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03

Governor Cooper and Democratic legislators showed something last week that is so rare in America today we hardly know it when we see it.

Political courage.

Political courage is when you do what you believe is right. Even if it disappoints your strongest supporters. Even if it could cost you an election.

Name another politician – Democrat or Republican, Raleigh or Washington – who has done that lately. One who stepped outside their safe space. One who took a risk.

I’ll wait.

The Governor, legislative leaders Darren Jackson and Dan Blue and members like Cynthia Ball and Joe John took a risk and did what’s right.

It’s like taking down the Confederate flag. They made Republicans, despite their supermajorities, take down the HB2 flag.

For Governor Cooper, it took grit, patience and an iron determination to stop the damage to North Carolina’s economy and our good name.

After the vote, he and legislators who voted yes came under attack from some progressives and Democrats who wanted no compromise.

But that would have kept the status quo in place. It would have kept HB2 on the books.

Yes, the three-year moratorium on non-discrimination ordinances is bad. But it’s better than “religious freedom” or “conscience” laws that would have enshrined even more bigotry. The Governor stopped those.

Ned Barnett summed it up well in his Sunday N&O column, “HB2 is gone and that justifies Cooper’s compromise.” He wrote:

“HB2 was a statement from conservatives that they don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of transgender people. It was a-boy-is-a-boy and a-girl-is-a-girl manifesto. They didn’t care who it insulted or who it endangered. Now it’s repealed. The statement is erased from state law. And that’s a big improvement.

“Despite that gain, LGBT advocates are accusing Cooper of betraying them. Their anger is an indulgence that ignores the risks he took on their behalf and the service he is trying to render to the state as a whole.”

It’s no doubt personally satisfying to go on social media and rail against compromise, and to vow vengeance in the next election.

But it’s political suicide. It rewards Phil Berger and his crowd. It would help them stay in power, enact more discriminatory laws and continue all the damage they do to North Carolina.

I respect the Democratic legislators who voted no on the compromise.

But I have even greater respect for the Governor and those Democrats who made a much more difficult choice.

They made the right choice. They moved North Carolina forward. They took a big step on the long, hard journey to fairness and justice for all.

They deserve our thanks, our respect and – above all – our support.

 

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29

In Donald Trump’s world whatever he says cannot be wrong. He’s infallible. Because as Trump says, I know how life works. And, if you ask, Trump will give you proof of his infallibility: He’ll explain how he predicted the outcome of the Brexit vote in advance and how he predicted – a hundred times – his own victory over Hillary.

But infallibility doesn’t mean Trump can’t deceive. Intentionally. He can. But his deceptions aren’t lies – they’re tricks.

A trick may be as simple as Trump the dealmaker looking at the businessman sitting across the table and saying, Take this deal and you’ll make a lot of money.

Or it may be Trump the President tweeting about Ford investing in three Michigan plants: Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! When, in fact, Ford had announced it was expanding the plants two years ago before he was President.

It’s an odd world Trump lives in: He can’t lie. Because he’s infallible. But he can deceive. Because he’s a dealmaker. And deceptions aren’t lies they’re tricks.  

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28

Day in and day out for years I sat in meetings watching and listening to men who lived and breathed politics and, almost to a man every one looked on telling a lie (or, more precisely, being caught telling a lie) as a risk they dreaded. A lie was like a cancer. It could grow and metastasize. So they deceived carefully, using half-truths and omissions, and when they decided they had to risk an outright lie they trod even more cautiously, meticulously laying plans to avoid being caught and leaving themselves lines of retreat if their plans failed.

Watching Donald Trump is like watching a different world. He’s like no other politician. The old rules don’t apply. Take his tweet: Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

Trump woke up that morning, heard or read a story, and his instinct said, That’s true.

His fabrication didn’t spring from a need to deceive, instead it seemed to be the child of a rare kind of vanity (which, I guess, a psychiatrist would call narcissism) that made him certain of his own infallibility. He didn’t need facts. Facts were fallible. But his instinct was infallible.

His deception wasn’t calculated. It wasn’t even meant to deceive. In a way, it was meant as a revelation – Trump was sharing a voila moment. So sure he was right he tweeted: Obama wiretapped Trump Tower

Later when Time Magazine asked him whether his tweet was true Trump said: The country believes me. Hey, I went to Kentucky two nights ago. We had 25,000 people. And when the reporter, growing bolder, asked more pointed questions, Trump told him, Look, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m President and you’re not.

In Trump’s eyes the proof he was right was his victory over Hillary. Victory proved his infallibility. And infallibility proved he was right.

Trump’s unusual in one more way: In the past a President caught telling a lie had a fight on his hands – a trail by ordeal –  to survive. But not Trump – what’s saved him each time hasn’t been his strength or courage – it’s been his opponent’s vices. You heard it said over and over last year, I’m not crazy about Trump but Hillary’s worse.

So while Trump believes Trump’s infallible he’s actually living off his opponents’ vices and all it will take is an opponent stepping forward who doesn’t share those vices for the unraveling – that will lead to Trump’s trial by ordeal – to begin.

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28

Predicting politics is like filling out NCAA brackets: Your predictions and your brackets will get busted.

EG: Who predicted the Republican debacle on health care?

Nobody.

Which explains why Republicans and Democrats alike are thrashing on an HB2 compromise.

Republicans already were wrong about it once. When they rushed it through last March, they thought it would be a winner in November. Instead, it elected Roy Cooper, Josh Stein and a handful of Democratic legislators – despite the Trump tide.

So it’s easy for Democrats to conclude that HB2 will be a winner again in the next election.

Or maybe Democrats will get the blame for not compromising.

Governor Cooper would love nothing more than to take the HB2 anchor off North Carolina’s economy. But not in a way that means more discrimination and gay-baiting.

Republicans are torn between fear of HB2 if they don’t compromise – and fear of their base if they do.

Running for office and making promises is easy. Governing is hard. And predicting politics is harder than picking basketball brackets.

 

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27

When you run as the Greatest Winner Of All Time, you’d better win. Especially your first time.

So there’s no way Trump can bluff or blame his way out of his health care debacle.

He lost bigly. Republicans lost bigly. Paul Ryan lost bigliest.

For seven years and through four elections, they promised to ditch Obamacare and give us a better way. One that Trump said would be cheaper and better and cover everybody.

Turns out they didn’t have a plan. Or a clue.

They couldn’t govern. They couldn’t get anything done. Mr. Art of the Deal couldn’t get a deal.

So now they’re going to do tax “reform”? A big tax cut for the 1 percent? A 20 percent tax on imports for consumers?

Sounds like another Loser.

No wonder Washington Democrats feel like winners. Even if they were mere bystanders to the Republican car wreck.

A real winner was President Obama. A health care plan named for him is now, as Ryan admitted, “the law of the land.”

Thanks, Obama!

Another big winner: 24 million Americans who won’t lose their health insurance.

And another: the people back home who scared the bejeezus out of Republican congressmen and Senators.

November’s losers are March’s winners. They’re now emboldened for all the fights to come before the next election.

Just a reminder of how fast things can change in politics.

 

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24

Republicans couldn’t muster enough votes to pass their TrumpNoCare bill. Mainly because the Freedom (to Die) Caucus doesn’t believe the bill takes health care away from enough Americans. And they don’t want to cover maternal health, mental health or preexisting conditions.

They urgently need to pass it so they can move on. Move on to cutting Social Security and Medicare. Move on to cutting taxes for the richest Americans and cutting services for average people.

There apparently is no urgency to passing the trillion-dollar infrastructure stimulus bill that actually might create jobs for Americans.

Trump promised that, remember. Plus better and cheaper health care for everybody.

So Democrats have two opportunities:

  • Propose their own stimulus bill. Bigger than Trump’s.
  • Insist that every American has a right to health care.

That would Make America Great Again!

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22

This looks familiar.

A President’s election campaign is investigated by the FBI for possible lawbreaking. The media is hot on the trail. Deep Throats are leaking all over Washington. Congress is asking questions.

A President, known for his paranoia and his disregard for the truth, lashes out at critics, reporters and leakers. His loyalists and his hapless press secretary attack the media. Allegations of wiretaps hurl and swirl around.

Meanwhile, the world gets more dangerous every day – in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. What dictator might be tempted to push the nuclear button? Would the President himself manufacture a crisis to save his skin?

And America grows more divided every day.

The President’s critics worry about his emotional and mental stability. They worry about dark forces in the White House that might resort to authoritarian measures. They smell a cover-up in the White House, the Department of Justice and the Congress.

The President’s defenders see him under siege by a hostile media and political Establishment. They believe a hostile elite is trying to win what they lost in the election. They press him not to give an inch.

But there are differences from Watergate.

Then, there was a political center in Washington. There were politicians who put country above party, the Constitution above politics. On both sides of the aisle.

There was a conservative Southern Democrat named Ervin. A moderate Southern Republican named Baker. And more. 

After Watergate, Americans said our system worked. The system upheld the principle that no one, not even the President, is above the law.

Trump might be the ultimate test of our system and that principle.

 

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22

It’s peculiar: My memory is far from perfect but I can’t recall either Jesse Helms or Jim Hunt spending taxpayers’ money to sue another politician – but these days it happens all the time: We’ve got packed courtrooms where one group of government lawyers are battling another group of government lawyers in front of judges all paid by taxpayers.

In one lawsuit Governor Cooper’s government paid lawyers are arguing with the General Assembly’s government paid lawyers over who gets to appoint the Elections Board. In another lawsuit two groups of lawyers are arguing over whether the State Senate gets to confirm Governor Cooper’s Cabinet Appointments. And, up in Washington, there’s a lawsuit that takes the cake.

Awhile back Republican legislators passed a law to require Voter IDs. Democratic federal judges threw that law out. And a team of government paid lawyers (for Governor McCrory) headed to the Supreme Court to appeal.

 Then Roy Copper and Josh Stein were elected and, suddenly, Governor McCrory’s lawyers found themselves working for Roy and Josh. Who decided to drop the appeal.  

At that moment it looked like one group of government lawyers were about to be out of business but then the General Assembly stepped in, hired another team of lawyers, and said the legislature should replace Cooper and Stein in the case.

That didn’t sit well with Attorney General Stein who pointed out that the Constitution says the Attorney General and the Governor are supposed to represent the state in court – not the legislature.

The General Assembly’s lawyers pooh-pooed that idea then told the Supreme Court that Stein ought to be removed from the case because he had conflict of interest.

Stein shot back that even if – for some reason he couldn’t fathom – the General Assembly had a right to be in the case, legislators couldn’t go out and hire and pay their own lawyers with state money. Hiring lawyers and arguing cases was the Attorney General’s job under the Constitution so he, Stein, would have to represent the legislators.

We had Republican lawyers trying to kick Democrats out of the case. And Democratic lawyers arguing Republicans had no place in the case and adding that, even if they did, the Republicans had to be represented by the Democratic Attorney General.  

It’s one more example of politics rolling downhill. But, ironically, this one time relief may be around the corner: If the General Assembly wins we’ll be shed of the Democrat’s lawyers. And if Josh Stein wins we’ll be shed of all the lawyers.

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21

It’s one of the oldest temptations walking around on two legs: A man will try most anything to get his hands on a dollar – and the other morning 122 professors proved they’re no exception.

Over in Chapel Hill at a Board of Governors meeting one of the trustees stood up and said it was time to stop the university’s Civil Rights Center from suing school boards and everyday people and working hand in glove with the ACLU and the NAACP to file political lawsuits.

The News and Observer then published two editorials and a letter to the editor (from the 122 professors) saying each of those lawsuits had been a fine high sounding public service and, what’s more, the Center hadn’t spent one dollar of “state funds.”  

Which was odd.

Because just like the History Department the UNC-Center is part of the university – it’s not a private institution. It’s not independent. And the money it spends – sitting in university bank accounts – is state money.

The Center filed one lawsuit – that lasted four years – accusing Pitt County of re-segregating its schools. It filed three legal actions against the Wake County School Board. It opposed charter schools, school vouchers, defended Moral Monday protestors and pretty much served as a pro bono law firm for the ACLU and the NAACP.

But even after the trustee explained the problem the professors didn’t budge: Instead, compounding one vice with another they tried a little sleight of hand by claiming the Center didn’t spend state money.

 It’s more than likely the professors will flamoozle the Board of Governors. They usually do. But that won’t be the end of the story: Because next the Board has to face the General Assembly and convincing Phil Berger and Andy Wells money sitting in state bank accounts aren’t isn’t money may be a short conversation.

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20

When the average two-legged creature adds the title ‘Congressmen’ to the front of his name it can turn out to be humorous – but expensive.

Last week at 10:30 in the morning House Republican Leaders rolled out their plan to repeal Obamacare; twelve and a half hours later the forty Congressmen sitting in the Ways and Means Committee had barely managed to debate two of the bills five subtitles.

The fifty-five Congressmen over in the Energy and Commerce Committee weren’t doing any better: They spent twelve hours debating the Democrats first amendment – to change the name of the bill.

During the hearings Democratic Congressmen, who rarely ever give a thought to how much they spend, raised Cain saying Republicans hadn’t waited for the ‘CBO’ projections to tell them how much the bill would cost; at the same time Republican Congressmen, who always say they want to cut spending, argued spending didn’t matter so they ought to go ahead and pass the bill.

The doctors and hospitals came out against the bill and, oddly, so did a group of conservative Congressmen.

President Trump invited the conservatives over to the White House for a round of bowling (who knew the White House had a bowling alley) and a little social persuasion: “This is going to be great. You’re going to make it even greater,” Trump said. Then, unexpectedly, he began to explain his fallback plan if the Republican bill failed: In that case, Trump said, we’ll just sit back and allow ObamaCare to fail and let the Democrats take the blame.

Huh? With Republicans in control of the White House, the Senate and the House, Trump figures voters will blame Democrats if the health care system collapses?

Back over in the House, the Democrats had discovered a provision buried in the bill that cut taxes on health insurance companies $400 million – getting down to brass tacks one Democratic Congressman announced the CEO of the United Health made $66 million last year and asked what kind of sense did cutting taxes on insurance companies make?

Another Democratic Congressman said that wasn’t the only tax cut in the bill – Republicans, he said, were also handing the ‘very, very wealthy’ a $600 billion tax cut.

Around 4am the next morning the House Ways and Means Committee passed the Republican Leaders’ bill and, a few hours later, the Energy and Commerce Committee did too. For one moment the day looked brighter for House Republican Leaders – then two Republican Senators announced the House Plan was dead on arrival in the Senate.

Later that day, as the sun set, a reporter asked House Speaker Paul Ryan why the Heritage Action, Freedom Works, Club for Growth and the Conservative Congressmen in the House Freedom Caucus had all turned thumbs down on his bill.

Well, Ryan said, the problem was “growing pains.” The conservatives had never been in office at a time when Republicans controlled the White House, House and Senate. So, unlike other Republicans, they still had to learn how to govern.

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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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