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04

 

The Brasstown possum’s landed back in court.
 
Up in the mountains, in Brasstown, there’s a gentleman who celebrates each New Year’s Eve by putting a possum in a box, suspending the box from the top of a general store, then, as the clock ticks down to midnight, dropping the possum to the town square just like the Yankees drop a crystal ball from atop a skyscraper above Times Square.
 
Only using a live possum instead of a crystal ball landed him in hot water with PETA which sued, saying he was abusing the poor nocturnally shy critter, which led to the politicians getting into the act (against the possum).
 
State Legislators passed a law saying the Wildlife Commission, no matter how unkind PETA felt it was, could grant the fellow a license for his ‘possum drop’ so last New Year’s Eve Brasstown celebrated again but PETA caught ’em in a mistake: The fellow put the possum in the wrong box or, at least, in a different box from the box his state license required.
 
This time PETA sued the Wildlife Commission for dereliction of duty and the whole thing landed back in court only, this time, with the Attorney General battling PETA.
 
And that’s when things took a bizarre turn.
 
The Attorney General asked the judge to dismiss PETA’s lawsuit as foolishness but the judge said no.
 
Then PETA asked the judge to make a ‘Declaratory Judgment’ in the possum’s favor – but the judge said no a second time. 
 
So now there’s going to be a full-blown trial over not the possum or the possum drop but the box the possum was dropped in – with taxpayers footing the bill for the Attorney General’s lawyers.
 
All in all it’s a pretty good example of the old-fashioned out of favor idea we’re all better off when the government does less not more – if the state legislature hadn’t gotten into the business of licensing ‘possum drops’ then PETA and the fellow from Brasstown could be battling it out to their hearts’ content while the rest of us peacefully watch the ball fall in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

 

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04
The sound of handcuffs clicking onto more sit-in protesters echoes the grinding gears of North Carolina’s political machinery.
 
Those shackled, disgruntled citizens apparently feel they have no other way to protest how Republicans are treating the poor, the sick, the disabled, teachers, etc.
 
But one reader of this blog writes: “No group is truly as disenfranchised in this state as its 1.8 million souls who are registered as unaffiliated voters. These people truly have no voice. They don’t do sit-ins or Moral Mondays or Frustrated Fridays. Not a single legislator represents their party. When a current legislator dies, resigns or is imprisoned, the legislator’s party leadership recommends a replacement to the governor. Unaffiliated folks need not apply.”
 
He goes on: “Unaffiliated registrations are nearly as large (27 percent vs. 31 percent) in this state as Republicans, who are aggressively changing the political landscape even though GOP voter registration represents only a third of the total registration and that third is split into various fiefdoms and tea parties.
 
“Presumably, people who choose to register unaffiliated do so because of their disgust with the policies and priorities of the Ds or Rs. They are a huge and potentially lethal block of voters who can do more to influence the future of the state than either the Democrats or Republicans. The next big winner will figure out how to speak to them, organize them and get them to the polls.”
 
The inherent instability of this situation makes politics volatile and elections unpredictable in North Carolina. Politics always has been like a Ferris wheel. When you’re at the top, you can be sure of one thing: You’ll soon be headed down.
 
Today, though, the wheel turns faster – and more violently. Those grinding gears you hear – and the clicking handcuffs – warn of big turns ahead.

 

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02
As Democrats look to counter Senate Republicans on teacher pay, they should look outside the revenue box.
 
The 11 percent raise/end tenure plan caught the headlines and seemed to catch Democrats (and Governor McCrory) off guard. Democrats responded that the plan would gut education, UNC and Medicaid to fund an election-year pay raise that comes with strings attached.
 
But suppose Democrats raise the bidding now. Suppose they say: 11 percent is a nice start, Senator Berger, but not nearly enough. Let’s raise teacher pay 33 percent, so Houston can’t hire away our good teachers. And let’s pay for it by raising taxes on upper incomes and raising sales taxes on everybody.
 
(Why 33 percent? Well, it sounds good. And that’s how much North Carolina raised teacher pay in Governor Hunt’s last term in the ‘90s.)
 
Some Democrats fear opening the tax-increase box. But that may be a false fear, left over from the politics of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
 
If voters are truly angry about the damage done to public schools, then they may be ready to pay to fix it, if the fix seems fair enough and broad enough.

 

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29
If you did a poll – and Senator Berger surely has – you’d probably get overwhelming support for this proposition: “Should public school teachers get an 11 per cent raise in exchange for giving up tenure?”
 
Therein lies the challenge to Senate Democrats. Berger says: “You say you want higher teacher pay. Here it is.”  But here’s the trap: Teachers have to give up “tenure,” which most people think means that after you’ve been in a job for a while you can’t be fired, no matter how lazy, unproductive or incompetent you are.
 
Democrats have an education job to do here. They have to define what “tenure” really is. Not automatic protection for incompetent teachers, but minimal protection against arbitrary and capricious personnel decisions by principals and administrators who may not like a teacher for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with their performance or ability.
 
Like, say, a teacher who speaks up about a lousy principal, or objects to a bad central-office decision, or raises an uncomfortable question about school policies, or is so good an incompetent principal feels threatened or – yes – is a member of the “wrong” political party.
 
One education expert I talked to described Berger’s proposal this way: “It's another one of their manipulative political moves. People automatically think ‘yay! Higher teacher pay!’ But that's such a small part of the picture. Lack of tenure turns teachers into obedient minions. It completely eliminates creativity, innovation, teacher leadership, and progress within schools. If teachers are too worried about their jobs to speak up, education hits a stalemate. Which in turn makes all these ‘liberal ideas’ (read: common core) nearly impossible to implement successfully. Which is exactly what they want. Raising teacher pay is great, but they're doing it to hide the fact that they're throwing teacher autonomy and creativity in the trash.”
 
Long ago, a wise man gave me good advice about politics: Never underestimate the intelligence of voters, and never overestimate the information they have.
 
To escape this trap, Democrats need to fill the information gap.

 

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28
On Election Day my cousin Winifred who’s pure steel magnolia walked into the voting booth, stared at the names of the three judges running for Supreme Court, remembered the Republican ad saying Judge Robin Hudson was for child molesters, thought, I’ve seen enough of that kind of nastiness, and did something she’d never done before – voted for a liberal Democratic judge.
 
More recently, calling itself a ‘Civil Rights Group’ (for Hispanics) the old liberal shibboleth People for the American Way is trying its own brand of nastiness, running radio ads on Spanish-speaking stations saying, Thom Tillis is against everything that’s important for Hispanic families.
 
Everything.
 
Not a few things. Not some things. Everything.
 
Now it’s a stone cold fact Thom Tillis is for sending murderers to jail. Isn’t that important to Hispanic families? And it’s a stone cold fact Tillis is for throwing drug dealers in jail. Isn’t that important?
 
I could go on but you understand my point – there’s a long list of fundamentally important things Thom Tillis, Hispanics and just about everyone agree on.
 
So why on earth would People for the American Way run an ad telling Hispanics something that is obviously untrue?
 
The most obvious answers that come to mind are arrogance and cynicism.
 
Either they’re so arrogant they believe they can say anything and get away with it – or so cynical they think they can say anything and people will fall for it.
 
Of course, there is one other possible explanation – that the ones who’ve made a dumb mistake are People for the American Way because they’ve now given Cousin Winifred a rock-solid reason to vote for Thom Tillis.
  

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28
California Governor Jerry Brown put his finger on the syndrome in 2012: “Everybody went to school, so everybody thinks they know how to teach, or they think they know something about education.”
 
Especially politicians. So, every couple of years, a new education reform takes hold in politics. And the politicians dictate a new set of hoops for teachers, principals and educators to jump through.
 
This all started with the 1983 report of President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence on Education, which seized headlines with its voice of doom: “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
 
That launched a series of reform fads – some good, some bad – but all based on the premise that America’s schools were going to hell in a handbasket, taking our economy, our competitiveness and our very future with them.  We got standards, assessments, teacher evaluations, ending tenure, charter schools, vouchers – 30 years of successive waves of reform.
 
Now we get Common Core, the latest silver bullet to solve the Great Education Crisis.
 
Teachers I talk to praise the goals and intentions of Common Care. But they say that, like every reform, it’s being pushed through on the excitement plan, with little thought for how hard it is to implement sweeping changes overnight. As Stephen Colbert said, Common Care “prepares students for what they’ll face as adults – pointless stress and confusion.”
 
So now you have critics on the left and right – teachers and Tea Party – in an unlikely alliance against Common Core.
 
But is there even a crisis? Education analyst Diane Ravitch ravaged that argument when she spoke to NCSU’s Emerging Issues Forum in February. Her criticism of Republican education “reforms” in North Carolina got the headlines, but she made a deeper and more biting point: If the public schools have been failing us for 30 years, why does the United States remain the most innovative, productive and powerful economic engine in the world.?
 
Is it just possible that, beyond all the scare headlines and political posturing and do-good reforms, teachers are somehow managing to teach students what they need to know?
 
What a concept.
 
To finish Jerry Brown’s thought: “I’m putting my faith in the teachers.”

 

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28

 

To get their votes, the politicians are up to a lot more than just promising women the ‘power’ to fulfill their heart’s desires – listen to the serenade Democrats are singing: If you vote for Kay Hagan, Democrats say, you’ll get more pay and equal pay and health care and birth control and education and, they add, Thom Tillis opposes equal pay and abortions and (brace yourself) believes states should have the right to ban contraception.
 
Now, as a male, that last one threw me. 
 
I’d like to hear Thom Tillis explain banning contraception to men – not women. 
 
Why our country is so free and promiscuous Miley Cyrus can gyrate three ways to Sunday on TV and even the Baptist preachers have given up complaining – so who’d have thought any politician would figure banning contraception would get him anything other than run out of town on a rail. Politicians would be more likely to ban chastity than contraception.
 
So, I was expecting Thom Tillis to laugh and say, Did you ever hear so much piffle? Folks ought to vote against Kay Hagan just for telling a tale like that.
 
But Tillis didn’t.
 
Instead, Tillis’s spokesman tried his hand at making promises of his own but of course he can’t possibly out-promise a Democrat – saying Thom Tillis is ‘going to get the economy back on track’ sounded pale beside Kay Hagan saying she’ll make every wicked, woman-exploiting man in a suit wish he’d never been born and put more money in women’s paychecks.
 
How on earth can Thom Tillis hold a candle to that?

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27
I’m just back from a family cruise to Alaska, a trip I highly recommend if you want to see a part of America that is a different world.
 
(And a big thank-you to the guest bloggers whom I trust kept your interest and blood pressure high while I was gone.)
 
We saw just a tiny part of this huge place, and it was awe-inspiring: towering mountains, impenetrable forests, mountainous glaciers, rocky cliffs, icy fjords and rivers, icebergs, whales, dolphins, eagles, bears – a feast for the eyes and imaginations.
 
I understand the draw the place has had for adventurous souls for hundreds of years, although it’s hard to imagine the fortitude of those willing to live in the wildest parts through the dark, frigid winters. And it’s not all cold: Juneau had a milder winter this year than Boone.
 
(By the way, Alaskans are big believers in climate change. Especially as they watch the glaciers retreat every year.)
 
Alaska is all about huge spaces. To illustrate: Take your right hand, and make a fist. Turn it upside down. Stick your thumb down and your index finger out. That’s Alaska.
 
We spent seven days just in the thumb, southeast Alaska. We took the Inside Passage between islands from Seattle up to Ketchikan, Juneau and finally Skagway. Skagway was where the Gold Rush miners in 1898 landed to head into Yukon, most to end up just bone-cold and gold-less, if not dead.
 
No, we didn’t see Sarah Palin’s house. Wasilla is near Anchorage, up past the thumb. And we couldn’t see Putin rearing his head in Russia. But we were close enough that we’re now foreign policy experts.
 
It was a great trip, and it’s great to be back. As always with a trip like that, your horizons grow and the petty political concerns back home shrink. But you’re reminded again what a special place North Carolina is, even with Republicans in charge.

 

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27
According to the newspaper one super powerful group is going to pick the winner in the Senate race: Women. 
 
Not money. Or virtue. Or sin. But Women.
 
Which, of course, if you’re a woman, may sound like floozy flattery. 
 
Or if you’re a woman, and a tad skeptical, you might be wondering, Why are all these politicians whispering sweet nothings into my ear? 
 
Could the answer be there’s a serpent curled in the weeds whispering to the politicians, Just tell her she’s got the power to fulfill her heart’s desire – that’ll get you her vote.’

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23

 

There are scads of Super PACs running around attacking Thom Tillis or Kay Hagan so one more came as no surprise except when Planned Parenthood said it was going to whack Tillis I thought, Whoever heard of a government-funded group spending $3.3 million on a Super PAC? It didn’t seem quite right. Planned Parenthood spending taxpayers’ money to elect Kay Hagan – so she’d give them more taxpayers’ money.
 
But then I thought that wasn’t fair – that, after all, the Chamber of Commerce has a Super PAC doing its best to elect Speaker Tillis and what its members get from the government makes Planned Parenthood look like a piker. 
 
For example, just last month, the local  Chamber spent a quarter million dollars to help Republicans defeat a Democratic Supreme Court judge then, at the Chamber’s behest, Republicans in the State Senate sponsored a law to give pharmaceutical companies (who’re members of the Chamber) a legal pass so they can’t be held responsible when they sell defective drugs.
 
Super PACs: A new wrinkle in a very old kind of politics.


 

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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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