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03

There’s been a lot of political foolishness going on over in Greensboro and I’ve been watching it pretty closely, working with one of Phil Berger Jr.’s opponents in the Republican Primary, Bruce VonCannon.

The other day Berger’s Super PAC broke bad and issued an edict: Voters, they said, ought not to trust Bruce VonCannon to oppose Obamacare.

Now, you might wonder, How can that be? A Republican candidate for Congress not opposing Obamacare?
 
Well, according to Berger’s Super PAC, the answer goes like this: Last December, Bruce VonCannon hired a prominent Republican lawyer with the Arent Fox Law Firm in Washington to handle his campaign’s financial reports with the Federal Elections Commission.
 
Now, in and of itself, that doesn’t sound too bad. But Berger’s Super PAC wasn’t done. It revealed another horrible fact: Arent Fox, it said, has a Democratic partner who’d lobbied for Obamacare.
 
And, to be frank, that’s true.
 
Just like it’s true Arent Fox represents Rand Paul and Ron Paul – which, of course, led Bruce VonCannon to ask Phil Berger, Jr. a simple question: Do you think Rand Paul can’t be trusted on Obamacare too?
 
Then, later on that same day, a friend called and pointed out an even odder fact. Phil Berger, he said, had hired Parker Poe (Terry Sanford’s old law firm) to be his attorney – which led to a final even simpler question for the folks at Berger’s Super PAC: Would you all say that proves Phil Berger, Jr. is for the Food Tax – or would you say there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking?

 

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02
Paul Tine is a rare and endangered species: a centrist Democrat who represents a Republican-leaning district in the N.C. House. The Democratic Party needs him – and more like him.
 
I met Paul for the first time at a fundraiser this week. He’s young, smart and candid. I know his district, House 6, which covers Dare, Hyde, Washington, and parts of Beaufort County. It has some of the poorest parts of the state, along with the beach, resort and retirement areas of Dare.
 
He was straightforward in telling his liberal-leaning audience that the issues important to them aren’t always what his constituents care about. They’re worried about just getting from Point A to Point B in places that depend on ferries that get delayed, bridges that get shut down and roads that get washed out.
 
Listening to him, it struck me that if he were in politics for personal ambition alone, he’d probably be a Republican. They’d love to have an articulate, attractive businessman with his record and family – his wife Whitney, who may be a better politician than he is, and their two sons.
 
So he’s got guts and principles, and I like that.
 
And I liked the karma. The reception was at the home of Joyce Fitzpatrick and Jay Stewart. Joyce and Jay bought the house from Al Adams, the former state representative from Raleigh. Al was Terry Sanford’s law partner and protégé. I suspect Terry had been in the house talking politics more than a few times.
 
To channel my inner Lloyd Bentsen: I knew Terry Sanford. Terry Sanford was a friend of mine. I worked with Terry Sanford. And I know what Terry would have said if he’d been there: “We need Paul Tine. And you need to help him.”
 
Listen to Terry. Help Paul. Click here.

 

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01
I received a response from Art Pope to my blog yesterday (“Rich and Ruthless”). He said: “Feel free to post this to your web site.” I am happy to reprint it in full below, and I thank Art for responding – and for reading:
 
It is a rough game, but it has not cost me millions.
 
Gary,
 
In some ways I get your post Rich and Ruthless, which included the statement "Art Pope learned that lesson. For 20 years, he pumped millions into the John Locke Foundation. He got nowhere. Starting in 2010, he pumped millions into independent campaigns, and he started winning."
 
But apparently even your normally clear vision gets blurred by the being exposed to others' kool-aid.
 
The simple fact is that I have never, in my entire life, cumulatively, even including donations from my company, donated a total of a single million, much less millions plural, into independent campaigns or candidate campaigns. 
 
You will have to look to the NC Democratic Party candidates and donors, such as Erskine Bowles and John Edwards, to find someone in North Carolina who literally spent millions plural on campaigns.
 
And I have not contributed a dime or otherwise been involved at all in the NC Supreme Court primary, much less with the "blistering attack" on Justice Robin Hudson.
 
 
Yours truly,
 
Art Pope

 

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30
Democrats contemplating a comeback need to contemplate this. The Republican Party is spending at least $650,000 on “a blistering attack” against Justice Robin Hudson of the state Supreme Court.
 
Democrats need to face a sobering reality: They are up against a rich and ruthless opponent, one who will spend any amount and say anything to seize and hold power.
 
You can whine about it, you can complain about money in politics or you can hope that nobody believes an ad that accuses Hudson “of siding with child molesters.”
 
None of that does any good. There is only one solution, one antidote to the Pope-Koch Axis of Evil. Some rich, hard-headed individual who cares about North Carolina needs to step up, see what works and put up the seed money.
 
What works are independent-expenditure ads that destroy the opponent. That’s what politics has come to, like it or not.
 
Art Pope learned that lesson. For 20 years, he pumped millions into the John Locke Foundation. He got nowhere. Starting in 2010, he pumped millions into independent campaigns, and he started winning.
 
This is not rocket science. But it’s expensive, and it’s a rough game.

 

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29
The ice melting under Republicans’ feet isn’t climate change, it’s Obamacare. The issue on which they bet the house this year may be disappearing.
 
A poll this month in North Carolina, Louisiana and Kentucky found that, while people don’t like Obamacare, they want Congress to improve it, instead of repealing and replacing it.
 
Republicans running against the Affordable Care Act now have the same problem the President and Democrats had in passing it: Nobody knows what it is or what it does. It’s complicated, and the public is confused. So it’s hard to pin down – and separate out from health care’s other problems – what the Act does, good or bad.
 
It also may be that people are just tired of hearing about the whole thing.
 
Now, there is still strong antipathy to President Obama and anything he does, has done or ever will do. That is set in stone, and it won’t go away.
 
But Republicans may find that the gift that kept on giving has stopped giving. Maybe they can start running against climate change – or the theory of evolution. They don’t believe in those either, according to a new PPP poll.
 

 

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28
This is a story guaranteed to go on a reporter’s wall – and to set teeth gnashing again in Chapel Hill.
 
The New York Times reported on the long-running battle between UNC-Chapel Hill and The News & Observer – and, specifically, investigative reporter Dan Kane. Kane comes off best, as in this passage:
 
“…Kane is a polarizing figure, even outside the bloviating world of online outrage, as much as it is possible for someone as seemingly mild mannered as he is to rouse strong opinions. Some Chapel Hill alumni, faculty members and readers say that his paper, known locally as the N&O (and sometimes as the Nuisance and Disturber), has done a great public service in forcing the university to investigate and confront its past mistakes….
 
“Others more or less wish Kane would just go away. This category includes Tar Heels fans and alumni outraged at what they say are his wrongheaded efforts to link the academic scandal to the sports program; North Carolina administrators who, he says, no longer take his calls; and faculty members who believe Kane is looking for Watergate-style sports-related conspiracies that simply do not exist.”
 
But the last three paragraphs of the story illustrate both UNC’s problem – and the possible solution:
 
“’We admire the News & Observer’s long tradition of fair-minded journalism; we just wish they would practice it more often,’ the university’s newly appointed vice chancellor for communications, Joel Curran, said in a statement. ‘In our case, the paper seems more content to rehash old news rather than report new solutions.’

“Not surprisingly, Kane sees it differently.

“’They have done all kinds of things,’ he said. ‘But what’s left unanswered is how this all happened, and what actually happened. That’s where the battle forms. It’s like that old saying about history — if you don’t understand it, you’re doomed to repeat it’.”
 
UNC’s statement was needlessly antagonistic. Kane’s comment suggests that the university gets credit for what it has done, but it needs to simply come clean about what happened in the first place – who, what, where, when, etc. – and then say what the university did or didn’t do about it.
 
With all its problems today – a hostile state government, deep budget cuts and the Gene Nichol affair – can’t UNC simply let the facts come out and the chips fall where they may? Nothing can be worse than this constant warfare.

 

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25
Will Governor McCrory stand up to the rising Republican revolt against Common Core (they call it “Obamacore”)?
 
Rushing to pander to the Tea Party, Republican legislators who once embraced the standards now denounce them. The philosophy seems to be: “Everybody should be as dumb as us.”
 
Chris Fitzsimon at NC Policy Watch summed up the Governor’s dilemma in a tweet: “Governor McCrory supports Common Core; so does his SBOE Chair Bill Cobey; Would McCrory veto bill ending Common Core?”
 
If McCrory stands firm, instead of folding, will he face a primary challenge in 2016 from Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest?
 
Grab a seat and some popcorn. This will be interesting.

 

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24
Thom Tillis is already vulnerable over the sex scandal in his office, and he will invite more scandals if he remains Speaker in the short session. Those scandals will be about legislation, campaign contributions and pay-to-play.
 
It’s obvious why he wants to stay as Speaker: So he can raise money – either for a GOP runoff or for the fall campaign. So everything that happens in the House – every bill, every issue, every vote – will prompt sharp-eyed researchers to see who had a stake in that issue and who gives Tillis money.
 
If Tillis thinks the sex-scandal ads sting – and boy, do they ever – wait until he sees the pay-to-play ads.
 
On top of that, Tillis has shown an uncanny gift for turning a negative against him into an even bigger negative against him. Witness his shifting stories about where he went to college and, now, whether he “fired” the staffers in the sex scandals.
 
Between the primary and the session, Tillis could emerge as a badly wounded candidate. While Kay Hagan amasses a big war chest and a lot of ammo.

 

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23
Watching the Republican Senate debate, it would not have been surprising if all four candidates had sworn that the earth is flat. Because they went right over the edge.
 
You saw four candidates who would pay any price, bear any burden, destroy any branch of government, defend any outlandish right to have a gun and deny any reality in order to pander to a narrow and apparently narrow-minded primary base.
 
The high (or low) point came when the candidates were asked if climate change is real. They greeted the question not only with emphatic “no’s,” but with laughter.
 
Think about that for a minute. No hint that the overwhelming consensus among scientists is that climate change is a real and present danger.
 
Forget scientists. How about the Pentagon? Its 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review says: "The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."
 
Well, who believes those soft-headed, do-good ninnies at the Pentagon?
 
Now, take Thom Tillis (please). He seems to be a smart man. He was a successful business consultant. You don’t do well there by pooh-poohing facts.
 
Tillis surely knows better. But he’s afraid to say so. He would rather pander to a voting base that is trapped in the iron grip of ignorance.
 
Which tells you all you need to know about where the Republican Party is today – and where they would take North Carolina and the nation.
 

 

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22
UNC-Chapel Hill just can’t get out of the academic fraud tar pit. The harder the school struggles, the stickier it gets.
 
First UNC got a new chancellor. Then a new vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, whose charge is clearly to get the school past this mess. They said all the right things, but nothing seems to work.
 
They paraded an all-star team of scholar-athletes in front of the media and trustees. But the exercise looked a bit contrived.
 
Then, yesterday, the employee who blew the whistle met with the chancellor, announced she is resigning and accused the chancellor of “berating” her.
 
True or not, that didn’t look good – especially on top of the Gene Nichols affair.
 
Some true-blue Heels will tell you this is all a vendetta by The News & Observer. Some of my fellow Wolfpackers – who haven’t gotten over the N&O’s pursuit of Jim Valvano – are loving it. I’m not. The university is a big part of why North Carolina has long been a progressive state. And the J School is a veritable well that waters the state with aggressive, progressive journalism.
 
Now, two of those great progressive institutions – the university and the N&O – are at war. Can’t somebody negotiate a truce here?
 

 

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Carter & Gary
 
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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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