Morning Memo: With Duke Energy mess, political calculations for 2016

Posted by John Frank on February 21, 2014 

The Duke Energy controversy hitting the McCrory administration is generating plenty of negative headlines and the criminal investigation is sure to produce more in coming months. But what’s the political fallout? Well, it sure seems to play neatly into Roy Cooper’s hands.

The Democratic attorney general – who is mounting a challenge to Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016 – is a frequent critic of Duke Energy. In his role as a consumer advocate, he challenges most (if not every) Duke Energy rate hike request. In the latest example, Cooper make a populist plea, saying the company is ignoring the effects of higher rates on the people living in the state. (Sound like a political line?) Whether he wins or loses the appeals, it doesn’t matter. His campaign will surely say months from now that he’s fighting for the little guy.

And McCrory? He worked for Duke Energy for 29-years and critics say his administration’s cozy relationship with the company is part of the problem that led to the coal ash spill into the Dan River.

Cooper’s camp and the Republican Party seem cognizant of the vulnerability

Cooper’s campaign launched a petition drive earlier this week and pointed the finger for the recent toxic spill at Republican lawmakers and the governor. “Because of new laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor months ago, this is just a sign of more to come,” it reads.

The state Republican Party responded by saying Cooper is politicizing the spill and using it to raise campaign cash. (The campaign email did have a “contribute” button at the bottom.)

And it makes the case that Cooper may not have a clean record when it comes to Duke Energy. Party officials noted that since 2000, Cooper received nearly $82,000 from the company’s PAC and current and former employees.

Chairman Claude Pope questioned Cooper’s silence on this environmental issue until now. “It couldn’t be any more politically blatant for Roy Cooper, who has been the state’s top regulator and public advocate for the last 13 years, to take such a sudden interest in regulating coal ash disposal,” he said in the statement.

As the investigation – and the campaign continues – expect to see more about Duke Energy.

*** Get more North Carolina political analysis and news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not release a public schedule for Friday and no legislative committees are scheduled to meet.

Elsewhere, a federal court in Winston-Salem will hear arguments at 10 a.m. about whether lawmakers must turn over documents in relation to an election bill approved in 2013. The voter ID requirement and other provisions are facing numerous court challenges.

Tonight, is a big night for political events. The John Locke Foundation will hold its 24th anniversary celebration at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh. The special guest is Fox News host Chris Wallace.

And on the other side, the Wake County Democratic Party will host 34th annual Valentine's Day fundraiser at 6 p.m. in Raleigh. Clay Aiken and Roy Cooper are expected to attend.

Greg Brannon will open another campaign office Saturday at 3950 West Market Street in Greensboro. It is his ninth across the state, his campaign said.

MUST READ -- Find it here.

THE TOP STORY -- NEW ECONOMIC BOARD MEETS AMID QUESTIONS ON ITS FUTURE: State commerce officials aren’t saying much about how they plan to raise private money for the state’s new public-private economic development agency.

The ability to raise such funds was touted as one of the reasons North Carolina is moving to overhaul its corporate recruitment strategy. But much about the private fundraising initiative remains vague, and the lack of details is causing at least one legislator to question the chances of it succeeding. Read more here.

SKVARLA CONTRADICTED BY COURT RECORDS: From the Winston-Salem Journal -- John Skvarla, the secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said Wednesday that the Southern Environmental Law Center is a “partner” in DENR’s lawsuits aimed at protecting water against pollution documented at power plant sites owned by Duke Energy.

Court transcripts paint a different picture. Read more here.

MORE ON BRANNON STORY: The political fallout from a civil jury’s verdict Greg Brannon earlier this week is still playing out. GOP campaign strategists are questioning his desire to stay in the race but his most devoted supporters are not deterred.

Dee Sams, a tea party leader in Franklin County who hosted a Brannon fundraiser, said she is fielding calls about the legal case from like-minded conservatives, but so far no one is willing to consider another candidate. “This is not the best thing in the world, but we all still support him,” she said.

Vallee Bubak, a founder of Lake Norman Conservatives, said many people are skeptical about the verdict, suggesting “if anything, we’ve doubled down and want to support him more.

“If we felt he did something wrong, maybe we would look to Harris,” she said. “But we haven’t lost anyone; we’ve gained support.” Read more here.

HAGAN APPLAUDS STANCE ON SOCIAL SECURITY: From our D.C. correspondent Renee Schoof -- A plan to trim cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients won’t be part of the President Barack Obama’s forthcoming proposed budget for 2015. Obama angered Democrats and seniors by including the plan last year. On Thursday, the White House said it wouldn’t be in the budget proposal this time.

The move increases Democrats’ chances of taking back the House of Representatives and keeping control of the Senate, said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal policy group.

Sen. Kay Hagan, who’s one of the vulnerable Democrats in Senate races this year, sent out a press release saying she approved of Obama’s decision.

In the statement, Hagan said: “I’m pleased that the President has forgone plans to use chained CPI to calculate cost of living adjustments for seniors in his annual budget proposal. Reducing Social Security benefits for North Carolina seniors is the wrong way to balance our budget. More than two million North Carolinians depend on Social Security to make ends meet, and we must keep the promise we have made to them by protecting their benefits.”

REPUBLICANS EYE SENATE TAKEOVER -- HAGAN’S SEAT MAY BE SAFEST FOR DEMS: From the Washington Post -- At the headquarters where Republicans are plotting their takeover of the Senate, camouflage netting hangs from the ceiling and walls. Military surplus sandbags are piled up around operatives’ desks. And an ex-Marine named Ward Baker rattles off statistics that add up to trouble for Democrats.

Republicans are increasingly confident that they will gain control of the Senate for the first time in eight years, buoyed by President Obama’s unpopularity and the historic midterm challenges confronting his party in the sixth year of his presidency. ...

Control of the Senate could be determined in four states Obama lost in 2012 and where Democrats are up for reelection: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Of the four, North Carolina is considered the friendliest terrain for Democrats, and party strategists said Sen. Kay Hagan has built one of the best campaign organizations in the nation. Read more here.

MORE STATE COMPUTER PROBLEMS -- THIS ONE FOR EDUCATION: A new state computer system for keeping track of student information has so many problems that the accuracy of transcripts, athletic eligibility and the number of students enrolled in schools is uncertain.

State education officials and Pearson Inc., the company that owns the PowerSchool system, say they’re working hard to resolve the running list of software problems that have affected schools across North Carolina. Both groups say the system is improving, but schools say they are still experiencing problems such as the inability to tell students their current grade-point average or their current class rank. Read more here.


Politco magazine: Painting Dixie Blue. Read more here.

UNC board to vote on no hikes for in-state tuition. Read more here.

Karl Rove writes: Democrats change their Obamacare strategy. But Republicans will need their own ideas. Read more here.

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