Morning Memo: Supreme Court race gets testy early

Posted by John Frank on April 14, 2014 

Well before the November election, the race for Supreme Court chief justice is becoming openly hostile, as Republicans Mark Martin and Ola Mae Lewis trade verbal accusations about who is more fit for the job.

The jostling in a typically low-key judicial race spilled into the open Saturday at the Republican Party’s 5th Congressional District convention in North Wilkesboro. Lewis criticized Martin’s work ethic and Martin responded by questioning Lewis’ partisan leanings.

The intra-party squabbling startled some of the two dozen Republicans at the event and stood in contrast to the GOP U.S. Senate candidates who kept it tame, even though their race is nearing the May 6 primary.

Lewis, the senior resident Superior Court judge in Brunswick County, entered the chief justice race at the last minute when another candidate jumped into the Supreme Court seat she had planned to pursue. Lewis’ entry into the race is still unknown to some. The chairman of the Wilkesboro convention didn’t initially recognize her to speak because he didn’t know Martin faced a challenge.

*** Continue reading about the squabble – and get a weekend roundup of North Carolina political news – below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will make a workforce development announcement at 10 a.m. at Caterpillar in Sanford.

A legislative task force looking at teacher pay and effectiveness will meet for the final time and finalize its report. A group of university students has planned a rally before the meeting. The task force will meet at 2 p.m. in room 643 LOB.

MORE ON SUPREME COURT RACE – In her three-minute address at the district convention, Lewis criticized the high court’s productivity. “Our current Supreme Court is one of the lowest ranked Supreme Court’s in the nation, ranked 36th by way of productivity,” she told Republican activists. “My opponent having only written five opinions in the last year.”

Lewis called herself the “most qualified candidate for the position” and “a natural born leader.”

She finished with this line: “It is time to move North Carolina forward, not to be steeped in mediocrity and complacency.”

Martin, senior associate justice with 15 years on the Supreme Court, countered by saying every chief justice in history had served on the court first.

“What we have to ask ourselves is this: In the first time in history, we do not have a Democratic candidate for chief justice, why do we even have an election?” he said. “And I think people will have to make that assessment. I think the overriding issue in this race is trust.”

Martin didn’t mention Lewis’ past work for Democrats but she is an N.C. Central University law school alumna who clerked for Democrat Dan Blue when he was speaker of the N.C. House.

Saying there’s a steep learning curve for chief justice, Martin responded to Lewis’ charge about productivity. He said for the past two years he was “at the top of opinions issued” and said he wrote hundreds of legal memorandums about whether to take cases, a point Lewis excluded.

“I work nonstop in my job,” he said. “I know what it takes to lead this court.”

The two are competing to fill the seat that Chief Justice Sarah Parker will vacate because she is reaching mandatory retirement age.


THE STATE OF THE RACE: North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Senate campaign is entering what could be a decisive home stretch, with candidates taking to the air and outside groups scrambling to avoid a runoff. Read more here.

A LOOK AT THE DEMOCRATIC – Yes, Democratic – PRIMARY FOR U.S. SENATE: U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan has spent the past months preparing for a tough general election, amassing several million dollars to aid her effort.

Campaign ads focus on the man expected to be her Republican challenger, House Speaker Thom Tillis, and his wealthy supporters, including the Koch brothers.

But Tillis faces a crowded primary and has yet to walk away with the race. Hagan, on the other hand, is expected to win the Democratic primary easily.

But she does, indeed, have challengers: two eastern North Carolina Democrats, a retired Army captain and a former carpenter who repairs computers.

Those two candidates, Ernest T. Reeves, 49, of Greenville and Will Stewart, 32, of Hampstead, have never before run for elected office. Still, both say they’d do a better job representing the concerns of North Carolinians who are poor or otherwise struggling to get by.

“I want to run to effect change across every city, every county, every municipality – and real change. There are a lot of people that are in need here in North Carolina,” Reeves said in an interview last week. “I want to represent the 10 million people here. I want to take a different voice to the Senate.”

Stewart said he’s poor himself and would be a voice for the working poor and middle-class people in Washington. Read more here.

RELATED: Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Saturday framed her re-election campaign as a contrast between out-of-state special interests and North Carolina interests. Read more here.

NEW YORK TIMES TAKES A LOOK AT SENATE GOP PRIMARY: In the high-profile Republican primary for Senate here, the divisions that are gripping the party nationally are playing out powerfully, expensively and often very messily. And, after haunting losses in 2012 in which far-right Senate candidates prevailed in primaries only to collapse in the general election, the Republican establishment is determined to stifle the more radical challengers. Read more here.

ROB CHRISTENSEN ON MARK HARRIS: I have always considered Harris the sleeper candidate in the GOP Senate primary – the one easy to overlook but who potentially could benefit from a strong grass-roots effort in a low turnout primary. Read more here.

GREG BRANNON USES FORUM TO HIT THOM TILLIS: Brannon, a Cary physician, took a swipe at Tillis as he noted that he has enjoyed meeting people while campaigning over the past few months.

“I wish they got to meet Mr. Tillis more as well,” he said, receiving a great deal of audience applause.

Brannon also criticized Tillis’ response to the Affordable Care Act and his approach to maximizing energy resources.

“He wants to put the government in charge of our future energy needs, and in this state, 21.5 percent of future energy must be green,” Brannon said. “That’s cronyism. That’s not a free market.” Read more here.

GOP INDECISION 2014: A voter after the GOP forum – Bill Carter of Knightdale said he came to the event supporting Brannon because of his adherence to the Constitution. “(The forum) didn’t sway my opinion, but it broadened it,” he said of the debate. “I’ve got four or five that I really like.”

Attention Democrats ... TILLIS SAYS NO POLICY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SENATE GOP CANDIDATES: From the Fayetteville Observer – He said that there’s no significant difference between the primary candidates because they all want to repeal Obamacare, oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, believe in the right to life and support Second Amendment rights.

“So when you make the decision about who to pick, you don’t have to worry much about whether or not we share similar values,” he said. “It comes down to whether you or not you have the experience.” Read more here.

A LONG ENDORSEMENT: Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam has ties to three of the U.S. Senate candidates. He penned a long piece on why he endorsed Speaker Thom Tillis. Read it here.

MORE: U.S. Chamber backs Tillis. Read more here.

MOTHER JONES ON THE TILLIS AUDIO: From a meeting about Rep. Larry Pittman’s remarks. Read more here.

BRANNON TOUTS STRAW POLL WINS: The campaign claims it won its ninth straw poll (out of the last 10) at a GOP district convention this weekend.

ON YOUR TV THIS WEEK: A new Washington Post feature. In North Carolina .... Over the next week, Senate Majority PAC is spending $298,000 and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (D) is spending $339,000 for Sen. Kay Hagan (D). At the same time, American Crossroads is spending $280,000 and 60 Plus is spending $123,000 for state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R). Tillis’s campaign is spending $157,000 this week, while his main primary rivals are spending less than $10,000 – combined (Notably absent, so far: Americans for Prosperity, which has been hammering Hagan with ads for months). Read more here.

ABOUT BRANNON’S TV BUY: Greg Brannon is scheduled to hit TV with his first ad Monday. It’s cable only. And only on Fox News.


JOHN EDWARDS, BACK IN THE COURTROOM: John Edwards, the former presidential candidate who trusted his own fate to a federal jury nearly two years ago, is back to where he started before his political collapse.

The former U.S. senator and one-time darling of the Democratic Party was in a Pitt County courtroom this week helping to choose a jury in a medical malpractice case. The lawsuit has elements of the kinds of cases that made Edwards millions in his first go-round as a trial lawyer before he journeyed into politics. Read more here.

NORTH CAROLINA’S RISING POLITICAL STARS: According to MSNBC, they include Tim Moore, Phil Berger and Josh Stein. See the video here.

UNC’S POLITICAL LIGHTNING ROD – GENE NICHOL: According to email records obtained by The N&O, Nichol, a former dean and college president and well-known liberal, has also been asked by his bosses to give them a day or two days’ notice – a “heads up” before his columns appear. And when the subject doesn’t involve poverty, he’s been urged to omit his title as director of the privately funded, university-based Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity – an organization that has been a lightning rod because its founding was tied to former presidential candidate and disgraced Democrat John Edwards.

The university’s unusual requests followed an Oct. 15 column by Nichol in which he was sharply critical of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The emails show significant angst on the part of university officials who fretted about budget consequences for the university in North Carolina’s highly politicized atmosphere. Though Nichol agreed to the limits, some say they threaten the university’s proud tradition of academic freedom and unfettered expression. Read more here.

PATRICK CANNON’S CAMPAIGN AT ISSUE IN CRIMINAL PROBE: As the FBI builds its public corruption case against Patrick Cannon, investigators are taking a close look at campaign finance records that the former mayor filed with the Mecklenburg County elections board.

But making sense of those public reports won’t be easy.

An Observer review of Cannon’s campaign records since 1999 found reports with misleading, inaccurate and missing information that makes it difficult to tell where the former mayor got much of his money. State law requires that candidates disclose the name, address, occupation and employer of any donor who gives at least $50. Read more here.

A LOOK AT THE 6TH DISTRICT RACE TO REPLACE COBLE: There was no shortage of praise for retiring 83-year-old U.S. Rep. Howard Coble at the recent N.C. GOP 6th District convention. And there was also no shortage of Republican candidates there, vying to replace him.

With political goals ranging from protecting individual liberties to saving future generations from debt, 11 candidates – nine Republicans and two Democrats – are running in the state’s most crowded congressional race for Coble’s soon-to-be-vacant seat. Read more here.

MEET THE CANDIDATES: Who they are and why they are running. Read more here.

SUNDAY HEADLINE: Chemical discharge from (a different) Duke plant affects water quality – From the Winston-Salem Journal: On a small tributary of the Dan River, several miles upstream of the Rockingham County power plant owned by Duke Energy that contaminated the river with coal ash in February, sits another power plant, one of Duke’s largest.

It’s called the Belews Creek Steam Station, in southern Stokes County.

From this power plant, a coal-waste substance known as bromide, discharged legally into the tributary, has been causing trouble for the downstream town of Madison and the city of Eden, as well as buyers of Madison’s and Eden’s drinking water, such as Rockingham County and Henry County, Va., according to public-record emails between officials with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Read more here.


More N.C. residents seeing psychiatrists through real-time video. Read more here.

Former Sen. Olympia Snowe urges Charlotte audience to fight political gridlock. Read more here.

Judge lets Duke Energy ash lawsuit continue. Read more here.

MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry joins Wake Forest faculty. Read more here.

N.C. Supreme Court to review RJA sentences. Read more here.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison tells Winston-Salem Democrats to get out the vote. Read more here.

Richard Burr speaks against unionization of college athletes. Read more here.

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