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North Carolina - Republicans

19
Two things are for sure here: First, it’s never good to be linked to Mark Sanford in a Page One story. Second, if Bev Perdue had done it, McCrory and the Republican Party would be howling for her investigation, indictment and impeachment.
 
But there are two big questions: First, how bad, and how politically damaging, is Governor McCrory’s $185,509 stock payout from Tree.com/Lending Tree? Second, is his Defcon 5/massive nuclear retaliation smart or stupid?
 
Clearly, the deal smells. And, clearly, the Governor told us as little as possible about it before now. He knew that people might question their Governor getting a post-election sweetheart deal that paid him more than his state salary.
 
Especially since Lending Tree has been accused of violating state and federal laws. And paid $3 million to South Carolina in 2012 after regulators said it hadn’t disclosed that it was being paid by the lenders it recommended as having the best mortgage rates.
 
McCrory and Sanford weren’t exactly serving on the board of a corporate citizen like Red Hat or First Citizens.
 
But what McCrory did pales beside how he has reacted. The blitz he launched against AP and its reporters was breathtaking.
 
In one statement, he said of the story, “It was written with malice and the intent to do harm without any factual consideration given.” In an interview, he said, “I almost call it the new Rolling Stone type of Journalism."
 
The N&O called the response “an assault on the AP.” Several reporters expressed amazement on social media – and defended the AP reporters. One non-media post said something you always hear in these situations: “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” One PR veteran said, “If this is what works, I need to retire.”
 
McCrory critics said it’s just another sign of the Governor’s prickliness and over-sensitivity, an overreaction cooked up in the heat of anger and frustration.
 
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s cold political calculation. And maybe it will work.
 
No, it’s not PR 101. The conventional approach is to argue the facts, but not attack reporters’ integrity. This is a whole new barrel of ink.
 
Team McCrory, as they call themselves, may figure he can’t survive two years of ethics stories like this and the 60 Minutes story on Duke and coal ash. Maybe it’s easier to destroy the messenger than defend the Governor.
 
This all comes just as AP announced that it is “doubling down on state government coverage.” On AP’s website, one editor says, “...(W)e are really pushing our state bureaus to focus their time and effort on content that is exclusive to AP and that our members and subscribers can’t get anywhere else. That needs to be our guiding principle. We do that exactly as we always have: by developing sources and breaking stories, being fastest on big breaking news, and by providing explanation, analysis and depth on the stories that have the biggest impact on peoples’ lives.”
 
They sure started with a bang. And McCrory fired back with an even bigger bang. Now it’s war.

 

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18
About a week ago the Governor went on a tear about 60 Minutes, saying Leslie Stahl had done him wrong; that he’d sat sweating under the hot lights for an hour answering questions but she hadn’t even blamed Democrats once for the coal ash spill – all his work had been for nothing. Worse than nothing.
 
Then, next, he went on a tear against the Associated Press saying they’d treated him worse than Leslie Stahl – that they’d smeared him with innuendo and that no matter what AP said the payments he’d received from Lending Tree (where he’d served as a Director) were 100% legal and he’d earned every penny of the money and he didn’t appreciate getting whacked by “drive-by journalism.”
 
Now the AP story said the Governor’s stock bonus was unusual and raised red flags but about the worse fact in the story was the Governor had been paid $185,000 by Lending Tree, an online loan company that’s a cut above a pay day lender and got fined $3 million by South Carolina for misleading consumers. The AP didn’t say the Governor had done anything illegal. Or that he’d done anything unethical (as Governor ) to help Lending Tree.  
 
So here’s an odd fact: While the AP story wasn’t exactly flattering it didn’t amount to much until the Governor stood up and did something I haven’t seen in 40 years: He announced, I’m not a crook.


 

 

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17
He’d been through, he said, the ordeal of sitting for a whole hour and fifteen minutes under hot lights, sweating, answering questions but then, he added, when he saw the interview on TV he had been shocked.
He sounded – not in the TV interview but, later, when he described the interview to a reporter – like a well-meaning boy saying, I was good, I behaved, and I got punched.
 
Wondering, What did he expect? next I watched the 60 Minutes program about Duke Energy’s coal ash spill – and he was hardly in it:
 
Leslie Stahl asked: Tell us how much the fine was?
 
Pat McCrory said: I don’t have the list but…
 
Stahl interrupted: It was $99,111.
 
And McCrory said: That’s correct. It wasn’t a big fine.
 
That was the only tough question Leslie Stahl asked Pat McCrory.
 
Still boyish at fifty-eight, Pat McCrory’s run head on into a mountain of coal ash, a posse of reporters and a battalion of cold-hearted lobbyists with no respect for boyish charm.     

 


 

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16
Once again, a TAPster bails me out on a busy day with this guest blog:
 
“Regardless of our personal feelings about Governor McCrory, we should all pray for his safety. We should help him across the street, taste his food and take turns guarding the mansion’s front door.
 
“These drastic measures are required to ensure that no accident or bad chicken salad or crazed terrorist gives the current lieutenant governor a shot at the big job.
 
“Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, obviously and understandably, is bored. The lieutenant governor isn’t a real job. Its only function is to preside over the Senate, so there’s not much to do when the legislature is out of session. Despite this, the citizens give him a large staff, a big office, a fulltime paycheck and no parental guidance.
 
“So Forest is spending his idle time dreaming up stuff to do. He’s stirring up support for a convention of states to rewrite the nation’s Constitution. Seriously? Our lieutenant governor?
 
“The only constitutional rewrite we should contemplate is one to make the lieutenant governor a part time job to preside over the Senate. We can close his office, fire his staff and give the savings to the teachers.”

 

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10
Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post used to say: “I come in every day with an empty bucket, and somebody fills it up.” Some days I come in with an empty blog, but TAPsters (readers, commentators and contributors) fill it up. Here’s a guest blog that’s timely in light of Senator-elect Andy Wells’ letter to the N&O today. The writer is no government bureaucrat; he’s a long-time warrior in the corporate world who recruited companies to North Carolina:
 
“North Carolina continues to wander aimlessly in its efforts to recruit new business to the state.
 
“Sadly, the biggest economic prize so far was won by the new CEO of the state’s shiny new economic development organization. He’s coming from Missouri, makes a cool $225k annually and will need a map to find his way from Raleigh to Garner.
 
“C’mon people, was not a single person in North Carolina qualified for this job? 
 
“Actually, it doesn’t matter if the new CEO is from Missouri or Middlesex. As long as Republicans oppose big-time incentives to recruit big-time manufacturers, we can forget an auto manufacturer or other big employer.
 
“The mind-numbing hypocrisy and brain-dead philosophical confusion of our state’s leaders was never more evident than in the final hours of the forgettable legislative session. Legislators killed incentive payments because they don't believe in giving tax dollars to private businesses. Then, within hours, those same people voted overwhelmingly, enthusiastically and without shame to give $12 million of the state’s money to a privately owned paper mill in the mountains that threatened to close if help to pay for pollution controls wasn't forthcoming.
 
“Good luck.”

 

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09
When 60 Minutes came calling, Governor McCrory was quick to dump, and dump on, his old employer Duke Energy.
 
When Leslie Stahl asked about Duke’s record on coal ash, McCrory squinted real serious-like and said, “Actually, there’s been no record regarding coal ash disposal.” Stahl: “They haven’t done anything?” McCrory: “Very little, very little. I think the record has been quite poor. Because frankly it’s been out of sight, out of mind.”
 
Out of his sight and mind too, apparently. After all, he was only at Duke for 30 years and there’s only about 100 million tons of the stuff lying around. How could he know that?
 
He professed to be shocked, shocked, by the spill at Dan River. How could that be, when the plant was closed?
 
Of course, 60 Minutes didn’t let him off that easy. It pointed out that he cut state regulators’ staff and budget. And there’s the little matter of a federal grand jury investigation.
 
This is just a taste of what’s coming for McCrory as he runs for reelection the next two years. Ads already have depicted him with ash on his hands.
 
It’s not just Democrats, liberals and environmentalists. Senator Berger has publicly suggested that McCrory is protecting his old employer.
 
Sunday night, his strategy was to run. But can he hide?

 

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05
Talk about a fellow being star-crossed – after the election as everyone took a deep breath and settled back peacefully for Thanksgiving the Governor, without a lot of hoopla,  quietly launched his reelection campaign, blanketing the Internet with a nice pleasant new video – then, the next day, an environmental group announced it had found a new coal ash spill (or leak) and this time the arsenic wasn’t pouring into a river that runs into Virginia.
           
The Southern Environmental Law Center reports its testing proves coal ash ponds at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant near Salisbury are (and have been) leaking vile chemicals into the Yadkin River and both Duke Power and the State (which by now has surely tested every coal-ash pond in existence) have hushed it up.
 
Meantime, while fate was unkind to the Governor, down the street in John Skvarla’s office the sun was shining.
 
Talk about good fortune: The day before the new spill (or leak) landed in the newspapers Skvarla resigned as head of DENR (the department in charge of coal ash) to become Secretary of Commerce.


 

 

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03
There you go again, Governor. “Stepping on toes.”
 
Some people think leadership is about getting people to work together, or inspiring them to put the common good ahead of self-interest or even, as Harry Truman once said, “persuading people to do what they ought to have enough damn sense to do on their own.”
 
Not our Governor. He believes a leader’s job is to “step on toes.”
 
Yesterday, he resorted to that same phrase twice, once in praising his outgoing Commerce Secretary and then in the video launching his reelection campaign.
 
Of Sharon Decker’s work on the public-private economic development partnership, McCrory said: “She stepped on a lot of toes to make that happen.” She apparently will now be stepping on toes in the private sector, while John Skvarla steps on toes in Commerce rather than DENR.
 
McCrory’s campaign website has this video clip: “As a mayor for 14 years, I knew you had to take bold action, and you had to step on the toes of people who wanted to keep the status quo.”
 
The phrase struck a familiar chord. A Google search unearthed this gem of a story last year by Jeremy Markovich at Charlotte magazine: “The Pat McCrory Toe-Stepping Quote Generator.” Markovich collected a long list of toe-stepping.
 
In July 2013, the Governor told CNN: “I have stepped on toes in my first six months in office of the right and the left and the media.”
 
In September that year, he told the Washington Post: “We’re stepping on the toes of a lot of the establishment that’s been controlling this state government for a long, long time, on both the left and the right.”
 
He didn’t hold out on in-state media, telling WRAL in January 2013, “I don't want to step on people's toes to cause pain. I want to step on people's toes to get them to stand up and recognize that we've got a problem and we've got to fix it” and WNCN in July “But listen, I'm shocked [my approval numbers are] that high because we're stepping on the toes of the status quo.”
 
Or local media. He told the Mt. Airy News, “These are the toes I’m stepping on in North Carolina right now.”
 
Now, maybe the Governor is just “staying on message,” as they say. Or maybe he can’t think of anything else to say. Or maybe there’s some deep psychological explanation we can’t begin to figure out.
 
Maybe we’ll want him to keep stepping on our toes for four more years. Or maybe we’ll give him the boot.

 

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01
Democrats looking to the future should look today to the swearing-in of four new Wake County Commissioners.
 
They are a large part of why I told the AP’s Bill Barrow that the key to the party’s success in 2016 and beyond "will have to come from younger Democrats in the cities." Huffington Post picked up his story, and my quote got widely circulated over the holiday.
 
Which prompts me to, as they say in Congress, “extend” my remarks to include not only the young but also the young in spirit, like Sig Hutchinson, who was key in organizing the unified Wake campaign that elected him and three other commissioners, John Burns, Jessica Holmes and Matt Calabria. That blend of experience and new faces, as with Sarah Crawford and Tom Bradshaw in the hard-fought Wake Senate races, is powerful.
 
Democrats’ House victories in Wake and Buncombe counties were bright rays in an otherwise dark November sky. The party now needs to build on that success and on the strengths of an extraordinary new generation of leaders now rising across the state.
 
Just to name a few: newly elected Representatives Gale Adcock in Wake and Brian Turner in Buncombe, Senators Jeff Jackson and Jeff Ford of Mecklenburg, Wake Rep. Grier Martin, Wake Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, Dare Rep. Paul Tine, plus Deborah Ross, Kim Hanchette, Dan Blue III, Zeb Smathers, Andy Ball and a host of active and impressive Young Democrats and College Democrats.
 
Wake Senator Josh Stein may be the first in his class to move up to statewide office in 2016. Watch him debate Senator Bob Ruccho on tax policy, and see why.
 
In years past, the Young Democrats Clubs produced leaders like Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, Bill Whichard, George Miller and more. In years ahead, young Democrats can produce more leaders like them who can win and govern successfully.
 
For now, the Wake County commissioners can blaze the trail for the party’s statewide comeback in 2016 and beyond.

 

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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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