Morning Memo: The narrative of the Obama visit

Posted by John Frank on January 13, 2014 

President Barack Obama is schedule to visit Raleigh this week. And expect this headline to start the welcome-mat narrative: “President Obama may hit political turbulence in North Carolina visit.”

It came courtesy of a Washington Post blogger who writes: “Obama is no stranger to the state that favored him in 2008, went for his opponent Mitt Romney in 2012 — despite a Democratic National Convention set in Charlotte – and is now embroiled in disagreements over conservative legislation passed by a Republican-controlled general assembly last year. This time he will be touching down while several political debates are in progress, many with direct lines to Washington.” Read more here.

Another thing to watch on the Obama front this week: new Public Policy Polling numbers are due midweek on Obama’s job approval numbers in North Carolina.

*** Get a full roundup of North Carolina political news below Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a highway safety symposium in Concord at 1 p.m. before joining state lawmakers at the Hunt Institute's legislative retreat at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro at 6:30 p.m.

TODAY'S BIG HEADLINE: Advocates of new voting law fight back -- One of the longstanding arguments against voter ID laws has been that there is no history of significant elections fraud.

But advocates of North Carolina's new elections law have been making their way across the state to county elections boards to try to make the case that fraud has existed but has been inadequately investigated.

Such allegations have been lodged in Pembroke, a Robeson County town, where the state Board of Elections recently found so many “irregularities” in the November municipal elections that a new vote was ordered and a probe called for by the local district attorney.

There also is an effort underway by the Republican-led board in Forsyth County to push out the elections director, an endeavor being fought by the director and one board member. A ruling from the state elections director could come any day.

The claims and questions come as county elections boards are adjusting to sweeping leadership changes made in 2012 after Republicans won control of the governor’s office after two decades of Democratic rule. Read more here.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Tough times after jobless aid cutoff -- Six months after North Carolina’s much-debated decision to cut off federal long-term unemployment benefits for nearly 70,000 people, some of the jobless have taken on lower-paying part-time posts; others have given up looking.

One thing they all seem to agree on: The job market, despite declining unemployment rates, remains brutally competitive, with far more applicants than good job openings. It’s even more difficult, they say, for job seekers over 50.

The Observer checked in recently with four Charlotte residents who lost their unemployment benefits at the end of July, when the state legislature’s changes took effect. Faced with the loss of that income, three took part-time jobs. One, frustrated, gave up. All had lost full-time jobs. Read more here.

RELATED: As the House of Representatives ponders whether to follow the Senate’s example and extend unemployment benefits, members might want to consider the case of North Carolina, where employment has increased and unemployment has declined from 8.8 percent to 7.4 percent in the five months following dramatic cuts in the state’s unemployment benefits. Read more here.

THE SUNDAY STORY -- McCrory administration considered Catawba casino for months: Last April, just months into Gov. Pat McCrory’s first term, his office received a call about a major potential economic development project outside Charlotte. It promised thousands of jobs and a tantalizing prospect: a new revenue source for the cash-strapped state.

For the next five months, McCrory’s top economic advisers explored the project and received a draft revenue-sharing agreement that could deliver millions to state coffers.

But the state’s involvement in “Project Schoolhouse” came to an abrupt halt in August – just days after it was publicly revealed as a Catawba Indian casino and resort and amid fierce political opposition from top lawmakers and state officials.

The details about the contentious tribal gaming project are revealed in new interviews and internal documents recently released by the McCrory administration pursuant to a public records request.

The records indicate the discussion between McCrory’s office and attorneys for tribal interests was more robust than had been acknowledged.

A previously undisclosed draft of a gambling compact between the administration and the Catawba Nation played a key part in the talks. It contemplated allowing the tribe to offer live table games, such as blackjack, craps and roulette, in exchange for giving the state a 4 percent or greater cut of the gambling proceeds. Read more here.

COMPUTER PROBLEMS, BACKLOG AT HEART OF DHHS MESS: The state agency under fire for food stamp backlogs said Sunday that it’s dealing with challenges in addition to NC FAST, the new software that caused so much grief for county caseworkers and clients.

Caseworkers also had extra work to do in the last few months of 2013 to prepare for the new way the federal government is calculating income eligibility for Medicaid, said Wayne Black, head of the social services division at the state Department of Health and Human Services. Read more here.

RELATED: Gov. Pat McCrory continued to stand by the head of his state health agency Friday, amid Democrats’ mounting calls for her ouster in the latest controversy to hit the administration. Read more here.

CERTAIN REPORTERS ARE DIFFERENT: Gov. Pat McCrory visited the N.C. National Guard’s Armory in Morrisville on Friday -- but his office labeled the event closed and told security not to let press on the grounds. But that doesn’t mean all press. A writer at Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System apparently didn’t count.

The report: “A good commander gets to know their troops and the best way to do that is face to face. Soldiers of the North Carolina National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility #1 met their commander, Governor Pat McCrory, during their drill here today.

McCrory as NCNG’s commander-in-chief wanted to learn more about the capabilities and needs of his 12,000 soldiers and airmen as an operational force. The Guard he leads and other military serving in the state face many challenges with global responsibilities and dwindling resources.

“It is a competition with other states, North Carolina needs to work with all branches of the military in order to be successful,” said McCrory.” Read more here.

MIKE McINTYRE ON HIS FUTURE: “Now that decision has been made, we’re free to weigh future opportunities from both the private and public sector,” he said. “One thing is for certain. Whatever the future holds, we want to continue to find new ways to serve the people of North Carolina.” Read more here.

FORBES: “Here’s something the new year brought with it: As of January 1, North Carolina officially doesn’t recognize the L3C, a legal structure that was given the green light in 2010. The L3C, or low-profit limited liability company, is a for-profit business with a socially beneficial mission.” Read more here.

'MARCH OF BROKEN DREAMS': Immigration activists marched from Chapel Hill to Raleigh on Saturday to demand that in-state tuition rates be given to students who have received a temporary federal reprieve from deportation.

Around 40 activists ended the “March of Broken Dreams” with a mock funeral outside the office of state Attorney General Roy Cooper. The protesters charge that Cooper has been silent about whether students in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are entitled to the lower college tuition rates offered to in-state residents.

“Every day that passes, someone’s dream dies,” said Oliva Prezas, 19, of Oxford, one of the students who spoke at the “funeral,” which was organized by the N.C. Dream Team. “Attorney General Cooper needs to speak out.” Read more here.

PRIVATIZED ABC SYSTEM QUESTIONED: From Rob Christensen's column -- So North Carolina’s excise tax rate for spirits is the fifth-highest in the nation and more than double what it is in South Carolina, triple what it is in Tennessee and quadruple what it is in Georgia. The excise tax on beer in North Carolina is the ninth-highest in the nation and is more than double what it is in Virginia.

It seems that social conservatives think it’s OK to use state tax policy for social engineering after all. But libertarian conservatives are troubled by the state control of booze. Read more here.

REVIEW: TOM EAMON'S NEW BOOK ON N.C. POLITICS -- Eamon’s is the most comprehensive account to date of postwar Tar Heel politics, providing an insightful guide to the state’s political psyche. His book is peppered with short, sharply drawn sketches of key leaders, discussions of trends, electoral maps and election results.

He focuses on four major themes: the state’s movement away from racial segregation; the development of a two-party system; important elections; and leadership and personalities.

His judgments are always sound. While the state has made great progress on race, Eamon notes that deep racial cleavages remain. North Carolina is likely to remain hotly contested political ground for the foreseeable future, he concludes. Read more here.

A SIGN OF THE TIMES: AP -- The North Carolina Manual, the hefty reference volume that’s served as the go-to almanac on government for more than a century for state politicians, schoolchildren and historians, may be slowly dying.

But the manual has fallen victim to budget cuts and technology. The public more often uses Google to learn the names of current representatives, recent election results or the official state flower, rather than look it up in a dated book. Read more here.

QUICK HITS ---

Nancy Pelosi will eat Richard Hudson's lunch. Read more here.

N.C. to sue EPA over pollution standards. Read more here.

Electric car driver begin to pay $100 fee. Read more here.

North Carolina’s newest charter schools have a long way to go before they can open this fall. Read more here.

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