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The news that American troops killed terrorist leader al-Zarqawi in Iraq should be a wake-up call to those Democrats who are busy measuring new drapes for the Speaker’s Office in Washington.

The lesson:

  • Note that Bush went on national TV at 7:30 (the real prime time) to take credit.

  • Remember that events happen fast. And they’re beyond your control.

  • Next time – like, say, October – it could be Osama.

  • Bush, Rove & Co. know that this issue can go from being their biggest problem to their biggest opportunity overnight.

  • The American people aren’t ready to “cut and run.” They never are.

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Raleigh’s Appearance Ayatollahs are at it again.

Three companies that plan downtown office towers want to put their logos on the buildings. And, since the buildings are bigger, they want the city to allow bigger signs – 2.5 times the size allowed today.

Sounds reasonable to me. After all, the city moved heaven and earth (and a lot of tax money) to attract companies downtown. And I don’t see how a big sign is any worse a sight than a big building.

But I’m not an architect. And the two architects on the City Council – Russ Stephenson and Thomas Crowder – say no.

According to The News & Observer, Crowder said the current code is adequate and that commercialism should not drive city planning. “A building’s architecture should be its iconic signature, not signage,” he said.

I guess he would feel different if he were in the sign business instead of the architecture business.

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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My despair deepens over the Wake County school bonds.

I see no sign that county leaders understand the public-opinion mountain they have to climb to pass a $1 billion bond issue this fall.

In fact, the signs are bad. Starting with the big announcement that two big names will head the campaign: Bill Atkinson, president of WakeMed hospital, and Ann Goodnight, who runs the “education and arts-minded” Goodnight Educational Foundation and is the wife of SAS software gazillionaire Jim Goodnight.

Nothing wrong with Atkinson and Goodnight. They’re fine folks.

But 30 years in politics taught me to worry when a candidate spent more time worrying about which big names would be his campaign chairs – instead of what he was going to say to the voters.

Few voters care what Bill Atkinson or Ann Goodnight say about the schools. In fact, if I was a mean-minded opponent, I would point out that the Goodnights started their own costly private academy in Cary.

Voters care about how the bonds will affect their kids and their pocketbooks. And not necessarily in that order.

The best thing Atkinson and Goodnight can do is raise several million dollars to run a professional campaign.

And that campaign better start with some serious public opinion research.

That means focus groups and polls.

That means listening to people before you start preaching to them.

God gave you two ears and one mouth for a good reason. Use them that way.

Otherwise, these bonds – as I have said before on this site – are going down, down, down.

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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When an issue is popular just try to get between a politician and the limelight and you take your life in your hands.

But when politicians start appointing task forces and committees to promote issues look out – it’s a sure sign the issue is unpopular. Otherwise, the politicians would be leading the charge themselves, instead of telling someone else to do it.

Local political leaders are supporting a committee, Friends of Wake County, to promote a property tax increase to pay for a billion dollar school bond. Bill Atkinson, the head of Wake Med Hospital, and Ann Goodnight, philanthropist and wife of SAS founder Jim Goodnight, have been chosen to lead the committee.

County Commission Chairman Tony Gurley praised Atkinson and Goodnight, saying they were picked because they are “well respected by business leaders and others in the community.” (News and Observer, 5/26/06). They are. But Gurley might well have added Atkinson and Goodnight are being offered as lambs to the slaughter because local politicians would much rather have Friends of Wake County leading the fight to increase property taxes – instead of doing it themselves.

Why? Because the Chamber of Commerce poll, the News and Observer/WRAL TV poll, and a poll by a non profit foundation all show voters overwhelmingly rejecting any bond that includes a tax increase.

The problem with the bonds isn’t that voters don’t support schools. The problem is they see elected officials spending millions – and hundreds of millions – on Convention Centers, parking decks and downtown hotels and they ask themselves, Why shouldn’t that money be spent on schools rather than raising taxes?

When politicians – like Mayor Meeker – have so much money they can afford to pay for a $200 million Convention Center, voters naturally wonder if it is really necessary to raise taxes to pay for schools.

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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That’s an idea from Ben Stein. You remember Ben: the boring teacher intoning “Bueller … Bueller … Bueller” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Stein is also a funny, acerbic conservative writer who I enjoy reading and disagreeing with usually.

But he has a good idea:

Yes, raise the gas tax, as some environmentalists say. Maybe we’ll start saving fossil fuels and cooling the globe.

But use the money for an explicit, earmarked purpose: giving American military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan the equipment, armor and support they need.

Good one, Ben.

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Posted in: General
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Last week I got an email from an old friend who is active in Raleigh politics. He took issue with my recent analysis of city politics – and my warning that Mayor Meeker’s spending policies could present a problem for Raleigh Democrats.

I’m not going to use my friend’s name, because he didn’t say whether I could. But I do want to pass on his comments.

He began:

“Gary – You are right that spending does always make an easy target, but you and Carter failed to note that the most likely Republican candidate for
Mayor has voted for most of that spending you cited, except the light
rail, which polls in the 70’s in the city, and with Gas Prices, is
likely to garner more support. I’m not sure being against that is a
winner inside the City. Really not good to sell your city down the
river when you are trying to compete with other communities for federal
transportation dollars.”

I assume he is referring to Philip Isley as the most likely Republican candidate for mayor. And he’s right: Isley has a record to defend.

My critic addresses city spending on downtown projects:

“You are also wrong about ignoring areas away from downtown. Last year,
over 85% of the City’s capital budget was spent outside the beltline.
Folks in Wakefield have been quite supportive of the Mayor. That said,
there is more happening downtown from private investment than anytime
since WWII. That is a higher tax base that has been spurred by the
City’s investments.”

Next he turns to why John Odom lost his race for City Council:

“As to why Odom lost, you analysis is short here as well. If impact fees
did not have significant impact on Russ Stephenson’s win, then how do
you explain how close Paul Anderson came against Tommy Craven in a
heavily Republican district turning out a third less of the African
American vote in that district than had turned out the previous cycle.”

One quibble: I don’t and didn’t deny that impact fees had a political impact. They did. I just said Odom made a mistake by running a turnout campaign when Republicans are 35 percent of turnout.

My friend concludes:

“I do know what is a real loser. Failing to support a real increase in
impact fees, and then voting for a four cent tax hike. It’s not all
about impact fees, but that is our best counter to Republican
demagoguery on taxes.

“I appreciate the advice, but instead of consistently doing Carter’s work
for him, and carrying the development community’s water, you might
actually try and help our side by pointing out the short sightedness of
our opposition.”

Actually, I’ve spent 30 years in politics pointing out the short-sightedness of our Republican opposition. And I’ve often found it helpful to point out the short-sightedness of our Democratic friends first.

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Posted in: General
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John Edwards, who has made a political career of standing up on issues – like poverty – that are virtually non-controversial has found one more.

Edwards is for: Home.

He is publishing a book Home: The Blueprints of our Lives, which features profiles of the homes of Bob Dole, John Glenn, Maya Lin, Jake Gyllenhall and John Mellencamp. And he is about to launch a fifty city radio and a ten city television blitz to promote his new cause.

Now who on earth is going to disagree with John Edwards about the virtues of ‘Home’?

There is nothing wrong with John Edwards – or anyone else – lamenting poverty or praising the virtues of ‘Home.’

But John Edwards is running for President and we face real, controversial issues like immigration, terrorism and the War in Iraq. Isn’t it time he put his PR machine to work on one of them?

The problem with Edwards can be summed up in one word: Timid.

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Here’s a wise use of our education lottery money.

The Executive Director of the State Lottery is going to climb into a hot air balloon and sail it over the Raleigh beltline with two banners flapping in the wind promoting ‘Powerball.’ The cost of this PR stunt is $6,200.

In the meantime, while the lottery is spending money on balloons and banners, the Wake County School Board says it desperately needs a billion dollars to build schools.

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Posted in: Uncategorized
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Hugh Morton, who died this week, was one of the most maddeningly persistent men I ever met.

He was also one of the sweetest souls I ever knew.

Hugh about drove me crazy when he pushed and pushed to get Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms together to save the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. He got it done.

Years later, when we took our children to Grandfather Mountain, we ran into Hugh.

He made a great fuss over James and Maggie. He insisted on taking us inside Mildred the Bear’s cage. He took beautiful pictures of us all – with the bear. Later we got the prints in the mail.

When we read that Hugh died, the kids remembered that day. I remember a big old guy with a big heart.

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…is the way the Senate Democrats are hammering House Speaker Jim Black.

Marc Basnight, the Senate leader, is one of the all-time North Carolina political powerhouses, wheeler-dealers. He is also interesting. Because he has the ability to surprise.

Basnight’s surprise this year is all the punches the Senate is throwing at House Speaker Black.

First, before the Senators even got settled into their new chairs and caught their breaths, Basnight whipped a bill through the Senate to ban video-poker. Jim Black has been video poker’s protector in the legislature.

Next, Basnight whipped through a bill repealing another of Black’s pet projects: the requirement that children have eye exams before entering the first grade. Black has been criticized for his bill because he is an optometrist and, obviously, optometrists benefit from the requirement.

Lastly, just in case anyone thought all this was a coincidence Basnight whipped out a budget that cut pork-barrel spending. Specifically, the Senate cut out $400,000 in pork-barrel funds for the Sparta Teapot Museum – another Black sponsored project. Black has been criticized for receiving contributions from museum supporters.

Now, Senator Julia Boseman has introduced a bill to repeal another measure Black has been criticized about for inserting in last year’s budget: requiring insurers to treat chiropractors the same as family physicians when it comes to insurance co-payments.

Finally, Basnight and the Senate appear to be taking a stronger stand on “Ethics Reform” – to clean up the ‘pay to play’ scandals – than Black and the House. The House has sullenly offered lip service to reforms, but in fact it has done very little. Basnight and the Senate just turned thumbs down on the House’s watered down reform bill and say they are drafting a stronger bill of their own.

I would never have expected Marc Basnight, the iron-fisted kingpin of the State Senate, to be leading a crusade for “Ethics Reform.” But the Governor has done very little. And the House has done less. (Unfortunately, even House Republicans went along with the Democrats watered down reform bill.) By comparison, Basnight and the Senate have passed bills to address three specific ‘pay to play’ abuses and, right now, it seems the only ones pushing for tougher ‘Ethics Reforms’ are Basnight and the Senate Democrats.

In many ways it seems out of character. But, right now, Marc Basnight has emerged as an ‘Ethics Reformer.’ More power to him.

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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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