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13
Misery loves company and right here, in Raleigh, it’s led to a pretty strange alliance. Governor McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency have joined arms.
 
To whip the ‘coal ash’ problem.
 
According to the newspaper reports the Governor is “pleased” but, so far, the EPA hasn’t had much kind to say about DENR. In fact, the other morning the newspapers reported the EPA was unhappy with DENR because of its too cushy settlement with Duke Energy a year ago.
 
Even worse for the DENR folks, disposing of a mountain of coal ash (that’s been building up for forty years) may not be their diciest problem. Not by a long shot.
 
Coal ash is a catastrophe. But Grand Jury Investigations and subpoenas flying through the air are an altogether more worrisome development. Dancing the ‘ole political two step’ with an FBI agent doesn’t work. And in Grand Jury investigations people testify under oath so fibbing is off the table. If you’re a DENR employee or a lobbyist who lobbied a DENR employee you’re face to face with a cold hard fact – the Grand Jury is looking for an answer to a simple question: Did someone in DENR cut Duke Power a break? And did he or she get anything in return?
 
This kind of investigation can be the deadliest calamity in politics. There’re no backroom fixes. No quarter is given. And the consequences can be a lot more unfortunate than losing an election.

 

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10
When it comes to straw polls, from cradle to grave, there’s a whiff of deception in the air. Hardly anything is what it seems.
 
For instance, political groups don’t take straw polls to measure voters’ opinions or candidates’ strengths – they take them to gin-up attendance for meetings. By telling a cash-strapped candidate, We’re taking a straw poll at our next meeting so you’d better turn out your supporters. Then the poor candidate starts scrambling, spending precious dollars to get people to go to the meeting to vote for him. To win a straw poll, candidates have been known to pay for supporters’ registration fees to conventions or tickets to dinners.
 
Last election when the Wake County Republican Party held a straw poll during the Republican Primary, my friend George Holding’s campaign didn’t spend a penny. George attended, spoke  and his campaign went right on spending its money on TV or radio ads to reach thousands of voters.
 
That night, after the convention, on his way home George called me and said, Well, I finished last.
 
How many votes did you get?
 
17%.
 
It wasn’t George’s happiest night of the campaign. But later, on Election Day, talking to voters rather than winning straw polls paid off.
 
The other night the Wake County Republican Party held another straw poll and, true to form, a candidate who hasn’t aired a single TV ad won. The next morning the News and Observer reported Greg Brannon had beaten Thom Tillis by 12 points and, naturally, anyone reading the story might think Brannon’s cruising to victory in the primary too. But that’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s just one more straw poll that isn’t what it seems.

 

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09
This is a story about how even “good” money – that is, money spent for candidates and causes I like – can be bad.
 
It’s a story about how outside donors and independent campaigns, not candidates and office-holders, are setting the political agenda. You can walk, and run, but money talks.
 
Most every poll you see in North Carolina today shows that education is the number one issue. And the Republican legislature’s biggest vulnerability – as is Thom Tillis’s – is its war against teachers and public schools.
 
But what issue dominates the pro-Democratic TV ads? It’s not education. It’s the environment, clean air and water, and the coal ash spill.
 
Now, those are great issues. Great Democratic issues. But why is TV filled with ads about the environment, and not education?
 
Because the big donors – big national and in-state donors – care more about environmental issues than education issues.
 
This is what the United States Supreme Court in effect believes should happen: People with money should be able to decide the agenda and define the issues. The Court says that is fundamental in our Constitution.
 
You can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad. But how many ads can you afford?

 

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08
Long ago and far away, in bygone days, during Jim Hunt’s first incarnation as Governor, we (Jesse Helms’ political organization) lit on what we thought was a grand idea: We ’d do a TV ad attacking Governor Hunt for giving AFL-CIO boss Wilber Hobby government CETA grants.
 
We made the ad, tore into Wilbur Hobby, then polled. Wilbur was about as popular as a skunk. But we hadn’t laid a glove on Jim Hunt.
 
Chuckling at our chagrin our pollster explained, You guys may not like Jim Hunt much but that’s nothing compared to how much you dislike Wilbur Hobby. Then he added, That’s why you went for ‘the cape and not the bull.’
 
What he meant was we disliked Hobby so much we’d gotten carried away pummeling him and completely missed Hunt. As Tom Ellis said shaking his head, Well, boys, that was a complete waste of money.
 
Judging by their TV ads the Democrats like the Koch brothers even less than we liked Wilber Hobby. They’re spending $3 million to tell folks the Kochs are villains and varmints and they’ll probably blow the Kochs to kingdom come. But they’re going for the cape and not the bull.

 

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08
How would Republican primary voters feel about a prominent supporter of gay marriage holding a fundraiser for Thom Tillis in New York City?
 
That would be Paul Singer, a hedge-fund CEO whom the Washington Post calls “the money man behind pro-gay marriage Republicans.”
 
The Post reported that, “Last week, Singer and other donors threw two fundraisers for Republican candidates in New York City. The first one supported Thom Tillis, the House speaker in the North Carolina state legislature….The event raised about $280,000.”
 
The Post calls Singer “one of the foremost backers of LGBT rights on the right. Since 2010, Singer has spent more than $10 million trying to get states to legalize gay marriage and get Republicans to join the battle.”
 
Tillis is walking a fine line here. He was Speaker when gay-bashing Republicans pushed through the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But he predicted that it would be repealed before very long. And he’s being pressed in the primary by opponents who would love to bash him on the gay-marriage issue.
 
Now, in fairness, Singer’s political giving also reflects his conservative views on economics and financial regulation. But we wonder whether Tillis wants Republican primary voters in North Carolina to know about Singer.
 
We’re glad to help. And maybe this is a sign of how fast public opinion is moving on gay marriage.

 

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07
Maybe the attack-Koch strategy is a good idea after all. I had questions, but I’m coming around.
 
Every story needs a villain. That lesson is as old as the Bible. (See: the Serpent, Garden of Eden.)
 
Just as Republicans here want to make William Barber of the NAACP the face of the Democratic Party, the Kazillionaire Kochs are the ideal face of a Republican Party that is firmly committed to looking out for the 1 Percent – or the one-tenth of 1 Percent – at the expense of people who want good schools, good jobs, good health care and safe water to drink and air to breathe.
 
The Kochs are perfect villains in a political environment where the public suspects there’s a corrupt link between Big Business and GOP Government. And the Kochs are just an extension of the Bain Capital brand that Mitt Romney bequeathed to the GOP.
 
Even better, there are two of them. Evil Twins!
 
And it must be working. Charles Koch felt compelled to take to the friendly pages of the Wall Street Journal to protest that “collectivists” are being mean to him.
 
Let’s pile on!

 

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04
Just as ObamaCare divides the nation politically, it divides Democrats strategically. Does it spell disaster in November, or can we score points with it?
 
The President took the ball to the basket this week. His message: 7-plus million Americans signed up. Millions of Americans can now get health care. Republicans are just obstructionists and have no plan to help people.
 
James Carville, for one, is arguing that Obamacare can be a winner in November.
 
“After Alex Sink was sunk in the Florida special congressional race in February, my fellow Democratic strategists went back to their get-out-the-vote strategy and feared another 1994 or 2010 landslide election for the GOP. Well, Democratic voters might now be motivated to stand by the administration’s top legislative achievement more than ever — the same ABC/Post poll found that Democratic support for ObamaCare has reached 76 percent, which is up 11 percentage points from January. My fellow Democrats feared we didn’t have a motivating issue ... well, Republican opposition to the law, to no one’s surprise, is at 78 percent.
 
“I like being on the side of healthcare consumer. I think that is a winning argument for Democrats.”
 
Other Democratic strategists don’t believe the story arc has changed. It still isn’t a winner, and it won’t be, they say.
 
My guess – as I blogged last week (see “Move On”) – is that this issue, like a long-running TV series, is about to run down. By November, swing voters won’t know whether ObamaCare is good or bad or whether what’s bad about health care is due to ObamaCare or just the general screwed-up system we have.
 
Something else will happen. Crisis in Ukraine? Republican overreach? Another X Factor? ObamaCare is already baked into this cake. November is seven months away. We’ve got a long way to go.

 

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04
A year ago when my health insurance went up I grumbled and blamed Blue Cross. Then, this year, my new bill arrived and the premium went up again even more. But this time I didn’t blame Blue Cross. I laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of one man: Barack Obama.
 
In bygone days, when George Bush wanted to invade Iraq Colin Powell warned, Sure, you can whip Iraq, but that’s not the problem – the problem is after you whip Iraq you own it. What happens then?
 
Back in 2009, someone should have warned President Obama, Sure, you can pass Obamacare, but the problem is after you do you ‘own’ healthcare – every premium increase is going to be your premium increase.  
 
The President moved heaven and earth and won but now, five years later, it hasn’t turned out the way he expected: Every time a premium goes up he gets blamed. Which proves the old proverb, Be careful what you wish for…

 

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03
Carter said a “celebrity” campaign was different. Now I get it. Working with Clay Aiken is unlike any campaign I’ve seen.
 
Aiken starts with the most valuable quality a candidate can have today. He is a genuine political outsider in a time when voters are disgusted with politics. And he has near-universal name recognition. He doesn’t have to buy that on TV.
 
His challenge as a candidate is – or, was – different. Call it the WTF Factor. As in “Clay Aiken for Congress? WTF?” People know who he is, but is he qualified?
 
Aiken put that to rest in his five-minute announcement video. It has been viewed more than 600,000 times. Then he walked a gauntlet of interviews in the state and national media. When people hear him and talk to him, they realize he knows the district, knows the issues and knows what people are going through.
 
Now he’s on a roll. People react to him like to no other politician. I saw it last weekend at the College Dems/Young Dems convention and at Lillian’s List this week. The room buzzes when he comes in. People watch him. They take his measure. They want to take pictures with him.
 
Aiken seizes that moment. He takes their cell phone and snaps a selfie with them. Now, “#selfieswithclay” is a thing.
 
All this explains why he has a 20-point lead in the Democratic primary. And why the DCCC has put this race on the radar. And why Renee Ellmers suddenly looks spooked.

 

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01
A doctor is a simple creature. He measures achievement by a straightforward standard – the Hippocratic Oath.
 
A businessman also measures success by a simple standard – money, income and outgo.
 
But a bureaucrat has the misfortune of breathing and walking in the murky world of insider politics. Which is like no other world on earth.
 
Take Medicaid.
 
State Bureaucrats who work for state government run the program, but Washington pays most (roughly 2/3rds) of the bills. 
 
And, awhile back, some well-intentioned soul, I guess in Congress, decided if the bureaucrats in Raleigh mismanaged Medicaid and wasted Washington’s money the state should pay the money back. 
 
Which sounded fine.  It sounded like ‘accountability’ in the normal world.
 
But, in politics, ‘accountability’ led to an unintended consequence. 
 
The other day the News & Observer reported the State Auditor had reviewed a sample of 280 Medicaid claims and found $439,000 in overpayments.
 
That doesn’t sound too bad – but, in fact, last year the state paid 88 million Medicaid claims. So if an audit of 280 claims turned up $440,000 in waste – what on earth would an audit of all the claims turn up?
 
The answer is no one has a clue. Not the State Auditor. Or the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Or the Governor. 
 
And there’s a simple reason why:  That well-intended law someone in Washington passed years ago.
 
Follow the math.
 
If an audit (of the entire Medicaid program) found, say, $500 million in waste the state would be out its third of the money – $167,000 million. And it’d probably never see that money again.
 
But, in addition, the state would have to repay Washington for its 2/3rds of the money – $333 million.
 
So, in all, the state’s out a total of $500 million.
 
On the other hand, if the state does nothing, and doesn’t look for any waste, it doesn’t have to repay Washington a penny. It’s still out $167 million. But that beats being out $500 million. And that’s where the law of unintended consequences comes into play.
 
Naturally, no bureaucrat in state government is set on rooting out the waste in Medicaid.

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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