Blunt NC political memo gives GOP an opening
RALEIGH (AP) — To politicos, the most intriguing document coming out of Raleigh this year hasn’t been Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s first State of the State address or a tax reform proposal some in the GOP-led General Assembly like.
Rather, it was a document written for liberal-leaning groups brainstorming how to fight back against McCrory and legislative leaders during the next two years, stop their policies and sway public opinion. The result ultimately would get their allies — the Democrats — back into power.
Such strategy memos aren’t unusual in political circles, with consultants on both sides of the aisle routinely evaluating a politician or party’s strengths and weaknesses. But the language in the draft memo, obtained by reporters recently and later attributed to the state affiliate of a national political nonprofit group called America Votes, surprised many for its bluntness.
The document suggested mitigating Republican legislation most effectively by weakening “our opponents’ ability to govern by crippling their leaders,” naming McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger, in part through research, organizing and capitalizing on GOP political tensions.
Progressives, according to the draft memo also obtained by The Associated Press, should seek to “eviscerate the leadership.” The memo also said “McCrory is extremely thin-skinned,” opposition groups should consider taking video to “follow the targets’ every move” and even hire private investigators, presumably to uncover dirt.
The document’s author, Jessica Laurenz, said her group has no plans to hire private eyes, but she defended her group’s right to fight against conservative policies. The organization also falls under a portion of the Internal Revenue Code that allows it to participate directly in political races.
“Many people strongly disagree with Gov. McCrory’s vision for the state of North Carolina and will aggressively fight it,” Laurenz wrote in an email. “That’s why I drafted the memo and I stand by it.”
The memo’s disclosure couldn’t have come at a better time for GOP leaders and McCrory, who had been taking hits for weeks from similar liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers. The opposition had been criticizing Republicans for passing bills that would cut future unemployment benefits and decline to expand Medicaid to more people, accusing them of not caring about the poor.
The memo helped McCrory and legislative Republicans change the narrative — to one of liberal groups conspiring to attack elected leaders personally instead of coming to the table to fix the state’s problems together.
“It provided for a soft landing for the Republicans,” said Brad Crone, a longtime Democratic political consultant. McCrory complained during the 2012 campaign that opponents were attacking him personally. Now he was able to say he had more proof.
“I’m not going to let a few foolish, and I think irresponsible political organizations impact the way I govern,” McCrory said at a news conference last week. “When you have independent groups that are talking about hiring private investigators, who are talking about eviscerating people — that makes it very difficult for me to convince young people to get involved in public service.”
The memo’s contents threaten to have longer effects upon those deemed guilty by association with the memo.
America Votes lists on its website more than a dozen groups considered members of the group’s North Carolina coalition — unions, a trial lawyers’ group and abortion-rights activists among them — that work to elect “progressive candidates.”
Laurenz said the draft memo was presented in December at a meeting with Blueprint NC, an umbrella group for many public policy groups that also lobby the General Assembly. The head of Blueprint NC has told other media outlets it had nothing to do with the memo, which Laurenz said wasn’t endorsed at the meeting.
Some Republicans say what little trust they had with many liberal-leaning groups when they try to persuade them on legislation is now gone because of the memo. “To me they lost all credibility,” said Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie.
Democrats and some of the member groups for America Votes have tried to distance themselves from the memo. Several organizations that form the North Carolina coalition of America Votes didn’t respond to emails or declined to comment about the memo.
Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of Educators — a coalition member — said the state’s largest teacher lobbying group doesn’t want to be a “part of anything that tears anyone down.” Historically, the NCAE’s political arm has leaned Democratic but has been trying to work with Republicans after a rocky start with GOP legislators in 2011.
“What we’re about is actually engaging people on ideas,” state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said. “That’s why you’re not going to hear me make personal attacks.”
Crone, the Democratic consultant, said it was a mistake for America Votes to be so frank in writing. He recalled 30 years ago when an adviser to then-Gov. Jim Hunt told the governor in writing to “welcome a good disaster” in his final year in office as a way to reduce his political vulnerabilities. The document got statewide attention.
“Never put down on paper what you don’t want to see in a headline in the state papers,” Crone said.