The General Assembly returns to work Wednesday and the spotlight is focused on House Speaker Thom Tillis.
The Republican is keeping his grip on the helm, despite his bid for the U.S. Senate and the potential pitfalls – tough votes, a sometimes unruly GOP caucus and questions about conflicts of interest.
Top lawmakers hope to keep the session short and Tillis allies say everyone understands the shadow cast by the Senate race.
“If North Carolina is the 51st (Republican) vote in the U.S. Senate, that is incredibly important to us as a General Assembly,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, the senior House budget writer and a GOP leader. “We make the connection.”
Democrats are likewise attuned. “I would hope that Speaker Tillis would not use this as an opportunity to campaign and curry favor with supporters and other folks,” said House Democratic leader Larry Hall.
The first day of session is a test for Tillis on whether he can balance the two. He will hold a press conference in the morning to lay out the House GOP agenda and numerous media outlets outside the typical capital press corps have requested credentials to cover the first day of session.
Beyond the Senate race, the legislature drew more than its fair share of attention in 2013 with mass protests and arrests in reaction to the Republican-drafted policies being approved.
In addition to the policy questions, Tillis is sure to face other tough story lines – from how he plans to deal with conflicts arising from his campaign fundraising during session (even though his colleagues are prohibited from doing so under state law) to his stance on a minimum wage hike after he dodged the question in a national TV interview last week.
The campaign of Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan will put the focus on his stance on education, issuing a memo Wednesday that rehashes a remark Tillis made in 2011 on his town hall tour in which he said the N.C. Association of Educators “don’t care about kids. They don’t care about classrooms. They only care about their jobs and their pensions.”
“Speaker Tillis said that teachers don’t care about kids, but it’s his irresponsible budget that shows little regard for our kids,” Hagan says in a statement.
The N.C. Association of Educators – which has endorsed Hagan – will hold a “day of action” Wednesday, featuring press conferences, petitions and a rally to push their case against education cuts and for pay raises.
It’s just one of a handful of groups preparing to make the first day of session raucous. Progress North Carolina Action will bang on pots and pans at 10 a.m. on the Bicentennial Mall across the street from the legislative building to create a noisy statement against the GOP policies. And Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group aligned with the Koch brothers, will distribute earplugs to lawmakers.
Inside the statehouse, don’t expect perfect order. House and Senate Republicans are starting the term in a very public spat after House lawmakers refused to attend a committee meeting Tuesday, standing in opposition to a Senate move on a health care bill.
Gov. Pat McCrory also is scheduled to debut his budget proposal at 1 p.m. just an hour after lawmakers gavel into session in a dueling bid for the bully pulpit. How McCrory says he will pay for his teacher salary hikes is the headline and whether lawmakers give it much consideration is what to watch in coming days.
As they say, the circus is back in town. Enjoy the show.
***The day is sure to leave your head spinning, so get briefed below with the Dome Morning Memo. And stay tuned to Dome and follow the the action on the #NCpol, #NCGA and #NCGOV hashtags on Twitter. ***
TODAY IN POLITICS: The return of the legislative session – and all the related sideshows – will dominate the headlines.
The Joint Study Committee on the Affordable Care Act will try again on the autism bill relating to health insurance. It meets at 9:30 a.m. in room 643 of the legislative office building.
Gov. Pat McCrory will release his budget proposal at 1 p.m. at the Department of Administration building in Raleigh. At 2:30 p.m. he will attend a reception honoring the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees at the executive mansion.
#NCSEN – All the news about North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race.
PPP POLL – MORE DEADLOCK BUT A SURPRISING LIBERTARIAN VOTE: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling issued its first general election poll in the U.S. Senate race finding – as everyone else has found – that the race is deadlocked. PPP says Hagan edges Republican Tillis 48 percent to 46 percent but the lead is within the plus-or-minus 3.3 percent margin of error.
Libertarian Sean Haugh pulled in 11 percent – anumber likely to decrease toward November. Pollster Tom Jensen’s spin on Tillis and Haugh’s numbers: “Despite his outright win last week some folks within his own party continue to be disaffected with him and are leaning toward voting Libertarian at least for now.”
But, he added, “people planning to vote for (Haugh) right now say they would support Tillis over Hagan 47 percent to 27 percent if they had to choose between the major party candidates.” When re-allocated, the race is tied at 41 percent, he found. Find more results here.
MORE TILLIS: From AP – House Speaker Thom Tillis says he won’t veer from the conservative policies he championed before winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate last week as he leads the chamber for the final year. Read more here.
HEADLINES: N&O op-ed: The GOP’s proxy war in North Carolina. Read more here. NPR: Coming soon to a TV near you, custom campaign ads. Read more here. News & Record: Man charged for making threats against Hagan’s Greensboro office. Read more here.
#NCPOL – A roundup of North Carolina political news.
THE BIG STORY: CLAY AIKEN WINS CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARY BUT OVERSHADOWED BY CRISCO’S DEATH: In a formality overshadowed by the death of his opponent the previous day, a final count of votes on Tuesday confirmed that Clay Aiken will be the Democratic nominee running against Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers for Congress.
The canvassing of votes – a tally of Election Day plus absentee and provisional ballots in nine counties – came the day after runner-up Keith Crisco died in a fall at his home in Asheboro.
NEW DETAILS: Crisco, 71, was returning home from running errands shortly before 1 p.m. Monday and opened a door to go inside when his wife heard him call out, according to a police report. She told police she found him lying in the doorway.
An emergency medical services crew called to the home saw that he was not breathing, and they were unable to revive him. EMS notified police that Crisco was dead when they arrived, and an officer went to the house and took a report.
THE FINAL MARGIN OF VICTORY– 390: Crisco’s death made the vote canvassing seem irrelevant. But he had already decided to concede the race to Aiken and had been planning to do so Tuesday morning, his longtime friend and political strategist Brad Crone said.
And indeed when total votes were counted, Aiken gained 21 votes over Crisco, giving him a 390-vote victory. He received 40.86 percent of the vote. Read more here.
DCCC ON RESULT – From the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: “We are confident that Clay Aiken will run an aggressive campaign to hold Congresswoman Ellmers accountable for losing touch with the people of North Carolina. Finally, we are thankful for Keith Crisco’s lifetime of public service and extend our deepest condolences to his family.”
FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS: A funeral for Crisco will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the First United Methodist Church in Asheboro. The family will receive friends Thursday evening at Pugh Funeral Home.
JONES RACE UNCOVERS GOP FAULT LINES – From Rob Christensen: Winston Churchill liked to say that “nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result,” which is why Republican Rep. Walter Jones is in fine fettle these days.
The GOP Washington establishment spent more than $1 million trying to end Jones’ 20-year House career, but despite its best effort, Jones was still standing after last week’s 3rd District GOP primary. He’ll face Democrat Marshall Adame in November.
The primary between Jones and Taylor Griffin, a former Bush White House staffer, whom Jones defeated 51 to 45 percent, tells us a few things about the fault lines in the Republican Party. Read more here.
MOFFITT CLEARED IN ETHICS COMPLAINT: The State Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint against Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt brought by his political challenger.
The commission determined there was no probable cause to show Moffitt violated state law or the state Ethics Act during a meeting with Democrat Brian Turner on Feb. 24 at Travinia Italian Kitchen in Biltmore Park.
Turner faces Moffitt in the November election in House District 116.
He has said Moffitt asked him to drop out of the race during the meeting. He said Moffitt told him he wanted to focus on running for speaker of the House instead of running for re-election in his district. Read more here.
HITTING A NERVE: A Republican lawmaker’s response to a teacher is generating a heated response. See here.
SHORT SESSION WISHFUL THINKING? A four to six week session? So suggests the Asheville Citizen-Times. Read more here.
RICHARD BURR PART OF NEW FUNDRAISING TREND: From Roll Call: The Federal Election Commission has received five new registrations for political committees that will operate as joint fundraising committees, allowing a donor to easily write one check for a large amount. Read more here.
CIGARETTE MAKERS PROPOSE SMALL TAX ON E-CIGS: North Carolina, the nation’s longtime leader in tobacco production, is now considering a new tax on its tobacco-free relative – the electronic cigarette – after a state committee approved draft legislation Tuesday.
The proposal will now head to the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly to consider during its upcoming session, which begins Wednesday. A House-Senate study committee unanimously approved draft legislation for the new excise tax and support was widespread across the aisle, even coming from some unlikely groups.
The typically anti-tax Republicans are on board and Winston-Salem based tobacco giant Reynolds America essentially asked for it. Read more here.
QUICK HITS – A collection of headlines from across the state.
McCrory cites panel to reduce underage drinking. Read more here.
US appeals panel hears dispute over NC bridge. Read more here.
McCrory teacher pay plan has local cost. Read more here.
Guilford dismisses election complaint in congressional race. Read more here.
NC charter board approves 11 schools, rejects most applicants. Read more here.