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Entries for 'Gary Pearce'

11
"This is a miracle from God that just happened." - David Brat, who rocked the political world Tuesday by upsetting Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican primary.
 
Well, that’s certainly one explanation. A more earthly one came from former Representative Thomas M. Davis III, another Virginia Republican: “There are some very angry people upset with the status quo, and Eric became part of that.”
 
Washington will bloviate all day today about what happened, why and what it means. But let’s look at what it means right here in our backyard, namely for Rep. (Just Walk Away) Renee Ellmers. She’s one Republican incumbent in North Carolina who faces just the kind of outsider challenge that toppled Cantor.
 
Yes, hers is in a general election, from special ed teacher/singer/foundation founder/UNICEF ambassador Clay Aiken. But the lesson holds.
 
This is a classic case of an outsider challenging the status quo. You’ll remember, a few years back, when Ellmers won election as an outsider. Then she crawled inside the Washington woodwork and made herself quite comfortable, standing by John (of Orange) Boehner on camera and voting to shut down the government and cut veterans’ health care, while complaining she needed her paycheck.
 
So when you hear the Political Wise Men and Women intoning that Ellmers is safe in a Republican-drawn, Republican-leaning district, remember how sure that crowd was that Cantor would win big.
 
A side note here: Uber-blogger Thomas Mills told me not long ago that he is skeptical of primary polls. It’s hard to predict who will vote, he said. The same thing could be true in this year’s off-year elections, especially considering the conflicting currents of public anger from right, left and middle.
 
Bottom line: Expect the unexpected. And as I’ve said before, don’t underestimate Clay Aiken. 

 

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09
Governor McCrory is starting to look like Bev Perdue without the dress.
 
He started out this legislature saying he’d be more assertive. Then Senator Berger released his budget and showed everybody who’s the Real Boss in Raleigh.
 
McCrory clearly doesn’t like Berger’s budget. But it’s not clear what he’s going to do about it. He also says he doesn’t like repealing Common Core. But it’s not clear what he’s going to do about it.
 
He’s looking more like a rubber stamp. Or, as in Dwane Powell’s cartoon, an automated bill-signing pen.
 
(A side note: When McCrory put on a big photo op to sign the fracking bill, one person of interest wasn’t in the picture: Thom Tillis. Somebody has done some polling.)
 
June is Test Month for McCrory. Once the session is over, the media and the political world will assess whether he met his own goal. Did he stand up, or did he get rolled?

 

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06
Here’s some history on teacher assistants – and a hint about why Senate Republicans want to get rid of them: They’re Jim Hunt’s creation.
 
In his first race for Governor in 1976, Hunt proposed what he called the Primary Reading Program. As Lieutenant Governor and ex-officio member of the State Board of Education, he had become concerned – as Senator Berger says he is today – that too many third-grade students couldn’t read.
 
So the essence of the Primary Reading Program was to put what Hunt then called “reading aides” into every K-3 classroom. Their job would be to focus on teaching reading.
 
Hunt, as was his wont, talked in great detail about the concept in the campaign. We ran TV ads about it. It became a centerpiece of his legislative program in 1977. It passed, and soon every K-3 classroom had an aide. They later were called “teacher assistants.”
 
The plan worked. Into the ‘80s and through the ‘90s – thanks also to bipartisan support for the reading program and other initiatives, including Governor Jim Martin – national tests showed North Carolina students improving faster than those in other states.  (Exactly the kind of performance comparisons we won’t have once Common Core is dumped, by the way.)
 
Apparently, the driving goal in the Senate is to rid North Carolina of any whiff of anything Democrats did in education. And damn the consequences.

 

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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
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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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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14
When you watch the evening news, you learn two things about people who watch the evening news. First, we vote, because we drown in political ads before elections. And, second, we have every disease and bad health condition known to medicine, especially the pharmaceutical industry.
 
We’re at risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis, hemorrhoids, dry eyes, allergies, depression and all the alphabet: COPD, BPH, ED and Low T.
 
Watching one ad after another will make you feel sick – or like turning off the TV. Even worse are the warnings about possible side effects. The scariest is “suicidal thoughts or actions.”
 
And then there’s the ever-present specter of the four-hour erection. Let’s not even go there.
 
So you have a choice when you watch: You can get depressed about the health of the body politic – or about your own health.

 

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13
We were reviewing the Board of Elections’ schedule and making plans for the fall campaign. Then Brad Crone called to say Keith Crisco would concede this morning. Then we were sent reeling by the shock of Keith’s death.
 
Suddenly, campaigns, vote counts and elections-board canvasses seemed not so important.
 
I remembered meeting with Keith in late January, just after I began working with Clay Aiken.  At Keith’s invitation, he and I met after work at a North Hills restaurant. He had hot tea, and I had a Diet Coke.
 
Keith was tall and distinguished-looking. He wore a dark business suit, black cowboy boots and a wide-brimmed white hat. He looked like a man equally at home on a farm, on a factory floor or in a boardroom.
 
It was an open, pleasant conversation about the upcoming race. No bluster or tough talk. We agreed that, whatever happened in the primary, we would work together in the fall.
 
In politics and in life, you make plans and you act as if you’re in control. Then life reminds you that you’re not in control.
 
Not one of us is guaranteed one more day, or even one more hour.
 
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:34), Jesus said, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Amen.
 

 

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