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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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11
Everybody knows Republicans, and especially conservative Republicans, don’t like government subsidies. They’re corporate welfare. They’re government picking winners and losers.  And interfering with the free marketplace. 
 
That’s why Republicans opposed Obama’s solar energy subsidies like Solyandro – a solar business ought to be able to stand on its own two feet and if it can’t government handing it cash is bad false economics.
 
That’s logical.
 
But even if you’re a saint it’s a struggle to avoid temptation – and politicians have the added burden of being able to use other people’s money to help their friends.
 
Bottom line: Just a few days ago, in Raleigh, Republican State Senators voted to give fracking companies a million dollar subsidy.

 

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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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09

 

Horrified by the vision of legions of fired Democratic state employees, back when Jim Martin was elected Governor, Democrats changed the law so Martin couldn’t fire much of anyone – then announced (with a show of virtue) they’d gotten nasty old politics out of the state government.
 
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray: One day the typical state employee had a boss and the next he didn’t, then he figured out in place of a boss he had not a person but a set of rules (called the ‘Personnel Act’): He didn’t have quite the same job security as a tenured professor but he wasn’t far from it as long as he didn’t do anything egregious like larceny. 
 
Which turned out to be a temptation no self-respecting man should have to bear. 
 
The typical state employee’s day subtly changed.  He fell into a rhythm, eating, sleeping, tending to his wants and needs, and placidly spending eight hours in his office receiving and filing reports on, say, coal ash ponds.  Then, as the years rolled by, placidness compounded and compounded again and deepened into somnambulance until, one fine day, reality reared its head: A coal ash pond ruptured.
 
Pat McCrory had run for governor in 2008 and lost, toiled three years preparing to run again, built a new and stronger campaign, whipped Walter Dalton, and arrived in Raleigh full of new ideas but, when that coal ash pond ruptured, found himself face to face with an unforgiving fact: He had no one to clean up the mess except the same bureaucrats who’d spent decades blissfully asleep at the switch ignoring what had turned out to be a ticking time bomb.
 
Worse, wherever he looked he had the same problem. Over in the Department of Health and Human Services, they’d spent eight years and $500 million working on a new computer program but the minute the Governor pressed the go button there was a meltdown.
 
The program sputtered then settled into a smoking heap and the only people he had to fix it were the people who’d told him to press the button.
 
It seemed the Governor could set policy (and had plenty of well-meaning people like State Senators telling him what his policy ought to be) but what he really needed were people who could do things – who could fix problems.  Like coal ash ponds. 
 
So he tried a logical step: He asked the legislature to give him not the kind of unlimited power Jim Hunt had during his first two terms but a bit more power so he could replace somnambulant bureaucrats but as soon as the words were out of his mouth the State Employees Association and Democratic Legislators started hollering, accusing him of putting nasty old politics back into state government.

 

 

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08

 

Everyday emails float in out of the ether about miracle cures and hot stocks and how to meet the woman of my dreams in Moscow – it’s like having a swamp on my doorstep.  
 
But even in swamps virtue has a way of showing up now and then and the email below (part of a chain of emails that flew across the country) landed in my friend Richard’s inbox, who sent it along to me with a two-word note: Good quotes.
 
Email
Subject: About Government
In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a government. – John Adams

If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed. – Mark Twain

Suppose you were an idiot.  And suppose you were a member of government. But then I repeat myself. – Mark Twain

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. – Winston Churchill

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. – George Bernard Shaw

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. – Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. - P.J. O'Rourke, Author

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. – Frederic Bastia, French economist (1801-1850)

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. – Will Rogers

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free! – P.J. O'Rourke

In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other. – Voltaire (1764)

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you! – Pericles (430 B.C.)

No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session. – Mark Twain (1866)

Talk is cheap...except when government does  it. – Anonymous

The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. – Ronald Reagan

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin. – Mark Twain

There is no distinctly Native American criminal class...save government. – Mark Twain

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians. – Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995)

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. – Thomas Jefferson

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. – Aesop


 

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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 Brasstown possum’s landed back in court.
 
Up in the mountains, in Brasstown, there’s a gentleman who celebrates each New Year’s Eve by putting a possum in a box, suspending the box from the top of a general store, then, as the clock ticks down to midnight, dropping the possum to the town square just like the Yankees drop a crystal ball from atop a skyscraper above Times Square.
 
Only using a live possum instead of a crystal ball landed him in hot water with PETA which sued, saying he was abusing the poor nocturnally shy critter, which led to the politicians getting into the act (against the possum).
 
State Legislators passed a law saying the Wildlife Commission, no matter how unkind PETA felt it was, could grant the fellow a license for his ‘possum drop’ so last New Year’s Eve Brasstown celebrated again but PETA caught ’em in a mistake: The fellow put the possum in the wrong box or, at least, in a different box from the box his state license required.
 
This time PETA sued the Wildlife Commission for dereliction of duty and the whole thing landed back in court only, this time, with the Attorney General battling PETA.
 
And that’s when things took a bizarre turn.
 
The Attorney General asked the judge to dismiss PETA’s lawsuit as foolishness but the judge said no.
 
Then PETA asked the judge to make a ‘Declaratory Judgment’ in the possum’s favor – but the judge said no a second time. 
 
So now there’s going to be a full-blown trial over not the possum or the possum drop but the box the possum was dropped in – with taxpayers footing the bill for the Attorney General’s lawyers.
 
All in all it’s a pretty good example of the old-fashioned out of favor idea we’re all better off when the government does less not more – if the state legislature hadn’t gotten into the business of licensing ‘possum drops’ then PETA and the fellow from Brasstown could be battling it out to their hearts’ content while the rest of us peacefully watch the ball fall in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

 

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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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