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I have a simple way of judging a political event. If I know most everybody there, and they’re my age, it’s a flop. If I don’t know many people, and they’re young, it’s a success.

Governor Cooper’s Inaugural SnowBall was a huge winner.

It was jammed with smart, interesting, idealistic, funny, charming and hard-working young people in their 20s and 30s. Men and women, black and white, straight and gay. Also, good-looking, good dancers and dressed to impress.

They are the Obama Generation.

In 2008 and 2012, Obama inspired them. In his farewell address this week, he said this about them:

“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”

He’s right. And North Carolina Democrats, including Governor Cooper and the next state party chair, need to harness their talents, keep them involved and give them their shot at moving North Carolina forward.

Those of us in the Kennedy Generation and the Clinton Generation need to step up for this generation. Not step aside, because we still have a lot to give them (money, references and jobs) and a lot to teach them (like learning from our mistakes).

But it’s time to make room for them, give them a hand up and put their hands on the wheel of history.

If we do, the future of North Carolina will be in good hands.


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President Obama’s farewell speech drew the lines clearly. His hope versus Trump’s hate. Reason and oratory versus tweets and insults. Building people up versus tearing them down. Bringing us together versus driving us apart. Graceful equanimity in the face of bitter partisan attacks versus a narcissistic imperative to attack any critic, doubter or questioner.

Ultimately, Obama represents the light against Trump’s darkness. Which is funny, since Obama is black and Trump, orange. Or golden, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, read the salacious details here.

(It was the height of irony that the Trump-Russia story broke right as we tuned into Obama’s speech. As one President leaves, we’re left to wonder how deeply Vladimir Putin, the Evil Emperor, has his hooks in the next President.)

Obama has been a great President. He saved the economy, and he stopped war. He confronted climate change, and he fought for equal rights. He killed bin Laden, and he kept America safe.

He gave millions of Americans health care. Now the Republicans will replace Obamacare with Wedon’tcare. (One Trump supporter said he’s not worried about Obamacare’s repeal because he’s covered by the Affordable Care Act.)

Obama and his family brought dignity and class to the White House. Trump brings greed and crassness.

Yet, for all his greatness as a President, Obama fell short as a party and political leader. The Democratic Party was decimated across the country in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. It’s weaker today than it’s been since the 1980s.

Now that he puts down the burdens of the Presidency, perhaps Citizen Obama will apply his oratory, his organizational ability and his inspirational genius to summoning the better angels of our nature against the worst instincts of our anger.

He’s still a young man, and he still has many years to give his country.

Sadly, Hillary Clinton could not give us that lift. After she and Bill left the White House, they devoted themselves to getting back in. Obama instead could devote himself to getting into the White House – and Congress, and the courts, and Governor’s offices, and statehouses and local governments – the young people he inspired eight years ago and spoke to last night.

He has given much to America. We need more from him now. We need to draw from him the resolve to, as he said, “Show up, dive in, stay at it.”


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Looking back the first warning sign was his crowing: For years, the professor wrote, he’d traveled the world. He’d set up elections in strange places like Sudan. Along with his Danish colleague he’d designed the first model – measuring over 50 moving parts of the political process – to determine whether elections were fair. He’d worked with a professor from Harvard who’d used his model to create the ‘Election Integrity Project’ (EIP) which everyone agrees is the best measurement of how free and fair and democratic nations are.

Then the professor set off in a different direction: Beneath the headline – ‘North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy’ – he wrote North Carolina only scored ‘58’ on the EIP election integrity test which meant NC (like Cuba) was a failure as a Democracy.

A few days later, happy beyond measure, the professor was back in newspaper: This time beneath a headline that read – The op-ed heard round the world – he wrote, “Last week the News and Observer published my op-ed on the failing grade North Carolina received for our elections and… boy did it touch a nerve.”

His op-ed, he said, had gone viral with tweets reaching 5 million people, he’d been in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, and Politico, and he’d been retweeted by Paul Krugman and Fareed Zakaria.

He was in hog-heaven.

But things were about to take a turn for the worst.   

One of the people who’d read the professor’s first column was another professor at Columbia University – whose antennae twitched: The Columbia professor then went to work, researching the EIP, and posted an op-ed of his own: He reported 1) that according to the EIP 27 states are less democratic than North Korea; 2) that North Carolina wasn’t even the worst state, that 12 states – including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – are less democratic than NC; and 3) the Columbia professor included a link in his blog to a global map (by EIP) ranking nations in categories from Very Democratic and Very Undemocratic. On the map the U.S.A. and North Korea were rated the same.

And, if you think it over, there’s one other simple fact: North Carolina just voted an incumbent Governor out of office. Could that happen in a failed Democracy? Could it happen in North Korea?  

The professor who wrote the op-ed – saying NC is not a democracy – was Andrew Reynolds. He teaches political science at UNC Chapel Hill.

The News and Observer published his stories. Twice.

And driving home Thursday night I heard Professor Reynolds on NPR, enjoying his newfound celebrity, being interviewed by Frank Stasio who doted over him for twenty minutes.

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Trump hasn’t been inaugurated. The Republican Congress convened just last week. But they’ve already taken strong stands against two things they clearly oppose:

  1. Intelligence
  2. Ethics.
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The election proved just about everyone’s fed up with Washington politics but the first day of the new Congress the Washington Politicians proved they didn’t get the message: Foolishness usually starts at the top in Congress but this time it started at the bottom with the Republican back-benchers who, out of a clear blue sky, decided to gut the Independent Ethics Committee.  

The Democrats were both surprised and delighted: Nancy Pelosi cherupped, Ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress. But, of course, Pelosi’s barb didn’t faze the Republicans.

Then, unexpectedly, reaching for his Twitter machine a lion roared: Donald Trump tore into Republicans tweeting, With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog…their number one act and priority.

Trump then repeated it’s time to ‘Drain the Swamp.’

Next a mad scramble broke out: The Republican Caucus re-caucused, the back-benchers about faced, the Independent Ethics Committee was saved – but, of course, the harm was already done. There was no way to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

But, at least, the clash made one fact clear as the sun set over the Potomac: A new Bull Moose rules in the Republican Caucus in Washington. And it’s not Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy.

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When North Korea said it was going to test an intercontinental ballistic missile that would reach the U.S. Donald Trump grabbed his Twitter machine and roared, ‘North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!’

Reading Trump’s tweet I scratched my head, wondering exactly what he meant: Did Trump mean North Korea’s missile test was never going to happen – or did he mean that no nuclear weapon (fired by North Korea) was ever going to reach U.S. soil?

You could read what he’d written either way – but the New York Times didn’t care.

Gripped by the frenzy that seizes the Times whenever Trump tweets, the newspaper declared Trump had said the missile test would never happen and ABC, CNN and a bevy of other news media chimed in singing ‘Amen.’

Of course, the Times’ goal was to harpoon Trump. But more often than not the Times swings and misses which helps Trump. The unkindest thing the Times could do to Trump would be to never mention his name. But hammering Trump sells newspapers so every morning the Times wakes up hungry for another story. It’s not going to stop. And, I expect, Trump doesn’t want it to.

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At Friday night’s SnowBall, a young woman bemoaned all that had happened to Governor Cooper since the election two months ago: McCrory’s month-long refusal to concede, the legislature’s power grab and, now, a winter storm disrupting his inaugural.

“Poor Roy,” she said. “He can’t catch a break.”

Saturday morning, as I alternated between watching the snow and the television, I realized how wrong she was.

In fact, all three things the ball-goer cited are breaks for Cooper. Especially the storm.

He got more free media coverage Saturday morning than any new Governor ever got. First was his 8:30 storm briefing. Then came his 10:30 inaugural speech. Then his afternoon briefing. Plus news clips all day long.

All on a day when millions of North Carolinians were vegging out in front of the TV.

They got to know the new Governor in a way no amount of campaign money could buy. They saw him in command in an emergency, and they heard what he intends to do the next four years.

And they saw it after two months of watching McCrory whine and the legislature do all it could to hurt the new Governor and the state, including not repealing HB2.

Politics is all about adapting to crisis and change, making decisions on the fly, and seizing opportunities when they present.

Cooper and his team rose to the occasion. His start may have been stormy, but it was strong. And it should warm Democrats’ hopes and hearts on a cold day.

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The other morning laying in bed, opening John’s Gospel I read: Truth is the road to light.

Later that morning in my office opening the newspaper I read a new poll (by The Economist) said half of Donald Trump’s voters believe President Obama was born in Kenya (even though Trump now says that’s not so) and half of Hillary’s voters believe Russia tampered with vote tallies to elect Trump (even though the Obama Administration says that’s not so).

The math’s unavoidable: 1) Half Trump’s voters + half Hillary’s voters = half of all voters and 2) darkness is bi-partisan.

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With snow in the forecast, this is my annual reminder – for the sake of our feathered friends and in memory of my father.

First, the birds. Snow covers up the seeds, bugs, worms and other delicacies they eat.

So, Feed the Birds!

When you stock up on bread, milk, toilet paper, wine and brownie mix, or when you go to the hardware store for sleds and shovels, get bird seed. Or just crumble up bread, crackers and cookies.

When it stops snowing, toss out a feast. Be sure it’s in a place you can watch from indoors. You’ll be rewarded with the sight of flapping, flocking cardinals, bluebirds and…well, I’ve exhausted my knowledge of avian species. You get the point.

Now, for my Dad. And why I do this in his honor.

Jim was a printer. He worked for many years in the N&O composing room, back when newspapers used metal type. To close up empty spaces on pages, printers kept on hand little “fillers,” one- or two-paragraph news briefs or “house ads,” promoting subscriptions or want-ads.

An aside: Want-ads, or classified ads, used to fill page after page of the newspaper. They were a big profit center. They paid for big news staffs that got laid off when the Internet killed want-ads.

Whenever it snowed, my Dad would make up dozens of filler ads, of all sizes and shapes. All of them read: Feed the Birds!

He’d scatter the fillers throughout the paper. In the morning, you’d pick up the paper, which your dedicated delivery person had hauled to your house through the snow. You’d read through it. On almost every page, you’d be reminded: Feed the Birds!

Another aside: Jim was active in the printer’s union. He became president of the local chapter, and he negotiated union contracts with management. Later, the company made him foreman of the composing room, a management job. I always suspected that was so they wouldn’t have to negotiate with him anymore. Frank Daniels Jr. once told me, “Jim’s idea of negotiating was to talk to you until you agreed with him.” I told Frank, “Believe me, I know.”

My Dad died 15 years ago this month. Someone told me then that I would hear his voice in my head every day for the rest of my life. That happens if you’re lucky enough to have had a good father in your life.

On days like this, I hear Jim clearly:

“Feed the Birds!”


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The weather forecast this weekend is the Universe’s way of preparing North Carolina for the next four years: Big storms are coming, nobody can predict what will happen and there is maximum risk to life, limb and political futures.

And, just to squeeze the last drops from this metaphor, any slip-ups can be fatal, only the sure-footed will survive and, as a now-gone Governor once famously said, don’t put your stupid hat on.

Governor Cooper’s speech Wednesday drew a clear line in the sand – or snow. He took the legislature head-on. Last month, they tried to gut his power. He saw their bid, raised the stakes and, in effect, said: I’ll show you the power I still have.

He picked three fights. (There is great cosmic meaning in the number three: The Holy Trinity. Three Musketeers. Three Stooges. Three-point shot. Three strikes you’re out, three outs in an inning.)

First fight, of course, is HB2. Second, not unexpected: Raise teacher pay to the national average. (Didn’t Republicans in swing districts campaign on raising teacher pay?) And the bombshell: expand Medicaid. Whether the legislature wants to or not.

Republicans, predictably, went apoplectic. They screamed “raising taxes” and “Obamacare.”

Cooper framed his Medicaid move as good for the economy, not just for saving lives and keeping people healthy (although that’s a good reason in itself).

And, he noted, we’re already paying the taxes. Our money is just going to other states. We’re actually double-taxed, because we pay higher medical bills and higher insurance premiums to cover people who don’t have insurance or Medicaid. That’s a “sick tax” on all of us.

Cooper’s move is good policy, and it’s good politics. He picked three issues that not only poll well, but also energize a Democratic base that needs to turn out in legislative elections this fall.

There’s a real difference between what the legislature did last month and what Cooper did this week. The legislature focused on what’s good for their party, their patronage and their power. The Governor focused on what’s good for the people of North Carolina.

He schooled the legislature on the power that an aggressive Governor has – to dominate the debate and define the battleground.

So bundle up and buckle down. Stormy times are coming.


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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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