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26
Charlotte minister Mark Harris, who’s running for Senate, hit a rough patch when he released a poll showing him trailing Thom Tillis by 11 points – an inconvenient fact his political aide, Tom Perdue, brushed aside by saying, “The fact that we are down actually means we are way up.”
 
Saying down is up may sound odd, but in politics, when the news is bad, spreading a little confusion can’t make it worse and may make it better.
 
Of course, Harris also had a subtler reason for releasing his poll.  He’d asked voters a series of questions about Thom Tillis’ ‘foibles’ like the “sex scandal”  in Tillis’ office (when his Chief of Staff had an affair with a lobbyist) and Tillis appointing his donors to the UNC Board. Then Harris had asked voters a second time whether they’d vote for him or Tillis.
 
Naturally, Harris’ prospects brightened:  For one moment, at least in that poll, he was soaring with the wind beneath his wings.
 
But then the ground shifted beneath his feet: The press had spotted a peculiar number in the poll – according to Harris, 12% of the folks who vote in Republican primaries are African-Americans and that’s never (or, at least, never in memory) happened. 
 
The Reverend had polled the wrong people.
 
It was a tough day for Mark Harris but look on the bright side: There’re better ways to run for office. He doesn’t have to learn one mistake at a time.

 

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25
You couldn’t design a more perfect Democratic candidate for Wake County in 2014 than Sarah Crawford. Proven success in a professional career and in community service – check. Attended public schools and college here – check. Young mother with children in public schools – check. Energy, smarts, savvy and a fiendishly hard worker – check, check, check and check.
 
Crawford is as in tune with her district (Senate 18 – Franklin and eastern Wake) as incumbent Chad Barefoot is out. Barefoot’s anti-education, party-line voting record in an unpopular legislature is poison in a moderate swing district.
 
The NC Free Enterprise Foundation rates the race as one of the three most competitive Senate seats this year. Crawford will give Barefoot fits.
 
I admit to bias, but only because I’ve seen Crawford at work. We met a year ago, when we were thrown together in a fast-moving effort to launch the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation. Crawford,, who works in nonprofit development and public relations, was one of the main fundraisers, and she was a major reason the foundation raised more than $200,000 in just six months.
 
Sarah is one of the all-star candidates in Wake County who could ignite a Democratic comeback this year. The others are Gale Adcock (House 41), Kim Hanchette (House 49) and former Mayor Tom Bradshaw (Senate 15).
 
As John (Locke) Hood noted in his column a while back, “for Democrats, Wake County is probably their best potential investment of time and resources in 2014….Democrats have gotten their Wake-up call.”
 

 

 

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24
Duke Energy and Duke basketball had a bad March. Duke basketball probably will come back sooner than Duke Energy.
 
Duke Energy knows it has a problem. The utility took out full-page newspaper ads Sunday – the classic corporate PR response.
 
It was a waste of money.
 
A paid ad persuades no one when the front pages are dominated by one story after another about the Dan River spill, the resulting environmental damage and the Duke-DENR relationship.
 
One sentence in Duke’s ad betrayed the company’s dilemma: “Each ash basin site is unique and will require complex measures that will take time.”
 
“Take time.” In other words, Duke is going to be on the hot seat for a long time. So is Governor McCrory, a 29-year Duke employee, no matter how hard he tries now to distance himself.
 
The best PR strategy for Duke in today’s skeptical, social-media world isn’t a letter from the CEO. It’s for the CEO to hold an in-depth session with reporters where she answers every question, no holds barred. That’s what GM’s CEO did to respond to the auto-maker’s recall debacle.
 
People know that mistakes happen. They need to know why this happened and what Duke is going to do now.
 
They don’t want a CYA letter signed by a faceless executive. They want to see and hear a real person. They want someone to take responsibility for what went wrong – and responsibility for making it right.

 

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20
A federal criminal investigation. A massive, destructive spill. Deliberate pumping of bad stuff into water that people drink.
 
Is this a description of the current Duke Energy debacle? Or a preview of hydraulic fracking for natural gas in North Carolina?
 
The Duke mess is a huge – and perhaps fatal – problem for fracking in this state. How can the governor, legislature and regulators can ever assure a skeptical public that fracking will be safe? What rules can they develop to ensure that companies from around the world with sharp drills don’t sacrifice our drinking water in exchange for quick profits?
 
After all, Duke is a mature, North Carolina-based company that used an accepted storage system for coal ash, one that was governed by plenty of rules and regulations. But one stretch of river will never be the same, Duke’s reputation and bank account will be drained before it’s all over, and political careers will suffer collateral damage.
 
We’ve seen the future, and it looks totally fracked up.

 

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19
Maybe it’ll be Charles Meeker. Or Nancy McFarlane. Or one of their successors. Whoever, a mayor of Raleigh will be Governor. And soon.
 
The Raleigh media market is huge, reaching maybe as much as 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote and close to a third of the general election vote.  A mayor who has been visible and successful has a running start.
 
And, mayors can have an image of getting positive things done in a nonpartisan way in what is otherwise a toxic political environment. Meeker can point to the rebirth of Raleigh’s downtown, plus its growth and attractiveness for jobs, investments and new businesses.
 
That contrasts sharply with most of today’s governments, which either don’t work (Washington) or work in a way that angers half the voters (North Carolina).
 
Pat McCrory parlayed being mayor of Charlotte into a can-do image that elected him Governor. Now, of course, he is busy belying that image. But he overcame the “Charlotte myth” – that a Charlotte mayor couldn’t be elected Governor.  Raleigh won’t be far behind. It’s inevitable.
 
As North Carolina becomes a more urbanized state, we will no looker look to rural areas and small towns and cities for our governors, the way we did for generations.
 
You can be sure of one thing Meeker heard on his “listening tour” of the state. People are bound to have said, we’re tired of what politics has become. We want somebody with a quieter, less polarizing voice, a proven leader who can get things done.
 
Now, that’s easier to do in city hall than in the Capitol. But it may be enough to get you to the Capitol.

 

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17
Duke Energy badly fumbled the political/PR ball on the coal-ash spill. Duke should have quickly rolled out a clear plan to clean up the Dan River and to deal with long-term management of ash ponds.
 
All we heard was the CEO saying ratepayers would pay. Politicians filled the void with preaching, posturing and their own policy proposals. Now Duke is floating down the political river taking on water.
 
But let’s be honest here. For the last 40 years, state government – and regulators – tacitly or expressly supported what Duke did. Why? Because it was cheap to use coal to generate electricity. And the ponds were the cheapest way to store the ash. That meant North Carolina could offer cheap, plentiful electricity to industry. Which helped build a booming manufacturing economy – and employ tens of thousands of people.
 
Now the question is what to do with the stuff. The quantity is so enormous and the ash so repugnant that there’s simply nowhere to send it. Even if you could move it, it would be the state’s largest project ever: billions of dollars and a decade or more.
 
There is a parallel to the nation’s storage of nuclear fuel waste. Tens of billions of dollars (ratepayer dollars) were spent on Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. Politicians (Sen. Harry Reid) vetoed Yucca, so the nuclear waste continues to be stored at individual nuclear sites around the country. The billions of dollars were wasted. And nothing was done.
 
Given Duke’s cluelessness and the state of politics today, how do you think this one is going to work out for you?

 

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14
Without Duke Energy, Pat McCrory wouldn’t be Governor. Now, with Duke’s coal-ash spill, he may very well be a one-term Governor.
 
Get some popcorn and get a comfortable chair, because this movie is going to run for a long time. At least through the 2016 election. And it will dominate the rest of McCrory’s time as Governor.
 
He has to be thinking: “The damned pipe has to burst NOW, when I’m Governor?”
 
In all his years at Duke, McCrory probably never visited an ash pond. But he worked there for 29 years. He was an executive there while millions of tons of ash accumulated in Duke’s ponds. His administration made environmental regulatory reform a high-profile issue. Then – BOOM! – an environmental catastrophe hits on his watch.
 
Now he faces an endless reel of front-page stories, revelations about regulatory relationships and demagogic debates over who should pay. (Spoiler alert: In the end, the ratepayers will pay. They always do. No matter what posturing politicians promise.)
 
And then there’s the dead-serious matter of grand jury subpoenas and a federal investigation.
 
McCrory won’t get any cover from Republican legislators. They’ll be happy to throw him in the ash pit to save themselves.
 
That’s why the spill won’t be a deciding issue this year. Every candidate for the legislature will blast Duke and DENR. They’ll promise to get this mess cleaned up and it won’t cost ratepayers a cent. That will put off the day of reckoning to 2016.
 
When McCrory will find out how truly lonely it is at the top.

 

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12
A TAPster reports seeing a State Capitol Police car equipped with a radar gun – miles away from any state government building.
 
Inquiring minds want to know:  Why does the State Capitol Police need a radar gun in one of their cruisers? What possible explanation can there be? Are school children running too fast across the Capitol grounds? Are lawyers heading to the Supreme Court building at a reckless pace? Are the pigeons flying at unsafe speeds? Why do they even need a cruiser, for goodness sakes?

And how many classroom supplies could be purchased for the cost of a wasteful radar gun?

 

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11
Governor McCrory may have coal ash on his hands, but I bet most voters have education on their minds. So, does focusing on the Dan River disaster distract Democrats from a stronger issue?
 
The spill is a tempting target. There’s the McCrory-Duke tie. You can tell the Governor is sensitive about it. When he says we should “keep the politics out,” that’s code for: This will hurt me politically.
 
Then the N&O reported: “McCrory seemed miffed that he is receiving a good bit of the scrutiny because of his three-decade tenure at Duke Energy.” He said, “It’s as though I actually went there with a shovel. I’m waiting for that accusation.”
 
Then there’s DENR’s emphasis on being “customer friendly” to companies like Duke.
 
Then Duke’s CEO picks the worst possible time to say that customers will pay for the cleanup.
 
But the Elon Poll noted this week that, even after the flood (so to speak) of coverage, 64 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters “said they had heard little or nothing about the spill.”
 
Remember: Real people aren’t nearly as consumed with these things as we junkies are.
 
But education is different. Voters are paying a lot of attention to that. They know what the Republicans have done, and they don’t like it.
 
That’s why McCrory was backing away from his record on education even faster than from Duke. He admitted that the misnamed “teacher tenure law” needs to be changed. And Rep. Chuck McGrady admits that legislators are getting an earful about education at home.
 
The coal ash story will play out for a long time. Give that fish some line. And keep reeling in education.
 
 

 

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10
It’s tough to stay a step ahead of a smart bureaucrat.   
 
About a week ago I wrote an article explaining how what a bureaucrat wants (for himself) and what’s best for public education isn’t always the same thing – and used Senator Phil Berger’s ‘Read to Achieve’ bill as an example.
 
What Senator Berger wanted was to teach third graders to read – so he passed a bill to end social promotions, saying a third grader had to learn to read before being promoted to fourth grade. Which sounded simple. But didn’t sit too well with the bureaucrats who run education. 
 
Because what bureaucrats love is job security – which means they avoid making controversial decisions like the plague.  And Senator Berger’s bill said one thing loud and clear: They were going to have to make a lot of tough decisions – like making third graders attend summer reading boot camps.
 
Well, the bureaucrats side-stepped the whole problem.   It was sheer brilliance.  They couldn’t repeal Senator Berger’s law – so they gutted it. By simply making the tests easier.
 
As a result, overnight, 11,000 third graders – who couldn’t read under the old standard – can now read!
 
Tammy Howard, the head of testing at the Department of Public Instruction, even told newspaper reporters with a straight face “This is not lowering standards.
 
Of course, that’s a non-sequitur. But, still, it’s worth remembering the next time the bureaucrats at DPI troop over to the legislature asking for more money.

 

 

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