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Entries for July 2010

30
The State Democratic Party convention is in Fayetteville this weekend. If you go, you can see how much politics has changed in a lifetime.
 
State party conventions used to be a big deal. Huge crowds, lots of enthusiasm and a good chance to take a party’s temperature for the upcoming elections.
 
The latter is still true. The crowds, not so much.
 
This year, the party is combining the convention with the annual Sanford-Hunt-Frye dinner. That should help attendance.
 
Andrew Barksdale of the Fayetteville Observer had a useful preview of the convention. His story put me at odds with a local party official about Democratic prospects this year. But that’s fine.
 
Barksdale seemed surprised I wasn’t going to the convention.
 
Been there, done that.
 
Convention-goers are people who are willing to spend a summer weekend in suits and nice dresses listening to politicians give (mostly boring) speeches.
 
To all who go: There’s a special place in heaven waiting for you.

 

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29
So let’s talk about what Raleigh’s buzzing about this week:
 
Is there some kind of statutory deadline in the Mike Easley case this month – that is, tomorrow?
 
Is something coming from the U.S. Attorney?
 
Is this investigation ever going to end?
 
Is George Holding holding on until President Obama’s second term?
 
Is Washington getting impatient with the timing and scope of the investigation?
 
Is there some kind of negotiation going on between Holding’s office and Easley?
 
Is Easley’s fabled Irish luck going to hold out one more time?
 
Capital buzzers and buzzards long to know.
 

 

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28
“Controlled choice” is all the buzz now in the Wake schools debate.
 
This has the whiff of one of those oxymoronic (with the emphasis on “moron”) political/policy phrases that sounds great but never quite works out in practice.
 
Remember George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”?

 

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27
My blog about the capital press corps – and how its coverage of the Alcoa story might have been influenced by UNC-TV’s Eszter Vajda – brought this response from Scott Mooneyham of The Insider/Capitol Press Association. I think it’s worth reprinting in full.
 
Background: I had quoted a blog by Laura Leslie about how the depleted numbers of the press corps required them to work together.
 
Gary,

You should know that Eszter Vajda does not and has not ever worked in the leg building press room, which is where the cooperation of which Laura was referring takes place. The eight press corps member of whom she speaks does not include anyone from UNC-TV, which maybe further makes the point that I have made -- you can't be called a journalist while on the gov't payroll.
 
Suggesting that Eszter influenced press corps coverage of Alcoa is akin to saying, "Look at that tail chasing his dog." I don't think anyone in the press corps even knew about Eszter's "documentary" or that she was working on something associated with Alcoa until Fletcher Hartsell issued his subpoena. I and others have been writing for roughly two years on the issue of FERC relicensing and attempts by Hartsell, Gov. Perdue and Stan Bingham to block it. I've had many conversations with many people about it -- Hartsell, Bingham, Bruce Thompson, Chuck Neely, Gene Ellis, Angie Harris, Larry Jones. I haven't spoken once to Eszter Vajda about it.
 
As for press corps cooperation, I suspect what Laura means is that the people in the press room generally help each other keep track of things like votes, quickly called committee meetings to hear important pieces of legislation, and share information about bills that might have been stripped and become something new. So, for example, the video poker bill is being debated, the debate has gone on for an hour, and some press corps members have tuned out the debate temporarily to talk briefly with a lobbyist about where some other bill is going, etc. Joe Hackney says, "Further comment, further debate? The question before the House is .." And someone who is still listening yells, "VOTE!" Or, Laura will play back on her audio equipment some quote or exchange that we all heard, but wanted to make sure we got correctly. Or, some press corps member will say, out loud in the press room, "Why are they taking up a bill to regulate funerals, now?" And someone will respond, "They stripped that. It's a $500 million incentives bill now."
 
That doesn't mean that the press corps holds a staff meeting to decide how coverage will go for the day. It doesn't mean that Mark Binker shares with me that he's learned that banking commissioners are set to get bonuses, or that I share with him that I've found out that Fred Steen is the legislator who filed an ethics complaint alleging attempted bribery.
 
Laura may be right that there is more cooperation today than in 2004, but I don't think it is something new either. I believe there is more cooperation in 2004 than there was in 2001 and more in 2001 than in 1998, when I started there. If the point of that cooperation is accuracy, what's the problem?
 
Regards,
 
Scott Mooneyham
      
 

 

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27

 

A Republican lobbyist friend has some advice for GOP legislators if they win the House and Senate this year: demand a recount.
 
“They’ll inherit the worst budget mess in history,” she says.
 
Two years spent wrestling with that mess – and making the cuts that would be required to read their lips: no new taxes – will doom Republicans to a return to the minority after the 2012 elections, she predicts.
 

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26
Let’s pass on talking about politics today and talk about something I know nothing about:  Economics.
 
My friend Richard, who’s a banker, just sent me a book called The Forgotten Man about the Depression.  Now, normally, I’d run from a book about economics but Ms. Amity Shlaes has written a fascinating story about New Dealers, politics and money.
 
It turns out the 1930’s were a war between two groups – the Public Sector and the Private Sector – who were battling it out for control of the American economy.
 
In 1920 the Private Sector was supreme. When an economic crisis struck – like the post World War I recession – President Calvin Coolidge was actively in favor of the government doing nothing or as close to nothing as possible; that doesn’t sound too appealing but it worked during the post war recession – Coolidge didn’t lift a finger and, sure enough, the economic ship righted itself without his help and the great boom of the 1920’s began.
 
What followed was a hard decade for the intellectuals and college professors who figured, well, intellectuals and college professors ought to be running the economy – as Cabinet Secretaries and under Secretaries. Then the stock market crashed and Herbert Hoover was no Calvin Coolidge. Hoover was an activist. 
 
He went to thrashing, trying to control wages out of the White House and passing tariffs but just about everything he did backfired.  Hoover’s Public Sector charge into the market poured gas on the fire for three years and the Depression deepened – which led to Roosevelt.
 
Which is as far as I’ve gotten in Ms. Shlaes’ book.  It’s 1932 and Roosevelt’s just been elected and the intellectuals and professors who’ve been in exile for a decade are about to become Brain Trusters and Cabinet Secretaries and Supreme Court Justices and the Public Sector’s going to be in the driver’s seat running the economy with, it looks like, a plethora of unintended consequences.
 
One thing you can say for market capitalism is it creates jobs – a mystery State run economies don’t seem to have figured out.  On the other hand (and this is in Ms. Shlaes’ book too) capitalism isn’t a bed of roses and capitalists don’t always come off well – like when they were working children in sweatshops. Plus, there’s no way to blame the 1929 Crash on the Public Sector.  It was free-market capitalism at work.
 
Once Roosevelt gets rolling (I gather from the Introduction  to Ms. Shlaes’ book) big changes are coming fast and the balance of power between the Public Sector and the Private Sector is going to shift – forever.
 
In addition Public Sector economics and Democracy are going to be married because by 1936 the New Dealers had figured out in a Democracy 51% of the people have the power to vote themselves everyone else’s money. Of course, special interests looting the Treasury was a very old story – even in the 1930’s – but by marrying ‘Public Sector Economics’ with buying votes with the public Treasury the New Dealers got Roosevelt reelected in a landslide in 1936 and an American tradition was established that’s been around ever since.
 
Eventually, I’m guessing, the New Dealers and Capitalists are going to figure out they have a few things in common.  The New Dealers (or, maybe, their political heirs) are going to discover that big business is a great source of cash for their campaigns (and most anything else) and the Capitalists are going to figure out having friends in government opens up new ways to get a leg up on their competitors and get their hands on other people’s money.
 
So, it would seem, before all this mischief runs its course we’re going to end up with three genie’s loose on the deck:  A Private Sector. A Public Sector. And a Public Sector – Capitalist partnership. All bent on running the economy.
 
I’ll let you know if it has a happy ending when I finish the book.
 

 

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26
Have I missed it? Or has somebody done – and released – a poll of Wake County voters on the school debate?
 
Most people I run into take it as a matter of faith that the board’s new direction reflects a minority opinion in the county.
 
True, it was the election for just four board seats that turned things around so dramatically.
 
But I have a feeling that there is a swing bloc of voters in the middle of this issue. They agree that resegregated schools would be bad. And they share the frustration over school assignments. What they don’t get is whether the two views can be squared.
 
The opponents of the new board need to understand those voters, because that’s who will ultimately decide what happens.

 

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23
There are two kinds of political leaders: uniters and dividers.
 
Barack Obama is a uniter; Sarah Palin, a divider. Jim Hunt was a uniter; Jesse Helms, a divider. Ronald Reagan was a uniter; George W. Bush, a divider.
 
Dividers can succeed in politics. But they don’t leave lasting legacies of accomplishment.
 
The leaders of the WakeCounty school board, Ron Margiotta and John Tedesco, don’t get this.
 
They don’t realize that if they talked to their critics, instead of arresting them, they might achieve their goals – or at least move in that direction.
 
One of the most valuable lessons Jim Hunt taught me is never burn your bridges. You never know when today’s opponent might be tomorrow’s ally.
 
Margiotta and Tedesco are sowing the seeds of their own failure. The disruption they’ve fueled could well hurt the schools’ performance. What truly qualified professional educator would want to be superintendent in this environment?
 
If the Wake schools fail, Margiotta and Tedesco will get the blame. They’ll be out of power, out of office and in for years of infamy.

 

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22
There’s an old joke that the most dangerous place to be in an election year is between a politician and a TV camera.
 
This year, the most dangerous place may be in any group regulated by Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
 
Her Senate campaign got big headlines today by promising to investigate sports agents in North Carolina.
 
Yes, her campaign, not her office.  Before this year, we heard very little from the Secretary of State’s office. Now, we learn that for years she has been tirelessly pursuing lobbyists, insurance companies, big corporations – and now sports agents.
 
Two things could come of this. Richard Burr might start raising money from sports agents. Or the agents might give to Marshall’s campaign to get rid of her.

 

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21
Laura Leslie of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC is a great reporter and one of my favorite bloggers. She recently had a post about the capital media that is worth attention.
 
Since 2004, she wrote, the legislative press corps’ ranks have dropped from 20-something to, at the end of this year’s session, eight. That brought a sea change in how those reporters work:
 
“The competitive urge is still there in spades, but it’s different these days. We’ve learned to work together because, after round after round of cuts in the industry, we have to. Cooperation is the only way 8 people can keep tabs on 170 legislators, ad hoc committee meetings, and the dozens of floor amendments that fly by in a 19-hour session.”
 
This raises a question: Was the entire press corps’ approach to the Alcoa story influenced by UNC-TV's Eszter Vajda, whose unedited reports were critical of the company?
 
Will Alcoa’s FOIA request unearth communications between Vajda and other reporters? The press corps might learn the hard way what it’s like when your emails go public.

 

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