Under the Dome

State official sent to Oregon meeting for $1,000

August 4, 2009 

Despite budget cuts that restrict travel, the state Department of Commerce spent about $1,000 to send its assistant secretary for tourism to Oregon for a national conference.

Assistant Secretary Lynn Minges attended a meeting of the U.S. Travel Association's board of directors. The conference, which ran from July 22 through July 26, brought together government and private industry representatives to talk about policies such as cooperative marketing.

"We have, like every other department, certainly curtailed our travel spending," said Kathy Neal, the commerce department's assistant secretary for communications and external affairs. "This was one time where the opportunity to work in person would really determine the success of the meeting."

Neal said the conference was an opportunity to work with other tourism groups to find ways to spend advertising dollars more efficiently for one of the state's largest industries.

"We really want to be in on the ground floor for these discussions about how we can best leverage advertising and business expenses," she said.

Wellness coordinator hired

Between June 30 and July 24, when one hiring freeze ended and another began, the Office of State Personnel hired a statewide wellness coordinator.

The coordinator, who starts work later this month, will be responsible for organizing wellness programs for state employees and educating them on good health practices. The person's salary will be between $53,248 and $72,000. The actual salary is not a matter of public record until the coordinator starts work.

Representatives from the personnel office said it is an important job and said an economic recession is a time when people should worry about health.

"This is a very critical position at an important time for the state, with budget cuts and potential reductions in the work force," said Margaret Jordan, the office's public information officer. "People are under a lot of high stress."

Jordan said the new position also will help state employees deal with changes in the state health plan designed to encourage people to smoke less and lose weight.

Burr builds war chest

Sen. Richard Burr is building up a sizable campaign kitty as he prepares for his re-election bid next year.

The Winston-Salem Republican had $2.5 million on hand at the end of June, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission.

He raised $1.8 million during the first six months. The rest of the money was carried over from the previous year.

He is raising money at about the same pace as he did during his 2004 campaign, in which he defeated Democrat Erskine Bowles.

Burr is strongly supported by the business community, especially the health care, pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Sitting on top of a pile

If money is the mother's milk of politics, then Congress members Health Shuler, a Democrat, and Virginia Foxx, a Republican, are well provisioned at the moment among the North Carolina delegation.

Both have more than $1 million in their campaign war chests as of June 30, according to campaign reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

Shuler, a Bryson City Democrat whose name had been bandied about as a potential U.S. Senate candidate, had $1.1 million. Foxx, a Republican from Banner Elk had $1,006,121.

The middleweights in campaign war chests were Democrat Bob Etheridge of Lillington ($895,137), Democrat Mike McIntyre of Lumberton ($696,540), Republican Howard Coble of Greensboro ($505,759), Democrat David Price of Chapel Hill ($271,619), Democrat G.K. Butterfield of Wilson ($225,204), Democrat Larry Kissell of Bisco ($214,051) and Republican Sue Myrick of Charlotte ($160,751).

The light wallet crowd included Democrat Mel Watt of Charlotte ($123,767), Republican Patrick McHenry of Cherryville ($119,270), Republican Walter Jones of Farmville ($85,424) and Democrat Brad Miller of Raleigh ($70,654).

In fundraising over the past three months, the big three are Etheridge ($326,561), Kissell ($322,631) and Shuler ($314,753).

By staff writers Kevin Kiley and Rob Christensen.

kkiley@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4841

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