Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Preacher, the Practitioner, the Pugilist, and the Politician

A Baptist Preacher, a Nurse Practitioner, a Tea Party Pugilist, and a seasoned Politician walk into an auditorium for a debate in small town Davidson.  Out walked four candidates who will still appeal to distinct major areas of the Republican primary electorate.

Nobody delivered a knockout blow in tonight's debate for the GOP nomination and the opportunity face Kay Hagan in November.  That's hard to do when all of the candidates say that they fundamentally agree on most issues. 

None of the candidates made any obvious mistakes.  None of the candidates did anything to lose voters who had decided on their pick for May 6th.

Regardless, here are a few quick observations: 

If anybody "won" the debate it was probably Thom Tillis.  He's the politician.  He's the smoothest.  He's the most polished.  My guess is the people who are just tuning into this race (the truly undecided voters because they have not been paying attention), liked what they heard.  Does that type of performance get him up to 40% and enough votes to avoid a runoff?  That's still the big question.

If you are looking for a fighter and not a politician (and I don't use politician here as a dirty word), then Brannon is your guy.  He went after Tillis more directly than any other candidate.  He pushed back when the Speaker twisted his words on a question regarding the 2nd amendment.  He definitely gave the impression that you will get someone willing to go to the mat and go repeatedly.  However, one has to wonder how well his repeated and constant references to the Constitution go over on TV.  This works great at small events with hardcore conservative activist types, but it might not translate well to mass media.

If you want the gentleman social conservative, Mark Harris fits the bill.  However, politics is a contact sport and tonight the good pastor didn't even suit up.  He came off flat.  He didn't have the fire you would expect from someone who led the charge on something like Amendment 1.  Again, he gave no wrong answers, but the answers he gave were not going to sway any of the undecided into saying "he's my guy.".

If you are looking for a folksy, Sarah Palin-esque candidate Heather Grant meets the criteria.  She had the fire Harris was lacking, and she gave the right answers just like the rest of them.  She has a good back story and would make a fine Republican lawmaker.  Is she ready for the US Senate versus the State Legislature?  The General Assembly probably would have been a better choice for a first time run.  She'd win easily in the right district.

Nothing changed this evening.  This one still seems headed for a runoff - likely one between Brannon and Tillis.  They'll all meet two more times in quick succession for two more debates, then it will be time to watch the polls.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Green School and Town of Davidson "Win" in Court...justice and fairness lose

Once again, the Town of Davidson's aggressive approach surrounding all things planning oriented has landed the Town in court.  This time the Town "won", but it is impossible to say that justice was served.

Readers may remember the Board of Adjustment hearing back in October regarding the new Green School in Davidson.  The hearing covered challenges to administrative approval for the school from the Davidson Planning Department.  In that hearing the Board of Adjustment sided 3-2 with the Green School administrators over long-time local resident, John Burgess.

Mr. Burgess is a member of the Town's Design Review Board and has detailed knowledge about the town's planning ordinance.  He's not one to raise issues lightly or without doing the proper homework.  After what was certainly a divided opinion on the Board of Adjustment, the issue proceeded to Mecklenburg Superior Court back on January 28th.

Some details still need to be verified, but after what appears to have been stalling tactics by the Green School's attorneys and Town Attorney, Rick Kline, the case was finally decided today.  The case was stalled because multiple motions to dismiss were filed - dragging out the case for several weeks.

The first motion to dismiss claimed a lack of standing on the part of Mr. Burgess to bring the case.  That one was denied last week.

The second motion to dismiss claimed that instead of suing the Board of Adjustment, the suit should have been brought against the Town of Davidson itself.  It may seem odd to have a defense team that included Davidson's own Town Attorney, Rick Kline, actually trying to have one part of the "town" sued instead of another part of the "town".  However, that motion was granted.  Very conveniently, it is now too late to actually add the Town of Davidson to the lawsuit because too much time has elapsed.  In reality, that motion appears to have been nothing but a move to run out the clock and not have the case decided on its merits.

Here's the thing...

Winning a case on a technicality does not serve the interests of justice.  This issue may be over, and the Green School appears to have survived.  However, it is now pretty clear that something is rotten in Town Hall when it comes to these types of planning decisions and that the Town is willing to go to any length to defend them.  This isn't the first time the town has landed itself in court - wasting taxpayer money in the process.

It's one thing for the Green School to do what it can in attempts to get the facility it wants in the location it wants.  They are a private entity, and in a sense this is just business.  It's another thing entirely for the Town government itself to jump through hoops and bend rules to help one group achieve its goals over the rights of others.

That's not how government is supposed to work, and the Town should be ashamed of itself.

Will we see any actions at Town Hall to remedy this type of situation?  Not likely.  It's much more likely to see a circling of the wagons and a continuation of business as usual.  One can even expect a little gloating over this "victory".

Regardless of today's ruling, Mr. Burgess should be commended and congratulated on standing up for what he thought was right.  That doesn't always work out, and today was unfortunately one of those days.

However, people have to continue standing up if things are to change for the better in the pursuit of transparent government.

There is obviously much work to do.

Update:  After hearing back from DNN regarding this post, we understand that they will be looking into this story.  Please be on the lookout at DavidsonNews.net for more info.

Monday, April 14, 2014

HOT Lanes Contractor Picked...let the spending begin!

After more than a year of back and forth with critics and opponents of wasteful spending, NCDOT picked the contractor for the I77 HOT Lanes project.  And the winner is...CINTRA, a Spanish firm with experience in this field.

As a sign the critics were right all along about the out of control costs, the initial price tag is a cool $665 million - well above the stated price of $500-$550 million used during the whole debate about the project.  When all is said and done, it WILL be much higher than even that.  These projects always work out that way.

Who pays all of this extra money?  You, that's who.

Per Davidson Mayor John Woods at DavidsonNews.net...

Davidson Mayor John Woods said the I-77 widening would have “a long-lasting effect on our region.” He said the use of a public-partnership has been critical.

“Although we haven’t got all the details before us, this announcement certainly proves locally that P3s are a viable method to structure and pay for large projects,” he said. “In addition, this announcement confirms the viability of our I-77 widening project and certainly greatly accelerates the project completion, which is so badly needed in our region.”

If just getting a contract on the table without all the details that costs at least 25% more than originally stated qualifies as a plan that "confirms the viability" of a project, then we are all in big, big trouble. 

Of course, why should you expect to hear otherwise from someone who thought Mi-Connection was a good idea?  It's not his money.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Thom TIllis's "Conservative" Problem

I recently received an interesting email blast from a former lower-level MeckGOP official in North Mecklenburg asking a former high ranking MeckGOP official for evidence of Speaker Thom Tillis's conservative credentials.  This evidence was being sought to assuage the concerns of a Triad area friend regarding Speaker Tillis's conservative bona fides to be the NCGOP nominee to take on Kay Hagan in the looming US Senate contest.
You see, this Triad area voter had concerns about Speaker Tillis.  The Speaker had not appeared at a recent candidate forum put on by a party organization.  There were also concerns about whether or not his conservative convictions were strong enough.  Would he just go-along to get along if he makes it to Washington?  That's what this voter wanted to know. 
The response?  The former high ranking MeckGOP official simply forwarded copy pulled from the Thom Tillis for Senate campaign site.  This was sent with the now standard encouragement that Thom Tillis is the best candidate to take on Kay Hagan this November.
What does this anecdote tell us?  A few things come to mind. 
First, it's not a great sign if establishment party officials have to dig around for evidence to support their candidate and the best they can come up with is copy from a campaign site.  That's not likely to convince an incredulous voter.
Second, it's some hard evidence that the Speaker constantly missing these small forums across the state is something people notice.  It does impact their decision making.  And, it might prove fatal particularly if this contest heads to a run-off. 
Third, when combined with recent polling data, this anecdote is just one more data point that shows the Speaker has a real problem with at least a portion of the conservative NCGOP base. 
Recent polling by Public Policy Polling and Survey USA shows a consistent theme.  In the GOP primary, there seems to be a strong vein of “anybody but Tillis” in the likely electorate.  Even though Thom Tillis enjoys high name recognition among the GOP faithful, raises more money from deep pocketed sources, and possesses the support of the national GOP establishment, he has been unable to break away from the pack in these polls.  
The combined totals for the other candidates double the Speaker’s totals with a large contingent of undecideds still in the mix.  These other candidates regularly campaign to the right of the Speaker, so their combined totals have significance – especially if this contest heads into a run-off.

The Tillis Campaign has been relatively cautious by not aggressively attacking his primary opponents.  He'll need their supporters if he is ultimately the GOP candidate.  However, there is another tidbit in these polls that shows winning over some of these folks may be an uphill climb no matter what.

Most of these polls also asked about head to head match ups against Kay Hagan. In all of them that did, there is a strong "anybody but Hagan" block - averaging around 40% to 45% of the general election population.  However, among the leading GOP candidates, Thom Tillis is the one who more often trails Hagan in head to head match ups. (Hagan bests Tillis in 2 of the 3 polls) In the most recent PPP poll he is the only Republican from the entire GOP field trailing Hagan.  All of these are within the margin of error, but that consistency in trailing Hagan may indicate that the Speaker is not carrying all of the "anybody but Hagan" block.

Finally, there is evidence that all of this is getting to the establishment, and they are beginning to react.  The most obvious example is Governor McCrory's recent endorsement/non-endorsement of the Speaker to the Washington Post.  Governor McCrory called Tillis the "most viable" Republican to take on Hagan.  (Note: McCrory splits hairs and doesn't call this an endorsement.  Readers can decide for themselves.)  The poll numbers say otherwise, and the Governor is certainly entitled to his opinion like everyone else.  However, there are two problems with this endorsement.

What happens if the Speaker is ultimately not the GOP candidate?  How does the Governor believably support the Republican nominee when he's on record saying someone else was the "most viable"?  McCrory's endorsement actually hurts the general election GOP candidate if the nominee is not Tillis.  The Hagan campaign will have a field day with that.

Also, it's questionable how much a McCrory endorsement helps Tillis with the most conservative in the GOP base for the primary.  Many conservatives have the same problems with the Governor that they have with the Speaker.

Add to that, comments like the recent one from NC Senator Bob Rucho (R-Meck) saying the establishment money will only follow Tillis in the general and not the other GOP hopefuls, and you might begin to think the establishment only cares about getting their guy elected. Sabotaging other GOP candidates in the general is an acceptable price to pay in the attempt to win the primary. 

That's something to remember the next time you hear demands for party unity above all else.

Buckle up!  The next month of this campaign could get bumpy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fear and Loathing on the Road to the NCSEN Primary

"The stage lay set in a perfectly diabolical manner.  All the pieces were in place. 

The pesky media stood docilely outside - locked out by having the event in a church.  A similar tactic worked well when the mafia needed to meet away from the prying eyes of law enforcement - using their doctors' and lawyers' offices to gain a certain freedom to conduct business.   If a tactic like that worked for them, why not for a political party convention?

The plan for the new rules change had been kept secret and hidden like an assassin's poison ready to do it's ugly work.  The snake-oil salesmen rehearsed their pitches well to ensure it was taken in by the audience with ease - ready to spin anyone brave enough to try and talk some sense into the crowd. 

A sense of F.E.A.R. - False Evidence Appearing Real - permeated the room."

Channeling Hunter S Thompson and picturing a large, free-flowing vat of electric cool-aid provides the best way to make sense of what happened last Saturday at the MeckGOP convention after reading this piece by Christian Hine over at PunditHouse.com

Rule 19(a) as passed by the latest MeckGOP convention effectively eliminates issue-based resolutions at the county convention.  This comes on the heals of the unanimous issue based resolution against HOT lanes at last year's convention.  The rule will likely become a divisive lightning rod in future conventions as one can picture grassroots activists repeatedly trying (and failing) to get a supermajority to override the rule and pass resolutions on the hottest issues of the day.  It's hard to fathom why local GOP leaders truly thought this rule was a good idea.  It will do nothing but drive a deeper wedge between establishment and tea party type grassroots activists.

The only answer that makes any sense is F.E.A.R.  The local GOP establishment seems to have fallen into the trap laid by fear - believing in the falsehoods that conflict equates to weakness, that anything but total unanimity of opinion leads to failure.  The reality will be just the opposite.

After what happened on Saturday, how do establishment Republicans expect to say with a straight face that all factions should support the eventual nominee for US Senate - their assumption of course being that the nominee will be Speaker Thom Tillis.  This rule change effectively says "we do not want to hear your opinion."  Passing it in the way it was done - without significant early notice - says "dirty pool" is Ok. 

With Mecklenburg having the 2nd largest number of Republicans in the state, this was a terribly risky maneuver by the MeckGOP to achieve effectively nothing of value. This rule plays right into the problem outlined in this piece nearly a year ago - making it much harder to repair any damage after the primary season is over.  If Republicans lose the US Senate race, regardless of who the nominee turns out to be, it will be actions like this that are to blame as much as anything else.

By comparison, at Monday night's WakeGOP convention leaders seemed more inclined to do the right thing in the face of a possibly less than favorable outcome for the establishment.  Wake is the largest GOP county in the state.  They did a straw poll (something the MeckGOP also avoided) and they let the chips fall where they may.

Here are the results: Brannon 45%, Tillis 33%, Harris 20%, all others 2%.

They were not overcome by F.E.A.R.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Town of Davidson Plans to Lower Taxes Next Budget Cycle Due to Improved Mi-Connection Financial Situation

In light of the recent volatile negotiations between Viacom and local cable operators like Mi-Connection, town officials have decided to let Viacom channels be removed from the cable system altogether while keeping rates unchanged.  Acknowledging that negotiating with those nasty private sector companies is HARD, town officials did point out an upside to this plan.

This plan will dramatically improve EBITDA for MiC by lowering costs while keeping revenue unchanged.  The net result will reduce the subsidies required from the town going forward to prop up the local cable operation.  This will allow the Town of Davidson to lower taxes with the "windfall of new revenue" from not having to pay as much subsidy.

As the only comment regarding the negative impact to Davidson families for losing channels like Nickelodeon and Nick Jr one official who wished to remain anonymous said  "Can't the kids all watch Disney or something?

In light of all the local April Fools stories about draining LKN, a parking deck on the Town Green, and Commissioner Graham building a 12 story appartment tower, we wanted to get in on the act.  As tense negotiations with content providers become the norm for MiC, hopefully, we don't all wake up one day with this scenario and logic being actual reality.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

After bumpy week on the campaign trail, MeckGOP Convention looms for Team Tillis

Last week was maybe the roughest PR week yet for the Tillis Campaign in the run-up to the May 6th primary for the US Senate race.  How well he bounces back will be interesting to watch.  Here are the highlights of what went down:
  • Wednesday, the Harris Campaign released results of an internal push poll.  The "poll" shows that when "character" questions are raised about Thom Tillis, he falls from 1st place to 3rd behind Harris and Greg Brannon.  Regardless of the source, or the probable flaws in the sampling technique of a campaign's internal poll, or the hypocrisy of using unethical push polling to question another candidate's character, these results do show that raising these questions does very negatively impact the results for the Speaker.
  • Thursday saw the rise of a story about Thom Tillis's college education history.  The story was broken by TalkingPointsMemo website.  It pointed out multiple occasions both on websites and in interviews where the Speaker's college credentials were incorrectly stated as being from University of Maryland at College Park (the flagship of the Maryland system) rather than University of Maryland University College (a primarily online college).  The Tillis campaign brushed this off as a simple mistake (and it very well may be), but it plays right into the vein of  questioning that the Harris poll was attacking.
  • Finally, on Friday Thom Tillis's old opponent for the NC98 legislative seat - John Rhodes - unloaded a barrage of ethical questions about the Speaker from Cornelius Town Hall.  Tillis supporters dismiss this as nothing but sour grapes by an old political foe, but again it plays right into Harris's argument. 
Obviously a rough week no campaign wants to repeat.

Against this backdrop, Mecklenburg Republicans head to their County Convention this coming Saturday.  At last year's convention, delegates unanimously passed a resolution against HOT Lanes - one of the Speaker's signature "achievements".  See MeckGOP Raises the Political Stakes for HOT Lanes Supporters for the details on the events a year ago.  Somewhat ironically, HOT Lanes are once again in the local news as the final proposals for the project are scheduled to be submitted at the end of this month.  How this issue plays out at this year's MeckGOP convention will be fun to watch   as candidates use their opposition to the plan as something to distinguish themselves or have to defend against their support for it.

Then there will, maybe, probably not be the straw poll. (See update below)

Greg Brannon and Mark Harris have each racked up wins in straw polls at these conventions across the state.  Speaker Tillis won big recently in a straw poll in Lincoln County but did less well in a closer victory at the Iredell County GOP Convention.

Straw polls often don't mean much.  They are made up only of strong partisans and activists.  They aren't representative of the whole political party - much less the general electorate.  Their main value is in the crowing that can be done by the victor.  However, the importance of Mecklenburg's might be different.  Mecklenburg County has the second largest number of Republicans in the state.  (Wake has the most.)  Mecklenburg is also home to two of the top candidates - Mark Harris and Thom Tillis.  How Mecklenburg goes could very well determine the outcome of this primary.  Reading the tea leaves on any data point - even one like a straw poll - could provide some important insights.

For Thom Tillis there's no real upside to a MeckGOP straw poll - only downside risk.  If Tillis wins big, the other candidates can brush it off as 'expected' in the Speaker's home county.  However, if Tillis does not win big, that will be trumpeted by his opponents as a real sign of vulnerability.  With Mark Harris also calling Mecklenburg home, he should do well.  Greg Brannon has a strong following among the local Tea Party crowd - a group that goes to conventions and votes.

There was a real effort last year by those running the convention to minimize the impact of the unanimous vote against the HOT Lanes the Speaker supports.  It wouldn't be surprising to see similar efforts around a straw poll this Saturday. 

The best outcome for the Speaker is to not even have one.

Bonus Observation: After doubling down on the "character" line of attack this week, it seems safe to say the Harris Campaign is in it to win it.  This should dispel the notion that he's nothing but a stalking horse for Thom Tillis. See Tillis accuses Harris of 'going negative' and Harris fires back.

Update: Word has been received that there likely will not be a straw poll at tomorrow's convention.  Apparently, Mecklenburg typically does not have them regularly at this event.  Smaller counties regularly have them, but apparently larger ones sometimes do not.  However, GOP straw polls in large counties do have recent precedent during Federal election years.  Wake County, the largest GOP county in the state, had one at their 2012 convention.  The MeckGOP also had one at its 2012 countywide precinct meeting.  In fact, google searches show all of the top five GOP counties having some form of straw poll at some form of party event during 2012.