The “super Tuesday” of U.S. Senate primaries in Kentucky, Georgia and Oregon last night offered results that fit the same pattern as North Carolina’s contest earlier this month: establishment Republicans beat tea party candidates.
AP’s Chuck Babington provides the big-picture analysis: Tuesday’s elections are the best evidence yet that Republicans are avoiding previous mistakes and improving their chances of controlling the Senate during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office.
GOP voters again chose solidly conservative nominees while rejecting the most extreme and outlandish types who led the party to painful losses in 2010 and 2012.
The simple way to view this year’s results, thus far, is to say “establishment” Republicans are outperforming tea party insurgents. That’s largely true. But it blurs the extent to which nearly all Republican candidates – including some who have been in Congress for decades – have shifted rightward to stay in step with ardently conservative voters who helped create the tea party in 2009 and still dominate GOP primaries.
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In North Carolina, however, Democrats dispute the notion that Republican Thom Tillis is “moderate.” Read more here.
As a side note, Gov. Pat McCrory’s nephew, Patrick Sebastian, ran U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey’s tea party campaign in Georgia’s GOP primary. Gingrey won 10 percent of the vote and finished in a distant fourth place. The campaign came under fire in the final days for running a homophobic TV ad. More on that here.
*** Plenty of action at the General Assembly on Tuesday. Get the roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo. ***
TODAY IN POLTICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not issue a public calendar.
At the statehouse, a number of legislative committees will start the day’s work. House Commerce will consider a bill to crack down on patent abuses (10 a.m., 643 LOB) and Senate Finance will meet again (10 a.m.; 544 LOB). The Senate’s health and human services appropriations committee will begin the budget work (11 a.m., 1027 LB). The House public utilities committee will consider a bill to adjust the regulatory fees on the telecommunications industry (noon, 643 LOB).
Tillis will address the NFIB luncheon Tuesday at noon at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
The Senate convenes at 2 p.m. to consider a major bill to lift the state moratorium on fracking, (see more below) taking votes Wednesday and Thursday on the measure.
The House will start at 3 p.m. and take a final vote on the tax bill with more amendments possible. A bill delayed from Tuesday to keep most 16- and 17-year-olds out of the adult prison system remains on the calendar, too.
#NCSEN – The headlines from the U.S. Senate campaign trail.
MORE HEADLINES: Bloomberg: Tea ‘party’ over as business wins GOP primaries Tuesday. Read more here. Roll Call: $5 million check from Thomas Steyer fuels Senate Majority PAC helping Kay Hagan. Read more here.
#NCGA – A roundup of news from the N.C. General Assembly.
THE BIG STORY – LAWMAKERS BREAK PLEDGE ON FRACKING, BILL ADVANCES TO LIFE MORATORIUM: Two state Senate committees on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation that would lift the state’s fracking moratorium next summer, with a key legislator expressing confidence that the measure would come before the full Senate this week.
The bill would lift the moratorium on shale gas drilling on July 1, 2015, allowing the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to start issuing permits to energy companies for hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.
Fracking supporters say the day has been a long time coming and predicted domestic energy exploration would generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of revenue for the state’s economy.
“North Carolina has been working on shale gas exploration for four years,” said Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton, a Republican from Wilson. “North Carolina has missed out on a lot of opportunity.”
Environmental groups complain the bill breaks a pledge that lawmakers had made twice before not to lift the state’s fracking moratorium until all safety rules were in place and approved by the legislature. A previous attempt to lift the moratorium fell apart in the N.C. House last year when lawmakers upheld the drilling ban as a necessary public protection and environmental safeguard. Read more here.
RELATED: Duke researchers say fracking enriches public finances through local taxes. Read more here.
HOUSE GIVES INITIAL NOD TO TAX BILL: In the first major vote this session, the N.C. House advanced a bill to cap local taxes on businesses and put a new, modest tax on electronic cigarettes.
The $100 cap on local privilege taxes pitted supporters who wanted to cut the taxes on businesses against critics who worried about the millions that some cities and towns would lose for essential services, such as police, fire and public recreation.
The new e-cigarettes tax, pushed by the tobacco industry, also split lawmakers who were challenged by how to regulate an emerging product in a state with a rich tobacco legacy and where the industry is a powerful political player. Read more here.
NEW REGULATORY BILL IS SWEEPING – AND WINS COMMITTEE APPROVAL WITHOUT A DEBATE: What Senate Republican leaders promoted as their fourth wave of regulatory reform appeared in a committee Tuesday: a 62-page proposal that lawmakers and advocacy groups were seeing for the first time.
The bill was approved without any vocal opposition, and heads next to another committee before coming before the full Senate.
Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican from Mocksville and one of the bill’s sponsors, afterward said the legislation reflected a combination of efficiencies, changes sought by state agencies or developed in study committees, legislation that didn’t make it out of previous sessions in time, and obsolete requirements. He said he was only a little surprised there wasn’t any opposition. Read more here.
THE TALKER FROM TUESDAY: A recording device was taken from a reporter during a North Carolina legislative committee meeting after a co-chairman said such devices need to be approved.
Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, co-chairman of the Senate Commercial Services Committee, said Tuesday that audio devices need to be approved by the Senate sergeant-at-arms in order to record meetings. He later rescinded his comment, saying that approval was not needed because it was the committee’s first meeting.
North Carolina Press Association attorney Amanda Martin says pre-approval of recording devices would violate the state open meetings law.
Gunn said later that he misspoke in response to an unattended device at the table, and that recording devices of all kinds are allowed in public meetings and do not have to be approved. Read more here.
ELECTIONS BOARD SAYS IT NEEDS NEW INVESTIGATORS: The executive director of the State Board of Elections is asking lawmakers for money to hire as many as five new investigators to look into elections and campaign finance complaints piling up at the agency, including hundreds of potential cases of double voting identified in a recent report.
“That is certainly what I think we would like to start with in order to be able to do the work that we need to do, especially on the Kansas cross-check,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, the state board executive director, in an interview with the Insider on Monday.
Strach said the agency has built a database and is working with other states to compile information about the voters, but that she couldn’t release any findings yet or say when the investigation would be complete. The timetable depends, in part, on whether the agency can hire new investigators, she said.
Aside from the cross-check investigation, the Board of Elections also is looking into dozens of other complaints of possible violations of elections or campaign finance laws, including allegations against sitting lawmakers. Strach said the agency currently has only one compliance specialist and one election investigator to handle complaints and other alleged violations brought to the board’s attention by the media or uncovered in audits.
Among the outstanding cases is an investigation stemming from a 2013 complaint filed by Democracy North Carolina involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to dozens of North Carolina legislators from players in the Internet sweepstakes industry.
#NCPOL – More political news from North Carolina.
AFTER NARROW WIN, CLAY AIKEN’S NATIONAL MEDIA TOUR CONTINUES: Clay Aiken is like a bug to the light when it comes to the glare of the national television cameras on his campaign.
Aiken barely survived the Democratic primary for the 2nd U.S. Congressional District that made him a frequent interview on national TV shows. And he returned Tuesday to NBC’s “Today” show to talk more about his run.
On his Idol recognition, he said: “You know, you’ve got to get people to see me in a different light. Getting the opportunity to talk to people about the issues that are affecting them and talk about how I want to help people, gets people to see me in a different light. It’s a blessing in the fact that it gets me in the room, but I have to overcome the fact that people see me in one way and not the other.” Read more from the interview here.
--SIDESTEPPING THE BIG QUESTION: But Aiken, who surprised observers with his grasp on policy issues, appeared aloof in the “Today” interview when he sidestepped a question about whether Eric Sinkseki, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, ought to resign amid questions about the treatment of veterans.
“I’m not going to be one of those folks who wasn’t in the hearings, hasn’t paid attention to those details, and wasn’t privy to that stuff in making decisions for that,” he said.
It’s not just any question for Aiken, who is running for a district that includes Fort Bragg. Republicans jumps on the “hasn’t paid attention” part and issued this statement:
“It’s quite telling that Clay Aiken found the time to fly to New York City to appear on the ‘Today’ show, but says he doesn’t have enough time to educate himself on the VA scandal that directly impacts the North Carolina veterans he claims he wants to represent,” said Todd Poole, the N.C. Republican Party executive director.
MEDICAL EXAMINER SERIES DAY 4 – Fewer questions asked when elderly die: While a handful of jurisdictions recognize the elderly as a vulnerable population whose deaths warrant special attention, North Carolina does not. Even when deaths are suspicious, sudden, violent or unattended – the types of cases medical examiners are called on to investigate – there’s typically far less scrutiny. ...
The Observer discovered that medical examiners sometimes incorrectly assumed older people died of natural causes, overlooking evidence that pointed to wrongdoing. Though the facts of the cases differed, age was a constant. Read more here.
CHRISTENSEN – Luther Hodges pushes privatization of Ports Authority: Hodges thinks the state should create a public/private corporation to run the state ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, so it could operate more like a business, hiring top-level professional managers, and operate outside the normal politics of state government.
“Such a major corporation, operating outside of the State Personnel Act, and with a highly competent and respected Board of Directors, could make a great contribution to the success of transportation in 21st century North Carolina,” Hodges wrote in a memo.
Hodges, a resident of Blowing Rock, is not just any Ports Authority member. He was U.S. under commerce (and acting) secretary under Jimmy Carter, was once chairman of North Carolina National Bank (now Bank of America) and in 1978 was a Democratic Senate candidate. Hodges is now a Republican. His father was a North Carolina governor and John F. Kennedy’s commerce secretary. Read more here.
UPDATED: THOMAS WRIGHT TO GET OUT OF PRISON: Former Rep. Thomas Wright is expected to be released from prison Monday after spending 2,239 days, or more than six years, behind bars for corruption and campaign finance-related convictions, a Division of Adult Correction spokesman said. The length of his incarceration will represent 105 percent of the minimum sentence he could have served on four corruption-related felonies he committed while serving in the House last decade.
Wright, a Wilmington Democrat, has been locked up since April 7, 2008. His maximum prison term was nearly eight years, but his work in prison and good behavior have reduced his sentence.
Acree said Wright will be monitored by a probation officer for nine months after leaving prison. Wright, now 58, was expelled from the General Assembly in March 2008, becoming the first sitting legislator thrown out of office since 1880. He was convicted in April 2008 of three counts of fraud after a jury decided he had mishandled $7,400 in charitable contributions and fraudulently obtained a $150,000 bank loan. He later was found guilty of felony obstruction of justice after he hindered state elections officials who were investigating his failure to report $150,000 in campaign contributions over a seven-year period. (A previous version of this story had the incorrect date.)
QUICK LOOK – More headlines from across the state.
Wilmington lawmakers seek to extend film incentives. Read more here.
Charlotte Democratic lawmaker is calling for a study into the long-term health effects of exposure to coal ash. Read more here.
Congressmen want NCAA to address issues surrounding UNC academic fraud. Read more here.
Report: Rising seas threaten Charleston, Cape Hatteras. Read more here.
OP-ED: Constant study, not crystal balls, the right call on climate. Read more here.
Insider staff writer Patrick Gannon contributed to this report.