Under the Dome

March 18, 2014

Morning Memo: Tillis camp responds to Brannon’s attacks in Senate race

For months, Greg Brannon has sniped at House Speaker Thom Tillis in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. The difference about the latest Brannon attack: Tillis’ camp responded.

For months, Greg Brannon has sniped at House Speaker Thom Tillis in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. The potshots came in fundraising letters designed to stir the base detailing Tillis’ ties to political insiders, sex scandals in his legislative office and more recently his financial ties to legislation approved at the statehouse.

It makes sense: Brannon is the little-known tea party challenger seeking to break his natural ceiling of support and Tillis is the perceived frontrunner, leading the money race and backed by the bigwigs in Washington.

The difference about the latest Brannon attack: Tillis’ camp responded. Campaign manager and spokesman Jordan Shaw had declined to comment on Brannon’s own troubles – a civil jury verdict that he misled investors, plagiarism on his campaign website and an unpaid tax bill – until now.

Responding to claims from Brannon that Tillis was “unelectable” because of his baggage, Shaw responded: “All this coming from a guy ... who has strung together one embarrassing episode after another. If Greg Brannon wants to talk about unelectability, he should simply look in the mirror.”

Expect to hear more about each side’s baggage as the race enters crunch time in the coming weeks and the candidates try to differentiate themselves for voters. Read more on Brannon’s hit on Tillis here.

*** A handful of headaches for Gov. Pat McCrory detailed below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not release a public calendar for Tuesday.

The action will take place at the legislature. The newsmaker today, via AP: A legislative study committee directed to review the 2010 law pushed by President Barack Obama scheduled its first meeting for Tuesday at 1 p.m. Committee members will hear from representatives of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the health insurance plan for state employees and teachers.

Earlier Tuesday, doctors and patients who support the Affordable Care Act will hold a news conference at the Legislative Building.

Also meeting: A legislative committee looking at healthcare will meet at 9 a.m. in room 643 of the legislative office building to hear presentations on industry trends and the certificate of need process on opening new hospitals. A panel studying civilian credits for military training convenes at 10 a.m. in room 544 LOB. And a foster care committee meets at 2 p.m. in room 414 LOB.

NEWLY RELEASED POLL NUMBERS: The poll is a month old but these numbers are interesting. Republican firm American Insights found North Carolina voters are leaning toward Republicans when it comes to the questions about who to send to Washington. In a generic ballot question for Congressional elections, Republican versus Democrat, the poll found 44 percent of voters support the GOP nominee, compared to 38 percent for the other party. Look for a release of more polling data later Tuesday.

ENDORSEMENT: As Republicans battle in the 6th Congressional District to replace retiring Rep. Howard Coble, Democrat Laura Fjeld is gaining momentum. Her campaign received the endorsement of the North Carolina AFL-CIO on Monday, noting she supports a minimum wage hike. “I’m proud of this endorsement. Working people and their families are getting left behind. Too many elected officials and politicians are in the back pocket of big corporations and aren’t looking out for workers,” Fjeld said.

NORTH CAROLINA NOW RANKS No. 33 IN UNEMPLOYMENT: The state’s 6.7 percent jobless rate for January is lower, but still lags behind South Carolina (6.4 percent) and Virginia (5 percent). See the list here. And read more about the numbers here.

THE BIG STORY – McCRORY ADMINISTRATION MEDICAID PITCH MEETS COLD RECEPTION: A signature proposal from Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration for changes in the state’s $13 billion Medicaid program is running into opposition in the state Senate, with a key legislator criticizing the plan and recommending it be reworked.

Sen. Louis Pate, a member of the advisory committee that helped guide creation of the proposal, said in a letter to the head of the state health agency that it fails to offer predictable Medicaid spending and doesn’t ease the administrative burdens or properly integrate physical and mental health care for patients.

“Instead of providing a comprehensive plan, the proposal presents a list of tentative steps that may move us in a new direction, but collectively falls short of the vision and goals of true reform this group was tasked with developing,” the Mount Olive Republican wrote.

Pate’s dissent came as state health leaders sent their proposal to move to Accountable Care Organizations to legislative leaders. Lawmakers are expected to debate the plan when they meet in May and can accept it, reject it or change it. Read more here.

MORE HEADACHES FOR THE ADMINISTRATION – Grand jury looking at state environmental agency begins this week: Federal prosecutors have issued at least 23 grand jury subpoenas in their criminal probe of the relationship between Duke Energy and the state environmental agency tasked with regulating the country’s largest electricity provider.

A federal grand jury is set to meet behind closed doors from Tuesday to Thursday in the federal courthouse in Raleigh to examine documents, video and other materials with the Duke executives and 18 current and former N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources employees summoned to the hearing. Read more here.

RELATED: Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds in Chatham County under scrutiny. Read more here. AND MORE: Tweak to N.C. law protected Duke’s coal ash pits. Read more here.

TROOPERS SUE FOR BACK PAY – IF SUCCESSFUL COULD COST STATE $7M-10M: A Waynesville attorney filed a lawsuit in state court Monday on behalf of 39 troopers across the state seeking tens of thousands of dollars each in pay increases and benefits they say were illegally withheld from them for several years.

Highway Patrol salaries have been largely frozen since 2009 by state lawmakers and two governors seeking to balance budgets during economic hard times. “What you’ve got is guys working out here for six, seven years making $37,000 a year, and they are working beside other master troopers who are making $60,000 a year, and they are facing the same criminals shooting bullets at them,” Wijewickrama in an interview.

Wijewickrama said it could cost the state roughly $7 million to $10 million if it were to restore the pay increases and related benefits such as full 401(k) and pension payments to the more than 500 troopers affected by the freezes.

McCRORY ADMINISTRATION RESPONSE: Frank Perry issued a statement Monday in which he declined to discuss the lawsuit, but said he is working to ensure that eligible troopers get raises from a $7.5 million “salary adjustment fund” that the legislature included in the state budget to reduce turnover in high-demand jobs. In January, Gov. Pat McCrory announced that roughly 600 law enforcement officers would receive pay increases of up to 4 percent from the fund, and Perry said eligible troopers received that raise in their March paychecks, retroactive to Jan. 1. Read more here.

SUNSHINE WEEK: Despite widespread interest, efforts to make the North Carolina Legislature more transparent through better audio and video coverage have failed, panelists at an open government forum said on Monday. Read more here.

NARAL RESPONDS TO ABORTION CLINIC REPORT: “The documents exposed this week confirm that the laws passed this summer had nothing to do with women’s health and safety – everything to do with restricting access to safe and legal abortion care,” said Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL NC. “To put it simply, Governor McCrory and the extreme lawmakers in Raleigh are playing politics with women’s lives.”

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