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15
Thom Tillis is a lot like Mitt Romney, and he learned one big thing from Romney’s 2012 campaign: Don’t get on the same stage and same page with the nuts in his party.
 
So Tillis may be making the right strategic decision by ducking the WRAL debate. It’s better to look chicken than to be a punching bag or, even worse, look like you’re as far-right as some of your opponents.
 
Besides, Tillis may be up against two candidates who believe they were called by God to run. Greg Brannon says God spoke to him while he was running on the beach on Good Friday. (He works in mysterious ways!) I don’t want to put words into Mark Harris’ mouth, but he is a minister, so he might feel called from on high too.
 
It’s hard to debate with people called by God.
 
This reminds me of a little-known opponent Governor Jim Hunt had long ago. Hunt sat down with the man to discuss the race and, he hoped, persuade him not to make the race. But the man told Hunt that God had told him to run.
 
Hunt said later that he thought to himself, “Well, God didn’t tell me to run, but if He told you, I can understand you running.”
 
As it turned out, God might have told the fellow to run, but He didn’t tell him he’d win. He finished far back in the pack.

 

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14
“Will no one rid me of this troublesome professor?” (Paraphrasing King Henry II on Thomas Becket.)
 
Fifty years ago, the legislature brought shame on North Carolina, dishonor on themselves and harm to UNC when the honorables passed the Speaker Ban Law to protect college students from a feared invasion of pro-Communist speakers. Eventually, wiser heads prevailed, the law was repealed and the Communists lost.
 
Now, Raleigh’s Republican regime appears determined to purge the university of the troublesome voice of Gene Nichol, a UNC-Chapel Hill law professor.
 
Nichols committed the grave sin of criticizing Governor McCrory in a column, calling him “hapless Pat” and “a 21st century successor to Maddox, Wallace and Faubus.” The hapless-Pat line is pretty good, even though the comparison to the trio of Southern segregationist governors is a stretch.
 
But McCrory, again demonstrating the rabbit-eared sensitivity that hears a critical squeak uttered in any corner of the political arena, can’t take it. He was almost as upset as the time when the grocery store chef mouthed off at him.  Even though he was in Mississippi for a meeting, the Governor called a political ally on the UNC Board of Governors to complain.
 
A flurry of emails and phone calls ensued, as Jane Stancill reveals in her excellent N&O story. So now Nichol puts a disclaimer on his writings that “he doesn’t speak for UNC.” No more, one assumes, than Obama-hater Chris Conover speaks for Duke University when he appears before legislative committees to denounce the Affordable Care Act.
 
Clearly, Republican operatives are out for Nichols’ head. They won’t be satisfied until he is banished from the University and an example is made of him for any other pointy-headed professors who have the audacity to speak out against the powers-that-be in Raleigh.
 
You would think that someone in the Republican Party might realize how damaging this will be to a UNC system already battered by budget cuts and cheap political shots, to a state whose “brand” (if you will) was built on a great university and – yes – to their own personal reputations.
 
Ask Henry II. History is not kind to those who seek to silence the voices of dissent.
 
Plus, it doesn’t work. The victims become martyrs. And more people pay attention to them.
 
 

 

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13
Misery loves company and right here, in Raleigh, it’s led to a pretty strange alliance. Governor McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency have joined arms.
 
To whip the ‘coal ash’ problem.
 
According to the newspaper reports the Governor is “pleased” but, so far, the EPA hasn’t had much kind to say about DENR. In fact, the other morning the newspapers reported the EPA was unhappy with DENR because of its too cushy settlement with Duke Energy a year ago.
 
Even worse for the DENR folks, disposing of a mountain of coal ash (that’s been building up for forty years) may not be their diciest problem. Not by a long shot.
 
Coal ash is a catastrophe. But Grand Jury Investigations and subpoenas flying through the air are an altogether more worrisome development. Dancing the ‘ole political two step’ with an FBI agent doesn’t work. And in Grand Jury investigations people testify under oath so fibbing is off the table. If you’re a DENR employee or a lobbyist who lobbied a DENR employee you’re face to face with a cold hard fact – the Grand Jury is looking for an answer to a simple question: Did someone in DENR cut Duke Power a break? And did he or she get anything in return?
 
This kind of investigation can be the deadliest calamity in politics. There’re no backroom fixes. No quarter is given. And the consequences can be a lot more unfortunate than losing an election.

 

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11
This is how spending priorities get set in Raleigh.
 
The Republican legislature is facing a revenue hole. And there are three big pots of money: public schools, the UNC system and Medicaid.
 
At the same time, the GOP is facing a political hole on schools. Last year, the legislature declared war on teachers and public schools.   Their target was the NCAE. But they found out that a lot of teachers and parents live back home.  And they’re mad.
 
So the legislature will scrape up every dollar it can to minimize the political backlash in November.
 
The UNC system? Republicans – and Art Pope – don’t like the universities. After all, those institutions, especially Chapel Hill, have a way of turning out liberals and Democratic voters. And, for the first time ever, neither the Governor, the Senate President Pro Tem nor the Speaker has any UNC ties.
 
So off with their heads!
 
Then there’s Medicaid. And, as one lobbyist observed this week, “No Republican legislator knows anybody on Medicaid.”
 
Guess who gets whacked?

 

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10
When it comes to straw polls, from cradle to grave, there’s a whiff of deception in the air. Hardly anything is what it seems.
 
For instance, political groups don’t take straw polls to measure voters’ opinions or candidates’ strengths – they take them to gin-up attendance for meetings. By telling a cash-strapped candidate, We’re taking a straw poll at our next meeting so you’d better turn out your supporters. Then the poor candidate starts scrambling, spending precious dollars to get people to go to the meeting to vote for him. To win a straw poll, candidates have been known to pay for supporters’ registration fees to conventions or tickets to dinners.
 
Last election when the Wake County Republican Party held a straw poll during the Republican Primary, my friend George Holding’s campaign didn’t spend a penny. George attended, spoke  and his campaign went right on spending its money on TV or radio ads to reach thousands of voters.
 
That night, after the convention, on his way home George called me and said, Well, I finished last.
 
How many votes did you get?
 
17%.
 
It wasn’t George’s happiest night of the campaign. But later, on Election Day, talking to voters rather than winning straw polls paid off.
 
The other night the Wake County Republican Party held another straw poll and, true to form, a candidate who hasn’t aired a single TV ad won. The next morning the News and Observer reported Greg Brannon had beaten Thom Tillis by 12 points and, naturally, anyone reading the story might think Brannon’s cruising to victory in the primary too. But that’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s just one more straw poll that isn’t what it seems.

 

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09
This is a story about how even “good” money – that is, money spent for candidates and causes I like – can be bad.
 
It’s a story about how outside donors and independent campaigns, not candidates and office-holders, are setting the political agenda. You can walk, and run, but money talks.
 
Most every poll you see in North Carolina today shows that education is the number one issue. And the Republican legislature’s biggest vulnerability – as is Thom Tillis’s – is its war against teachers and public schools.
 
But what issue dominates the pro-Democratic TV ads? It’s not education. It’s the environment, clean air and water, and the coal ash spill.
 
Now, those are great issues. Great Democratic issues. But why is TV filled with ads about the environment, and not education?
 
Because the big donors – big national and in-state donors – care more about environmental issues than education issues.
 
This is what the United States Supreme Court in effect believes should happen: People with money should be able to decide the agenda and define the issues. The Court says that is fundamental in our Constitution.
 
You can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad. But how many ads can you afford?

 

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08
Long ago and far away, in bygone days, during Jim Hunt’s first incarnation as Governor, we (Jesse Helms’ political organization) lit on what we thought was a grand idea: We ’d do a TV ad attacking Governor Hunt for giving AFL-CIO boss Wilber Hobby government CETA grants.
 
We made the ad, tore into Wilbur Hobby, then polled. Wilbur was about as popular as a skunk. But we hadn’t laid a glove on Jim Hunt.
 
Chuckling at our chagrin our pollster explained, You guys may not like Jim Hunt much but that’s nothing compared to how much you dislike Wilbur Hobby. Then he added, That’s why you went for ‘the cape and not the bull.’
 
What he meant was we disliked Hobby so much we’d gotten carried away pummeling him and completely missed Hunt. As Tom Ellis said shaking his head, Well, boys, that was a complete waste of money.
 
Judging by their TV ads the Democrats like the Koch brothers even less than we liked Wilber Hobby. They’re spending $3 million to tell folks the Kochs are villains and varmints and they’ll probably blow the Kochs to kingdom come. But they’re going for the cape and not the bull.

 

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07
Maybe the attack-Koch strategy is a good idea after all. I had questions, but I’m coming around.
 
Every story needs a villain. That lesson is as old as the Bible. (See: the Serpent, Garden of Eden.)
 
Just as Republicans here want to make William Barber of the NAACP the face of the Democratic Party, the Kazillionaire Kochs are the ideal face of a Republican Party that is firmly committed to looking out for the 1 Percent – or the one-tenth of 1 Percent – at the expense of people who want good schools, good jobs, good health care and safe water to drink and air to breathe.
 
The Kochs are perfect villains in a political environment where the public suspects there’s a corrupt link between Big Business and GOP Government. And the Kochs are just an extension of the Bain Capital brand that Mitt Romney bequeathed to the GOP.
 
Even better, there are two of them. Evil Twins!
 
And it must be working. Charles Koch felt compelled to take to the friendly pages of the Wall Street Journal to protest that “collectivists” are being mean to him.
 
Let’s pile on!

 

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04
Just as ObamaCare divides the nation politically, it divides Democrats strategically. Does it spell disaster in November, or can we score points with it?
 
The President took the ball to the basket this week. His message: 7-plus million Americans signed up. Millions of Americans can now get health care. Republicans are just obstructionists and have no plan to help people.
 
James Carville, for one, is arguing that Obamacare can be a winner in November.
 
“After Alex Sink was sunk in the Florida special congressional race in February, my fellow Democratic strategists went back to their get-out-the-vote strategy and feared another 1994 or 2010 landslide election for the GOP. Well, Democratic voters might now be motivated to stand by the administration’s top legislative achievement more than ever — the same ABC/Post poll found that Democratic support for ObamaCare has reached 76 percent, which is up 11 percentage points from January. My fellow Democrats feared we didn’t have a motivating issue ... well, Republican opposition to the law, to no one’s surprise, is at 78 percent.
 
“I like being on the side of healthcare consumer. I think that is a winning argument for Democrats.”
 
Other Democratic strategists don’t believe the story arc has changed. It still isn’t a winner, and it won’t be, they say.
 
My guess – as I blogged last week (see “Move On”) – is that this issue, like a long-running TV series, is about to run down. By November, swing voters won’t know whether ObamaCare is good or bad or whether what’s bad about health care is due to ObamaCare or just the general screwed-up system we have.
 
Something else will happen. Crisis in Ukraine? Republican overreach? Another X Factor? ObamaCare is already baked into this cake. November is seven months away. We’ve got a long way to go.

 

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04
A year ago when my health insurance went up I grumbled and blamed Blue Cross. Then, this year, my new bill arrived and the premium went up again even more. But this time I didn’t blame Blue Cross. I laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of one man: Barack Obama.
 
In bygone days, when George Bush wanted to invade Iraq Colin Powell warned, Sure, you can whip Iraq, but that’s not the problem – the problem is after you whip Iraq you own it. What happens then?
 
Back in 2009, someone should have warned President Obama, Sure, you can pass Obamacare, but the problem is after you do you ‘own’ healthcare – every premium increase is going to be your premium increase.  
 
The President moved heaven and earth and won but now, five years later, it hasn’t turned out the way he expected: Every time a premium goes up he gets blamed. Which proves the old proverb, Be careful what you wish for…

 

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