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The Democrats in Raleigh have been embroiled in a series of scandals over the last six months that the newspapers have dubbed ‘pay to play’ – and as a result we have a series of investigations underway by everybody from the U. S. Attorney to the State Board of Elections.

House Speaker Jim Black has been the focus of most of the press reports about these scandals but right now just about every politician seems to be talking about the need to clean up politics. But the truth is what they call cleaning up is just putting a fresh coat of paint over the same old fence.

They’re using words like “openness,” “access” and “transparency” in describing what they call lobbying reform – but that’s political double-talk for let’s do as little as possible and declare we fixed the problem.

The only way to end these scandals is to make it illegal for a politician to ask a lobbyist (or anyone else) who wants a government grant, job, subsidy, contract, etc., for money – for political donations. In other words, pass a law that says if a lobbyist (or a lobbyist’s client) wants something from government like a contract or a special tax break for their company they can’t give contributions to the politicians who get to make that decision. That eliminates even the appearance of a quid pro quo. And puts a hole in ‘pay to play.’

But, by and large, ‘pay for play’ was created, or at least practiced most, by Democratic politicians – because, after all, they’re the ones who control the legislature and the Governor’s office. And only one Democrat leader has endorsed banning lobbyists’ donations. Guess who: Speaker Jim Black.

Now, maybe, this is a case of the return of the prodigal son but whatever his reason Speaker Black has endorsed a real reform. The question is what are Marc Basnight – and Governor Mike Easley – going to do?

Because real reform is going no where unless Senator Basnight endorses it in the Senate. So the question now is will Senator Basnight and Governor Easley join Speaker Black in endorsing a real reform – that will help stop ‘pay to play’ – or are they going to pass cosmetic changes that will let them go on raising money from lobbyists?

Posted in: General
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From the first taxpayers’ revolution in California in 1978, North Carolina has escaped a full-scale rebellion over local property taxes.

I predict that is going to change soon. Specifically, this fall. And specifically right here in Wake County over the school bond issue.

The issue is popping up all over the country again. South Carolina is considering a referendum this fall over rising property assessments.

Given some of the numbers we’ve seen connected with the Wake County school bonds, we’re ripe for the revolution here.

The new school superintendent and all the business and political leaders who support this bond issue had better put on their armor for this fight.

Posted in: General
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I’m enjoying watching Republicans put President Bush on the hot seat for letting a Middle Eastern company run American ports.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that beneath all this hoorah – as one of the commenters on our blog suggested – there might be nothing wrong with the arrangement.

But you can’t blame me for enjoying the spectacle.

Ever since 2000, Bush has benefited from the right-wing media frothing machine – the talk TV and talk radio blowhards who are skewered so well by the “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.

Now their target is Bush.

Plus, Bush has worked overtime since 9/11 to make us think there is no difference between those people – whether they’re named Saddam or Osama.

Now he has to explain why there is a difference.

Another irony: First Bush threatened to veto any effort to reverse his decision. Then he admitted he didn’t make the decision – or even know about it.

Who made it? A committee chaired by Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt.

As the President himself might say: “Heckuva job, Kimmie.”

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A painful lesson Carter taught me in the 1984 Hunt-Helms race was the power of using your opponents’ own words against him.

I thought of that when – for the first time – I saw Bill Graham’s ad against the state gas tax increase.

His last line – after saying the politicians want him to go away – was: “We’re not going anywhere.”

Well, if we follow him, he’s absolutely right. We won’t go anywhere.

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I believe The News & Observer was dead wrong Thursday morning about Senator Elizabeth Dole, her husband Bob Dole and the Dubai ports fiasco.

The N&O, like other news outlets, reported that Bob Dole “has been hired by Dubai Ports World to help shepherd the company through a $6.8 billion deal to control terminals at six U.S. ports.”

Then the N&O whitewashed her blatant conflict of interest:

“Despite her husband’s work for Dubai, Elizabeth Dole wrote in a letter Wednesday that she is concerned about turning port operations over to a Middle Eastern company.”

Senator Dole said in her letter:

“I do not believe that a transaction of this importance should be finalized until the Administration and the Congress have had an opportunity to thoroughly examine, understand, and resolve these concerns.”

Contrast that with N.C. Rep. Sue Myrick’s one-sentence letter:

“Dear Mr. President: In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just NO — but HELL NO!”

In fact, Senator Dole – in the language of politics – is carefully leaving the door wide open to eventually support the deal.

But – as the mainstream media has done since she first ran for the U.S. Senate – the N&O continued to give her a free pass on her husband’s role as Sellout Former Senator Turned Big-Bucks Lobbyist No. 1.

Just as the North Carolina media has given her a free pass on her striking absence both from the state and from any leadership in the Senate. Not to mention her time spent as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee – a role that I hear is being roundly criticized by Republicans in Washington.

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President Bush has not vetoed a single bill in five years in office.

But, yesterday, it seemed at last he had found an issue so important it merited his first veto.


The President wanted the United Arab Emirates (or, to be technically correct, a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates) to operate six U.S. Ports: in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

The problem was the Governors or New York, New Jersey and Maryland and Republicans in Congress disagreed – and when Congress started talking about bills to undo President Bush’s proposed agreement with United Arab Emirates company – the President dug in his heels and started talking about vetoes. So, at least yesterday, it looked like the President’s first veto, ever – might be to allow the United Arab Emirates to operate U.S. Ports.

Don’t that beat all.

And what I wanted to know, yesterday, was who was wired in so tight at the White House – who was lobbying for the United Arab Emirates – they got the Bush Administration to approve turning the port of New York (or part of it) over to a company owned by an Arab Emirate right now.

But, anyway, there was President Bush – yesterday – saying the deal was ‘fair’ and, by God, he’d veto anything Congress passed to stop it (and what I was waiting for him to explain was why the natural concern people would have about, in effect, a foreign government operating American ports (through it a wholly owned subsidiary) wasn’t really something we needed to worry about at all.

Well, this morning another shoe fell.

It appears, according to the newspapers, one of the people who lobbied, consulted, helped or whatever the United Arab Emirates company on this deal was former Senator Robert Dole.

What’s more, President Bush has done a partial about face. Instead of vetoing Congress bill(s) now he’s going to explain the virtue of this deal to Congress – and, in fact, his office says he never even knew about the deal before his administration approved it.

What a difference a day makes.

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President Bush’s decision to let Arab companies provide security for American ports confirms what I’ve always suspected: the one thing stronger than Bush & Co.’s fear of Arab terrorism is their greed for Arab money.

Posted in: General
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Jerry Meek, Chairman of the State Democratic Party, denounced the N.C. Republican Party for seeking church membership lists.

Jerry said churches are “sacred” places that should be free of politics.

As a Democrat, I know how heavily Democratic candidates have depended on African-American pastors and their churches at election time.

Will Jerry now call on Democrats to stop seeking these churches’ support?

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There is some – more – bad news about the lottery.

Last year, just about every major Democratic politician promised loud, long and repeatedly that every penny of the $400 million in lottery money would go for new education spending. They even told voters they wrote that into the law: the lottery money would only be used to pay for new education spending.

Brace yourself.

It turns out when the lottery finally passed in the dead of night the same Democratic legislators left out that little piece of law. Or rather, they cancelled it out with another bill.

And, now, the other shoe has fallen. The State Auditor reports half the lottery money isn’t going for new education spending at all. Instead, $200 million is going, in effect, into the black hole in the budget called the General Fund – where the same Democratic leaders can be spent on anything from corporate subsidies to who knows what.

State Auditor, Les Merritt, says, “There is a pretty big disconnect, I believe, between what is the public perception and what the actual legislation allows…”(Charlotte Observer, 2/15/06).

A $200 million disconnect.

The shame here is not just that $200 million is not going to be spent on new education programs – the shame is how thoroughly, completely, and ruthlessly Democratic Party leaders bamboozled voters. As the News & Observer reports, “legislators made almost daily pronouncements” (back when they were passing the lottery) the money would only go to new spending: and, now, before the first lottery ticket is sold that promise is history.

No wonder the Charlotte Observer says “the road to the lottery has been a ride through a cesspool.” And the Wilmington Star says the lottery is “turning out to be a con.”

And what are Governor Easley and the other leaders of the Democratic Party who hoodwinked voters saying now?

Here’s the latest: Governor Easley, (who, now, admits half the lottery money will go to pay for programs the Legislature had been funding for years) says not to worry – he has a plan (the only caveat is we’ll have to wait for his next budget to see it).

And, of course, he told us something like that before the lottery passed, too.

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Should Western newspapers act “responsibly” – as the Bush Administration has suggested – in deciding whether to publish cartoons portraying Muhammad?

My opinion: absolutely not.

In fact, it downright angers me that so many Western political leaders are so intimidated by violent Muslim protests against the cartoons – and that some papers have fired editors who published them.

The attitude seems to be: Because Muslims have such strongly felt religious beliefs, we should suspend our strongly held beliefs about the right to free speech.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you’re willing to suspend free speech in order to avoid violent protests, you’re giving up free speech. And nothing is more fundamental to our nation and our Constitution, although Bush & Co. seem to regard the right as an inconvenient obstacle to their agenda.

Europe seems to have a different attitude. After all, I understand from The Economist that in seven European countries it is illegal to say that Hitler did not murder millions of Jews.

Free speech may be offensive, it may be reprehensible and it may be just plain inaccurate, but it is supposed to be free and unfettered.

In Bush’s crusade to bring democracy to the world, he shouldn’t jettison the essence of democracy.

Posted in: General
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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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