Christensen: The silly season in NC politics

rchristensen@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2013 

This is the silly season in politics and government. The legislature is not coming back until May, the campaign season is not yet in full bloom, and Gov. Pat McCrory is going across the state trying to mend his image.

So little things get blown up into big things. Consider:

PROXY WAR I: It is the Koch Brothers versus U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. It is nearly a year before voters go to the polls to decide whether to re-elect Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. But that has not stopped outside groups from running anti- and pro-Hagan ads. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group founded by industrialists Charles and David Koch, have run at least $2.3 million in TV ads critical of Hagan, mainly tying her to President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation.

In recent days, the Senate Majority PAC, tied to Reid, the Senate Majority leader, has come back with a $750,000 TV buy to defend Hagan and to make a few criticisms of one of her opponents, Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

PROXY WAR II: It is six months before the May GOP Senate primary, but the big boys are already lining up. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Karl Rove, the chief strategist for former President George W. Bush, are raising money for Tillis, who is being touted as the business-friendly candidate. Kentucky Sen. Paul Rand, the favorite of libertarians, has endorsed Greg Brannon, a Cary physician. Both Brannon and Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor, are courting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the tea party favorite.

COFFEE WARS: The McCrory administration has sided with Outer Banks residents who want to replace the Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet.

But the bridge is opposed by environmental groups, particularly the Southern Environmental Defense Fund, which wants a much longer, and far more expensive bridge, which it says would be less damaging to the environment.

N.C. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata got the ball rolling by declaring, “Those ivory-tower elitists file their lawsuits from their air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill. And they do so with their lattes and their contempt and chuckle while the good people of the Outer Banks are fighting hard to scratch out a living here based on tourism and based on access.”

Derb Carter, who heads the Southern Environmental Defense Fund’s Chapel Hill office, said he drank his coffee black. Then, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis went after Rick Middleton, the executive director and founder of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, Va., noting that he receives a total compensation package of $343,257, while the annual median wage of a Dare County resident was $27,395.

Who knew that Berger and Tillis were such class warriors, sticking up for the little guy against the rich? We certainly didn’t see that side of them earlier this year when they they cut unemployment benefits to their shortest period since 1951, or ended the inheritance tax – which was only in existence for people with estates worth $5 million or more – or lowered the corporate income tax, or cut the top rate of the income tax.

WAR ON WOMEN: Usually it’s Democrats who are declaring that Republicans are waging war on women – restricting abortions, requiring vaginal wands and such.

But earlier this month, it was Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers who declared in a nationally televised radio address – the GOP response to the president’s speech – that the president’s health care overhaul was a war on women.

“If you want to talk about a ‘war on women,’ look no further than their (Democrats’) health care law,” said Ellmers, who is chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee. She said women often make health care decisions, “so by canceling your insurance – despite a promise to let you keep your plan – the Obama administration is essentially saying it knows what’s best for you and your family.”

Democrats were quick to note that the health care law prevents insurers from charging women higher premiums for comparable coverage, covers procedures such as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings as preventable care, and expands access to contraception without a co-pay.

THE WAR ON ART POPE: The state NAACP has been picketing the chain of discount stores owned by Art Pope, McCrory’s budget director, who is also a major GOP donor, and who has financed a number of conservative think tanks and other organizations.

The NAACP is not picketing because Pope discriminates. In fact, Pope says 44 percent of his employees are African-American and 37 percent of his managers are black. Many of his stores are in minority neighborhoods. From what I know, they are low-wage, low-benefits jobs. But they are also stepping stones for people who need work in neighborhoods that need jobs. You can debate that either way.

They are picketing because Pope presents an easy target. McCrory, Tillis and Berger don’t own any stores.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or

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