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North Carolina - Republicans

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
A long-time veteran of the Legislative Building, one who looks at both parties with a critical eye, offers this critique of the end of the not-so-short session.
 
“Legislative Republicans treated each other last week just like they’ve treated the state’s citizens for the last two years: with meanness, impatience, and a lack of caring, respect and statesmanship.
 
“The multiple procedural failures also highlighted a desperate leadership void and lack of knowledge about how to govern. The inability to adjourn the session in an organized fashion left the process in turmoil, with no one exactly sure what’s going on. A civilized adjournment requires some communication between the House and Senate, and that apparently just doesn’t happen anymore, especially with a distracted Speaker.
 
“Meanwhile, the House and Senate lobbed hand grenades at each other over the coal ash legislation. It’s unclear whether the failure of this legislation was incompetence, a conspiracy or a last-minute desire to protect a large GOP financial contributor. None of it makes sense when House members tried to amend a conference report. Everyone knows you can’t do that.
 
“This mess would be laughable except for the dire consequences to the state.”

 

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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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01
It may still be unclear what this legislature did, but it’s very clear how they did it: with remarkable bile, bitterness and backstabbing among the forces of McCrory, Tillis and Berger.
 
Oddly, there wasn’t the usual simultaneous adjournment, with members from both houses sharing smiles and handshakes at the end. The Senate passed its budget and left town. The House was left to clean up. (And the state was left with no plan to clean up coal ash.)
 
The once-united troika of Governor, House and Senate fell apart this year. One Republican even said the Senate pushed for the so-called 7 percent pay raise just to put up a number that McCrory had said he would veto, challenging him to put up or back down.
 
Then there was the Governor comparing Berger to Marc Basnight, Tony Rand and even Harry Reid. Plus the obvious glee that McCrory and Tillis allies took in the defeat of Berger Jr.’s congressional race – and their possible involvement in that defeat.
 
In return, there was the Senate’s very public and pointed killing of the puppy-mill bill that was a pet project (so to speak) of the Governor and First Lady.
 
Certainly Democrats fought with each other when they held those positions. Jim Hunt had Jimmy Green, for Pete’s sake. But Republicans took it to a new level this year.
 
Democrats can’t be happy with what the session did. But they can learn to like the political damage it did to Tillis’ Senate candidacy, the issues they now have for the 2014 and 2016 elections and the prospect of more GOP division ahead.

 

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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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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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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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