Catching up on Exile

Exile on Jones Street
From June 21 edition:


From the people who brought you massive purges of voter rolls in Florida, Ohio and elsewhere, some helpful suggestions about North Carolina’s electoral system. Seems the feds think we have too many voters on the rolls and we ought to get to whacking some folks off.

That helpful federal advice comes from the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Division, which last time we checked was having a little trouble explaining why some of its executives decided to violate long-running DOJ policy and intervene ahead of the vote in places with close elections.

State Auditor Les Merritt also got into the act. The auditor’s office sounded an alarm about the issue, throwing out numbers and raising such a fuss that it delayed Senate passage of a bill designed to make it easier for people to vote.

Now the State Board of Elections is disputing some of Merritt’s findings, which are as yet unreleased. In a ten-page rebuttal, elections board chair Gary Bartlett stopped just short of calling the auditor clueless about how the state registration and voting system works.

Democratic activists are starting to speak up because of concerns that the state may become the scene of the same kind of “voter-integrity” efforts out of the Gonzalez Justice Department witnessed elsewhere. (First clue: suddenly, a whole lotta noise about voter fraud.) Some Dems, though, see one silver-lining: It must mean the Tar Heel State is in play in ’08.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Southern Studies’ Facing South blog, the Charlotte Observer and the N&O’s new Under the Dome blog are all hitting this story hard. If Merritt hasn’t gotten them already, the FOIA requests for any emails back and forth with DOJ are probably just around the corner.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Sen. Fred Smith – he of the larger-than-life billboard series along U.S. 70 – has penned his first book. The subject, of course, is Fred Smith.

A Little Extra Effort: Hard Work and Straight Talk in a Sound Bite World, is as detailed and as frank as a 165-page self-published autobiography gets. It’s also likely to boost the OP research operations of Smith’s opponents, including those delving into his business deals and what he refers to as “a messy divorce.”

Smith also lays into Gov. Easley pretty good.

“I’ve never seen Mike Easley in the General Assembly except when he walks in and gives a speech. I’ve twice been to the Governor’s Mansion. That’s my entire contact as a three-term senator with the leader of the state. Governor Easley is not engaged in making the public policy of this state. That’s not acceptable. North Carolina needs a chief executive who understands the first, simple rule of leadership: show up.”


And while Extra Effort is certainly more than a soundbite, don’t worry — he spares not the platitudes and demonstrates acute attention to the obvious.

“Running an organization isn’t easy, though. It requires long, hard meetings. It takes getting down into the details. It takes rigorous followthrough (sic). It demands extra effort.”

Whew. So will reading this thing.

Not to be outdone by Billboard Fred, Gov. Mike Easley’s staff did a little touch-up on the governor’s biography in a recent state-sponsored history of the governors. UNC history prof Harry Watson told the News & Observer recently that the passage reads like a PR document. It should. Most of it was rewritten by the governor’s press staff.

But after the flap over the bio ensued, even the press office suggested it might be a good idea to wait for a governor’s term to expire before rewriting his bio.

From June 14:

Crisis found
If this state could have planned a crisis in mental health, it likely could not have come up with a better scenario than that which is unfolding this summer.

The long-running, underfunded reform we’ve been promised has had its legs cut out from under it.

Mismanagement led to a loss of confidence in the legislature, led to a lack of money to do the job, led to cuts to programs, more mismanagement and now downright mistrust that the state can salvage the strategy of shifting to community-based systems and away from centralized hospitals.

And so, with reimbursement rates dropping and funds drying up, all over the state clinics are shutting down or starting to charge for things that were once free. And some of our most vulnerable citizens and their families are left to deal with it.

Compounding this crisis is the utter lack of leadership from the stewards of the state. It is as if dealing with mental health (a good start would be admitting the system is in crisis) is a choice — an issue to be taken up when there’s extra money around or time to fit it into the schedule. That’s leadership from 30,000 feet. Meanwhile, at street level, patients, family members, friends and caregivers are watching, in horror, the devolution of mental health care in this state.

Those who can’t pay the new fees or afford the travel now necessary because of clinic consolidations and closings will drop out of programs.

What good people have tried desperately to knit together for years will unravel, and while we wait for people we’ve elected to step up, local governments, hospitals and social service agencies will pick up the slack. The sad fact is that lack of funding on the part of the state results in more EMS and public safety calls and more emergency room visits.

We will all pay for this lack of foresight and leadership. And for the families watching what support they had crumble, the cost will be dear indeed.

Polls again
Fred Thompson - who no doubt will quickly be asked about his K Street days once he’s officially in the running for president - is now number two among NC Republicans — that from a recent survey of voters from Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling, which added the actor and former U.S. Senator from Tennessee for the first time in last month’s presidential tracking poll.

Thompson’s 25 percent support tops Sen. John McCain (16 percent) and Mitt Romney (13 percent). Rudy Giuliani continues to hold his lead with 32 percent.

On the Democratic side, former Sen. John Edwards stays in the lead with 33 percent, with Sen. Hillary Clinton at 27 percent and Sen. Barack Obama at 20 percent.

Can you rephrase that?
Speaking of polls, I was a little taken aback by N.C. Association of Realtors VP Tim Kent, who said on a recent talking heads show that 81 percent of North Carolinians are opposed to a real estate transfer tax.

I found it a little hard to believe that such a high percentage had even gotten up to speed on the issue, let alone formed an opinion.

Turns out that the survey questions helped people understand the issue a little. Like this nicely worded statement, which more than half of the respondents said they strongly agreed with:

“By increasing taxes on a person selling their home, the Legislature is just punishing people for being successful. If a person was responsible enough to buy a home, they should not have to pay increased taxes on the sale of the home.”

Clears things right up, don’t it?

From June 7

Way sneaky
This has been a hard stretch to follow, but as near as I can tell, state Senate leaders have cleverly cornered GOP legislators by putting together a budget that offers up a nice range of tax breaks for high earners and businesses while underfunding soft-hearted issues like health care for kids. Nearly every GOP senator took the bait, which proved so tempting that when the bill got back to the House there was a stampede of elephants crossing the aisle.

House Minority Leader Skip Stam said he thought it was probably the best deal the party could get and urged support, setting up one of the more interesting concurrence votes the legislature has seen, along with the prospect that for the first time a governor might veto a budget bill.
At press time, House Dems were promising to stand firm, setting up, well, the usual budget process, which involves a giant committee, quiet promises and lots of pizza and Char-Grill burgers.

GOP leaders, unaware that it was all a plot to get them on record actually voting for a budget for once, quickly touted their new 19 to 31 majority and noted that the budget is a sign of their party’s clout. Then they blamed Jim Black again.

At least something made sense.

Linda Davies, fending off a challenge from Guilford County’s Marcus Kindley, was re-elected chair of the state GOP last weekend. She warned Democrats that they’re going to be looking over their shoulders to see a surging GOP gaining on ‘em.
While that’s a nice analogy, it implies that both parties are heading in the same direction. ’Course, maybe she’d been talking to Skip Stam.

Edwards slicing
If you caught any of the play-by-play from the New Hampshire debate, the big story line — at least for a while — was John Edwards calling out Sens. Clinton and Obama on Iraq and health care.

Whether it was intentional or not, the next day the Edwards campaign took a much sweeter tone via a fundraising message from new-strategy and ’nets dude Joe Trippi. The “birthday pie” fundraising letter featured a promise of a copy of mother Bobbie Edwards’ secret pecan pie recipe for anyone sending in at least $6.10 in honor of her son John’s birthday on June 10.

He turns 54.

Foxx Deluxe
Rep. Virginia Foxx topped a recent list of NC reps sending out mail via Congress’ franking privilege. According to the National Taxpayers Union study of spending in 2005, her more than one million pieces of mail cost taxpayers more than $200,000.

Of the N.C. delegation, Reps. Howard Coble and G.K. Butterfield didn’t send any mail, according to the study.

The reauthorization of the federal farm bill is always one of the more anticipated events in still-heavily agricultural North Carolina. State budgets are nice and all, but this is a spring from which flows the really, really big money. It’s always a fight, and this year, boy-howdy, it is on. In the past couple of weeks, the Senate and House have unveiled vastly different versions of the bill. One big difference is over conservation. The Senate, partial of course to the conservation provisions authored by Ag chair Tom Harkin of Iowa, has put more money into paying farmers for conservation and sustainable agriculture projects. The House went the other way, cutting into the programs.

It is not so much a debate about conservation, though, as it is a debate over how to get money to farmers and which farmers get the support. Some see shifting more money to conservation as a threat to the current system of price supports. Throw into the mix rulings that some of said price supports violate international trade law and ongoing negotiations — including heavy involvement by the French — and you’ve got a difficult-to-fathom mess.

Oh, and ethanol. (There, now I’ve mentioned it.)


Almost Right -

Speaking of polls, I was a little taken aback by N.C. Association of Realtors VP Tim Kent, who said on a recent talking heads show that 81 percent of North Carolinian Realtors are opposed to a real estate transfer tax.

There. I fixed it for ya.