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North Carolina - Democrats

20
As much as I respect Rob Christensen and the political experts he talked with in today’s column, I disagree with their conclusion that the money spent in the U.S. Senate race has had “little effect.”
 
In fact, I think the ads by Senator Hagan – and on her behalf – have painted Thom Tillis into a corner that he will have trouble escaping.
 
Granted, the movement is small, because the electorate is so polarized. But the shift is small because the pool of swing voters is small.
 
The ads against Tillis – aided by what is happening in this never-ending legislative session – have successfully linked him with two of the most unpopular groups in politics today: the Tea Party and the legislature. And the damage gets worse every day the legislature stays in town.
 
Nor does it help that Tillis can’t get a bill through his own chamber.
 
Maybe he should try a new message: “I’m a leader in a dysfunctional legislature, so I’ll fit right in in Washington.”

 

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19
Republicans strode up to the plate in Raleigh with big bats and high hopes, then whiffed on three straight pitches.
 
Strike one was teacher pay. Their top goal was to stop the bleeding on education. But their so-called pay raise was so full of holes, questions and confusion that nobody is satisfied, teachers are still mad and voters think the Governor and the legislature are anti-education.
 
Strike two was coal ash. They did nothing on the state’s biggest environmental crisis in decades. Nothing.
 
Strike three belonged to Governor McCrory alone. He stepped up to the plate to be the hero on coal ash after the legislature struck out. But he tied himself in ethical knots by wrongly reporting his Duke stock on his ethics statement.
 
How big a sin is this? Well, look at it this way: If Bev Perdue had done it, the legislature would have impeached her.
 
So McCrory is in hot water, Thom Tillis is lagging behind Senator Hagan, Senator Berger’s son lost his congressional primary and – notwithstanding the advantages of incumbency, fundraising and gerrymandering – Democrats may be looking at a good fall season.

 

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15
Governor McCrory’s blast at The N&O got him another day of the “blaring, top-of-the-fold” headlines he blasted. But this is just the beginning of the Coal Ash Saga. We soon will have a U.S. Attorney’s investigation and a fight over who pays: McCrory’s former boss, Duke Energy, or his current boss, the People of North Carolina.
 
McCrory protested that the N&O’s story Thursday “mischaracterized a misinterpretation of a very convoluted form.” It is not a convoluted form. Look for yourself here. In fact, it is just like your income taxes: You file them by April 15 for the prior year ending December 31.
 
Still, I believe Governor McCrory when he says, in effect, that it was incompetence, rather than a conspiracy. But it is breathtaking incompetence. It is hard to fathom how the Governor of North Carolina and his legal counsel misunderstood the form. Or why somebody on the Governor’s staff didn’t foresee the problem.
 
Here’s what former legislative counsel Gerry Cohen says (and remember, he was honored a couple of weeks ago by members of both parties for his reliability and integrity): “How could Bob Stephens have had a misunderstanding that the date of ownership of the stock was as of April 15, 2014, when the 2013 SEI CLEARLY says on the tip of page 2 that the date of stock ownership was to be as of December 31. Was the mistake that he only read page 1? Or missed the penalties provision at the end of the form, which states that it could be a violation of GS 138A-45? I know that the text of 138A-45 tells you that for a constitutional officer, it is malfeasance and punishable under GS 123-5.”
 
The “misstatement” is a small part of the Governor’s problem. As one TAPster noted, he says he sold the stock NOT because it was the right thing to do, but because his “integrity was being challenged” and he wanted to put “this thing to bed.” In other words, it’s about PR, not integrity.
 
Second, as WRAL reported, “McCrory has steadfastly refused to take a position on whether shareholders or customers should pay for it (the coal ash cleanup), saying that decision should be left up to the state Utilities Commission.”
 
That is a dodge. Democrats in the legislature tried to amend the coal ash bill so the Utilities Commission couldn’t let Duke pass the cleanup costs on to ratepayers. Republicans squashed that, and they will answer for it this fall. And Roy Cooper has taken a position exactly opposite of McCrory’s.
 
Finally, away from the cameras, the federal grand jury investigation rolls on. Wait for those blaring, top-of-the-fold headlines.

 

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14
Well, looking back, it was bound to happen. 
 
First, John Boehner decided to sue Obama for not enforcing the Obamacare laws and most of the House Republicans went along on the theory even if they didn’t like Obamacare the laws are the laws and the President can’t just change one whenever it suits him.
 
Then never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, to turn the tables on Republicans, Obama rolled out a bevy of spokesmen who proclaimed, Boehner’s getting ready to impeach the President, which worked out fine for Obama and brought the Democrats a windfall of cash from agitated Obama supporters.
 
Of course, on the other hand, most people sloughed off the whole brouhaha as just one more example of political foolishness – except for one group of folks who devoutly hoped it was true: The Tea Partiers.
 
To them impeaching Obama sounded just fine. 
 
Next, right in the middle of the impeachment flap, Attorney General Roy Cooper stood up and announced he wasn’t going to lift a finger to fight the federal court ruling that could strike down North Carolina’s gay marriage ban.
 
Amendment One, Cooper said, was kaput.
 
And from there it was inevitable.
 
Impeachment was infectious.
 
So we shouldn’t have been surprised when a State Senator, speaking to his local Tea Party group, announced he wanted to impeach Attorney General Cooper, added the Republican leaders in Raleigh were just the folks to do it, and added the wheels were already in motion.
 
What State Senator Norm Sanderson missed was what struck him – and the Tea Partiers – as a grand idea didn’t look so grand elsewhere; his call to impeach Roy Cooper landed in the News and Observer with a dull, uncomfortable thud and the Senate Republican leadership, sensing a backfire, announced no one, nowhere, no how in the State Senate was planning to impeach Roy Cooper and, suddenly, Senator Sanderson vanished as if he’d been quarantined.

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13
 The other day Gary wrote, “For Democrats this election year, this legislature is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe they’ll stay in session all the way to November” – considering by Speaker Thom Tillis’ announcement the legislature is about to return to town and pass the stuck ‘coal ash’ bill, Gary may get more than he imagined.
 
According to the Speaker, in a compromise the House has agreed to the Senate’s demand that Duke Energy be allowed to petition the Utilities Commission next January to raise electric bills to pay for the coal ash cleanup.
 
In other words, a week after Duke Energy announced $609 million in profits for the last quarter, and less than three months before the election, legislators are going to return to Raleigh to vote to allow Duke Energy to raise electric bills.
  
Duke must have the best lobbyists on earth.
 

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07
It was unusual summer – first Governor McCrory reared back and threw a punch at the old Bull Mooses, then he threw another, and another.
 
Back in May, when he’d sent his budget over to the Senate, the Bull Mooses had unceremoniously dumped it in the waste bin, just as they had the year before, but this time instead of folding his tent the Governor let fly saying even if the Senate Leaders – like Phil Berger and Bob Rucho – were Republicans they sure reminded him of Marc Basnight and Harry Reid.
 
Of course some folks said that sounded like a fit of pique but it’s a cold hard fact most Republican Senators serve in Republican Districts and the most popular Republican in the state calling them Democrats was serious business.
 
Then, in July, as punches were flying and  it looked like the Governor was about to get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T at last, at a press conference a newspaper reporter asked him what troubled him most about this session of the legislature and he said his one disappointment was the Senate hadn’t passed his puppy mill bill.
 
We all love puppies but it was an unfortunate answer.
One minute the Governor was sounding as tough as John Wayne and the next he was sounding like Wally Cox and, sadly, R-E-S-P-E-C-T flew right out the window.

 

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07
Yesterday I quoted at length from Senator Jeff Jackson’s speech on the legislature’s budget process. Today we learn what a prophet “the new kid” was.
 
Jackson said on the floor last week, “Folks, if you weren’t allowed to see this budget until this morning, I don’t see how you can vote on it in good conscience. You can’t possibly know what’s in here.  You can’t possibly know the intended effects of this budget, let alone the unintended effects.”
 
Today we learn that, in fact, they didn’t know what was in the budget. Even some Republican leaders didn’t know. They didn’t know that a major policy change on education spending was slipped secretly into the budget. It means that the state will no longer automatically pay for growth in public school enrollment.
 
Maybe there’s an argument to be made for that change. But it wasn’t made. It wasn’t debated. It wasn’t mentioned, even to members in the majority party.
 
For Democrats this election year, this legislature is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe they’ll stay in session all the way to November.

 

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06
You should read the speech below – or even better, watch the video – (A) if you despair about politics today, (B) if you yearn for a fresh new voice in politics or (C) if you’re a Democrat wondering where the next crop of legislative leaders, Governors and U.S. Senators is coming from.
 
It’s newly appointed Senator Jeff Jackson of Charlotte, a 31-year-old former assistant district attorney who was named to replace Dan Clodfelter in May, speaking on the budget last week.The transcript, edited slightly for length, follows:
 
At 8 a.m. I came into my office and a new budget was on my desk. Now it’s 4 and I’m being asked to vote on it.
 
This is a plan to spend $21 billion of taxpayer money, and no one in the minority party was permitted to see it until this morning.  I suspect there are several members of the majority who weren’t permitted to see it until this morning.  The truth is, only a small handful of people had ever seen this budget before it landed on our desks this morning.
 
Folks, if you weren’t allowed to see this budget until this morning, I don’t see how you can vote on it in good conscience. You can’t possibly know what’s in here.  You can’t possibly know the intended effects of this budget, let alone the unintended effects.
 
Most people don’t know this, but Democrats were completely excluded from the budget-making process. Well, like it or not, we represent millions of North Carolinians. By excluding us, you exclude all of them. You’re telling millions of people that you don’t care what their representative has to say. And at the same exact time, you’re telling those folks to trust your judgment, trust your priorities and trust this budget.
 
What you’re really telling folks is that, when it comes to setting priorities for this state, you don’t need to hear from half its citizens. No negotiation, no give and take, no exchange of ideas, no true competition among ideas, no collaboration, no conversation, no listening to each other, no learning from each other.
 
This isn’t a budget; this is an ultimatum being delivered to millions of people across the state….
 
And I know what you’re going to say. I can see you reaching for the microphones. You’re going to say: the Democrats did it worse. And you’re right, you’re absolutely right. About that historical fact, you’re right. But in carrying on this legacy, you’re wrong. You’ve mislearned all of those lessons. Being in power means having the power to change things for the better. This isn’t just the way it works. This isn’t just the way it’s always worked. It’s wrong. And maybe it takes the new kid to tell you that, but so be it….
 
Let’s call it what it is. This is payback. And payback doesn’t make good policy. Revenge is something we’re supposed to rise above. Our mothers taught us that. If you truly believe in the strength of your ideas, let’s have a real debate. If you truly believe that your vision is the way forward for this state, then allow a perspective other than your own.
 
I’ve gotten to know almost all of you. I respect all of you. This budget process is beneath you. It’s beneath our state. Instead of propping up this sad tradition, we should end it. The pendulum will swing back. It’s only a matter of time. Let part of your legacy be that you broke this sad tradition.

 

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05
The Governor lined his cabinet secretaries up in a row, sat down behind a table, clenched his fist, looked straight into the cameras and said there’d been tough, tense negotiations but he’d threatened a few vetoes and everyone had come around so, to his way of thinking, the budget was fine.
 
Since May, when the Governor sent his budget over to the Senate, he’d had to deal with one brouhaha after another.
 
The ole Bull Mooses had dumped his budget in the trash can, passed their own budget and sent it to the House.
 
The House then dumped the Senate budget in the trash can and passed its own budget.
 
The Senate then let fly telling the House it looked like the legislature would be in town till Christmas, figuring sometime between now and November Thom Tillis was going to decide to leave Raleigh to campaign against Kay Hagan.
 
Next the Governor said the Republican Senate leaders reminded him of Marc Basnight and Harry Reid – which bruised Phil Berger and Bob Rucho’s feelings – and added he’d veto any budget that raised teachers’ salaries more than 6%.
 
The Bull Mooses promptly went over to the House and said they’d agree to a budget that raised salaries 7% and the House, abandoning its ally the Governor, said, Deal.
 
The Governor then announced the legislature hadn’t really passed a 7% pay raise – it was a 5.5% raise (if you didn’t include longevity pay which teachers were already getting) – and declared victory.
 
Meantime, at the same time the brawl was going on, the Senate’s popularly dropped and, perhaps coincidentally, Phil Berger, Jr.’s lead vanished in a tough runoff election for Congress in Greensboro. Thom Tillis fell behind Kay Hagan in the polls. And a poll by a conservative group said Pat McCrory is trailing Roy Cooper. So at the end of the day the real winners may turn out to be Democrats.

 

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04
The mention of the phrase ‘public schools’ conjures up a vision of nurturing teachers and faithful laboring principals but it turns out ‘Big Education’ is a kingdom teeming with ‘Big Players’ from teachers’ unions to textbook publishers to testing companies all battling for promotions, contracts and a bigger piece of the billions spent on public education – the warring camps fall into four tribes:
 
The Advocates for Social Justice are a tribe of dyed-in-the-wool multiculturalists tracing their genealogy back to a fearsome place: The 1960s Counter-Culture. They see our education system as the ill-bred progeny of capitalist exploitation, are determined to free the next generation from the shackles of our Western heritage and believe our public schools have a sacred duty to lead a crusade to cure the wrongs of social injustice.
 
The Human Potentials are against memorization, drill, rote learning, structure, discipline and routine.  This tribe believes open (and unstructured) classrooms are a step on the road to enlightenment and, more than anything else, believe schools must nurture students and build their self-esteem so they flower and fulfill their human potential. 
 
The Traditionalists favor all the things the Human Potentialists see as wicked: They’re for phonics, memorization, flash cards and teaching the virtues of Western Civilization.
 
The final group, the Structuralists, see our schools as antiquated. As an out of date monopoly. And an albatross. To them future lies in charter schools, vouchers, school choice and tuition tax credits. Their spiritual godfather is Milton Friedman.
 
‘Big Education,’ like big health care in Washington, turns out to be a swamp filled with special interests, so next time you see the teachers' union whacking a state legislator remember: You may really be watching a Structuralist slamming a Human Potentialist who’s trying to get his (or her) hands on more of ‘Big Education’s billions.

 

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