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06

Here is a paragraph – from The New York Times’ story about superlobbyist/supercrook Jack Abramoff – that should chill the spines of politicians throughout our great land. It comes from “a former Republican leadership aide who insisted on anonymity:”





“There’s a lot of talk coming out of various quarters that the Justice Department is going to pursue a different definition of bribery, meaning that if somebody were to give a gift or a campaign contribution in the same time period as a member took an official action, that in and of itself would constitute bribery. That scares the bejesus out of people.”


You bet it would.

Posted in: General
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06

What is terrifying about government appointed ‘Task Forces’ – like the one just appointed by the Wake County Commissioners – is they’re like legislators. Almost. They can only propose to spend money. They can’t actually spend it.



This new ‘Task Force’ is supposed to come up with solutions to all – or almost all – the problems facing our area in the next thirty years. And there are a lot of very fine people on the Task Force. And no doubt they’ll try. And no doubt they deserve our sympathy.


Because they face two hurdles.


First, a lot of the people who get on these Task Forces get themselves appointed because they want something. Something specific. Something tangible. Something for themselves. Something that boosts their financial interest. Or their political agenda.


The other problem is why politicians appoint Task Forces. It’s because tough decisions are going to have to be made and the politicians want someone to blame. To point the finger at and say, “Well, that darn Task Force proposed that. Not me.”


For instance, the Board of Education wants 4.3 billion dollars for schools. Other officials say we need to spend $460 million for a new criminal courthouse complex. And then there’s I-540 to build and the water shortage and a hundred other things that cost money.


Not everything is not going to get funded and the politicians feel a lot safer sitting back and watching the Task Force make the first round of cuts and seeing how much political heat that generates – rather than making those decisions themselves.


Historically, what tends to happen with Task Forces is the good people get disgusted, the people with a personal interest hang on like wildcats and in the end the politicians do pretty much what they think it takes to get reelected.


Let’s hope this turns out to be an exception.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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05

I actually read part of Richard Moore’s little speech to the NCCBI in the Winston-Salem Journal. It turns out he’s not quite the towering populist I thought when I read Gary’s blog.




There are a lot of good arguments that can be made for increasing the minimum wage. Here’s what Mr. Moore told the NCCBI according to the Journal: “ ‘Businesses actually start to do better when consumers have more money in their pockets,’ he said, adding that Lee Scott, the chief executive of Wal-Mart, supports an increase.”


That’s called ‘pandering.’ This towering populist spokesman for the little man appealed to those NCCBI businessmen by telling them to support increasing the minimum wage because it would make them rich. Follow the logic: if your business pays minimum wage workers more, then they’ll turn right around and spend it and you’ll get it back – or maybe, as Mr. Scott of Wal-Mart must figure, he’ll get it back.


This is what passes for reasonable debate in politics today.


Mr. Moore wasn’t done. He also said: “If your competition pays only the base minimum (wage), their employees are almost forced to use public programs paid for by your tax dollars to get by. You are subsidizing your competitor’s business.”


More pandering.


Now he’s telling businessmen to support the minimum wage increase to shaft their competitors. I wonder where Richard Moore stands on the millions in ‘incentives’ the state has given corporations like RJ Reynolds and Merck Pharmaceuticals and Dell Computers? The last time I heard he was okay with that. But isn’t that taking tax money from one business to subsidize another?


He still wasn’t done. He said we need the minimum wage increase because ‘our morals demand it.’ That sounds pretty good. Until you consider that Mr. Moore probably came to moral enlightenment through a pretty unusual medium: politics. There’s a big debate going on among Democrats today about how to out-moral the Republicans in the next election. Mr. Moore has jumped right on board and discovered politically useful morals in a big way.


Here’s a prediction: However much Mr. Moore comes out for raising the minimum wage the other so-called ‘blue-chip’ Democrat candidate for Governor, Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue, will be for more. That’ll make her more populist and more moral.


And as for all that money Mr. Moore and Mrs. Perdue are raising – millions compared to the Republicans’ pittance of thousands – that would come to a grinding halt if the legislature ever passes a bill to stop lobbyists and state contractors from giving to politicians. If you took all the money Mr. Moore has received from lobbyists and state contractors and state appointees out of his campaign fund how much would he have left?

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05

I read on the Blue NC blog that “State Treasurer (and likely gubernatorial candidate) Richard Moore is calling for a $1 increase in North Carolina’s minimum wage.”



Click here to read the article:


The website post says Moore:



“made the call at a meeting of the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, a pro-business lobbying group that styles itself the state chamber of commerce. What’s the word for that: chutzpah? meshuggener? Or is Moore’s read of the land that NC businesses are ready to support a modest minimum wage increase? Stay tuned.”


Here’s my word(s) for it: Moore’s opening move of the 2008 campaign.


And it’s a two-step.


The candidates will soon be reporting how much campaign money they raised in 2005. That’s in effect the first poll of the race.


Rumor is that Moore could report 2-3 times as much as Beverly Perdue. A rumor that comes from a big giver who is wondering who to support and has talked to people in both campaigns.


If Moore pulls that off, the political chattering class will sit up, take notice and chat up Moore.


So now he couples big money with a populist appeal. I haven’t seen any recent polls, but my guess is that a higher minimum wage is strongly supported by something like 95 percent of Democratic primary voters.


Big money and a big issue. They add up to a pretty shrewd move by Moore.

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04

I missed it if it ran in the paper, but I understand that the City Council last night appointed Paul Anderson and Charles Walker to the Planning Commission – by eight votes and five votes respectively.



That suggests the anti-growth faction of the Council remains a minority – at least through last night.


But it’s a vocal minority.


I received an online tongue-lashing (see comments to my earlier blog) from “Perry,” who turned out to be my old friend Perry Woods.


Perry has run a number of successful campaigns, including for Mayor Meeker and Russ Stephenson. He’s a good political operative, even if he did claim I don’t know what I’m talking about. Perry also left a message on my home phone – one my wife thought was “pretty nasty.” I’m looking forward to talking with him.


When Carter and I started this blog, we said we wanted to start some debates. So far, so good.


What About Money for Schools and Roads?


The bad news is the City Council refused to even start another debate the city needs.


A proposal to – as I understand it – “discuss” using “Interlocal funds” (meal and hotel/motel taxes) for schools and roads apparently failed last night.


The proposal got four votes: Craven, Taliaferro, Isley and Kekas. Four Council members voted against talking about the idea: Meeker, Crowder, Stephenson and West.


That’s an interesting “for” coalition: two Republicans and two Democrats.


Will the “progressive Democrats” now attack Taliaferro and Kekas as DINOS (Democrats In Name Only) for pushing an idea that would help the schools?


I predict this debate is just beginning.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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28

Raleigh city politics are getting more party-centered. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But Raleigh Democrats may be heading in a direction that is plenty wrong.

An important test will come next Tuesday. The City Council is scheduled to appoint two new members of the Planning Commission then.

The appointments have become the battleground between two Democratic camps:

· A faction on the Council led by Thomas Crowder and Russ Stephenson, which is close to being anti-growth;

· A faction led by Jessie Taliaferro and Joyce Kekas that is being condemned by the Crowder-Stephenson crowd as too pro-growth.

I’m siding with Jessie and Joyce.

I believe they are on the right side of a battle that could mark Raleigh politics for the next two years – through fall 2007 municipal elections.

It also happens to be the right side of a battle for the Democratic Party’s political survival.

Some see the battle as the “purists” versus the “pragmatists.” That’s how the purists, like supporters of Crowder and Stephenson, see it. Many of them flooded into the state Democratic Party last year as Howard Dean-inspired antiwar voters.

I see the battle as the “elitists” versus the “commoners.”

The elitists gave the Democratic Party Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, Dean and never-ending defeats.

The commoners gave us Clinton, Hunt and political hope.

Raleigh’s growth is an ideal cultural battleground for these two groups.

The elitists see growth in terms of Greedy Developers and Big Real Estate.

The commoners see growth in terms of jobs and opportunities for people who work – or would like to work – for a living.

The elitists – at bottom – don’t like most of Raleigh – at least, that part of Raleigh outside the downtown-N.C. State-Five Points axis.. They think we should all live near downtown and ride a bicycle or take a train to work. They really want to live in Manhattan.

The commoners know that we like where we live and live where we like. We like our suburban neighborhoods. We like driving to work and going home when we please, not when the train comes.

The Planning Commission appointments are the first skirmish in this civil war between Democrats.

The elitists have been assailing Kekas and Taliaferro for supporting Charles Walker over Renee Bethea.

Now, I don’t know either candidate. But my understanding is that Walker is in the development business and has served on the commission before. Bethea is a community activist from the Method Road community. She’s supported by Crowder and Stephenson.

The elitists argue that Kekas, Taliaferro and Councilman James West should vote for Bethea because she’s a woman, an African-American and a Democrat.

In other words, identity trumps experience and balance.

The Jessie-Joyce-James group apparently wants more balance. And all three support Paul Anderson, the African-American Democrat who nearly beat Councilman Tommy Craven last fall in his heavily Republican district.

I know almost nothing about the Planning Commission or growth issues.

What I know is politics.

And the elitists are making the classic political mistake of overreaching.

Flush with success in last fall’s elections, they appear determined to impose an anti-growth label on the City Council and the Planning Commission.

They are trying to write the only scenario that can elect a Republican mayor – the way Democratic miscues helped elect Tom Fetzer a few years ago.

Here is how Democrats could make that happen:

· Polarize city politics between those living inside the Beltline and those living outside, which drives the fast-growing outside-the-Beltline voters away from Democrats;

· Pursue costly and controversial projects like the downtown Convention Center and the TTA light-rail project;

· Drive away African-American voters, who are the most pro-growth and pro-job voters in the city;

Voila, you have a Republican mayor again.

There is a better way for Democrats: Support jobs and economic opportunities for all Raleigh residents, balanced by sensible environmental regulation. Invest in better roads and less crowded schools. Stop wasteful spending, like the Marriott Hotel subsidy downtown.

Voila, you have an enduring Democratic majority in Raleigh. And an object lesson for Democrats across the state and nation.

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28

Gary, you’re pretty kind to those Howard Dean Democrats who’re trying to take over The Planning Commission – even when you’re disagreeing with them.




It says a lot about these folks that they are now flying under the flag of ‘Smart Growth Democrats’ and not Deaniacs (rhymes with maniacs) anymore.


Who are these folks? They are the Democrat equivalent of ‘flat-earthers.’ They are so far left they’ve fallen off the edge of the map and what’s frightening is they have two of their own – Russell Stephenson and Thomas Crowder – on the City Council.


What’s their agenda?


Well, they’re attacking fellow Democrat Jessie Taliaferro because she supported putting a swimming pool for underprivileged kids in a city park. The Deaniacs seem to think those kids will just sit in that park and contemplate the beauty of nature if that pool is not built.


These folks are also for bigger sidewalks and narrower streets and one suspects their idea of traffic control is to create total gridlock to force everyone to ride buses or light rail.


They’re big on ‘pedestrian friendly neighborhoods’ which sounds nice but what they mean is walking to the bus stop instead of taking your car.


They hate ‘sprawl’ – which means if you want a house with a lawn forget it. Everyone should be crammed into the littlest space possible, preferably around the two light rail stops downtown.


They speak of Atlanta – when they talk about unsmart growth – as if it were Sodom. I wonder what they think of Manhattan?


And now they’ve got their sights set on The Planning Commission.


Why does that matter? I had never heard of The Planning Commission until two months ago. It turns out this august entity controls what buildings and neighborhoods get approved and much of the growth in Raleigh. So the Deaniacs want to get their hands on the throat of much of Raleigh’s economic and cultural life; then they can tell the rest of us – who don’t have enough sense to appreciate the virtues of ‘Smart Growth’ – how to live.


The politics of this is pretty interesting. There are eight members of the City Council.


As I mentioned, two of them – Councilman Thomas Crowder and Russell Stephenson – are blood brothers of the Deaniacs.


Mayor Meeker is adroitly trying to keep a foot in several camps. He’s a ‘fellow traveler’ of the Deaniacs on a lot of issues like the TTA but he also is trying to keep his fences mended with the Democrat establishment. The Mayor’s basic philosophy seems to be he’s for more: more taxes, more government. He also has an establishment Democrats interest in the subtleties of making government work for him and his political cronies. He’s for more of anything he can get taxpayer’s to pay for or subsidize downtown: Convention Centers, hotels, ritzy supermarkets. And it’s just a coincidence that his law firm’s clients include doing work related to the Convention Center and the Triangle Transit Authority, none of which generally conflicts with the Deaniacs. Instead, one suspects the Mayor’s real concern about these folks is like Gary’s – he’s figured out they may just be crazy enough to help elect a Republican Mayor.


Next there are Councilwoman Jessie Taliaferro and Joyce Kekas. The Deaniacs are the radical left. Mayor Meeker is the traditional left, Council members Taliaferro and Kekas are moderate Democrats and they have parted ways with the Deaniacs on the appointments to the Planning Commission. That took real political courage. For their efforts they have been subjected to attacks from the left in their own party – no small matter of concern if you are a Democrat. And they probably can’t expect a lot of cozening from the Republicans – to their right – either. These ladies have planted their flag on the middle ground. That may sound reasonable and they’re certainly performing a public service to Raleigh by not cow-towing to the Deaniacs but now they have to watch both flanks.


There are also two Republican voices crying out in the Wilderness on the Council, Phillip Isley and Thomas Craven. The eighth member is Councilman James West and since it takes five votes to elect a Planning Commission member his vote in the race between Charles Walker and Rev. Renee Bethea is crucial when the Council meets in January.


The Deaniacs want Rev. Bethea. They say Walker is disqualified because he is, god forbid, a Republican, and because he builds things. He is pro-growth and I guess he must not be politically correct on wider sidewalks and narrower streets.


They are for Rev. Bethea (who was recruited to run by Deaniac Councilman Thomas Crowder), they say, because she is an African-American and a woman. But one suspects she may also be politically correct on wider sidewalks and narrower streets.


This is the Deaniacs first attempt to flex their political muscles since last falls elections. It is going to be interesting to see how they fare. And I do agree with Gary on that point: The better they do the more chance there will be of electing a Republican Mayor in two years.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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19

The other night – a few days before President Bush’s speech on Iraq – I spoke to a group of Republicans; a man there stood up and said, ‘I’m a navy veteran, I was in Vietnam. And what I don’t understand is why the politicians can’t just get out of the way and let the soldiers win the war.’



It’s an old but still valid sentiment.


The next day I read a quote by President Bush in the newspaper about the war on terrorism: “…we will accept nothing less than complete victory.” And last night I listened to President Bush’s speech.


Americans have a pretty simple standard – given to us by General Ulysses Grant – for complete victory. It’s called ‘unconditional surrender.’ That is the standard we applied to the Germans and Japanese in World War II. But complete victory is not easy to achieve. To win a total victory you must destroy your enemy’s ability to fight back.


That has not happened when our leaders – for political reasons – have told our soldiers to fight ‘limited’ political wars. It has happened when the political leaders have said to our armed forces, ‘Go win the war. Period.’


Which have we done in the war on terrorism?


I have no problem making war on people who cut innocent hostages’ heads off on television, or people who support terrorists, or people who tolerate terrorists in their country.


But what is the cost of ‘complete victory?’ Have we paid it in this war? Are we willing to pay it?


What if we can’t win the war on terrorism with the roughly one hundred and sixty thousand men we have in Iraq? And – more sobering – what if the roots of terrorism run through Syria or Iran or half-a-dozen other countries? What will ‘complete victory’ cost then? What if it means we need an army of 500,000 men? What if it means we need a draft?


And that, of course, is a question no politician dares to face. Because no politician in the United States thinks a draft is going to fly. And if that’s what it takes to win ‘complete victory’ – then for political reasons ‘complete victory’ may be beyond our grasp.


My point is simple: We are in the fifth year in the war on terrorism. We have now been fighting this war for months longer than World War II. And we have not destroyed our enemies’ ability to resist as we did with the Germans and Japanese. The terrorists are still fighting back. Every day.


The argument over Iraq has come down to President Bush and the Republicans saying we should keep on doing what we’re doing and the Democrats saying we should pull out.


But what if neither strategy will lead to victory in the war on terrorism?


Of course, no one – no political leader – has dared to stand up and ask, ‘Do we need to do more? Is the price of complete victory higher than we thought and, if so, do we have any choice but to pay it?’ Because no politician thinks the American people are going to look on him kindly if he does that. But ultimately, we may not be able to escape that question. We may be forced to answer it.


That is unless the whole threat of terrorism is an illusion and there was never any need for a war on terrorism at all.

Posted in: General
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16

We may not have a bird flu epidemic in America yet, but it looks like there is an outbreak of mea culpas in Raleigh and Washington lately.



This week Speaker Jim Black apologized for mistakes in judgment. His statement didn’t solve all his problems, but it gave him some badly needed political breathing room.


But that’s nothing compared with the deluge of apologies that has come out of the Bush White House lately. The Bushies so far have apologized for:


· Going to war in Iraq on flawed intelligence;


· Being asleep at the switch when Katrina hit;


· Opposing John McCain’s ban on torture. (By the way, what kind of fool tries to debate John McCain about torture, anyway? Dick Cheney, apparently.)


As I said in this space yesterday, in politics as in life, a little apology goes a long way.

Posted in: General
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15
Mayor Meeker now wants the City to help build a grocery store downtown. The City Council has voted to loan $300,000 to a real estate company to build an upscale ‘Fresh Market’ type grocery store downtown (News and Observer, 12-08-05).
Now, as far as I can tell there have been several hundred grocery stores built around Raleigh without one penny of taxpayers’ money. So why is a government loan necessary this time?
This is speculation but according to the News and Observer, ‘grocery stores tend to open in sites where at least 10,000 people live within a two-mile radius.’ The city says only 2,200 people live downtown. So the Mayor may have arranged a little helping hand with this loan to get this grocery store downtown.
There’s something else shocking about that number – that only 2,200 people live downtown. The city’s been boasting a lot about its billion dollar ‘renaissance’ and ‘revitalization’ downtown. A billion dollars and 2,200 people. That’s $450,000 each.
 
Posted in: Issues, 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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