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31
Shades of John Edwards and “Two Americas!” The state Senate seemed to channel the former Senator in the debate over how to help the state’s stagnating rural areas keep up with booming urban areas.
 
One Senator said we need to “level the playing field.”
 
There is a political angle to this, of course. Republicans tend to live in rural areas and Democrats tend to live in urban areas. This is not a trend Republicans want to see go on. It is a serious threat to their majority.
 
Beyond the politics lies a serious policy issue. Since the 1960s, as we moved from an economy built on farms and small factories to an economic built on science and technology, North Carolinians have tried to arrest the decline of rural areas. We’ve had Rural Economic Development Centers, Rural Prosperity Task Forces and a host of rural economic initiatives.
 
Notwithstanding all these studies and policy recommendations, people keep moving away from rural areas in droves and cities like Raleigh keep booming.
 
So the theory seems to be that, if the legislature makes it harder for cities to raise revenue to pay for both schools and transit, Company A will decide to locate in Onslow County rather than Wake County. Or will Company A instead go to Austin, Texas?
 
Recently Governor McCrory has announced a slew new companies coming to the state. Many of them are in Charlotte, where he and Speaker Tillis are from. That’s one of their differences with Senator Berger, a product of small-town North Carolina.
 
The unavoidable issue here is that bright young people today like urban living. They want to walk to work, stop a coffeehouse on the way and then meet their friends after hours in a downtown bar or restaurant. See downtown Raleigh any day after 5 p.m. 
 
Now, you might think that free-market conservatives would say this is the Invisible Hand at work and government shouldn’t interfere. But sometimes in politics you have to rise above principle.

 

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30
A suspicious-minded sort at breakfast wondered if there was more than coincidence behind these two stories running the same day: “N.C. voters want stronger actions from lawmakers on coal” (Weekly Independent) and “Duke deal could lower power bills in eastern NC towns” (WRAL-TV).
 
No doubt the ElectriCities deal has been in the works for a long time, long before the coal ash spill and the subsequent political spillover.
 
But the Suspicious Mind asked: “With Duke under fire from every politician you see and with the U.S. Attorney issuing subpoenas in every direction, don’t you suppose Duke needs all the friends and allies can get right now?”

 

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29
Democrats and progressives routinely decry Big Outside Money (BOM). Maybe they should recalculate. BOM has fundamentally reshaped the U.S. Senate race – in favor of Senator Hagan and against Speaker Tillis.
 
A flood of ads sponsored by pro-Hagan groups like the Senate Majority PAC have painted Tillis as the friend of CEOs, yacht-owners and polluters and the dedicated foe of the environment, education and schoolchildren everywhere. Polls show Hagan opening up a measurable lead in what inevitably will be a tight race.
 
Conventional wisdom is that Tillis has been hurt by the long legislative session. Don’t believe it. Voters aren’t following what is happening at the legislature. Here’s a political rule of thumb that will always serve you well: Voters are paying a lot less attention than you think. And they’re paying a hell of a lot less attention than you are.
 
No, the changed race is a function of the information that voters are getting on TV. And what’s happening on TV in the Senate race this summer should be a lesson to Democrats: (1) This is a big, rich country. (2) There are a lot of rich people who have Democratic views and values. (3) There is enough of that money to beat the Republicans at the game they invented.
 
There was a time when Republicans confidently thought Obamacare would carry them to an easy victory in November. They need to recalculate too.

 

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28

After President Obama bombed Libya into submission I wouldn’t have expected to hear anyone calling him an isolationist but according to Dick Cheney that’s exactly what he is.

John McCain’s not exactly happy with the President either; he’s upset with Obama for not doing more in the Ukraine.

But the isolationist who’s done the most to rile what we’ll call the ‘International’ wing of the Grand Old Party up in arms isn’t Obama – it’s Rand Paul, who got taken to the woodshed by Rick Perry after saying he had his doubts about sending his son (or anyone else’s) back to Iraq.

After a decade of wars with unhappy endings a little peace and quiet seems like a relief but, then again, Cheney says if we don’t straighten out the mess in Iraq we’ll have terrorists landing on our doorstep and McCain adds that Putin’s such a varmint if we don’t tie a knot in his tail right now in the Ukraine there’ll be hell to pay.

It’s all troubling and eerily familiar.

A decade ago when Cheney and company believed we should invade Iraq they said Saddam Hussein was such a villain we had no choice but when the smoke cleared it turned out it was something they hadn’t said that mattered: They’d promised victory would be easy and swift, that we’d whip Saddam with 150,000 men and a few smart bombs and barely break a sweat. General Colin Powel warned them that, yes, we would whip Saddam’s army but after we’d conquered Iraq we’d own it (and 30 million quarrelsome Iraqis) and then 150,000 men wouldn’t be enough.

It wasn’t.

Fast forward a decade and now we’ve got many of the same folks arguing we have to save the rebels in Syria and stop the rebels in Iraq and put the kibosh on Putin but whipping Putin’s going to be a lot tougher proposition than whipping Saddam Hussein – so next time a politician starts talking about anything like sending in the Marines and promises, This will barely hurt at all, let’s run the scoundrel out of town on a rail before he does any real harm.

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24
It’s an argument I’ve heard for 40 years: “Southern Democrats, meet your future: No more Republican lite.”
 
That’s the headline on a recent article by Bob Moser, Senior Editor at the National Journal. He wrote, “Candidates like (Kay) Hagan are stuck between the past, when Southern Democrats’ recipe for victory involved courting white moderates and conservatives, and a future in which they’ll be able to successfully campaign as full-throated, national-style Democrats.”
 
Call me a curmudgeon. But put me down as skeptical. As much as my heart wants to believe it, my head and my gut tell me that is no better advice today than it was 10, 20 or 40 years ago.
 
It gains credence because Obama carried North Carolina in 2008 and narrowly lost it in 2012. But his candidacy was an outlier, fueled by the history-making opportunity to elect and reelect an African-American President. Also, Obama, as candidate and President, hasn’t always been a “full-throated” liberal.
 
North Carolina remains a moderate and, yes, even conservative state. No, Democrats will not get many, if any, votes from conservative whites. But they need votes with people who have some moderate and even conservative parts in their political makeup.
 
North Carolina’s electorate today is nearly equally divided between natives and newcomers. Natives, no matter how liberal on some issues, still can be conservative on issues like spending and the role of government and sometimes on social issues.  They’re for Good Government, but not necessarily always Big Government. Newcomers are generally liberal on social issues and human issues like education and health care. But they too bring a healthy skepticism about government and all big institutions.
 
Most telling: If people really loved “full-throated, national-style Democrats,” wouldn’t they register that way? They don’t. They register as Independents, even voters who registered just so they could vote for Obama.
 
Maybe you wish it wasn’t true. But wishing doesn’t make it true.

 

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24
It sure looks, Richard said politely, like John Boehner could have found something else to sue President Obama over.
 
Fifty-four times John Boehner and the Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare so it seemed odd to Richard, a retired businessman, that Boehner was about to sue Obama for not enforcing the Obamacare Employer Mandate.
 
It didn’t strike Mike, who’s thirty years younger than Richard and a Republican with a unique talent for seeing one side of every issue, as odd at all: He said. What’s wrong with that?  The President should enforce the laws that are on the books – even the bad ones.
 
Vic, who like Mike, has a talent for seeing one side of every issue (only from the opposite direction) said, Think of the ads we Democrats can run: Republicans say Obamacare is bad. But they’re suing Obama for not enforcing Obamacare; Mike snorted, That’s about what I’d expect, and Vic grunted, There’s as much truth in that as saying ‘Robin Hudson sided with child molesters.’
 
Welcome to a modern political debate.
 

 

 

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24
President Obama has taken to slipping the surly bonds of office, going out to Starbucks for a coffee, asking friends to set up late dinners with interesting, intellectually stimulating people (as opposed to the people he deals with in Washington, presumably). When he escapes, he jokes that “The bear is loose.”
 
Surely, Presidents deserve a break. But Obama somehow sends out a vibe that he can’t wait to leave the Presidency for good, that he is at wits’ end having to deal with the John Boehners and Mitch McConnells. (Remember his classic response to the suggestion that he sit down for a drink with McConnell: “Really? Why don’t you have a drink with Mitch McConnell?”)

We feel his pain, but …
 
Which brings us to the President who is the yin to Obama’s yang, his sometime ally and one-time antagonist and the looming figure who threatens to overshadow his Presidency – Bill Clinton.
 
You never thought Clinton was ready to leave the Oval Office or give up the combat, the challenges and the sheer high-stakes chaos of politics at the most stratospheric, oxygen-deprived, death-defying levels. He practically had to be dragged out of the office in 2001, spraying pardon-bombs on his way out the door.
 
Obama is more like George W. Bush, who seems deliriously happy to be away from the cares of office and free to pick up a golf club or paint brush.
 
Again, it’s understandable, but …
 
We want our Presidents to enjoy the job. We feel unsettled when a chief executive constantly reminds us of how difficult, lonely and miserable it can be at the top. We want to say: Stop whining! We don’t care! You wanted the job, and we gave it to you. Do it. And look like you’re enjoying it.
 
In a world that seems so complicated and dangerous – think Ukraine, Gaza Strip and child immigrants at the border – we feel better if we feel like the job isn’t too big for the President.
 
Somehow it all reminded me of the difference between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at the Open last weekend. Last week, and even back when Tiger was winning, he never seemed to be having fun. Certainly last week, but also even when Rory is losing, he seems to be having fun.
 
It also recalls Obama’s listless, lackluster performance at his first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012. He seemed disengaged and disinterested. And that discourages no one more than his supporters.
 
Go to Starbucks, Mr. President. Have a stimulating, pleasant dinner. Get away from the responsibilities every now and then. But then get back to work, and have fun. We’ll all feel a lot better.

 

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23
Here’s another example of how two different journals this week reported on the same political story:
 
“Goodbye to the GOP wave?” The New York Times.
 
“Odds of a GOP Wave Are Increasing” The National Journal.

 

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23
As soon as Conor the Jessecrat sat down at our regular political dinner he unfolded a newspaper, pointed, and said, There’s a headline to strike terror in every Congressman’s heart.
I read ‘Judge Orders Districts Redrawn’ and thought about the half-a-dozen lawsuits in North Carolina about redistricting but it turned out this lawsuit was in Florida where the state constitution makes it illegal for legislators to gerrymander districts for their political advantage. 
 
Mike, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican lawyer, shrugged and said, a Well, there’s no such provision in our state constitution, and Conor nodded and said, But there’slways a reckoning: What are you Republicans going to do if Dan Blue introduces the same law here – vote against  ‘fair districts’ and for gerrymandering?
 
Mike set his lips – then slowly grinned. 
 
Yes, he nodded, in a heartbeat.

 

 

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22
Art Pope’s critics often accuse him of “buying the State of North Carolina.” If he did, he got it cheap.
 
The Washington Post this weekend published its obligatory profile about the mild-mannered retail magnate who became the Superman ruling over North Carolina’s budget, politics and university system.
 
Two numbers catch your eye.
 
First, the story reported that “Pope’s family foundation has put more than $55 million into a robust network of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, building a state version of what his friends Charles and David Koch have helped create on a national level.” That money was spent, the story said, over a “quarter-century.”
 
Let’s see, $55 million over 25 years. That works out to $2.2 million a year.
 
But that investment – or purchase – didn’t pay off until the 2010 and 2012 elections, when Republicans took control of the General Assembly and Governor’s Office.
 
Enter the second number: “Pope and his family played a significant role, donating more than $500,000 to state candidates and party committees in 2010 and 2012, according to an analysis of state campaign finance data by the Institute for Southern Studies, a liberal research group. His company, Variety Wholesalers, gave almost $1 million more to outside groups that ran independent campaigns.”
 
So let’s get this straight. Pope & Co. spent just over $2 million a year for over 25 years, with no real impact. Then they spent $1.5 million over two election cycles to achieve their long-term goal of world (or, least, state) domination.
 
Now, when you think of someone “buying” North Carolina, you think billions of dollars. After all, this is North Carolina! But that’s all, a measly of measly million dollars a year? Not to mention the considerable help of a favorable national political climate in 2010 and Governor Perdue’s late decision not to run in 2012?
 
If that’s the case, there are a bunch of people around who can “buy back” North Carolina. Which leads us to the question: “Where is the Democrats’ Art Pope?”

 

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