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The Wake County school bond issue is dead. Done. Over. Stick a fork in it.

That’s the only conclusion I can reach after reading the Chamber of Commerce poll released this week.

To me, the killer is the third question in the poll. It’s a standard polling question: Do you think the Wake County schools are generally going in the right direction or are they off on the wrong track?

By 43-37, voters say wrong track.

That, my friends in the school system, is a dagger in the heart. Less than 4 in 10 of the people who would vote on the bonds say the schools are going in the right direction.

And you’re going to ask them to approve a bond issue of more than $1 billion? And raise their property taxes? To give more money to schools that they think are going the wrong way now?

Here is the voters’ answer, according to a poll:

• Less than 44 percent said they would vote for a $1.37 billion bond issue, the cheapest package on the poll.

• By 45-37, they would vote against a $1.97 billion bond issue.

And the problem is that – in referendums like this – the “for” votes rarely go up. Always down.

The vote goes down in the poll when people learn there is a property tax increase attached:

• By 47-40, they’re less likely to vote for bonds with a $72 a year increase in taxes;

• By 51-30, they’re less likely to vote for when there is a $111 a year tax increase.

Here is what the Chamber said in its news release about the poll:

“We are confident that with current information on community opinion plus continued good communications between the two boards, a winnable bond package will result that maintains our world class school system and responds to citizen concerns.”

“Current information on community opinion plus good communication between the two boards” isn’t going to cut it. That’s a formula for defeat.

The Chamber and the schools had better start listening to those “citizen concerns” before they start selling bonds.

On today’s market, the bonds are dead.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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If the School Bonds are DOA – Mayor Charles Meeker probably did more to kill them than anyone else. Inadvertently.

County Commissioner Tony Gurley and Mayor Meeker have been leading the cheers for passing between $1.3 and $1.9 billion in School Bonds (and, of course, raising taxes to pay for them).

The Chamber of Commerce poll says not one of the three bond proposals Gurley-Meeker are pushing receives support from a majority of voters. And, since as a rule, support for bond issues usually declines during a campaign – the more people learn the more opposition grows – the bonds would seem to be, if not DOA with voters, pretty close to it.


What Commissioner Gurley and Mayor Meeker don’t get is that the City Council and County Commissioners can’t just go on spending money like drunken sailors on a spree and then turn around and say, now we need to raise taxes – property taxes, transfer fee taxes, impact fees, or whatever – a billion, or two billion, dollars.

Consider this hypothetical example.

On Monday morning a voter opens the newspaper and reads Mayor Meeker’s spending another $34 million downtown to build an underground parking garage beneath his downtown hotel and Convention Center – when a normal, above ground parking lot would only cost a fraction as much.

On Monday it looks like the Mayor – and the City – are rolling in money. In fact, the Mayor’s got so much money he can even afford to pay a $20 million ‘subsidy’ to the Marriott folks for a hotel downtown.

Tuesday, the same voter opens his paper and there’s Gurley – Meeker saying, we’re broke, and need $1.9 billion – and to raise taxes – for schools.

Wednesday, that same voter gets polled.

What Mayor Meeker and Commissioner Gurley don’t understand is voters’ real concern. According to the Chamber of Commerce poll, voters know the schools are overcrowded. And they are concerned. But they’re also concerned about how the Mayor (and the County Commissioners, too) are spending a couple of hundred million dollars of taxpayers’ money on things like underground parking garages.

If Mayor Meeker and Commissioner Gurley want voters to pass a School Bond, first they have to show some fiscal responsibility. They have to show they’re not wasting taxpayers’ money on things like hotels – which taxpayers don’t want to pay higher taxes to subsidize.

There’ve been two proposals on the City Council that would do that – in part. The first would take the Meals and Hotel tax money (which the Mayor uses to pay for things like Convention Centers) and use part of it to build schools. The other proposal would have taken part of the Triangle Transit Authority’s budget (about $7 million) which is being used to continue to promote Lite-Rail (even after Washington has said it will not fund Lite-Rail) and use that money to build schools.

Mayor Meeker killed both proposals. And, in a way, he dealt the school bonds a death blow at the same time. Because voters won’t buy raising taxes when they see Meeker spending millions on things less important than schools.

If Gurley-Meeker are serious about passing the School Bonds, a good start would be for them to now support both the above proposals – and start using that money to build schools.

Once Mayor Meeker and Commissioner Gurley have cut the hotels, downtown supermarkets, five star restaurants and so on out of their respective budgets and start using that money for schools, then, maybe, if the schools still need more money, they can make a case to voters for school bonds.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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President Bush and his coterie are notoriously dismissive of people who question them.

So here is a news quiz taken from separate stories in Wednesday’s New York Times:

(a) What political figure said that– contrary to the President’s claims – Bush’s Medicaid drug plan has experienced startup problems?

(b) What political figure said that – contrary to claims by the President and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – American troop levels might have to be increased in Iraq to deal with the sectarian killings?

The answers:

(a) President Bush himself.

(b) Secretary Rumsfeld himself.

You could look it up, as Yogi Berra says.

Posted in: General
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The McClatchey chain, which bought The News & Observer from the Daniels family some years back, now has bought the entire Knight-Ridder chain. Knight-Ridder’s biggest paper in North Carolina is The Charlotte Observer.

As they always do, the corporate execs promise that this will mean nothing less than a golden age for readers.


The reason for the acquisition is to cut costs and achieve economies of scale: centralized ad sales, newsprint purchasing, etc., etc.

The big question for North Carolina is this: Will this mean less competition for state government and political news in Raleigh?

Will the Charlotte and Raleigh papers start pooling some of their coverage? If they do, won’t that mean an inevitable lessening of competition for news?

That competition is one reason North Carolina has had aggressive press coverage of politics – and, thus, one reason we’ve had relatively honest government over the years.

But the newspapers’ commitment to that coverage has declined in recent years. Not coincidentally, the level of corruption in government has risen.

So I think taxpayers have something to fear here.

Posted in: General
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I served an eight-year tour of duty as Governor Jim Hunt’s press secretary (1977-1984), and it was the hardest job I ever had. So I’m reluctant to pass judgment on other press offices.

But the North Carolina mainstream media is making much of this being “Sunshine Week.” And I thought the attached article deserved some comment.

Paul O’Connor, Raleigh columnist for The Winston Salem Journal, takes Governor Mike Easley and his press office severely to task.

O’Connor wrote the piece after a bit of physical contact between a reporter and a new press aide to the Governor. It sounds like the kind of minor incident that would lead one of those supposed Duke-loving refs to call a technical foul.

Click here to read the full story:

But there is a larger point here – for the Governor, President Bush, Speaker Jim Black and all other politicians who make war with the press.

It’s not just the old adage: “Never get in a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

In fact, it is much more than that.

The public does have a right to know. And reporters are exercising that right.

But it is more than that.

Here’s my message for the politicians: Facing the press is good for you, too.

In the Hunt Administration, we made a dedicated effort to be responsive to the press. And not to hold grudges when reporters wrote negative stories. Because reporters are always going to write negative stories.

Here was our theory:

· You either feed the media beast, or it will eat you.

· A free way to get your story out is to give it to reporters, even though they may never write it to suit you.

· You learn a lot by facing up to reporters’ questions.

In fact, Hunt said later he liked holding weekly press conferences because he found out things his staff and Cabinet were hiding from him.

So O’Connor is right: open the door and let the sun shine in.

Posted in: General
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Earlier this year, the State Republican Party voted to oppose Republican State Representative Richard Morgan in his primary – because of Morgan’s support of Democratic House Speaker Jim Black.

Now, filings closed, Morgan has one opponent in the primary, and State GOP Director, Bill Peaslee, says, “From our perspective, there’s one Republican in that race and somebody who works with Democrats even though he may be registered Republican.”

Morgan, who has $710,000 in his campaign account, retorts, if the State GOP wants to defeat him and his allies, “They’d best be prepared to spend a lot of money.”

There’s also a primary between Morgan’s ally, Julia Howard, and Morgan opponent (and former legislator) Frank Mitchell.

Ms. Howard has filed a complaint against Mitchell, saying for years he has lived in a home that is not in her district and, therefore, is not qualified to run against her. Mitchell says he is qualified because he now lives in a mobile home inside Howard’s district. Howard asks, “Why would he move out of a $300,000 home into a mobile home?”

She has a point.

But the larger point in all this is Morgan’s four year alliance with Democratic House Speaker Jim Black. The alliance began in 2001 when Democrats and Republicans each had sixty votes in the State House. A deadlock. Eventually, after seven ballots, Morgan and Black broke the deadlock by running as a tandem and serving as Co-Speakers.

Democrats won a majority in the House two years later and Black was elected Speaker alone – but he and Morgan continued their alliance with Morgan being elected to the number two position, serving as – sort of – Vice-Speaker of the House for Jim Black.

What Morgan needs to make clear in this election is if he intends to make his alliance with Black permanent. Does he intend to continue it in the next session of the Legislature? If he does, this is a legitimate issue for Republicans to debate in his primary. Does it serve Republican voters who want lower taxes and less government spending – if Morgan continues his coalition with Jim Black? If Morgan thinks the answer is yes he should say so and defend his stand.

Then voters can decide if they agree with him and reelect him or, if they don’t, they can vote him out of office.

Posted in: General
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State Treasurer Richard Moore led the pack of Democratic candidates running for Governor by raising an impressive $1.28 million for his campaign last year.

But retired Deputy State Treasurer, Charles Heatherly, has raised some interesting questions about how Moore raised that $1.28 million. According to Mr. Heatherly, “Much of the money came from people who do business with his [Moore’s] office. While that might appear to be a conflict of interest, it is legal under the rules set by the General Assembly” (News and Observer 3/3/06).

I might add those rules were actually written by the Democrat majorities that control the State House and Senate.

Mr. Heatherly adds, “Since becoming Treasurer in January 2001, Moore has expanded the number of outside managers hired to manage public pension funds and has increased the manager’s compensation.”

Which is another way of saying that by hiring more fund managers, Treasurer Moore increased the number of people he can raise money from.

Heatherly continues, “The fact that the custodian of North Carolina’s pension funds is allowed to solicit and collect campaign contributions from fund managers who serve at his pleasure raises a serious issue of fiduciary accountability. Perhaps we should be impressed that Moore has persuaded hundreds of out-of-state residents, including two dozen persons who list their occupations as ‘homemaker,’ to contribute the $4,000 maximum allowable contribution to his political campaign. It would be commendable to learn that these folks in widely dispersed locations throughout the United States, including Iowa, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri and California, gave to his campaign primarily because of their concern for good government in North Carolina.

“In the case of some of the homemakers, however, the fact is they share a last name and a home address with another contributor whose occupation appears to be connected to the pension investment business gives rise to other concerns.”

In other words, to use a euphemism, Moore is ‘shaking down’ pension fund managers for campaign contributions. Which is perfectly legal.

Heatherly says the solution is simple. “First, the General Assembly should enact a law prohibiting the custodian of public pension funds from accepting contributions or any gifts from those he or she hires to manage funds.”

My question is, Why hasn’t the legislature already done that? The answer is because this is how the Democrats in the Governor’s Mansion and the General Assembly have done business for years. This is how they raise the money to pay for their political campaigns.

And what does Treasurer Moore have to say to defend himself?

His Chief of State Staff, Stacey Phipps responded on his behalf. Phipps wrote, “Every elected official in North Carolina, such as the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and members of the General Assembly, receives campaign contribution from individuals or organizations that either do business with or are regulated by the State.”

Now, there’s a ringing defense. Everybody ‘shakes down’ the people who do business with the State, so it’s fine.

I don’t see much difference between what House Speaker Jim Black has done and what Richard Moore is doing. It certainly sounds like Moore is practicing his own version of ‘pay to play.’

The only difference is Black, at last, has come out for banning donations from, and fundraising by, lobbyists. Richard Moore, Governor Easley, and Senate Leader Marc Basnight haven’t done that. And the only logical conclusion to draw from their silence is, to them, it’s fine to let ‘pay for play’ continue to be business as usual in North Carolina.

Posted in: General
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Presidential candidate John Edwards says, “Americans are looking for strength, idealistic strength” in our leaders. And, he adds, Americans want politicians with “core beliefs” – who are not subject to the whim of polls.

Apparently, John Edwards’ idea of proving to Americans that he has that kind of “strength” is to lead a crusade against poverty. But how much political courage does that take? Is anyone going to disagree with reducing poverty?

And that’s my problem with Edwards.

He has created a political strawman. He claims he’s fighting like hell to do something that takes courage and guts and you’d think, to hear him tell it, he’s put his whole political career at risk by speaking out against poverty. But the truth is he hasn’t taken any risk at all. He’s taken a perfectly safe, uncontroversial, political stand on an issue no one is going to attack him for.

That is not a profile in courage.

If John Edwards really wants to show some ‘strength,’ let’s see him take on some tough issues where he has to get into the fray and take some heat.

To me, John Edwards is not the picture of ‘strength’ – he’s the epitome of the poll driven politician. He finds an issue 90% of the people agree on and comes out and says he’s all for it and, then, claims he’s leading a great, courageous crusade.

But if coming out against poverty is as brave as John Edwards gets – what does that tell us about his qualifications to be President?

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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.

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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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