Under the Dome

Council of State has some giggles on way out

January 7, 2009 

Several of the state's top elected officials took advantage of their last Council of State meeting to poke lighthearted fun at one another.

The Council of State is a panel of the governor and nine other elected executive branch officials. Four current members -- Gov. Mike Easley, State Treasurer Richard Moore, State Auditor Les Merritt and Insurance Commissioner Jim Long -- will not be returning.

Here are some parting shots from Tuesday's meeting:

Moore, who oversees the state pension plan, to the departing Easley: "Governor, when your retirement check is late, don't call me."

Long, who many times complained about the shortage of parking for state employees: "I'd like to announce my new career. I'm a parking lot attendant for the state of North Carolina."

Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, whose photo appears on the certificate of operation for elevators in the state: "We're not going to have Mike Easley to kick around anymore."

Easley, to Gov.-elect Beverly Perdue: "The good news for Governor Perdue is every day when you get on the elevator in the mansion, you get to see Cherie Berry's photo."

The official balls

OK, so you didn't get tickets to the North Carolina Society's unofficial Inaugural Ball for Jan. 19, but you've got a fabulous dress to wear.

On Tuesday, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden announced a few official balls for Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

If you're part of the Internet generation, consider the Youth Ball for ages 18-35 at the Washington Hilton hotel. Tickets are $75.

If you're enlisted active-duty or reserve military, you could go to the Commander in Chief's ball at the National Building Museum.

Obama and Biden are hosting eight regional inaugural balls, most of them in various spots within the Washington Convention Center. North Carolina joins 10 other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Tickets are $150.

How do you buy those tickets?

Well, if you have to ask, you're not on the list. Tickets to the official balls are for invited guests only.

Democrats' leadership

Former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal may run for state Democratic Party chairman.

Neal, a Chapel Hill businessman, said he initially rejected the idea but has received much more encouragement in recent days.

"I want to talk to some more people," he said. "I want to make sure there is widespread support for the notion. I think it could be fun and a real challenge."

The state Democratic Executive Committee is scheduled to meet Jan. 31 in Raleigh to pick a replacement for Jerry Meek, who is stepping down after two terms.

A number of Democrats are either running for chairman or thinking about it. They include Dannie Montgomery of Anson County, the state party's first vice chairman; David Parker of Statesville, a Democratic National Committee member; Richard Sullivan of Raleigh, a former finance director for the Democratic National Committee; and Luke Hyde, the 11th congressional district Democratic chair.

Less pay for Kissell

Democrat Larry Kissell ran his congressional campaign last year against Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, a multimillionaire, with this subplot: the common man versus the plutocrat.

With Kissell taking office representing the 8th House District, his first act is a pledge not to keep the automatic $4,700 cost-of-living pay increase for members of Congress that went into effect in December.

Kissell has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill offered by Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas that would revoke the cost of living increase.

"During these difficult economic times, it just isn't right for Congress to give itself a pay increase while so many people are struggling to make ends meet and so many others are out of work altogether," said Kissell, a former high school social studies teacher.

mjohnson@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-4774

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