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North Carolina - Republicans

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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02
 
How you feel about Obamacare probably correlates about 100 percent with how you voted in the 2012 election. Unless you already found out you pay more or less for insurance. I’m double-sold. I’m saving a bunch of money.
 
The fundamental fact about American health care was well put by Bill Atkinson, former CEO at WakeMed: “Americans want the very best health care that somebody else pays for.”
 
It’s all a cost-shifting game, and what we pay has little to do with the care we get as individuals.
 
To fix that, Obamacare does two things you’d think Republicans and conservatives would like: End the free ride for freeloaders and encourage competition.
 
The freeloaders are like the fellow in the paper who said he doesn’t need health insurance because he’s healthy. But if he’s in a wreck, or falls off a ladder, or has emergency surgery, the rest of us have to pay his bills.
 
As for insurance-price competition, North Carolina doesn’t have it because of the legislature and the McCrory administration. States that have real competition – that is, more than two companies offering policies – are seeing real savings.
 
But those are facts. And facts, as we see in the shutdown-debt limit fight, have nothing to do with Republican politics today.

 

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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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