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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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Back when I was Governor Hunt’s press secretary in the 70s and 80s, I dreaded Monday morning Cabinet meetings.

Every Cabinet secretary would report to the Governor on the wonderful things their departments were doing. There were no problems or foul-ups worth mentioning, of course.

Every Monday, the consensus was the same: The people of North Carolina just aren’t hearing enough about all the great things we’re doing. So, Gary, why don’t you get out the message about that?

I think the same thing is happening to the Bush Administration today.

Bush has taken a pounding – on the Iraq war, on the economy and on ethics.

But his solution isn’t a new policy. It’s new PR.

On the war, he packages a “strategy for victory.” Gives a “victory” speech at the Naval Academy. Stands in front of one of those tiresome backdrops that spell out for us the message we’re supposed to take away.

Now it turns out that Bush’s “strategy for victory” is really just a Strategy for PR Victory. It apparently was developed with the help of a former Duke University academic (there you go) who found from polls that Americans will support the Iraq war if it looks like we will win. (Well, duh, as my teenage son would say.)

This week, Bush came to Kernersville, N.C., to try the same trick on the economy.

As The New York Times reported, Bush came here “to tell Americans that the economy was better than they thought.”

I assume he will next give a speech about how ethics in Washington are better than we thought.

It reminds me of the old story about the dog food company that had the best-looking packaging, a premier marketing campaign and a top-dollar advertising program. But the company went bankrupt. Apparently, dogs just wouldn’t eat the stuff.

Bush has the same problem. Americans just aren’t swallowing what he’s feeding them.

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Sometimes I think the folks over at the Triangle Transit Authority must be living in ‘Cloud Coo-Coo Land.’ This morning there’s a picture in the newspaper of a spiffy ‘mock-up’ they’ve built – sitting in the middle of a Raleigh warehouse – of the engine of the train they want to build to bring ‘lite-rail’ to the Triangle. Only this isn’t one of those little model trains. It’s a full size replica of a real train car and I’m guessing but I’ll bet it cost at least $25,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Mayor Meeker has saddled taxpayers with a $200 million Convention Center and a $20 million downtown hotel but that’s small potatoes compared to what he wants to spend on the TTA. We’re talking about a cool billion dollars here.

Back when the TTA submitted its first request for funds to Washington (the Mayor wants Washington to pay $484 million of the billion dollars) even the federal government – which has funded everything from ski resorts in Idaho to cowboy museums – gagged. The Department of Transportation took one look at the TTA’s projections (which said how many people they calculated would ride lite-rail) and in effect, said, ‘No way. That’s way too high.’ They made the TTA redo the projections using a model Washington thought was more accurate. The result showed so few riders the TTA gagged and said no way. So, they’re reworking the numbers again, trying to find a third way to sell Mayor Meeker’s latest folly.

But that’s not all.

The TTA also says it should be exempt from the current standards transit authorities – like the TTA – have to meet to get federal bucks. Specifically, the TTA wants to be exempt from the new standards (which were probably implemented because Washington was funding too many mass transit systems that were losing money) and judged by the older – easier – standards.

Which I guess is where that picture of the train car comes in because – with Mayor Meeker’s help and taxpayers’ money – the TTA has been conducting a pretty effective P.R. campaign to convince everybody in Raleigh we can’t live without lite-rail. And all this culminated in a peculiar political twist about a week ago.

Back when federal officials tightened their standards for giving away money for rail projects Senator Elizabeth Dole spoke out for it. But now she’s decided it’s unfair to apply those standards to the TTA and joined Congressman David Price to seek a waiver – an exemption – for the TTA. (Mayor Meeker must be tickled to death.)

What’s peculiar, and encouraging, is fifteen local Republican leaders (in the State House) have – publicly – differed with Senator Dole and sent her a letter – coordinated by Apex Representative Paul Stam –calling the train project a ‘boondoggle’ and urging her to oppose the funding.

By the way, guess who’s law firm represents the TTA? That’s right – Mayor Charles Meekers.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Nothing has exposed the rot at the root of the Republican tree in Washington more than the case of Michael Scanlon.

Scanlon is the Tom Delay protégé who is now charged with criminal conspiracy related to his ties to GOP superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. According to The New York Times:

Mr. Scanlon is in legal trouble for his business dealings with Mr. Abramoff, with whom he used his ties to the Republican House leadership to build a booming lobbying and public affairs business.

Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Abramoff collected about $82 million in fees from Indian tribes over four years. Their dealings triggered the investigation that led to the criminal conspiracy charge filed against Mr. Scanlon.

The irony is that Scanlon is one of those zealous, conservative young men and women who – until the feds started investigating – was certain of his own moral righteousness.

As Delay’s press spokesman in 1998, Scanlon had this to say about Bill Clinton’s impeachment troubles:

“You kick him until he passes out,” Mr. Scanlon wrote in an e-mail message that was published in the Clinton biography “The Breach.” “Then beat him over the head with a baseball bat, then roll him up in an old rug and throw him off a cliff into the pounding surf below!!!!!”

Mr. Scanlon certainly got around. According to some news accounts in 1996, he was the director of communications for then-Congressman Fred Heineman of North Carolina and vice president for policy research at Multimedia Inc., a Raleigh consulting firm.

These days, he keeps a lower profile. As The Times reported:

Except for one silent appearance before the Senate in 2004 – during which Republican members excoriated him for his treatment of Indian tribes and his refusal to testify – Mr. Scanlon has all but vanished from public view over the last year, retreating to Rehoboth Beach, Del., a summer resort several hours from here.

Documents, e-mail messages and interviews with his former colleagues suggest that Mr. Scanlon had an appeal similar to the title character in the film “The Talented Mr. Ripley” who drew people to his money-making schemes. “He certainly has a charm about him,” said John Feehery, the former spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

Mr. Scanlon, more than Mr. Abramoff, was flamboyant with his earnings. He owned several multimillion-dollar Delaware beach properties and rented a $17,000-a-month apartment at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington.

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New York Times columnist David Brooks gave President Bush a great piece of advice (News and Observer, 11-22-05) about the debate in Congress on Iraq.

My problem on Iraq is I’m beginning to suspect we’ve gotten ourselves into a real mess. And the only thing that makes sense is to get out of it. But I also know I don’t know anything about the religious differences between Shi’ites and Sunnis or why Iran supports one and Syria supports the other and why Turkey supports the Kurds. The hard truth is I don’t understand the subtleties of what’s happening in Iraq or why. And I’m not smart enough to figure out what to do.

But the little I do know has me plenty worried. I know that, today, what the President said about there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was wrong. And his explanation – that he didn’t mislead anyone because the intelligence reports he got were wrong – doesn’t give me much comfort. That means he made a pretty awful mistake – believing false intelligence reports – and that mistake got us into a war. The President of United States shouldn’t make mistakes like that. Surely, he could have found someone in this entire country who could tell a false intelligence report from a real one.

Today, the Democrats are saying we should get out of Iraq.

President Bush is saying we should hold on and keep on doing what we’re doing and hope the tide is about to turn (which seems less likely every day).

And one man – Senator John McCain – is saying we should send more troops to Iraq and you’ve got to admire his courage for taking an unpopular stand and it’s for certain he’s one person who’s not ‘playing politics’ with the war.

Which brings me to Mr. Brooks’ advice to President Bush.

Mr. Brooks states, “On February 23, 1942, Franklin Roosevelt asked Americans to spread out maps before them and he described step-by-step, what was going on in World War II, where the United States was winning and where it was losing. Why can’t today’s President do that?” He added: “Since the President doesn’t give out credible information, it’s no wonder Republicans are measuring success by how quickly we can get out; it’s no wonder many Democrats are turning the war into a potential tool to bash the president…”

That’s not good advice, it’s great advice.

We went to war to stop Saddam for building weapons of mass distraction and to stop Al Qaeda. The American people supported the war because those reasons made sense. Today, those reasons are gone and I don’t know what terrible threat we are stopping by staying in Iraq.

The President should tell us. He should say to the American people, ‘All right, here’s where we stand. Here’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. And here’s the threat we will eliminate by winning this war.’

Until he does that it is going to seem like there is no threat and that getting out of Iraq is the only alternative that makes sense.

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Here’s how you can tell just how much George Bush’s political star has fallen.

Keep an eye on the political cartoons. Notice how small the drawings of Bush have become. They get tinier and tinier. Now, he barely occupies an itty-bitty corner of the cartoonists’ panel.

I first noticed this phenomenon during Jimmy Carter’s administration. As Carter seemed more and more overwhelmed by the Presidency, he shrank in the cartoons.

It’s a sure sign of the space a President occupies in the mind of Americans.

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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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