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North Carolina - Republicans

01
After Democrats ran an ad in State House Districts, something akin to a shockwave rippled down the hallways of the General Assembly, unsettling the less stouthearted Republican legislators.
 
Last fall, after the last election House Republicans, riding high, assumed, We won. People love us. We can do what we want. They did. Then their poll numbers dropped. Then that ad hit. Then a cry went up from the unsettled, If we just give teachers raises – people will love us again.
 
But are pay raises actually the reason for House Republicans’ shrinking poll numbers?
 
No one seems to know – for certain.  This may be like the fellow who let the dog out one morning, fell down the steps, broke his leg, then angrily told his wife, The whole thing was that darn dog’s fault.
 
Legislators once thought they were loved…and now they’re thinking all they have to do to get people to love them again…is raise teachers’ pay.
 
But is that infallible logic…or a second miscalculation?

 

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01
Sometimes writing this blog is easy. Like today. Below is a reprint – in full, with no cuts or comments – of yesterday’s news release from the Governor’s Communications Office:
 
Press Release: Governor McCrory visits North Carolina Zoo
 
Raleigh, NC – Governor Pat McCrory visited the North Carolina Zoo this morning, stopping by Asheboro for a tour to learn more about one of the nation’s most popular zoos.
 
“The zoo is one of North Carolina’s top tourist attractions,” Governor McCrory said. “It is an outstanding recreational and educational resource for our citizens and those visiting North Carolina, and also provides a boost to the local economy."
 
Governor McCrory said the zoo pumps an estimated $150 million each year into the regional economy, but has the potential to attract even more visitors.
 
During his visit, the governor met with Zoo Director Dr. David Jones and Deputy Director Mary Joan Pugh. They led Governor McCrory on a tour of several of the zoo’s most popular exhibits. Among them is the polar bear exhibit, which is undergoing an $8.5 million expansion and renovation using state and private funds the zoo received three years ago. The exhibit, which is due to open in the fall of 2014, was one of the most recent exhibits to receive significant state funding for capital improvements. 
 
The governor also visited the KidZone, a special interactive area for children, and the gorilla exhibit, where a pair of one-year-old youngsters have become one of the zoo’s top attractions. At the elephant overlook, the governor met with students from the Zoo School, a science and environment-oriented satellite operation of Asheboro High School.
 
The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 

 

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26
The Governor, it appears, looking at his ailing poll numbers, figured the legislature had landed him in the soup, so it was only prudent to put some distance between himself and the Republican skunks in the General Assembly.
 
Of course, it’s also sometimes difficult to trace the origin of a smell and to legislators it appears the Governor’s the real skunk: We’re not the ones, they say, paying our former campaign staffers whopping big salaries.
 
Either way, there’s not much doubt, over the last nine months Republicans have taken it on the chin – but why (and who’s to blame) is not exactly clear.
 
What is clear is we have now entered an era of friends falling out – after all, with the Governor saying a House bill cost jobs, how many Republican legislators are going to shake their heads regretfully and sigh, Oh, well?
 
This kind of politics can get very complex. It’s like watching three elephants (the House, Senate and Governor) parading around the circus ring, each with his trunk wrapped around the tail of the elephant in front of him, then suddenly one pachyderm, lowering his head, tusks the fellow in front of him.
 
That kind of surprise will, naturally, lead to ill feelings.
 

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25
A TAPster writes: “At least the Republicans were right when they said they would lead a transparent government. It’s pretty easy to see through their BS.”

 

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24
That’s what one TAPster suggests Governor McCrory needs. The question is whether the legislature will perform the procedure.
 
When the legislature adjourned, the Governor worried that the honorables were dragging down his approval ratings. So he vetoed a couple of bills. That didn’t work out.
 
Now, GOP legislators worry that the Governor and DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos are dragging down their approval ratings. After all, they face the voters next year. They will have to answer for 24-year-olds getting paid $87,500 while teachers got no raise. And why the chief of staff quit after a month. And why he got $37,227.25 in severance pay. And why the highly touted $210,000-a-year Medicaid director left after eight months.
 
Legislators will examine the patient on October 8. The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services will meet and, WRAL’s Mark Binker reports, “is expecting to hear information on the computer systems, salaries and well as the administration's Medicaid reform plans.”
 
Binker wrote a lengthy and insightful primer on Medicaid, which I highly recommend if you (like me) struggle to understand this issue.
 
One interesting sidelight – beyond all the sexy, headline-grabbing stuff – is the split between McCrory and Republican legislators on whether to hire managed care companies to run Medicaid.
 
There are big dollars at stake here. As Deep Throat would say, “follow the money.”

 

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24
A few days ago I wrote how Secretary Aldona Wos, who’d landed in the briar patch, would be wise to step up and start telling her side of the story.
 
Last Friday she did.
 
Now, listening to Dr. Wos is interesting. One moment she’s skating effortlessly across a sheet of rhetorical ice using aphorisms explaining how she’s being “aggressive” tackling problems, and how she’s diligently tackling problems “head on,” and faithfully undertaking a “herculean task” – but then she can stop right in the middle of the interview, change directions, abandon abstract homilies, and explain the specific reasons behind regulating the width of a hospital room door.
 
When the reporter asked Wos why she’d hired two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign aides (and paid them salaries of $85,000 and $87,500) she pirouetted over the ice saying how both young men are wonderful and intelligent and truly gifted and how she only wished she could have paid them more.
 
But the real question here is whether the two young men are worth the salaries they’re being paid and, since Secretary Wos decided what to pay them, was her judgment correct? 
 
I don’t know how much Governor McCrory paid Ricky Diaz or Matt McKillip to work for his campaign, but let’s assume he had a similar high opinion of their talents and paid them a similar salary.
 
Secretary Wos could have explained, The Governor’s campaign paid Ricky Diaz $80,000 (or whatever the actual amount was) and I thought he did a good job. So I offered him $85,000 to work for me.
 
Or she might have said (hypothetically), After I hired Ricky Diaz, he reorganized the press office at DHHS and cut its budget $500,000 which is more than his salary.
 
Or she might have said (again, hypothetically), Ricky Diaz had three other job offers for similar salaries – so I believe the salary I paid was fair.
 
Those answers would have given people who were scratching their heads wondering about Dr. Wos’ judgment something to get their teeth into – as opposed to saying they’re wonderful boys.
 

 

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23
Governor McCrory has to hope that Aldona Wos and the high-paid operatives around her pull off a miracle at DHHS. Because he clearly can’t fire her.
 
Wos is the most powerful person in Raleigh today. Back in January, it looked like Budget Czar Art Pope was. Then, during the legislature, it was Senator Phil Berger. Now, it’s Wos. And now we know why.
 
Since 2000, she and her husband have given over $600,000 to candidates and committees at the state and federal levels. They raised even more, much of it at their $5.9 million, secluded, fenced-in “turreted mansion” in Greensboro. She raised so much money for President Bush, he named her an ambassador.
 
When you’re that rich and raise that much cash, nobody tells you no.
 
So Governor McCrory jumps when Wos says jump. When she’s upset with media coverage, he jumps to her defense at a press conference. When she questions the value of “transparency,” he questions media scrutiny.
 
When her chief of staff leaves after just one month on the job and Wos wants to pay him $37,227.25 in severance pay – on top of the $14,000 he earned that month – Budget Czar Pope quickly OKs it. Remember, this is the same sharp-eyed budget director who had a hissy fit to keep Billy Ray Hall from getting $241,000 in severance pay after 36 years at the Rural Center.
 
Clearly, Wos is in a different league from now-departed Secretary of Public Staff Kieran Shanahan. Whatever he did, he was gone quick. Whatever Wos does, McCrory appears to be stuck with her.

 

 

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20
I’m always looking for something nice to say about a Republican. But Dan Forest? Sorry, I’ve got to do it.
 
Monday, I posted a blog (Let Teachers Teach) saying we should pay teachers $100,000 a year. Then, on Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Forest called for North Carolina to pay the nation's highest teaching salaries.  Asked whether North Carolina teachers should make more than $100,000 a year, Forest replied, "Why not? Why shouldn't' we do that?"
 
As Forrest Gump would say, “Lieutenant Dan!”
 
Asked where he’d find the $2 billion or so it would cost, Forest said: "I think there's plenty of money in government (already)," he said. "We'll figure out a way to do it. … I think we need to put our money where our mouth is."
 
Appearances to the contrary, I have no pipeline to the Lieutenant Governor. I don’t know why he said this. Maybe he’s looking to replace Governor McCrory in 2016. Or carve out some space from GOP orthodoxy. Or just get attention.
 
Whatever. Run, Forest, run.
 
 

 

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19
No matter how many hours she works each day or how hard she tries Aldona Wos can’t seem to catch a break.
 
Almost as soon as she took her job (as Secretary of Health and Human Services) she got flattened by two budget overruns. Then she got run over by two more multi-million dollar train-wrecks called NC FAST and NCTracks. Then she woke up one morning and opened the newspaper and found she’d landed right in the middle of the front page for hiring two twenty-four year-old campaign aides (to Governor McCrory) and paying them $85,000 and $87,500 each. Then she hired two consultants for $25,000 a month each and landed on the front page again.
 
All said, it looked pretty bleak.
 
But there is a subtler side to wrestling the gremlins in the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Aldona Wos is a doctor. But, unlike modern medicine, modern government doesn’t run on logic – it runs on the antithesis of logic: Politics. To a doctor cutting Medicaid may look like an exercise in logic and reason but when you add in politics it’s the equivalent of wading into a pit of alligators.
 
Dr. Wos had her first encounter with a political alligator – and that’s when she decided to stop talking to reporters. That left Governor McCrory to step into the breach which turned out to be like sending the general into battle in front of the infantry. The Governor, and not the Cabinet Secretary, limped away from the alligator pit with sagging approval ratings.
 
Politics may not be exactly logical but common sense will avoid most problems: If you’re innocent you stand up, look your accuser in the eye, and set him straight. If you’re guilty you confess you made a mistake – and people are more forgiving than you’d expect.
 
You don’t sulk and say, I’m not going to talk to those nasty, mean ole reporters anymore.
 
Medicaid is a fiasco. Reforming Medicaid could save millions. And by now Aldona Wos has a pretty interesting story to tell about wrestling alligators. Why not, the next time a reporter calls, lend the Governor a hand by telling it?

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19
Governor McCrory has learned one thing about his new job: He’s not in Charlotte anymore, Toto. And he doesn’t like it.
 
At a news conference, the Governor vented thinly veiled frustration at how politics is played in Raleigh. WRAL reported:
 
“Asked if he was concerned about the scrutiny DHHS has faced, McCrory said it was that scrutiny itself that is the problem.
 
"’I do want to say one concern I have right now, and I will say I read the article today, one concern I have in the future for all the future hires that my cabinet secretaries have to make is that is – I'm extremely concerned at the deep –‘ McCrory said, pausing.
 
“He then re-started his thought.
 
"’I'm very concerned in hiring future people who want to come into state government for a temporary amount of time, the intrusion into their personal life by people, political operatives and others, that will distract people from wanting to be engaged in public service for a year or two,’ he said. ‘That's my one concern about what I read this morning’."
 
Ponder the irony. He is complaining about “political operatives” intruding into the “personal lives” – that is, public salaries and public records – of his own political operatives who have been hired to jobs paying $85,000, $87,500 and $95,000 a year.
 
And his comments assured that the “intrusion” would be rehashed again on the front page and the 6 p.m. news.
 
Such “intrusion” didn’t bother McCrory during the four years he campaigned for Governor blasting away at everything Governor Perdue and her Cabinet did and said. Now he doesn’t like it.
 
The fact is, Raleigh is a tough place to play politics. And it’s very different from the world I came up in during the 70s, 80s and 90s.
 
There were more capital reporters then, and they competed aggressively. But journalists have editors, and they play by a set of rules.
 
Today, the media ranks have thinned. But they’re just as tough, if not tougher. WRAL prides itself on its capital coverage. The N&O, the paper McCrory may have read, has cut back its daily reporting on government. But it has stepped up its investigative reporting. Witness Governors Easley and Perdue.
 
The biggest change is that today any fool with a computer or iPad can talk to every other fool with a computer or iPad or iPhone. Witness Carter and me.
 
The universe of “political operatives” and alternative sources of news and commentary has exploded. It’s not just the political parties now; they have almost disappeared from the debate. ProgressNC dogs the Governor. Sarah Ovaska at N.C. Policy Watch broke the DHHS salary story. Rose Hoban at N.C. Health News wrote a brilliant essay on DHHS’ communications problems. Public Policy Polling takes the public’s temperature daily. Even the conservative Civitas Institute had a post criticizing McCrory for “cronyism” before backing down.
 
It’s the nature of politicians to complain about media and outside critics. President Obama did it over Syria, complaining about Washington’s obsession with “style points.”
 
But, in politics, you should never let the critics see you sweat. It just eggs us on.

 

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