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09
It is a well-known fact that the not-so-great state of South Carolina has only two things going for it: the coast and the city of Charleston.
 
The coast is there by the grace of God and the gifts of nature. But it turns out that much of what makes Charleston a great place – the arts, the historic preservation, the restaurants – is there thanks in part to a liberal Democrat who has been Mayor for nearly 40 years.
 
A New York Times column Sunday about Mayor Joe Riley called him “America’s Best-Loved Mayor.” He pushed for the Spoleto arts festival as a way of making the city aim higher, and he sees the arts as vital to a great city. He has concentrated on concrete accomplishments: public safety, parks, housing and the beauty and vibrancy of the city’s historic streets.
 
Most amazing, he stayed in office in South Carolina’s rabidly red-hot Republican politics despite being an early supporter of a Martin Luther King holiday, hiring a black police chief in 1982 and leading a five-day, 120-mile march to Columbia calling for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol in 2000.
 
Maybe it’s that Riley is accessible and personable. Maybe it’s that he’s Old Charleston; he looks like we walked right out of the famous (and famously expensive) Ben Silver men’s store downtown.
 
Maybe it’s that some cities – like Raleigh with Mayors Meeker and McFarlane – take to progressive mayors who push policies that attract bright, creative people who transform the quality of life downtown. And maybe that’s a sign that government can work.

 

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08
Locked in a wrestling match with the Governor over Medicaid (and how much it will go over budget) the Old Bull Mooses invited Art Pope (the Budget Czar) over to the Senate for a cordial visit then added if he didn’t come along peacefully they’d send him a subpoena.
 
Pope, responding like a gentleman, took the affront politely saying there’d be no need for fisticuffs then trooped over to the Senate, explained patiently how Medicaid had $70 million in cash (to pay its outstanding bills) so the Bull Mooses’ fear of a $250 million deficit was unfounded then added soothingly,  ‘There is good news but there are still many uncertainties.’
 
Now it must be said the Old Bull Mooses had history on their side: Last year Medicaid was $457 million over budget and the year before it was $375 million over budget so, naturally, the word uncertainties got the Senators’ attention – and they began to explore.
 
How many new people, they asked, had enrolled in Medicaid?
 
The answer was not what they’d hoped: No one knew because the computer system was broken.
 
How much, they asked, were doctors and hospitals owed that they hadn’t been paid?
 
The answer was equally disconcerting: Another computer system was broken so no one knew the answer to that either.
 
A Senator said Medicaid spending had been increasing by 5% each year and asked, How much will it increase this year?
 
Less, Pope said.
 
Then, leaving broken computer systems behind, Pope got down to brass tacks.
 
Senator," he asked, "what is the cost of overfunding Medicaid?” and then explained – in the Budget the Bull Mooses had proposed – the cost was firing 7,000 teacher assistants and removing 5,200 aged, blind and disabled people, including 1,600 patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, from Medicaid.
 
Of course, that didn’t sit too well with the Senate’s budget writers.
 
Senator Bob Rucho turned to the head of the Hospital Association, who was sitting in the audience, and asked if there was enough money in Pope’s plan to pay all the bills the hospitals were owed.
 
The Hospital Chief said he didn’t know so Rucho next fired a tougher question at him: If it turned out the Governor hadn’t budgeted enough to pay the hospital’s bills would they eat the difference?
 
That didn’t sit too well with the Hospital Chief but, at least, when the smoke cleared Rucho’d established the hospitals weren’t about to risk putting their money where their mouth was when it came to verifying the exactitude of Medicaid budgets.
 
At the end of the day the Bull Mooses were still dead-set on cutting Medicaid to the aged, blind and disabled to balance a budget the Governor’s budget director says doesn’t need balancing except for the fact there are some uncertainties and two broken computer systems which mean no one is sure of the real numbers.

 

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08
Aaron Fussell was one of those modest World War II heroes who saved the free world, then came home and spent the rest of his life building a better world.
 
I knew him as school superintendent and a legislator. But I got to know him best much later, on the golf course. That’s where you can really get to know a person.
 
Aaron played, walked and stayed active well into his 80s. He also loved to talk politics. I enjoyed walking nine holes with him late afternoons. He pulled his clubs behind him on an ancient cart. His shots were short, but always straight down the fairway. Typically on a par four, he’d be 20 or 30 yards off the green after two shots. He’d take out an eight iron, chip the ball up to within a few feet of the cup, sink the putt, take his par and walk on to the next hole, talking every step of the way.
 
If he ran into a young person, he’d pepper them with questions: Where are you in school? What subjects do you like? How are your grades? Do you play any sports? Where are you going to college?
 
He knew everybody, and he had a connection with everybody. “I coached his daddy at Elm City.” “I hired her mother to teach at Millbrook.” “His great-uncle and I played basketball together at Atlantic Christian.”
 
The ultimate connection came one day when he introduced me to his friend Hannas, who grew up in Belgium. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Aaron added, “My unit liberated his village.”
 
He liberated a lot of people, and he touched a lot of lives. He was a great soul.

 

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07
Governor Pat (Stupid Hat) McCrory’s admonition worked! No deaths or injuries were reported from Hurricane Arthur after he went on television urging North Carolinians along the coast: “Don’t put on your stupid hat.”
 
He even mimed putting on a stupid hat. And made air quotes around “stupid hat.” It got it on the CBS Evening News.
 
“Stupid hat” is definitely trending.
 
So a tip of the Stupid Hat to Pat!
 
Now, Governor, how about an encore? How about using it again this week with the legislature? Go on TV and tell them in no uncertain terms: “It’s time to finalize a budget, and it’s no time to put on your stupid hats. In fact, it’s time you take off the stupid hats you’ve been wearing the last couple of years.”
 
Help us, Governor. You’re our only hope.

 

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04
There’s a lit stick of dynamite – and one unanswered question – being blithely passed from hand to hand in the backrooms of Raleigh: Who will the State Senators and Representatives make pay to cleanup Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds – which Duke says is going to cost $10 billion and which, Duke also says, in fairness ought to be added to its customers’ electric bills. 
 
Attorney General (and not one to look a gift horse in the mouth) Roy Cooper, who’s running for Governor, promptly disagreed, saying Duke ought to pay every penny which inspired Cooper’s Democratic allies to add an amendment to the Senate Republicans’ ‘Coal Ash Cleanup’ bill to make Duke pay. 
 
The old Bull Mooses promptly quashed the Democrats’ amendment then fell cryptically silent which oddly – given the murky waters of Senate politics – sent a crystal clear message: The Bull Mooses, after they’d just kiboshed Duke paying the $10 billion, faced a tough choice: Either tell consumers their electric bills would be going up or lay low and say nothing.
 
Silence spoke volumes.
 
Which attracted the attention of Conor (the Jessecrat) who grunted, What we have here is half-baked politicians coming up with the wrong cure for a problem.
 
Conor explained both Cooper’s and the Republicans’ solutions had more to do with politics than fixing the problem then added, The real question here is how much can Duke afford to pay?  If it has $10 billion, fine, let it pay it all.  But if Duke can only pay $1 billion then some poor soul’s got to find the backbone to tell people their electric bills are going up $9 billion.
 
Of course, even for our finest politicians, that would be just plain treacherous – imagine a Bull Moose, running for reelection, looking voters straight in the eye and saying, I voted to increase your electric bills, while at the exact same moment his opponent’s looking the exact same voters in the eye saying, Duke should pay it all.

 

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03
The Governor sent his budget over to the Senate.
 
And as Rodney Dangerfield used to say, He got no respect. It was DOA.
 
The Senate sent its budget over to the House.
 
And it got no respect either. DOA, again.
 
The House sent its budget to the Senate.
 
And met the same fate.
 
Then, just when things looked bleak, House Speaker Thom Tillis, an optimist, announced anyone who “reports there’s a big gap between the House and the Senate isn’t paying attention” and sent another, abridged, budget to the Senate.
 
He got even less respect than the Governor.
 
The old Bull Mooses declared his budget was a “gimmick” – and went home for a long weekend.

 

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03
I know that people in the Governor’s Office read this blog. So please pass this message on to Governor McCrory: Josh Ellis needs some time off.
 
Josh, the Governor’s communications director, responded rather sharply to my blog yesterday about McCrory’s new Governor’s Teacher Network (GTN). (See “McCrory's Make-up Test.”)
 
Josh’s email is below, but first some background. I’m gratified when important people in government read our blog and take time to respond in writing. Art Pope has done so a couple of times. Most always, I post the response in full, without tagging on my usual ad hominem sarcasm. (Don’t try this at home. I am a trained professional.)
 
But I can’t do that here.
 
This is Josh’s response, in full:  “Gary, I hope you’re doing well. I just read your latest post. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a consultant is criticizing a plan that would pay teachers instead of consultants. Josh.”
 
Help me here. I have no idea what consultants have to do with GTN. I don’t know GTN from GNP. Plus, I was quoting criticism from TEACHERS. Talk to them, Josh.
 
But I feel Josh’s pain. I sat in his seat for eight years, and I’ve done the same thing more times than I care to remember. Josh spends every day caught between a hypersensitive boss and a hypercritical pack of reporters, bloggers and political opponents. Even fellow Republicans like Senator Berger & Co. go out of their way to make life miserable in the Governor’s Office.
 
Maybe Josh had been looking forward to some time off this weekend. Then comes Hurricane Arthur, and he has to go into Storm Communications Mode. All hands on deck – and to the cameras!
 
(By the way, one reader asked: “Why does Governor McCrory always tell us not to do anything ‘stupid’ during a storm? Does he think we’re stupid? And if we are stupid, would we listen?”)
 
Anyway, Josh needs a break. As do a lot of people in Raleigh.
 
So, the spirit of the holiday and of national unity, I wish Josh, Governor McCrory and all of you a Happy Fourth. I hope your plans (and ours) survive the storm. Enjoy some dogs and burgers, a cold beverage and that great American pastime of watching stuff blow up.
 
And listen to your Governor. Don’t do anything stupid.
 

 

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02
The news from Iraq was puzzling.
 
West of Baghdad, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) was whipping our allies the al-Maliki government.
 
At the same time, next door in Syria, President Assad was bombing our enemy ISIS.
 
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama was asking Congress for $500 million to send guns to Syrian rebels so they could attack Assad.
 
Which was wise, the President said, since the rebels are moderates who’ll attack ISIS too.
 
Only, up until now, the President has said we shouldn’t send arms to Syria because it’s too hard to tell a moderate from an immoderate rebel and the guns might end up in the hands of the wrong people – like ISIS.

 

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02
Governor McCrory acts like a man who had a serious health scare and now vows to eat right and exercise.  His main exercise is running away from the state Senate as fast as he can.
 
Clearly, the Governor has seen the Senate’s poll numbers on education. He doesn’t want to catch that bug.
 
Too late. He’s got it all over him, and there’s no escape.
 
Believe me. I’ve been there. Governor Hunt froze teachers’ pay during the 1982 recession. Teachers didn’t forgive. Some of them even sat on their hands when he ran against Jesse Helms in 1984. And remembered it when Hunt ran again in 1992.
 
McCrory’s latest effort to get immunized is “the Governor’s Teacher Network,” which promises $10,000 bonuses to 450 teachers for creating professional development, teaching, and assessment plans for other teachers.
 
But there’s a big catch, according to one teacher expert: The plans have to be approved from on high. It’s “basically a covert way for the administration to carefully select what 'innovation' they want to see, and continue to punish the rest of experienced teachers who collaborate and innovate on a daily basis, without bonuses. He's saying ‘Yeah, here's a $10,000 bonus if you can do exactly what I want and convince your colleagues to do the same’."
 
Here are some other teachers’ reactions: “Everyone has their price….This (is an) obvious divide and conquer ploy….”
 
And: “This is not a bonus or reward. This is pay for another job added to their normal teaching duties….Teachers are already sharing their expertise at their schools….”
 
And: “Just great. We’re headed into the last quarter and McCrory wants to distract 100s if not 1000s of teachers in the next four weeks as they scramble to compete for $10,000 when they should be focusing on getting their students ready to end the year at or above grade level.”
 
And: “This is so far removed from what really improves teaching. When I was in the classroom, I learned far more from hallway conversations with experienced teachers than I ever did from planned CE programs offered by the ‘system’.”
 
And: “Are we supposed to do this before, after or during benchmark and EOG/EOC prep? Can we take a “short session” and use, oh say, a week of personal leave to accomplish this? Nope, I forgot, we can’t find subs and we can’t use personal leave. I guess we could pull this off between 11 and 3 AM – about the only time most of us sleep.”
 
And: “As a teacher, this is a slap in the face. As if we are not doing this already???This is not going to encourage collaboration among teachers. It is going to create animosity and the loss of more good teachers. I have been teaching since 1987. I will most likely retire in NC making under 50,000.”
 
The moral: You can run, Governor, but you can’t hide.

 

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01
Last year (after their big victory in the 2012 election) as soon as Republican State Senators and State Representatives got to Raleigh they went to work to cut spending and it was almost like a competition:
 
The House would announce it had cut a hundred million dollars.
 
And the Senate would top that and announce it had cut two hundred million.
 
It went on like that for months until, in the end, they’d cut more than any legislature anyone could remember but, of course, all that cutting came with a price: After they got home Republican Senators and Representatives got hammered for not giving teachers raises, for cutting the unemployment benefits, and for denying care to the poor, halt, sick and lame – Reverend William Barber even blamed them for hurting little children.
 
For awhile none of that seemed to faze legislators but a year’s a long time to listen to people saying you’ve hurt little children and the other day when I received the House Caucus newsletter (about the House’s new budget) the wind had changed. The legislator who’d sent the newsletter explained how he’d just voted to:
 
  • Raise teachers’ salaries;
  • Raise all other state employees’ salaries;
  • Give veterans in-state college tuition rates;
  • Increase Pre-K funding;
  • Hire more people to provide child welfare;
  • Hire more bureaucrats to battle coal ash;
  • Give $3 million to the Biotechnology Center;
  • Give $190 million for the Information Technology Fund;
  • And put more money for the highway fund.
 
The only cut he mentioned was a cut in ferry tolls.
 
I reckon if anyone doubts the efficiency of attacking a state legislator – they ought to read the list.

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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