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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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09
It is a well-known fact that the not-so-great state of South Carolina has only two things going for it: the coast and the city of Charleston.
 
The coast is there by the grace of God and the gifts of nature. But it turns out that much of what makes Charleston a great place – the arts, the historic preservation, the restaurants – is there thanks in part to a liberal Democrat who has been Mayor for nearly 40 years.
 
A New York Times column Sunday about Mayor Joe Riley called him “America’s Best-Loved Mayor.” He pushed for the Spoleto arts festival as a way of making the city aim higher, and he sees the arts as vital to a great city. He has concentrated on concrete accomplishments: public safety, parks, housing and the beauty and vibrancy of the city’s historic streets.
 
Most amazing, he stayed in office in South Carolina’s rabidly red-hot Republican politics despite being an early supporter of a Martin Luther King holiday, hiring a black police chief in 1982 and leading a five-day, 120-mile march to Columbia calling for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol in 2000.
 
Maybe it’s that Riley is accessible and personable. Maybe it’s that he’s Old Charleston; he looks like we walked right out of the famous (and famously expensive) Ben Silver men’s store downtown.
 
Maybe it’s that some cities – like Raleigh with Mayors Meeker and McFarlane – take to progressive mayors who push policies that attract bright, creative people who transform the quality of life downtown. And maybe that’s a sign that government can work.

 

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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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19
Maybe it’ll be Charles Meeker. Or Nancy McFarlane. Or one of their successors. Whoever, a mayor of Raleigh will be Governor. And soon.
 
The Raleigh media market is huge, reaching maybe as much as 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote and close to a third of the general election vote.  A mayor who has been visible and successful has a running start.
 
And, mayors can have an image of getting positive things done in a nonpartisan way in what is otherwise a toxic political environment. Meeker can point to the rebirth of Raleigh’s downtown, plus its growth and attractiveness for jobs, investments and new businesses.
 
That contrasts sharply with most of today’s governments, which either don’t work (Washington) or work in a way that angers half the voters (North Carolina).
 
Pat McCrory parlayed being mayor of Charlotte into a can-do image that elected him Governor. Now, of course, he is busy belying that image. But he overcame the “Charlotte myth” – that a Charlotte mayor couldn’t be elected Governor.  Raleigh won’t be far behind. It’s inevitable.
 
As North Carolina becomes a more urbanized state, we will no looker look to rural areas and small towns and cities for our governors, the way we did for generations.
 
You can be sure of one thing Meeker heard on his “listening tour” of the state. People are bound to have said, we’re tired of what politics has become. We want somebody with a quieter, less polarizing voice, a proven leader who can get things done.
 
Now, that’s easier to do in city hall than in the Capitol. But it may be enough to get you to the Capitol.

 

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12
A TAPster reports seeing a State Capitol Police car equipped with a radar gun – miles away from any state government building.
 
Inquiring minds want to know:  Why does the State Capitol Police need a radar gun in one of their cruisers? What possible explanation can there be? Are school children running too fast across the Capitol grounds? Are lawyers heading to the Supreme Court building at a reckless pace? Are the pigeons flying at unsafe speeds? Why do they even need a cruiser, for goodness sakes?

And how many classroom supplies could be purchased for the cost of a wasteful radar gun?

 

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20
John Drescher down at the News and Observer hit the nail on the head last week when he wrote:  ‘Steve Beam needs a boss.’
 
What’s happened to Mr. Beam (the Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority) isn’t unusual. He’s got a government job and a political board with political goals.  No one spends his own money. No one pays for his mistakes.  Instead the bills land on the taxpayers’ doorstep.
 
That’s one glitch.  Here’s another:  After over a decade in office, like Billy Ray Hall of the Rural Center, Mr. Beam runs his board – it doesn’t run him.  He takes eleven weeks of vacation a year – which is more than Mr. Hall.  State auditors reported to Hall’s board that his $221,000 salary was ‘unreasonable’ – Mr. Beam makes $280,000 and his board thinks that imminently reasonable.
 
John Drescher’s point is simple:  Mr. Beam needs a boss – and he suggests Beam’s boss ought to be Raleigh’s City Manager.
 
That would be a step in the right direction. But it may come up a bit short.  So why not get the question out of the hands of the bureaucrats and politicians entirely.  And put it to a vote.  Let’s hold a simple referendum on the ballot this fall and let voters decide: Should Raleigh’s Housing Authority Director earn $280,000 a year and receive eleven weeks vacation?
 
That should settle it.

 

 

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07
This blog comes from a long-time, active Chamber member. I approve this message:
 
“There’s a political lesson for all of us in the needless maelstrom that has engulfed the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce: You get fleas or worse when you lie down with dogs and dog killers, and you can destroy your credibility in a flash of bad judgment and sloppy PR.
 
“The chamber has inexplicably invited convicted felon, dog abuser and pro football player Michael Vick to speak to an event honoring ‘champions.’ The chamber’s defense is that his story is about human failure and redemption … and the chamber apparently believes that going to prison for hurting and killing dogs is a life lesson for young people.
 
“Vick has retired from hooking up dogs to car batteries and returned to the comfortable life of multi-millionaire football player and after-dinner entertainer, so the chamber is counting on him to sell some tickets.
 
“But business leaders whose names adorn the chamber’s membership list count on the organization to advance their political agenda and to be taken seriously. Their tolerance – and silence – around this misguided speaking invitation is contributing to the erosion of the organization’s political credibility and effectiveness.”
 

 

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16
A couple of weeks ago the News & Observer  published a story that got folks stirred up over how the head of the Raleigh Housing Authority was making $280,000 a year and wining and dining his board of directors for $3,000 at a Christmas banquet at Raleigh’s elegant Second Empire Restaurant – all paid for by taxpayers.
 
The story caused a ripple which passed but then just before Christmas the News & Observer published a second story reporting the board had given the director nearly eleven weeks of paid vacation last year and the year before and the year before that.
 
The director, defending himself, said that wasn’t quite fair because part of his vacation was ‘comp time’ (which means if he worked 8 hours in a day instead of 7.5 then 30 minutes got added to his vacation time).
 
The Board of the Housing Authority – who’re all political appointees – stood foursquare behind the director. In fact, it just voted to give him an additional six days of vacation this year.
 
Meantime, up in Washington, the government’s borrowing a day to avoid cutting spending.

 

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11
Politics 101 used to say that getting in the news was good for politicians. Not today.
 
The new rule is: If you’re in the spotlight, you’re losing. The more you’re in the news, the lower your poll ratings.
 
When the government shutdown dominated Page 1, Republicans plummeted in the polls. When Obamacare took over the headlines, Obama took a hit. Now Obamacare coverage has cooled, and Obama’s national numbers have ticked up.
 
Same for Kay Hagan. She was up when the news focused on the shutdown, then down during the Obamacare frenzy.
 
Same thing in Raleigh. When the legislature was in town, its approval ratings fell. Now that Governor McCrory is the lead story, his numbers are down.
 
Why? Because voters hate politicians. The more they see of them, the more they hate them. And they’re cynical about government. They don’t believe government can do anything right.
 
At the same time, the news media has laid off staff and cut back routine coverage of government. Scandals and foul-ups get far more attention than the new initiatives politicians love to tout.
 
Governor McCrory thought he would get applause for “fixing” Medicaid and DHHS. Instead, he and Secretary Vos got roasted. Same for his Department of Commerce reorganization; coverage will focus on the flaws and faults.
 
Come next November’s election, the loser will be whoever is in the spotlight.

 

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27
It wasn’t exactly subtle the other morning when the newspaper ran two stories side by side: One about a single mother who works all day and then works three additional jobs nights and weekends to make ends meet – and a second story about the Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority.
 
It turns out every year the Housing Authority’s board meets to set the director’s pay for the coming year – only there’s an odd fact: Going back years, there’s no record in the board’s minutes of how much the board voted to pay the director – so there’s no public record of the salary some pesky reporter might lay his hands on and publish in the newspaper.
 
Once, according to the News and Observer, the board ran into a problem because Congress put a limit on how much it could pay the Housing Director – a limit the board had long ago exceeded. But, somehow, the board sidestepped Congress and everything worked out fine until the other morning when a reporter showed up and asked why the head of the Raleigh Housing Authority was being paid more than the head of the Chicago Housing Authority.
 
That question must hit the director like a dose of cold water but it turned out the cat was out of the bag – the legislature had changed the law and the News and Observer had come across his salary in records in the state Treasurer’s office.
 
Of course the Chairman of the Board defended the director, saying the director was a wonderful, brilliant, exemplar of civic virtue who earned every penny he made – even if he was making more than the Governor. 
 
This is another chapter in a very old story:  A reasonable man will be a model of frugality for years when spending his own hard-earned money, but the moment he gets appointed to a board where he’s spending other people’s money frugality flies right out the window. The Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority is making $272,000 a year.
 
 
 
 

 

 

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