Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge will take office today as director of the state Office of Economic Recovery and Investment, overseeing the spending of federal stimulus money.
Etheridge replaces Dempsey Benton, who stepped down after leading the office for more than a year and a half.
Etheridge, 69, was defeated for re-election in November by Republican Renee Ellmers. He is a former superintendent of public instruction and a former legislator.
"As former congressman, Bob Etheridge knows how important it is to continue to create jobs and provide important services around the state," Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue said in a statement.
"It is vitally important to continue to manage North Carolina Recovery funds responsibly and provide oversight as projects unfold, with an eye on the state's best use of recovery dollars in the coming months."
The state has received more than $10.5 billion in federal stimulus money. Nearly 80 percent has been disbursed. The money will continue to flow through at least 2012.
Etheridge will earn $98,500 a year.
Chance changes things
Former House Speaker Richard Morgan was an ardent opponent of a North Carolina lottery - or he was until a few days ago, when his wife, Cindy, won $10,000 on a scratch-off game.
"I didn't vote for it," said Morgan, a Moore County Republican. "I did everything I could to stop it. It didn't pass while I was in office."
Apparently, he didn't have as much sway over his wife. She played one of the state's new games in which the ultimate winner takes home $200,000 a year for life. She won $10,000, which was one of the lesser prizes, and called her husband with the news.
"I said, 'Get out of here,' " Morgan said.
Asked if his wife's luck had changed his view of the lottery, Morgan quipped, "I always thought it a good deal."
Into the fray
The state House will take up its health care exemption bill, HB 2, today. The bill would exempt North Carolinians from being required to buy health care insurance, a mandate in the health care bill that Congress passed last year.
The state House session begins at 2 p.m.
Speaker Thom Tillis said debate on the bill will run as long as is needed.
The bill is one of the first efforts by the new Republican majority, and Democrats complained this week that it shouldn't be taken up given a projected budget shortfall in the billions and relatively high unemployment statewide.
Recent polls by conservative and liberal groups suggest that a majority of North Carolinians want the health care bill repealed, at least in part.
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