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North Carolina - Democrats

24
It’s an argument I’ve heard for 40 years: “Southern Democrats, meet your future: No more Republican lite.”
 
That’s the headline on a recent article by Bob Moser, Senior Editor at the National Journal. He wrote, “Candidates like (Kay) Hagan are stuck between the past, when Southern Democrats’ recipe for victory involved courting white moderates and conservatives, and a future in which they’ll be able to successfully campaign as full-throated, national-style Democrats.”
 
Call me a curmudgeon. But put me down as skeptical. As much as my heart wants to believe it, my head and my gut tell me that is no better advice today than it was 10, 20 or 40 years ago.
 
It gains credence because Obama carried North Carolina in 2008 and narrowly lost it in 2012. But his candidacy was an outlier, fueled by the history-making opportunity to elect and reelect an African-American President. Also, Obama, as candidate and President, hasn’t always been a “full-throated” liberal.
 
North Carolina remains a moderate and, yes, even conservative state. No, Democrats will not get many, if any, votes from conservative whites. But they need votes with people who have some moderate and even conservative parts in their political makeup.
 
North Carolina’s electorate today is nearly equally divided between natives and newcomers. Natives, no matter how liberal on some issues, still can be conservative on issues like spending and the role of government and sometimes on social issues.  They’re for Good Government, but not necessarily always Big Government. Newcomers are generally liberal on social issues and human issues like education and health care. But they too bring a healthy skepticism about government and all big institutions.
 
Most telling: If people really loved “full-throated, national-style Democrats,” wouldn’t they register that way? They don’t. They register as Independents, even voters who registered just so they could vote for Obama.
 
Maybe you wish it wasn’t true. But wishing doesn’t make it true.

 

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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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18
New Yorker magazine, as I recall, once had a department called: “Which newspaper do you read?” It juxtaposed totally opposite headlines about the same story. To wit this week:
 
“Clay Aiken outpaces GOP candidate in 2nd quarter fundraising” (Sandhills Tribune).
             
“Rep. Ellmers ahead of Aiken in fundraising in 2nd Congressional District” (Fayetteville Observer).
 
In fairness, if you study the numbers hard enough, you might find that both stories are true. But, as it’s beyond me, I’m hoping Representative Ellmers will bring it down to my level. Maybe a pie chart or something.

 

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08
Locked in a wrestling match with the Governor over Medicaid (and how much it will go over budget) the Old Bull Mooses invited Art Pope (the Budget Czar) over to the Senate for a cordial visit then added if he didn’t come along peacefully they’d send him a subpoena.
 
Pope, responding like a gentleman, took the affront politely saying there’d be no need for fisticuffs then trooped over to the Senate, explained patiently how Medicaid had $70 million in cash (to pay its outstanding bills) so the Bull Mooses’ fear of a $250 million deficit was unfounded then added soothingly,  ‘There is good news but there are still many uncertainties.’
 
Now it must be said the Old Bull Mooses had history on their side: Last year Medicaid was $457 million over budget and the year before it was $375 million over budget so, naturally, the word uncertainties got the Senators’ attention – and they began to explore.
 
How many new people, they asked, had enrolled in Medicaid?
 
The answer was not what they’d hoped: No one knew because the computer system was broken.
 
How much, they asked, were doctors and hospitals owed that they hadn’t been paid?
 
The answer was equally disconcerting: Another computer system was broken so no one knew the answer to that either.
 
A Senator said Medicaid spending had been increasing by 5% each year and asked, How much will it increase this year?
 
Less, Pope said.
 
Then, leaving broken computer systems behind, Pope got down to brass tacks.
 
Senator," he asked, "what is the cost of overfunding Medicaid?” and then explained – in the Budget the Bull Mooses had proposed – the cost was firing 7,000 teacher assistants and removing 5,200 aged, blind and disabled people, including 1,600 patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, from Medicaid.
 
Of course, that didn’t sit too well with the Senate’s budget writers.
 
Senator Bob Rucho turned to the head of the Hospital Association, who was sitting in the audience, and asked if there was enough money in Pope’s plan to pay all the bills the hospitals were owed.
 
The Hospital Chief said he didn’t know so Rucho next fired a tougher question at him: If it turned out the Governor hadn’t budgeted enough to pay the hospital’s bills would they eat the difference?
 
That didn’t sit too well with the Hospital Chief but, at least, when the smoke cleared Rucho’d established the hospitals weren’t about to risk putting their money where their mouth was when it came to verifying the exactitude of Medicaid budgets.
 
At the end of the day the Bull Mooses were still dead-set on cutting Medicaid to the aged, blind and disabled to balance a budget the Governor’s budget director says doesn’t need balancing except for the fact there are some uncertainties and two broken computer systems which mean no one is sure of the real numbers.

 

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08
Aaron Fussell was one of those modest World War II heroes who saved the free world, then came home and spent the rest of his life building a better world.
 
I knew him as school superintendent and a legislator. But I got to know him best much later, on the golf course. That’s where you can really get to know a person.
 
Aaron played, walked and stayed active well into his 80s. He also loved to talk politics. I enjoyed walking nine holes with him late afternoons. He pulled his clubs behind him on an ancient cart. His shots were short, but always straight down the fairway. Typically on a par four, he’d be 20 or 30 yards off the green after two shots. He’d take out an eight iron, chip the ball up to within a few feet of the cup, sink the putt, take his par and walk on to the next hole, talking every step of the way.
 
If he ran into a young person, he’d pepper them with questions: Where are you in school? What subjects do you like? How are your grades? Do you play any sports? Where are you going to college?
 
He knew everybody, and he had a connection with everybody. “I coached his daddy at Elm City.” “I hired her mother to teach at Millbrook.” “His great-uncle and I played basketball together at Atlantic Christian.”
 
The ultimate connection came one day when he introduced me to his friend Hannas, who grew up in Belgium. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Aaron added, “My unit liberated his village.”
 
He liberated a lot of people, and he touched a lot of lives. He was a great soul.

 

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04
There’s a lit stick of dynamite – and one unanswered question – being blithely passed from hand to hand in the backrooms of Raleigh: Who will the State Senators and Representatives make pay to cleanup Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds – which Duke says is going to cost $10 billion and which, Duke also says, in fairness ought to be added to its customers’ electric bills. 
 
Attorney General (and not one to look a gift horse in the mouth) Roy Cooper, who’s running for Governor, promptly disagreed, saying Duke ought to pay every penny which inspired Cooper’s Democratic allies to add an amendment to the Senate Republicans’ ‘Coal Ash Cleanup’ bill to make Duke pay. 
 
The old Bull Mooses promptly quashed the Democrats’ amendment then fell cryptically silent which oddly – given the murky waters of Senate politics – sent a crystal clear message: The Bull Mooses, after they’d just kiboshed Duke paying the $10 billion, faced a tough choice: Either tell consumers their electric bills would be going up or lay low and say nothing.
 
Silence spoke volumes.
 
Which attracted the attention of Conor (the Jessecrat) who grunted, What we have here is half-baked politicians coming up with the wrong cure for a problem.
 
Conor explained both Cooper’s and the Republicans’ solutions had more to do with politics than fixing the problem then added, The real question here is how much can Duke afford to pay?  If it has $10 billion, fine, let it pay it all.  But if Duke can only pay $1 billion then some poor soul’s got to find the backbone to tell people their electric bills are going up $9 billion.
 
Of course, even for our finest politicians, that would be just plain treacherous – imagine a Bull Moose, running for reelection, looking voters straight in the eye and saying, I voted to increase your electric bills, while at the exact same moment his opponent’s looking the exact same voters in the eye saying, Duke should pay it all.

 

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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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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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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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