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Filed under: General, North Carolina – Democrats — Carter Wrenn @ 12:34 pm

Now that Kevin Geddings, Scientific Games hand-picked lottery commissioner, has resigned all’s right with the world and North Carolina can roll on to lottery heaven. Right? Wrong.

The News and Observer just threw a wet blanket over Act II of the lottery. The News and Observer reports “in one of his final acts as a state lottery commissioner, Kevin Geddings helped determine a list of finalists for the most important job at the new state lottery: its director…among the potential candidates are ‘two men in charge of the South Carolina Lottery, which Geddings helped create.”

The two candidates from South Carolina for the top lottery job told the newspapers “they barely know Geddings.” But then it turned out they served on South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges ‘transition team’ with Geddings – who then went on to be Hodges chief of staff.

Did it trouble Lottery Czar Charles Sanders that Geddings may have left a ‘ringer’ behind?

Not at all. Sanders said, “Kevin had virtually zero impact on this.”

No impact? Geddings was one of three commissioners who voted on the nominees.

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This one is too good to resist. The Winston-Salem Journal reports the Foundation/Pork-Barrel Fund that gives away North Carolina’s tobacco settlement money (to help those in need) just gave $220,000 to the Sparta Teapot Museum.

You think that’s something? Sit down. Last year the foundation gave the museum $370,000. And on top of that the state legislature gave it another $400,000.

The foundation – its board is appointed by Governor Easley, Senate Leader Marc Basnight and House Leader Jim Black – spent almost as much on teapots – $220,000 – as it spent for scholarships to Community Colleges ($300,000).

That’s what passes for common sense in politics.

Posted in: National Democrats
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My nominee for biggest winner of the week: Mark Warner of Virginia.

No, he wasn’t running. But his lieutenant governor – an anti-death penalty Democrat – was. And he won.

So Warner now moves to the top of the 2008 White House speculation list. He’s smart, articulate, rich and has a proven record in business and as Governor.

But don’t get carried away about Democrats winning two Governor’s races in a row in Virginia. Democrats have won four in row in North Carolina – and none by as close a margin as the Virginia election.

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“I’m appalled,” Lottery Commission Chairman Charlie Sanders said, describing his reaction to the revelation Scientific Games, which wants to bid on a lottery contract, paid Kevin Geddings $24,500.

How appalled? Not appalled enough to say that anyone – like Scientific Games – who paid a lottery commissioner $10,000 the day after he was appointed – should be banned from bidding on a contract.

Instead, Mr. Sanders says Scientific Games is “still a potential bidder.”

Here is a simple fact: Scientific Games paid Geddings $10,000 and Geddings kept it a secret. If making payments to a lottery commissioner doesn’t disqualify you from bidding on a contract – what does?

This just gets ‘smellier and smellier.’

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There is a simple – but drastic – step the legislature could take to prevent the kind of controversy swirling around North Carolina’s lottery: Ban fundraising (and even entertaining) by lobbyists.

South Carolina already does that. North Carolina now bans lobbyists from making campaign contributions during legislative sessions, but not between sessions.

North Carolina’s legislature passed a law this year that will require lobbyists to start reporting “good will” entertainment expenditures in 2007.

Why not go all the way and ban both contributions and entertainment?

Truth is, a lot of lobbyists would like a blanket prohibition. They privately complain about being hit up by legislators for contributions and fundraising help. But they’re in a position where it’s hard to say no.

In effect, lobbyists become unpaid fundraisers for the politicians. That’s bad government.

The amount of money spent in Raleigh on “good will” entertaining (that’s where, supposedly, no specific legislation is discussed) is enormous. So much that I expect this idea to be vehemently opposed by the city’s finer dining establishments.

Legislators could still have lunch, dinner or drinks with lobbyists. They would just have to pay their own way. They might end up eating and drinking less. That would be not only ethically, but also physically healthier.

Posted in: Issues
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We’ve got a good, old-fashioned scandal brewing about the lottery.

Scientific Games is one of the mega-gaming companies that run lotteries. It wants to run the North Carolina lottery and 1) it got language inserted into the Lottery Bill (by an amenable legislator ) apparently, to give it a ‘leg up’ over competitors; 2) it got its own man on the Lottery Commission that awards the contracts; and 3) did it all secretly.

In fact, according to the Raleigh News and Observer, Scientific Games even paid its ‘friend’ on the Lottery Commission, Kevin Geddings, $9,500 the day after he was appointed. And Mr. Geddings didn’t report that money – or another $15,000 he received from Scientific Games – on his ethics report.

Stacking the deck to win the lottery by getting your man on the Commission that awards the contracts has to rank right up there with the “Black Sox Scandal”– ‘fixing’ the 1919 World Series – as one of the most purely brazen maneuvers of all time.

One of the things Scientific Games paid Mr. Geddings $5,000 to do was coach Senator Tony Rand – the Democrat Majority Leader – for a debate on the lottery. When it comes to his role in all this, Senator Tony Rand, the Democrat Majority Leader has had an almost complete case of amnesia.

Senator Rand says he only ‘vaguely’ recalls ever meeting Mr. Geddings. He says his recollections of dealing with Geddings are ‘fuzzy.’ He says Geddings, lobbyist Meredith Norris and ‘maybe’ someone else dropped by his office before that debate – the one paid Geddings to coach Rand for – but it was no big deal. They just sat ‘around shooting the breeze.’ As for Geddings ‘coaching’ him, Rand added, “Oh, hell no, I didn’t need any coaching.” Rand also only ‘vaguely’ remembers having dinner with Geddings after the debate. And he says he didn’t know whom Geddings represented.

Think about that a minute. The Senate Majority Leader, the man who steered the lottery through the Senate, met with three lottery lobbyists and had no idea who they represented?

What’s more, the third man in that meeting with Geddings and Meredith Norris – the one Rand can’t remember his name – appears to be Scientific Games Vice President Alan Middleton, who wrote language that was inserted in the Lottery Bill with the intention of helping Scientific Games. Want to guess who the newspapers report may have put that language in the bill? Tony Rand. (Mr. Geddings also turns out to have been a political consultant to Lt. Gov. Beverly Purdue – who cast the deciding vote for the lottery in the Senate).

There’s one other puzzling question here. Where are House and Senate Republicans? They have been strangely silent. And it’s time they started speaking out. Republican legislators should do two things. First, they should call for a bi-partisan House-Senate Investigation. Second, they should demand Scientific Games be banned from bidding.

And if Democrats want to oppose either proposal, let them defend that in the next election.

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As Scootergate erupted in Washington, we heard a familiar mantra: “The coverup is worse than the crime.”

I beg to differ.

Prosecutors may find the coverup easier to prove. Politicians might find the coverup easier to use as a bludgeon on their opponents.

But the crime is even worse than the coverup.

The crime in Watergate was that Nixon’s crowd was paying for a sophisticated operation to spy on and disrupt his political opponents.

The “crime” in Monicagate was that Clinton was getting oral sex in the White House from a woman young enough to be his daughter.

The crime in Scootergate – it seems to me – is that the Bush/Cheney crowd was willing to unmask and endanger a covert CIA agent as a way of retaliating against a critic of the Iraq War.

Democrats in Washington want to go two ways:

•Attack Bush’s people for lying to a prosecutor. At least, they wanted to do this until Karl Rove, the Big Enchilada, seemed to skate away from indictment.

•Make the story that Bush, et al lied about WMDs. Problem is, the Democrats swallowed that WMD line, too. They even helped sell it at the time.

Where’s the outrage of supposed patriots when high federal officials apparently conspire among themselves to out a secret intelligence agent – just to get back at somebody who’s criticizing them publicly?

Some might dare call it treason.

Posted in: National Democrats
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Less than a month after he was reelected with no real opposition, Mayor Charles Meeker is giving Republicans an issue to run against him – and other Democrats – on in the next election.

Tomorrow, the City Council is going to vote on building a new Marriott Hotel downtown. Mayor Meeker wants to build that hotel. And he wants taxpayers to give the Marriott a $20 million subsidy to build it.

At the same meeting the Council is going to vote on a second hotel – a Westin Hotel businessmen want to build at Crabtree Valley. That hotel will not cost taxpayers a cent. Not one penny. There is no subsidy. In fact, that hotel will pay the City $1.5 million in taxes and create 150 new jobs. And, according to press, it has the support of neighborhood leaders.

Now, you might think given a choice between voting for a hotel that will cost taxpayers nothing versus a hotel that will cost them $20 million – the Mayor of Raleigh would support the one that’s free. You’d be wrong.
Mayor Meeker is all for the hotel that is going to cost $20 million – and dead-set against the hotel that will cost nothing.

There are two City Council Districts held by Republicans and three held by Democrats in Raleigh. The three also at-large seats, all held by Democrats. My guess is a majority of the voters in every one of these electorates oppose spending $20 million to subsidize a hotel – rather than spending it to build roads or schools. And my guess is that most voters also have no idea where their council members stand on this issue. Republicans’ responsibility – as the loyal opposition – is to have a debate and tell them.

I helped Tom Fetzer when he first ran for Mayor. Back then – just like today – most of the voters in Raleigh were Democrats. A lot of Democrats had to vote for Tom for him to win. They did because he opposed spending $90 million to build a new Convention Center. Not long ago, when Mayor Meeker and the Democrats on the City Council proposed spending $190 million to build a new Convention Center –Republicans, by and large, went along. They didn’t offer voters a choice.

Now the holes dug (according to the News and Observer 16,000 truckloads of dirt have already been hauled away) and construction has started and even though the costs of steel and concrete are already $4.5 million over budget there doesn’t seem to be much way to stop it.

That Marriott Hotel Mayor Meeker wants taxpayers to pay for downtown is going to use steel and concrete too and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that means its costs are going up too. And it’s a good bet that higher costs mean sooner or later Mayor Meeker may be asking for a bigger subsidy. More than $20 million.

It’s time for Republicans on the City Council to draw the line and offer voters a choice. They should say Yes to the Westin and they should say to the Marriott Hotel folks – if you want to build a new hotel that’s fine – but taxpayers aren’t going to pay for it. No subsidy. Not one penny. If businessmen can build a Westin with no subsidy, you can build a Marriott with no subsidy too. Then the Republican members of the council should make a motion to spend that $20 million on roads, or schools or to hold down taxes and see if Mayor Meeker wants to vote against it.

That’s what the ‘loyal opposition’ is supposed to do. Not go along to get along – but speak out on issues. Republicans can create a real debate on City spending by saying to taxpayers here’s where we stand and here’s where Mayor Meeker stands and here’s what the difference means to you.

Let Mayor Meeker defend spending this $20 million on a hotel – instead of schools or roads – to voters. If he can win that debate, then more power to him. If Republicans win it they may stop that subsidy and save taxpayers $20 million.

Or if Mayor Meeker – and the Democrats – ignore public opinion and pass it anyway, then Republicans have given voters a good reason to vote for change for Mayor and on the City Council in the next election.

Posted in: Raleigh
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Sometimes, something so peculiar happens in politics you just have to stop and ask yourself, “What was that?” Well, something like that has happened in Raleigh.

The Marriott Hotels want a subsidy from taxpayers – $20 million – to build a hotel downtown. At the same time a group of businessmen propose to build a Westin hotel –Raleigh’s first Four-Star Hotel – at Crabtree Valley. The Westin won’t cost taxpayers a penny. In fact, it will pay the city $1.5 million in taxes and create 150 jobs.

You might ask, ‘Do we need both? If businessmen will build a new Westin with their own money is it necessary for taxpayers to spend $20 million to build a Marriott too?’ Or you might ask, ‘Why do we have to subsidize a Marriott at all? If businessmen can build a Westin without a subsidy – why can’t the Marriott?’

Taxpayers subsidizing a hotel is odd. Here’s what’s odder.

Mayor Meeker also says Raleigh needs more money to build roads – the City says it needs $374 million – and if I read the signs right he may be floating a trial balloon about raising taxes or fees or both. There’s no doubt Raleigh needs roads. So, why not just build the Four-Star Westin Hotel at Crabtree Valley and use the $20 million for the hotel downtown to build roads?

For that matter, which is more important, building roads or building a $192 million Convention Center? That $192 million would have paid for half the roads the City needs.

If it sounds like someone has their spending priorities backwards – well, maybe they do.

I would imagine – and this is just a guess – the City Council will be happy to approve building the Westin; there’s not much to be said against a hotel that will pay $1.5 million in taxes a year, create 150 new jobs and which the Dean of the NC State School of Design says is an architectural wonder. And in addition, it’s supported by neighborhood activists.

But here’s a suggestion for the Republicans on the City Council – and Democrats too if they don’t mind an idea offered by a Republican. If the Marriotts (or Paris Hilton either for that matter) want to build a hotel in downtown Raleigh tell them, ‘That’s wonderful.’ But if they ask for a subsidy from taxpayers tell then no.

Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for all – or part – of their hotel. In other words, vote yes to the hotel and no to the subsidy.

Posted in: Raleigh
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Carter, you got it partly right. But that’s as far as I’ll go. And I’ll resort to the oldest trick in politics: change the subject.

Because the Convention Center is a done deal. (Even though these stories about cost overruns don’t help the cause.)

And I’m not going to try to defend a $20 million subsidy to build a hotel downtown. I’ll invite somebody else to take on that challenge.

I will venture to guess that if the City Council approves the 42-story Glen-Tree project – which is a spectacular building – you’ll see competition from somebody (maybe RBC Centura?) to build a bigger building downtown. And that’s good for Raleigh.

What I would advise Democrats in Raleigh to do is take a page from Jim Hunt’s old playbook and do an end-around.

You say use the money for the $20 million hotel subsidy to build roads. I’m all for roads. But what people in the City of Raleigh really want is for an elected official to stand up and say our city schools are overcrowded and it’s time the city did more to solve that problem.

Apparently some schools are being built on city parkland. That’s a good start. But the city can do more.
Maybe that’s a good reason to approve the Glen-Tree project: It will generate tax revenues that could go to schools.

I know school construction is historically not the city’s responsibility. But it’s a serious problem, so it should become one of the city’s responsibilities. And it would be good politics for the Democrats who have a majority on the City Council today.

Posted in: 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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