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Five Wake County Mayors have “asked the North Carolina Turnpike Authority Tuesday to figure out how fast it could build the western and southern arcs of the Outer Loop by making them toll roads.” (News and Observer, 12-14-05)

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was not one of them.

Now it may just be Mayor Meeker is opposed to toll roads and if so, he should say so.

But Metro Magazine editor, Bernie Reeves, has also raised the question that some mass transit supporters are dragging their feet on building more roads because it may conflict with the Triangle Transit Authority’s billion dollar ‘Light Rail” project.

Could it be finishing the Outer Loop is not one of Mayor Meeker’s priorities because he prefers mass transit?

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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The Turnpike Authority apparently wants to build the last two portions of the Outer Loop as toll roads (News and Observer, 11/28/05).

Here’s an alternative. Put a tollbooth in front of Mayor Meeker’s Convention Center. Then put another one in front of the Exploris Museum (which is showing the new Harry Potter movie to fulfill its non-profit mission to promote international understanding).

Use the tolls to pay for the Convention Center, the new downtown hotel and the Museum. And take the $200 million City Council and the County Commissioners are spending on those things and use it to complete the Outer Loop.

Crazy, you say? Well, yes. But is it any crazier than building the Convention Center or giving $500,000 (more) to Exploris when we can’t afford to build the Outer Loop?

Unfortunately, the folks who want the Hotel and Convention Center and the Exploris Museum are working full time to keep taxpayers’ money flowing in their direction – and the folks who will be paying those tolls – by and large – aren’t.

So, the Convention Center’s getting built, the Hotel is on track, and Exploris is happy (because it just got another $500,000 from the County Commissioners) and the Outer Loop is on hold until 2012 – unless it’s a toll road.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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I know Gary is all for the lottery and it’s probably foolish of me to even bring it up since every poll shows 70% of voters agree with him. But there’s something about the lottery – besides the highly entertaining scandal it brought us – that is troubling.

It’s this: with the lottery the politicians have found a way to make the people want to give the government money. That’s why the lottery is a truly awe-inspiring – and frightening – idea.

Most of the time, when the politicians make you give the government your money it hurts. Like taxes hurt. And that’s good because that pain of seeing money come out of your paycheck is the best brake to stop the politicians from spending more and more of your money.

For the politicians, the lottery is a brilliant solution to that problem. They get another $400 million (or so) to spend and no one is angry at all. It doesn’t hurt. For the politicians the lottery is an even better way to increase government spending than borrowing.

I know all the self-serving rhetoric from lottery supporters. It’s voluntary. You don’t have to help pay for it if you don’t want to. And all the money is supposed to go to education. But that’s just the old shell and pea game. The lottery money will just free up money somewhere else for the politicians to spend on something else.

The bottom line in the lottery is the politicians get $400 million more to spend – and nobody (or at least 70% of the people) is mad about it.

Posted in: General
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Republican State House Leader Richard Morgan says Republican Representative Ed McMahan is a skunk. (Those weren’t Richard’s exact words; he actually said McMahon “is about the most hypocritical person I know. I don’t like him. I don’t like his character. He has no business being National Committeeman or being Republican nominee for a legislative seat of anything else.”)

Republican Representative John Blust then said, in effect, that Morgan is a polecat (not his exact words either but close enough).

Then Republican State Chairman Ferrell Blount defended McMahan (the skunk) and said, in effect, Morgan is a Republican Benedict Arnold because he formed a coalition with Democrat House Speaker Jim Black. Then the State Party voted to spend money to defeat Morgan in his Republican Primary.

Morgan’s retort to that was: “It should not be that Republicans who are elected to office in their districts should have to check their brains at the door and plug up a machine that tells you how to vote.”

That’s a relief. I was beginning to worry that none of so-called Republican leaders in the State House had anything to hook up to that machine.

This feud started three years ago when the election (and Mike Decker’s party switch) sent exactly 60 Republicans and 60 Democrats to the House. A tie. Fifty-five (or so) of the Republicans voted to elect Rep. Leo Daughtry Speaker. But Richard Morgan – and four Republican allies – refused to vote for Daughtry. No way. No time. Ever. Morgan had an ax to grind with Leo and he all but emasculated him. And Democrat House Speaker Jim Black – who must have been amazed at his good luck – was more than willing to do his share to help.

What major issue did Richard Morgan and Leo Daughtry disagree on? Taxes? Spending? The Lottery? No. Before the 2002 election Morgan was Republican Leader in the House. Then Daughtry, rather unceremoniously, deposed him and Richard isn’t a man who takes rejection well. When Leo ran for Speaker, Morgan got even in a big way. He made a deal with Black, parlayed those five votes into a Co-Speakership with Black and relegated Daughtry to the back row – which in the legislature is the equivalent of Siberia.

Since then, Morgan and Jim Black have been, as Forest Gump would say, “like peas and carrots.’ Morgan has continued his alliance with Black, who’s only too glad to keep Morgan propped up in order to keep Republicans in the House divided.

Now, some Republicans have figured out what Black must have known a long time ago. There probably won’t be a Republican majority in the House as long as Black can count on Morgan’s five votes.

So, what’s the solution?

Blust and McMahan and Ferrell Bount all say the solution is to beat Morgan in his Republican primary in Moore County. That’s their right, but you can bet Morgan won’t take that lying down. He may just decide to try to defeat Blust and McMahan in their primaries.

If he does, Blust and McMahon and Morgan may all be out of the General Assembly next fall – which might not be so bad. Some new faces in the State House might be a blessing.

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Follow this logic:

A. Mayor Meeker’s law firm has received $75,000 for work on the downtown Convention Center.

B. Mayor Meeker’s law firm has – for years – represented the Triangle Transit Authority.

C. As Mayor, Meeker supports spending $190 million to build the Convention Center and $800 million to build the TTA’s Light Rail Project.

Sometimes, politics really isn’t that complicated.
It’s as easy as A + B = C.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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The City Council is deciding what kind of tunnel to build to connect Mayor Meeker’s $190 million (and already $12.5 million over budget) Convention Center to an underground parking deck.

The choices are a “no frills” $2.5 million tunnel.

Or a “spruced up” $3.4 million version.

Want to guess which won?

The Council voted to seek bids on the $3.4 million version.

Councilman Thomas Crowder did ask the Council to consider a cheaper version – and the Council agreed to ‘look at it’. ‘Look at it’ is political parlance for it’s dead as a doornail.

Councilman Mike Regan – who’s leaving the Council – made a motion to stop and reconsider “the whole convention center.” Councilman Tommy Craven supported his motion. No one else did. The motion lost 5-2.

Meanwhile, the school board says it needs $5.6 billion. Maybe Councilman Regan should have moved to turn the Convention Center into a high school.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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The City wants to sell 1.8 acres of land it owns downtown near Mayor Meeker’s Convention Center and Hotel. TMC Associates have already submitted a bid for the property. Duke Realty asked the City Council to extend the deadline for bids sixty days so it could bid too. The question was, would Mayor Meeker and City Manager Russell Allen goes along with extending the deadline.

The answer was ‘No’.

The City Council voted 6-1 not to extend the deadline.

City Councilwoman Jessie Taliaferro was the lone City Council member to vote to allow the second bid. And it’s hard to argue with her logic. Yes, Duke Realty was asking the City Council to extend the deadline. But surely two bids are better than one. Maybe Duke Realty would have bid more. Maybe enough more for Mayor Meeker to pay for the football stadium he said he wants to build in his inaugural speech. Or to do something really radical like help build a new school.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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About a week ago, I got a copy of an email from a group that calls itself ‘Smart Growth Democrats’ urging their supporters to support two candidates – Rev. Renee Bethea and Rev. Paul Anderson – for openings on the Raleigh Planning Commission. The third candidate, according to the ‘Smart Growth Democrats,’ is unqualified because he is a ‘developer and a Republican.’

My suspicion is that ‘Smart Growth’ is a euphemism for ‘the kind of growth we want whether you like it or not and whether you want to pay for it or not’. But that’s not what’s interesting.

What’s interesting is the half a dozen odd page calendar of events the ‘Smart Growth Democrats’ attached to their email. Their ‘calendar’ lists nineteen meetings in ten days by groups they are either allied with – or at least liked enough – to publicize.

The ‘Smart Growth Democrats’ are promoting everything from the “Progressive Democrats of Wake County” to a forum on “Searching for Radical Ideas Series – Reviving Radical Humanism” to “People of Faith Against the Death Penalty” to the “International Human Rights Awards Dinner” (those who desire a vegetarian dinner should request it at the time they make a reservation).

God love them they even have a book club – the “December Liberal/Progressive Book Club Meeting” – and a book discussion group – “God’s Politics: Why the Right is Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it.”

These folks are as busy as bees and they’re swarming around all these dinners and meetings and book clubs and they’ve still got time to be sure no evil Republicans get appointed to the Planning Commission.

You’ve got to admire their energy. And, agree with them or not, you’ve got to admit they’re a little piece of what Democracy is all about. And though they may be dead wrong on the issues – I wonder where they stand on $20 million downtown hotel subsidies – it seems they have gotten the jump on Republicans as far as the Planning Commission is concerned.


Well, yesterday, I learned a little more about the ‘Smart Growth Democrats.’ It turns out they aren’t new at all – they’re actually former Howard Dean supporters. And their agenda for growth – as you might expect – is a little unusual.

For instance, take their stand on Horseshoe Falls Park. The issue here is whether to include a pool and recreation facility in the park – or just make it a nature park. Councilwoman Jessie Taliaferro (a Democrat) says there are a lot of low-income kids living near the park, and adding recreation facilities would help keep them out of the wrong places. The ‘Dean Dems’ say, No. They want a 100% nature park. They say kids need to get back to nature. (Whether they’d rather have a swimming pool or not).

And the ‘Dean Dems’ aren’t shy about attacking people who disagree with them, either. And not just Republicans and ‘evil’ developers. Democrats, too.

They have joined Councilmen Thomas Crowder and Russ Stephenson to push Rev. Renee Bethea for an open seat on the Raleigh Planning Commission, because, they say, the commission needs more African Americans and more women. But that didn’t stop them from attacking the only two women on the City Council – Joyce Kekas and Jessie Taliaferro – when they didn’t jump on board and endorse Rev. Bethea.

That’s City politics. We’ve got liberal Democrats attacking moderate Democrats – over a swimming pool.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Newly elected Democrat State Chairman – and Howard Dean supporter – Jerry Meek has sounded off on behalf of besieged House Speaker Jim Black. Meek says:

“There have been no allegations of wrongdoing against Jim Black and it’s a shame Joe Sinsheimer [the Democratic consultant who set up] put his time and energy into something negative. Character assassination, totally devoid of allegations of wrongdoing, is not the way to treat a man who has served, and will continue to serve, our state well.”

Jerry Meek must be the only Democrat State Chairman in history to not read newspapers. Because – whether you agree with them or not – one thing that’s sure is the newspapers have been full of allegations about Speaker Black.

Among other things, they have alleged Black appointed a paid agent of lottery vendor Scientific Games to the Lottery Commission (which awards the contracts). A central figure in the newspaper accounts is lobbyist (and Black’s unpaid political director) Meredith Norris.

What the newspapers have reported goes like this: Black would suggest to groups they hire Norris; Norris would lobby Black for whatever the groups wanted; then Norris would solicit the groups for contributions to Black’s political organizations. None of which – by the way – is illegal and all of which has also been going on in North Carolina politics – both Democrat and Republican – for years.

Anyway, right now, Speaker Black is being pounded for doing all these things – but the irony is the roots of this scandal run far deeper.

I am going to sound partisan now, so, let me say up front Republicans’ hands are not clean either. Patronage (rewarding contributors with state jobs), giving contracts to political allies, and building roads based on politics has deeper roots in North Carolina Democratic politics than just Jim Black.

Former Governor Hunt, way back in his first two terms, never had any qualms about appointing contributors to key posts on the Highway Commission. In fact, it was sometimes hard to tell if the Highway Commission was there to build roads or serve as Hunt’s fundraising committee.

But under Hunt there were limits. And it’s the limits on what I could call ‘Legal Graft’ that have changed. Today, things are done I don’t think even Jim Hunt would have tolerated Whether he considered them an embarrassment (as in, ‘Don’t embarrass the Governor’) or had a moral aversion to them, under Hunt they were unacceptable.

Marc Basnight changed that.

Basnight’s capacity for embarrassment has turned out to be practically non-existent. He extended – some would say did away with – the limits on ‘Legal Graft’. For instance, Senator Basnight and his family own a construction company. When the town of Engelhard wanted to build a sewer system Basnight got them $5 million from the state to pay for it. Then he was glad to have Basnight Construction help build the sewer system. All that is perfectly legal, too.

Under Basnight, not just patronage, but state but contracts, legislation, and state grants have all been politicized. Corporations get ‘incentives’ –special tax exemptions – from the legislature and then they – or their members – got solicited for contributions by legislators.

Unfortunately, when Republicans had their brief sojourn in power in the House (1994-1998) their attitude wasn’t, ‘Let’s put a stop to all this’ – it was, ‘Oh boy. Now it’s our turn.’

When Black came to power in 1998 he stepped right into that world. Is it any wonder that seven years later we find he’s been playing by the same rules as Basnight and his Republican predecessors – though it appears less adroit.

The irony of this scandal will be if Marc Basnight (who is sounding more like a good government reformer these days) walks away unscathed. Or, if, even worse he just lays low until the storm passes and then continues to do business as usual.

So, what can be done?

It’s hard to feel sorry for a lobbyist. But the fact is the lobbyists didn’t turn themselves into political fundraisers because they enjoy asking people for money. The legislators turned them into fundraisers. After all, what real choice does a lobbyist have when he or she goes to see a legislator for a client and the first words out of the legislator’s mouth are: ‘By the way, I’m having a fundraiser. Could you raise $25,000?’

That’s an abuse that’s easy to stop. Make it illegal for lobbyists to raise money (or give money) to legislators. And to close the loophole completely make it illegal for anyone who hires a lobbyist to raise (or give) money to a legislator. In other words if you want something out of the state there can’t even be the appearance of a quid pro quo.

That would make it impossible for Meredith Norris or Scientific Games to do one thing to help Senator Tony Rand or any other legislator to get him to put language in the lottery bill for them.

I know that is a limit on lobbyists’ (and their clients) freedom of speech and, yes, that is troubling. But the one steadfast justification the Courts have recognized for limiting political contributions is to eliminate corruption.

The same law should apply to anyone bidding on or receiving state contracts, or state grants, or incentives from the state. And no government appointee – like a highway commissioner – should be allowed to raise or give money to a politician.

This will eliminate a lot of corruption and the ninety-nine percent of the people of North Carolina who don’t lobby the government for special favors will still be free to contribute to their legislators.

The source of corruption in a democracy is simple. John Adams identified it two hundred years ago. Government has money and power and people are naturally going to want to get their hands on that money and power to help themselves – at the expense of other people. The simple way to limit corruption is to say to anyone who wants to dip their hands into the public treasury – make your case but we are going to prohibit you from doing anything in return to help the legislators holding the purse strings.

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Am I the only person who feels conflicted over this fight about how to celebrate Christmas – or, excuse me, the holidays?

On the one hand, I’m congenitally offended by the Christian Ayatollahs like Called2Action here in Wake County. They claim to be on a mission from God to instruct the rest of us – and the stores we frequent – about which holiday messages are politically correct.

I’m reminded of the finest thing Barry Goldwater ever said: “Every good Christian should kick Jerry Falwell in the ass.”

On the other hand – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – I’m stunned that George Bush sends out a Christmas card that makes no mention of “Christmas.” The Bush “Happy Holidays” card does contain a Bible verse: a Psalm.

What? Nothing from the Gospels about the birth of Jesus? And this from the darling of the “Christian Right?”

It all kind of kills the spirit of the season.

Nevertheless, Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays. Or whatever

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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