Under the Dome

Dome: Ellmers keeping congressional pay

jfrank@newsobserver.com cjarvis@newsobserver.comOctober 3, 2013 

EDITOR'S NOTE: An updated version of this articlecan be found here; Ellmers now says she will decline her paycheck.

As some North Carolina congressional lawmakers defer pay during the shutdown, GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers is refusing to do so – and her remarks are drawing the attention of an advocacy group.

“The thing of it is, I need my paycheck. That is the bottom line,” Ellmers told WTVD, the Raleigh ABC station Wednesday.

More than 70 congressional lawmakers are voluntarily not taking a salary during the partial government shutdown. Democrat David Price of Chapel Hill and Republican Robert Pittenger of Charlotte are among those donating it to the U.S. Treasury. Republicans George Holding of Raleigh, Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk and Mark Meadows of Cashiers are not accepting their pay.

Pittenger, Meadows and Holding had the highest average net incomes of the state’s U.S. House delegation, according to a report released at the beginning of the year by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Representatives and senators make $174,000 annually. House and Senate leaders make more – $193,400 for Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and $223,500 for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Ellmers’ decision to keep her pay – and her reasoning – prompted Progress NC, an advocacy group critical of Republicans, to call on the Dunn Republican to reverse course. The organization suggested her remarks are hypocritical given that other federal employees are not getting paid because of the federal budget impasse in Congress.

“‘Beltway Renee’ and the Republican leadership in Washington are posturing for an extended shutdown cushioned by their six-figure salaries,” said Gerrick Brenner, the group’s executive director.

U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, a Greensboro Republican, also said he would keep his pay, according to a CNN tally. Coble has not yet faced any pressure for his decision.

State GOP to convene at casino

The N.C. Republican Party will hold its 2014 state convention at the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel in the far western part of the state.

It could be considered an unusual choice given that the party’s U.S. Senate candidate could end up being a Baptist preacher.

Even if nominee isn’t Mark Harris, who leads a Charlotte church, the optics are less than ideal. Republican lawmakers were deeply divided in 2012 on whether to allow the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to expand gambling at the casino to include slot machines and live table games, such as blackjack and roulette. It’s the highest-profile bill approved in the House – where U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis presided – that a majority of Republicans opposed. The state receives a small portion of the new gaming revenue, and the Cherokees have donated significantly to lawmakers’ campaigns.

Rep. Skip Stam, an Apex Republican who opposes gambling, said he doesn’t like the choice. Stam said he doesn’t expect a boycott but suggests the location in a remote part of the state is likely to decrease attendance.

However, Party Chairman Claude Pope touted the site. “Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel is one of the few places in the state that can handle the size of our convention,” he said in a statement. “Harrah’s is a model for economic development by providing over 5,000 jobs for the community without any state incentives. Republicans around the state are excited to visit Cherokee in 2014.”

A party spokesman said the June convention will be at the resort attached to the casino, and convention guests don't have to visit the gambling side.

Courting the early money

Candidates for state Supreme Court are already anticipating expensive campaigns next year, after last year’s record-breaking contest between successful incumbent Justice Paul Newby and challenger Sam Ervin IV from the state Court of Appeals.

Recently, a fundraising letter went out on behalf of Justice Mark Martin, who is running for chief justice on the court, appealing for an early showing of financial muscle to dissuade potential opponents.

“Despite Mark’s accomplishments and his impressive qualifications for this position, there are those who are currently trying to recruit an opponent to run against Mark,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler writes in the letter. “Let’s respond to this effort by sending a strong message of financial support for Mark and for his campaign effort.”

No one has yet announced a challenge to the seat being vacated by Chief Justice Sarah Parker, who reaches mandatory retirement age next year.

Two candidates have announced intentions to seek Martin’s seat: Ervin and fellow Court of Appeals Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr.

Staff writers John Frank and Craig Jarvis

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