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15
The Old Bull Mooses walked into a meeting with the House to wrangle over the state budget but before they could fire a shot the House’s lead wrangler, Nelson Dollar, threw them a curve ball: He announced he was calling half a dozen school superintendents to testify at the hearing.
 
The Bull Mooses had been ambushed – Dollar had invited the nice, earnest school superintendents to tell the Senators all the ways their budget  was wrong – while the TV cameras rolled.
 
Then the Bull Mooses did something that played into Dollar’s hands – they turned a little media event into a big media event: They got mad, stood up, and stalked out of the room.
 
Later, after the superintendents had left, when the Senators trooped back into the room they were still mad and, right off, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown raked Dollar over the coals. After Brown finished, Senator Jerry Tillman waved the latest House budget proposal at Dollar and told him it wasn’t worth the paper it had been written on.
 
The Old Bull Mooses had been sandbagged. Trapped.  Gotten mad.   Dug the hole deeper. Then, still mad, acted like grumpy old men.
 
In their bones, the Bull Mooses surely believe they’re the true defenders of virtue standing up to House whiffenpoos  but, by the end of the meeting, instead of pillars of rectitude they looked like Liberty Valance pummeling Jimmy Stewart.
 
They’d turned themselves into the perfect foils and Governor McCrory – who’d already fired a broadside accusing the Senators were playing “inside the beltline politics” and comparing them “to Democrats” – let fly with still another broadside.
           
Senate Leader Phil Berger’s generally a soft spoken man but a couple more meetings like this and, instead the Old Bull Mooses being defenders of virtue, everybody’s going to be cheering for the man who shot Liberty Valance.

 

 

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15
This increasingly looks like a political death match – with one survivor in the end. I’m betting on Phil Berger.
 
Yesterday Governor McCrory compared Senator Berger & Co. to Marc Basnight, Tony Rand and – yes – Harry Reid.
 
Ouch. Them’s fighting words. Imagine Jim Hunt comparing a Democratic House Speaker in the 90s to Newt Gingrich.
 
A veteran observer of the legislature wrote, “Wow.  You'd think McCrory and Berger were locked in a tight election campaign.  Against each other.” And asked, “Is McCrory making a huge tactical and strategic mistake by taking sides in the budget battle?  I don't recall seeing that before.  The typical gubernatorial stance would be, ‘The House and Senate need to work out their differences and pass a budget.  That's what the taxpayers sent them here to do’."
 
It’s common for Governors to put public pressure on the legislature. But no matter how close Governors Hunt, Easley and Perdue were to Senate leaders, they never picked sides the way McCrory has.
 
Berger’s response to the Basnight-Rand-Reid comment was straight out of the Bugs Bunny Rule for Winning Debates. He said, “The governor and Senate have honest but resolvable differences over the state budget – these differences do not warrant personal criticisms of one another.”
 
(The Bugs Bunny Rule comes from Jeff Greenfield, the longtime TV political analyst: “The most comfortable person in the room always wins. Think Bugs Bunny Versus Daffy Duck.”)
 
This fight surely will last long beyond this session. What will the next two years be like for the Governor? And will he be running in 2016 against a Republican opponent backed by Berger?

 

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14
What is it about our sports teams that possesses us so?
 
Brazil’s soccer team loses in the World Cup, and a nation plunges into despair, mourning and an angry orgy of recrimination. A national tragedy, it seems.
 
LeBron James takes his talents home, and a city erupts in joy and thanks. The Second Coming, if you will.
 
We’ve all been to college football and basketball games and seen fans in a frenzy – either of uncontrolled ecstasy or of rage directed at the refs, the other team and sometimes their own team and coach.  You expect fists to fly and heads to explode.
 
We’ve seen the obsession with winning and losing games sully the reputation of a great University, cost it the leadership of an able Chancellor and force it to suffer through year after year of lurid news headlines and embarrassing, never-ending investigations.
 
A psychologist or sociologist probably could easily explain some primal, tribal need that these rituals satisfy: wearing the colors, joining in the chants and losing ourselves in the outcome of a contest between two groups of physically gifted but often emotionally or even mentally stunted young men. (And it is only for the teams composed of young men.)
 
Maybe we need to get a grip. It’s just a game.

 

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11
What on earth do you do when a eight-year-old lands on your doorstep?
 
I heard two spokesmen on the radio today with answers – the first told a story of a lone girl, one of the border children, who after being repeatedly raped by gangs in Honduras, trudged or rode on the tops of trains, clinging to boxcar roofs, 500 miles across Mexico to arrive in Texas hollow-cheeked with hunger.
 
The other spokesman explained half the border children hadn’t trudged across Mexico alone at all – they’d been carried by smugglers paid by families who were desperate to get their sons and daughters out of El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala.
 
Of course, up in Congress, Republicans say Obama’s to blame for the whole mess.  He  threw open the door to the border children when he decided not to deport the “Dream Children.”
 
And the Democrats, of course, say Republicans are ogres with no hearts.
 
And, finally, President Obama wants Congress to give him $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis – which comes to $74,000 per child. 
 
So with all this passion and all these political agendas clouding the rhetorical air who can we believe?  And how do we figure out what we ought to do?
 
In a way the answer’s simple: If a weary, bedraggled eight-year-old turned up on your doorstep one night would you turn him away? 
 
No.  Lord willing, you’d lend him or her a helping hand.
 
Beyond that, since there are 50,000 children on our doorstep, there’s one other question to ask we have to answer: Are these children refugees or illegal immigrants?
 
Because if a child’s fleeing in terror – whether it’s from gang rapes or other sins – well, to put it bluntly: In America we help refugees.  We may not make them citizens.  But we don’t turn them away either.
 
And if these children are illegal immigrants? If they’re not fleeing from violence or abuse?
 
Well, then, like all runaway children, we return them to their parents.

 

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10
You hear that North Carolina is growing and changing. Now you can see just how and how much – and what that may mean for politics – thanks to Ferrel Guillory and his colleagues at the UNC Program on Public Life.
 
They have just posted their new issue of NC DataNet on their website. Check it out here. And check out how you can help them keep doing their great work.
 
Highlights:
·       42 percent of North Carolinians were born in another state or country, and 48 percent of those who voted in 2012 were born elsewhere.
·       In-migration is the reason we’re growing faster than the rest of the nation, and why we’re becoming more powerful politically.
·       In-migrants are almost twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree, and they tend to move to cities more than rural areas.
 
Where are they coming from? In order: Florida, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, Georgia. Also, Pennsylvania, Maryland and California.
 
Where are they moving to? Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, Buncombe and Cumberland. Also to a mix of major urban centers (Guilford and Forsyth), coastal counties (Onslow and New Hanover), recreational and retirement meccas (Moore and Brunswick), and suburban-style communities near major cities (Cabarrus, Union, Orange and Henderson).
 
What does it mean for politics? “While the data, as provided by the state Board of Elections, do not show precisely how many in-migrants registered as Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, they clearly have contributed to a surge in new voters deciding not to affiliate with a major political party. Mecklenburg and Wake, along with four other counties, had gains in unaffiliated voters of 100 percent or higher.”

 

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09
It is a well-known fact that the not-so-great state of South Carolina has only two things going for it: the coast and the city of Charleston.
 
The coast is there by the grace of God and the gifts of nature. But it turns out that much of what makes Charleston a great place – the arts, the historic preservation, the restaurants – is there thanks in part to a liberal Democrat who has been Mayor for nearly 40 years.
 
A New York Times column Sunday about Mayor Joe Riley called him “America’s Best-Loved Mayor.” He pushed for the Spoleto arts festival as a way of making the city aim higher, and he sees the arts as vital to a great city. He has concentrated on concrete accomplishments: public safety, parks, housing and the beauty and vibrancy of the city’s historic streets.
 
Most amazing, he stayed in office in South Carolina’s rabidly red-hot Republican politics despite being an early supporter of a Martin Luther King holiday, hiring a black police chief in 1982 and leading a five-day, 120-mile march to Columbia calling for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol in 2000.
 
Maybe it’s that Riley is accessible and personable. Maybe it’s that he’s Old Charleston; he looks like we walked right out of the famous (and famously expensive) Ben Silver men’s store downtown.
 
Maybe it’s that some cities – like Raleigh with Mayors Meeker and McFarlane – take to progressive mayors who push policies that attract bright, creative people who transform the quality of life downtown. And maybe that’s a sign that government can work.

 

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08
Locked in a wrestling match with the Governor over Medicaid (and how much it will go over budget) the Old Bull Mooses invited Art Pope (the Budget Czar) over to the Senate for a cordial visit then added if he didn’t come along peacefully they’d send him a subpoena.
 
Pope, responding like a gentleman, took the affront politely saying there’d be no need for fisticuffs then trooped over to the Senate, explained patiently how Medicaid had $70 million in cash (to pay its outstanding bills) so the Bull Mooses’ fear of a $250 million deficit was unfounded then added soothingly,  ‘There is good news but there are still many uncertainties.’
 
Now it must be said the Old Bull Mooses had history on their side: Last year Medicaid was $457 million over budget and the year before it was $375 million over budget so, naturally, the word uncertainties got the Senators’ attention – and they began to explore.
 
How many new people, they asked, had enrolled in Medicaid?
 
The answer was not what they’d hoped: No one knew because the computer system was broken.
 
How much, they asked, were doctors and hospitals owed that they hadn’t been paid?
 
The answer was equally disconcerting: Another computer system was broken so no one knew the answer to that either.
 
A Senator said Medicaid spending had been increasing by 5% each year and asked, How much will it increase this year?
 
Less, Pope said.
 
Then, leaving broken computer systems behind, Pope got down to brass tacks.
 
Senator," he asked, "what is the cost of overfunding Medicaid?” and then explained – in the Budget the Bull Mooses had proposed – the cost was firing 7,000 teacher assistants and removing 5,200 aged, blind and disabled people, including 1,600 patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, from Medicaid.
 
Of course, that didn’t sit too well with the Senate’s budget writers.
 
Senator Bob Rucho turned to the head of the Hospital Association, who was sitting in the audience, and asked if there was enough money in Pope’s plan to pay all the bills the hospitals were owed.
 
The Hospital Chief said he didn’t know so Rucho next fired a tougher question at him: If it turned out the Governor hadn’t budgeted enough to pay the hospital’s bills would they eat the difference?
 
That didn’t sit too well with the Hospital Chief but, at least, when the smoke cleared Rucho’d established the hospitals weren’t about to risk putting their money where their mouth was when it came to verifying the exactitude of Medicaid budgets.
 
At the end of the day the Bull Mooses were still dead-set on cutting Medicaid to the aged, blind and disabled to balance a budget the Governor’s budget director says doesn’t need balancing except for the fact there are some uncertainties and two broken computer systems which mean no one is sure of the real numbers.

 

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08
Aaron Fussell was one of those modest World War II heroes who saved the free world, then came home and spent the rest of his life building a better world.
 
I knew him as school superintendent and a legislator. But I got to know him best much later, on the golf course. That’s where you can really get to know a person.
 
Aaron played, walked and stayed active well into his 80s. He also loved to talk politics. I enjoyed walking nine holes with him late afternoons. He pulled his clubs behind him on an ancient cart. His shots were short, but always straight down the fairway. Typically on a par four, he’d be 20 or 30 yards off the green after two shots. He’d take out an eight iron, chip the ball up to within a few feet of the cup, sink the putt, take his par and walk on to the next hole, talking every step of the way.
 
If he ran into a young person, he’d pepper them with questions: Where are you in school? What subjects do you like? How are your grades? Do you play any sports? Where are you going to college?
 
He knew everybody, and he had a connection with everybody. “I coached his daddy at Elm City.” “I hired her mother to teach at Millbrook.” “His great-uncle and I played basketball together at Atlantic Christian.”
 
The ultimate connection came one day when he introduced me to his friend Hannas, who grew up in Belgium. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Aaron added, “My unit liberated his village.”
 
He liberated a lot of people, and he touched a lot of lives. He was a great soul.

 

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07
Governor Pat (Stupid Hat) McCrory’s admonition worked! No deaths or injuries were reported from Hurricane Arthur after he went on television urging North Carolinians along the coast: “Don’t put on your stupid hat.”
 
He even mimed putting on a stupid hat. And made air quotes around “stupid hat.” It got it on the CBS Evening News.
 
“Stupid hat” is definitely trending.
 
So a tip of the Stupid Hat to Pat!
 
Now, Governor, how about an encore? How about using it again this week with the legislature? Go on TV and tell them in no uncertain terms: “It’s time to finalize a budget, and it’s no time to put on your stupid hats. In fact, it’s time you take off the stupid hats you’ve been wearing the last couple of years.”
 
Help us, Governor. You’re our only hope.

 

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04
There’s a lit stick of dynamite – and one unanswered question – being blithely passed from hand to hand in the backrooms of Raleigh: Who will the State Senators and Representatives make pay to cleanup Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds – which Duke says is going to cost $10 billion and which, Duke also says, in fairness ought to be added to its customers’ electric bills. 
 
Attorney General (and not one to look a gift horse in the mouth) Roy Cooper, who’s running for Governor, promptly disagreed, saying Duke ought to pay every penny which inspired Cooper’s Democratic allies to add an amendment to the Senate Republicans’ ‘Coal Ash Cleanup’ bill to make Duke pay. 
 
The old Bull Mooses promptly quashed the Democrats’ amendment then fell cryptically silent which oddly – given the murky waters of Senate politics – sent a crystal clear message: The Bull Mooses, after they’d just kiboshed Duke paying the $10 billion, faced a tough choice: Either tell consumers their electric bills would be going up or lay low and say nothing.
 
Silence spoke volumes.
 
Which attracted the attention of Conor (the Jessecrat) who grunted, What we have here is half-baked politicians coming up with the wrong cure for a problem.
 
Conor explained both Cooper’s and the Republicans’ solutions had more to do with politics than fixing the problem then added, The real question here is how much can Duke afford to pay?  If it has $10 billion, fine, let it pay it all.  But if Duke can only pay $1 billion then some poor soul’s got to find the backbone to tell people their electric bills are going up $9 billion.
 
Of course, even for our finest politicians, that would be just plain treacherous – imagine a Bull Moose, running for reelection, looking voters straight in the eye and saying, I voted to increase your electric bills, while at the exact same moment his opponent’s looking the exact same voters in the eye saying, Duke should pay it all.

 

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