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06
John Wilson went from teaching school in Raleigh to leading the NCAE and then the NEA. He went from leading teacher protests against Governor Hunt in 1984 to working with Hunt 10 years later to raise North Carolina’s teachers’ pay above the national average.
 
He wrote a recent blog in Education Week (“The Most Backward Legislature in America”) that is worth reading, especially for this summary of why, for all this legislature’s outrages, the Democrats’ strongest case is education:
 
“Once known for having the most innovative and progressive public school system in America, North Carolina is now a trajectory of backwardness.
 
“This legislature has put North Carolina in a race to the bottom on per pupil expenditures. This legislature chose to cut education by a half a billion dollars--even though the state had more resources available than in previous years. North Carolina will lose over 5,000 teachers, counselors, and school psychologists. A reading program that provided teaching assistants for K-3 classrooms was decimated by the elimination of almost 4,000 positions. Cuts to textbooks and instructional supplies exceeded $120 million. This is backward….
 
“North Carolina has always been rated as a great place to do business because of its renowned universities, research and innovation, and strong public schools. However, this legislature has cut the institutions that prepare North Carolina's workforce. This action is more about rewarding friends and donors than it is about economic development and recruitment of new employers. This is backward.
 
“North Carolina was recently rated 46th among all states and DC for teacher pay. The state was already projected to be 48th this coming year, but that did not satisfy this legislature. Lawmakers wanted their teachers to be last in the nation so they failed to provide them with a salary increase. To underscore their anti-intellectual credentials, they eliminated additional pay for those who earn master's degrees and other advanced degrees in the future. To add insult to injury, in two years, they will give 25 percent of the teachers a little over $300, after taxes, if their test scores are the highest. Of course, to silence teachers, they eliminated career status (so-called tenure) for all teachers and replaced it with terminating contracts. This is backward.
 
“North Carolina has been known for its programs to improve teacher recruitment and retention. This legislature eliminated our crown jewel, the Teaching Fellows Program, which provided scholarships annually to 600 high-achieving high school students who wanted to make teaching a lifelong career. Instead, they chose to give Teach for America an allocation of $5 million to place 175 teachers in our schools next year. Of course, school districts must pay salaries, benefits, and finder's fees for these TFAers. There are 6,000 Teaching Fellows who are still teaching. Those175 TFAers will be gone in two years. What kind of ROI (return on investment) is that for the taxpayers of NC? This is backward….
 
“Yes, North Carolina has the most backward legislature in America. However, thankfully, NC still has a majority of progressive and pro-public school people who have learned a great lesson about studying candidates' positions on issues and voting in every election. They've also learned about encouraging good people to run for office and the power of civil disobedience to call attention to the misdeeds of a misguided legislature. The majority of concerned and compassionate Tar Heels will prevail. It will just take time, mobilization, and voting.”

 

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01
It was a frozen moment in time, a sort of thirty-second epiphany revealing the compounded double griefs of fading courtliness and ascending Yankeedom (I say Yankeedom because most Yankees never experienced the good fortune of having a maiden aunt whose sole purpose in life was to indoctrinate – by force if necessary – wayward nieces and straying nephews into the propriety of good manners). Here’s what happened:
 
One July morning the Governor strolled out of the Governor’s Mansion, crossed the street, stopped in front of a group of women demonstrating against his stand on abortion, and handed one of the ladies a plate of cookies.
 
The surprised women stared down at the plate, watched the Governor saunter back across the street toward the Governor’s Mansion and, recovering their wits, began chanting, “Hey Pat, that was rude! You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.”
 
The Governor disappeared into the mansion; the ladies laid the plate of untouched cookies at the foot of the gate then pinned a sign to the gate explaining precisely what they thought of his new abortion law.
 
I still remember, years ago, my grandmother telling me (about a hundred times), Carter, when somebody you don’t like is nice to you, just say ‘Thank you.’
 
Now, would you say folks have gotten better – or worse – since those days?

 

 

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01
“You have a Republican majority that is doing exactly what they were elected to do.” -
Claude Pope, state GOP chairman

“They really messed up when they screwed with the mothers, the teachers and the women.” - Shannon Shanks, Wilmington teacher
 
Well, in 2014 and 2016 we’ll find out who’s right.
 
Republicans may find that their biggest problem isn't just what they did, but how they did it. It was mean, angry and vengeful.
 
They fit right in with the face of the Republican Party nationally. In Washington, they are mean, angry obstructionists. In Raleigh, a mean, angry wrecking crew. Angry old white men lashing out at mothers, teachers and women, not to mention minorities, young people, older people, rural people, city people, gay people, sick people, not-rich people, you name it.
 
Republicans drew districts and passed a voter-suppression law to keep those people in their place. But Americans have this way of rising up when they’re told to sit down and shut up.
 
Even Republicans here worry about the overreach. They stay silent because they want to taste the fruits of victory.
 
But the way they’re going, the may be out of power for another 100 years.

 

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29
A successful businessman – and Democrat – offers the view below on the tax-cut bill passed by the legislature and signed by Governor McCrory. The writer is Reid Overcash, who has been a business owner and CEO for four different companies.
 
“There is no short-term successful strategy to creating jobs by reducing taxes. No one hires new employees based on a tax cut. As a CEO over the past 30 years, I can tell you there is only one reason to hire new positions and that is that demand for your product or service exceeds the capability of the current staff to provide it. In other words, you hire because you have to, not because your taxes are cut. To be fair, it does put more money into the stockholders’ pockets that they might, in turn, spend for a new car or a vacation home. But they will not hire new staff if the current staff can fill all the orders.
 
“Jobs are jobs, regardless if they are in the public sector or private sector. It makes no sense to eliminate 30-40,000 public jobs thinking that will reduce unemployment. (Republican leaders) are mostly hurting the rural areas that can’t afford to make up the difference. They are hurting their own supporters. I wonder how long it will take for them to realize their fate.”

 

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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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26
So is this the direction North Carolina wants? More restrictions on voting and on women’s health care – and fewer on trash-hauling, landfills and fracking? Less help for people out of work, less health care for the sickest and poorest – and more tax cuts for people on top of the pile?
 
Most of all, more money for private schools – and the promise of much more to come – and less for teachers, teachers assistants and early childhood?
 
One veteran observer asked: “How long will it take before these new Republicans get home and discover that a lot of teachers, teacher assistants and school employees, not to mention school board members, are Republicans?”
 
What will happen in corporate America? “Let’s get on down to North Carolina: They’re cutting taxes and throwing out regulations left and right”?  Or: “Move us and our families to a women-bashing, gay-bashing, minority-suppressing, education-slashing state where people are screaming at each other and getting arrested over it all? No thanks.”
 
And, above all, more guns everywhere?
 
Here we go.

 

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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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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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15
The other day Thomas Edsall of the New York Times reported that a terrible thing has happened. Since the Voting Rights Act passed, the number of Black state legislators has grown from fewer than 5 to 313 – but at the same time, Black political power has diminished. The problem: Most Black legislators are Democrats which makes them members of the minority party now that Republicans control every state legislature in the “former Confederacy.”’
 
It’s what’s called, Edsall reported, the ‘Re-segregation in Southern Politics.’
 
The way Edsall sees it, two varmints are responsible for this sorry state: Southern whites leaving the Democratic Party and Republicans drawing redistricting plans.
 
Now there is a whole dollop of subtle forces at work here which make this lament a little like the fellow who got exactly what he asked for – but then cried foul because it wasn’t what he expected.
 
North Carolina’s an example.
 
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to remove roadblocks on Black voter registration. And it did. Then it evolved into a kind of affirmative action program to help elect African-Americans to office. And it did that too.
 
But, in 2011, after Republicans got control of redistricting, one of those subtle forces (with an acute sense of irony) moved, and when it finished moving Republicans were taking electing African-American politicians a lot more seriously than Democrats ever had.
 
Once, years ago, a friend who wanted to run for State Senate came to see me and said, What do you think? And I looked at the demographics in his district and said, I’d pass. Thirty percent of the registered voters in the district are African-Americans – I don’t see much chance you or any other Republican will win it.
 
That was just harsh reality. When 30% or 40% of a district’s voters were African-Americans, demographically, it meant the district was almost always going elect a Democrat. And Democrats understood that. So when they redistricted they always created lots of districts where 30% to 40% of the voters were African-Americans.
 
That elected the most Democrats.
 
But it didn’t necessarily elect the most African-Americans – because a lot of the Democrats representing those districts were white.
 
 
Then, in 2011, when Republicans controlled redistricting – maybe due to temptation or just plain calculation or, maybe, listening to that subtle voice – they reached two straightforward conclusions.
 
The first was that the way to comply with the Voting Rights Act (and elect more African-Americans) was to create more districts where African-Americans were a majority of voters.
 
And that’s what they did.
 
Republicans legislators drew more ‘majority-minority’ districts than Democrats ever had, and the next election more African-American legislators were elected than ever before.
 
The second conclusion was that creating more districts where 50% or 51% of the voters were African-Americans meant the other districts would be more likely to elect Republicans.
 
And that happened too. It worked just as planned – so far.
 
Of course, the Democrats were unhappy so they sued to overturn the Republican redistricting plan – which led to the ironic circumstance of Democrats standing up in court arguing only 40% of the voters in a district should be African-Americans while Republicans were arguing, Well, if 40% is a good idea why isn’t 50% better – it means more African-Americans will be elected.
 
And, of course, the only answer Democrats had was odd too – faced with a plan to elect more African-Americans but fewer Democrats they said, No way.
 
So, in the end, the Voting Rights Act worked just as it was intended. African-American registration grew. Turnout grew. More African-Americans were elected. The Democrats got exactly what they wanted. But then – in what must have seemed like an act of malicious magic to Democrats – the whole thing backfired.
 

 

 

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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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