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09
This is a story about how even “good” money – that is, money spent for candidates and causes I like – can be bad.
 
It’s a story about how outside donors and independent campaigns, not candidates and office-holders, are setting the political agenda. You can walk, and run, but money talks.
 
Most every poll you see in North Carolina today shows that education is the number one issue. And the Republican legislature’s biggest vulnerability – as is Thom Tillis’s – is its war against teachers and public schools.
 
But what issue dominates the pro-Democratic TV ads? It’s not education. It’s the environment, clean air and water, and the coal ash spill.
 
Now, those are great issues. Great Democratic issues. But why is TV filled with ads about the environment, and not education?
 
Because the big donors – big national and in-state donors – care more about environmental issues than education issues.
 
This is what the United States Supreme Court in effect believes should happen: People with money should be able to decide the agenda and define the issues. The Court says that is fundamental in our Constitution.
 
You can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad. But how many ads can you afford?

 

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08
Long ago and far away, in bygone days, during Jim Hunt’s first incarnation as Governor, we (Jesse Helms’ political organization) lit on what we thought was a grand idea: We ’d do a TV ad attacking Governor Hunt for giving AFL-CIO boss Wilber Hobby government CETA grants.
 
We made the ad, tore into Wilbur Hobby, then polled. Wilbur was about as popular as a skunk. But we hadn’t laid a glove on Jim Hunt.
 
Chuckling at our chagrin our pollster explained, You guys may not like Jim Hunt much but that’s nothing compared to how much you dislike Wilbur Hobby. Then he added, That’s why you went for ‘the cape and not the bull.’
 
What he meant was we disliked Hobby so much we’d gotten carried away pummeling him and completely missed Hunt. As Tom Ellis said shaking his head, Well, boys, that was a complete waste of money.
 
Judging by their TV ads the Democrats like the Koch brothers even less than we liked Wilber Hobby. They’re spending $3 million to tell folks the Kochs are villains and varmints and they’ll probably blow the Kochs to kingdom come. But they’re going for the cape and not the bull.

 

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07
Maybe the attack-Koch strategy is a good idea after all. I had questions, but I’m coming around.
 
Every story needs a villain. That lesson is as old as the Bible. (See: the Serpent, Garden of Eden.)
 
Just as Republicans here want to make William Barber of the NAACP the face of the Democratic Party, the Kazillionaire Kochs are the ideal face of a Republican Party that is firmly committed to looking out for the 1 Percent – or the one-tenth of 1 Percent – at the expense of people who want good schools, good jobs, good health care and safe water to drink and air to breathe.
 
The Kochs are perfect villains in a political environment where the public suspects there’s a corrupt link between Big Business and GOP Government. And the Kochs are just an extension of the Bain Capital brand that Mitt Romney bequeathed to the GOP.
 
Even better, there are two of them. Evil Twins!
 
And it must be working. Charles Koch felt compelled to take to the friendly pages of the Wall Street Journal to protest that “collectivists” are being mean to him.
 
Let’s pile on!

 

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04
Just as ObamaCare divides the nation politically, it divides Democrats strategically. Does it spell disaster in November, or can we score points with it?
 
The President took the ball to the basket this week. His message: 7-plus million Americans signed up. Millions of Americans can now get health care. Republicans are just obstructionists and have no plan to help people.
 
James Carville, for one, is arguing that Obamacare can be a winner in November.
 
“After Alex Sink was sunk in the Florida special congressional race in February, my fellow Democratic strategists went back to their get-out-the-vote strategy and feared another 1994 or 2010 landslide election for the GOP. Well, Democratic voters might now be motivated to stand by the administration’s top legislative achievement more than ever — the same ABC/Post poll found that Democratic support for ObamaCare has reached 76 percent, which is up 11 percentage points from January. My fellow Democrats feared we didn’t have a motivating issue ... well, Republican opposition to the law, to no one’s surprise, is at 78 percent.
 
“I like being on the side of healthcare consumer. I think that is a winning argument for Democrats.”
 
Other Democratic strategists don’t believe the story arc has changed. It still isn’t a winner, and it won’t be, they say.
 
My guess – as I blogged last week (see “Move On”) – is that this issue, like a long-running TV series, is about to run down. By November, swing voters won’t know whether ObamaCare is good or bad or whether what’s bad about health care is due to ObamaCare or just the general screwed-up system we have.
 
Something else will happen. Crisis in Ukraine? Republican overreach? Another X Factor? ObamaCare is already baked into this cake. November is seven months away. We’ve got a long way to go.

 

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04
A year ago when my health insurance went up I grumbled and blamed Blue Cross. Then, this year, my new bill arrived and the premium went up again even more. But this time I didn’t blame Blue Cross. I laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of one man: Barack Obama.
 
In bygone days, when George Bush wanted to invade Iraq Colin Powell warned, Sure, you can whip Iraq, but that’s not the problem – the problem is after you whip Iraq you own it. What happens then?
 
Back in 2009, someone should have warned President Obama, Sure, you can pass Obamacare, but the problem is after you do you ‘own’ healthcare – every premium increase is going to be your premium increase.  
 
The President moved heaven and earth and won but now, five years later, it hasn’t turned out the way he expected: Every time a premium goes up he gets blamed. Which proves the old proverb, Be careful what you wish for…

 

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03
Carter said a “celebrity” campaign was different. Now I get it. Working with Clay Aiken is unlike any campaign I’ve seen.
 
Aiken starts with the most valuable quality a candidate can have today. He is a genuine political outsider in a time when voters are disgusted with politics. And he has near-universal name recognition. He doesn’t have to buy that on TV.
 
His challenge as a candidate is – or, was – different. Call it the WTF Factor. As in “Clay Aiken for Congress? WTF?” People know who he is, but is he qualified?
 
Aiken put that to rest in his five-minute announcement video. It has been viewed more than 600,000 times. Then he walked a gauntlet of interviews in the state and national media. When people hear him and talk to him, they realize he knows the district, knows the issues and knows what people are going through.
 
Now he’s on a roll. People react to him like to no other politician. I saw it last weekend at the College Dems/Young Dems convention and at Lillian’s List this week. The room buzzes when he comes in. People watch him. They take his measure. They want to take pictures with him.
 
Aiken seizes that moment. He takes their cell phone and snaps a selfie with them. Now, “#selfieswithclay” is a thing.
 
All this explains why he has a 20-point lead in the Democratic primary. And why the DCCC has put this race on the radar. And why Renee Ellmers suddenly looks spooked.

 

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01
A doctor is a simple creature. He measures achievement by a straightforward standard – the Hippocratic Oath.
 
A businessman also measures success by a simple standard – money, income and outgo.
 
But a bureaucrat has the misfortune of breathing and walking in the murky world of insider politics. Which is like no other world on earth.
 
Take Medicaid.
 
State Bureaucrats who work for state government run the program, but Washington pays most (roughly 2/3rds) of the bills. 
 
And, awhile back, some well-intentioned soul, I guess in Congress, decided if the bureaucrats in Raleigh mismanaged Medicaid and wasted Washington’s money the state should pay the money back. 
 
Which sounded fine.  It sounded like ‘accountability’ in the normal world.
 
But, in politics, ‘accountability’ led to an unintended consequence. 
 
The other day the News & Observer reported the State Auditor had reviewed a sample of 280 Medicaid claims and found $439,000 in overpayments.
 
That doesn’t sound too bad – but, in fact, last year the state paid 88 million Medicaid claims. So if an audit of 280 claims turned up $440,000 in waste – what on earth would an audit of all the claims turn up?
 
The answer is no one has a clue. Not the State Auditor. Or the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Or the Governor. 
 
And there’s a simple reason why:  That well-intended law someone in Washington passed years ago.
 
Follow the math.
 
If an audit (of the entire Medicaid program) found, say, $500 million in waste the state would be out its third of the money – $167,000 million. And it’d probably never see that money again.
 
But, in addition, the state would have to repay Washington for its 2/3rds of the money – $333 million.
 
So, in all, the state’s out a total of $500 million.
 
On the other hand, if the state does nothing, and doesn’t look for any waste, it doesn’t have to repay Washington a penny. It’s still out $167 million. But that beats being out $500 million. And that’s where the law of unintended consequences comes into play.
 
Naturally, no bureaucrat in state government is set on rooting out the waste in Medicaid.

 

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01
It’s amazing how fast politicians go from being all for openness and transparency to all-out for keeping public information from the public.
 
Take the Republican legislators’ fight to keep secret their emails about redistricting. Hmmm, wonder what they might be hiding there?
 
Then take DENR. Last Friday at about 5 pm, the department dumped 900 files and 13,000 pages of records about coal ash. Hmmm. (For the uninitiated, a 5 pm Friday document dump is the classic PR strategy for hiding something.)
 
Then, the DENR website promptly crashed. Hmmm. I’m still waiting for Republicans to howl about that like they did yesterday when the Affordable Care Act website crashed with heavy sign-up traffic.
 
But there’s a problem with that old PR strategy in a new digital media world. Now everybody, not just a few overworked reporters and researchers, can search the documents and find out what the politicians and bureaucrats are hiding.
 
WRAL provided a helpful link where you can do your own investigating. Have at it here.

 

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31
I don’t know why but I’ve become absorbed by the machinations of bureaucrats – it’s a bit like watching Alice in Wonderland: Down is up, and up is down.
 
Take hard work.
 
Businessmen work hard to get ahead.
 
Students work hard for better grades.
 
But who joins a bureaucracy to work hard?
 
The most prominent bureaucracies in North Carolina are the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. DHHS has the most problems. Because it’s biggest. But lately, with the Duke coal ash spill, DENR’s been in the most trouble.
 
For several years, on behalf of a client, I’ve been studying how DENR works with corporations (in this case Alcoa) and it’s not as dull as it sounds.
 
DENR’s supposed to protect the environment but how the bureaucrats go about it depends on their individual wants and needs which brings us back to hard work.
 
The bureaucrats, basically, don’t go out and find pollution. Instead they tell a corporation like Alcoa or Duke Power, File a report, tell us if you’ve polluted, and what you’re doing about it.
 
The corporation hires lawyers who file hundreds or thousands of pages of reports that primarily say, We haven’t polluted very much and none of the pollution is a threat to anyone, so we simply propose to monitor it.
 
After that, corporate lawyers go on filing reports for years saying, We’re still monitoring – and DENR bureaucrats stamp the reports and file them and that’s it.
 
No one breaks a sweat.
 
Of course, sometimes, an unfortunate bureaucrat runs into a trickier problem.
 
A couple of years ago a group of corporations who own dams on rivers had to renew their ‘State Water Quality Certificates,’ so they all got together with the bureaucrats at DENR and more or less said, Let’s all agree this isn’t going to be a hardship for anyone.
 
That was civil enough but the bureaucrats looking at the businessmen, right off, spotted an unspoken undercurrent. Duke Energy and Progress Energy had plenty of friends in places like the Governor’s office and the legislature and, of course, no bureaucrat in his right mind wants to get on the wrong side of a powerful politician – everyone of those corporations got their ‘Water Quality Certificate.’
 
And that’s, more or less, how DENR’s worked for years.
 
The bureaucrats survived peacefully by not offending powerful politicians and, beyond that, avoided over-exertion. It all worked out happily until, as almost always happens, there was a day of reckoning.
 
The coal ash spill.
 
Suddenly the bureaucrats found themselves being slammed in newspapers and on the six o’clock news and found themselves answering awkward questions at press conferences. They were in a media maelstrom.
 
Then a worse blow fell: Subpoenas started arriving on their desks from the U.S. Attorney.  
And, in all likelihood, an even worse blow is in the works: The politicians, who they’ve been accommodating for years, are going to say, Don’t blame us. If the bureaucrats had done their job we wouldn’t have had a spill.

 

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31
“A change is coming, and it’s blue.” That’s the conclusion of an op-ed that looked at why more young Americans are voting Democratic. And it was my conclusion after several hours at the College Democrats/Young Democrats convention in Greenville Saturday.
 
I found an impressive group of smart, dedicated and determined Democrats who are getting involved and leading now. I left with a new optimism about the future.
 
The op-ed is by Charles Blow in The New York Times, who wrote about two Gallup reports: “U.S. Seniors Have Realigned With the Republican Party” and “Young Americans’ Affinity for Democratic Party Has Grown.”
 
Blow wrote, “Part of the reason for the Democratic swing among young people is the incredible diversity of the group. Gallup estimates that 45 percent of Americans 18-29 are nonwhite. But that doesn’t account for all of the change”
 
Gallup noted, “Young adults are not more Democratic solely because they are more racially diverse. In recent years, young white adults, who previously aligned more with the Republican Party, have shifted Democratic. From 1995 to 2005, young whites consistently identified as or leaned Republican rather than Democratic, by an average of 8 points. Since 2006, whites aged 18 to 29 have shown at least a slight Democratic preference in all but one year, with an average advantage of 3 points.”
 
In other words, time is not on the Republicans’ side. As Blow wrote, “The wave of demographic change and the liberal leaning of the young can’t be held back indefinitely through obstruction and aggression.” In fact, GOP voter suppression – along with policies like gay-bashing, immigrant-bashing, minority-bashing, climate change-bashing, teacher-bashing, etc. – only accelerates and hardens young Americans’ attitudes.
 
Then mix in the rising cadre of young leaders I met this weekend. So I tell my aging but young-at-heart Democratic peers: Don’t despair. Get busy making way for and mentoring this new generation. They’re going to save our state.

 

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