Under the Dome

Morning Memo: John Edwards returns to public life, says no to political future

John Edwards is re-entering public life with a new law practice, he told The News & Observer on Monday. The firm will bear his name and include his daughter, Cate Edwards.

The disgraced former U.S. senator and presidential candidate kept his introduction scripted, offering interviews to only a few media outlets. He declined to discuss his current relationship with Rielle Hunter. The latest headlines in the tabloids suggest he's involved in a potential relationship with a researcher at Duke who is half his age.

In the interview, Edwards responded with a quick “no” when asked if he foresees ever running for office again – and declined when asked if he wanted to qualify that answer in any way.

But will a jury believe his arguments given that he lied to cover up his affair? Edwards told the N&O that he’s not concerned that his affair and child with Hunter while his late wife Elizabeth Edwards was fighting cancer might lead juries to be unsympathetic to his cases.

As for the possibility of rehabilitating his image, Edwards said: “I can tell you that I’m in the business of helping other people. If I’m doing things for the right reasons, for others, I’ll let other things take care of themselves.” Read more here.

***More North Carolina political news and intelligence below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory continues his trip west with a stop in Tempe, Ariz., for a Republican Governor's Association meeting at 7 p.m. No other events are listed on his public schedule.

The Health and Human Services oversight committee meets at 10 a.m. in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. And the state’s environmental community is raising awareness of a 1:30 p.m. hearing Wednesday about the state’s water quality standards in the Archdale Building downtown.

KARL ROVE BEGINS HIS FUNDRAISING TOUR FOR TILLIS: House Speaker Thom Tillis is expected to raise big bucks Tuesday with Republican strategist Karl Rove visiting the state for a three-day campaign swing. The first fundraiser is Tuesday evening in Cary. He will then visit Fayetteville on Wednesday and Charlotte on Thursday.

Expect Democrats to pounce.

MEANWHILE, DEMOCRATS BUY MORE TV TIME: From Roll Call -- “After recent polling showed a smaller lead over rivals, a national Democratic Super PAC purchased $195,300 of media time supporting Sen. Kay Hagan in her 2014 re-election campaign. The Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic-oriented super PAC, reported it paid $195,300 to Waterfront Strategies on 11/16 for media buys as independent expenditures supporting Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. The PAC has spent $654,104 supporting Hagan in 2013.”

The extended ad time comes on top of the $380,000 for a TV ad earlier this month.

MARK HARRIS NAMED NEW GOP ‘FLAMETHROWER’: The National Journal took a look at Republicans “have party strategists worried” and Mark Harris makes the list. The write up: “ Mark Harris: "There is not the medical evidence that an individual that chooses the homosexual lifestyle is born that way. That is a choice." Interview on Speak Out Charlotte in July 2013

“Harris would be a newcomer to office, but not to politics. The Baptist pastor last year led the movement in North Carolina to adopt a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a measure that passed overwhelmingly. But a renewed debate over same-sex marriage is the last thing national Republicans want, especially as public support for it swells. Harris would dash those plans, and his unapologetic evangelicalism will make him prone to other rhetorical mistakes.” Read more here.

LAURA FJELD TO GET EMILY’S LIST BOOST: Politico reports that Democrat Laura Fjeld, who is challenging for Congressman Howard Coble’s seat, was named to EMILY’S List candidate posse. It means Fjeld can expect financial help and organizing support for her campaign.

COOPER SAYS MEDICAID DECISION IS 'MOST PERPLEXING': AP -- Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper said Monday he can't see any reason why Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republicans leading the legislature refused to expand Medicaid coverage this year except for politics.

Cooper, himself prepping for a 2016 run for the Executive Mansion, said it makes no sense why the majority party in state government right now would reject coverage for hundreds of thousands of people paid for almost exclusively by the federal government. Tens of thousands of jobs also would have been created from the federal injection of spending, according to a report commissioned by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"The decision not to take Medicaid has been the most perplexing decision of all and it's a clear example of putting politics over policy," Cooper told reporters meeting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He said he can only gather that Republicans decided against it because the expansion was contained in the 2010 health care overhaul law sought by President Barack Obama. Read more here.

RECORDS SHOW GOP LEADERS' OUTSIDE COUNSEL COSTS BIG MONEY: Days before House Republican leaders announced plans to introduce a controversial voter ID bill, they hired a lawyer.

Now the same outside law firm that was paid $55,591 to help draft the bill is poised to make hundreds of thousands of dollars more defending the law in court.

The arrangement, outlined in newly released documents, is fueling critics’ concerns about how much GOP leaders are paying outside attorneys to do work typically reserved for the legislature’s staff lawyers and the attorney general’s office.

THE PRICE TAG: The critics point to the still-mounting legal bills in the lawsuit against the new political districts. The latest tally shows taxpayers paid more than $1.6 million to Ogletree Deakins through the end of October after Republican legislative leaders hired the law firm to help the state attorney general defend the redistricting maps.

The cost for outside attorneys to draft and defend the state’s new elections law already tops $75,000, according to state records. Four lawsuits are challenging the law, including the provision requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, on the grounds that they impede voting rights and discriminate against minorities. Read more here.

MUSEUM LEADER DEPARTS: Meg Lowman, the scientist who oversaw the creation of the $56 million Nature Research Center at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, will leave soon to take a job at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Lowman was director of the Nature Research Center until this summer, when the job was eliminated by the museum’s director, Emlyn Koster, who arrived last January. Koster said the center was being more fully integrated into the museum’s organization and did not need its own director. Read more here.

More from the N&O pension investigation -- COMMUNITY COLLEGE PRESIDENTS GET A BOOST: Gordon Burns paid close attention three years ago as state lawmakers considered legislation to lift a cap on the salaries of community college presidents.

Burns is the longtime president of Wilkes Community College, a relatively small school in the mountains with the equivalent of 3,300 full-time students. He was nearing retirement and, with a salary and longevity pay of $208,000, had bumped up against that salary cap. But he was also receiving roughly $80,000 in local money for housing, an annuity and travel each year that could not be factored in to boost his pension.

“Would this result in the removal of caps for presidents?” Burns asked about the legislation in an email to a community college system official. “This is important to me since I am in my final four years.”

The bill passed with little opposition. Shortly after, the Wilkes board of trustees converted Burns’ additional pay – along with what they spent on two insurance policies, his cellphone and his Rotary Club dues – into salary. Those changes, plus an annual longevity payment, boosted Burns’ compensation to a little more than $300,000, a 44 percent increase.

If Burns, 66, retires next year as he planned, his annual pension would be just under $200,000, about $52,000 higher as a result of the pay conversion. Pensions are calculated on the average of an employee’s highest four consecutive years of salary.

Community college pay records show that at least three other presidents who have either retired or are nearing the end of their careers got a similar deal from their boards, providing them a way to boost their annual pensions by $19,000 or more. Trustees converted housing allowances, annuities and car allowances paid from county or college foundation funds to salaries when the cap went away. Read more here.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE GROUP LEADER PLAYS DUAL ROLE: Since 2007, Donny Hunter has served as the paid leader of a nonprofit association made up of trustees from the state’s 58 community colleges. ... But Hunter also has another business: He is a paid headhunter for community colleges across the country. He conducts searches for out-of-state colleges through his private business, National Search & Education Consulting. ...

But Hunter’s dual role as a headhunter for the association and in his private business can be difficult to untangle. Hunter said, for example, that his private business does not conduct searches for North Carolina community colleges. But the business’s website claims credit for North Carolina searches that were conducted by the N.C. Association of Community College Trustees – which is his employer. Read more here.

JILL BIDEN VISITS SHELBY: English teacher Jill Biden came to Cleveland County on Monday to talk about computers, networking and all things high-tech.

Accompanied by Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden visited Cleveland Community College to celebrate the school’s role as leader in a project to train workers to keep the country’s infrastructure going 24/7.

“I have seen what community colleges can do in people’s lives,” said Biden, who teaches three classes at Northern Virginia Community College and is thought to be the first wife of an active vice president to work full time. “What’s happening here at Cleveland Community College is exciting.” Read more here.

MORE DETAILS FROM PRIVATE FUNDRAISER: "This past June, a bipartisan group of more than one hundred members of the General Assembly joined Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, Richard Childress (of Richard Childress Racing and owner of Childress Vineyards), Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane, Governor Pat McCrory and many other distinguished supporters of our sportsmen’s community at the home of Frank and Judy Grainger in Cary for the annual North Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Advisory Council Dinner. Over 250 people were in attendance." Read more here.