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North Carolina - Republicans

29
WRAL’s Mark Binker says the claim that Senator Kay Hagan votes with President Obama 95 percent of the time is “something of karmic payback for Hagan, who benefited from a similar claim leveled against then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008.”
 
There is a little-noted back story to the Dole ad: It wasn’t really about voting percentages. It was about age. And it was a devastatingly clever attack on Dole.
 
At the time, serious-minded fact-checkers focused on whether the ad, sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was correct when it said Dole ranked 93rd in effectiveness in the Senate and voted with George Bush 92 percent of the time.
 
But watch the ad (it’s in Binker’s story) and listen to the two old codgers rocking on the porch. One says, “I’m telling you, Liddy Dole is 93.” The other replies, “I heard she’s 92.” At the end, one asks, “What happened to the Liddy Dole we knew?” The other says, “She’s just not a go-getter like you and me.”
 
The subtle but powerful message: Liddy Dole is too old. Her time has passed.
 
Now, a direct hit on her age (she was 72 in 2008) would have backfired. But the sly hit worked.
 
So don’t expect the 95 percent hit on Hagan by Tillis’ campaign to work like the 2008 ad did. For one thing, voters suspect – as Binker’s fact check shows – that the 95 percent includes a lot of minor votes.
 
Hagan and her allies have run a brilliant campaign so far. They’ve portrayed her as a moderate (“just right, just like North Carolina”) and they’ve painted Thom Tillis into a box with an unpopular legislature in Raleigh.
 
This attack won’t change that.

 

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27
When the pollster asked voters, Who should pay for the coal ash cleanup, Duke Energy or consumers? the answer came back loud and clear: Voters had no doubt. Almost to a man they said Duke Energy.
 
Now that didn’t mean that was the right – or fair – answer.
 
But it did mean any legislator who disagreed was going to have to give voters a good practical or theological or economic or political reason that changed their minds because, otherwise, the moment he said he wanted consumers to pay for the clean-up (in the form of higher electric bills) he’d be committing the political equivalent of walking in front of a firing squad.
 
The Republicans decided not to give voters a reason to change their minds – and the Democrats didn’t need too.
 
Because the moment Duke Energy called for higher electric bills, whether Roy Cooper and Company saw that as corporate wolves preying on hapless sheep or whether they, more practically, asked themselves, Who do we want to stick with the bill – six million voters or one corporation – they immediately rolled out a law saying Duke should pay every penny. And, a month later, when Duke reported a $600 million quarterly profit it looked like the Democrats were standing on solid ground.
 
The Republicans headed down a different track. They didn’t say they wanted six million voters to pay for the coal ash cleanup but they did kill the Democrats’ law dead in its tracks – then passed a law of their own saying Duke Energy couldn’t ask the Utilities Commission for a rate increase for four months  (until January 15) which created two problems.
 
First, a voter who didn’t want his electric bill raised now didn’t want it raised after January 15 either. Second, the Democrats had given voters an unequivocal no rate increase pledge while the Republicans had said let’s wait until after the election and see.
 
I reckon that makes it all but certain before long we’re going to see ads saying Republicans sided with Duke Energy – and then Republicans are going to need to give voters a darn good reason why it’s necessary or right or fair for them to pay to clean up the coal ash ponds. Beyond that, in November, when voters troop to the polls there may be just one question left: Which do they dislike more? Obama? Or paying $10 billion more in electric bills?
 

 

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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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18

 

The battered and bedraggled Tea Partiers have been taking it on the chin – they’ve gotten pounded, losing races in Tennessee, Kansas, Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi so, now, the press is humming their funeral dirge while Washington Republicans are chortling the Tea Party’s headed for the elephant graveyard of political movements.
 
So is saying the Tea Party’s kaput a political canard, a media feeding frenzy or clear-eyed truth?
 
The Tea Partiers got whipped in six Senate primaries by sitting Republican Senators – but it’s also a fact nothing in politics is harder to do than defeat an anchored in place incumbent Senator or Congressman.
 
I can’t recall an incumbent Senator losing a Primary in North Carolina in forty years and there’re plenty of reasons why: An incumbent starts with millions in the bank while his Tea Party opponent starts out broke.
 
An incumbent starts out well known and well liked by Republican voters in a primary – while nobody ever heard of his Tea Party opponent.
 
An incumbent has campaign (and helpful Senate staffs) in place on day one while a Tea Partier starts out with a handful of folks who enjoy talking to one another on the Internet but have never been troubled with the grind of building a multi-million dollar campaign.
 
There are a handful of Super PACs lending Tea Partiers a helping hand but there are more – and, more important,  richer – Super PACs fully armed and anxious to ride to the rescue of incumbents.
 
An incumbent Senator’s not quite as secure in his job as a tenured professor at Chapel Hill but it’s close. So it’s no shock – and hardly a political trend – that Tea Partiers are losing to incumbents.
 
The Tea Party’s been whipped and its popularity’s been battered but saying it’s dead as a doornail is more political spin;--wait two years, until the Republican Presidential primaries, when there’s no incumbent, then if the Tea Party gets trounced, write its obituary.

 

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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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14
Long after Watergate brought him down (40 years ago this month), Richard Nixon told David Frost: “I gave them a sword, and they stuck it in and they twisted it with relish.”
 
Now, Governor McCrory’s actions on coal ash don’t begin to approach Nixon’s on Watergate. But he has given his enemies a sword tipped with toxic political poison, and they will stick it in and twist it with relish.
 
Today’s N&O story (“McCrory misstated Duke Energy holdings, sold stock after coal-ash spill”) and McCrory’s inexplicable mishandling of the stock issue remind us of a cruel law of the political jungle: The worst wounds are self-inflicted. And this one could be deep and lasting.
 
First, the story renews questions about the political competence of McCrory and his team. Second, it comes just as public anger is growing over whether ratepayers will pay for the cleanup – and the very same day the legislature returns to Raleigh to again do nothing about the issue. And third, it looks like the media has concluded it didn’t give McCrory adequate scrutiny in 2012, which means that the scrutiny – and suspicion – will grow between now and 2016.
 
Just as Nixon could have lanced the Watergate boil early, McCrory could have turned this story around early. Here is what he should have said right after the spill in February:
 
“This is a serious problem, and it will require serious action. I will not let my career at Duke Energy keep me from carrying out my responsibilities to North Carolina. So I am immediately divesting myself of all my Duke stock, and I will be open, forthcoming and transparent as I deal with this matter.” He should have reported exactly how much stock he sold and how much it was worth.
 
Or, as a TAPster emailed today: “The bigger question in his latest mess is why he still owned Duke stock after he was sworn in as governor? That means he was a stockholder when he appointed utilities commissioners and made other decisions that impacted the company and its earnings. How can any reasonable person think that is ok?”
 
If he had sold the stock, McCrory could have made one thing perfectly clear (as Nixon would have said): Coal ash has been piling up for 30 years, under Democratic and Republican governors. The state approved that disposal method because it kept electric rates down and helped North Carolina bring in industry and jobs. McCrory didn’t need to be heavy-handed in making the point, because it’s a fair point and an indisputable fact. He then could be the hero who cleans up the mess.
 
But no.
 
His legal counsel twice prepared – and McCrory twice signed – ethics statements that failed to disclose the stock. McCrory’s counsel gamely takes the blame and says he misunderstood the forms. You can examine the forms and reach your own conclusion, but they clearly say you are to report all holdings over $10,000 as of December 31 of the previous year. And when the Governor signed the forms he knew what he owned and when he owned it.
 
Clearly, the N&O believes it was misled. The story said: “The News & Observer has sought for weeks to clarify the timing of McCrory’s sale, and McCrory’s office had said there was nothing new. On July 10, for example, (Josh) Ellis wrote in an email message that ‘the governor has complied with all disclosure requirements.’ That changed late Wednesday with the new filing and follow-up interviews with Ellis.”
 
Ellis, the Governor’s spokesman, didn’t help his boss’ case by trying to pass the blame beyond the counsel: “The stock was sold in response to repeated public requests via the media and to stop the constant, unfounded challenges of the governor’s character.”
 
Ellis struck the same chord in a statement May 1: “As public records have shown since April 15, the governor is not a shareholder of Duke Energy. This eliminates the often repeated, ridiculous and false, partisan left-wing attacks challenging the intent of our decisions and policies.”
 
No, it doesn’t eliminate them. It invites more. It dares the media to double down on its McCrory scrutiny. And it makes it harder for the Governor to push back. 

 

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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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13
Rob Christensen’s column about Tom Bradshaw accurately captures one of the most remarkable people I’ve met through 44 years in newspapers and politics.
 
My first encounter with Bradshaw was much like Christensen’s. Tom was the “boy mayor” of Raleigh, and I was a cub reporter at The N&O. City government was my beat, just as it was Rob’s later; that’s where new reporters started. I was assigned to write a Tar Heel of the Week profile on Tom. And I first experienced the hurricane of energy, intensity and enthusiasm that Tom still brings to life and work.
 
Bradshaw is like a hero out of a Horatio Alger story: an underprivileged kid who worked his way to the top in business, government and civic life – yet never forgot where he came from and how other people deserved the same opportunities to succeed.
 
Rob’s portrait of Tom is spot-on. He also asks the question Tom gets every day: Why do this at this point in your life?
 
Good question, and Tom has a good answer. Read Rob’s column and go to Tom’s website to learn more - and to help him.

 

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