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After 16 years of mediocrity, North Carolina will get to see excellence again in the Executive Mansion.

I know something about excellent Governors. I worked for Jim Hunt for four terms.

Cooper reminds me of Governor Hunt. Not so much the young, ambitious Hunt I and II of 1976-1984. But the seasoned, focused and farsighted Hunt III and IV of 1992-2000.

Cooper is the antithesis of Pat McCrory in three ways: He has the experience to be Governor. He’s smart enough to be Governor. He’s tough enough to be Governor.

Experience: He has served in public office for 30 years, since he was elected to the House in 1986. And, yes, experience is a plus. McCrory was a Raleigh rookie who never figured out big-league pitching.

Smart: According to Frank Daniels, Jr., Cooper is the first UNC Morehead Scholar to become Governor. He has a law degree. And, yes, brains count in the Governor’s Office. The intellectual challenge is formidable. You have to absorb and weigh a lot of information every day, and you have to make tough calls. The easy decisions get made by somebody else.

Tough: McCrory never could handle the legislature. Cooper knows the legislature. He knows how to work with legislators, and he knows how to stand up to them.

In the past, Cooper was pegged as too soft. He dispelled that image in his campaign. And people forget that, as a second-term House member, he had the guts to break with the Democratic caucus in the 1989 Mavretic rebellion.

Then he had the skills to bring Democrats back together.

The aggressive Cooper we saw in this campaign is the Governor we’ll see. He sent that signal Election Night, when he walked onto the stage with his family and declared victory. A more cautious politician would have held back.

Since then, while he navigated Republican efforts to undermine his clear victory, Cooper put together a strong transition team, led by Jim Phillips, Kristi Jones and Ken Eudy.

He had a strong campaign team. He built a strong team in the Department of Justice. He can call on a strong bench of talented people to work in his administration.

Cooper knows rural North Carolina, because he comes from rural North Carolina. He worked on his family’s farm. He knows cities, because he’s lived and raised his family in one. He has strong support from business people, as his fundraising success shows. He energized the traditional Democratic constituencies – teachers, environmentalists, women, African-Americans, Latinos, labor, the LGBTQ community. And even us old white guys.

Cooper is grounded. His wife and three daughters keep him that way.

Most of all, he’s in it for the right reasons.

Cooper has long been expected to run for Governor. The joke is that he’s been a rising star in four different decades.

He waited for the right year. He ran this year not just because he wanted to be Governor, but because he believed he had a responsibility to run, a responsibility to change the state’s course, a responsibility – and an opportunity – to take North Carolina in a new direction.

A Governor who has the right stuff and is in it for the right reasons can do right much good.

Take it from someone who watched a Governor do it.


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An ally of the Governor’s – The Civitas Institute – sued to stop the State Board of Elections counting 90,000 ballots cast by people who’d registered and voted on the same day; normally the State Justice Department would have defended the Board but, since those voters cast ballots in Attorney General Roy Cooper’s race against McCrory, the specter of a ‘conflict of interest’ reared its head.

Now if you think it over, that conflict was more visceral than real. The Board wanted to win the case. And Roy Cooper wanted the Board to win. So Cooper and the Board saw eye to eye. But how would it look if Roy Cooper’s Justice Department were defending a case about counting votes in Cooper’s campaign against Pat McCrory?

The problem wasn’t the conflict – it was the way it would look.

It wasn’t a simple choice but Roy Cooper – and the Board – agreed they, like ‘Caesar’s Wife,’ should avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Next the Board chose three outside attorneys from the Brooks Pierce law firm in Raleigh – but to hire them it needed Governor McCrory’s approval.

Now, if you think that over, the Governor had a conflict of his own: If his ally, Civitas, won the lawsuit it could help him in his race against Cooper. And worse, if he turned the request down he would be telling the Board it couldn’t hire the lawyers it wanted to defend itself – in a lawsuit against his ally.

Governor McCrory didn’t have a ‘Caesar’s Wife’ conflict. He had a ‘smelly’ conflict.

But then, amid the turmoil and throbbing nerve-endings in the Governor’s office, with McCrory trailing Cooper by 10,000 votes, an agitating complication arose 60 miles away: Another attorney with the Brooks Pierce firm, who worked in the law firm’s Greensboro office, had agreed to serve as Co-Chairman of Roy Cooper’s transition team.

The Governor’s response to the Board was short and blunt: His legal counsel sent a three-line note telling the Board No.

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As his hopes and his days dwindle down to a precious few, you almost feel sorry for Pat McCrory.


It has to be hard being the first North Carolina Governor to lose a reelection race. He couldn’t do what Jim Hunt, Jim Martin, Jim Hunt again and Mike Easley did. Bev Perdue was a one-termer, but she wasn’t run out. She walked out and left the door wide open for McCrory in 2012.

It has to be hard being one of few, if any, Republicans to lose a statewide race in the South, despite Trump carrying North Carolina by almost four percentage points.

It had to be hard Election Night, watching all those states go red for Trump, watching his fellow Republicans celebrate their wins here and, for several hours, believing he was winning. Then – boom! – Durham County came in.

Above all, it has to be hard thinking back to the night of March 23. That day, the legislature had rushed through House Bill 2. Few people had even seen the bill, and almost nobody knew what was in it.

McCrory had a choice as he sat in the Executive Mansion that night. He could sign it, or he could sit on it, give himself more time, hear from more people, learn more about the bill and make a more thoughtful decision.

Some Republicans urged him to take his time. But legislative leaders pushed him to sign the bill that night. Do it quickly, they said; it’s like pulling off a band-aid.

He ripped off the band-aid. The bleeding started. And it never stopped.

That one decision, made in haste late at night, cost McCrory reelection.

He can blame the legislature, and he probably does. But in the end, he signed the bill and sealed his fate. He was the Decider.

It’s a master lesson in the art of governing.

My email pal Edward from Down East – I’m not certain of his party, but I’m certain he’s more conservative than me – summed up McCrory pretty well:

“This whole post-election circus being perpetrated by McCrory et al is symptomatic of his entire term as Governor: thin-skinned, unable to accept when mistakes were made, in fact digging in/doubling down in the face of clear evidence of a poor decision/poor policy.

“I don’t know the inner workings of McCrory’s team, but early on it appeared he was getting bad advice, politically and otherwise. They acted like it was their first rodeo. And, boy, Phil Berger and company showed them how the game in Raleigh was played.

“People I’d talk to would say about McCrory and his team, ‘They’re new to state government, but they’ll figure it out.’ They never did….I don’t think he’s a bad guy, far from it. But he never understood Raleigh and it showed and the voters showed him the door.”

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This ball game may have just changed big-league, as Trump would say.

The referees in federal court threw the penalty flag on the Republican legislature for unconstitutional gerrymandering. This means loss of down, possible loss of possession and maybe a replay in just 12 months.

No doubt candidates and contributors, still exhausted from this year, aren’t excited about doing it all over again.

But the opportunity for Democrats is yuuuuge, as Trump would say.

The first thing they should do is challenge Republicans to establish an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. If the legislature refuses, that becomes the first issue in 2017.

Trump won by running against a corrupt, self-serving political establishment in Washington. Democrats can win by running against a corrupt, self-serving political establishment in Raleigh.

Case in point: Mike Morgan beat Bob Edmunds for the Supreme Court because of the TV ad that tagged Edmunds as the Gerrymandering Judge.

The more Pat McCrory and the Republicans resist the voters’ clear decision in the Governor’s race, the stronger that issue becomes for Democrats.

Speaking of arrogance: McCrory and the GOP act like it’s up to them to decide when the election is resolved. No, it’s not. The Board of Elections decides. Unless, as a TAPster suggested, McCrory goes full Nixon, fires the current board and appoints a new board with instructions to declare him the winner.

With Roy Cooper in the Governor’s Office, Democratic candidates will have a leader with real power.

Forget the veto, for now. Cooper will have the biggest microphone in the state. He can pick a fight with the legislature – and dictate the battlefield. Plus, he can raise money. He dramatically outraised McCrory. Imagine what he can do in 2017 with the power of incumbency.

Some Democrats worry about whether their voters will turn out in an off-year. Democrats need to give them a reason to turn out. And there are plenty of reasons.

So get rested. And get ready to rumble.


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Pat laid his offer on the table Saturday: Recount Durham’s votes and I’ll drop my request for recounts in other counties, he told the State Board of Elections.

It sounded reasonable. And fair. But like a lot of knotty problems there’s more than one way to look at it.

The chance of a Durham recount overturning Roy Cooper’s 8085 vote lead over Pat is, well, remote. Let’s say, hypothetically, Pat’s facing 99 to 1 odds.

But recounting Durham’s votes is the best – you could argue the only – chance Pat has of defeating Roy. A recount can’t hurt Pat. He can’t end up worse off. And he might just win the trifecta. From where Pat sits he risks nothing by making this offer – and he may get a chance of salvation.

But look at the same puzzle through Roy’s eyes: If Roy goes along with Pat’s offer the odds are Roy’s facing 99 happy outcomes. But he’s also facing a 1% chance of complete doom. And that’s a proverbial risk to avoid. From where Roy sits taking a 1% risk of doom makes no sense at all.

The State Board of Elections is scheduled to decide on Pat’s offer this week.

In the meantime, there’s likely to be a lot of rhetoric from both sides – but remember: It all comes down to two people looking at the same problem and seeing two different outcomes: Pat’s seeing a 1% shot at salvation while Roy’s looking at a 1% risk of doom.

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You can have your Anthony Bourdains and your Phil Rosenthals. If I’m eating on the road, I’m going with North Carolina’s own D.G. Martin.

Now you can drive and dine with D.G. by picking up his new book, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints,” published by UNC Press.

D.G. likes my kind of food. Namely, all kinds of food. And, for this book, food served in local restaurants “where you find real friends and lifelong memories.”

He tells us about more than 100 BBQ joints, seafood places, country kitchens, Mexican restaurants, Lebanese cafes and Greek diners that offer down-home alternatives to the Interstate fast-food deserts. He introduces us to the people who cook and serve the food, the locals who gather around the table and the nearby attractions you can visit while your meal settles.

Only D.G. would direct you from the country cooking at Pam’s Farmhouse Restaurant in west Raleigh to a store where you can buy a sari.

D.G., who is now a newspaper columnist and host of UNC-TV’s “Bookwatch,” has done his research – on the road and at the table. He flavors his findings with his irrepressible love for North Carolina and its people.

His book makes the perfect Christmas gift for friends and family. Pick up an extra copy to keep in your car. You never know when you’ll need a down-home meal.


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As Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead passes 2 million, the quadrennial question arises: Why elect Presidents differently from the way we elect every other public official? And why not change it?

The practical answer is that it’s impossible today to amend the Constitution. Half the country would automatically oppose it, given how divided we are.

But there is a way Democrats could change it.

Check out a group called National Popular Vote, which has come up with an ingenious way to reform the Electoral College – without amending the Constitution.

Carter and I got to know the founders a few years back when they brought their idea to North Carolina. It’s very simple: Get enough states – states with a total of 270 electoral votes – to enter into an interstate compact. Each of those states enacts a law instructing their electors to vote for the winner of the nationwide popular vote, not their statewide winner.

States can do that. Already, a couple allot their electors by congressional district.

Sound-far fetched? Well, it has already passed more 11 states with 165 electoral votes (CA, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA). It just needs to pass in states with 105 more electoral votes.  

Once enough states agree, it won’t matter what the other states want – or what Congress or the President want. It’ll be done.

It would dramatically change how presidential races are run. Every vote in every state would count. Forget “battleground” states.

Republicans would campaign in California and New York to run up their national vote totals. Democrats would go to Texas and Georgia. Everybody would still come to North Carolina.

Smaller states – like Iowa and New Hampshire – might get less attention. But who cares?

On Election Night, there would be no more “calling” states for one candidate or the other. No more red and blue maps. Just a running vote count. Like the Super Bowl or Final Four. Or every other election we have.

North Carolina Democrats who like the idea should take note: We had a chance to pass it when we had a majority in the legislature. But the House leadership shelved the bill.

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Happy Thanksgiving? Bah, humbug, say a lot of Democrats.

Two weeks after a loss they didn’t see coming, they’re still sorting through four of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression. The fifth and final stage, acceptance, is a ways off.

So let’s pause and calmly assess the situation.

Here’s some advice from a psychologist I know who’s struggling with his own feelings – “I’m trying not to let Trump rent out space in my head and ruin my life” – and counseling clients who are upset and even “terrified.”

Looking for the bright side, he notes, “I’m hoping that Trump’s narcissism somehow will work in our favor and that he’ll be so greedy about his image and his legacy and doing deals that he might even go against Republicans. He’ll go against anybody if it serves him. That could work to our benefit at some point, ironically.”

Plus, he adds, “Arrogance usually bites itself in the rear.”

I’m no psychologist, but here’s my political advice to Democrats.

First, rein in the over-the-top reaction to Trump. Don’t make it easy for him to paint his opponents as extreme and himself as mainstream.

The level of hype and hysteria that some Democrats show over anything and everything Trump does could help him by setting expectations so low he can’t help but exceed them: “Gee, Marge, we didn’t have a depression or a nuclear war or concentration camps after all. Let’s give Trump another four years.”

Second, criticize Trump all you want. But don’t attack his voters.

It’s no doubt true that a lot of racists voted for Trump. But it’s not true that all Trump voters are racist. For Democrats to say that is just as bad as Trump saying all Muslims are terrorists or all Mexicans are rapists and murderers.

Third, don’t howl with glee at every little fumble or stumble during the Trump transition. All transitions fumble and stumble. It’s impossible not to when you just finished one marathon and you have to gear up for another one.

Fourth and finally, face up to facts – good and bad.

The bad: Trump and the Republicans won. They own it all in Washington. They’re going to get their way. For a while.

But it’s like I told Carter in 2008, when Democrats won the White House, the Senate and the House: “Don’t worry. We’ll find a way to screw it up.”

They will too.

The good: Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. For all her problems, she came within a few thousand votes in a handful of big states of winning. Democrats can and will win again.

More good: Roy Cooper won, Josh Stein won and Democrats picked up legislative seats here, despite the Trump tide. And we can and we will win here again.

So be thankful. And Happy Thanksgiving!

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After a year of waking up every morning to listen to name-calling and howling on TV I figured, Enough politics – after the election what everyone needed was a break to calm down.

About a week later I read an article about the demise of journalism during the election, thought, Amen – then a couple of days after that I opened a newspaper and read ‘Klan’s Parade Raises Questions about White Supremacists in N.C.’

The newspaper reported that ‘Within 48 hours of the Trump win…the Loyal White Knights of Pelham” had announced a Victory Parade – but had forgotten to say on their website where the parade was. ‘They seem to be working together with neo-Nazi groups,’ a professor from Pittsburgh told the newspaper.

So suddenly we had Klansmen and Neo-Nazis hand in hand at a crossroads near the Virginia border and, of course, the Reverend William Barber of the NAACP couldn’t resist the temptation to blame that development on “the tribe of Trumpism” which led the newspaper to Trump appointee Senator Jeff Sessions who’d once said he found the Klan “OK, until I found out they smoked pot.”

So here’s the picture: Trump’s President. The Klan’s back. And, connecting the dots, the press reports that’s no coincidence.

The election’s over but I’m afraid journalism may not recover.

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Ole Pat labored faithfully day-in and day-out and did his best to whip Roy for almost two years but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t quite catch up – on Election Night when the first returns rolled in it looked like the polls were right: Pat trailed. But within an hour the world brightened: Suddenly Pat was ahead and for the next four hours he watched his lead grow to 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 votes until midnight when his world turned upside down.

Durham County had struggled for hours to count 94,000 votes but around midnight when it reported, Pat’s lead vanished: He trailed by 5,000 votes. And an hour later Roy declared victory.

But Pat didn’t give up.

Being a press spokesman used to be a job that required a level head but these days most press spokesmen are twenty-something gunslingers and after Pat challenged Roy’s votes in 52 counties the adrenaline was pumping, anxiety was rampant, and both sides were feeling testy.

Roy Cooper’s out to count the votes of dead people, Pat McCrory’s press spokesman Ricky Diaz declared – and Roy Cooper’s spokesman Fred Porter shot back, Pat’s desperate. He wants to undermine an election he lost.

It was like watching two high school drama queens having a cat fight.

Right now, Roy has a 6,600 vote lead which is only a fraction of 1% of the vote but, on the other hand, Elections Boards have counted the votes accurately in election after election. Can you recall a loser turning himself into a winner by challenging votes?

That said, this is the land of the free and the home of the brave so Pat’s got a right to have his say – though it’s not quite as simple as it sounds: His folks can’t just walk into an Elections Board hearing and say, ‘Here’s a list of 100 people we think voted illegally. Disallow their votes.’ They have to also say, ‘And here’s our proof.’

As a practical matter you can all but forget about Pat’s challenges in 51 of those 52 counties. The heart of his case doesn’t come down to challenging a hundred votes in Raleigh or a few dozen votes in Halifax County: It comes down to those 94,000 votes in Durham where something odd – the newspaper reported it was a software malfunction – happened on Election Night.

Even the Governor’s attorney admits he doesn’t expect recounting those votes will change the outcome of the election – but there is one virtue in a recount: It’ll prove to the doubters that vote counts are fair.

So why not recount Durham’s votes – and put everyone’s mind at ease?

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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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