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20
Governor McCrory’s political instinct is right, but his choice of battlefield is puzzling.
 
The Governor seems to understand that the best way to get reelected is to pick a fight with the legislature. Governors are always more popular than legislatures. McCrory’s approval ratings are twice as high as this legislature.
 
But why not fight over something the public cares about? Nobody cares which politician appoints the coal ash commission.
 
And McCrory brings a glass jaw to this fight. As Senator Berger put it a while back: “The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”
 
“Former employer”! Yikes! Sounds like something a Democrat would say.
 
Or will say next year.

 

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20
The Governor sent a letter to Thom Tillis and Phil Berger taking the legislature to task for asking for an independent audit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Then the next day, when the Governor needed it least, the News and Observer reported that when DHHS’ new computer didn’t work the Department got into such a tizzy the number of mistakes it made processing food stamp claims quadrupled and it paid out $440,000 in excess benefits.
 
Here’s how government works: DHHS spends a hundred  or so million dollars on a computer program, it  doesn’t work, the department makes four times more mistakes than it did the year before and pays out $440,000 in excess benefits – and the Governor tells the legislature an audit’s a waste of time.


 

 

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19
Pat McCrory had one of those days.
             
First, a typist switched an ‘h’ for an ‘f’ so he sent out a press release announcing a Wilmington company was ‘firing’ 1300 new workers instead of ‘hiring’ 1300 workers.
 
Then a passing photographer snapped a photo of the Governor with his arm draped across Rep. Tim Moore’s shoulder and sent it sailing across the Internet – which sure looked like the Governor  was diving into the middle of the Speaker’s race – which left him backpedaling, saying it wasn’t so.
 
Then, piling Pelion on Ossa, the Governor sued Senator Phil Berger – which is like walking into a grizzly bears cage and whopping him on the nose.
 
Sometime between now and next June Berger and the Senate are going to vote on a budget which includes the Governor’s salary and how many staff the Governor has and right now it’s even money by next summer the Governor will be down to one part-time assistant and won’t have a penny to pay the lawyer he just hired to sue Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis).
 
So why would the Governor pick a fight with Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis)?
           
He says last session the legislature set up three Independent Commissions (on coal ash, fracking and Medicaid) but didn’t give him all the appointments to the Commissions. Instead the legislature gave him some and kept some for itself which, according to the Governor, is downright unconstitutional.  
 
Phil Berger answered the Governor’s charge pretty simply, saying if he thought the laws were unconstitutional he should have vetoed them which he hadn’t.
 
It’s hard to figure out: The Governor’s fighting Phil Berger over control of the Coal Ash Commission. Think about that: If you were Governor and the legislature said it wanted to own two thirds the biggest tarbaby in North Carolina you’d hardly  be able to believe your luck – you’d say, Sure, in fact, if you want, you can have it all.
 
But Pat McCrory wants to own the whole tarbaby.           


 

 

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18
Since the election tsunami, Democrats have been scouring the rubble for answers. Liberals say the party needs to take on Wall Street. Moderates say retake the middle. Labor says raise the minimum wage and stop trade deals. Hispanics say push ahead with immigration reform. Millennials say get rid of the old crowd. The old crowd says bring in some gray hair. Obama fans say embrace the President. Clinton fans say embrace her.
 
Then consultants weigh in. Their solutions boil down to: hire me.
 
But if you look at the lessons of the last 50 years of American politics, it’s clear what Democrats really need is a great leader with a great story to tell.
 
After 1964, the Republican Party and the conservative movement were left for dead. But that campaign produced Ronald Reagan, who became the defining conservative President of the 20th Century (after the Nixon-Ford detour).
 
After 1980, 1984 and 1988, Democrats seemed incapable of ever winning the White House again. Then came Bill Clinton to define the New Democrats for the 1990s.
 
In retrospect, both Reagan and Clinton have the magic glow of charismatic inevitability. But that didn’t come until after they were elected President.
 
What they both had was a political philosophy that made sense, one that people could understand and that both explained present problems and promised a better future.
 
For Reagan, it was: government is the problem, not the solution. And America is the greatest country in the history of the world.
 
For Clinton, it was and is: We’re all in this together. And American is a still the home of hope and opportunity.
 
It’s not just the sum of individual issue positions. It’s not just the story of the man who would be President.
 
Jimmy Carter had a great story. He was an honest farmer who wasn’t from Washington – just what we needed after Watergate. But he couldn’t sustain a convincing narrative about where the nation was and where it needed to go.
 
Barack Obama has a great story, one that inspired millions to break down old racial barriers. But for all his accomplishments – wars ended, financial disaster avoided, banks and industries rescued, deficits reduced, stock market up, health care provided – one of the great orators of our time somehow has been unable to give us the kind of narrative framing that we yearn for.
 
Obviously, an inspirational candidate like a Reagan or Bill Clinton comes along rarely.  But they have a way of coming along when a party is lost in the desert and searching for a leader.

 

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18

 

President Obama set out to restore his political fortunes by going to China – and announcing a new climate change agreement.
 
Then, still intent on repairing his fortunes, he traveled on to Australia where he announced he was giving $3 billion to the U.N to help poor nations fight the harm done by climate change.
 
Then he returned home and announced to save the Internet he’s going to fight for ‘net neutrality.’
 
There’re Russians in the Ukraine. ISIS is beheading people. Iran is building a nuclear bomb. And the President’s spending money to help poor nations repair the damage from a meltdown that hasn’t happened yet and fighting to save the Internet from Netflix.
 
What’s wrong with this picture?


 

 

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17
Republican wins this year could make Governor McCrory’s reelection road rockier.
 
Over the past month, the Governor seemed to tack to the middle and away from the arch-conservative legislature. He reacted mildly to the gay-marriage court decisions. He suggested that he might support Medicaid expansion. Last week he sued the legislature over appointment powers.
 
The Empire struck back.
 
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, blasted McCrory: "It is a shame when our governor is more interested in expanding his executive power than he is in actually protecting and defending a real threat to our Constitution — the overreach of power by a federal judge who enjoined the marriage amendment and forced same-sex marriage on our state.”
 
Fitzgerald, not incidentally, is the mother-in-law of newly reelected Senator Chad Barefoot, an ally of McCrory’s Number One nemesis, Senator Phil Berger.
 
Berger is as strong as ever. And McCrory’s ally Thom Tillis is gone from the House. Will the new Speaker side with the Governor the way Tillis did?
 
It obviously didn’t please some Republicans that McCrory enlisted former Democratic Governor Jim Hunt to his side on the appointments lawsuit.
 
McCrory knows he has to get back to the middle to get reelected. But does that lead to a tough legislative session for him next year – and maybe a primary challenge in 2016?

 

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17
Governor McCrory needed a lawyer to advise him on cleaning up Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds but the one he found raised eyebrows: He hired a Duke Energy attorney.
 
The press naturally asked if that wasn’t a bit like having the fox guard the hen-house so the Governor had his spokesman explain to reporters, Not at all – that there was a “legal wall of separation between his new lawyer and any issue effecting Duke’s coal ash operations.”
 
But, then, the reporters went to an Environmental Management Commission meeting and there sat the Governor’s new attorney on the front row advising the members how to change groundwater regulations that affected his former client.
 
Next, Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out how, when it had sued Duke a year ago, one of the lawyers representing Duke, saying the ponds didn’t need cleaning up, was the attorney now telling the Governor how to clean them up.
 
You couldn’t make this stuff up.

 

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14
Some two-score years ago, I started going to the National Governors Association winter meetings in Washington. These were at the time great bipartisan policy wonk-fests, three days of earnest discussions about issues, ideas and innovations, with plenty of after-hours barroom political gossip.
 
Three young governors stood out at the time (during the day sessions, at least; none of them drank): Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton and Jim Hunt.
 
So I was struck this year when Jerry Brown was elected to his fourth term as Governor of California, Bill Clinton campaigned gleefully across the country in anticipation of Hillary’s presidential run, and Jim Hunt was the most-sought after Democratic headliner across North Carolina.
 
All three have graduated from ambitious young men to senior statesmen, admired for what they did in office, emulated as political icons and still in demand.
 
What did they have – and still have?
 
First is a zest for politics. They live it and breathe it. They’ll stop only when their hearts stop beating. And they love it not just for the game, but for what you can do for people through politics.
 
Second is an innate gut feeling for what moves people, what people care about and what people want from their leaders. Hunt and Clinton always shared a human warmth; Brown was California Zen cool, but then he got a wife and a dog and became almost human.
 
Finally, they’re all smart, and they never stop learning. They read voraciously, vacuum up ideas and information, and think.
 
For any aspiring young pol who wants to be a four-term Governor, a President or at least a much-admired senior statesman in four decades, you’ve got your road map.

 

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13
Carter and I spoke Wednesday at a post-election panel sponsored by the Public School Forum, a group of education advocates. I suggested they have nothing to worry about in the coming legislature, since Republicans ran as Democrats, promising to raise teacher pay to the national average and improve the public schools.
 
Tom Murry, who once called the NCAE “union trash,” even handed out Election Day cards saying he was endorsed by the NCAE. He wasn’t. He lost anyway.
 
On education, then, Republicans ran to the left. Now, will they govern to the left – higher teacher pay and more money for the schools? Or to the right – toward vouchers, charter schools and abandoning standards?
 
Governor McCrory’s post-election comments suggested he might go left on issues like Medicaid expansion.
 
But Senator Berger made clear which way he’s going. His first order of business is letting magistrates refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
 
Two years from now, in an expanded presidential-year turnout, Democrats will be sure to hold Republicans to promises made this year.
 
Education was the issue that kept Senator Hagan within two points of Thom Tillis. You can count on it being front and center in a year with a governor’s race.

 

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11
The would-be undertakers in the media and even within the Democratic Party need to cancel their burial plans. The patient’s charts show a strong pulse.
 
North Carolina is the only state in the South – and one of few nationally – where Democrats gained legislative seats despite the national wave. Check out this chart from Chris Kromm at the Institute for Southern Studies. He reports that Republicans gained 60 legislative seats in the South; North Carolina was their only net loss. And apparently New York was the only state in the nation where Democrats made more gains in the state House.  
 
Also, Democrats in House races here knocked off two rising GOP stars, potential speakers and top fundraisers - Tom Murry and Tom Moffitt. Rep. Paul Tine defied a Republican wave in Dare County to win reelection.
 
Also, consider the narrow margin of Senator Hagan’s loss, close finishes in state Senate races, the commissioners’ sweep in Wake County and statewide wins by Democratic judicial candidates.
 
None of this is to minimize that 2014 was a bad year for North Carolina Democrats. Nor underestimate how steep the climb back will be. But “all is lost,” as Harrison Hickman noted (see yesterday’s blog), is self-defeating and a vast overstatement.
 

 

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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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