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The Democratic Party is undergoing one of its periodic paroxysms of soul-searching.

It’s not a pretty sight.

The soul-searching has long been bubbling in the blogs. It bubbled onto the front page of The New York Times this week.

But it’s nothing new. The same battle has been going on between Liberal Democrats and Not-So-Liberal Democrats for years.

This time it’s been brewing since 1992, when Bill Clinton beat the True Liberal-Jesse Jackson wing of the party and won the White House. That brought an eight-year truce.

But now, out of the White House since 2000 and in the congressional minority even longer, Democrats are redrawing the lines and resuming fire.

The bloggers and Real Liberals say the answer is simple:

  • Off with the heads of the consultant class, whom they blame for the defeats of Al Gore and John Kerry;

  • Out with the centrist, “cautious” New Democrat approach of Bill (and Hillary) Clinton;

  • Stand up for our “real beliefs” and stop worrying about whether the voters agree with us, because they’ll admire us for standing behind our principles.

Problem is, what are those real beliefs?

Raise taxes? Or cut taxes, as Governor Easley has proposed here and Washington Democrats have proposed on the gas tax?

Pull out of Iraq yesterday? Or withdraw more slowly?

There is no agreement. Democrats, unlike Republicans, do not march in lockstep on issues like taxes and foreign policy.

So, as always, we will argue about it this year. As always, each Senate and House candidate will chart his or her own course – on the campaign trail and (if elected) in Washington.

As always, the resolution will not come until the 2008 Presidential-nomination battle. Either Hillary Clinton will win, or a “Real Democrat” will. Just like McGovern vs. Jackson in 1972, Carter vs. Udall in 1976, Carter vs. Kennedy in 1980, Mondale vs. Hart in 1984, Dukakis vs. all others in 1988, Clinton vs. Tsongas/Brown in 1992 and Kerry vs. Dean in 2004.

If the Democratic nominee wins the White House, the battle will largely subside.

If she (or he) loses, Democrats will once against form up a firing squad in a circle.

It’s what we are best at.

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There’s a difference in Art Pope spending ‘his millions’ and how the Black/Basnight Political Machines continue to hold an iron-grip on the North Carolina Legislature.

Pope is spending his own money. What he is doing does not cost taxpayers a cent. He’s not trying to get a state contract or a bill passed to help his business; he’s spending his own money to advocate his political beliefs. You may not agree with those beliefs but he had every right to speak out for them.

On the other hand, Marc Basnight and Jim Black fund their political machines with contributions from people who do want state contracts. And legislation. And appointments. And state jobs. That’s called ‘pay to play;’ trading political favors for campaign contributions.

The big difference between what Pope is doing and what the Machines are doing is when Basnight or Black raise a thousand dollars there’s no telling how much it may have cost taxpayers.

I expect it is safe to assume that the Democratic legislature is going to try to stop Pope by passing new election laws before the Fall Election. And, that instead of ending ‘pay to play,’ they are going to make a few cosmetic changes and go right on swapping political favors for campaign contributions.

But if the Democrats in North Carolina want to stop Art Pope, instead of silencing him, they should out-debate him. They can do everything he is doing. There is nothing he is doing that the law does not allow them to do too.

Why won’t they?

The Machines thrive on secrecy. They prosper by operating quietly in the warrens and backrooms of the legislature. The last thing they want is a debate about what they are doing in those backrooms.

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It will be Art Pope’s millions against the Basnight/Black “machines” this fall.

That is, unless Speaker Jim Black’s train derails because of bad publicity and threatening investigations.

The legislative races will be a contest between two different ways of raising the big chunks of cash it takes to win a majority in the State Senate and House.

The News & Observer published a three-part series this weekend about how Democratic leaders Black and Senator Marc Basnight pay the freight. Essentially, anybody with an issue before the legislature pays. Lobbyists do double duty: they pay and collect.

Pope has a different model. First, find a path through the maze of campaign-finance laws. Then pump through enough corporate dollars to win elections.

My colleague Carter believes that what Pope is doing is legal. My old friend Michael Weisel believes otherwise. Weisel is attorney for Rep. Richard Morgan, who filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections challenging Pope’s ploy.

The money explains why House Democrats are standing by Jim Black, so far. They don’t see anybody else in their caucus who can raise the money to fight Pope. And they know that – nearly all the time – the richest campaign wins.

Democrats fear that if Pope’s Republicans get a majority this year, they’ll stay in the majority for years to come. Once in, they’ll just adopt the Black/Basnight fundraising strategy.

Republicans had a majority from 1994-1998. But they lost it because of their own infighting, an aggressive campaign led by Black and then-Governor Jim Hunt, and a political climate so favorable to Democrats it pushed John Edwards to an upset over Lauch Faircloth.

I wouldn’t count on that happening again.

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How deeply is ‘pay to play’ ingrained in the culture of the Democratic Party?

Let’s take a look at the upcoming Democrat race for Governor in 2008. Three candidates are already raising war chests and State Treasurer Richard Moore leads the pack.

The News and Observer reports Moore has raised over 42% of his money from out-of-state and a “large part of it” came from companies hired by Moore to help invest the slate’s $65 billion pension fund.

For instance, Moore raised $108,000 from financial companies on Wall Street that do business with his office. He received donations from executives in Boston, Chicago, SeattleTampa, Florida whose companies have a role in managing the pension fund.

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and owner of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, hosted a fundraiser for Moore and raised $23,000 last fall. Six months earlier, Johnson’s company was hired last year to manage $325 million in state pension funds.

A San Francisco developer was hired to manage $260 million in pension funds. Executives in his company raised $18,000 for Moore.

Moore says, in his defense, “It would be incredibly shortsighted of me to make investment decisions based on political favoritism…”

But his political consultant, Jay Reiff, was more blunt. Reiff said Moore is doing nothing other candidates are not doing. “Every serious candidate for state office, including Gov. Easley, Lt. Gov. Perdue and Attorney General Cooper, has received contributions from individuals that do business with the state.”

He added that Dave Horne, one of Governor Easley’s fundraisers and his campaign treasurer was a lobbyist for EDS, a major state contractor. And that one of Attorney General Ray Cooper’s fundraisers is Brad Wilson of Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

It sounds like to Mr. Moore’s political advisor there’s not one thing wrong with ‘pay to play.’ It’s a fact of life. Everyone does it.

He may well be right as far as the other Democratic candidates for Governor go.

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, the head of the State Senate, has her own collection of lobbyists to give and raise money for her, including Zeb Alley and former John Edwards’ manager Ed Turlington.

So, is it likely any of the Democrat candidates for Governor will put an end to ‘pay to play?”

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The USA Today/Gallup poll now shows George Bush at a 31 percent approval rating. Nearly two-thirds of Americans – 65 percent – approve of the job he’s doing.

I think he is basically down now to the total viewership of Fox News.

According to USA Today:

Only four presidents have scored lower approval ratings since the Gallup Poll began regularly measuring it in the mid-1940s: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush. When Nixon, Carter and the elder Bush sank below 35%, they never again registered above 40%.

Truman twice sank into the low 30s and then rose into the 60s, but the third time his rating fell, it stayed below 40% as well.

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When the state had to bid an $18 million contract to purchase office supplies, it hired the consulting company Accenture and paid them $300,000 to evaluate the bids.

However, according to the News and Observer, Accenture, the state’s consultant, has also been paid millions of dollars by Office Depot (for work unrelated to North Carolina).

Want to guess who ended up with the North Carolina contract Accenture evaluated? Office Depot.

Accenture was also the state’s consultant when it awarded the multi-billion dollar State Health Care Plan’s Pharmacy Benefits Management Contract. At that time, Accenture had been criticized – in other states – for doing exactly what has happened here on the contract awarded to Office Depot. For advising state agencies to award contracts to corporations that were Accenture’s clients.

Now, the News and Observer reports, a state judge has ruled the Office Depot contract was awarded improperly. Judge Beecher Gray said, “What I see here is an appearance of impropriety.”

Why would the state hire a company which had Office Depot as a client – to help evaluate an $18 million contract Office Depot was bidding on? Perhaps what the newspapers have discovered is another new version of ‘pay to play.’

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Posted in: General
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Has there ever been a worse idea than the Senate Republicans’ proposal for a $100 tax rebate to help Americans buy more $3 gas?

Has there ever been more convincing proof that Senator Bill Frist belongs in an operating room, not the White House?

In fairness, Washington Democrats aren’t much better.

Since I whacked Bill Graham for proposing to cut North Carolina’s gas tax, I owe the Democrats in Washington a whack for proposing the same thing nationally.

Two reasons:

  • How are they going up to pay for building and maintaining highways?

  • Why on earth do Democrats want to encourage people to use more gas and give more power to oil-producing countries?
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A good way for Republicans to get a head start on the next Mayor’s race is to start making Mayor Charles Meeker’s runaway spending an issue. Now.

On top of proposing to raise taxes on new homes, and raising property taxes to pay for a school bonds and raising property taxes two years ago, the City Council now is talking about raising property taxes again to pay for more spending.

Right now, the City wants to spend $11 million more that it has, for items like:

  • Six new policemen for a downtown foot and bicycle patrol;
  • $150,000 for daily cleaning of Fayetteville Street, along with quarterly pressure washing;
  • And, $100,000 for an observation platform to monitor outdoor events downtown.

Republican Councilman Philip Isley has proposed shifting federal money from the regional lite-rail system to schools and roads as an alternative to more borrowing and higher taxes.

But lite-rail is one of Mayor Meeker’s pet projects. The Mayor has increased spending to pay for a downtown hotel, a five-star restaurant, an upscale supermarket and a $40 million dollar underground parking garage. Now he wants more spending and higher taxes to pay for it.

The City Council is spending money like a sailor on a spree. It’s time Republicans offered voters an alternative.

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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The usual way to eliminate an opponent, politically, is to defeat him in an election. A simpler way – when the legislature redraws its districts – is to put him in someone else’s district.

After he was elected Co-Speaker, Richard Morgan took Leo Daughtry out of his district and put him in a district with Republican Representative Billy Creech. He did the same thing with three other Republicans who had opposed him. And he moved four other Republicans into districts that favored Democrats (where they were later defeated).

Then Morgan announced he was targeting several additional Republicans who had opposed him in their primaries.

As Co-Speaker, Morgan was, politically, in a much stronger position than his opponents. He could raise the money to fund campaigns to defeat his opponents – and no individual legislator could match him. One major reason he failed was former State Representative Art Pope.

Before the 2004 primaries, Pope endorsed the legislators Morgan targeted for defeat. Then he – and members of his family – contributed to their campaigns. Then, along with several other Daughtry supporters, Pope set up a ‘527’ group – an ‘issues advocacy group – and helped fund it with $400,000 of his own money. Then the group began running ads criticizing Morgan’s supporters – and Morgan – in their districts. Subsequently, four of Morgan’s allies were defeated in the primaries – and Morgan only won reelection by 250 votes.

In 2004, Richard Morgan did not question Art Pope’s use of a ‘527’ group to debate issues during the election. In fact, Richard set up his own ‘527’ group, funded it with corporate money and ran ads of his own.

But that was about to change.

In the fall of 2004, the Democrats retook control of the State House, and, with a Democratic majority, Jim Black no longer needed Republican votes to be elected Speaker. But Morgan decided to continue his ‘alliance’ with Black by running for – with the support of House Democrats – Speaker Pro Tem, the number two position in the House.

The office is largely ceremonial, and powerless, but Morgan’s decision sent a clear message to other Republicans; he was continuing his ‘alliance’ with Jim Black and even if Republicans elected a majority in 2006 to retake control of the House – Morgan could again form a coalition with Black to return to power.

So, in primaries this year, Art Pope again targeted Richard Morgan and his allies for defeat.

To be continued tomorrow…Chapter 5 – “The 2006 Republican Primaries”

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With Mayor Meeker talking about raising taxes again, and the City Council talking about spending $11 million more than it has, Republicans should be recommending ways to trim the budget.

Here’s a small idea.

The City publishes a newsletter, “Liveable Streets Update: Downtown Raleigh.” The newsletter seems to exist for only one reason – to be a public relations vehicle to promote Mayor Meeker’s pet downtown projects. Like his convention center. And hotel. And five-star restaurant. And up-scale supermarket. (All funded with tax dollars.)

The April issue of the newsletter opens with a paean praising the Mayor for his role in bringing Spanish artist Juame Pensa to Raleigh and leading the effort to get a $2.5 million for Pensa to build a “grassy plaza” in the middle of Fayetteville Street – which according to Mr. Pensa will resemble a silicon chip.

Defunding the Mayor’s PR vehicle isn’t going to balance the budget. But every penny helps. And it beats raising property taxes, again.

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Posted in: Raleigh
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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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