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16
For years Jesse Helms wrote every speech he made, typing each on an old reporter’s typewriter, then one year when he was unusually harried he decided it was time to hire a speechwriter – so we hired ‘John.’
 
John was an unusually gifted writer but for all his virtues he had a peculiar view of politics (and the world in general). John saw politics as one tiny pinnacle of pure white light populated with saints, surrounded by a pitch-black engulfing darkness filled with goblins and liberals who had to be exterminated and, since the saints were badly outnumbered, the way John saw it there was no room for the luxury mercy.
 
Of course the fearfulness of his vision meant he was angry a great part of the time and naturally, over time, his anger turned him mean.
 
For six months John diligently labored writing passionate and articulate speeches for Jesse then one day in December, as we walked to my car to go to lunch, John handed Jesse a speech and launched into a tirade about Christmas – he said Christmas was a greed-ridden desecration of the story of the Christ child, an abomination reeking of materialism, then tore into Santa Claus, saying Santa Claus was a hobgoblin invented by greedy shopkeepers to con little children – then he stepped in front of Jesse, turned to face him, and said, Somebody needs to stand up and tell those children the truth about Santa Claus – and pointed to that speech.
 
Not with the white-hot passion (born of fear or betrayal or meanness) of a common murderer but with the cold-calculated passion of a Grand Inquisitor ticking off the names of heretics John had proposed the murder of St. Nicholas.
 
Jesse stopped dead in his tracks, rocked back on his heels, looked back at John, and grinned, Well, if you don’t mind, I believe I’d as soon pass on running for the Senate by telling children there’s no Santa Claus.
 
Back in those days you could usually find a fellow like John in almost every town of any size but given the limits of geography and communications in those days it was nearly impossible for John to find (or share fellowship with) his natural political soul mates.  He was sadly isolated and fought his political battles alone.
 
John passed on a decade ago but today his lineal descendents (not in blood but in politics) are happier because they’re no longer alone – modern day Johns build websites then with the click of a button other ‘Johns’ can find them and they form a tribe as bellicose as Huns.  
 
The other day, without meaning to, a soft-spoken lady from Charlotte who’s one of the four Republican leaders in the House – Representative Ruth Samuelson – sent one of those Hun-tribes into a white-hot fury.
 
Back to 2007 a previous state legislature passed a bill to encourage companies to produce ‘renewable energy’ – like solar power – in North Carolina; hardly a word has been said about the bill for six years, until last week when State Representative Mike Hager stood up in a House Committee and announced that utility companies using solar power was adding millions of dollars to electric bills and he was going to put a stop to it by repealing that six-year-old bill.
 
Those two words – renewable energy – reverberated across the Internet with the power of a magnet and hit a tribe of Johns right squarely between the eyes. Because the one person they knew who favored renewable energy was Barack Obama. And that’s all they needed to know. No sooner had Mike Hager sounded the war tocsin than a full-throated battle cry filled the air and charges flew about the evil of government subsidies and the worse evil of government interfering with the free market – which in a way didn’t add up because utility companies are monopolies and there is no free market for selling electricity.
 
Then just when it looked like Representative Hager’s bill was sure to sail through that committee Ruth Samuelson stood up and politely said that it might be a good idea for legislators to stop and do a little research before voting.
 
About an hour after that one Hun-like tribe put a picture of Samuelson and a picture of another Republican legislator on its website alongside a picture of Obama then added a headline over the pictures roaring: They voted with Obama!
 
The way that tribe saw it Ruth Samuelson had gone over to the Dark Side or, worse, become a liberal – which didn’t add up either because how on earth could an Obama-liberal be one of the four Republican Leaders in the State House?
 
So I looked up that 2007 bill and an odd fact popped up right away: George Bush was President when that bill passed. Then a second fact leaped off the page: The most rock-ribbed conservative in the legislature, Phil Berger, had voted for that bill. As had Thom Tillis, Tom Apodaca, Skip Stam, Robert Pittenger and just about every other Republican in the General Assembly.
 
Whether that Hun-like tribe’s attack on Ruth Samuelson was cold-blooded calculation or hot-blooded rage there’s no getting around one more fact: It was an act of pure meanness – like when John told Jesse, You ought to tell little children there is no Santa Claus.
 

 

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11
Today I yield my time and space to Nation Hahn, my social-media guru and guide to all things New Politics. He’s one of the state’s bright talents and one of my prime hopes for the future. He offers a timely and telling warning to Democrats:
 
 
“Gary called for a Democratic Moses recently. It is an apt comparison because we are in the desert as far as the eye can see. Every time I see a key legislative debate it feels as if Senator Josh Stein and Representative Deborah Ross are largely alone in offering a counter narrative. It is disconcerting that we also have little infrastructure in place to allow Eric Mansfield, Cal Cunningham, Grier Martin, and others the ability to offer their response to the current actions of the folks on Jones Street.
 
 
“Beyond Moses, however, we need new ideas. I am concerned by the number of progressives who believe that the way that we will win in the future is to simply bash Art Pope, slam the Governor and the General Assembly as out of touch, and attack their ideas. Simply being a Cassandra ain’t going to cut it. We’ll be as disregarded as she was in the myths of old.
 
 
“We have to offer new ideas and a new narrative for North Carolina. And North Carolina isn’t alone — this is an issue in states across our country. After fifty years of gains created by progressives on the federal and state level we have retreated over the last fifteen years. We have found ourselves protecting our gains as they fall under an all out attack by conservatives which has led to a dramatic shift of our standing on the spectrum.
 
 
“Traditionally conservatives fought to defend and conserve, while progressives advocated for new ideas and bold solutions. That tradition has been turned on its head and that is one reason we’ve been losing of late. People are hurting economically in rural North Carolina, for example, and my fellow progressives have found themselves stuck defending the status quo while conservatives call for change. When you are hurting, a new idea, even if it is a bad idea, sounds better than the status quo.
 
 
“It is time that we move beyond the tired narratives and beyond simply calling for our progress to be protected. It is time to call for real progress once more. It is time to offer new ideas and reach for the brass ring. The genius of Governor Jim Hunt is that he always offered a bold vision for the future. I believe that many of us still turn to him for leadership because even now, more than a decade and two administrations removed from his last term, he still has bold new ideas for the future.
 
 
“It is time that we follow Hunt’s lead and develop the big ideas of the future. Otherwise, we’ll be an ineffective, marginalized Cassandra as the folks on Jones Street dramatically reshape our state.”
 
 

 

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10
The more you hang around, the more things come back around. Like controversial Dix land transfers and privatizing the Department of Commerce.
 
At the dedication of N.C. State’s new Hunt Library last week, one visitor took note of a Duane Powell cartoon in Governor Hunt’s office.  It poked fun at his hotly debated plan to transfer land from Dix to NCSU (for what become the Centennial Campus, a jewel for the school and one of the world’s most outstanding university research campuses.)  That was in 1984, almost 30 years ago.
 
This week, Governor McCrory proposed privatizing the Department of Commerce. Exactly what Lt. Governor Bob Jordan proposed in 1988, exactly 25 years ago, when he was running against Governor Jim Martin.
 
By the way, Martin and his Republican allies denounced the idea then. They said it would hurt the industry-hunting efforts of the Department of Commerce (which Hunt had created in 1977).

 

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02
A TAPster offers these observations on “the nasty civil war between the legislature and cities, now manifesting itself in high-profile fisticuffs over the Charlotte airport authority and the fate of the Dix property in Raleigh," as follows:
 
“First, there have been other disputes like this over the years. Charlotte leaders (including the former mayor and now current Governor McCrory) stayed frustrated for years with former Senate leader Marc Basnight, whom they viewed as an eastern North Carolina rube who had no concept of the challenges of their great city. He wouldn’t send money for transportation projects, much less visit.
 
“Meanwhile, legislative leaders -- whose core ideology is a disdain for a powerful central government and a passion for John Locke’s theories of individual freedom in civic, economic and religious life -- have abandoned those principles to use their new-found power and authority to micromanage the affairs of local governments.
 
“Finally, the politics of this mess will be revealed if these issues come to a vote. If the local legislative delegations are split (especially among the GOP members) and the issues advance anyway, then it’s a sign that the legislative leadership has run amok and thinks it is the boss of everybody. If, however, the delegations are unified, then it will be up to voters to decide whether their representatives in Raleigh are reflecting local values or they are mere vassals of the new king in town.”

 

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28
Has public opinion – and politicians – ever shifted so fast on an issue as on gay marriage?
 
A year ago, 60 percent of North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Yesterday, a U.S. Senator in a tough reelection fight endorsed gay marriage.
 
Yes, Kay Hagan is one of a lengthening list of moderate Democrats who recently changed her position. Like Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Jon Tester and Mark Warner. And one doubts they recently changed their minds; they probably had come to that conclusion long ago but were wrestling with when to go public.
 
In a way, they have no choice. A rising tide of young people is moving Democratic, attracted by President Obama and repelled by Republican meanness. For this generation, ending discrimination against gays is their version of Vietnam, civil rights and women’s rights. They know gay teens who were and are bullied. (We all did; we just kept quiet or joined in the harassment.) They believe it’s wrong, and they won’t stand for it. Good for them.
 
They, in turn, are moving their parents and grandparents. A lot of people who are coming around now long ago concluded the gay-bashing and discrimination is wrong, but they couldn’t get comfortable with gay marriage. What clinches them is a simple argument: You should be able to marry the person you love.
 
Just for the hell of it, why don’t Democrats in the North Carolina legislature put in a bill calling for another statewide vote on the constitutional amendment? It will go straight to the Republican trash can. And that’s the point.

 

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26
As if Senator Kay Hagan needed Michael Bloomberg sticking his Gotham billionaire gun-control nose in her race.
 
Hagan already has a tough reelection fight. She’s one of the Obama Class of 2008 Senators. And a President’s second mid-term election historically is bad for his party.
 
(Not always, though. Republicans thought they would be shooting fish in a barrel in Bill Clinton’s second mid-term in 1998. Especially after Monica-gate broke in January. But, thanks to then-Speaker and philanderer Newt Gingrich, they overplayed their hand. Democrats won big. In North Carolina, John Edwards upset Lauch Faircloth.)
 
Still, Bloomberg puts a target squarely on Hagan by targeting the state with his TV ads.
 
So she faces a choice. She could do what moderate North Carolina Democrats normally do: take cover in the middle and hope the NRA crowd doesn’t come at her with guns blazing. (This blog inevitably leads to an excess of gun metaphors.)
 
Or she could gamble that politics has changed. Maybe gun politics has changed after Newton and other school massacres. Maybe North Carolina politics has changed with Obama’s strong showing and the potential emergence of a new Democratic majority based in urban areas and appealing to women, minorities and young people – the very people who like Bloomberg’s ads. But will those votes be there without Obama on the ballot?
 
You can bet that Hagan’s advisers are puzzling over this now. All politicians and political operatives are control freaks; they hate anything they can’t control. And nobody can control Bloomberg and his billions.

 

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20
Opponents of fracking in North Carolina may have two powerful allies: the free market and politics.
 
John Murawski wrote in The News & Observer that “booming shale gas production in the Northeast” could give energy developers one less reason “to take financial risks to explore North Carolina’s virgin gas deposits in Lee, Moore and Chatham counties.”
 
Also, Kevin Brown, exploration manager for WhitMar Exploration, the Colorado energy company that has leased 5,950 acres in Lee County, said: “To be honest, between the low commodity price and the political uncertainty (in North Carolina), it’s kind of thrown a wet blanket on the enthusiasm there.”
 
Ah-ha, nothing like “political uncertainty.” Opponents’ strategy, then, is simple: Just raise the possibility that the 2014 or 2016 elections might turn out different and produce a changed political climate in Raleigh.
 
That may be enough to dry up interest – and scare away investors.
 
Isn’t the free market a wonderful thing?
 

 

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08
President Obama just announced the Sequester spending cuts are so terrible he has no choice but to cancel White House tours;---that upset House Speaker John Boehner who immediately cried foul, saying Obama was grandstanding and he (Boehner) had kept the Capitol tours running and Obama could have done the same thing – which is no doubt true but misses the point.
 
Obama made a cut. And a pretty painless cut. No one will go hungry. No one will go without medical care. No great harm will be done to anyone. So why didn’t Speaker Boehner simply shrug and say, Well, that’s unfortunate but the world won’t end without White House tours.
 
Floating beneath all this Washington chatter is a simple question: Is it possible politicians will be voted out of office for cancelling a tour – or is this a sign politicians are so weak-kneed they can’t take even a little ‘heat’ over a painless cut?
 

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08
Governor McCrory and Republican legislators were against incentives before they were for them.
 
McCrory is clearly for them when he can bask in the announcement of 2,600 new jobs by MetLife. (Hello, Snoopy!)
 
Or maybe he’s for them when they are negotiated by Moore & Van Allen, his old law firm.
 
But his spokeswoman assures us, “There was a complete firewall and no interaction.”
 
And a Moore & Van Allen’s spokesman chimes in that the Gov’s old job was “not part in any way, shape or form” with the firm’s economic development team.
 
Conveniently enough, that spokesman is Brian Nick, identified by the N&O as “a former top McCrory campaign adviser.”
 
Does that mean the Governor deserves no credit whatsoever for what apparently was an eight-month courtship? He just showed up for the cameras?
 
Senator Phil Berger, who once questioned the Perdue administration’s $45 million incentive package for Continental Tire, “dismissed questions” about this one, which has an eye-popping price tag of $94 million.
 
Berger says, “I think it’s a whole different circumstance.”
 
Like how, exactly?
 
Give Rep. Skip Stam credit for consistency. He said of the MetLife deal, “I oppose picking one company over another company.”
 
The N&O noted: “The state GOP platform calls incentives “contrary to the free enterprise system.”
 
Expect, apparently, when Republicans can claim credit for creating jobs. That’s called incentive.

 

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07
While Governor McCrory prepares a “very, very tight budget” and blocks Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor of another purple Southern state is going in the opposite direction.
 
Governor Rick Scott of Florida was a Tea Party poster boy when he got elected in 2010. Now a Miami Tea Party leader has sent the governor a “breakup note.”
 
Scott signed off on Medicaid expansion in his state. He proposed a $2,500 across-the-board pay increase for teachers. The New York Times says he “has crisscrossed the state advertising his enthusiasm for education, state workers, highways, commuter rails, early voting, the disabled, environmental protection and jobs.”
 
Democrats ask: “Medicaid expansion, Obamacare, teacher bonuses — who is this guy?”
 
A Republican consultant explains: “If he is going to get re-elected, he needs to rebrand, reboot and repackage.”
 
In North Carolina, Governor McCrory has entrusted his immediate political fate to Art Pope, his budget director. For more than 20 years, Pope has spent, strived and struggled to get control of the budget. Now that he has it, he is going to put his ideological stamp on it.
 
The question is what the political impact will be of, say, deep cuts in education, the universities, community colleges and various economic development programs. All of them have constituents and supporters, including Republicans.
 
While Scott tacks to the center in Florida, McCrory is heading right in Raleigh. Soon he may hit high winds and rough waves. Then we’ll see if he follows Scott’s course.

 

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