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North Carolina - Republicans

24
One thing Democrats did right this year was push education onto the public agenda. But will it last? And the key question: Where do they take it now?
 
The Hagan campaign came close largely because they almost turned a United States Senate race into a school board election.
 
The same thing was true in many legislative races. Republicans who were running scared campaigned like Democrats, promising to improve the public schools and even to raise teacher pay to the national average.
 
One path for Democrats now will be to see whether Republicans keep that promise in what looks like a legislative session that will be dominated by a shortfall in revenues
 
But Democrats should be wary of falling into a trap that equates more money with better education.
 
Republicans are learning how to push back against the charge that they “cut $500 million from education.” And, if you Google that charge, you’ll find a series of fact checks that challenge its veracity.
 
Given their ideological preference for vouchers and charter schools, Republicans are not likely to appropriate much more money for the schools. Their position is more likely to be: “We’re spending more money than ever before on the schools, but they’re not getting better. We have to do something different.”
 
Democrats better figure out how to overcome that argument.
 
Same with the universities. Democrats can’t just criticize budget “cuts” – more accurately, cuts in per-pupil spending – when Republicans are already rolling out their riposte: “North Carolina spends more on its universities per pupil than all but three other states.”
 
I saw this movie in the 1990s with Governor Hunt. It’s why he didn’t just say: “Let’s raise teacher pay to the national average.” He also, always, said: “And let’s raise standards for teachers, students and schools.”
 
To win in 2016, Democrats will again have to propose more than more money.

 

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20
Governor McCrory’s political instinct is right, but his choice of battlefield is puzzling.
 
The Governor seems to understand that the best way to get reelected is to pick a fight with the legislature. Governors are always more popular than legislatures. McCrory’s approval ratings are twice as high as this legislature.
 
But why not fight over something the public cares about? Nobody cares which politician appoints the coal ash commission.
 
And McCrory brings a glass jaw to this fight. As Senator Berger put it a while back: “The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”
 
“Former employer”! Yikes! Sounds like something a Democrat would say.
 
Or will say next year.

 

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20
The Governor sent a letter to Thom Tillis and Phil Berger taking the legislature to task for asking for an independent audit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Then the next day, when the Governor needed it least, the News and Observer reported that when DHHS’ new computer didn’t work the Department got into such a tizzy the number of mistakes it made processing food stamp claims quadrupled and it paid out $440,000 in excess benefits.
 
Here’s how government works: DHHS spends a hundred  or so million dollars on a computer program, it  doesn’t work, the department makes four times more mistakes than it did the year before and pays out $440,000 in excess benefits – and the Governor tells the legislature an audit’s a waste of time.


 

 

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19
Pat McCrory had one of those days.
             
First, a typist switched an ‘h’ for an ‘f’ so he sent out a press release announcing a Wilmington company was ‘firing’ 1300 new workers instead of ‘hiring’ 1300 workers.
 
Then a passing photographer snapped a photo of the Governor with his arm draped across Rep. Tim Moore’s shoulder and sent it sailing across the Internet – which sure looked like the Governor  was diving into the middle of the Speaker’s race – which left him backpedaling, saying it wasn’t so.
 
Then, piling Pelion on Ossa, the Governor sued Senator Phil Berger – which is like walking into a grizzly bears cage and whopping him on the nose.
 
Sometime between now and next June Berger and the Senate are going to vote on a budget which includes the Governor’s salary and how many staff the Governor has and right now it’s even money by next summer the Governor will be down to one part-time assistant and won’t have a penny to pay the lawyer he just hired to sue Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis).
 
So why would the Governor pick a fight with Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis)?
           
He says last session the legislature set up three Independent Commissions (on coal ash, fracking and Medicaid) but didn’t give him all the appointments to the Commissions. Instead the legislature gave him some and kept some for itself which, according to the Governor, is downright unconstitutional.  
 
Phil Berger answered the Governor’s charge pretty simply, saying if he thought the laws were unconstitutional he should have vetoed them which he hadn’t.
 
It’s hard to figure out: The Governor’s fighting Phil Berger over control of the Coal Ash Commission. Think about that: If you were Governor and the legislature said it wanted to own two thirds the biggest tarbaby in North Carolina you’d hardly  be able to believe your luck – you’d say, Sure, in fact, if you want, you can have it all.
 
But Pat McCrory wants to own the whole tarbaby.           


 

 

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17
Republican wins this year could make Governor McCrory’s reelection road rockier.
 
Over the past month, the Governor seemed to tack to the middle and away from the arch-conservative legislature. He reacted mildly to the gay-marriage court decisions. He suggested that he might support Medicaid expansion. Last week he sued the legislature over appointment powers.
 
The Empire struck back.
 
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, blasted McCrory: "It is a shame when our governor is more interested in expanding his executive power than he is in actually protecting and defending a real threat to our Constitution — the overreach of power by a federal judge who enjoined the marriage amendment and forced same-sex marriage on our state.”
 
Fitzgerald, not incidentally, is the mother-in-law of newly reelected Senator Chad Barefoot, an ally of McCrory’s Number One nemesis, Senator Phil Berger.
 
Berger is as strong as ever. And McCrory’s ally Thom Tillis is gone from the House. Will the new Speaker side with the Governor the way Tillis did?
 
It obviously didn’t please some Republicans that McCrory enlisted former Democratic Governor Jim Hunt to his side on the appointments lawsuit.
 
McCrory knows he has to get back to the middle to get reelected. But does that lead to a tough legislative session for him next year – and maybe a primary challenge in 2016?

 

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17
Governor McCrory needed a lawyer to advise him on cleaning up Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds but the one he found raised eyebrows: He hired a Duke Energy attorney.
 
The press naturally asked if that wasn’t a bit like having the fox guard the hen-house so the Governor had his spokesman explain to reporters, Not at all – that there was a “legal wall of separation between his new lawyer and any issue effecting Duke’s coal ash operations.”
 
But, then, the reporters went to an Environmental Management Commission meeting and there sat the Governor’s new attorney on the front row advising the members how to change groundwater regulations that affected his former client.
 
Next, Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out how, when it had sued Duke a year ago, one of the lawyers representing Duke, saying the ponds didn’t need cleaning up, was the attorney now telling the Governor how to clean them up.
 
You couldn’t make this stuff up.

 

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13
Carter and I spoke Wednesday at a post-election panel sponsored by the Public School Forum, a group of education advocates. I suggested they have nothing to worry about in the coming legislature, since Republicans ran as Democrats, promising to raise teacher pay to the national average and improve the public schools.
 
Tom Murry, who once called the NCAE “union trash,” even handed out Election Day cards saying he was endorsed by the NCAE. He wasn’t. He lost anyway.
 
On education, then, Republicans ran to the left. Now, will they govern to the left – higher teacher pay and more money for the schools? Or to the right – toward vouchers, charter schools and abandoning standards?
 
Governor McCrory’s post-election comments suggested he might go left on issues like Medicaid expansion.
 
But Senator Berger made clear which way he’s going. His first order of business is letting magistrates refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
 
Two years from now, in an expanded presidential-year turnout, Democrats will be sure to hold Republicans to promises made this year.
 
Education was the issue that kept Senator Hagan within two points of Thom Tillis. You can count on it being front and center in a year with a governor’s race.

 

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11
The would-be undertakers in the media and even within the Democratic Party need to cancel their burial plans. The patient’s charts show a strong pulse.
 
North Carolina is the only state in the South – and one of few nationally – where Democrats gained legislative seats despite the national wave. Check out this chart from Chris Kromm at the Institute for Southern Studies. He reports that Republicans gained 60 legislative seats in the South; North Carolina was their only net loss. And apparently New York was the only state in the nation where Democrats made more gains in the state House.  
 
Also, Democrats in House races here knocked off two rising GOP stars, potential speakers and top fundraisers - Tom Murry and Tom Moffitt. Rep. Paul Tine defied a Republican wave in Dare County to win reelection.
 
Also, consider the narrow margin of Senator Hagan’s loss, close finishes in state Senate races, the commissioners’ sweep in Wake County and statewide wins by Democratic judicial candidates.
 
None of this is to minimize that 2014 was a bad year for North Carolina Democrats. Nor underestimate how steep the climb back will be. But “all is lost,” as Harrison Hickman noted (see yesterday’s blog), is self-defeating and a vast overstatement.
 

 

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06
“Anybody who says they knew this was coming – Democrat or Republican, pundit or pollster – is lying,” a veteran campaign operative said Wednesday
 
The polls all missed it. Close races turned into routs. Narrow Democratic wins turned into Republican wins. Turnout models missed the mark, Early-voting hype was misleading.
 
Tillis consultant Paul Shumaker did tell donors last week that internal polls showed Tillis had caught up with Hagan.
 
The instant analysis that it was an anti-Obama vote. But why did it turn so suddenly at the end, when Obama had been the focus of Republican campaigns all year?
 
A theory: A combination of factors – in-state, national and international – came together in late October to exacerbate anti-Obama feeling, energize Republicans and swing most undecided voters to Tillis and the Republicans. Including gay marriage, ISIS, Ebola and the Hagan-stimulus issue, with “stimulus” being a code word for “Obama.”
 
A useful perspective came from a smart young field operative who, unlike many of us, spent a lot of time this year talking to real voters, especially undecided voters. Those voters have very little interest in politics, he noted. Consequently, “they don’t know the legislative candidates, they don’t follow the legislature, they don’t know much about Tillis and Hagan, they don’t know who holds the House or Senate. They know two big things: They’re not happy with the economy and the way things are going, and they know Obama is President.”

 

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04
When you read breathless stories about sophisticated high-tech voter-turnout operations, be skeptical.
 
I’ve been reading, with some concern, that Republicans are catching up with the vaunted Democratic ground operation. We’re told about canvassers fanning out 12 hours a day, seven days a week, armed with hand-held computers, linked in to a central brain that can access “a thousand of points of information about voters,” whatever the hell that means. (Is it like “a thousand points of light”?)
 
But, as Carter once aptly observed, campaigns are exercises in human error.
 
Case in point: Yesterday, the day before Election Day, a Republican field operative left on our mailbox a plastic bag containing about a dozen separate cards and sheets of paper. It had flyers for a number of GOP candidates and three long, text-heavy issue papers. There was enough material to cure insomnia for a week.
 
Now, it shouldn’t have taken a computer and a thousand points of information very long to determine that our household is about as reliably Democratic as it gets. First hint: We vote in every election, and we vote in every Democratic primary. We also contribute to Democratic candidates. All easily available information.
 
It also would not have taken much sophisticated targeting to determine that we had already voted this year – on the first day of early-voting, in fact.
 
Along with those valuable points of information, the canvasser might have noticed that we have three yard signs for Democratic candidates.
 
Nonetheless, the package was duly delivered, the end result of an expensive and complex GOTV operation.
 
Obviously, I was delighted that the Republican Party expended its time, resources and manpower on me.
 
Keep up the good work!

 

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