Wednesday, July 9, 2008

NCGOP E-Letter - July 9, 2008

Jesse Helms

Dunn Daily Record
July 7, 2008

Unlike so many in politics, Jesse Helms understood the responsibility that comes with public office. He therefore refused to compromise on matters of principal.

He wasn't about to waste an opportunity to fight for individual liberty and a smaller, less intrusive federal government. And he took every opportunity to extend freedom to those in other parts of the world.

It's more than a little ironic that many lesser men in politics have bent with the ebb and flow of public opinion, only to lose the next election. Sen. Helms, on the other hand, ignored the pollsters yet never lost at the polls.

Calling Sen. Helms a patriot is not an overstatement. So it is fitting that he died on the Fourth of July….

It's sad to lose a tenacious leader who had the courage to stand alone, if need be, on important issues. It's also sad to lose such a gentle, sweet man. Of course, major news outlets often portrayed the former while ignoring the latter. But even those who bitterly disagreed with Sen. Helms' positions would acknowledge his kindness.

The late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, a champion of the far left, once said of Sen. Helms, "I think one of the ways you judge a person is just the way you watch them treat people ... I don't think there is anybody in the Senate who treats them (pages and support staff) with more grace and is kinder and more appreciative."

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, once said Sen. Helms "was the kindest, most infuriating, politest, most aggravating and nicest politician I had to deal with in the United States Senate."…

Sen. Helms also used his influence to increase funding to fight AIDS around the world, an issue with which he worked with rock superstar Bono. "[W]ithout his taking a stance on AIDS," Bono said, "We would have lost a lot more lives."

In 1976 Sen. Helms resurrected the political career of Ronald Reagan, who had lost a succession of Republican presidential primaries. Gov. Reagan's North Carolina victory that year kept him alive as a national player, enabling him to run again - and win - in 1980. Many political observers agree that without Jesse Helms there would have been no President Reagan. And President Reagan, of course, played a pivotal role in the fall of the Soviet Union.

It's hard to imagine how different the world would be today if it were not for Jesse Helms; we do know America lost a great leader in his death. And we know our republic would benefit if more of our leaders exhibited his kind of fortitude.

Click here for the full editorial…

At rest, Helms stirs a crowd
Conservative icon draws humble, grateful -- and surprising -- loyalists

By Jay Price
The News & Observer
July 8, 2008

RALEIGH - Jerry Musselwhite wanted to make sure he saw Jesse Helms one last time. So Musselwhite left his home in Lumberton at 6 a.m. Monday for Raleigh, where the former U.S. senator was to lie in repose after dying July 4.

The doors at Hayes Barton Baptist Church weren't open when Musselwhite arrived, so he sat on a low wall for a breakfast of Mountain Dew and a cigarette.

"I just wanted to come to show how I respected the man," Musselwhite, 60, said as he waited. "He might have stepped on some toes, but when Jesse Helms spoke, it carried the truth."

Helms' funeral today, also at Hayes Barton Baptist Church, is expected to draw prominent political figures from North Carolina and elsewhere. Monday was largely for folks like Musselwhite, who showed up in jeans and an N.C. State University baseball cap.

Musselwhite had left his home early in case the crowd was large. It wasn't -- Helms has been out of the public eye for years, after all -- and only about 35 people were waiting when the doors opened. Jeans seemed to outnumber neckties early in the day as a slow but steady trickle of people filed past the flag-covered coffin, which was flanked by two N.C. Highway Patrol troopers in dress uniform and an oil painting of Helms seated at a desk with a sheaf of papers in his hand.

The pace picked up later in the day, when Helms' family welcomed visitors, and more formal dress became the norm. By the end of the evening, hundreds of people had paid their respects….

Many who did talk to journalists said they knew Helms or at least had met him, and offered stories about his good manners or something he had done for them. Most offered some variation on the same theme: You knew where Helms stood because he had the courage to say exactly what he thought.

Many also hastened to add the caveat that they didn't agree with Helms on everything, such as his steadfast opposition to the civil rights and gay rights movements.

Lilly Rose DeVee, 62, said she knew Helms for years when she worked in the art department at WRAL-TV, where Helms read an editorial after the newscast from 1960 to 1972. DeVee described herself as a liberal Democrat and said she disagreed with Helms about social issues.

But she said she admired Helms and learned a lesson from him.

"Jesse Helms taught me something important, and that is to be yourself, to say what you mean, mean what you say and stand behind it," she said….

Former Wake County commissioners Chairman Gary Pendleton came to the church with five members of the staff from his insurance and financial planning office. He recalled when he was in his early 20s going down to the Wake County Board of Elections with Helms and a group of about a dozen other disgruntled Democrats, and switching their affiliation to the GOP.

It was a bold move at a time when Democrats greatly outnumbered Republicans, and a crucial step in Helms' rise to national and international prominence. But it also turned out to be a pivotal moment for Raleigh and Wake County.

Pendleton went on to work full time for Helms' 1972 Senate campaign, and those Helms also took under his wing included Tom Fetzer and Helms' nephew, Paul Coble. Fetzer and Coble both went on to win terms as mayor of Raleigh, and Pendleton was the second Republican elected since Reconstruction to the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

None of the trio, who jokingly call themselves "The Three Amigos," ever would have run for office without Helms' tutelage, Pendleton said.

"He molded us to stand firm, to not pay attention to polls and do what you think is right," Pendleton said….

Click here for the full article…

State budget includes big debt
Rise in spending is reduced, compared with past 2 years

The Associated Press
July 8, 2008

The General Assembly tentatively approved last night a nearly $21.4 billion final budget bill for the new fiscal year, a plan that slows down the recent rapid rise in spending but provides a hefty IOU in the form of $857 million in debt.

The bill is the result of two weeks of intense negotiations between House and Senate Democrats. It increases spending by 3.4 percent, or $698 million, compared with more than 9 percent growth in each of the previous two years.

The relatively small increase results from a slowing economy that provided a meager surplus for the year ending June 30 and required legislators to make some last-minute changes to try to satisfy fellow Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.

"Not everybody gets what they want, but I believe this is a very good budget for the state of North Carolina," said Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth, a chief budget-writer, before the Senate gave it initial approval by a vote of 34-16.

The Senate and the House, which minutes later approved the spending plan 97-21, were scheduled to cast the second of two required votes today. Easley will be asked to sign the bill into law….

But some Republicans complained that the budget still spends too much in uncertain economic times and borrows too much without requiring statewide voter approval. And they warned that the budget would require higher taxes to pay for the debt in the future.

"I think given the economic times that we've got, it would be much more prudent for us to look at our situation realistically," Sen.Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, the minority leader, said during the Senate debate….

Easley was worried that there wasn't enough revenue after tax collections missed estimates by $63 million total in May and June, forcing some last-minute spending reductions. Easley, who has never vetoed a budget bill, is in his final year in office.

"The overcollections were not what we expected them to be," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, the chief House negotiator.

Easley however, failed to get all he wanted for his signature. …

The bill also permits the state to borrow $857 million over the next four years to build 1,500 additional prison beds, university and state buildings -- even renovating the polar-bear exhibit at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro.

Democratic leaders say that the borrowing -- the most authorized by the legislature in a single year in recent memory and more than either the Senate or House budget proposals offered -- could generate 20,000 jobs in the state during a tough economy. They also say it remains within the level of borrowing that State Treasurer Richard Moore says is reasonable….

Click here for the full article…

Easley's last year in office: a long rough patch

By Gary D. Robertson
Charlotte Observer
July 6, 2008

Gov. Mike Easley spent his first year in office helping the state climb out of a fiscal crisis.

In his final year, Easley seems to be spending as much time trying to defend himself from public controversy as keeping the state out of another budget shortfall.

"I've referred to it as the quack of the lame duck," joked Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

For his role in mental health reform, destroyed e-mails and expensive taxpayer-funded overseas trips, Easley has been accused of bad judgment, shifting blame, or tone-deafness to the problems of every day residents.

"It is easy to make fun of people when you are trying to do the right things," Easley said in a television interview last week with WRAL-TV. "It is easy to tell half the story. It's easy to demagogue."

His popular achievements as governor - such as More at Four, the state lottery and alternative high schools - may be overshadowed as he leaves the Executive Mansion in January if the dustups continue. Controversy also gives the Republican Party verbal ammunition in the November election that Democrats are out of touch with the average citizen.

"He's having a bad last year," said Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic consultant to past clients such as then-Gov. Jim Hunt and Sen. John Edwards. "They say first impressions count, but when you're going out of office, last impressions can last a long time."

The most recent predicaments surfaced after The News & Observer of Raleigh reported six-figure expenses for business recruiting and cultural exchange trips to Europe led by Easley or his wife, Mary. He's also had to defend his wife's $80,000 pay increase at N.C. State University, where she is taking on expanded duties….

Easley took heat earlier this year for failing to get out in front of fixing a state mental health system whose 2001 reforms worsened treatment in some areas and may have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on unnecessary, overpriced care.

In March, Easley ultimately shared some of the blame, but not before he or his staff ordered the firing of Debbie Crane, the spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. Then Crane alleged Easley's press office directed public relations workers at cabinet-level agencies to delete e-mails sent to and from the governor's office.

Several media outlets ultimately sued him, alleging his administration and he personally violated the state's public records laws. Easley has said nothing unlawful was done.

Even at the Legislature, where he has historically enjoyed success, relations with the Democratic leadership have been strained this year.

Lawmakers refused to give average 7 percent raises to public school teachers because he wanted to raise taxes to do it. And then he criticized Democrats for spending too much and offering too many tax breaks in the budget during uncertain economic times.

"His rhetoric wasn't very helpful," said House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, "but we tried to listen to the substance."

Despite Easley's rough patch, Blue believes Easley's legacy will depend on whether he his education initiatives worked, not whether he got along with lawmakers or the media.

"At the end of the day against a long line of history, he'll be judged whether he responsibly managed the state's resources," Blue added.

Click here for the full article…

Charlotte does not have 'highest tax rate'

The Charlotte Observer
July 3, 2008

“Pat McCrory is trying to have it both ways,” said Jerry Meek, a Fayetteville lawyer who chairs the N.C. Democratic Party. “His city has had the highest tax rate in the state for seven years running and now McCrory wants to be a fiscal conservative. That's like drinking Slimfast and eating ribs.”

Spiffy quote. Wrong information.

Here are the facts.

Mr. Meek quotes a John Locke Foundation study that did say, “Charlotte continues to top the list of cities with the highest local government costs in North Carolina, according to a new report from the Raleigh-based Center for Local Innovation.”

But Mr. Meek apparently failed to look beyond the quote. The report reaches that conclusion by combining city and county taxes. Mecklenburg County's tax rate is relatively high, for reasons we'll address in a minute. Charlotte's isn't.

The property tax is the main revenue source for N.C. cities. In 2007-08, Charlotte's property tax rate was .4586 cent per $100 property valuation. That's lower than the rate in, for instance, Mr. Meek's Fayetteville (.5300). It's also lower than the rates in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham, Greenville, Salisbury, Hickory, Chapel Hill and Rockingham, to cite a few.

Charlotte raised its property tax rate only once in the past decade. Mayor McCrory vetoed the increase, but City Council's Democrats overrode his veto….

Mecklenburg County is about to spend more than $300 million to build a new jail. One reason is that the present one is packed with prisoners awaiting trial. The state provides too few prosecutors and courts to handle the caseload.

The state is responsible for teacher pay, but its one-size-fits-all salaries are too low to attract and keep good teachers in Mecklenburg County. So the county has spent millions to supplement the state's funding.

A “fiscal conservative,” to use Mr. Meek's term, knows there's nothing conservative about neglecting community needs. Our city and county – and many others across this state – have raised the money to meet local needs.

The state, by contrast, has inadequately funded courts, highways and teacher salaries. That's neither liberal nor conservative. It's irresponsible.

Click here for the full editorial…

North Carolina’s Families Demand Action

Press Release
Senator Phil Berger and Representative Paul Stam
July 3, 2008

With record high gas prices continuing to climb, the Republican Senate Caucus today sent letters containing an outline of a plan to increase domestic oil production. The proposal also calls for a long-range policy designed to provide for future energy needs and development of the next generation of power resources. Letters were sent to the North Carolina Congressional Delegation, President Bush, and presumptive presidential candidates Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama. Senate Republicans called for action by the Federal Government on issues including drilling in ANWR and exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas off the coast of North Carolina along the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), 45 to 100 miles offshore. The proposal, if adopted, should lower fuel prices in the short term and will implement a long-range plan for energy independence.

Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said, “North Carolina's people, especially our working families, are seeing their economic security and stability threatened by high fuel prices. Those high prices and the domino effect on the cost of food and other necessities, demand the immediate and full attention of all elected officials in North Carolina and beyond. Thus far, calls for help have fallen on deaf ears as Democrats, in control of Congress at the Federal level and entrenched in power in North Carolina’s Legislature, ignore obvious steps to deal with the growing problem.

“Dependence on foreign sources of energy, especially oil, exposes our country and our economy to great risk as we have seen all too clearly in the last year. We cannot afford oil and energy dependency that leaves us this susceptible to economic harm. By supporting domestic exploration and drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and elsewhere, we will see additional supplies become available, reduce upward price pressures, and lessen our dependence on foreign supplies. The law of supply and demand teaches us an increasing supply of oil in the market will cause prices to fall. Once oil producing countries see us take these steps toward self-sufficiency in energy, much of the current speculation on future prices will lose its attraction as there will be a substantial risk of downward price movement. This is the only plan that will work and will do so quickly.

“For North Carolina, as a coastal state, deep sea oil exploration and drilling on the outer continental shelf has the additional prospect of bringing new jobs and industry. For years, we have seen various government plans to create a thriving, sustained economy in the eastern part of our state; this plan will make those dreams a reality without costing the state treasury millions of dollars for risky incentive- laden gambles. The leasing of exploration and drilling rights will actually bring money into our state’s coffers. And with available modern technology, oil exploration is environmentally safe and provides new and significant benefits to coastal marine assets. Lease proceeds could be used, in part, to help fund significant initiatives for wetlands and estuary restoration. Every North Carolinian wins by adoption of this approach.”

Senator Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), an advocate of immediate OCS exploration and a signer of the policy statement, said, "The people of North Carolina, facing the negative consequences of the energy crisis, expect their elected officials to lead, follow or get out of the way. Our Federal Delegation should step up and support North Carolina’s working families by implementing these recommended policies to immediately lower oil and gas prices and promote the development of alternative energy technology, long-term energy independence and economic prosperity for all North Carolinians."