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For years Johnston County’s school superintendent accepted fringe benefits as a compliment to his salary then, just before he retired, he turned $94,000 in ‘fringe benefits’ into salary to increase his pension to $143,000.

The State Treasurer then told Johnston County, We’re not going to pay that. That’s pension spiking.

Johnston County didn’t say, Whoops. We’re sorry. It sued the State Treasurer. And won. On a technicality.  

The State Pension Fund and the State Health Care Fund are $60 billion in debt and putting a stop to ‘pension spiking’ would be a simple way to stop more debt piling up. But common sense isn’t a trait of government. Johnston County didn’t mind a little pension spiking as long as the state was on the hook to pay the bill.  

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Even with Trump’s troubles, and even with some close finishes, Democrats can’t turn the corner. We came close in Montana, close in Georgia and close even in South Carolina.

But a loss is a loss. And we’re still looking for a W.

Which makes must-reading of an article in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (“Is North Carolina the Future of American Politics?”).

It’s one of the best analyses I’ve read. Not surprising, because Jason Zengerle is one of the best political reporters in America today. (Plus, he quoted Carter and me.)

Here’s his bottom line:

“The bet that North Carolina Democrats are making — one that national Democrats will undoubtedly be paying attention to before the 2020 presidential race — is that, rather than fight Republican extremism with the Democratic equivalent, the surest way to nudge North Carolina from purple to blue is to make a low-key politician like Cooper, a consensus-seeker even where there’s no consensus to be had, their party’s standard-bearer.”

Zengerle focuses on Governor Cooper. He deftly sums up the Governor’s political challenge:

“It is Cooper’s misfortune to have finally arrived at his apparent destiny — his once-youthful face now wizened, his Lego-like helmet of hair streaked with gray — in a political climate that does not have much use for the sort of cautious, consensus-seeking governor he has spent his life preparing to be.”

As one Democrat said this week, “There’s not a lot of consensus to be found when most Republicans are suicide bombers and most Democrats are just suicidal.”

In the wake of the Georgia Six loss, you see the bitter split opening in the Democratic Party – one that will dominate 2018, 2020 and every day in between.

One chorus says go hard left. Be a populist. Soak the rich. Spread the wealth. Protect the planet. Stand on principle.

This chorus is led by Bernie Sanders and the Rev. William Barber.

They say: Be like UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Look at how he mobilized millennials.

The other chorus says go center-left. Yes, be progressive. But be pro-job, pro-growth and fiscally responsible. Appeal to a broader band of voters, not just urban progressives, millennials and minorities.

The leaders of this chorus are just emerging, like Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, who challenged Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and says the Democratic Party’s brand “is worse than Trump.”

The overseas model here is Emmanual Macron: Be an unapologetic progressive, but unapologetically take good ideas from the right. Be a problem-solver. Above all, be anti-politics-as-usual.

But Democrats shouldn’t believe it’s just about fashioning the right policies or crafting the right message.

As always, it’s about new leaders emerging. Like JFK in 1960, Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008 – and, in North Carolina, Terry Sanford in and Jim Hunt.

It’s about a leader with a voice and a vision. A man or woman voters like and believe in. Above all, someone whom Americans sense “gets” them, understands what they’re going through and truly cares about helping them.

A leader like that can rise above party divisions, rewrite the playbook and write a new chapter of history.

Nothing wins like a winner.


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Chuck Schumer couldn’t believe his luck – when Trump said he was willing to testify, as fast as Schumer could he said, Come on over to the Senate and we’ll swear you in.

A born showman, Donald Trump craves attention. But that need lands him in messes. Once he boasted he drew bigger crowds than Beyoncé – and landed in a mess. Another time he boasted he’d received more Electoral College votes than any President since Ronald Reagan: But Obama, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush all received more votes than Trump – another mess. One morning Trump launched a rumor on Twitter he had tapes of his conversation with Comey: The House has now asked, Are there tapes? and if the answer is No – another mess.  

Charles Krauthammer speculated when Trump tweets his unfiltered passions speak and explained that’s what happened after the terrorist attack in London: It was a time for sympathy but Trump, unfiltered passions roaring, continuing an old feud, blasted London Mayor Sadig Khan. Another mess.  

Krauthammer dubbed Trump’s wayward tweeting the Trump Derangement Syndrome but he might have named it the Queens Boy Syndrome because the voice on Twitter craving attention sounds more like a boy from Queens, landing himself in one mess after another.  

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“If teachers were motivated by money, they wouldn’t be teachers.”

– A motivated teacher

Republican legislators brag about their pay raises for teachers. Governor Cooper says teachers deserve more.

But what do teachers want?

It’s more than more pay.

If you talk with concerned, motivated teachers, they care more about:

  • too much testing
  • arbitrary standards
  • a lack of autonomy
  • over-bearing and under-informed administrators
  • no voice in how they do their jobs.

One teacher said, “The only people talking about teacher pay are politicians and journalists.”

Which raises two questions, one political and one policy. Political: How potent is the teacher pay issue, really? This is especially crucial for Democrats who want to be seen as public-school champions battling public-school-bashing and private-school-promoting Republicans.

The policy question is: What do teachers really need?

They need, first of all, for their voices to be heard, their experience respected and their ideas put front and center in education debates.

During his third and fourth terms, Governor Jim Hunt became a revered figure among teachers. It wasn’t just because he raised teacher pay here to the national average – and to the top 20 among the states.

He listened to teachers. He respected them. He included them in policy-making, priority-setting and legislation-writing. He gave them a voice, and he heard and acted on what they said and what he learned.

Is that happening today in the education debates – at the local, state or federal levels?

Or is the situation still the same as when one of the teachers quoted above took an education-policy class in college? The first day, the professor warned: “Everything you do in the classroom will be dictated by a bunch of old white men who haven’t been in a classroom in decades.”

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One can’t help feeling Ned Barnett down at the News and Observer was a little relieved when he read the Duke professor’s report. ‘Only 1 in 4 of Trump’s voters were working class people,’ Ned wrote quoting the professor. ‘The claim that working class voters elected Trump is a myth.’

Unfortunately, there was a bit of numbers juggling going on.

No one – who’s studied the numbers – would claim a majority of Donald Trump’s voters were working class people. They weren’t. But the numbers do say more working class people voted for Trump than voted for Mitt Romney and that shift – in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania – was a key to Donald Trump’s victory.

What mattered was simple: The shift.  

It happens all the time: In the name of debunking an old ‘myth’ a professor – or a newspaper editor – creates a new myth.

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A frustrated Donald Trump called Jim Comey a no-good liar but, in the next breath said Comey’s testimony proved he hadn’t colluded with the Russians. The words of a liar proved he was innocent, Trump said.

Next Trump’s lawyer said he was filing a legal complaint against Comey for leaking ‘privileged information.’ But Trump, himself, had just told the press the conversation Comey described – in the memo he leaked to a friend – never happened. It was fiction. So how could a conversation that never happened be privileged?

For weeks Trump’s hinted he has a tape of his meeting with Comey – if the tape exists why doesn’t he release it? And prove he was right? And if the tape doesn’t exist, why tweet about it?

The contradictions are piling up.

Trump once said NATO was obsolete then he said it was not obsolete. He said China was a currency manipulator then he said it wasn’t. He said he fired Comey on Jeff Sessions’ recommendation then he said he decided to fire Comey before he received Sessions’ recommendation.

Donald Trump is a hard, strong man. But he’s oddly blind: Can’t he see each time he contradicts himself doubt grows like a virus?

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In 1967, H. Rap Brown supposedly said, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.”

Our nation was born in violent revolution. Fourscore years later, Americans killed each other in a bloody civil war. Throughout the century, white Americans and Native Americans massacred each other.

In the 20th Century, we won two world wars. We fought two land wars in Asia. We’ve been at war since the beginning of the 21st Century,

Then there is all the violence, murder and carnage of daily life. Assassinations, lynchings, bombings, mass shootings, drive-by shootings, family shootings.

Millions of guns, easily available. Millions of unhinged people.

Today we throw in toxic politics. The politics of vilifying, demonizing and destroying your enemies (not “opponents” any more).

Toss in a media that thrives on conflict and rewards extremism. Stir in social media and technology that enable anybody with a grievance to log into vast, shadowy webs of hate, racism and more violence.

Then we see congressmen and lobbyists gunned down on ball fields. Worshippers murdered in their church. Would-be vigilantes invading pizza restaurants with automatic weapons.

All fueling more hate, more resentment and more thirst for revenge. More political anger. More personal attacks. More vilifying, demonizing and destroying.

In years past, we had leaders who spoke to the better angels of our nature – Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama.

Today we have Trump.

Sad indeed.

Posted in: General
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When an outspoken critic of UNC’s ‘athletic scandal’ decided he’d teach a course called ‘Big Time College Sports’ it was bound to rub some people the wrong way.

Jay Smith, a professor of French and European History, wrote Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham about his new class and asked if he could bring his students over to the athletic center for a tour.

Cunningham wrote back he had a better idea: He’d teach the course.

Smith wrote back, Sorry, I’m the historian.

Smith went over Cunningham’s head to Carol Folt, got his tour, and started teaching his class. Summer school passed, the fall semester passed then the new semester rolled around and the earth shifted beneath Smith’s feet.

When the controversy – over cancelling Smith’s class – began the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences ducked. Passing the buck he said it was up to the History Department Chairman to decide.

The History Department Chairman ducked too – he said he’d have to consult the Senior Associate Dean.

The Senior Associate Dean didn’t duck – he vanished.

Forty-five UNC history professors wrote a letter saying cancelling a class – about ‘Big Time College Sports’ – was an infringement on their freedom and a blow to their intellectual life.

The History Department was in turmoil.

But, oddly, no one asked the one question you’d expect. What’s more important: A professor of European History teaching students about the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution or ‘Big-Time College Sports’ at Chapel Hill?

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A Democratic warrior read that Governor Cooper’s job-approval rating is 61 percent. And the Republican legislature’s reelect rating is only 30 percent.

So, he asked, “Why isn’t Cooper whacking the Republicans harder every day?”

First, it’s not his style. He’s not one to bang his shoe on the lectern.

And Cooper is playing a long game. He’s looking to the next legislative election, whether it’s this fall, next spring or November 2018. His goal: Elect enough Democrats to sustain his vetoes. Maybe even take back one or both houses of the legislature if Trump takes down the GOP.

A Cooper insider says he’s building trust with voters. He’s seen as more genuine and substantive than most politicians: “Voters trust him.”

Cooper will contrast his priorities, education and jobs, with the Republicans’ priority: their political power.

Republicans are good at the inside political game. But Cooper is better at the outside game: going to the voters.

Exhibit A: His call on the legislature to redraw districts now and hold new elections this fall. He knew the Republicans would refuse to fix what the U.S. Supreme Court says is unconstitutional gerrymandering.

They quickly proved Cooper’s point: They care more about politics and power than people.

Democrats may want more thunder and lightning. But Cooper’s bet is that you don’t need thunder and lightning to make it rain.


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Each looked into a camera and each said the other was a liar.

Comey said Trump, sitting in the Oval Office, asked everyone to leave the room but him then, when the door closed behind the Attorney General, turned to face him and said, I hope you’ll let go of the investigation of Mike Flynn.

Trump said that conversation never happened.

Comey said when they had dinner, alone in the White House, Trump asked him for a pledge of loyalty.

Trump said that conversation never happened.

So which one is telling the truth?  

Sitting at the table in the hearing Comey looked candid and honest. He didn’t parse words. He answered Yes. Or No. And sometimes he said, Here’s how I interpreted that – but I could be wrong.  

Trump, standing on the White House lawn, hair shading his face from the sun, was blustery and flamboyant and sounded like a showman. But appearances can fool you.

Is Trump a poor truth-teller? Or Comey a smooth deceiver? Some folks don’t care: Fox News vilifies Comey. CNN heaps scorn on Trump. But the rest of us wait as the mill wheels grind because the day the grinding stops we’ll know who told the truth.

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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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