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08

Today’s paper reports that, if Republicans repeal Obamacare, some 30 million Americans will lose health insurance. Another 10 million will lose subsidies and have to pay more for insurance.

Give Donald Trump credit. He may do something President Obama never could do: get Americans to understand and appreciate Obamacare.

How’s that Make America Great Again thing working out for you?

 

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07

Will next week’s legislative session be about hurricane and fire relief – or political relief?

Will the legislature help people who lost loved ones, homes and property – or help Republicans who lost elections?

And will Republicans give Roy Cooper a nuclear weapon to use against them in 2017, one that dwarfs HB2?

Senate Republicans are mad that the voters didn’t elect their candidate Bob Edmunds to the Supreme Court. So will they pack the court by adding two more justices? Show the voters who’s really in charge? Make the Court nothing more than a rubber stamp for the legislature?

The arrogance would be breathtaking.

Of course, the Republicans already tried twice to load the court dice.

First they made it a “retention” election, with only the incumbent on the ballot. Like Kim Jong Un. The courts ruled that unconstitutional.

Then they took party labels off the Supreme Court ballots. Oops! Given the Trump tide, Edmunds might have won if he’d been identified as a Republican.

He lost because a devastating TV ad pegged him as the Gerrymandering Judge.

Do vulnerable Republican legislators, who may be up again in 2017, want to see ads pegging them as power-mad politicians bent on reversing an election for their own political gain? When they’re supposed to be helping people who are hurting?

The last Republican politician to rubber-stamp a bad legislative idea was Pat McCrory. If he’d said no to HB2, he’d be writing his second Inaugural Address, not his job application to Donald Trump.

 

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07

Last week Congress passed legislation to make our ‘missile defenses’ stronger and immediately a hue and cry went up from ‘arms control activists:’ Strengthening our missile defenses, Union of Concerned Scientists declared, would frighten Russia and China which would lead to instability.

So what do we do?

Wait and hope no rogue nation like North Korea or Iran sends a missile in our direction? Because we don’t want to offend the Russians and Chinese?

What kind of sense does that make?

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06

Republicans may have supermajorities in the legislature, but Governor Cooper will have a superpower: the biggest microphone in the state. Or, in today’s world, the biggest smartphone.

Forty years ago, Stephanie Bass and I were setting up Governor-elect Jim Hunt’s first press office. And we had a theory.

We had come out of the capital press corps. We had seen how politicians dealt with – or ducked – the media. Not one did it well, we thought.

We believed that Governor Hunt should try a new approach: more aggressive than past Governors – and more accessible, even when the questions were tough.

We wanted to make news, set the agenda and dominate the debate.

It worked.

The media world is very different today. The mainstream media, print and electronic, has been devastated by budget cuts. Blogs, social media and advocacy journalism have exploded.

Still, the Governor occupies the commanding heights in the battle for the public’s attention – and approval.

Witness Donald Trump and the power of his tweets.

To cite a more uplifting example, John F. Kennedy quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt as saying the Presidency is “a place preeminently for moral leadership.”

In that same speech in October 1960, Kennedy said:

“A political campaign is an important time because it gives the American people an opportunity to make a judgment as to which course of action they want to follow, which leadership, which viewpoint, which political philosophy, and it is also an important time for political parties, because it does give the political party an opportunity not merely to live off its past successes, but also consider where it is going in the future, what contribution it can make.

“That responsibility falls particularly heavily on a minority party, a party out of power, because it is its function under our system to present alternatives, to suggest better ways of accomplishing the goals which all America seeks…”

That responsibility – and opportunity – fall to Governor-elect Cooper now. And he doesn’t have to wait to take the oath of office. He can exercise that power now, from this day forward.

Democrats may not have the votes to sustain vetoes. But Cooper can put forward good ideas, like fully repealing House Bill 2, expanding Medicaid and giving teachers a real pay raise. Republicans can say no, Cooper can exercise the veto and the legislature can try to override him.

Throughout that loud and long process, Cooper can talk directly to North Carolinians. He can explain why he’s right and the Republicans are wrong.

A Governor can beat a legislature at that game all day long. Then he can take his case to the voters in the next election. And Cooper could have three chances to do that in four years.

This power of moral leadership is echoed in a great essay by Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling: “Why Pat McCrory Lost and What It Means in Trump’s America”:

“(T)he seeds of McCrory’s defeat really were planted by the Moral Monday movement in the summer of 2013, just months after McCrory took office….

“He allowed himself to be associated with a bunch of unpopular legislation, and progressives hit back HARD, in a way that really caught voters’ attention and resonated with them….

“(T)he Moral Monday movement pushed back hard. Its constant visibility forced all of these issues to stay in the headlines. Its efforts ensured that voters in the state were educated about what was going on in Raleigh, and as voters became aware of what was going on, they got mad. All those people who had seen McCrory as a moderate, as a different kind of Republican, had those views quickly changed. By July McCrory had a negative approval rating- 40% of voters approving of him to 49% who disapproved. By September it was all the way down to 35/53, and he never did fully recover from the damage the rest of his term….

“And it’s a lesson for progressives in dealing with Trump. Push back hard from day one. Be visible. Capture the public’s attention, no matter what you have to do to do it. Don’t count on the media to do it itself because the media will let you down. The protesters in North Carolina, by making news in their own right week after week after week, forced sustained coverage of what was going on in Raleigh. And even though it was certainly a long game, with plenty more frustration in between, those efforts led to change at the polls 42 months after they really started.

“Keep Pounding.”

As of yesterday, the progressive movement in North Carolina has an elected leader with the power to capture the public’s attention, make news and force sustained coverage of what’s going on in Raleigh.

And lead to real and lasting change.

Keep pounding, indeed.

 

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06

A troop of determined anti-Klan demonstrators, who’d probably read the News and Observer’s story – based on an Internet website – about a ‘Klansmen for Trump’ rally in Pelham, showed up at 9am to protest. The same day – last Saturday – anti-Klan protestors gathered in Moore Square in Raleigh and across the state.

There was only one problem: Not a single Klansman for Trump showed up anywhere.

Then, about 4pm, a report popped up on the Internet: A caravan of Klansmen had been spotted passing through Roxboro.

But, still, that was as close as the demonstrators or the News and Observer got to a Klansman for Trump – an Internet report. They never laid eyes on a living breathing Klansman.

The next day, on its editorial page, the News and Observer published a column titled: Fight Fake News by Backing Real Journalism.

The column didn’t mention the elusive ‘Klansmen for Trump’ as an example.

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06

Millions of words have been expended the last month analyzing, over-analyzing and struggling to understand why the American people – or, at least, the Electoral College system – would make Donald Trump President.

Democrats are frenziedly trying to figure out what happened and, as usual, find somebody or something to blame.

As in: “Hillary was just a flawed candidate.” “She didn’t have an economic message.” “It’s Jill Stein’s fault.” “It’s Jim Comey’s fault.” “It’s Bernie Sanders’s fault.” “It’s Hillary’s fault for not listening to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.” “It’s the DNC’s fault.” “The Russians hacked the election.” “We’ll never win if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are our leaders.” “It’s the media’s fault.” “It’s all that fake news.” “Hillary forgot about rural and blue-collar voters.” “Rural and blue-collar voters are all racists.” “She didn’t energize enough minorities, millennials and women.” “She spent too much time appealing to minorities, millennials and women.”

As Bert Bennett used to say, “When you win, everything you did was right. When you lose, everything you did was wrong.” (Bert was Terry Sanford’s campaign manager in 1960 and Jim Hunt’s political mentor. He’s still going strong, by the way.)

But one analysis stands out to me, because it comes from somebody who had the guts (or the lack of good sense, depending on how you look at it) to actually run for office: Thomas Mills, who blogs at PoliticsNC and ran unsuccessfully for the 8th District Congressional seat this year. And who talked to real voters, not just pundits and pollsters.

Thomas wrote about a conversation he had earlier this year with a friend who worked in the 2015 Kentucky governor’s race for Democrat Jack Conway. Conway was a popular and well-known Attorney General. His opponent, Republican Matt Bevin, had never held public office and was regarded as something of a joke, like Trump. Like Clinton, Conway was expected to win easily. On Election Day, his staff was confident they would be celebrating that night.

Conway lost. By nine points.

Thomas wrote that, after he announced for Congress this year, one of his friends from the Conway campaign called:

“He warned that there’s an undercurrent of resentment among rural voters that polling is missing. They don’t really care about policy or politics because they don’t expect political leaders to deliver anything, anyway. In their minds, they’ve been so left behind and left out, that they just want to give a big F-you to the political establishment.

“He was right and the Kentucky race portended Trump’s victory. Democrats need to understand these voters. They didn’t vote against their self-interest. They didn’t even really vote for Trump or Bevin. They voted to burn down the system because they see that as in their best interest.

“The reason for their pessimism and resentment is multifaceted. It’s not just economic insecurity or racism, though both play a significant role. It’s a belief that parts of the social safety net encourage dependency and that they pay for it with their paychecks. It’s the sense that they are losing their culture. It’s the knowledge that the next generation will likely have to leave home to maintain their quality of life. And it’s the understanding that the benefits of the modern economy are going to other parts of the country. And they believe politicians from both parties have encouraged these trends while ignoring their effects on their way of life.

“These people will give Donald Trump a lot of leeway as long as they think he’s fighting for them. They’ll forgive him increases in health care premiums since they believe they were going up anyway. They won’t know, or care, that his treasury secretary worked on Wall Street or the net worth of his cabinet members.

“What they will know is that Donald Trump kept 1,000 jobs from going to Mexico when every other politician would have stood by and done nothing. Like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump feels their pain. They’ll excuse a lot of bad behavior as long as they keep believing that. And that’s what Democrats need to understand.”

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05

After 16 years of mediocrity, North Carolina will get to see excellence again in the Executive Mansion.

I know something about excellent Governors. I worked for Jim Hunt for four terms.

Cooper reminds me of Governor Hunt. Not so much the young, ambitious Hunt I and II of 1976-1984. But the seasoned, focused and farsighted Hunt III and IV of 1992-2000.

Cooper is the antithesis of Pat McCrory in three ways: He has the experience to be Governor. He’s smart enough to be Governor. He’s tough enough to be Governor.

Experience: He has served in public office for 30 years, since he was elected to the House in 1986. And, yes, experience is a plus. McCrory was a Raleigh rookie who never figured out big-league pitching.

Smart: According to Frank Daniels, Jr., Cooper is the first UNC Morehead Scholar to become Governor. He has a law degree. And, yes, brains count in the Governor’s Office. The intellectual challenge is formidable. You have to absorb and weigh a lot of information every day, and you have to make tough calls. The easy decisions get made by somebody else.

Tough: McCrory never could handle the legislature. Cooper knows the legislature. He knows how to work with legislators, and he knows how to stand up to them.

In the past, Cooper was pegged as too soft. He dispelled that image in his campaign. And people forget that, as a second-term House member, he had the guts to break with the Democratic caucus in the 1989 Mavretic rebellion.

Then he had the skills to bring Democrats back together.

The aggressive Cooper we saw in this campaign is the Governor we’ll see. He sent that signal Election Night, when he walked onto the stage with his family and declared victory. A more cautious politician would have held back.

Since then, while he navigated Republican efforts to undermine his clear victory, Cooper put together a strong transition team, led by Jim Phillips, Kristi Jones and Ken Eudy.

He had a strong campaign team. He built a strong team in the Department of Justice. He can call on a strong bench of talented people to work in his administration.

Cooper knows rural North Carolina, because he comes from rural North Carolina. He worked on his family’s farm. He knows cities, because he’s lived and raised his family in one. He has strong support from business people, as his fundraising success shows. He energized the traditional Democratic constituencies – teachers, environmentalists, women, African-Americans, Latinos, labor, the LGBTQ community. And even us old white guys.

Cooper is grounded. His wife and three daughters keep him that way.

Most of all, he’s in it for the right reasons.

Cooper has long been expected to run for Governor. The joke is that he’s been a rising star in four different decades.

He waited for the right year. He ran this year not just because he wanted to be Governor, but because he believed he had a responsibility to run, a responsibility to change the state’s course, a responsibility – and an opportunity – to take North Carolina in a new direction.

A Governor who has the right stuff and is in it for the right reasons can do right much good.

Take it from someone who watched a Governor do it.

 

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05

An ally of the Governor’s – The Civitas Institute – sued to stop the State Board of Elections counting 90,000 ballots cast by people who’d registered and voted on the same day; normally the State Justice Department would have defended the Board but, since those voters cast ballots in Attorney General Roy Cooper’s race against McCrory, the specter of a ‘conflict of interest’ reared its head.

Now if you think it over, that conflict was more visceral than real. The Board wanted to win the case. And Roy Cooper wanted the Board to win. So Cooper and the Board saw eye to eye. But how would it look if Roy Cooper’s Justice Department were defending a case about counting votes in Cooper’s campaign against Pat McCrory?

The problem wasn’t the conflict – it was the way it would look.

It wasn’t a simple choice but Roy Cooper – and the Board – agreed they, like ‘Caesar’s Wife,’ should avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Next the Board chose three outside attorneys from the Brooks Pierce law firm in Raleigh – but to hire them it needed Governor McCrory’s approval.

Now, if you think that over, the Governor had a conflict of his own: If his ally, Civitas, won the lawsuit it could help him in his race against Cooper. And worse, if he turned the request down he would be telling the Board it couldn’t hire the lawyers it wanted to defend itself – in a lawsuit against his ally.

Governor McCrory didn’t have a ‘Caesar’s Wife’ conflict. He had a ‘smelly’ conflict.

But then, amid the turmoil and throbbing nerve-endings in the Governor’s office, with McCrory trailing Cooper by 10,000 votes, an agitating complication arose 60 miles away: Another attorney with the Brooks Pierce firm, who worked in the law firm’s Greensboro office, had agreed to serve as Co-Chairman of Roy Cooper’s transition team.

The Governor’s response to the Board was short and blunt: His legal counsel sent a three-line note telling the Board No.

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02

As his hopes and his days dwindle down to a precious few, you almost feel sorry for Pat McCrory.

Almost.

It has to be hard being the first North Carolina Governor to lose a reelection race. He couldn’t do what Jim Hunt, Jim Martin, Jim Hunt again and Mike Easley did. Bev Perdue was a one-termer, but she wasn’t run out. She walked out and left the door wide open for McCrory in 2012.

It has to be hard being one of few, if any, Republicans to lose a statewide race in the South, despite Trump carrying North Carolina by almost four percentage points.

It had to be hard Election Night, watching all those states go red for Trump, watching his fellow Republicans celebrate their wins here and, for several hours, believing he was winning. Then – boom! – Durham County came in.

Above all, it has to be hard thinking back to the night of March 23. That day, the legislature had rushed through House Bill 2. Few people had even seen the bill, and almost nobody knew what was in it.

McCrory had a choice as he sat in the Executive Mansion that night. He could sign it, or he could sit on it, give himself more time, hear from more people, learn more about the bill and make a more thoughtful decision.

Some Republicans urged him to take his time. But legislative leaders pushed him to sign the bill that night. Do it quickly, they said; it’s like pulling off a band-aid.

He ripped off the band-aid. The bleeding started. And it never stopped.

That one decision, made in haste late at night, cost McCrory reelection.

He can blame the legislature, and he probably does. But in the end, he signed the bill and sealed his fate. He was the Decider.

It’s a master lesson in the art of governing.

My email pal Edward from Down East – I’m not certain of his party, but I’m certain he’s more conservative than me – summed up McCrory pretty well:

“This whole post-election circus being perpetrated by McCrory et al is symptomatic of his entire term as Governor: thin-skinned, unable to accept when mistakes were made, in fact digging in/doubling down in the face of clear evidence of a poor decision/poor policy.

“I don’t know the inner workings of McCrory’s team, but early on it appeared he was getting bad advice, politically and otherwise. They acted like it was their first rodeo. And, boy, Phil Berger and company showed them how the game in Raleigh was played.

“People I’d talk to would say about McCrory and his team, ‘They’re new to state government, but they’ll figure it out.’ They never did….I don’t think he’s a bad guy, far from it. But he never understood Raleigh and it showed and the voters showed him the door.”

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30

This ball game may have just changed big-league, as Trump would say.

The referees in federal court threw the penalty flag on the Republican legislature for unconstitutional gerrymandering. This means loss of down, possible loss of possession and maybe a replay in just 12 months.

No doubt candidates and contributors, still exhausted from this year, aren’t excited about doing it all over again.

But the opportunity for Democrats is yuuuuge, as Trump would say.

The first thing they should do is challenge Republicans to establish an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. If the legislature refuses, that becomes the first issue in 2017.

Trump won by running against a corrupt, self-serving political establishment in Washington. Democrats can win by running against a corrupt, self-serving political establishment in Raleigh.

Case in point: Mike Morgan beat Bob Edmunds for the Supreme Court because of the TV ad that tagged Edmunds as the Gerrymandering Judge.

The more Pat McCrory and the Republicans resist the voters’ clear decision in the Governor’s race, the stronger that issue becomes for Democrats.

Speaking of arrogance: McCrory and the GOP act like it’s up to them to decide when the election is resolved. No, it’s not. The Board of Elections decides. Unless, as a TAPster suggested, McCrory goes full Nixon, fires the current board and appoints a new board with instructions to declare him the winner.

With Roy Cooper in the Governor’s Office, Democratic candidates will have a leader with real power.

Forget the veto, for now. Cooper will have the biggest microphone in the state. He can pick a fight with the legislature – and dictate the battlefield. Plus, he can raise money. He dramatically outraised McCrory. Imagine what he can do in 2017 with the power of incumbency.

Some Democrats worry about whether their voters will turn out in an off-year. Democrats need to give them a reason to turn out. And there are plenty of reasons.

So get rested. And get ready to rumble.

 

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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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