followers. If he remains speaker while he's a candidate for Senate, the short session will be even worse than the long session, which is simply unimaginable.”
 

 

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28
Do Republicans want America – and North Carolina – to fail? That’s the only explanation that makes sense.
 
If they starve public schools, they can say public schools don’t work – and abandon them. If they derail Obamacare, they can say it’s a train wreck. If they kneecap cities, they can say cities aren’t run well. If they shut down the federal government, they can say the federal government can’t do anything right. And if you don’t like it, they won’t let you vote.
 
Exhibit A: The City of Raleigh. Senator Josh Stein said the other night that the Republican legislature doesn’t want Raleigh to succeed because Raleigh, like most cities, elects Democrats to run things. So the legislature ripped up the Dix lease. They don’t want the Wake schools to do well, so they tried to take over the school board – again.
 
(By the way, Josh was speaking at a reception for City Councilor Randy Stagner hosted by Rep. Grier Martin. A three-star lineup.)
 
For a decade in the 90s, Raleigh suffered through Republican mayors. Downtown was a dump. Everything was petty, partisan and political. Just like this legislature.
 
Then came Mayors Charles Meeker and Nancy McFarlane, Democratic and Independent City Councilors  and Democratic county commissioners. Today, downtown is thriving and attracting jobs and smart, entrepreneurial young people. And we have an incredible greenway system.
 
Contrast the quality state government in Raleigh with municipal government in Raleigh. For one thing, nobody in Raleigh is giving $87,000-a-year jobs to inexperienced 24-year-old campaign aides.
 
(Note: This is the third day in a row I have mentioned this. Did I mention that Governor McCrory and the legislature didn’t give teachers raises?)

 

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27
Republicans have been riding high since the 2010 elections but, now, there’s a bushel basket full of polls – by both Democrats and Republicans – floating around Raleigh that tell a sad tale.
 
At their zenith, last fall, Governor McCrory was the most popular political leader in the state. Better still for Republicans, the Governor was unusually popular with Independents – the voters who decide elections.
 
Now, in the blink of an eye, the good times are gone.
 
Suddenly, the Governor’s job approval numbers have turned upside-down which, translated into plain English, means more people think the Governor is doing a poor job rather than a good job.
 
Compounding the problem the Governor’s friends, despite their good intentions, aren’t doing him any favors. Last Sunday, one McCrory supporter wrote the newspaper defending the pay raises and government salaries the Governor’s paying two of his former campaign workers and actually compared the young men to Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson – which was just plain silly.
 
Republicans have been on top of the world. They won in 2010 and won again in 2012. But now there’s been a sea change. The halcyon days are gone, the tides are shifting, and an ill-wind is rising.

 

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