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North Carolina - Republicans

28
About a month ago Greg Brannon, dead-set on getting elected to the Senate,  was trying to build momentum and gain ground on front-runner Thom Tillis then, out of a clear blue sky, two investors sued Brannon for flamoozling them out of $250,000 and a jury ruled he had to repay the money.
 
That opened a window for Reverend Mark Harris, who promptly released a poll showing he’d surged past Brannon and was now the one gaining on Tillis then a reporter pointed out a flaw in Harris’ claim – he’d polled the wrong voters.  
 
Everything looked rosy for Thom Tillis until the roof fell in on him too: The press reported he’d claimed he’d graduated from the University of Maryland – when he hadn’t.     
 
Tillis’ campaign changed two websites, changed his official legislative page, and the front runner told voters where he went to college didn’t matter but, then, before the smoke cleared, former Representative John Rhodes slammed Tillis with a broadside:  Tillis, he said, had violated state ethics laws by appointing political donors to the UNC Board.
 
Politicians appointing donors to the UNC Board is nothing new – but Tillis had made an unusual mistake.  Trying to smooth out a rough patch that had landed one of his appointees in the soup, Tillis had emailed House Republicans explaining just how much money his nominee had donated. You don’t see that every day.
 
Then Rhodes (who Tillis had defeated in a primary back in 2006) fired another broadside:  Tillis, he said, was a paintballer.
 
Holding a canister of green paintballs, Rhodes passed out two letters to reporters:  One from a farmer near Cornelius, asking Tillis to reimburse him $200 for paintballing his barn. And the other from Tillis back to the farmer, saying, Yes, he was a paintballer but he was innocent in this case.
 
It was better than a reality show.

 

 

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27
Thomas Mills at PoliticsNC riled up some Democrats when he questioned the strategy of going after the Koch brothers.
 
I have the same question. Is this a classic case of chasing the cape and missing the matador?
 
A national poll this week showed that half of all Americans don’t even know who the Koch brothers are. So why would voters care?
 
The Kochs are a fixation of the political class. But for most voters, all billionaires look alike, all politics looks crooked, corrupt and controlled by the rich and powerful, and both parties are guilty.
 
Rather than waste money on this heavy lift, Mills said, Senator Hagan and Democratic super PACs should focus on Thom Tillis:
 
“…(T)he guilt-by-association strategy seems so obviously flawed that watching the resources go into it is disheartening. In North Carolina, we’ve built a cottage industry attacking Art Pope and wrapping Republican policies and candidates around him. So far, it’s succeeded in getting us the first Republican governor in 20 years and a Republican legislature with veto proof majorities. Now, the Washington Democrats are adopting the model….
 
“The Democrats have taken a defensive posture with a reactive response. In essence, they’ve ceded the political agenda to the Koch Brothers and the Republicans. They should be attacking GOP policies and candidates, not GOP funders.
 
“In North Carolina, they are nationalizing the election while ignoring fertile ground in the state. If they need to wrap Thom Tillis around something, wrap him around the legislature. Under his leadership, they’ve cut funding to public schools and universities, limited women’s access to health, tried to disenfranchise minorities and young people and raised taxes on our poorest workers. There are issues that will motivate the base and persuade the middle. Use them.
 
“And consistently, Tillis has tried to be something that he’s not. When he’s talking to country clubbers, he’s a moderate. When he’s talking to Tea Partiers, he’s a conservative. He says he graduated from the University of Maryland, but he didn’t. He even says in his latest commercial that he was a “partner at IBM,” when IBM is a corporation not a law firm or accounting agency. And he doesn’t even mention serving as speaker of the house. He’s just another phony politician. Expose him, not the Kochs. He’s the one on the ballot.”

 

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26
Charlotte minister Mark Harris, who’s running for Senate, hit a rough patch when he released a poll showing him trailing Thom Tillis by 11 points – an inconvenient fact his political aide, Tom Perdue, brushed aside by saying, “The fact that we are down actually means we are way up.”
 
Saying down is up may sound odd, but in politics, when the news is bad, spreading a little confusion can’t make it worse and may make it better.
 
Of course, Harris also had a subtler reason for releasing his poll.  He’d asked voters a series of questions about Thom Tillis’ ‘foibles’ like the “sex scandal”  in Tillis’ office (when his Chief of Staff had an affair with a lobbyist) and Tillis appointing his donors to the UNC Board. Then Harris had asked voters a second time whether they’d vote for him or Tillis.
 
Naturally, Harris’ prospects brightened:  For one moment, at least in that poll, he was soaring with the wind beneath his wings.
 
But then the ground shifted beneath his feet: The press had spotted a peculiar number in the poll – according to Harris, 12% of the folks who vote in Republican primaries are African-Americans and that’s never (or, at least, never in memory) happened. 
 
The Reverend had polled the wrong people.
 
It was a tough day for Mark Harris but look on the bright side: There’re better ways to run for office. He doesn’t have to learn one mistake at a time.

 

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25
You couldn’t design a more perfect Democratic candidate for Wake County in 2014 than Sarah Crawford. Proven success in a professional career and in community service – check. Attended public schools and college here – check. Young mother with children in public schools – check. Energy, smarts, savvy and a fiendishly hard worker – check, check, check and check.
 
Crawford is as in tune with her district (Senate 18 – Franklin and eastern Wake) as incumbent Chad Barefoot is out. Barefoot’s anti-education, party-line voting record in an unpopular legislature is poison in a moderate swing district.
 
The NC Free Enterprise Foundation rates the race as one of the three most competitive Senate seats this year. Crawford will give Barefoot fits.
 
I admit to bias, but only because I’ve seen Crawford at work. We met a year ago, when we were thrown together in a fast-moving effort to launch the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation. Crawford,, who works in nonprofit development and public relations, was one of the main fundraisers, and she was a major reason the foundation raised more than $200,000 in just six months.
 
Sarah is one of the all-star candidates in Wake County who could ignite a Democratic comeback this year. The others are Gale Adcock (House 41), Kim Hanchette (House 49) and former Mayor Tom Bradshaw (Senate 15).
 
As John (Locke) Hood noted in his column a while back, “for Democrats, Wake County is probably their best potential investment of time and resources in 2014….Democrats have gotten their Wake-up call.”
 

 

 

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14
Without Duke Energy, Pat McCrory wouldn’t be Governor. Now, with Duke’s coal-ash spill, he may very well be a one-term Governor.
 
Get some popcorn and get a comfortable chair, because this movie is going to run for a long time. At least through the 2016 election. And it will dominate the rest of McCrory’s time as Governor.
 
He has to be thinking: “The damned pipe has to burst NOW, when I’m Governor?”
 
In all his years at Duke, McCrory probably never visited an ash pond. But he worked there for 29 years. He was an executive there while millions of tons of ash accumulated in Duke’s ponds. His administration made environmental regulatory reform a high-profile issue. Then – BOOM! – an environmental catastrophe hits on his watch.
 
Now he faces an endless reel of front-page stories, revelations about regulatory relationships and demagogic debates over who should pay. (Spoiler alert: In the end, the ratepayers will pay. They always do. No matter what posturing politicians promise.)
 
And then there’s the dead-serious matter of grand jury subpoenas and a federal investigation.
 
McCrory won’t get any cover from Republican legislators. They’ll be happy to throw him in the ash pit to save themselves.
 
That’s why the spill won’t be a deciding issue this year. Every candidate for the legislature will blast Duke and DENR. They’ll promise to get this mess cleaned up and it won’t cost ratepayers a cent. That will put off the day of reckoning to 2016.
 
When McCrory will find out how truly lonely it is at the top.

 

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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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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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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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