Morning Memo: Commerce pick raises questions; Democrats push unemployment benefits

Posted by John Frank on January 8, 2014 

Gov. Pat McCrory’s pick to lead the privatized arm of the state Commerce Department is raising questions from the start about conflicts of interest. It is only reinforcing critics concerns about the how the state’s job recruiting will work behind the shade of a private nonprofit outside state government.

While McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker emphasized Richard Lindenmuth’s deep credentials Tuesday, by the end of the day the story focused on Lindenmuth’s decision not to resign from the company that he co-founded, Verto Partners. As today’s story notes, the management consulting firm specializes in corporate restructuring and crisis management.

From the story: “Immediately, critics raised questions about potential conflicts of interest. Lindenmuth said he is no longer involved in the company’s day-to-day operations and that his full attention would be on the partnership. “While I’m doing this, I’m 110 percent here,” he said.”

The question remains whether Lindemuth will file any kind of economic interest disclosure forms like high-ranking appointments inside state government must do. Read more here.

*** Get more on Lindenmuth and the latest campaign news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not release a public schedule for Wednesday. At the legislative office building, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance meets at 10 a.m. in room 544.

MORE ON JOBS CZAR PICK -- NO CLEAR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY: Keith Crisco, the former commerce secretary, also said that he doesn’t believe the state has had a clear economic development strategy in place since McCrory took the reins of state government at the start of last year. “It’s taking a while to get this going,” he said. “It’s progress that we’ve got someone to head it up.” Read more here.

INCENTIVES -- From Triangle Business Journal: “Incentives do not truly make the difference,” Lindenmuth said. Read more here.

THE BIG STORY -- DEMOCRATS PUSH UNEMPLOYMENT EXTENSION: President Barack Obama pressed Congress on Tuesday to extend jobless benefits for 1.3 million Americans, dismissing the suggestion that the checks lead people to shun work and insisting there’s no need for budget offsets to pay the price.

The Senate did take an important step toward restoring the benefits, which ended Dec. 28. Senators voted 60-37 to remove a big procedural roadblock to any legislation, with six Republicans joining 52 Democrats and two independents. Yet even if the Senate approves the benefits, advocates still face big hurdles in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Read more here.

THE LOCAL STORY -- The Triangle’s unemployment rate fell six-tenths of a percentage point to 5.8 percent in November, a precipitous decline that pushed the rate to its lowest level since October 2008.

The decline is good news but probably overstates the improvement in the local economy, said Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist.

Vitner believes that a key factor in the declining jobless rate is long-term unemployed workers taking jobs that they wouldn’t have accepted otherwise, including part-time work, because they have exhausted both their unemployment benefits and savings. Read more here.

G.K. BUTTERFIELD GETS PRIMARY CHALLENGER: Rodward Hewlin Jr. announced this week his bid for the Demcoratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District. Hewlin, 27, lives outside the district in Greensboro but grew up in Halifax County. The N.C. A&T grad said he is challenging the 10-plus-year incumbent because the district “deserves better.”

“While he likes G.K. Butterfield as a person, Hewlin believes little growth has progressed in 1st Congressional District in NC in the 10 years he has been in office, pointing out that certain low populated areas in the districted have been neglected,” a statement from the campaign reads.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Fox News anchor Chris Wallace will headline the 24th anniversary celebration of the John Locke Foundation on Feb. 21 at the North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh.

PUBLIC POLICY POLLING ADJUSTS ITS METHODS: The Raleigh-based pollster who surveys North Carolina on a monthly basis is making changes to how it conducts its polls. From the PPP website: “With the New Year PPP is excited to announce some exciting methodological changes. Starting this week all of our public polls will have 20% of their interviews conducted over the internet, through Qualtrics. This will help us to reach the increasing share of voters who don’t have landline telephones. Our testing has found that the respondents we reach in the online component are much more age representative of the population than our telephone interviews, which should reduce the amount of weighting we have to do.

“With a newly available upgrade in our statistical software we’re also adjusting our weighting procedures with the New Year so that we’ll weight for gender, race, and age simultaneously. The ‘random deletion’ procedure we’ve used since our founding in 2001 has served us well, but you can always do things in a more efficient manner and we hope this change will help make for more robust crosstabs as well.” Read more here.

ALL THESE EARLY TV ADS -- DO THEY WORK?: Stuart Rothenberg at Roll Call says not really. “By mid-December, more than $17.5 million had been spent on TV ads in just four Senate contests: in North Carolina ($8.3 million), Kentucky ($3.5 million), Arkansas ($3.4 million) and Louisiana ($2.3 million), according to a recent piece by Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad.

“The numbers are interesting and newsworthy. But it’s important to understand the dirty little secret of early TV ads: At the end of the day, most of the ads, and most of the money spent on them, won’t make a dime’s worth of difference in the November results.

“I know because I’ve seen this movie before — almost 30 years ago.” Read more here.

GOP LAWMAKER RENEWS PUSH TO END RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARDS: After failing to repeal the state’s renewable energy standard in 2014, legislators are looking at commissioning a study with the long-term aim of building a case against subsidizing green energy.

Critics expressed skepticism about solar, wind and other green energy subsidies Tuesday at a hearing of the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy. The panel is chaired by two Republicans who oppose subsidizing green power, Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherfordton and Sen. Bob Rucho of Charlotte.

After the hearing, Hager said he may propose a study that would focus on how green subsidies impact energy costs, which he sees as a major impediment to economic growth and attracting business to the state.

“There’s gotta be some end to it,” Hager said of state subsidies for renewable energy. “There’s gotta be a point where we say, ‘You’re a business and you gotta operate on your own.’” Read more here.

TAX FOUNDATION GIVES BERGER NOD: Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, was honored by the Tax Foundation this week with an Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform award. Berger helped push the effort to get a major overhaul of the state’s tax system through the state legislature in 2013. Other honorees included: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (all Republicans) and two others.

WAKE SCHOOLS STRUGGLE WITH END TO TEACHER TENURE: “This is a bad way for rewarding teachers,” said school board member Jim Martin. “This is a bad way for just about everything.” Read more here.

SWING DISTRICT NEWS -- A1 Tuesday in Daily Reflector -- Brian Brown challenges lawsuit against vouchers: “A state legislator from Pitt County said he is disappointed in the local school board has joined five other school systems in a lawsuit challenging the legality of a state program that provides money for children who qualify to attend private schools.

“The suit, filed by the N.C. School Boards Association, objects to the section of the 2013 N.C. budget bill “appropriating public funds to pay tuition and fees at private schools for certain students” according to the suit filed on Dec. 16. The “Opportunity Scholarship Act” legislation gives a $4,200 voucher to parents of qualified public school students to use toward tuition at a private school of the parents’ choice.” Read more here.

A NEW CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE RACE: Pardon us for missing this earlier, but the town councilman who resigned with a letter in Star Trek language Klingon, has began his write-in campaign for U.S. Senate for the Constitution Party. Find original story on resignation here and latest news on his write-in campaign here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Southern Strategy group, a regional firm that is a recent newcomer to the Raleigh lobbying scene, is adding another partner. Chris Hollis is joining the firm after lobbying the prior year with Troutman Sanders Strategies. In his previous role, Hollis represented a wide range of clients from eBay and GEICO to Novo Nordisk and Microsoft. He started work with the firm Monday.

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