Morning Memo: As GOP focuses on South, N.C. Senate race remains unsettled

Posted by John Frank on March 17, 2014 

A campaign trail dispatch from Kinston: Six weeks before early voting begins for the May 6 primary, the U.S. Senate race remains undefined. Even the most ardent Republican voters, remain ambivalent in one of the nation’s most closely watched races.

What qualities make for the best candidate also remains a matter of debate. But in recent interviews with dozens of Republican voters, it’s clear that the gridlock in Washington, reflected in the government shutdown and health care debates, left an impression.

Many voters are looking at each candidate’s ideology more than his or her stance on the particular issues. A candidate’s conservative strength even competes with the much-hyped “electability” factor.

“It’s all about being conservative,” Keith King said at the Lenoir County GOP convention. “I actually wish there was a Conservative Party.”

Roger Farina, 47, made a similar point ahead of his barbecue precinct meeting at the recent Harnett County GOP convention. “It’s not just winning,” said Farina, who is retired from the Army. “It’s not just beating Hagan. It’s going up there and doing the right thing.”

He, too, is undecided about which Republican candidate fits that mold. “Nobody’s hooked me yet,” he said. Read more from the road to the GOP primary here.

*** Thom Tillis says he’s getting a big endorsement, the state Democratic Party’s money fight, four big environmental stories and much more North Carolina politics below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory lists one public event on the calendar: N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities annual dinner at 6:45 p.m. in Asheville.

The House committee looking at drone rules will meet at 1 p.m. in room 1228 of the legislative building. The task force looking at teacher compensation will meet at 2 p.m. in room 544 of the legislative office building.

The state Department of Health and Human Services will announce a proposal to revamp the Medicaid system at 2 p.m. in Raleigh.

Also Monday, North Carolina will release its state unemployment data for January. County data will be released on Friday.

THE TOP STORY: Four Triangle teams make NCAA tourney. More here.

McCRORY STATEMENT: The governor issued a statement Sunday about the death of former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Dan Ramirez, the first Hispanic elected to public office in the county. “North Carolina has lost a historic figure and I have lost a cherished friend,” McCrory said. “Dan’s numerous contributions to the community were more than a civic duty, they were expressions of his gratitude to the country, state and people he loved. Ann and I have his family in our prayers.” More on Ramirez here.

#NCSEN –

THE BIG PICTURE: The South is where President Barack Obama and Democrats long have struggled, and it’s where the party’s toughest battleground will be this year in the fight for control of the U.S. Senate. Read more here.

TILLIS SAYS U.S. CHAMBER WILL ENDORSE HIM: In a speech at Salisbury GOP meeting, U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis said: “On Jan. 26, 2011, I gave an acceptance speech when I was elected speaker that said we’re going to heal the economy, protect our culture and protect our people,” Tillis said. “I told everybody we were going to cut taxes. We cut $2 billion over the last three years — more than any other state. I told them we were going to cut regulations. We cut more regulations than any state in the Southeast. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be endorsing me fairly soon, recognizing us as a model for regulatory reform in the nation.” Read more here.

THREE TOP GOP CANDIDATES APPEAR TOGETHER – BRANNON WINS STRAW POLL: From The Dispatch – Davidson County was a popular destination Saturday for Republicans vying not only for local but statewide races, underlining the significant role area voters will play in deciding partisan races in May.

Cary physician Greg Brannon, Charlotte minister Mark Harris and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, the three top Senate hopefuls competing to face Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan this fall, all spoke to a large crowd at the Davidson County Republican Party’s annual convention.

After candidates made brief speeches on their tour to various conventions held throughout the region, a straw poll conducted amongst party delegates gave a slight edge to Brannon over Tillis. Read more here.

THE SWING VOTE: Democrats step up efforts to attract women voters. Read more here.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Fresh off her climate change speech, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will keynote the N.C. League of Conservation Voters dinner May 27 in Raleigh. The league announced the news Monday.

Here’s how it describes Hagan’s environmental record: “Prior to the U.S. Senate, Hagan served for a decade in the North Carolina State Senate. During her tenure as a State Senator, she co-sponsored the Clean Smokestacks Act, which would reduce smog and acid rain pollution from coal-fired power plants. As a U.S. Senator, Hagan has been an advocate for public lands, cosponsoring the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2013, introducing bipartisan legislation to protect thousands of acres around the Blue Ridge Parkway, and sponsoring the Community Parks Revitalization Act, which would increase green spaces in economically distressed urban areas. She has also been a consistent vote against legislation to block the EPA from reducing carbon and mercury pollution. Time and again Senator Hagan has voted to end taxpayer-funded subsidies to Big Oil. As co-chair of the new Clean Energy Innovation Project at the think tank Third Way, she has been a public advocate for extending incentives, like the Production Tax Credit, for renewable energies. Senator Hagan has earned an 84 percent lifetime score on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard.”

#NCPOL –

INSIGHTS FROM PROS INTO EVOLVING N.C. POLITICS: From Rob Christensen’s column – The conventional wisdom about North Carolina politics from 20 years ago is now about as useful as a rotary telephone. Tar Heel politics has been transformed in recent decades with breathtaking speed because of several factors: explosive population growth, urbanization and the rise of the unaffiliated voter.

That was some of the wisdom shared by two veteran Tar Heel political consultants, Paul Shumaker, a Republican, and Morgan Jackson, a Democrat, when they appeared last week at a lunchtime panel sponsored by the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, a business-financed group that provides nonpartisan political research. Get their take here.

ON THE MONEY FIGHT AT DEM PARTY: The Democratic Party is launching a new fundraising account to funnel money to its local activists to replace the absence of taxpayer checkoff money.

N.C. Democratic Party officials have said the N.C. Victory Fund was a point of contention in the firing of former executive director Robert Dempsey, who had reservations about the program. The main concern is the program will siphon away money from party operations at a time when the party desperately needs money.

Under the terms recently discussed at an executive council meeting, the party will split the money in the Victory Fund with district chairs who can use it for whatever they want, regardless of whether it’s effective or matches the larger party strategy. The money was at the heart of the push to put Chairman Randy Voller into his post. Read more on the program from AP here.

MORE CAMPAIGNS MAY EXIT DEM PARTY CONTROL: The campaign arms of Democratic House and Senate candidates are considering moving their money from the troubled state party. Read more here.

THE BIG STORY – DELAYS HAMPER PUBLIC’S KNOWLEDGE OF GOVERNMENT ACTION: North Carolina law is clear on when public officials should provide citizens access to public records: “as promptly as possible.”

But reporters at The News & Observer and other news outlets sometimes wait six months or more for requests about simple things such as which professor taught a UNC class in which room, or more complicated requests for records at the heart of the state’s $14 billion Medicaid program or the botched rollout of the state’s food stamp program, NC FAST.

The delays mean the public lacks timely insight into how public dollars are being spent and how public servants are fulfilling their duties. Read more here.

MORE SUNSHINE WEEK: On personnel questions, does state law apply to sheriffs? Read more here.

FOUR BIG ENVIRONMENTAL STORIES:

1. CUTS TO WETLANDS PROGRAM, SKVARLA’S COMPANY UNDER MORE SCRUTINY: Nearly one-third of the jobs in the section of the state environmental agency that handles stream and wetlands restoration were eliminated this week.

The cuts of 14 staff positions in the Ecosystem Enhancement Program follows the elimination of 68 jobs in the Division of Water Resources earlier this month, and continues a trend that has seen accelerated cuts to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources over the past three years.

... The stream and wetlands restoration program, commonly referred to by its acronym EEP, was the object of criticism by the company that employed Skvarla. In December 2012, less than a week after McCrory announced Skvarla’s appointment, a representative of Restoration Systems, where Skvarla was the chief executive officer, excoriated EEP in a PowerPoint presentation to a legislative committee.

Restoration Systems has made millions of dollars in contracts for state projects restoring damaged waterways and dealing in “mitigation banking” credits for conserving and restoring sites that can be used to offset road projects and other development elsewhere. EEP supervises that process. Read more here.

2. NEW YORK TIMES – MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT DUKE ENERGY WASTEWATER PURGE: Duke Energy, the giant utility whose spill of toxic waste into a North Carolina river last month is under federal investigation, released wastewater last week from a second site upriver of Raleigh that state regulators said could be illegal.

Aerial photographs of two Duke coal ash ponds at the head of the Cape Fear River show portable pumps and hoses that appear to be siphoning water into a canal leading to the river.

A spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said on Saturday that its inspectors noticed the pumping while on a site visit last week. Read more here.

3. SEA LEVEL RISE SCIENCE ON HOLD IN NORTH CAROLINA: There’s not much dispute these days, up and down the coast, about whether the ocean is rising. The question is: How high will it go here, and how fast?

North Carolinians must wait until 2016 for an official answer. That’s the law.

After promoters of coastal development attacked a science panel’s prediction that the sea would rise 39 inches higher in North Carolina by the end of this century, the General Assembly passed a law in 2012 to put a four-year moratorium on any state rules, plans or policies based on expected changes in the sea level. ...

Now the 13-member Coastal Resources Commission has a new chairman and eight more new members appointed last year by Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory. The 2012 law says the commission must receive a new draft sea-level prediction from its science panel by March 2015, but the new commission has not asked the science panel to start work. Read more here.

4. DUKE ENERGY FACED FEW FINES: North Carolina regulators socked Duke Energy with a flurry of environmental violations after it dumped a 70-mile slug of coal ash into the Dan River last month.

But the seven violations filed on Feb. 28 were aberrations, state records show.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources had cited Duke and Progress Energy, now part of Duke, for only 31 water-quality violations in the previous decade.

That’s despite the statewide footprint of the combined Duke. The company serves most of North Carolina, inhaling millions of gallons of water a day to cool its 19 power plants. Read more here.

Back to politics .... A FUN HEADLINE: From the Randolph Guide – ” Clay Aiken dazzles at Di’lishi.” Read more here.

... Meanwhile – CRISCO TOUTS ‘MIDDLE OF THE ROAD’ APPROACH: From The Pilot – “To govern this country, you can’t be on the edges,” said Crisco, an Asheboro Democrat running for the 2nd congressional District seat. “I can pull from the middle. My opponents can’t do that. I am middle of the road. I reflect this district. I was raised on farm here. I raised my family here. I started a business here.” Read more here.

A NEW QUESTION FOR GOP CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES – DO YOU SUPPORT THIS PLAN? From the Washington Post: House Republican leaders are adopting an agreed-upon conservative approach to fixing the nation’s health-care system, in part to draw an election-year contrast with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The plan includes an expansion of high-risk insurance pools, promotion of health savings accounts and inducements for small businesses to purchase coverage together.

The tenets of the plan – which could expand to include the ability to buy insurance across state lines, guaranteed renewability of policies and changes to medical-malpractice regulations – are ideas that various conservatives have for a long time backed as part of broader bills. Read more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Doug Wilson, the N.C. Democratic Party’s political director is moving to Sen. Kay Hagan’s campaign. Wilson, who is based in Charlotte, will serve in a similar role for Hagan. He starts Monday.

QUICK HEADLINES –

DPS study downplays need for strict immigration laws in North Carolina. Read more here.

McCrory advisers focus on BRAC prep. Read more here.

Renee Ellmers wants a national womens museum. Read more here.

Controversy about Phil Berger Jr. campaign moves. Read more here.

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