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Here is the headline I did not want to see (from the March 3 News & Observer):

“Isley wants to shift TTA funds –
The Raleigh councilman says the money should go toward roads and schools.”

Wake up, Raleigh Democrats. This should be OUR issue.

The N&O reported:

City Council member Philip Isley wants to cut off local funding for the Triangle Transit Authority rail project so local governments will have a few million dollars more to spend for roads and schools.

Read the full story:

Two other City Council members have hit this chord before: Democrat Jessie Taliaferro and Republican Tommy Craven.

With Isley chiming in, the Republicans are now beating us 2-to-1.

I repeat: Wake up, Democrats.

Mayor Meeker did talk about schools’ needs in his State of the City speech.

But he missed the point: The voters are not going to vote for a billion-dollar school bond package when they think the City of Raleigh is wasting money on a $40 million underground parking garages, a $20 million tax subsidy to the Marriott family for a downtown hotel and a billion-dollar light rail system that even Washington thinks is wasteful. Not to mention mounting cost overruns on the civic center.

Now I will promptly get a lecture from all the smart people explaining to me that schools are the county commissioners’ responsibility, not the City Council’s.

Sorry, but it’s all the taxpayers’ money. They don’t think in terms of one pot for county money and another for city money.

Let me explain something: If Democrats let Republicans steal this issue, we deserve to lose.

Posted in: General
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I’ve always liked James Carville. I got to know him when he did some early consulting on Jim Hunt’s 1984 Senate campaign.

He’s not always popular with the D.C. Democrats. Which is one reason I like him.

Today a friend sent me the Duke Chronicle’s account of his speech there Saturday. (Great scheduling move, James: speaking the same night as the Duke-UNC basketball game).

He scorches both the Republicans and D.C. Democrats.

Written by Neal SenGupta, I think the article is worth passing on in full:

Carville decries D.C. leadership

Democrat James Carville, one of the most talked-about political strategists in the nation, brought his blunt wit and insight to Duke Saturday, discussing the woes of the Democratic party and decrying Republican leadership during a question-and-answer session.

“If you are waiting for Democrats in Washington to come up with something, you should forget about it,” Carville told a standing-room-only crowd at the Sanford Institute of Public Policy.

Dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, Carville nonetheless spoke with decades of Washington D.C. experience under his belt.

Carville worked as campaign manager for former President Bill Clinton.

He is also on CNN’s The Situation Room television program, and he is a former co-host of CNN’s political debate show Crossfire.

“Change is going to come from here. Don’t wait for Washington,” Carville said, describing the Democratic leadership’s lack of strength and the need for Democrats outside of Washington to spark reform in the nation’s capital by “doing it out here” first.

Nicknamed “Ragin’ Cajun” for his animated debating style, Carville was born and raised in Louisiana.

He touched on a personal note when he criticized President George W. Bush’s handling of the destruction of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

“When [President Bush] was told we were losing an important part of our country, and our president just sat there with a vacant look on his face…,” Carville said, trailing off and looking at the ceiling.

“That was the most embarrassing thing I have ever seen,” he added.

Carville’s later asked the crowd in jest what Bush was giving up for Lent.

“Our ports,” Carville said, referring to Bush’s recent support for selling operation rights at several American ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates.

His discussion also touched on the role of moral and religious values in politics.

“Democrats have always tended to be a highly secular party,” Carville noted. “But what have people learned from religious services?”

He said the Republican party is focusing on the wrong aspects of religion.

“Three thousand times in the Gospel, Jesus talked about helping the poor,” Carville said. “It mentioned homosexuality zero times.”

He quipped he does not feel “gays are a threat to [his] marriage.”

Carville is married to Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

He added that he thinks the Bush administration is leading the nation’s future generation toward crisis.

“Their hands are in your kid’s pocket,” Carville said, referring to his belief that the Bush administration lacks fiscal responsibility.

He added that the federal government’s $9-trillion deficit poses a growing economic problem. “If you are going to do something like that, do it to me, not my kids,” he said.

Carville said that although Democratic leadership has problems, it possesses hope for the future.

“Democrats in the nation need to stand with those in Washington,” he said, adding that his party is a “great reform party.”

“The Republicans are hopeless. Even they know that,” he said.

Posted in: General
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The directors of the State Lottery are not only going to get salaries higher than most others in State Government – they’re going to get more time off. At least the top nineteen employees will.

Technically, lottery employees are state employees. But that hasn’t stopped the Lottery Commission from giving them higher salaries and more vacation than other state employees.

The Commission has divided the lottery staff into two categories. Regular workers and ‘Directors.’ Regular workers are going to be treated right much like other state employees. But the Lottery Commission is treating the nineteen ‘Directors’ – well, different.

A lottery director – who’s making, say, over $100,000 a year – will get 41 days off (including holidays) a year. After he or she’s worked five years it rises to 49 days off. That’s seven weeks of time off a year.

So, when you go buy your lottery ticket and lose – and you’re going to lose 99% of the time – remember, you just paid for a lottery director’s hundred thousand dollar plus salary and six to seven weeks of vacation.

Posted in: General
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It’s only March but I’m for giving Jaume Plensa, the Spanish artist who’s sold Mayor Meeker on $2.5 million in ‘art’ for downtown, the Salesman of the Year award.

The good news here is this $2.5 million – it appears – is going to be paid for by Jim Goodman, of Capital Broadcasting, and not taxpayers. The bad news is taxpayers’ money has a way of creeping into these things. And a boondoggle is still a boondoggle.

What Mr. Plensa wants to build – I don’t know how to describe it. The News and Observer says it will feature a stainless steel sky-grid that will drip a wall of water over the Fayetteville Street Plaza. And that “cars will flow past a grassy square [in the middle of Fayetteville Street], driving on black granite streets sunk three feet down.” The capstone of this masterpiece is a spotlight that “will beam a mile into the air, and a stainless steel canopy that will hang over the street flashing bits of poetry.” Mr. Plensa says, “Let’s talk about light, darkness, light, heavy, peace, love.”

Well, yes, why not.

Mayor Meeker is ecstatic. He says, “From my perspective, it’s two thumbs up.” And he adds the steel grid (which Mr. Plensa says will look like a micro-chip from above) is “a classical design with contemporary relevance. The initial reaction is very positive, and I think this is something that’s going to move forward very quickly.”

Not everyone agrees.

News and Observer columnist, Dennis Rogers, started out his commentary on the city’s new art project this way: “This could get ugly.”

Mr. Rogers adds, wryly, that Plensa’s stainless steel sky-grid, (combined with the arty twenty-five foot, stainless steel, reflecting streetlights covered with mirrors the Mayor wants to put on Fayetteville Street) “would be perfect if we were creating…a casino.”

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Here’s a point of view on the War in Iraq that is being, unfortunately, ignored.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in a commentary in the News and Observer today (3-6-06), argues that our problems in Iraq are a result of “President Bush’s decision to approach the Iraq invasion with the Rumsfeld Doctrine, which calls for just enough troops to fail, rather then the proven Powell Doctrine, which calls for overwhelming force to win.”

Mr. Friedman writes that the Bush administration’s “repeated claim” that it had enough troops in Iraq and no one was asking for more – is “Totally untrue.” He goes on to state that Paul Bremer, who led the U.S. civilian administration in Iraq, reveals in his new book, My Year in Iraq, that “he repeatedly asked for more troops, but was ignored.”

According to Mr. Friedman, Bremer reveals that he told Condoleezza Rice in 2003, “The coalitions got about half the number of soldiers we need here, and we run a real risk of having this thing go south on us.” And that Mr. Bremer also states in his book, “On May 18, [2004] I gave Rice a heads-up that I intended to send Secretary Rumsfeld a very private message suggesting the coalition needed more troops. That afternoon I sent my message. I noted the deterioration of the security situation since April had made it clear, to me at least, that we were trying to cover too many fronts with too few resources.” Bremer concludes, “I did not hear back from him [Rumsfeld].”

This is the debate we need to have – and are not having – about Iraq in this year’s elections. Right now, the Democrats are arguing we are fighting the wrong war. The Bush administration is arguing we are fighting the right war and should stay the course. But no one – yet – is debating Mr. Friedman’s point that the real problem is we have fought this war the wrong way. With the Rumsfeld doctrine, not the Powell Doctrine.

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Carter and I spoke to a class of aspiring political operatives this week. Just before we started, CNN broadcast the story about Bush’s approval rating dropping to 34 percent. Apparently, he is about where Nixon was when he resigned.

But Democrats shouldn’t start celebrating.

Bush’s 10-point drop came because his administration wants to let a Dubai company run American ports.

Clearly, that was dumb politically. But it’s hard for me to see how Democrats take advantage.

My concern was heightened during our class. The students are running mock campaigns for Republican Congressman Robin Hayes in the 8th District and a mythical Democratic opponent.

The Democrats thought they have a fine issue with Hayes’ flip-flop on CAFTA. In a normal year, they’d be right.

Just like Washington Democrats who think Delay, Abramoff and the stench of corruption will make this a good year. In a normal year, they’d be right.

But the ports flap and the poll numbers make me think otherwise.

As I’ve said before, I still don’t see how Democrats get over a BIG hurdle: Americans don’t trust us to keep America safe from terrorists.

Until we solve that problem, our high hopes for this year are misguided.

A footnote about Bush:

The pundits I see on TV can’t understand how the Bush team made this mistake. Bush’s apologists want to say the White House didn’t know.


The answer is that the Bush family loves rich Arabs.

Remember, this is the President who didn’t mind being photographed walking hand in hand with Saudi royalty.

Fundamentally, it’s a sign that Bush is so intellectually incurious that he never learned anything more than what he brought into office with him. And that was precious little.

What he did bring is the idea – which he got from Daddy – that rich Arabs are our kind of people, son, and we can deal with them.

Somehow, the ignorant American people just don’t seem to agree.

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It looks like our crusade to get the Raleigh City Council focused on schools is making progress.

In his annual State of the City address this week, Mayor Charles Meeker laid out three goals for 2006: reduce fuel consumption, fight homelessness and – according to The News & Observer – “push Wake County to solve its school-crowding crisis.”

Click here to read the story.

It says:

Meeker said he realizes Raleigh government has no control over schools, but he felt the need to urge action.

It will take roughly $1.2 billion to renovate schools, move students out of trailers and handle the 12,000 new students estimated for the next two years.

Wake County’s tax base will increase enough that $400,000 to $500,000 can be committed now without a tax increase.

The rest of the money, Meeker said, should be left to voters to decide on this fall’s ballot.

“We’re behind,” he said. “We’ve been behind now for a couple of years. … I have confidence this community, as it always has done before, can solve our problem.”

That’s not much. But it may be a start. Maybe he’ll now join the outnumbered Council members who want the City to debate this issue.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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‘Pay to Play’ is the name the media has given the scandals that are going on in Raleigh. It means, roughly, lobbyists ‘pay’ (by making contributions) – if they want legislators to ‘play’ (listen to them or act on what they want) in Raleigh.

To be fair to the lobbyists, they aren’t enamored about raising and giving thousands of dollars (in political donations) to politicians. In fact, it is the politicians who created ‘pay to play’ – not the lobbyists.

And the politicians who created, and who have practiced ‘pay to play’ most, are Democrats – because Democrats control the State Legislature and the Governorship.

Now we have the chairman of the State Democratic Party calling for ‘Lobbying Reform.’ But what he is proposing is window dressing – not real reform. If what he proposes becomes law. It means a few helpful but basically cosmetic reforms will take place – that won’t end ‘pay for play.’ Because politicians will go right on raising money for lobbyists.

The way to end ‘pay for play’ is simple: make it illegal for politicians to ask lobbyists (or their clients) to give or raise money for them. In other words, anyone wanting something like a contract, a bill, a tax break, an incentive out of government cannot give a contribution to any politician who has a role in making that decision.

The problem is this is how Democrats fund their campaigns – so they’re not anxious to end ‘pay for play.’ In fact, only one major Democratic leader has come out for banning lobbyists’ donations: House Speaker Jim Black.

It will be interesting to see if Senate Leader Marc Basnight and Governor Easley – and for that matter, Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meeks – join Black in calling for banning lobbyist donations.

If they do, it will put a hole in ‘pay for play.’ If they don’t it means they (or at least Senator Basnight since the Governor can’t run again) will go right on raising money from lobbyists.

The Democrats gave us ‘pay for play’ and, right now, only the Democrats have the power to end it. That ball, for now, is in Senator Basnight’s court. Unless he joins Speaker Black in endorsing banning lobbyist donations it is hard to see how the Senate will pass any meaningful reforms.

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For some time now, the political tide has been running against supporters of abortion rights.

That’s because the opponents got smart. They started focusing the battle on issues like parental notification and late-term abortions.

I’ve watched these polls for more than 20 years now.

Americans are fundamentally split about abortion. They don’t like it, but they recognize it is sometimes the right thing to do. But they want it restricted as much as possible.

They’re “pro-choice” and “pro-life” at the same time – unlike anybody in politics.

Now comes the South Dakota legislature.

In their wisdom, the distinguished South Dakota Legislators in Pierre decided to ban all abortions. Including in cases involving rape and incest and when the mother’s health is threatened.

I suspect that is a much more favorable debate for the abortion-rights supporters.

Posted in: General
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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?

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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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