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The last thing Republicans needed right now was to open a new can of worms but they may have done just that.

Senator Bill Frist (and Congressman Dennis Hastert) have called for Congress to investigate the ‘leak’ of classified information to the Washington Post about “a web of secret prisons being used to harass and interrogate terrorism suspects” (News and Observer, 11-09-05). If this sounds like a Republican response to the Valerie Plame case – it just may be. But I suspect Democrats will be more than glad to hold hearings on those prisons and that they are going to ask a few questions like, ‘What was going on in there?’

And Senator Frist and Congressman Hastert think they can say, ‘No. We’re going to investigate the leak – not the prisons,’ they’re mistaken.

Representative Christopher Shays – a Republican from Connecticut – has already said investigating the leak is “acceptable, as long as Congress investigates the prisons themselves.” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was blunt. He said, “Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. The real story is those jails.”

There may be a perfectly good reason for the CIA to be operating covert prisons in foreign nations. And there may not have been a single abuse in any of them. But what if there was? Senator Frist may think he just ‘one-upped’ the Democrats on the Valerie Plame case but what he may have done is opened the biggest can of worms yet.

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It never does to take politics too seriously. Sometimes, the only defense is a good sense of humor.

Far be it from me to criticize anyone for running a negative ad – but the people who make political ads, and the campaigns and candidates do get a little carried away at times.

In Virginia, Republican Jerry Kilgore ran an ad attacking Democrat Tim Kaine, saying, “Tim Kaine says Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty.”

And in New Jersey, Republican Doug Forrester ran a TV ad quoting Democrat Jon Corzine’s ex-wife as saying, “All I could think was that Jon did let his family down, and he’ll probably let New Jersey down, too.”

Corzine ran a negative ad of his own with a nineteen year old boy in a wheelchair saying, “Doug Forrester doesn’t support embryonic stem cell research, therefore, I don’t think he supports people like me.”

My point is negative ads have their place and purpose – but they do get a little bit ‘whacky’ at times. We’ve come a long way since George Bush senior’s ad in 1988 showing Mike Dukakis driving a tank wearing a leather helmet. At least that was funny.

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The News & Observer ran a front-page article Tuesday on John Edwards’ statement that “I was wrong” to vote for the Iraq war. Edwards announced the switch in an op-ed article that ran in the Washington Post Sunday.

But alert bloggers knew what Edwards was going to say more than a month ago.

His wife Elizabeth posted a blog on the Orangepolitics website last month. It was mostly about their move to Chapel Hill. But she added at the end:

“John has said that the war was wrong and that his vote for the war was wrong. His taking responsibility for that vote, his direct statement that he was wrong (instead of watering it down with excuses) makes me very proud of him.”

Nobody reported his change in position at the time. So why did it take a month to become front-page news? It may be that the mainstream media is looking for news in all the wrong places.

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It is striking how much of today’s political conversation – in Raleigh and in Washington – is centered on indictments and criminal investigations. Witness:

· Nationally, Democrats hope the stench of corruption around the White House and Tom Delay will help them retake Congress next year.

· In the state, Republicans have been warning darkly for years now of indictments against Speaker Jim Black.

· Two North Carolina elected officials (both Democrats) have gone to prison – Frank Balance and Meg Scott Phipps. A third, Republican John Carrington, is to be sentenced soon.

· The North Carolina lottery has spawned a criminal inquiry by the SBI. FBI agents showed up when the Lottery Commission interviewed potential directors.

Is politics more corrupt today than ever before? I don’t know. But I do know that the pressures – and temptations – that go with raising millions upon millions of dollars for campaigns is bound to lead somebody to step over the legal line.

But am I the only one who worries that zealous and politically ambitious prosecutors – whether in Texas, Raleigh or Washington – can be just as dangerous as zealous political fundraisers?

After all, quite a few prosecutors later turn up as office-seeking politicians themselves.

All I know is this: When I was advising Governor Hunt in the 90s, he always resisted my urging that he push harder for a state lottery. Now I’m glad he did.

Posted in: General
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If you saw ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ a few years ago, you may remember the Governor of Texas doing a song and dance routine called ‘Dancing the Two-Step with the Press.’

Governor Easley gave us a first class example of how that works at his press conference about the lottery scandal last week. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the press asked:

Question: “Given the level of exposure that the lobbying system has gotten in the last several weeks…do you think the lobbying bill needs to be strengthened and all gifts need to be banned?”

Answer: “Maybe so. The problem you run into is that almost everywhere I go, they’ll give you a T-shirt or a hat…You go to a second-grade class or More at Four…they give you a More at Four T-shirt. You don’t want to turn around and say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t take this. Y’all are bad for giving it to me.’ So it puts you in a bit of a bind. I think you ought to report it. … I think having to report it is fine. We would all be better off it there were no gifts…so there would be no suspicion on the part of people out there.”

Now that’s called dancing the two step with the press. Instead of answering the question he asked – about Scientific Games paying a lottery commissioner $10,000 the day after he was appointed – the governor waxed eloquent about More at Four T-shirts.

The Governor wasn’t done.

Question: “Should Scientific Games be removed from the list of potential vendors for a lottery contract?”

Answer: The Governor said he has confidence in the lottery commission and added, “I think they’ll delve into this and find out more. You know, most of what we know now came from Scientific Games. Once they filed their report that they had the relationship with Mr. Geddings, paying him the $24,000 or $25,000, that’s when we knew this guy’s got to go. I’d look into Scientific Games and find out how deep this went. Was this just one person, or was this the culture in the community…of the entire corporation?”

If Geddings had ‘to go’ for taking $24,000 from Scientific Games how come Scientific Games doesn’t have ‘to go’ for giving it to him? Dodge two for the Governor.

Question: “When you signed the lottery bill, did you have knowledge that Scientific Games had a hand in writing part of it?”

Answer: “Did not. But let me be completely honest with you. I have never seen a lobbyist over there that I can recall that didn’t offer some sort of language. … The first thing you generally tell them is, ‘Give me some language. Show me what you’re talking about.’ … So I don’t think that is at all unusual that they would ask for some language. The press association is always giving us language. … The sheriff’s association gives us language. Nothing wrong with that. Having said that, there may be something inappropriate about the vehicle that was used, i.e., was the person who submitted the language as a lobbyist registered as a lobbyist?”

Red flags went up as soon as I read that line, “let me be completely honest with you.” Here’s what the Governor said: He ‘didn’t know,’ but it happens all the time and there’s ‘nothing wrong with that’ but it may be ‘inappropriate’ this time. That about covers all the bases.

Question: “Should lottery tickets be sold at businesses that also have video-poker machines?”

Answer: “I think you’re going to find that the lottery will pretty much do away with the video-poker industry…I think it’s likely that you’re going to see all the retailers opt for the lottery, and I think you’re going to see consumers opt for the lottery. It’s a decision for the commission to make, unless the legislature acts on it. … I would expect if there’s an opportunity to put the lottery in and video poker out, they’re going to seize that, and I don’t think that would be necessarily a bad thing. And I think a hundred sheriffs in this state would be very grateful.”

The Governor said what the Lottery Commission can’t do, what the legislature can do and what the sheriffs want to do. But after reading that answer do you have a clue whether the Governor wants to ban video poker or not?

That’s called ‘Dancing the Two-Step with the Press.”

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According to The Pilot, Pinehurst Republican Joe Boylan says he is considering challenging state Representative Richard Morgan in the primary next year.

Three years ago, Morgan broke with House Republicans to form a coalition with Democratic House leader Jim Black. Morgan had his reasons for not supporting the Republican Caucus choice for Speaker. But nobody came out of that imbroglio with clean hands.

Since then Morgan has continued his alliance with Black. Even if Republicans win the next House election, as long as Morgan can persuade just four or five Republicans to follow him into a coalition with the Democrats, Republicans are faced with the prospect of finding themselves with no power or with Morgan and a Democrat as Co-Speakers.

If Mr. Boylan runs he will challenge Representative Morgan to answer a simple question, ‘If you are reelected will you pledge not to form a coalition with the Democrats?’ And he will keep asking that question until he gets an answer.

Granted, there are times when breaking ranks with the party line is right and proper. But by forming what appears to be a more or less permanent alliance with Democrats in the House, Morgan has raised a different issue from his refusal to support Leo Daughtry, the Republican Caucus choice for Speaker, three years ago.

This is an issue Republicans in North Carolina are going to have to face and a debate they are going to have – not just in Morgan’s district but across the state. The sooner they get on with it the better off they’ll be.

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Two Raleigh public relations firms have been having a ‘little tiff’ over which of them should get the most government contracts. Mayor Meeker’s Convention Center found a unique solution. It hired both.
Capstrat – the Raleigh Public Relations firm – will receive a $12,000 monthly retainer. French/West will receive $4,000 per month.
So, how about that? The Mayor’s Convention Center is still little more than a $192 million hole in the ground and he’s already got two PR firms under contract to promote it.
Whatever happened to, ‘If you build it they will come’?
Posted in: General, Issues, Raleigh
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Two Raleigh public relations firms have been having a ‘little tiff’ over which of them should get the most government contracts. Mayor Meeker’s Convention Center found a unique solution. It hired both.
Capstrat – the Raleigh Public Relations firm – will receive a $12,000 monthly retainer. French/West will receive $4,000 per month.
So, how about that? The Mayor’s Convention Center is still little more than a $192 million hole in the ground and he’s already got two PR firms under contract to promote it.
Whatever happened to, ‘If you build it they will come’?
Posted in: General, Issues, Raleigh
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Having (apparently) escaped indictment, Karl Rove reportedly has returned to full action in the White House. Among other chores, he is said to be recruiting Republican candidates for 2006.

Two speeches by U.S. Senators frame the dilemma that will dominate next year’s elections – for Rove and for Democrats.

First, John McCain spoke out about what he sees as looming disaster in Iraq. But his solution is different: more troops, not withdrawal.

Then John Kerry weighed in to demand – as have a handful of Republicans, including NC Congressman Walter Jones – a deadline for troop withdrawals.

No matter what Rove does and no matter what the newly energized Democrats do, the 2006 elections will ride on what’s happening in Iraq.

But – right now – the American people don’t trust either party when it comes to what to do in Iraq.

Bush, Cheney, Rumfeld, et al are discredited because they led us into a war on the promises we’d find WMDs and be greeted as liberators.

But Democrats don’t have any leader with the credibility to offer an alternative.

In effect, Americans know what’s wrong with both parties’ solutions. They believe it would be a mistake to just pull out. And they believe it’s a mistake to stay put. But they don’t know what’s right.

John McCain certainly has credibility. But are voters willing to swallow his medicine?

Posted in: General, Issues
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One year ago today, Democrats were down. John Kerry and John Edwards had lost. Erskine Bowles had lost. George Bush was riding high. Karl Rove was hailed as “the architect.”

That was a political lifetime ago.

Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, New Jersey and California have Democrats high-fiving. Democrats won governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, and Arnold got waxed in his California referendums.

Actually, the trend started a month ago right here in Raleigh, when Democrats swept the (supposedly) nonpartisan mayor’s and city council races.

You could feel it coming. Republicans were dispirited. Democrats smelled blood, as Bush’s poll numbers sank in the triple quagmires of Iraq, Plamegate and Katrina (or “Heckuva job, Brownie”-gate).

And Democrats have been boasting all week that they’re looking forward to next year.

Not so fast. Rove was saying the same thing last November.

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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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