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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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07
This tribute was penned by Gene Upchurch, a veteran executive and lobbyist for CP&L and Progress Energy:
 
“For those of us who have toiled in the Raleigh political gig the last 30 years, Martin Nesbitt has always been there. Love him or hate him, agree or disagree, he was there, usually bigger than life. Impossible to miss. Impossible to misinterpret.
 
“He was a large man with a large, imposing personality. He was equal parts populism, pragmatism and grit. When he made up his mind, it was made up and could not be changed. You always knew where you stood with him whether you liked it or not. But at least you knew.
 
“People thought he loved politics, but his true love was the mountains and the simple, everyday people who lived there.
 
“I worked with him for several years on the Clean Smokestacks Act in the early 2000s. After the bill passed, it was many years before I understood his motivation wasn’t to beat up the electric utilities or kowtow to the environmentalists. Instead, he wanted to help mountain folks who thought their trees were dying from pollution drifting in from other states. He believed North Carolina couldn’t badger other states to clean their emissions if we weren’t doing something to clean ours. So, he patiently brokered a solution that took about four years but got the job done. In the end, his people were better off.
 
“He spent thousands of exhausting hours traveling to and from Raleigh, a testament to his commitment to take the mountain voices to the legislature. I remember so vividly the emotion in his voice and in the voice of his carpool buddy Senator Bob Swain when they talked about driving home from Raleigh, rounding a curve on I-40 and catching the first glimpse of their beloved mountains in the smoky distance.
 
“Nesbitt made his last trip to those mountains Wednesday, and it’s really difficult to imagine Raleigh without him.”

 

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06
He helped answer two questions that I get a lot: Why are you helping Clay Aiken? And, of course: What’s he like?
 
When Holding said he was considering running against Renee Ellmers in the Republican primary (he didn’t, in the end), he said she “has gone Washington.” He added, “Do not underestimate Clay Aiken. He’s speaking from the heart. If he gets off the ground there is a concern on my side that he could get loose and win that thing.”
 
Bingo, Robert.
 
Aiken is known for his singing voice, but he has a unique political voice. As he showed in his announcement video, he tells his life story in a compelling way, he captures the public’s disgust with Washington dysfunction and he offers a clear and refreshing contrast. And he’s bringing attention to a race that wasn’t on the radar.
 
What’s he like? The first thing people say is: “You’re taller than I expected” (an inch or two over six feet.) He’s genuine, down-to-earth and likeable. Self-assured in the way successful people are, but not cocky. He’s not intimidated by cameras, media scrutiny or the Republican tracker who tapes his every move and utterance. Been there, done that.
 
He’s tougher, smarter and more informed than people expect. He’s a sponge for information and he sets high standards for himself and people around him.
 
He has a genuine distaste for what politics in America has become, just like many voters. And he has an internal compass that steers him clear of politics-as-usual. He’s a welcome contrast to a cynical, power-hungry, money-obsessed political world.
 
And his campaign is attracting smart, idealistic and committed young people. That’s good for the Democratic Party.
 

 

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05
These days just about every politician in Raleigh is saying (as often as he can) how he wants to spend more money on schools and give teachers raises. 
 
But what if the root of the problem with schools isn’t money. 
 
This is a bit simple but the prime movers in public education are: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Teachers Union. 
 
Now, the politicians have so many problems on their hands – budgets, Medicaid, Obamacare, and coal ash spills – that education only gets a piece of their time. 
 
A politician’s also got to fret over getting reelected, so if giving public school teachers tenure is popular he’s likely to be for it regardless of whether it’s good or bad education policy. 
 
On the other hand, bureaucrats in Raleigh and at local school boards work on running education day in and day out. And the teachers union wouldn’t even exist if there weren’t public schools.
 
Now, like most groups, bureaucrats have their own goals. A bureaucrat aims to keep his job, earn a comfortable wage, receive a raise or promotion now and then, and retire with a state pension.  A bureaucrat does not like making decisions.  Making decisions can cause controversy.  Which gives birth to risk. Which can land a bureaucrat in the soup.
 
The teachers union also has its own goals:  The union has members. And it wants to get them raises. Now, raises for teachers sounds fine but it turns out there’s a glitch there too. 
 
Republican legislators support ‘Merit Pay’ – a plan that pays good teachers more than not-so-good teachers. That sounds fine too.  But it doesn’t fit in with the teachers unions’ goal. Because poor teachers pay the union dues just like good teachers do .
 
Not long ago the State Legislature passed a bill so every local school board could give 25% of its teachers – the best teachers – bonuses.
 
You might think that would have been greeted with joy – but, instead it was greeted with horror.
 
Suddenly education bureaucrats were faced with making thousands of decisions – they had to choose who were the best teachers. And making those decisions didn’t appeal to them at all. It was going to be controversial.  And risk was sure to follow.
  
The teachers union wasn’t happy either.  Some of its members – the best teachers who got bonuses – would be happy.  But 75% of its members were going to be unhappy and the union couldn’t very well support a plan that left most of its members mad.
 
Awhile back Senate Leader Phil Berger passed a bill that said third graders had to learn to read before they could be promoted to fourth grade.  He also provided funds to help students who were struggling and, to insure flexibility, he left implementing the plan to local school boards. 
 
Again, the bureaucrats reacted with horror.
 
Deciding whether 3rd graders could read properly entailed more decisions and this time those decisions were bound to make parents unhappy.  
 
The local bureaucrats bucked the plan up to the state bureaucrats (at the Department of Public Instruction) who twisted and turned and created a plan so unwieldy that, when their first battery of tests landed on 3rd graders heads with a thud, parents’ screams could be heard all the way to Raleigh. 
 
The Superintendent of Public Instruction got so rattled she announced Senator Berger had made a terrible mistake and declared 3rd graders should be promoted whether they could read or not.
 
So it looks like – to improve schools – we’ve got to get the bureaucrats and unions out of the business of deciding policy – because their goals and what’s best for schools are two different things. 
 
Otherwise, we’ll simply end up running in circles.

 

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05
When every politician in Washington sounds like a robot reciting a predictable party line, Rand Paul sounds like a man who actually thinks. Sometimes he sounds sounds nutty and sometimes he makes sense, but he’s worth watching – and listening to.
 
Paul first caught my attention when he filibustered against drones, denounced the NSA and defended super-leaker Edward Snowden. Recently, unlike every other weasel-livered Republican, he denounced Ted Nugent, the off-his-rocker rocker, for calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” Then Paul turned around and called President Clinton a “sexual predator.”
 
Just this week, he didn’t echo his fellow Republicans’ empty tough talk about what Obama should do to Putin and Russia. Essentially, Rand said, what Russia does in Ukraine isn’t our business, and what the hell would we do anyway? Send in troops? Plus, how do we criticize Russia for unilateral military action after we invaded Iraq?
 
Now Paul has joined with Attorney General Eric Holder to push back against extreme drug-sentencing laws that fill prisons with offenders who might be better dealt with somewhere else. He has even said convicted non-violent drug felons should be able to regain the right to vote.
 
With all this, it’s hard to see how Paul becomes the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. But it’s good to see one politician in Washington who’s not afraid to break ranks with party. And it’s refreshing to hear a politician, especially a Republican, who is thinking.

 

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04
Three eye-catching and eye-popping numbers jumped out of the paper lately – numbers that truly tell a story.
 
990. That’s how many dollars an hour the latest expert is being paid to give us the latest “final” report on the UNC academic/athletics scandal. What would it cost UNC to just ask The News & Observer what its investigative reporters found? They seem to have turned up most of the facts, and they probably make less than $990 an hour.
 
$310,000. That’s what DHHS paid a consultant for less than 11 months of work. His assignment, of course, was to show the state how to save money. 
 
132: That’s how many of the 170 seats in the General Assembly are regarded as certain to elect either a Democrat or Republican in November. That’s more than 77 percent. In other words, only one-fourth of the state’s voters get a choice.

 

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03
The other day I was feeling a little down and blue about Republicans’ foibles then thanks to Democratic Chairman Randy Vollmer the sun broke through the clouds.
 
Awhile back, the Democratic Party had to replace its Executive Director after he was accused of sexual harassment. Last week, Chairman Randy Vollmer fired the replacement and offered the job to a gentleman who’s been accused of sexual harassment not once but twice.
 
Mr. Vollmer’s choice, Ben Chavis, settled the first sexual harassment case while serving as Executive Director of the NAACP; he settled a second case, later, while serving as a Nation of Islam minister at a New York mosque.
 
Of course, the more astute Democrats saw right off Vollmer was on the wrong track – but they were rebuffed by a broadside claiming they were ‘disrespecting’ Ben Chavis’ Civil Rights legacy – which usually trumps anything in Democratic Party politics. But not this time. Wiser heads scuttled Vollmer’s choice and, in the end, all the Chairman accomplished was proving an old bit of political folk wisdom:  No matter how many mistakes Republicans make, if we just have a little patience, the Democrats will screw up worse.

 

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03
Business and industry got exactly what they wanted when Governor McCrory and DENR Secretary John Skvarla took office. Then they got exactly what they didn’t need when Duke’s coal ash spilled into the Dan River.
 
Suddenly, “customer friendly” sounds like “polluter friendly.” The U.S. Attorney raises the threat of criminal indictments. And The New York Times unearths this episode: A DENR official telling employees in charge of stopping water pollution:  “The General Assembly doesn’t like you. They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message….If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”
 
Now, you wonder who is going to be gone. And where this will all end.
 
Now, environmental issues are odd political animals. They have a passionate, but relatively small, constituency. On most polls, they rank down the list of priorities. But that changes when people hear that poison is being dumped in rivers where they fish, boat and get their drinking water. The environment goes from zero to 90 overnight.
 
Governor McCrory is scrambling to get in front of this. He knows he can’t afford another department in scandal, on top of DHHS. But the water is, as they say, under the bridge. Now we see who drowns. And DENR may learn who the ultimate customers are: the citizens and taxpayers.

 

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28
The other day when one of the bureaucrats over at the Department of Health and Human Services slipped up and made a mistake, the blame landed squarely on Secretary Aldona Wos’ shoulders. And Wos landed back on the front page of the newspaper again.
 
Secretary Wos had a tough year. And Governor McCrory ought to cut her a break. She’s suffered enough.   Out of old-fashioned kindness the Governor ought to give her his blessing to return home to the happy life she led before she accepted the worst job in North Carolina.
 
Then, when he replaces her, the Governor ought to pick the person he likes least on earth – and allow them the pleasure of heading the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

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