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Phil Berger can take away Roy Cooper’s powers. But he can’t take away his microphone. And he can’t match the Governor on TV.

Democrats will happily take the contrast every day through the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Last night, the Governor was smiling, positive and optimistic. The unshaven Senate boss was dark, negative and partisan.

Cooper talked about promise, cooperation and common ground. Berger talked about liberals, the left and the cursed media.

Cooper focused on the future – and what North Carolina can do. Berger boasted about the past – and what he claimed Republicans had done.

Really? How many North Carolinians believe their taxes have been cut? How many teachers believe his claims about pay?

Cooper was smart to tackle HB2 early. He talked about jobs lost. He didn’t mention that Pat McCrory can’t get a job because of HB2.

McCrory says people think he’s a “bigot.” Exactly, Pat. Because of HB2, they think North Carolina is full of bigots.

And Berger’s defense flops.

If Republicans have the votes to strip the Governor’s powers, they have the votes to repeal HB2.

Let’s make Roy vs Phil a regular thing.

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“Tired of winning yet?”

That’s the question from a TAPster who sent this excerpt from a story about millions of Americans who could lose health insurance under the Trump/GOP NoCare plan:

Martha Brawley of Monroe, N.C., said she voted for President Trump in the hope he could make insurance more affordable. But on Tuesday, Ms. Brawley, 55, was feeling increasingly nervous based on what she had heard about the new plan from television news reports. She pays about $260 per month for a Blue Cross plan and receives a subsidy of $724 per month to cover the rest of her premium. Under the House plan, she would receive $3,500 a year in tax credits — $5,188 less than she gets under the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m scared, I’ll tell you that right now, to think about not having insurance at my age,” said Ms. Brawley, who underwent a liver biopsy on Monday after her doctor found that she has an autoimmune liver disease. “If I didn’t have insurance, these doctors wouldn’t see me.”

But the Republicans are rushing through their Repeal-Obamacare-and-Screw-You bill. Maybe making the same mistake President Obama and the Democrats made in 2009: focusing on health care instead of jobs.

The harm Trump and the GOP will do to millions of Americans is incalculable. But the political gift to Democrats could also be incalculable. The 2018 and 2020 election cycles could shift politics just as hard left as 2010 and 2016 shifted politics hard right.

Trump complains that nobody told him how complicated health care is.

But the politics is very simple.

During the campaign last year, a big North Carolina newspaper was interviewing candidates for editorial endorsements. The editors, sensitive to their reputation as knee-jerk Democratic, desperately searched for a Republican to endorse. Fair and balanced, you know.

They were interviewing one Republican, and things were going swimmingly. Then an editor asked a simple question: “Do you believe every American has a right to health care?”

The Republican paused a second. Then replied: “No.”

There you have it. To Trump and the Republicans, you have a right to health care if and only if you can afford it. If you can, you get the best care in the world. If you can’t, tough.

Maybe Democrats should put that proposition before the voters.

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Politics has been so bad that for four months – ever since Election Day – I’ve meant to write about something good. But never got to it.

Thanks, Trump.

So now the good news: Attorney General Josh Stein.

After the carnage of Election Day, one veteran Democrat said, “If you’re going to win just three statewide elections, Governor, Supreme Court and Attorney General are three good ones.”


Republicans tried to gut the AG’s office when Roy Cooper was there, but Josh shows there’s plenty still there. He and the Governor refused to defend North Carolina’s voter-suppression law. Josh joined other state AGs to challenge Trump’s Muslim ban.

Josh has gone to work on, as he says, “a host of issues including confronting the opioid epidemic, protecting our kids from sexual predators, standing up for voting rights and clean energy, protecting consumers from fraudulent business practices, and speaking out against the unconstitutional travel ban.”

Josh will be a great AG. He has brains, guts and strong principles. I know because I’ve known him for 20 years.

He’s scary-smart: Dartmouth ’88, Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School ’95.

He has worked in public interest law, the U.S. Senate, the N.C. Justice Department under Cooper and the General Assembly.

He comes from a family that has a long-time commitment to justice, fairness and opportunity. His father Adam is a pioneering civil rights attorney and plaintiffs’ lawyer.

Josh won a tough race by 24,000-plus votes. He beat Buck (“make North Carolina straight again”) Newton.

Josh was one of only two Democratic AG candidates nationally to buck the Trump wave. The other is Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania. (It was a good year to be Josh.)

His fundraising was strong. It overcame the millions spent by the Republicans’ national AG machine. His messaging and ads were some of the best of the cycle.

Josh isn’t afraid to take on Republicans when they’re wrong, or work with them on the rare occasion they’re on the right side (opioids). In the Senate, he proved he can more than hold his own with the GOP. He eviscerated them in debates.

His future is unlimited. His ceiling is not his roof. At the right time, he would make a great Governor or Senator.

Just writing about him makes me feel better.

Thanks, Josh.


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In his State of the Union early last week, Trump sounded like a normal President. By the weekend, he was back to his cranky, crazy self.

He went on a Twitter rampage. He claimed President Obama wiretapped him. Without a shred of evidence. And despite denials from intelligence officials.

Now, it could just be that Trump is lying – again. Or making up things – again.

Or maybe it’s true. Maybe he was wiretapped. Which raises an interesting twist. Was Trump being investigated over Russia?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but: Is he a crook?

Obama couldn’t legally order a wiretap. Intelligence officers have to request it. A federal judge has to approve it. There has to be evidence of criminal activity.

Or evidence that the target is an agent of a foreign government.


Also late last week, Trump exploded at his staff. He berated them because AG Jeff Sessions recused himself from any Russia investigation.

Maybe because Trump was counting on Session to quash any real investigation.

And maybe this is why Trump won’t release his tax returns.

Republicans in Congress, starting with Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, are afraid to touch this. They know Trump is more popular with Republican primary voters than they are. They’re afraid to cross him.

But Burr has to make a choice. He can be a Trump toady. Or he can be another Sam Ervin, a Senator who puts his country before his party and his President.

One thing is for sure. Thanks to Trump’s weekend rampage, Russia will dog his Presidency until we get the truth.

One way or another, the truth will win out. It always does in America.


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Trump’s presidency is best viewed, like Trump himself, as a reality TV show.

Sometimes it’s scary. Like when Trump makes life and death decisions on the porch at Mar a Lago in full view of diners. Or anytime Steve Bannon crawls out of his cave.

Sometimes it’s weird. Like when it’s big news that Trump gave a speech and sounded like a reasonable facsimile of a President instead of a raving nut on a street corner.

Sometimes it’s mind-boggling. Like when Trump told the nation’s Governors that “nobody knew health care was so complicated.” You could almost see thought bubbles over the governors’ heads: “Maybe YOU didn’t know.”

Sometimes it’s crooked. Like when we learned that the (ex) national security adviser and the (now) Attorney General lied about talking to the Russians.

Sometimes it’s pathetic. Like when where we’re reduced to hoping the ex-CEO of ExxonMobil will keep us out of war.

Sometimes it’s maddening. Like when Trump ordered the Yemen raid, then blamed the generals for a SEAL’s death. Then said he inherited the whole thing from Obama. Then said at the State of the Union that the raid was “highly successful.”

In that case, thanks, Obama!

Sometimes it’s comical. Like Kellyanne Conway on her knees in the Oval Office. Or Sean Spicer any day of the week.

Like when Spicer chewed out his staff for leaking. And had their cell phones searched for leaks. And told them not to tell anybody about it. And it took about 10 minutes for the media to get the story.

It’s only right that the worst nightmare for this TV-show administration is a TV show: Saturday Night Live. Alec Baldwin trumps Trump, and Melissa McCarthy sliced up Spicer with one sketch.

So it’s only right that two possible opponents to Trump in 2020 are Al Franken, who was great on Saturday Night Live, and Oprah, who’s so big she’s bigger than Trump.

Judging from the polls, the American people look about ready to grab the remote and look for a new show.


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The house where I grew up came down yesterday.

It had to go. It was built some 70 years ago. A tiny box of a place, now rundown and decades outdated.

My father had bought it sight unseen. He’d come home nights from his job in the composing room of the N&O. He’d bring the first edition of the paper and comb through the real estate ads.

He spotted a place in a neighborhood called Budleigh off Canterbury Road in west Raleigh. First thing the next morning, he called the agent and made an offer.

“Don’t you want to look at it first?” asked the agent.

“No,” my father said. “I know I want it.”

He got it. Then he got a massive case of poison ivy hacking down the weeds and high grass that had taken over the yard.

My parents raised four kids there. I went to Lacy Elementary, Martin Junior High and Broughton. It was one of those idyllic ‘50s childhoods where we stayed out all day playing with friends up and down the street and exploring the creeks and woods that were still around.

We had a yard big enough for baseball, football and tag. At dinner time, our mothers called us or rang a bell.

Once we were playing baseball, my father pitching for both sides, and our friend Richard tagged one ball hard. “Run home, Richard!” yelled my father. Richard promptly ran across the street to his house.

The house had something most don’t today: a front porch. You could sit there and watch everybody go by. I loved summer afternoons when you could watch thunderstorms coming.

The place began going downhill when my dad died in 2005. A few years later my mother remarried and moved away. My sister lived in the house until her death last summer.

Over the last few months, it grew dusty and dank. We rummaged through things. We took or gave away most of the furniture. Up in the attic we found years of memories. Old report cards and school papers, ours and our parents’. Newspapers, magazines and old books. Dishes, linens and clothes. Baby things, kids’ toys and kitchen utensils.

Apparently, people who grew up in the Depression never liked to get rid of anything.

There were treasures. Family pictures. My high school commencement program. A small, crumbling Bible with my grandfather’s name: “Walter Gary Parker. Christmas 1912.”

I knew the house was coming down, so I drove by every day. This morning, it was gone. The lot looked bigger than I remembered. And so empty.

But it also looked ready for new life.

Neighbors bought it and will build their new home on the lot. Their children and ours had played together there, under the generally watchful eyes of my parents.

So there will be life and laughter again. Grandchildren playing, and grandparents watching.

For now, where the house once stood there’s a hole in the ground. And a hole in my heart.

Posted in: General
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There’re a lot of odd things going on in politics: Democrats are holding anti-Republican protests and calling them Town Hall Meetings; Republicans have been tweeting about Saturday Night Live and Meryl Streep – but even when they’re angry the people hollering on Facebook or Twitter seem to be enjoying themselves.

But, last week, a new cause so unusual popped up I wondered: Who are these people?

It turned out the new campaign was the brainchild of three men: One had joined the Marines when he was 18, retired 22 years later, and joined a local Moose Lodge; the second had also been a Marine, a drill instructor at Parris Island; and the third had been a preacher in small town churches, who’d also worked in the shipping department of a packing company.

Eventually each of the men – who lived miles apart – had gotten into politics, met, and last week they rolled up their sleeves and went to work to restore an ancient right which the first friend explained on Facebook by saying ‘the states created the federal government not the other way around’ – then adding, ‘So we should always retain the right to leave the union.’

By ‘we’ he meant North Carolina.

The roadblock the retired Marine saw standing in the way wasn’t Appomattox – it was a clause in the State Constitution added after Appomattox that said North Carolina could not secede again.

You might have expected the three comrades to take to Facebook or Twitter – along with the anti-Trump Democrats and the pro-Trump Republicans – to build support for their campaign.  

But they didn’t.

They didn’t need to.

Because all three were state legislators. 

So 151 years to the week after General Sherman – leaving Columbia, South Carolina in flames behind him – headed north toward Raleigh three Don Quixotes, standing on the floor of the State House, introduced a bill to give the people of North Carolina back their right to secede.

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Governor Cooper is right. The HB2 “compromise” is no compromise. It would make a bad deal even worse.

The referendum provision sounds good. What’s wrong with letting people vote?


First is a matter of policy and principle.

As the Governor said, we shouldn’t put minority rights up to a majority vote. That’s like putting civil rights up to a vote in the South in the 1950s.

Second is a matter of politics.

We would end up with a series of local referendums across the state on bathrooms and gender. That would mean years of bitter, highly publicized battles all over North Carolina.

You could force a referendum by getting signatures from 10 percent of the total number of votes in the last municipal election – the lowest turnout possible.

In Raleigh, that would be 3,600 signatures. A ridiculously low threshold.

This scenario may well be what Republicans want. Or think they want. They miscalculated on HB2 a year ago.

But it’s a formula for more discrimination, more divisiveness and more distraction from real problems. Plus more damage to North Carolina’s economy, more jobs lost, more business lost and more sports events lost.

The fake compromise should be flushed.


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A high-ranking FBI official (Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat) and The Washington Post took down Richard Nixon’s presidency.

FBI Director James Comey and the media echo chamber took down Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Now Trump compares American intelligence services with Nazis and declares that the media is the enemy.

Where does this lead?

A TAPster passes along this blog (“Our Praetorian guard”) from Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago:

“Intelligence officials are going after Trump with a vengeance. This has been building for weeks, but I wonder whether the last straw was the farce at Mar-a-lago, where Trump and top officials debated how the U.S. should respond to North Korea’s missile test in front of paying guests. One guest apparently posed for a picture of himself and a military officer holding a briefcase with the nuclear launch codes.

“It seems possible that the intelligence community can live with being compared to Nazis, but the Mar-a-lago debacle deeply offended its sense of professionalism. Why take so many precautions if the president takes none? Reports are circulating that intelligence officials are concealing some sensitive information from the president. Let’s face it: Trump is a bozo, and the intelligence community is trying to figure out how to contain him. This is comforting, but the question has to be asked, what price will it charge us in return?”

Intelligence agents know a lot of things. Including how to leak what they know to the media. What will they leak about Trump?


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You know things are bad when Mark Sanford is the voice of reason.

Yes, that Mark Sanford. The congressman from South Carolina. The ex-Governor who gave new meaning to “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

Sanford is back on stage as one of few Republicans unafraid to criticize Trump. He speaks out in a fascinating Politico article by Tim Alberta (“’I’m a Dead Man Walking’: Mark Sanford has nothing left to lose. And he’s here to haunt Donald Trump.”)

Alberta writes:

“Most Republicans in Washington are biting their tongues when it comes to Donald Trump, fearful that any candid criticisms of the new president could invite a backlash from their constituents or, potentially worse, provoke retribution from the commander in chief himself.

“Mark Sanford is not like most Republicans in Washington….

“His digs at Trump cover the spectrum. The president, Sanford says, ‘has fanned the flames of intolerance.’ He has repeatedly misled the public, most recently about the national murder rate and the media’s coverage of terrorist attacks. He showed a lack of humility by using the National Prayer Breakfast to ridicule Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on ‘The Celebrity Apprentice.’ Most worrisome, Sanford says, Trump is unprepared for the presidency….”

Alberta goes on:

“I ask Sanford, in our early February interview, whether it’s fair to say Trump doesn’t impress him. ‘Yeah, that’s accurate,’ he tells me. ‘Because at some level he represents the antithesis, or the undoing, of everything I thought I knew about politics, preparation and life.’

“Sanford, an Eagle Scout, has long been renowned for a work ethic that straddles the line between tireless and maniacal. Famously brutal on staff members—his former speechwriter wrote a book documenting his workplace misery—Sanford recalls holding marathon meetings as a congressman and as governor to review every intricate detail of budgets, bills and other proposals that came across his desk.

“’And all of a sudden a guy comes along where facts don’t matter?’ Sanford asks aloud. ‘It’s somewhat befuddling. It’s the undoing of that which you base a large part of your life on….’

“’You want to give anybody the benefit of the doubt. I mean, I’ve learned that through my own trials and tribulations,’ Sanford says, one of numerous nods to the Appalachian Trail episode. ‘But if you see a pattern of over and over and over again, wherein facts don’t matter and you can just make up anything…’ He stops himself. ‘Our republic was based on reason. The Founding Fathers were wed to this notion of reason. It was a reason-based system. And if you go to a point wherein it doesn’t matter, I mean, that has huge implications in terms of where we go next as a society….’”

This sometimes happens to politicians who suffer a humbling defeat or a humiliating fall. They dare to speak 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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