Patterson heads the group Toxic Free North Carolina and also the coalition of groups called the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN). This week FAN launched the "Harvest of Dignity" campaign with the aim of improving the working and living conditions for agricultural workers in North Carolina and getting state agencies to enforce the laws that are supposed to protect farm labor.
Specifically, that means:
* Protecting field and poultry processing workers from on-the-job injuries due to exposure to toxic chemicals or, in the case of factories, unsafe speeds on the production line;
* Assuring that farm and production workers have safe, sanitary places to live;
* Getting the N.C. Department of Labor and the N.C. Department of Agriculture to enforce safety laws, make follow-up inspections and crack down on repeat offenders.
At a press conference, Andrea Reusing, chef-owner of The Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, called on North Carolinians to pay attention to where their food is coming from and to the people who supply it. North Carolina employs 200,000 poultry and agricultural workers, Reusing said, and is the top or a leading producer of turkeys, chickens, sweet potatos, apples — in other words, your Thanksgiving fare.
Yet the people who pick the crops and process the poultry are often mistreated, she said. For example, farmworkers are supposed to be assured of sanitary housing in season by the farmers who employ them. But under current Department of Labor standards, the requirement that sanitary laundry facilities be provided is met if there's a 5-gallon bucket available — at least one for every 30 workers.
No bucket? Crummy, leaky housing? Farmers may pay a nominal fine, but according to FAN, it's little more than a routine cost of doing business, because state inspectors don't follow up, and the shortage of inspectors virtually assures that a work site won't be visited more than once every few years.
Organizers, in addition to Toxic Free NC, include immigrants rights groups, Legal Aid of NC, Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) and the N.C. Council of Churches. They promise a concerted effort in the General Assembly next year.
So does Guillermina Garcia Cruz, a Mexican immigrant-farmworker and the mother of five children, two of whom are old enough to do farmwork with her. Garcia, through a translator, said she's been in the United States for five years, traveling the fields from Florida to Georgia to North Carolina. The United States is a beautiful country, she said, and Americans are beautiful people, but we have a blind spot when it comes to farmworkers and what they endure. She's proud to be part of the effort, she said, to get state officials to open their eyes.
Enforcement is especially weak, Garcia said, regarding farmworkers' exposure to chemicals in the fields. Workers are often unaware of the dangers and little information is provided to make them aware. One of her children got very sick three years ago from pesticides. That's how she came to be part of the campaign.
"We have dreams, aspirations. We work very hard," Garcia said. "But for many people, we're nothing. I would like you to look closer, so you touch your heart."
The plea brings to an end the long investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office and a separate investigation initiated by the State Board of Elections which resulted in a referral to a local district attorney. The SBOE fined Easley's campaign committee $100,000. Nobody else laid a glove on him.
Corruption? Easley was far too disconnected from the actual workings of government to get caught doing favors for his campaign contributors. They were supposed to do favors for him. If they wanted something in return, that's what Ruffin Poole was for.
So, on the charge that Easley violated some campaign reporting laws, he did — serially — and was allowed to get away with pleading guilty to one bad deed. Interestingly, the law he admitted to violating was a misdemeanor at the time (2006) but now it's a felony, so at least Easley may now lose his law license.
The real story of Easley's governorship, however, is that for eight years he was a no-show governor, a man who for whatever reason — and there are lots of theories about this, but why bother with them now — put as little time and effort into his position as possible. He used people (young Poole; McQueen Campbell) and they indulged him because he was the governor and they were trading on the acquaintance. Sometimes their indulgences violated an ethics or campaign finance law, but that's almost a technicality compared to the real violation, which was Easley's abuse of the public's trust.
The four things that stand out in my mind about Mike Easley are:
1) the so-called Smithfield Agreement, which Easley presented to the world in 1999 as a timetable for the hog industry to clean up its waste cesspools ("lagoons") within five years, but which in fact allowed the cesspools to remain in operation to this day;
2) the tobacco settlement, which Easley presented to the world as a bitter pill for the tobacco industry but which in fact let the tobacco companies keep on keeping on selling their deadly products;
3) mental health reform, which was anything but; the closing of Dorothea Dix Hospital and its replacement with a new mental health facility on the grounds of Central Prison tells us all we need to know about the treatment of the mentally ill during Mike Easley's governorship.
4) the 27 men executed at Central Prison while Easley was governor, all of them after what was supposed to be the most careful review of their cases by Easley himself; given how fictional the rest of his governorship was, how real were those reviews do you think?
What a crock he was.
For most of his tenure as governor (2001-09) and for the previous eight years as attorney general, Easley was the beneficiary of good economic times thanks to, first, the high-tech bubble, and second, the housing bubble. Point being, state revenues were flush and Easley could bounce along as a Bubble A.G. and then a Bubble Governor, popping up for the occasional public event only to disappear again to Southport on a plane piloted by the Campbell McQueens of the world.
He didn't have to do much. He didn't do much. And what he did do was often worse than if he'd done nothing at all.
His only real job — and the one he so dreadfully neglected — was to be an effective front man for the Democratic party, explaining to regular people why government programs could be a good thing. His legacy: Most people think state government stinks to high heaven, and they've just put the Republicans in charge of it for the first time in 112 years.
It does piss me off that that Easley got away with his act for 16 years. He was always a charlatan and was pretty much winking at us whenever he did deign to show up somewhere. But around him his aides and complicit Democrats created the myth of Mike Easley the serious, studious governor who couldn't reveal his day-to-day whereabouts for security reasons (!). The press pretty much swallowed it — and the public was in the dark.
Prospects for the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit idea were batted around this week at a post-election gathering hosted by WakeUP Wake County. Between what I knew beforehand and some things people said in the course of discussion, I believe the situation is this: Two of the four Republican county commissioners-elect (Tony Gurley, Joe Bryan) have told transit supporters that they will allow a countywide referendum on the 1/2-cent tax plan next fall — assuming that polling shows it has a chance to pass. The other two (Paul Coble, Phil Matthews) are against spending for public transit. Thus, it may be up to the three remaining Democratic commissioners (Stan Norwalk, Betty Lou Ward, James West) whether the sales-tax question gets to the ballot or not.
If so, what should the Democrats do?
And what should WakeUP, for whom transit is in their DNA, do?
In my opinion — and since I was the invited speaker everyone was forced to listen to it — the transit tax should not be put to a vote in 2011. If it is, it will be defeated and the transit cause set back another, well, bunch of years. Yeah, I know, the polls might show something different. But you can't poll in advance how a referendum question will fare with the voters after they've listened to the pros and cons about it. And believe me, all they're going to hear is cons.
At best, 2011 will be a year for building (really, rebuilding — after years of neglect) the case for transit to a jaded, economically fearful public. Maybe 2012 will be better. Maybe.
Here's the point: 2011 will be dominated, through June 30 at a minimum and perhaps long into the fall, by debates about the pending, drastic and disastrous cuts to K-12 education coming out of the General Assembly.
Consider: Both houses about to be dominated by Republicans; the Republicans are promising to balance the budget without any tax hikes notwithstanding the $3 billion-plus budget gap; inevitably, school aid will be cut and teachers' jobs will be eliminated — and when it all happens, the question in Wake County will be whether and to what extent the Wake Commissioners should supply the missing funds.
The missing funds for schools, that is.
Not for transit.
And this is to say nothing about the ongoing school assignment fight, which has split the county and put most of Raleigh at war politically with most of the rest of Wake County. Not an atmosphere in which countywide consensus on anything could be readily reached.
The Republican majority on the Wake Commissioners board will be under tremendous pressure to offset at least some of the state budget cuts (also, the lost federal stimulus funds) by raising the property tax rate. I don't know if they will or not. All four ran pledging no tax increases. They even had a little jingle: "Gurley, Coble, Bryan and Matthews/They're the four who won'r raise taxes" ... or some such. How Gurley and Bryan square that with their private assurances that they'll support the transit tax, I don't know. Maybe they plan to just put the sales-tax question to voters and stand back, not really supporting it but LETTING THE VOTERS HAVE THEIR SAY.
Which will allow them to say NO WAY.
For transit supporters, any postponement is a bitter pill. I know. I am one — have been one for 20 years. Transit should've been funded in the '90s, the '00s, and it should be funded today. That's a different question, though, than whether Wake voters should be asked next year to approve a tax increase for transit while the public schools are in crisis.
Transit needs a yes vote, not a resounding rejection. But a resounding rejection is what's in store if that question goes on the ballot.
And by the way, when I say you can't poll in advance the impact of a negative campaign, I mean a negative campaign by every Republican candidate running in '11 for the Wake school board, for Raleigh City Council, and for the Cary Town Council in 2011. Plus the sure-to-be-nasty "issues" campaign that would come from millionaire Art Pope and his various organizations (John Locke, J. W. Pope Civitas Institute, etc.), all of which are — like Pope, who pays their salaries — anti-transit.
My opinion was not well-received by those in WakeUP who've been pushing to get transit back on the local agenda since 2006, when the Bush Administration derailed it. They've been promised, 2011 would be their year. But 2011 will be the year of school budget cuts, nothing else.
If the sales tax for transit goes on the Wake ballot next year, courtesy of the Republicans on the Wake Commission, it will be for the sole purpose of sending it down to defeat — along with any Democratic candidates foolish enough to support it.
Stam threw out the red meat, promising swift action on the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Amendment), voter IDs, Right-to-Life license plates, more charter schools as well as tax credits for private-school tuitions, and a budget that slashes spending — no tax-rate increases, Stam promised.
In other words, everything the Republicans have been dreaming about, plus a partisan redistricting plan for House and Senate districts, notwithstanding Stam's long-held position that redistricting should be done by an independent, bipartisan commission. Lest his new stance be considered unfair, Stam has labeled it "fair" redistricting. See how that works? "Fair redistricting is so important," he said. "For the first time in 112 years, Republicans are going to get the right to draw the districts fairly and legally."
Stam seemed to chuckle a bit as he offered his Republican listeners some advice about the proper framing of this matter. "There's only two words we use to describe redistricting," he said. "Fairly, and legally."
Their efforts were needed because even with the national Republican tide, the slate of four GOP candidates for Wake Commissioners seats didn't win by all that much, and indeed U.S. Sen. Richard Burr barely carried Wake over Democrat Elaine Marshall.
That said, the Republicans are now in complete charge in the county (by 4-3 on the commissioners board, 5-4 on the school board) and in the state (68-52 in the House, a veto-proof 31-19 in the Senate). As Sheriff Donnie Harrison said, "The dog has caught the bus, now what's he going to with it?" Hard work ahead was Harrison's point.
Cue Stam, who is trying to become House Speaker, though I hear from a knowledgeable source that he won't get it because — wait for this one — he's not conservative enough. Yes, I mean Skip Stam the lifetime volunteer Right-to-Life lawyer and (I'm stealing this line from a Democratic pundit) unofficial leader of the GOP's Christian Temperance Caucus. But apparently Thom Tillis, the Charlotte Republican, is considered by many of his fellow Republicans to be a little bit smoother, a little more cut-throat, and less likely to yield to pangs of conscience about his partisanship than is our Stam — about whom we've not seen that many pangs, to be frank.
However, Stam did go out of his way last night to tell his audience of 150 Republicans that he was a principle co-sponsor of 22 bills in the current session on which there was also a Democratic principle co-sponsor. His job as minority leader, Stam said, is to be partisan on partisan bills but not to the point that he wouldn't work with the Democrats on "good government" bills. My source tells me the real knock on Stam from within his caucus is that he's a trial lawyer and is open to reform of the statutes in N.C. that stop plaintiffs from collecting in a lawsuit if they were even 1 percenr responsible (i.e., guilty of contributory negligence) for whatever happened to them.
I'm obviously not privy to much when it comes to the Stam-Tillis battle nor did Stam say a lot about it, not that he had to: If anybody in this room full of Wake Republicans wasn't supporting their hometown guy for Speaker, they kept it to themselves. Instead, Stam took questions about the upcoming legislative session, and credit his audience for raising every subject I'd have raised.
* The GOP will put the so-called Defense of Marriage Amendment (DOMA) on the ballot in 2012 and use it to drub the Democrats the same as the Bush campaign used it in 2004 to take Ohio and win a second term as president;
* They'll pass a requirement that registered voters must present an official ID at the polls before they're allowed to cast ballots. This should pacify Republican activists who lose sleep at night over the prospect that marauding Democrats will drive from precinct to precinct pretending to be people they somehow know won't be voting. (Or is this simply a cynical move to discourage voting by marginalized populations?)
* Yes, Stam has four times submitted legislation to create an independent bipartisan redistricting commission, preventing the kinds of ruthless partisan gerrymanders that politicians produce when they get to draw up the districts. But that was when the GOP was in the minority and the Democrats controlled redistricting. Now that the tables are turned, Stam said, he still favors a bipartisan commission — but it's too late to create one and get districts drawn in time for the 2012 elections. Why? Apparently because Stam wanted the state constitution amended to require an independent commission — a process that would indeed drag on too long. But why not create the commission by statute, with the Republican-controlled legislature pledging to accept its work? But you know what, Stam won't be elected leader of the Republicans by being that fair to the Democrats. (Not to mention to the voters.) No, Stam cracked, "I'd say that the Democrats have been hoist by their own petard."
* And that $3 billion budget gap? The Republicans will pass a budget with no tax-rate increases, only spending cuts. "It will not be popular," Stam warned, not stopping to explain that it will require cutting school aid, university budgets, social services programs and other things real people care about and depend upon. "That budget will be hugely unpopular, but we're doing to do it."
* Right-to-Life licence plates? "That's an easy sell," Stam said, because lots of people will buy them. "Why would you not do it?
* Healh-care reform? The GOP will move quickly on a bill to allow N.C. residents not to buy health insurance if they don't want it. The effect of that is effectively zero since the new federal health-care law requires it, but it will add North Carolina to the list of states challenging the constitutionality of a federal mandate to buy a private-sector product.
* Stam wasn't asked about charter schools, but a tip sheet he handed out included the Republican bill to repeal the law capping the number of charter schools at 100. It also listed H.B. 1988, which would create an income tax credit for part of the expense of sending kids to a private school or of home-schooling them. Supposedly this would "save" the taxpayers $50 million a year — "save" in the sense that if they all showed up at a public school, it would cost $50 million.
Stam did promise a rewrite of the ethics rules and legislative processes that would treat both parties fairly. "We are not going to treat the Democrats like they treated us," he said. "There are some Republicans who'd like us to, but we're not going to do it."
Still, he couldn't resist noting that the Democrats' current 68-52 hold on the House will flip in January to 68-52 Republican. Given that, he joked, if Republicans parcel out committee seats in the same proportions the Democrats used, no one will be able to say they weren't equally fair.
Sweet, thought the audience, smiling as one. "That's called the Golden Rule," Stam said.
Jesse Helms was the most prominent of the latter group.
Hunt never flagged in his support of integration, and usually he won — four years as lieutenant governor and eight years as governor from 1972-84; eight more years as governor from 1992-2000. But once, he lost, to Helms in the '84 Senate race. At the time it was the most expensive Senate race ever and one of the most vicious campaigns in U.S. history. The loss rocked Hunt, not least because the outcome was so racially charged and Hunt felt he'd let down the cause by failing to make a winning case to the voters.
In light of the Democratic wipeout last week, two years into the term of our first African-American president, Hunt's take on President Obama's leadership, where he goes from here and the degree to which the GOP's trashing of Obama depends on the voters' latent racism are questions I expect Hunt and Pearce will take up tonight.
Beginning at 7:30.
Now the correction:
Introducing this subject in the Indy, I wrote that Jim Hunt has won 'em and he's lost 'em. And as Gary Pearce can attest, losing sucks — especially to a racist.
I picked up the paper today and looked at the item. It says losing sucks — especially for a racist.
OMG, I thought, did I make that mistake? There it is in print.
Mistakes are made and corrected every day, but this one hurts. Jim Hunt won five elections and he lost one particularly vicious one to a racist opponent. And as Gary Pearce can attest, losing to a racist, when your career is predicated on racial progress, does suck. (Suck, incidentally, is my word, not Gary's.)
Neither Gary nor Gov. Hunt needs an apology from me, but I do apologize for the error. The important thing is to correct the record to the extent that I can.
So the Republicans are coming to town to slash the state budget, and as we said yesterday, Gov. Perdue's a step ahead of them with a directive to every department: Tell me where you'd cut 5 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent of your budget.
Well, as Rob Schofield says, you can't make this stuff up: Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, an elected official in his own right(-wing) after all, says he can't cut a dime. And he's a Republican!
Wouldn't be prudent, I believe he told an aide in his best George H.W. Bush imitation.
OK, then how about getting us a good price on that giant grocery cart you bought with state money?
Just kidding. Love the cart. Love it the way you tax-and-spend, Commissioner.
So the N.C. General Assembly will be on its own next year as it figures out how to close an estimated $3.3 billion gap between anticipated revenues and continuation-level spending for the 2011-12 fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget hole is approximately 15 percent of total state spending, which this year amounts to some $18.9 billion.
Ordinarily, some combination of spending cuts and tax increases would be under consideration in Raleigh, but we are not in ordinary times: In January, Republicans will take control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than 100 years, and they'll do so with healthy margins in both houses — 31-19 in the Senate, 68-52 in the House.
The Republicans ran on a promise to balance the budget without tax increases. If they follow through, that means radical cuts in Medicaid, social services, the UNC system's budget, and especially to local school aid (K-12) which accounts for some $7 billion of annual state spending — by far the biggest line item.
Before the Republicans get in the budget game, however, the first move belongs to Gov. Perdue. She's already indicated that she won't seek the extension of the temporary 1-cent sales tax increase that was enacted for the current fiscal year only and raised an estimated $1 billion. She's asked every cabinet official to submit budget numbers to her reflecting a 5 percent cut in spending, a 10 percent cut and a 15 percent cut.
In short, all indications are that Perdue will submit a budget that is slashed to the bone — no new taxes —
and see whether the Republicans have the stomach to pass it.
Is that what she should do?
It's what a Republican governor would do, presumably, but if we wanted a Republican governor we'd have elected one.
Perdue may not be able to enforce a budget veto — 60 percent of the members in both houses are enough to override her, meaning the 31 Republicans in the Senate can do it if they stick together and the 68 Republicans in the House would need just four Democrats to join them and they could override her too.
Still, Perdue should draw the line between cuts she'll accept and cuts that she can't accept because they're irresponsible given the needs of children, the disadvantaged, those with physical and mental disabilities and the long-term economic vitality of the state.
She could try to out-cut the Republicans. If she does, she’ll face a rebellion in her Democratic base —and maybe a primary challenge.
Or she can find a way to draw a clear line with Republicans: progress versus retreat, go forward or go back.
It’s no easy choice, given her precarious public standing.
Pearce advises her: Go with your base.
One strategy Perdue might consider is to submit a budget with no new revenues, spelling out where the cuts would have to fall, but also making it clear that such a budget would be enacted only over her veto.
Perdue could then present an alternative budget with higher spending that she would accept — one presumably containing a good deal more state aid to schools. She could attach to this budget a menu of acceptable tax increases to pay for it. The list might include extending the sales tax to services; raising cigarette taxes; raising gasoline taxes; or, fairest of all, raising the income tax on upper-income folks.
Presenting the budget this way would frame the choice for legislative Republicans:
a) Cut state aid to schools and force the counties to either slash their school budgets or raise property taxes; or
b) Fund the schools by slashing social services; or
c) Fund the schools by finding new revenues.
This, not incidentally, would also frame the choice for the voters in 2012 if the Republicans force slash-and-burn budget onto the books.
Democrat Perdue should have no trouble taking a pro-schools position. She may be forced to swallow an anti-schools budget, but she doesn't have to sign up for one in advance.
1) Paul Coble will be the new chair of the Wake County Commissioners.
2) The idea of a 1/2-cent sales tax for transit on the ballot in Wake next year is dead.
3) For the why on No. 2, see No. 1.
4) Also, see the enormous school budget cuts coming down the pike from the General Assembly to the Wake schools — leaving a budget gap for the Wake Commissioners to fill of $100 million or more. That's 2,000 teaching and support personnel in jeopardy. The argument against transit: Schools first.
5) School board elections next year are going to suck the air out of Wake County. Raleigh will be the vacuum's center, because —
6) Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker is signaling he's not going to run for a sixth term. City Councilor Nancy McFarlane, an independent who represents District A (North Raleigh up the middle), is considering making a run for mayor. On the Republican side, I've heard Wake Republican Chair Claude Pope's name mentioned.
7) Claude Pope is a distant relative of Art Pope, the Raleigh businessman whose millions helped elect the Wake school board, the Wake Commissioners board and also paid for so much of the N.C. Republican Party's winning, if disgusting, negative campaign materials.
8) If there's one thing Art Pope thinks is a waste of money, it's public transportation.
9) If there's another thing Art Pope thinks is a waste of money, it's public schools.
10) Actually, Art Pope thinks most everything government does is a waste of money, except maybe invading other countries — I don't know what he thinks about that.
11) Pope ran for lieutenant governor once and lost. In the aftermath of last night's elections, consider him at least as powerful as the governor, without any of the bothersome responsibilities of actually being governor.
12) Second happiest fella in North Carolina today: Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who tagged along with Art Pope's tea-party campaigns all year and is now odds-on to be Art Pope's stand-in for governor — a.k.a., the Republican nominee — in 2012. McCrory, of course, lost to Bev Perdue in 2008.
[Update 11/4: Says it all.]
What happened: Voters gave Barack Obama and the Democrats a chance to demonstrate that they could operate the machinery of government effectively and in the public interest. Most Americans, myself included, have a pretty healthy distrust of big government; on the other hand, after the fiscal meltdown of '07 and '08, big-government intervention seemed not only necessary but about the only thing that could save the country from a serious economic calamity.
Two years later, IMHO the voters decided that, the crisis having passed — and yes, they understand that the Democrats get some credit for averting disaster, but nonetheless — there's no reason to leave the Democrats in charge and every reason to send them packing because they clearly do NOT know how to run the machinery of government effectively and in the public interest. And to repeat, most people think the machinery is dangerous in the wrong hands.
Is that too harsh a judgment? Yes, it is. Does it overlook the long list of good things the Democrats have accomplished? Yes, I suppose it does. But the fact that is such a long list — and quick, can you jot it down? because most of us can't — is part of the problem. Legislation went by in a blur without the President taking time or care to explain what he was doing. That's some of it. Another big part is that the one thing people did get about the Obama Administration is that the health-care reform act took too long to enact, was the product of endless deals with special interests, and at the end of the day, for all the good things it did, it came off as a typical 2.000-page Democratic Christmas tree of health-care giveaways.
Now, I'm not the best judge (or even a good judge) of the quality of all the stuff in the health care law. I do consider myself a good judge of the politics of it, however. Obama lost his supporters early on when he didn't submit his own health-care bill — one that could've and should've been based on the bill he described when was running for president — but rather let such self-dealing Democrats as Max Baucus and Ben Nelson write it for him. And take a year doing it.
Meanwhile, the Republicans needed only to say to THEIR constituents: "The thing is 2,000 pages long. It doesn't take 2,000 pages to tell insurance companies that they can't turn away applicants because of pre-existing conditions and must let parents keep their kids on to age 26."
Bottom line: Folks watched how the Democrats dealt with that issue and they were horrified at what a mess the Democratic Party's become.
Obama's been criticized for being too liberal. I don't think he was liberal enough. What I think is that he missed his chance to pass a real (liberal) health care reform bill in a month, using budget reconciliation, with a public option as the centerpiece of a bill that should not have been more than 50 pages long. Pass the economic stimulus package first, pass health care reform in a month, and then move on to the next thing, and then the next thing, and don't forget to go on TV and explain what you're doing to your own 10 million supporters who were ready to go to war with you if only you'd let them.
Easy to second-guess, but does anyone remember Obama on a automobile factory floor pitching in alongside the union members whose jobs he protected by bailing out the auto industry? He probably did some such thing, but the only image I have in mind is of guys in suits — investment bankers and overpaid executives — in hush-hush meetings. Meetings that were explained to us not by a president determined to stand with the workers, but by Larry Summers and Tim Geithner and other Wall Street types who've never worked a dirty job in their lives.
Oh, and just to pile on, whatever happened to the idea that Obama supported and Hillary Clinton supported and forgive my bringing him up but John Edwards also supported — that the way to pay for health care reform was a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans? It surpasses belief, but two years into the Obama Administration, not only are those Bush tax cuts for the rich intact but they've never been put to a vote, or even to a determined effort by the President to get rid of them to reduce the deficit.
Not to mention immigration reform, DADT, EFCA and all the other ways Obama failed to follow through on the campaign promises that stitched his victorious Democratic constituency together.
No, I'm afraid what Obama's been is too cautious and too anxious to slap a temporary patch on every problem, but only after the patch is devised and handed to him by corporate interests, Wall Street bankers and the right-wing Democratic legislators who love them — or love their money.
Remember my premise: People don't assume that government is on their side; in fact, they assume — often rightly — that it's on the side of the rich and special interests. You can persuade them that you're bending it to their purposes, but only if: (1) you actually are, and (2) you're careful to bring folks along, step by step, as you bend it.
On the big issue of his first two years, Obama's health-care bill took too much time, filled up too many pages with unnecessary details, and left people wondering whether it was a good thing or not. And when I say people, I mean people like me who voted for Obama and support Obama.
On the other issues, the economy especially, Obama didn't explain, so the Republicans explained for him.
Their explanation: Obama is pissing our money down the drain.
Gee, you thought they'd tell the truth?
So what now? Obama will be re-elected in two years as the economy pulls slowly out of recession and unemployment drops to 7 percent, which is the new 5 percent in an era of globalization and outsourcing. No American politician is making a serious plans to restore full employment to the United States. Should they? Absolutely. Will they? Not until there's a third-party populist candidate who gets it that Americans want their jobs back and want corporate profits taxed to the max unless the money is invested in U.S. factories.
Or if the economy slips back into recession, Obama will not be re-elected. Is there enough stimulus baked into the U.S. economy already to avoid that happening? Paul Krugman says no, there isn't. I dunno; seems like we've put enough $$$ in to stave off recession for a few more years, albeit not enough to avoid a repeat of the jobless recovery that marked the George W. years from 2001-2007.
Either way, however, we are in for a repeat of the Bill Clinton presidency, when a failure of Democratic opportunity in the first two years ('93-94) led to steady gains by the Republican Party in Congress, in state governorships and in the state legislatures. Clinton was re-elected, but he was thereafter captive to Republican policies, and the Democratic Party faded over the last four years of his presidency and the first six years of George W.'s. So, too, did such staples of Democratic thinking as progressive taxation, environmental stewardship, investments in infrastructure, fair trade, labor rights, women's rights, civil rights, and one more thing: Being frugal with the taxpayers' money.
Only when a serious recession struck — with Bush still in the White House — were voters persuaded that it was time to give the Democrats another chance, which they did in '08 but now are disinclined to extend.
For the next two years, Obama will be captive to Republican policies he didn't work smart enough to get rid of when the getting rid of was good (e.g., tax cuts for the rich, free trade with China).
Only when there's another serious recession that hits while a Republican is in the White House will Democrats get another chance like they had after '08.
Am I being too gloomy?
Sure, about half of Obama's '08 constituency stayed home yesterday; and sure, many of them will return to the polls for the next presidential election. But they will return, I fear, just as unexcited about the prospects of real progressive reforms as Clinton's re-election voters were in '96. Unexcited, or else convinced by the Republican/Big Money rhetoric that progressive policies can never work and that Obama's first two years are the evidence that they can't — even though Obama's first two years were marked by a failure to try them.
Update: Republicans swept the four Wake County Commissioners races and they added one legislative district to their side of the ledger. Overall, however, Democrats won 5 House seats in Wake to the Republicans' 4; the two parties split the four Wake seats in the state Senate 2-2.
Update 2: Republicans may also have picked off one of the three Democratic congressmen with parts of Wake County in their districts. District 4 Democrat David Price and District 13 Democrat Brad Miler won easily — albeit with reduced margins from '08 — over Republican opponents B. J. Lawson and Bill Randall, respectively. Price won about 57 percent of the votes in his district, Miller about 55 percent. But in District 2, Democratic incumbent Bob Etheridge was trailing Republican Renee Ellmers by about 2,100 votes, or less than 1 percent, with almost all of the votes counted. District 2 takes in part of Southeast Raleigh and South Wake County but is mainly a rural district to the south and west of Wake County. Etheridge's embarrassing behavior when confronted last summer in Washington by two GOP operatives wielding a TV camera obviously hurt him, as did the conservative makeup of his district in a year when conservatives were surging.
Earlier (see below the fold) I related how Barack Obama carried Wake County by 64,000 votes in '08. But that was with a 75 percent voter turnout — a total of 444,000 votes. The '10 totals: 47 percent turnout, 278,000 votes. Much smaller turnout, and it killed the Democrats.
Consider: Sen. Richard Burr, an easy winner statewide, carried Wake by just 3,000 votes, or a margin of about 1 percent. Burr received 135,000 votes. In the county commissioners races, the Republican vote totals ranged from 136,000 (Phil Matthews) to 144,000 (Joe Bryan). The Democratic candidates ranged from 132,000 votes (Lindy Brown, who lost to Matthews) down to 125,000 (Don Mial, who lost to Bryan).
In other words, the Senate result was a narrow win for Burr, and the four Republican candidates at the county level did about the same as Burr or slightly better: All four won, but none of the four won easily.
In legislative races, only one seat turned over. Democratic Rep. Chris Heagarty, who was appointed to fill the vacancy in House District 41 caused by Ty Harrell's resignation, was unseated by Republican Tom Murry 54-46 percent. The Heagarty-Murry race was targeted by the GOP, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on negative mailers and ads attacking Heagarty. One Republican mailed depicted Heagarty in a sombrero calling for higher taxes in Spanish. No, really.
Otherwise, Democratic Reps. Rosa Gill, Grier Martin, Jennifer Weiss, Deborah Ross and Darren Jackson were all re-elected with relative ease, as were Republican Reps. Nelson Dollar, Paul Stam and Marilyn Avila.
Sens. Dan Blue and Josh Stein, both D-Wake, and Neal Hunt and Richard Stevens, both R-Wake, all were re-elected by comfortable margins.
Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison was re-elected by a 2-1 margin. Wake D.A. Colin Willoughby won unopposed. In a close race, Wake Clerk of Court Lorrin Freeman held her post against a challenge by former court clerk Janet Pueschel.
The Wake Commissioners results look like voters did not treat the elections as a referendum on the policies of the GOP-controlled school board. Or if they did treat it that way, all the Burr voters liked what the school board's doing and all the Marshall voters didn't — because there wasn't much different between the outcome of the Senate race and those in the four county races.
Nonetheless, the new 4-3 Republican majority on the commissioners board means it will be no check on the school board's efforts to refashion assignment policies in Wake. No check, that is, except that the notoriously stingy GOP is unlikely to want to shell out any extra money for the schools — as the "neighborhood schools" policies espoused by the school board would seem to necessitate.
At the state level, Republicans took control of the Senate by a 31-19 margin by my count, and will control the House by 68-52 pending any overnights shifts. That means two things, fundamentally:
* Republicans will write the next state budget, and they are likely to slash away at state aid to schools and municipalities to overcome a reported $3 billion-plus budget gap taking shape for 2011.
* Republicans will control the legislative redistricting process, putting them in a position to maximize the number of seats their party controls in the Senate and the House for the next decade. In an election in which each party gets 50 percent of the votes, for example, clever gerrymandering of the districts can result in one party winning 55-60 percent of the seats with their half of the vote while the other party gets just 40-45 percent of the seats with their half.
When Republicans control redistricting, they generally start by packing as many African-American voters into as few districts as possible, creating a few majority-black districts with overwhelming Democratic majorities that are surrounded, however, by a lot of Republican districts in which the GOP has solid, but not overwhelming (i.e., not wasteful) majorities. Off last night's results in Wake, for example, I can imagine a Republican redistricting plan that would turn the 5-4 Democratic edge in House seats into a 5-4 or 6-3 Republican edge — without a single additional Republican vote being cast.
In that vein, Democrats were bemoaning their loss in the state Supreme Court election. Nominally nonpartisan, the election was between Democrat Bob Hunter and Republican Barbara Jackson. Jackson's narrow victory, more than one Democrat said to me, virtually eliminates the chance that the court would block an extreme GOP gerrymandering scheme on constitutional grounds.
I've moved my earlier post below the fold.