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North Carolina - Democrats

30
Going back to the days of Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt, Young Democrats were a breeding ground for extraordinary leaders. But the current crop may become the best ever.
 
I spent several hours in Chapel Hill Saturday morning at the annual state convention of YDs, College Dems and Teen Dems. They are just as smart, capable and determined as their predecessors. They are extremely focused, serious and hard-headed in their politics.
 
They know the party faces tough challenges in North Carolina, so they’re free of the overconfidence and sometimes-overweening personal ambition of some past YDs. Above all, they are committed to Service with a capital S.
 
One panel, far too brief, featured eight young Democrats who hold elected office across the state, including Wake County Commissioners Matt Calabria and Jessica Holmes. Each panelist had four minutes to talk about the rewards and challenges of running for and serving in public office. They should have had 20 minutes each.
 
I was on a panel just before them, serving as the designated Old White Guy. The last question to us was whether the Democratic Party has a strong bench of talent. Judging from Saturday, the clear answer is Yes.
 
Being there did more than pump me up. It told me this crowd is ready. They get that the Democratic Party has to update its message for a new state, a new generation and a new economy. They understand how data, analytics and social media are transforming political communications and organization.
 
They don’t see themselves as “leaders of the future.” They’re ready now. Older Democrats need to be ready for them. If they aren’t, they should be pushed aside. And I’ll help push.

 

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17
Yes, the Republicans’ Wake County power grab is raw, cynical politics. But it could help Democrats win legislative seats, the Governor’s Office, the U.S. Senate race and even a U.S. Senate majority and the Presidency next year.
 
Wake is the biggest-voting county and the biggest swing-vote county in a big state that could decide elections up and down the ballot, all the way to the White House. Note that last year Republicans nearly lost several Wake County legislative races, even in gerrymandered districts and even in a good Republican year. And a presidential-year turnout in Wake County would have reelected Kay Hagan.
 
The Republicans did lose all four Wake County commissioners’ races. So now they want to gerrymander the commissioners. You know their scheme stinks when an even-handed old hand like Rob Christensen feels moved to observe, “This bill is about rigging the Wake County elections, just as the legislature has previously rigged legislative and congressional elections through gerrymandering.”
 
If legislative Republicans pass the election-rigging bill, they might awaken the Wake County electoral giant and suffer the consequences, both for gerrymandering and for what looks like a war on cities and urban areas.
 
By the way, Governor McCrory could use this bill to separate himself from an unpopular legislature, instead of fighting over his appointments (as a former Duke employee) to a coal ash commission. Speaking out against the Wake bill (he can’t veto it) would help him in precisely the areas where he could lose the election to Roy Cooper. Of course, if the Governor speaks up and the legislature ignores him, he’ll look even more impotent. In the meantime, we’ll assume silence is consent.
 
Democrats may not have made their best case against the scheme yet. They should tell Wake County voters – not just those in Raleigh and Cary, but ALL Wake County voters: The legislature is taking away your right to vote. Last year you voted for all seven commissioners. But Republicans don’t like how you voted. So next year you get to vote for only two commissioners.
 
Republicans are betting voters won’t get mad about gerrymandering and raw politics. Want to bet they get made at politicians taking away their votes?
 
Christensen also captured this gem from Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican: “Let’s get down to it. We’re talking rural vs. city.”
 
You wonder why Republicans want that war in a fast-growing and urbanizing state. But they got it.

 

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10
There’re two sides to every coin.
 
Last year, when the State Senate took away Governor McCrory’s appointments to the Board of Review, the Governor vetoed the bill. Then the Senate overrode his veto. Then the Governor  sued the Senate. Then, this year, as soon as the Senate got back to town it passed another bill to do the same thing.
 
So now, I guess, if the court throws out the Senate’s first bill the Governor’s still stuck with the second one – which sounds a lot like an old fashioned political power play. A battle over appointments.  But there’re two sides to this coin.  
 
The ole Bull Mooses in the Senate believe in their bones less government is right. They look out across Raleigh and want to shrink every program from Medicaid to the ‘corporate incentives’ the Department of Commerce gives away and, since they don’t have much faith in the Governor to get the job done, they figure if it takes a bit of bare-knuckle politics to shove him aside, well, so be it.
 
And that’s the one side of the coin.
 
The other side – the side the Governor’s staring at – is a bit different.
 
He’s more practical. He wants to fix problems. But to do that he needs more corporate incentives not less. And the ole Bull Mooses keep getting in his way. He’s accommodating. They’re power hungry. He’s open-minded. They’re pig-headed. He’s even-handed. They’re heavy-handed. And, even if his own popularity is sagging, the State Senate’s is worse so the Bull Mooses look like a useful foil.
 
So the fight over the Rules Review Commission isn’t just another petty political spat. It’s two sides of a coin: With less government on one side. And fixing government on the other.    


 

 

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05
This is about as good a tale of conniving as I’ve heard: I can’t remember why but forty years ago back in 1976 the state legislature moved our Presidential primary up from May to March – then the unexpected struck and Ronald Reagan whipped Gerald Ford.
 
It was the first time Reagan won a primary. And the only time a sitting President ever lost a primary. And it turned the 1976 election upside down.
 
Down in South Carolina, watching, inspiration struck Lee Atwater and, after a bit of conniving of his own, Lee got South Carolina to move its primary up so in 1980 South Carolina was the ‘first primary in the South.’
 
Atwater’s plan worked better than he ever imagined. The winner of the South Carolina’s primary has gone on to win the Republican nomination in 8 of the last 9 Presidential elections.
 
In fact, South Carolina liked its new status so much, at some point, it got together with Iowa and New Hampshire and persuaded the Republican National Committee to pass a rule saying no other state could hold a primary before March 1.
 
At the same time, after the 1976 election, the North Carolina legislature went back to business as usual – and holding primaries in May – and for the last 40 years the North Carolina’s Republican Primary hasn’t mattered a toot.
 
Which suited Democrats just fine – after all about the last thing, say, Jim Hunt wanted was a liberal like Walter Mondale or Michael Duhakis or Al Gore traipsing across the state while he was running for reelection.
 
But, then, Republicans took control of the legislature and decided we’d been sitting on the Presidential sidelines long enough and moved our primary up to the week after South Carolina’s.
 
Which seemed reasonable.
 
But, oddly, sent national Republican Chairman Reince Preibus into a tizzy – Preibus announced North Carolina would not be allowed to hold its primary before March 1 and, he added, if we tried he’d take away 60 of North Carolina’s 72 delegates to the Republican Convention.
 
Those sounded like fighting words but, rather than calling Preibus out, North Carolina’s Republican Chairman decided to strike the flag and traipsed over to the legislature to ask it to move the primary.
 
The State House played its cards pretty close to the vest and didn’t say much either way about Priebus’s edict. But Republican State Senator Bob Rucho didn’t buy it – Rucho stuck to his guns and he’s got a point.
 
It’s as easy for the National Republican Committee to change its rule as it is for us to change our law – and, after 40 years of playing second fiddle to South Carolina, it’s time to unwind this bit of political conniving.


 

 

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04
The Reverend William Barber got up to pray at a memorial service for three Muslim students killed in Chapel Hill and, right in the middle of his prayer, pointed his finger straight at Reverend Franklin Graham and said Graham lit the fuse to the powder keg that led to the murders.
 
Barber’s thinking went like this: He said Graham spoke out against Muslim students’ right to pray in Duke Chapel which poisoned the “Atmosphere” which triggered hatred of Muslims which drove an atheist from Chapel Hill to murder.
 
Meantime, in Washington, the Obama Administration’s explaining a theory of its own, saying young men join ISIS and become terrorists because of broken Political Systems – in places like Syria – that breed corruption and poverty .
 
So we have two new explanations for murder: The Atmosphere. And the System.
 
And the problem is obvious: A lot of poor politically disenfranchised young men never chop off a anyone’s head.
 
So why are they different?
 
Could it be Reverend Barber and President Obama have missed a darker power (that’s more capable of murder than the Atmosphere or a Broken System) that’s whispering to the young men who become terrorists?


 

 

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02
A loyal TAPster outraged by Thom (No Clean Hands) Tillis contributes today’s blog:
 
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any colder last week, Senator Thom Tillis embarrassed North Carolina again, voting against Loretta Lynch’s nomination as US attorney general.
 
Lynch is the daughter of a Baptist minister from Greensboro who opened his church to protesters during the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 60s.  She attended Harvard University and Harvard Law School.  (Note to Thom:  That is THE Harvard University in Cambridge, not the online, for-profit version.) She has served as the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  She is known as a tough prosecutor of honest-to-God terrorists.
 
To that, all Tillis could muster was, “She was raised right.” Then he declared that the decision to vote against her in the Senate Judiciary Committee, “was the most difficult I’ve had to make in my 45 days on this job.”
 
Only 45 days?  It seems like an eternity already.
 
This “no” vote comes in the same Judiciary Committee meeting where three of the Senate’s most outspoken and curmudgeonly Republican senators--Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake-- voted for her confirmation. Yes, even Graham, our Confederate flag-waving neighbor to the South--South Carolina that is-- saw his way to a yea vote, because, he said, she is qualified for the job.
 
Could it be that Tillis was stung by her unapologetic support for the Justice Department’s lawsuit against North Carolina to overturn its draconian voter ID law—a law Tillis himself championed?
 
When civility and decorum take a backseat to pure meanness and race baiting, it is a cold, dark day in North Carolina. The condescension breaks in icy waves like the slush on Nantucket’s beaches.
 
As Reverend Barber put it, “To see other southern Republican senators put aside the politics of extremism and support attorney Lynch’s nomination and then watch Thom Tillis refuse is a tragic misrepresentation of the values of North Carolina and the call of history.  Shameful,” he said.
 
Shameful indeed.  And, shame on you, too, Richard Burr.

 

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25
The fur’s flying over in Chapel Hill – Dean Boger (at the Law School) along with a cohort of professors have lit into the Board of Governors saying closing the Law School’s Anti-Poverty Center leaves them with only one conclusion: The Board is for poverty.
 
The Dean lamented the Board was guilty of every sin from betraying Dean Smith’s ‘Carolina Way’ to leading the University off the road to “light and truth” into the darkness – then blasted the Board for playing politics, saying it was shuttering the Center to silence law school professor Gene Nichols, who’s been blaming Republicans for poverty.
 
Listening you’d think the Anti-Poverty Center was founded by Mother Theresa – instead of John Edwards.
 
In fact the Center was never a step down the road to “light and truth” – it was a political farce Edwards created (and the Law School embraced) to serve as the launching pad for Edwards’s 2008 Presidential campaign. Dean Boger, the Law School’s Wade Edwards Distinguished Professor – a chair established by John Edwards to honor his late son – has long given it his blessing. And now he’s accusing the Board of playing politics.


 

 

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20
We’re in the Great Mentioner season of the political cycle, when the names of potential 2016 candidates start floating through the rumor mills, media and blogosphere.
 
And nothing talks like money.
 
An enterprising TAPster looked at the year-end cash-on-hand numbers for potential statewide candidates and Council of State incumbents.
 
Not surprisingly, at the top of the list were Governor McCrory, with $1.6 million, and his presumptive opponent, AG Roy Cooper ($1.5 million).
 
Next were Senator Josh Stein ($798,634), who will run for AG, and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin ($304,776). Those are healthy numbers. Any challenger to Stein or Goodwin better pack a lunch.
 
Then come Treasurer Janet Cowell, a potential U.S. Senate candidate ($80,282), and Lt. Governor Dan Forest, who is sure to face a tough challenge (only $29,395). Followed by Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry ($16,157), Auditor Beth Wood ($14,698), Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson ($9,448), Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler ($8,200) and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall ($4,399).
 
The TAPster noted, “Given that June (Atkinson) hasn't raised any funds for Superintendent at all since 2012, might there be an opening on the Council of State other than Attorney General? Word around the Legislative Building is that Rep. Tricia Cotham is interested in the race.”
 
Further, “And what about all the national mentions of Janet Cowell potentially running for U.S. Senate, in tandem with her lower cash-on-hand numbers for her state campaign account? Some have said that she'll decide her plans for 2016 after the legislative session concludes.”
 
(Why wait? $100 million was spent in last year’s Senate race.)
 
Low cash-on-hand doesn’t tell us everything. But it does start the who-will-run-for-what buzz.

 

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18
When the State Ethics Commission ruled that a lobbyist having sex with a legislator didn’t violate the ban on gifts to legislators because sex acts do not constitute “things of value,” it got the attention of the redoubtable Ira David Wood, who’s surely NC’s most respected artist.
 
Woods posted the entire newspaper article on Facebook then wrote beside it: Happy Valentine’s Day, NC! (Just take me now, Lord.)
 
Beneath his comment one of his friends added: This ruling is perfectly consistent as there are obviously no ethics rules prohibiting a politician from screwing his constituents.
 
Who says art has no practical purpose?


 

 

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18
While Governor McCrory was doing what politicians usually do to get snow-day news coverage, state Sen. Jeff Jackson was showing how it’s done in a new media world.
 
Tuesday morning, Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) showed up at the Legislative Building at 8 am and tweeted: “No problem getting a great parking space this morning.”
 
While McCrory was holding briefings timed for live coverage, Jackson began a series of tweets and Facebook posts tagged #JustOneLegislator.
 
8:12: “think I'm the only legislator in the building. Let me take care of a few things. Medicaid = expanded. Teachers = paid. Film = jobs.”
 
8:36: “We just invested heavily in wind and solar energy.  I'm moving onto education reform.  Any thoughts?”
 
8:49: “Independent redistricting Invest heavily in wind and solar Support early childhood education NC is suddenly a national model.”
 
By now, Jackson was being followed by growing numbers of homebound souls seeking an online escape from cabin fever.
 
9:28: “Went ahead and got rid of puppy mills. Not sure why that took so long.”
 
9:39: “Remember that time we eliminated NC Teaching Fellows?  Guess what.”
 
Word began to spread. 9:50: “Am now receiving lots of calls from actual lobbyists. Even the false appearance of power gets their attention.”
 
10:31: “Hey Charlotte - it's your airport.”
 
10:54: “Just had a big debate over cutting the university system even more. Decided not to, because obviously that's a bad idea.”
 
He kept his priorities right. 11:32: “I’m hearing there's no cell phone reception in the press room.  That goes on the list, but I'm putting it at the bottom.”
 
And had the right touch of self-mockery. 12:38: “I just defeated a filibuster because I needed a drink of water. That removes any opposition to new child care subsidies.”
 
By early afternoon, as his army of followers swelled, Jackson was featured on the national website BuzzFeed. Tuesday night, he got a shout-out from Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
 
Today, he’s all over the traditional media. Craig Jarvis and Jim Morrill noted in the N&O/Charlotte Observer: “Tuesday was not the first time Jackson, a former prosecutor from Charlotte, has garnered national attention. Last summer, shortly after he was appointed to fill an unexpired seat, he made a 6-minute speech – caught on video – admonishing Republicans for not giving Democrats a chance to weigh in on or read the budget before scheduling a vote. More than 2.65 million have watched the video and Jackson received comments on it from as far away as South Africa.”
 
Was Jackson brilliant or lucky? It doesn’t matter. He demonstrated the power of creativity + humor + issues + new media. And that he’s a political power to be reckoned with.

 

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