Under the Dome

June 2, 2014

Morning Memo: The rural North Carolina question and Senate race maneuvering

It’s not the sexy U.S. Senate race or the sweeping policy changes at the statehouse, but it could be one of the most important stories facing North Carolina: What to do about the vast rural areas of the state facing steep decline? In Washington, climate change will dominate the conversation and influence the U.S. Senate race. George Will talks to Thom Tillis. And Democrats ante up for Kay Hagan.

It’s not the sexy U.S. Senate race or the sweeping policy changes at the statehouse, but it could be one of the most important stories facing North Carolina: What to do about the vast rural areas of the state facing steep decline?

The topic is an undercurrent for much of what happens in Raleigh. The urban vs. rural divide is apparent in the state legislature. And Gov. Pat McCrory, a former big-city mayor, pledged in his campaign not to forget the rural counties. But the big conversation remains about what to do.

A good case study is Rocky Mount, the focus of a big Sunday piece in The N&O. The city, along with half the state’s counties, is shrinking as its young people leave. The two counties that make up the city’s metropolitan statistical area – Edgecombe and Nash – cumulatively have lost several hundred people every year since 2010, the first such significant decline in at least 30 years.

In all, 47 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have lost population in the last four years, double the tally of a decade earlier.

The natural magnetic pull of larger cities, combined with an uneven economic recovery and a shifting industrial base, is stripping rural towns and smaller cities of their population, leaving an aging population behind. Rocky Mount’s median age is 39.4, compared with 37.4 for the state and 32 in Raleigh, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

One quote from the piece lingers: “The question then becomes: Do you try to promote growth?” says Rebecca Tippett, director of the Carolina Demography project at UNC’s Carolina Population Center. “Do you sit back and watch it happen and try to mediate the change as best as possible?” Read more here.

*** In Washington, climate change will dominate the conversation and influence the U.S. Senate race. George Will talks to Thom Tillis. And Democrats ante up for Kay Hagan. Read all this and more in the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLTICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will visit Sun Valley Elementary School in Monroe at 9 a.m. to highlight the summer Scholastic reading challenge.

State lawmakers are mostly taking Monday off. The House will convene for a skeleton session but not take any action. It takes the state budget baton this week after Senate passage last week. The Senate won’t reconvene until 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Despite the quiet hallways on Jones Street, protesters will gather for the latest “Moral Monday” demonstration. And a conservative group is greeting them with a sun mascot to try to counter the demonstrators’ gloomy message about the Republican agenda.

#NCSEN – The headlines from the U.S. Senate campaign trail.

BOB DOLE TO HOST FUNDRAISER FOR THOM TILLIS: From the Washington Examiner – Dole, 90, has recently eased back into politics with campaign-like tours across Kansas, which he formerly served in the Senate, to reconnect with supporters and constituents. His fundraiser for Tillis, however, represents a significant and deliberate foray into the 2014 midterm elections, which Republicans hope will tilt the Senate majority in their favor.

It is less surprising that Dole would choose North Carolina as his first target of this election cycle. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, also a Republican, lost her Senate seat in 2008 to Sen. Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent Tillis aims to defeat.

Elizabeth Dole is not listed on the fundraiser invitation obtained by the Washington Examiner, which notes Bob Dole will host a lunch for Tillis on June 16 at the Washington law firm where he works as special counsel, Alston & Bird. Read more here.

GEORGE WILL ON THOM TILLIS: “Twenty-four times” is Thom Tillis’s answer, delivered with a faint flicker of a Cheshire Cat smile. The question was: How many times, that his campaign knows of, has Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said on camera that under Obamacare, if you like your health insurance, you can keep it? Tillis will be sharing some of her video promises with voters as he seeks to become part of a Republican Senate majority in January. ...

“If I thought there was a way to get [a Senate Republican majority] without North Carolina, I would not be running,” says Tillis, 53. Read more here.

TILLIS AVOIDS TAKING STANCE ON BURR’S VA LETTER – From The Hill: North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis’s (R) campaign won’t take a position on Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) controversial letter criticizing veterans groups though he’s bashed Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) for what he calls a slow response to the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal. Read more here.

FOR THOSE KEEPING SCORE ... that’s at least the fourth big issue since becoming the GOP nominee that Thom Tillis won’t take a stance on. The others: whether the state should increase its minimum wage, key provisions in “Obamacare” and the causes of climate change and how to address it.

DEMOCRATS RESERVE $5.5M IN AIRTIME FOR HAGAN – From Roll Call: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm has reserved $5.5 million in airtime for Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., according to a source with knowledge of the reservation. ...

In North Carolina, the DSCC reserved airtime starting Sept. 16 and running through Election Day. ...

The DSCC is spending the most funds in the more expensive Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham media markets. Those buys begin Sept. 16. Buys in the Greensboro media market do not begin until Sept. 30, and the DSCC has reserved fewer points in advertisement there. Read more here.

TODAY’S BIG STORY – President Barack Obama will announce plans Monday to impose the nation’s first limits on pollution from power plants – a move that is sure to intensify the discussion about global warming in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is criticizing her Republican rival Thom Tillis’ stance on the issue. She said last week that North Carolina needs a “senator who believes climate change exists,” although she expresses caution about how to address it.

Tillis, the House speaker, is accusing Hagan of “doublespeak” on the issue, suggesting she supports policies that will hurt the economy, even as he remains coy about his position on climate change. Read more here.

AN EARLY LOOK: The Obama administration on Monday will roll out a plan to cut earth-warming pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, setting in motion one of the most significant actions to address global warming in U.S. history. Read more here.

THE LIKELY TILLIS RESPONSE: “Every American’s electricity bills will get more expensive, and we will force-feed those electric bills back to every Democratic candidate,” said Brad Todd, a Republican strategist working for Republican Thom Tillis, the Washington Post. “When any politician gets caught making life more expensive for the middle class, he or she is in harm’s way.” Read more here.

#NCGA – A roundup of news from the N.C. General Assembly.

WHAT YOU MISSED LATE FRIDAY: The state Senate passed a $21.2 billion budget Friday night that makes cuts in K-12 education to pay for hefty teacher raises and adds $206 million to pay for Medicaid while cutting elderly and disabled beneficiaries from the rolls.

The budget won preliminary approval in a 32-15 vote largely along party lines. One Democrat, Gene McLaurin of Rockingham, voted for it. The Senate took its final 32-10 vote shortly after midnight Saturday morning, sending the budget to the House for consideration.

Democrats raised objections to the education cuts, the removal of thousands of elderly and disabled residents from Medicaid, and the transfer of the State Bureau of Investigation from the state Attorney General’s office to the Department of Public Safety.

Democrats argued that the high teacher raises the majority Republicans are touting amount to a shell game, but Senate leader Phil Berger said that the 11-percent average increases would catch the eyes of the nation and move the state up from its embarrassing position near the bottom of national averages to the middle. Read more here.

INSIDE THE BUDGET – REPUBLICANS CITE DEMOCRATS IN CREATING NEW JUDICIAL PANEL: AP – North Carolina Republican legislators unhappy that trial judges keep striking down laws they passed now want the rules of the game changed for future similar litigation. Democrats say their GOP colleagues are just sore losers after passing unconstitutional legislation.

It’s a repeat of arguments from a decade ago when Democrats held most of the political power in Raleigh that may end with the same result. ...

A REVERSAL FOR SENATE LEADER BERGER: Berger said the three-judge concept follows from a 2003 law. At the time, Democratic leaders in the General Assembly got a law passed that set up three-judge panels to consider redistricting litigation. Democrats accused GOP plaintiffs challenging legislative boundaries of “judge shopping” by filing their case in Johnston County. A judge there struck down maps twice.

It was Republicans in 2003 who cried foul about the change in the process. Even Berger, then in his second term in the Senate, offered an amendment in committee to remove the three-judge panels. Berger said late last week the reason for GOP opposition at the time was for fear it would apply to the pending redistricting lawsuits. Read more here.

FRACKING IN THE MOUNTAINS? NCGA-MANDATED TESTING BEGINS: From the Asheville Citizen-Times: State environmental officials plan to test for the presence of significant natural gas deposits in seven Western North Carolina counties, a development that alarms environmentalists over the possibility of fracking in the mountains. ...

The N.C. General Assembly mandated the testing and allocated $550,000 over two years for the project statewide. The mountain counties where the samples will be collected are Clay, Cherokee, Macon, Graham, Swain, Jackson and Haywood. Read more here.

HOW THE FRACKING VOTE IS PLAYING BACK HOME – From the Laurinburg Exchange: State Rep. Ken Goodman says he didn’t “sell out” to energy giants; he bought in to reap fracking’s economic and clean-energy benefits. Read more here.

#NCPOL – More political news from North Carolina.

N.C. TEACHERS LOOK FOR BETTER PAY AT RALEIGH JOB FAIR: Hundreds of North Carolina teachers came to Raleigh on Saturday to find out how they could make as much as $16,000 more per year if they relocate to work in the largest school system in Texas.

Recruiters from the Houston Independent School District touted benefits such as higher pay and incentives to lure away North Carolina teachers who’ve grown frustrated at being among the lowest paid in the nation. The job fair added more fuel to the heated debate over how to raise average teacher pay in North Carolina out of the spot of 47th highest in the nation.

“If they offered me a position, I would definitely accept it and move now,” said Xavier Wallace, 23, a second-grade teacher at Eno Valley Elementary School in Durham who attended the job fair at the DoubleTree Hilton Raleigh. Wallace, a first-year teacher, would make $12,000 more in Houston than his current salary of $34,000. Read more here.

A DEEPER LOOK AT SEN. BURR’S RECORD ON VETERANS: Sen. Richard Burr was under fire this week for publicly chiding veterans groups for what he says was insufficient outrage over allegations of misconduct at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The groups denied Burr’s accusations and criticized him in turn.

It was an unusual public spat involving the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who has a history of supporting legislation on behalf of veterans. But North Carolina’s senior senator does have some previous clashes with the groups – most recently regarding a broad veterans health bill that Republicans, led by Burr, blocked in the Senate in February. Read more here.

CAUTION LIGHT: WRAL’s fact check gives Americans for Prosperity’s new TV ad about the state’s economy a less-than-true rating. Read more here.

QUICK LOOK – More headlines from across the state.

Gov. Pat McCrory pushed his Career Pathways for Teachers initiative during commencement address Friday. Read more here.

Sen. Jerry Tillman says McCrory will be the real “education governor.” Read more here.

Dix property negotiations continues. Read more here.

The Daily Southerner in Tarboro published its last paper. Read more here.

Ex-Mayor Patrick Cannon doesn’t disappear entirely. Read more here.

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