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North Carolina - Republicans

19
Republicans strode up to the plate in Raleigh with big bats and high hopes, then whiffed on three straight pitches.
 
Strike one was teacher pay. Their top goal was to stop the bleeding on education. But their so-called pay raise was so full of holes, questions and confusion that nobody is satisfied, teachers are still mad and voters think the Governor and the legislature are anti-education.
 
Strike two was coal ash. They did nothing on the state’s biggest environmental crisis in decades. Nothing.
 
Strike three belonged to Governor McCrory alone. He stepped up to the plate to be the hero on coal ash after the legislature struck out. But he tied himself in ethical knots by wrongly reporting his Duke stock on his ethics statement.
 
How big a sin is this? Well, look at it this way: If Bev Perdue had done it, the legislature would have impeached her.
 
So McCrory is in hot water, Thom Tillis is lagging behind Senator Hagan, Senator Berger’s son lost his congressional primary and – notwithstanding the advantages of incumbency, fundraising and gerrymandering – Democrats may be looking at a good fall season.

 

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18

 

The battered and bedraggled Tea Partiers have been taking it on the chin – they’ve gotten pounded, losing races in Tennessee, Kansas, Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi so, now, the press is humming their funeral dirge while Washington Republicans are chortling the Tea Party’s headed for the elephant graveyard of political movements.
 
So is saying the Tea Party’s kaput a political canard, a media feeding frenzy or clear-eyed truth?
 
The Tea Partiers got whipped in six Senate primaries by sitting Republican Senators – but it’s also a fact nothing in politics is harder to do than defeat an anchored in place incumbent Senator or Congressman.
 
I can’t recall an incumbent Senator losing a Primary in North Carolina in forty years and there’re plenty of reasons why: An incumbent starts with millions in the bank while his Tea Party opponent starts out broke.
 
An incumbent starts out well known and well liked by Republican voters in a primary – while nobody ever heard of his Tea Party opponent.
 
An incumbent has campaign (and helpful Senate staffs) in place on day one while a Tea Partier starts out with a handful of folks who enjoy talking to one another on the Internet but have never been troubled with the grind of building a multi-million dollar campaign.
 
There are a handful of Super PACs lending Tea Partiers a helping hand but there are more – and, more important,  richer – Super PACs fully armed and anxious to ride to the rescue of incumbents.
 
An incumbent Senator’s not quite as secure in his job as a tenured professor at Chapel Hill but it’s close. So it’s no shock – and hardly a political trend – that Tea Partiers are losing to incumbents.
 
The Tea Party’s been whipped and its popularity’s been battered but saying it’s dead as a doornail is more political spin;--wait two years, until the Republican Presidential primaries, when there’s no incumbent, then if the Tea Party gets trounced, write its obituary.

 

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15
Governor McCrory’s blast at The N&O got him another day of the “blaring, top-of-the-fold” headlines he blasted. But this is just the beginning of the Coal Ash Saga. We soon will have a U.S. Attorney’s investigation and a fight over who pays: McCrory’s former boss, Duke Energy, or his current boss, the People of North Carolina.
 
McCrory protested that the N&O’s story Thursday “mischaracterized a misinterpretation of a very convoluted form.” It is not a convoluted form. Look for yourself here. In fact, it is just like your income taxes: You file them by April 15 for the prior year ending December 31.
 
Still, I believe Governor McCrory when he says, in effect, that it was incompetence, rather than a conspiracy. But it is breathtaking incompetence. It is hard to fathom how the Governor of North Carolina and his legal counsel misunderstood the form. Or why somebody on the Governor’s staff didn’t foresee the problem.
 
Here’s what former legislative counsel Gerry Cohen says (and remember, he was honored a couple of weeks ago by members of both parties for his reliability and integrity): “How could Bob Stephens have had a misunderstanding that the date of ownership of the stock was as of April 15, 2014, when the 2013 SEI CLEARLY says on the tip of page 2 that the date of stock ownership was to be as of December 31. Was the mistake that he only read page 1? Or missed the penalties provision at the end of the form, which states that it could be a violation of GS 138A-45? I know that the text of 138A-45 tells you that for a constitutional officer, it is malfeasance and punishable under GS 123-5.”
 
The “misstatement” is a small part of the Governor’s problem. As one TAPster noted, he says he sold the stock NOT because it was the right thing to do, but because his “integrity was being challenged” and he wanted to put “this thing to bed.” In other words, it’s about PR, not integrity.
 
Second, as WRAL reported, “McCrory has steadfastly refused to take a position on whether shareholders or customers should pay for it (the coal ash cleanup), saying that decision should be left up to the state Utilities Commission.”
 
That is a dodge. Democrats in the legislature tried to amend the coal ash bill so the Utilities Commission couldn’t let Duke pass the cleanup costs on to ratepayers. Republicans squashed that, and they will answer for it this fall. And Roy Cooper has taken a position exactly opposite of McCrory’s.
 
Finally, away from the cameras, the federal grand jury investigation rolls on. Wait for those blaring, top-of-the-fold headlines.

 

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14
Well, looking back, it was bound to happen. 
 
First, John Boehner decided to sue Obama for not enforcing the Obamacare laws and most of the House Republicans went along on the theory even if they didn’t like Obamacare the laws are the laws and the President can’t just change one whenever it suits him.
 
Then never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, to turn the tables on Republicans, Obama rolled out a bevy of spokesmen who proclaimed, Boehner’s getting ready to impeach the President, which worked out fine for Obama and brought the Democrats a windfall of cash from agitated Obama supporters.
 
Of course, on the other hand, most people sloughed off the whole brouhaha as just one more example of political foolishness – except for one group of folks who devoutly hoped it was true: The Tea Partiers.
 
To them impeaching Obama sounded just fine. 
 
Next, right in the middle of the impeachment flap, Attorney General Roy Cooper stood up and announced he wasn’t going to lift a finger to fight the federal court ruling that could strike down North Carolina’s gay marriage ban.
 
Amendment One, Cooper said, was kaput.
 
And from there it was inevitable.
 
Impeachment was infectious.
 
So we shouldn’t have been surprised when a State Senator, speaking to his local Tea Party group, announced he wanted to impeach Attorney General Cooper, added the Republican leaders in Raleigh were just the folks to do it, and added the wheels were already in motion.
 
What State Senator Norm Sanderson missed was what struck him – and the Tea Partiers – as a grand idea didn’t look so grand elsewhere; his call to impeach Roy Cooper landed in the News and Observer with a dull, uncomfortable thud and the Senate Republican leadership, sensing a backfire, announced no one, nowhere, no how in the State Senate was planning to impeach Roy Cooper and, suddenly, Senator Sanderson vanished as if he’d been quarantined.

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14
Long after Watergate brought him down (40 years ago this month), Richard Nixon told David Frost: “I gave them a sword, and they stuck it in and they twisted it with relish.”
 
Now, Governor McCrory’s actions on coal ash don’t begin to approach Nixon’s on Watergate. But he has given his enemies a sword tipped with toxic political poison, and they will stick it in and twist it with relish.
 
Today’s N&O story (“McCrory misstated Duke Energy holdings, sold stock after coal-ash spill”) and McCrory’s inexplicable mishandling of the stock issue remind us of a cruel law of the political jungle: The worst wounds are self-inflicted. And this one could be deep and lasting.
 
First, the story renews questions about the political competence of McCrory and his team. Second, it comes just as public anger is growing over whether ratepayers will pay for the cleanup – and the very same day the legislature returns to Raleigh to again do nothing about the issue. And third, it looks like the media has concluded it didn’t give McCrory adequate scrutiny in 2012, which means that the scrutiny – and suspicion – will grow between now and 2016.
 
Just as Nixon could have lanced the Watergate boil early, McCrory could have turned this story around early. Here is what he should have said right after the spill in February:
 
“This is a serious problem, and it will require serious action. I will not let my career at Duke Energy keep me from carrying out my responsibilities to North Carolina. So I am immediately divesting myself of all my Duke stock, and I will be open, forthcoming and transparent as I deal with this matter.” He should have reported exactly how much stock he sold and how much it was worth.
 
Or, as a TAPster emailed today: “The bigger question in his latest mess is why he still owned Duke stock after he was sworn in as governor? That means he was a stockholder when he appointed utilities commissioners and made other decisions that impacted the company and its earnings. How can any reasonable person think that is ok?”
 
If he had sold the stock, McCrory could have made one thing perfectly clear (as Nixon would have said): Coal ash has been piling up for 30 years, under Democratic and Republican governors. The state approved that disposal method because it kept electric rates down and helped North Carolina bring in industry and jobs. McCrory didn’t need to be heavy-handed in making the point, because it’s a fair point and an indisputable fact. He then could be the hero who cleans up the mess.
 
But no.
 
His legal counsel twice prepared – and McCrory twice signed – ethics statements that failed to disclose the stock. McCrory’s counsel gamely takes the blame and says he misunderstood the forms. You can examine the forms and reach your own conclusion, but they clearly say you are to report all holdings over $10,000 as of December 31 of the previous year. And when the Governor signed the forms he knew what he owned and when he owned it.
 
Clearly, the N&O believes it was misled. The story said: “The News & Observer has sought for weeks to clarify the timing of McCrory’s sale, and McCrory’s office had said there was nothing new. On July 10, for example, (Josh) Ellis wrote in an email message that ‘the governor has complied with all disclosure requirements.’ That changed late Wednesday with the new filing and follow-up interviews with Ellis.”
 
Ellis, the Governor’s spokesman, didn’t help his boss’ case by trying to pass the blame beyond the counsel: “The stock was sold in response to repeated public requests via the media and to stop the constant, unfounded challenges of the governor’s character.”
 
Ellis struck the same chord in a statement May 1: “As public records have shown since April 15, the governor is not a shareholder of Duke Energy. This eliminates the often repeated, ridiculous and false, partisan left-wing attacks challenging the intent of our decisions and policies.”
 
No, it doesn’t eliminate them. It invites more. It dares the media to double down on its McCrory scrutiny. And it makes it harder for the Governor to push back. 

 

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13
 The other day Gary wrote, “For Democrats this election year, this legislature is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe they’ll stay in session all the way to November” – considering by Speaker Thom Tillis’ announcement the legislature is about to return to town and pass the stuck ‘coal ash’ bill, Gary may get more than he imagined.
 
According to the Speaker, in a compromise the House has agreed to the Senate’s demand that Duke Energy be allowed to petition the Utilities Commission next January to raise electric bills to pay for the coal ash cleanup.
 
In other words, a week after Duke Energy announced $609 million in profits for the last quarter, and less than three months before the election, legislators are going to return to Raleigh to vote to allow Duke Energy to raise electric bills.
  
Duke must have the best lobbyists on earth.
 

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13
Rob Christensen’s column about Tom Bradshaw accurately captures one of the most remarkable people I’ve met through 44 years in newspapers and politics.
 
My first encounter with Bradshaw was much like Christensen’s. Tom was the “boy mayor” of Raleigh, and I was a cub reporter at The N&O. City government was my beat, just as it was Rob’s later; that’s where new reporters started. I was assigned to write a Tar Heel of the Week profile on Tom. And I first experienced the hurricane of energy, intensity and enthusiasm that Tom still brings to life and work.
 
Bradshaw is like a hero out of a Horatio Alger story: an underprivileged kid who worked his way to the top in business, government and civic life – yet never forgot where he came from and how other people deserved the same opportunities to succeed.
 
Rob’s portrait of Tom is spot-on. He also asks the question Tom gets every day: Why do this at this point in your life?
 
Good question, and Tom has a good answer. Read Rob’s column and go to Tom’s website to learn more - and to help him.

 

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07
Some sharp-eyed TAPsters were struck by this photo of Governor McCrory signing the state budget today.
 
One noted, “Legislators are usually jockeying to get in a bill-signing photo.”
 
Not today. Apparently, only two legislators were on hand: Sen. Neal Hunt, who is not running again, and Rep. Nelson Dollar, who represents a heavily gerrymandered district. No Speaker Tillis, no Senator Berger.
 
One TAPster said that every other person in the picture works for the Governor, including Art Pope.
 
You are invited to offer your own interpretation.

 

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07
It was unusual summer – first Governor McCrory reared back and threw a punch at the old Bull Mooses, then he threw another, and another.
 
Back in May, when he’d sent his budget over to the Senate, the Bull Mooses had unceremoniously dumped it in the waste bin, just as they had the year before, but this time instead of folding his tent the Governor let fly saying even if the Senate Leaders – like Phil Berger and Bob Rucho – were Republicans they sure reminded him of Marc Basnight and Harry Reid.
 
Of course some folks said that sounded like a fit of pique but it’s a cold hard fact most Republican Senators serve in Republican Districts and the most popular Republican in the state calling them Democrats was serious business.
 
Then, in July, as punches were flying and  it looked like the Governor was about to get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T at last, at a press conference a newspaper reporter asked him what troubled him most about this session of the legislature and he said his one disappointment was the Senate hadn’t passed his puppy mill bill.
 
We all love puppies but it was an unfortunate answer.
One minute the Governor was sounding as tough as John Wayne and the next he was sounding like Wally Cox and, sadly, R-E-S-P-E-C-T flew right out the window.

 

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07
Yesterday I quoted at length from Senator Jeff Jackson’s speech on the legislature’s budget process. Today we learn what a prophet “the new kid” was.
 
Jackson said on the floor last week, “Folks, if you weren’t allowed to see this budget until this morning, I don’t see how you can vote on it in good conscience. You can’t possibly know what’s in here.  You can’t possibly know the intended effects of this budget, let alone the unintended effects.”
 
Today we learn that, in fact, they didn’t know what was in the budget. Even some Republican leaders didn’t know. They didn’t know that a major policy change on education spending was slipped secretly into the budget. It means that the state will no longer automatically pay for growth in public school enrollment.
 
Maybe there’s an argument to be made for that change. But it wasn’t made. It wasn’t debated. It wasn’t mentioned, even to members in the majority party.
 
For Democrats this election year, this legislature is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe they’ll stay in session all the way to November.

 

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