Morning Memo: McCrory to attend another private, big-money retreat

Posted by John Frank on November 14, 2013 

Gov. Pat McCrory is once again attending a private retreat with high-dollar donors and he’s taking administration officials.

The two-day event that starts Thursday is hosted by Renew North Carolina Foundation, a nonprofit group formed to promote McCrory’s agenda. The organization spent $800,000 on television advertisements starring the Republican governor in September and October, when McCrory’s poll numbers were on the slide.

A similar retreat in June drew more than 100 corporate representatives, special interests and wealthy donors to the luxury Grandover Resort outside Greensboro, which is also the location of this week’s event. Two tickets to the Thursday dinner with McCrory cost $1,000 and two passes for the entire retreat cost $10,000.

But many of those who will attend bought a year-long membership in the foundation – at a cost between $25,000 and $50,000, depending on the level or perks offered. The nonprofit is not required to disclose its donors and has refused requests to do so. Organizers said “several dozen” people are expected to attend but would not provide additional details.

The previous event featured South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. No special guest is announced at this week’s event. But top McCrory officials will attend Friday’s roundtable discussions about economic development and the state budget. Among those expected to attend, according to organizers: State Budget Director Art Pope, economic adviser Tony Almeida, Department of Revenue Chief Operating Officer Jeff Epstein and Assistant Secretary of Employment Security Dale Folwell.

Folwell campaigned as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2012 and offered strong words about being independent of special interests. But he said Wednesday that he doesn’t see his participation at the event as a contradiction. “The reason I’m there is to talk about the fact that this division is going to be turned around,” said Folwell, who plans to take time off work to attend. But he compared it to meeting with a local rotary club, adding “It’s really an extension of what I do every week.”

The governor’s office did not respond directly to questions about sending state-paid workers to the event, nor about how much of the retreat McCrory will attend.

Haley became embroiled in a controversy for using state money to attend the event, which netted her more than $35,000 for her re-election campaign. Facing questions by campaign finance watchdogs, her campaign later paid back the state for expenses related to the trip.

McCrory’s office did not respond to questions about whether McCrory likewise reimbursed taxpayers for attending the June event or whether he intends to do so for this week’s events. McCrory’s arrangement with the foundation is a first in North Carolina, but mirrors similar organizations boosting Democratic and Republican governors in other states.

*** More on the Renew North Carolina Foundation and Mark Harris wants a probe of Kay Hagan – all below in the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: McCrory will hold a press conference about the N.C. Business Committee for Education at the mansion at 11:15 a.m. before flying to Asheville to attend the groundbreaking for GE Aviation at 3 p.m. His calendar does not list the Renew NC event in Greensboro.

THE McCRORY TV AD BUY: The Renew North Carolina Foundation needs to add money to its coffers. It commissioned an expensive poll on McCrory a few months ago as his unpopularity spiked. And it spent $800,000 on the TV ad campaign that ran from Sept. 10 to Oct. 7. The bulk of the TV ad buy – about $480,000 – focused on the Raleigh TV market with another $275,000 spent in the Greensboro area. The Charlotte area saw only a fraction – $43,920 – of the ads in the month they appeared on broadcast and cable TV stations. It’s a significant amount spent to boost a governor in his first 10 months on the job but reflects declining public opinion and the extent to which McCrory aides were concerned about the numbers.

FEW SIGN UP FOR FEDERAL HEALTH CARE PROGRAM: Planting a paltry number on a national disappointment, the Obama administration revealed Wednesday that just 26,794 people enrolled for health insurance during the first, flawed month of operations for the federal healthcare.gov website.

Adding in enrollment of more than 79,000 in the 14 states with their own websites, the nationwide number of 106,000 October sign-ups was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected – and a small fraction of the millions who have received widely publicized private coverage cancellations as a result of the federal law. Read more here.

RUSH LIMBAUGH ON KAY HAGAN: The Democratic senator’s explanation of her shift on the federal health care law, as described by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, drew the attention of Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday. Limbaugh read most of the piece on the air, prefacing it by calling Kay Hagan “a genuine idiot.” Read the transcript here.

First here – REPUBLICAN RIVAL WANTS PROBE OF HAGAN: Kay Hagan asked for a federal probe of the new healthcare law but now Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Harris wants a probe of Hagan.

Harris is sending a package to Hagan’s office Thursday asking her to more fullly explain her involvement in drafting the law. “North Carolinians deserve more than another ploy from the Democrat incumbent that helped land us in this disaster,” Harris said in a statement. “The 160,000 North Carolinians that are being kicked off their current healthcare plans don’t need an empty probe from Kay Hagan, they deserve an apology and immediate action to correct the terrible embarrassment that this legislation has become.”

Harris lists five key questions he feels like the Democrat needs to answer: “What was Kay Hagan’s role in crafting the language and provisions in the Obamacare legislation? When did Kay Hagan know that citizens would be booted from their healthcare plans? Why did Kay Hagan ignore the concerns of North Carolinians from 2009 until now? Did Kay Hagan actually read the legislation before voting on it? Has Kay Hagan read the Obamacare legislation as of today?”

HAGAN ISN’T THE ONLY ONE: Another North Carolina Democrat with concerns: U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre. He is a co-sponsor of this effort, described here by The New York Times: “In addition, a vote is scheduled Friday in the Republican-controlled House on a bill that would allow Americans to keep their existing health coverage through 2014 without penalties. The measure, drafted by Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who is the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is opposed by the White House, which argues that it would severely undermine the Affordable Care Act by allowing insurance companies to continue to sell health coverage that does not meet the higher standard of Mr. Obama’s health care law.” Read more here.

PUPPIES AND PAT: The governor cuddles with “Lexi” to promote pet rescue adoptions. Watch here . And read here.

GOVERNOR WANTS DIX PARK TO WORK: AP – Gov. Pat McCrory says he’s aiming to reach a renegotiated agreement by early December with Raleigh over the city’s effort to turn the campus of now-closed Dorothea Dix mental hospital into a regional park. McCrory made the comments before big-city mayors dined with him Wednesday at the Executive Mansion. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane stood beside McCrory and other mayors as he took questions.

Then-Gov. Beverly Perdue agreed late last year to lease the Dix property to Raleigh, but Republican lawmakers didn't like the terms. Legislators couldn't agree what to do next, so McCrory and Raleigh officials delayed the lease until next June to allow for new negotiations. McCrory says he wants the park plan to work also must protect the state's interests. State employees still work on the campus.

COMMERCE SECRETARY SAYS UNEMPLOYED NEW RESIDENTS PARTYLY TO BLAME FOR JOBLESS RATE: The push to lower North Carolina’s high unemployment rate is being slowed by a persistent skills gap and a continued influx of jobless people moving to the state, according to Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker. She made those observations Tuesday during a speech at the Ritz Carlton to CREW Charlotte, a professional group for women in commercial real estate. Read more here.

... BUT WAIT, ECONOMIST SAYS NOT EXACTLY: From AP – Asked Wednesday about Decker’s comments, (N.C. State economist Mike) Walden said his prior research based on the 2008-2010 data should not be used to draw conclusions about the current pace of recovery. Similar IRS data on jobless relocations during 2013 won’t be available for many months, he said.

“My research was looking at why (North Carolina’s unemployment rate) went from essentially the same as the national rate prior to the recession and we ended up about a percentage and a half above the peak rate at the height of the recession,” Walden said. “Since then, both North Carolina’s rate and the national rate have come down pretty much in tandem.” Read more here.

WONK ALERT – MORE NUMBERS: To help illuminate this debate, Morning Memo (with the help of N&O database editor David Raynor) dug into census data, another source of migration figures in addition to the IRS numbers Walden used. Two key points:

1. More people are moving into North Carolina each year, but the migration rate has slowed, the latest census estimates show. In 2008, the American Community Survey found that 3.5 percent of North Carolina residents lived in a different state the year before. That number fell in the next three years to 2.8 percent in 2011. The 2012 estimate is static at 2.8 percent, census figures show. Another fraction moved to North Carolina from abroad, at 0.5 percent in 2011 and 2012.

2. The percent of those moving to North Carolina in 2011 without jobs was 9 percent, according to Integrated Public Use Microdata Series from the census. This represents an increase from 2008 data that showed the percent of jobless moving to the state at 6 percent. While this may get to Decker’s point, it doesn’t prove it entirely. What it means, according to the latest data, is that less than 1 in 10 people who move here are unemployed, which is not a big number.

MARK HARRIS’ GOODBYE: His parting message to the state Baptist convention. Read more here.

JUDGE CONSIDERS TEST RESULTS: North Carolina public school students struggle with math from elementary school well into high school, according to test results discussed in a Wake County courtroom Tuesday.

The state Department of Public Instruction gave the results of new N.C. Final Exams to Superior Court Judge Howard Manning to consider as part of his annual review of student achievement. Manning is charged with holding the state to its responsibility to provide children with a sound basic education, as required in state Supreme Court rulings. Read more here .

SAS’S GOODNIGHT PUSHES FOR NATIONWIDE PRE-K: Jim Goodnight, the CEO of Cary software company SAS, spoke at a press conference in Washington Wednesday marking the roll out of bills that would expand voluntary preschool nationwide if they become law.

Goodnight urged Congress to pass the bills. Joining him were actress Jennifer Garner, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the lawmakers who introduced the bills – Sen Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and in the House, Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., the only congressional Republican who has declared support for the legislation so far.

“I’m the head of a company that receives 60,000 job applications every year,” Goodnight said. “Right now the top jobs in statistics, economics research and operations can take two years to fill because we simply can’t find people with the skills to do them. Read more here.

CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES SIGNS PLEDGE: Taylor Griffin, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Walter Jones in the GOP primary in the 3rd Congressional District says he signed Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge not to ever support a tax increase. “Now, more than ever, citizens need confidence that their elected officials mean what they say,” Griffin said in a statement. “I have campaigned on never supporting a tax increase and today I put it in writing.”

POLITICS AND ACC BASKETBALL NOW MORE THAN EVER: The ACC announced it is moving its 2016 conference tournament to Washington – the capital of politics. It’s fitting for a tournament that draws dozens of lawmakers, state officials and lobbyists from North Carolina each year. Now, they’ll get to mix with the big boys. More on the move here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Blueprint North Carolina, an issue advocacy organization linked to a controversial memo earlier this year, recently named a new executive director. Erin Byrd, 39, started in the job Oct. 23. The Raleigh resident was previously the civic engagement director for the last seven years. Sean Kosofsky announced in May, amid the controversy, that he would step down.

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