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North Carolina - Republicans

03
The Governor sent his budget over to the Senate.
 
And as Rodney Dangerfield used to say, He got no respect. It was DOA.
 
The Senate sent its budget over to the House.
 
And it got no respect either. DOA, again.
 
The House sent its budget to the Senate.
 
And met the same fate.
 
Then, just when things looked bleak, House Speaker Thom Tillis, an optimist, announced anyone who “reports there’s a big gap between the House and the Senate isn’t paying attention” and sent another, abridged, budget to the Senate.
 
He got even less respect than the Governor.
 
The old Bull Mooses declared his budget was a “gimmick” – and went home for a long weekend.

 

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03
I know that people in the Governor’s Office read this blog. So please pass this message on to Governor McCrory: Josh Ellis needs some time off.
 
Josh, the Governor’s communications director, responded rather sharply to my blog yesterday about McCrory’s new Governor’s Teacher Network (GTN). (See “McCrory's Make-up Test.”)
 
Josh’s email is below, but first some background. I’m gratified when important people in government read our blog and take time to respond in writing. Art Pope has done so a couple of times. Most always, I post the response in full, without tagging on my usual ad hominem sarcasm. (Don’t try this at home. I am a trained professional.)
 
But I can’t do that here.
 
This is Josh’s response, in full:  “Gary, I hope you’re doing well. I just read your latest post. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a consultant is criticizing a plan that would pay teachers instead of consultants. Josh.”
 
Help me here. I have no idea what consultants have to do with GTN. I don’t know GTN from GNP. Plus, I was quoting criticism from TEACHERS. Talk to them, Josh.
 
But I feel Josh’s pain. I sat in his seat for eight years, and I’ve done the same thing more times than I care to remember. Josh spends every day caught between a hypersensitive boss and a hypercritical pack of reporters, bloggers and political opponents. Even fellow Republicans like Senator Berger & Co. go out of their way to make life miserable in the Governor’s Office.
 
Maybe Josh had been looking forward to some time off this weekend. Then comes Hurricane Arthur, and he has to go into Storm Communications Mode. All hands on deck – and to the cameras!
 
(By the way, one reader asked: “Why does Governor McCrory always tell us not to do anything ‘stupid’ during a storm? Does he think we’re stupid? And if we are stupid, would we listen?”)
 
Anyway, Josh needs a break. As do a lot of people in Raleigh.
 
So, the spirit of the holiday and of national unity, I wish Josh, Governor McCrory and all of you a Happy Fourth. I hope your plans (and ours) survive the storm. Enjoy some dogs and burgers, a cold beverage and that great American pastime of watching stuff blow up.
 
And listen to your Governor. Don’t do anything stupid.
 

 

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02
Governor McCrory acts like a man who had a serious health scare and now vows to eat right and exercise.  His main exercise is running away from the state Senate as fast as he can.
 
Clearly, the Governor has seen the Senate’s poll numbers on education. He doesn’t want to catch that bug.
 
Too late. He’s got it all over him, and there’s no escape.
 
Believe me. I’ve been there. Governor Hunt froze teachers’ pay during the 1982 recession. Teachers didn’t forgive. Some of them even sat on their hands when he ran against Jesse Helms in 1984. And remembered it when Hunt ran again in 1992.
 
McCrory’s latest effort to get immunized is “the Governor’s Teacher Network,” which promises $10,000 bonuses to 450 teachers for creating professional development, teaching, and assessment plans for other teachers.
 
But there’s a big catch, according to one teacher expert: The plans have to be approved from on high. It’s “basically a covert way for the administration to carefully select what 'innovation' they want to see, and continue to punish the rest of experienced teachers who collaborate and innovate on a daily basis, without bonuses. He's saying ‘Yeah, here's a $10,000 bonus if you can do exactly what I want and convince your colleagues to do the same’."
 
Here are some other teachers’ reactions: “Everyone has their price….This (is an) obvious divide and conquer ploy….”
 
And: “This is not a bonus or reward. This is pay for another job added to their normal teaching duties….Teachers are already sharing their expertise at their schools….”
 
And: “Just great. We’re headed into the last quarter and McCrory wants to distract 100s if not 1000s of teachers in the next four weeks as they scramble to compete for $10,000 when they should be focusing on getting their students ready to end the year at or above grade level.”
 
And: “This is so far removed from what really improves teaching. When I was in the classroom, I learned far more from hallway conversations with experienced teachers than I ever did from planned CE programs offered by the ‘system’.”
 
And: “Are we supposed to do this before, after or during benchmark and EOG/EOC prep? Can we take a “short session” and use, oh say, a week of personal leave to accomplish this? Nope, I forgot, we can’t find subs and we can’t use personal leave. I guess we could pull this off between 11 and 3 AM – about the only time most of us sleep.”
 
And: “As a teacher, this is a slap in the face. As if we are not doing this already???This is not going to encourage collaboration among teachers. It is going to create animosity and the loss of more good teachers. I have been teaching since 1987. I will most likely retire in NC making under 50,000.”
 
The moral: You can run, Governor, but you can’t hide.

 

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01
Last year (after their big victory in the 2012 election) as soon as Republican State Senators and State Representatives got to Raleigh they went to work to cut spending and it was almost like a competition:
 
The House would announce it had cut a hundred million dollars.
 
And the Senate would top that and announce it had cut two hundred million.
 
It went on like that for months until, in the end, they’d cut more than any legislature anyone could remember but, of course, all that cutting came with a price: After they got home Republican Senators and Representatives got hammered for not giving teachers raises, for cutting the unemployment benefits, and for denying care to the poor, halt, sick and lame – Reverend William Barber even blamed them for hurting little children.
 
For awhile none of that seemed to faze legislators but a year’s a long time to listen to people saying you’ve hurt little children and the other day when I received the House Caucus newsletter (about the House’s new budget) the wind had changed. The legislator who’d sent the newsletter explained how he’d just voted to:
 
  • Raise teachers’ salaries;
  • Raise all other state employees’ salaries;
  • Give veterans in-state college tuition rates;
  • Increase Pre-K funding;
  • Hire more people to provide child welfare;
  • Hire more bureaucrats to battle coal ash;
  • Give $3 million to the Biotechnology Center;
  • Give $190 million for the Information Technology Fund;
  • And put more money for the highway fund.
 
The only cut he mentioned was a cut in ferry tolls.
 
I reckon if anyone doubts the efficiency of attacking a state legislator – they ought to read the list.

 

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30
As much as I admire the Old Bull Mooses’ single-minded pertinacity, I’ve been unkind lately to the State Senate but at dinner last night Conor, who may be the last of the Jessecrats, set me straight.
 
I’d written – a couple of days ago – how the Democratic political wizards around Raleigh believe the Senate Republicans have captured the state Chamber of Commerce, turning it into a political appendage of their campaign committee, and the proof is the state and national Chambers contributing $800,000 to a couple of Republican organizations to pay for ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson.
 
As soon as Conor – who has a photographic memory and a penchant for shedding light on obscure pieces of history – set down the menu last night he leaned back and said, You got it ass-backwards – or haven’t you ever heard of Stigler’s theory of ‘Regulatory Capture’?
 
I had to admit I hadn’t and grinning Conor explained how George Stigler an Economics Professor at the University of Chicago had won a Nobel Prize for his theory of Regulatory Capture – which works like this:
 
The government, with the best of intentions, sets up an agency to regulate, say, coal ash ponds and immediately the corporations who’re being regulated focus on the new agency, wining, dining, lobbying, wooing, cajoling, and making contributions to politicians to influence the new regulations.
 
At the same time, on the other side of the ledger, the average citizen (who personally has very little or no stake at all in the regulations) does nothing.
 
Time passes and all the flattering and wooing and contributing (in hopes of getting their friends appointed to the agency’s staff) bears fruit and, suddenly, instead of regulating the corporation the agency’s been captured by it.Then a worse thing happens: The agency starts passing regulations to help the corporation by giving it an edge over its competitors.
 
According to Professor Stigler it’s a problem there’s no avoiding and ‘Regulatory Capture’ is a threat every regulatory agency faces by its very nature – protecting an agency from external pressure may be a palliative but in the end, Stigler warns, no regulator at all is better than a captured one.
 
Conor began ticking off examples of regulatory capture – explaining how the Securities and Exchange Commission was set up to protect the public from Wall Street but now protects Wall Street from the public – then rolled through a list of bills the State  Senate had passed which the local Chamber of Commerce supported and said: So wouldn’t you say instead of the Senate capturing the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber captured the Senate?

 

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30
Maybe Chad Barefoot really believes Putin reared his head and Russia reached its tentacles into the anti-fracking forces in North Carolina.
 
Or maybe it’s just a cynical attempt to raise money from a Fox-fed mob of ignoramuses.
 
Or maybe it’s a desperate overreaction to a poll showing that voters don’t like fracking.
 
Whatever, Barefoot’s claim that Russia may be fighting fracking here (the theory is that fracking in North Carolina jeopardizes Russia’s economic power as a natural gas monopoly) could end up supporting my pet theory that Triangle voters have gotten wise to ludicrous and unsupported claims by politicians. And that they punish said politicians.
 
Barefoot started a recent fundraising email this way: "The environmentalists are on the attack again – and this time, Russia is in the mix."
 
You may laugh, but Mark Binker at WRAL did a serious investigation into Barefoot’s claim. (You don’t know whether to applaud that, or just sadly shake your head in dismay.)
 
WRAL’s fact-check decision: “Hit the brakes. There seems to be scant evidence that Russians are funding the European fracking debates, much less dabbling in fracking policy here in the United States. Experts say it’s unlikely, bordering on silly,’ to suggest the Russians would have the time, money or inclination to bother with a North Carolina legislative race. Therefore, we give this fundraising email a red light on our fact-checking scale.”
 
Of course, this proves nothing. Binker may be a fine reporter and all. But do you really think he or any mere journalist is capable of cracking this Kremlin conspiracy? Surely these ex-KGB men can outwit WRAL.
 
So stay alert. If you see something, say something.

 

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27
The other day while I was having lunch with one of Raleigh’s Democratic wizards he said, You know a lot of people believe the Senate Republican Caucus has captured the Chamber of Commerce and turned it into an appendage of its political committee.
 
I said, How’s that? and he explained the Democrats, rooting through contribution reports, had discovered Senate President Phil Berger’s on the board of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC) in Washington, and that the National Chamber had given Berger’s group’s sister group the Republican State Legislative Committee (RSLC) $600,000, then a NC insurance company had given the sister group another $100,000, then, finally, the RSLC had given $900,000 to Justice for All NC a Republican group that ran ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Hudson by saying she’d sided with child molesters in a Supreme Court case. I asked:
 
So did you find any proof Senator Berger was behind that ad?
 
He said the ad had been made by the same folks who make ads for the Senate Republican Caucus then added the NC Chamber had contributed $200,000 to still another group that ran ads to defeat Hudson and, after the primary, Senator Bob Rucho sponsored a bill to give Chamber members like pharmaceutical companies legal immunity when they sell bad drugs. I asked:
 
So you don’t think that was simply good policy?
 
Do you think, he said, it was sheer coincidence?

 

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26
Mike, a young down-the-line rock-ribbed Republican partisan who sees eye to eye with Senator Bob Rucho (who once tweeted ‘Obamacare has done more damage than the Nazis’) but is too smart to say anything that foolish within earshot of a reporter, and Jim who would like Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President because Hilary’s too conservative were arguing across the table when Conor, a small town lawyer and, by my reckoning, the last of the Jessecrats, interrupted and said:
 
Alright. If Bob Rucho’s not the most powerful Old Bull in the Senate he’s pretty close to it so when he woke up one morning and in a flash of revelation saw there were too many frivolous lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies (when they sell a fellow a drug that’s supposed to cure his high blood pressure but instead lands him in the ER with a stroke) it was just a matter of time before he pulled the pin on the grenade and – Conor waved both hands – kaboom.
 
Well you have to admit, Mike said, there are way too many lawsuits, and Conor said one frivolous lawsuit was too many but there’s a simple way to stop that: Punish the people who file them. After all, nothing stops foolishness like a big fine or jail time but Senator Rucho’s hadn’t done that so now a lot of folks were wondering whether he’d  had a different goal in mind all along and all his talk about frivolous lawsuits was just a fig leaf.
 
Don’t get me wrong, Conor added, I’m not saying Bob Rucho’s malicious, a politician finding the wrong cure for a problem’s nothing new – it happens every day. But giving a guilty pharmaceutical company immunity from practically all lawsuits has to be some kind of a first.
 
Mike was trying to come up with a way to derail Conor but before he could say a word Conor struck again saying Republicans like to say people ought to work and stand on their own two feet and take care of themselves and when they get in a jam the government shouldn’t bail them out but for some strange reason when it comes to pharmaceutical companies (in Senator Rucho’s eyes) personal responsibility doesn’t apply – when a pharmaceutical company screws up the government ought to step in and take it off the hook.

 

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26
It’s a rite of summer. The House, the Senate and the Governor can’t agree on a budget. They tell themselves that millions of North Carolinians are in suspense, following the latest twist in the budget deliberations like they’re binge-watching Netflix.
 
This year, Governor McCrory and Speaker Tillis decide a bold stroke is needed to galvanize public opinion. They arrange a huge photo op at the Mansion with educators behind and beside them. They unsheathe their sharp sword to cut this Bergian knot: a “split budget.”
 
Yawn.
 
Earth to Raleigh: We don’t care. We’re not paying attention. We rarely pay much attention to you, and we’re paying even less now.
 
It’s summer. The sun is hot, and the days are long. The beach, the lake and the mountains beckon. Next Friday is the 4th, a long weekend. So let’s start now! Pack up the sunscreen, fire up the grill, pop open a cold one.
 
You guys – and it’s nearly all guys – will work it out. Somehow, sometime. The reporters and lobbyists are consumed with how long you’ll be here and how you’ll work it out. We’re not.
 
We’ll get back in a while. We’ll see what you did. And we won’t like it.
 
In the meantime, don’t kid yourselves that we’re paying attention. We’ve already made up our minds – those of us who plan to vote in November. We know two big things: One, you’re hurting the schools and teachers. Two, you want to frack our water full of dangerous chemicals.
 
That’s all we need to know. See you in November.

 

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25
When the ‘anti-frackers’ launched their million dollar ad campaign to defeat Chad Barefoot and three other Republican State Senators the Senate Republican Caucus returned fire, calling on Barefoot’s opponent to denounce the flood of “special interest money” pouring into the district then added, “Who knows what Sarah Crawford (Barefoot’s opponent) has promised these people.”
 
That night gathered around the dinner table with an eclectic collection of Democratic and Republican partisans, lawyers, and political consultants, Conor, a small-town lawyer who may be the last of the Jessecrats said, In the simple black and white world of Republican heroes and Democratic villains what the ‘anti-frackers’ are up to is pure villainy but there’re two sides to every coin.
 
Mike, who greatly admires the work of the Republican State Senators, leaned forward, braced himself on both elbows and said, I expect I’ll probably regret this – but how’s that? and Conor explained how the ‘pro-frackers’ have been contributing pretty steadily to Republican Bob Rucho who’d just passed their bill to jump-start fracking and give the fracking companies a million dollar government subsidy and how, back in April, the local Chamber of Commerce and its cousin the US Chamber of Commerce had given $800,000 to Republican groups to pay for ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson and how, after the election, Senator Rucho had introduced a bill to give Chamber members (like pharmaceutical companies) immunity when they sell a fellow a drug that’s supposed to cure his diabetes but, instead, lands him in ER with a stroke.
 
Mike didn’t like where the conversation was heading – so he said: So you don’t think fracking means more jobs? and Conor said, We’re not talking about jobs. We’re talking about your Republican kettle calling my Democratic pot black.

 

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