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North Carolina - Republicans

18
They don’t make Republicans like Jim Holshouser anymore.
 
Big pay raises for teachers? Statewide kindergartens? Coastal Management Act? Rural health centers? Expansion of the state park system? More African-Americans and women in government? Help for black business enterprises?
 
They’d throw him out of the party today. Actually, they did in 1976. As Rob Christensen noted, Jesse Helms’ forces booed Holshouser at the state GOP convention and denied him a seat as a delegate to the national convention.  Holshouser supported President Ford; Helms was for Ronald Reagan.
 
Holshouser was tougher than he looked. He beat two charismatic politicians in 1972: Jim Gardner in the primary (for which North Carolina owes Holshouser a debt of thanks) and Skipper Bowles in the fall (with George McGovern’s help).
 
About 10 days before the November election, the 38-year-old Holshouser told the 35-year-old Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor: “I think it’s going to be you and me.”
 
Holshouser and Lt. Governor Jim Hunt had their fights over the next four years, but they also worked together on education, health care and environmental issues. When I interviewed Holshouser for my biography of Hunt, he laughed, “Every month or so Jim would whack me publicly, but I knew he had to do that.”
 
Hunt, who was looking four years down the road, also helped him fight legislators’ efforts to strip powers from the governor. Holshouser was the last Governor who couldn’t succeed himself, so they weren’t going to run against each other.
 
Holshouser arguably had a tougher row to hoe than any Governor in the 20th Century. The Democratic bulls in the legislature didn’t want to give him anything. The Democratic-dominated bureaucracy resisted him. The media was tough on him; he got off to a bad start when several appointees flew around the state on a helicopter firing state employees. Then came Watergate, Nixon’s resignation and the 1974 elections, which left one Republican in the state Senate and nine in the House. Then came the Republican civil war in 1976.
 
Holshouser kept his sanity and balance through it all. He and Terry Sanford started a law firm together. He helped Republicans build a fortress in Moore County. He worked tirelessly for UNC. He and Hunt worked together on issues like campaign reform and against private school vouchers. He suffered through his wife’s death and his own health problems.
 
There is a tendency now to underplay the fierce political battles of 40 years ago. They were tough and brutal. But there was a time when Republicans and Democrats worked together in North Carolina. That time is gone now, never to return.
 
Republicans have gone farther right than even Jesse Helms and Jim Gardner dreamed. Let them go. Democrats should remember that elections in North Carolina are won in the middle, that powerful stream where Jim Holshouser spawned and swing voters swim.

 

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17
The Democrats have gotten plenty fired up about the ‘Moral Monday’ protests down at the state legislature – even an old war horse like Gary, catching a whiff of grapeshot in the air, rode to the sound of the guns, defending the protestors from a broadside by Governor McCrory.
 
But, in another way, all this consternation seems out of place – the protests may have ignited the imaginations of political insiders but they don’t really seem to have caught the imagination of the man on the street. Instead of protests filled with high drama – like fire hoses and clashes with police – every Monday the protestors politely line up, blocking the huge metal doors into the State House and State Senate, then the Capital Police politely carry them away one by one, book ‘em, then let ‘em go.
 
No harm’s done. No one suffers. And everyone goes on about their business.
 
In addition while the demonstrators are chanting away decrying the foibles of Republican politicians, the lead protestor (leading the chants) is the one of the most colorful demagogues to come down the pike in North Carolina in years – the Reverend William Barber. North Carolina’s answer to Al Sharpton.
 
As a firer of broadsides Reverend Barber is second to no one – but as the face and voice of a political movement he leaves something to be desired.
 
The Republican’s best response to the “Moral Monday” protests isn’t to start firing back – it’s simpler: Just go on being courteous.

 

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14
Right now there’re three great powers in Republican politics in Raleigh: The Governor, the House, and the Senate.
 
Now the Governor’s pretty easygoing – the kind of fellow who, when he can, will go out of his way to avoid a fight. Even when he disagrees with folks, he’s not inclined to say much bad or unkind about the other fellow.
 
The State House, on the other hand, can get pretty obstreperous. But, most often, the Republicans in the House are aiming their barbs at each other. A couple of weeks ago a Republican legislator let fly at Speaker Thom Tillis calling him a liberal, then another Republican legislator let fly calling the Speaker a pay-to-play politician. Last week, Republican legislators scuttled the Speaker’s tax reform plan in the House Finance Committee one day, scuttled it again in the House Appropriations Committee the next day, then on the third day they passed the whole thing (just the way the Speaker wanted it) almost unanimously.
 
Compared to the House, the Senate is a study in order.
 
The Republican Senators take their conservative ideas seriously – and they’re not prone to sit on their hands and wait for someone else to come along and do something about them. In their budget they cut state spending more than the House or the Governor, and in their tax package they cut taxes more than the House or the Governor – which has left the other Republican powers in Raleigh in a quandary. Because no Republican State Representative wants to have to go home and explain to voters that, the way he saw it, the Republican Senate cut taxes and spending too much.
 

 

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13
The other day the News & Observer wrote a long report comparing the State House and State Senate budgets – but who, other than a certified budget expert with a PhD, could figure out the welter of numbers?
 
The newspaper wrote – in great detail – about who spent money on what: How the House funded a non-profit with a high sounding name (the Rural Development Center) which the folks in the House appear to view as essential to the public good but the folks in the Senate appear to view as an old-fashioned political slush fund (they refuse to spend a penny on).
 
But, beyond this welter of numbers, in the end this debate may boil down to one simple number: Who spent the most – the House or the Senate?
 
Because once that’s clear folks who want less government will support the budget that spends the least – and folks who favor more government will come down on the other side.
 
So what’s the number? Who spent the most? The House or the Senate?
 

 

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12
Maybe it’s the heat, the humidity or just that it’s June. A reporter gets arrested. Senator Tom Goolsby has 60s flashbacks. Governor McCrory sees “outsiders” when they’re not there. The Democratic Party debacle deepens.
 
But the flap over the Governor’s game of catch – and his spokesperson’s bizarre statement – still stand out in a week of bizarre capital news.
 
First video evidence and a time stamp are examined to resolve whether the Governor was in a meeting or playing catch on the lawn when Progress NC, Bob Etheridge and a group of children brought him a petition protesting education cuts.
 
Then Kim Genardo makes this classic statement:
 
“The photo being circulated today by that liberal advocacy group was taken AFTER the petitions were dropped off at the Capitol. Taking the advice of First Lady Michelle Obama, the governor each day attempts to get some exercise, yesterday throwing the baseball and today walking from NC State's campus back to the Capitol. Governor McCrory will be back out tomorrow throwing the baseball perhaps with children who share his All-American passion.''
 
That’s the ticket: Blame Michelle. And hide behind America and baseball.

 

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11
Ah, the old “outsider” shibboleth rears its head. Shades of George Wallace’s “outside agitators.” But it’s not outsiders that Republicans should worry about; it’s the changing electorate inside North Carolina.
 
The Republican overreaction to Moral Mondays looks shaky and out of synch. Especially when you see this photo of a policeman hauling off a pleasant-looking middle-aged woman with her hands zip-tied behind her back. Thank goodness our government is now safe from her!
 
Here’s a good article that captures the tension developing across the South between hard-right Republicans in power in state capitals and an increasingly younger, darker and more progressive voting population.
 
It’s like pressure building up between tectonic plates. Eventually there’s an earthquake.
 
Governor McCrory sounded like he was standing on shaky ground when he warned the state Republican convention that "Outsiders are coming in and they're going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin."
 
Senator Tom Goolsby sounded like he had fallen into a 1960s time warp when he railed: “Several hundred people – mostly white, angry, aged former hippies – appeared and screeched into microphones, talked about solidarity and chanted diatribes.”
 
Clearly, Democrats have a lot of work to do before they can turn this energy into victory at the polling place. But, one way or another, that energy will find an outlet.

 

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10
Governor McCrory's style reminds me of Mike Easley: as in, the exact opposite.
 
Easley was notoriously private. He hated being out in public and going to events. Which is bizarre in a politician.
 
But Easley had real beliefs and convictions that he stood up for: smaller class sizes, early-childhood education, economic development in rural areas and small towns, and equal opportunities for all.
 
McCrory’s style is clear after five months. Unlike Easley, he seems to have no core beliefs, except a fuzzy-minded version of jargon-filled conservatism.
 
And most unlike Easley, he LOVES going places. He’ll go anywhere, anytime. Having a press conference about Dix? He’s there. Announcing a new industry he had nothing to do with? Count on Pat. Walking down Main Street and eating at a diner? Shake hands with Pat.
 
In other words, he’s good at the show. But the work? Not so much. So that leaves the legislature to run things, which they’re happy to do. And it leaves McCrory’s political fate – and North Carolina’s future – in the hands of some Cabinet secretaries whose grip is questionable, like Secretary Wos with Medicaid and Secretary Skvarla with the environment.
 
Being Governor is hard work. It’s more than showing up. It takes studying and learning. It takes listening to people and managing people. It takes a vision and persuasion. Without that kind of governor, a state can get outworked – and left behind.
 
By the way, Thomas Mills had a good analysis of this dynamic in his blog. I forgive him for stealing my lead above after we talked last week. But that’s fair, because I’ve stolen a lot of lines from him. And his blog is consistently great.
 

 

 

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08
Daniel Gilligan, a bright young Democratic policy consultant from Raleigh, offers an analysis of Republican and taxes:
 
“Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have got themselves all worked up over a humdinger of a ‘new’ idea. They want to get rid of that ‘antiquated’ and ‘Depression era’ tax code we got lying around, (and when you describe it like that who wouldn’t) and do a little ‘reform’. Of course, they said they wouldn’t raise taxes, but just look at the big list of things we don’t tax, they say. New taxes aren’t tax increases, right?
 
“Their gusto for their shiny tax package can’t help but remind me of another great reformer with a big idea. His name was Lord North, and you’ll remember him as Prime Minister for a certain British Monarch, King George III. Faced with some bills they’d like to pass off on anyone besides themselves and their friends, North and George decided to come up with a few new things they could tax, like services and some food items like tea. Sound familiar?
 
“They called it the Stamp Act and later the Tea Act and such (some folks have been worked up about that tea one the last couple years for reasons they can’t quite explain). Bear in mind this was in the days before PR whizzes could tell them to title things the opposite of what they actually do, like “Tax Fairness Act”. Their simple plan for tax reform led to a few complications with which you are probably familiar.
 
“No, my point is not some demagoguery like calling the North Carolina Republicans Tax Hike proposals monarchical, anti-American, much less to call for a revolution (yet). My point is simply that while they bemoan the antiquatedness of the current tax system, this new solution that North Carolina’s Republicans are pushing is nothing new at all – in fact it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. While they might want to dress it up as a ‘reform,’ what they’re really after is some misdirection for a little re-distribution.
 
“Despite arguments they may want to make, twisting notions like fairness or throwing out technobabble like ‘disincentives for production’ to make it sound like there is some of the dismal science involved somewhere, the end product adds up the same: most folks will be paying more, while the top few will be paying less. You don’t have to take my word for it, their own ‘tax calculator’ said so.
 
“Telling folks they’ll be taking more of their paychecks home sounds great - until you’re in the checkout line, paying out more than the blessed ‘tax reform’ let you keep. Republicans can call it a tax cut all they want, but when the majority of the people end up paying more, one has to wonder: how long can these new dogs keep up their old tricks?”

 

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07
Every session, some legislator does something astoundingly bone-headed. This year we have Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes.
 
Holloway told WRAL’s Laura Leslie and Mark Binker that he had nothing to do with the embarrassingly sophomoric and allegedly sexist preppy-fantasy blog “Wasp 101.”
 
Leslie and Binker listed the coincidences between Stokes and blog author, “Richard.” They provided a link to the now-shuttered site, parts of which – there is a God! – live on in cyberland. The link warned about “mature content.”  What I saw was pretty immature, mainly an obsession with Polo and Brooks Brothers clothing.
 
In the age of Anthony Weiner (insert your own appropriate wordplay joke here), you’d think politicians would think twice about this sort of thing. But in this social media age, for years to come you’ll see politicians trying to explain stupid things they posted in the past.
 
Holloway gave WRAL a classic non-denial denial: "I’ve just made the only comment that I’m going to make, and that’s it. I’m going to stick by what I said. I don’t really see it as news or a story, so we’re just finished with it."
 
He also said: "One thing I would point out is how many brown dachshunds are out there, how many Brooks Brothers ties are hanging on the rack at a Brooks Brothers store. I’m 5’10”, I have brown hair, I’m white. There’s a hundred million people who could look just like me."
 
Maybe so, but I’ll bet there’s only one who could pull off this bonehead play.
 
To paraphrase the old Washington-scandal line, it’s not the blog, it’s the coverup.
 
 

 

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06
Maybe it was the front-page photo of the white-coated female doctor, stethoscope around her neck, being arrested. Maybe it’s the growing number of protesters and arrests. Maybe it’s the broad range of people and interests involved.
 
Whatever the reason, the Moral Monday protests are rolling downhill, picking up speed and making an impact.
 
Conventional journalistic/academic wisdom is that the protests will have no impact on the Republican legislature and will turn off the public.
 
The first part? Duh. But the latter? Don’t believe it for a second.
 
The public, especially moderate, swing voters, is tuning in. They’re focusing on why people are angry – and on what the legislature is doing. They’re asking: Why are these people being arrested? What are they doing that is – Governor McCrory’s word – “unlawful”?
 
McCrory and the legislative Republicans may not be moved, but they’re clearly uncomfortable. No politician likes being in that situation. And they don’t know how to respond without sounding like callous bullies.
 
That was the lesson of civil-rights protests in the South in the 60s. It wasn’t that all Americans liked the protesters. But they sure didn’t like the bigoted cops and racist mobs.
 
So what does a politician say when a reporter pokes a camera in their face and asks about protests? Here (free of charge) is the right answer, always: “Even when I disagree, I respect any American’s right to protest their government.”
 
When you’re in power, you need to show a little class. This crowd can’t.
 
Tea Party protests led up to the 2010 election. What do these protests tell you about 2014?

 

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