Under the Dome

Morning Memo: McCrory works the refs, headlines from the holiday weekend

Gov. Pat McCrory is still trying to work the refs to get better headlines. The latest episode is described in a column by Charlotte Observer editorial page editor Taylor Batten. From his post in Charlotte, Batten has watched McCrory for two decades and his insights into struggling governor’s situation are insightful.

It starts: “Moderate voters in Charlotte and across the state are kicking themselves for supporting consensus-building “Mayor Pat” only to find that Gov. Pat McCrory can be quite different. But my interview with him last week and a breakfast with him a couple weeks earlier make clear he hasn’t changed a bit in one respect: This is a man obsessed with his image and how he’s portrayed. It’s clear he doesn’t go a day without being deeply frustrated by what he sees as unfair attacks on his good name.”

One example of how McCrory feels the media isn’t giving him enough credit is education -- an issue that Democrats are likely to use often in the forthcoming elections. And there’s much more. Batten ends with this kicker: “There’s much more he sees, but you get the idea. Most of McCrory’s troubles stem, in his mind, not from his support of policies that a majority of North Carolinians disagree with but from a media that, through bias or incompetency, just can’t understand his greatness.” Read the entire Sunday column here.

*** Miss the political headlines over the holiday weekend? Catch up with today’s Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will present the state's capitol Christmas tree in an 11 a.m. ceremony. It is the only item listed on his public calendar.

The state Department of Health and Human Services will hold a “Twitter town hall” at 3:30 p.m. Monday, using the social media tool to gather reaction to the Crisis Solutions Initiative of Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. To participate go to www.ncdhhs.gov, or use the hash tag #ncmentalhealth on Twitter. You can also follow the Department on Twitter, @NC_DHHS, to see responses.

NAACP TO PICKET ART POPE-AFFILIATED STORES: A number of organizations fighting Gov. Pat McCrory's administration and GOP lawmakers will hold their first "informational picket" Monday outside Roses at University Mall in Chapel Hill. The groups, led by the state chapter of the NAACP, are protesting Budget Director Art Pope, whose family business, Variety Wholesalers, owns a chain of Roses, Maxways and other discount stores. The goal, according to the groups: " to shine a light on NC Budget Director Art Pope's support and influence of the extremist and regressive direction of North Carolina public policy."

FIVE MUST-READS: If you're like Dome and you took a holiday last weekend from the political hullabaloo, here are five stories you must read:

1. HAGAN IS A CORK: From Rob Christensen's column -- "There is a reason that Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan should now be nervous about her re-election chances to the U.S. Senate and not just because you can hardly turn on your TV without seeing her hammered by another ad financed by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers.

"Hagan’s polling numbers have taken a steep dive in recent weeks, as the problems surrounding President Barack Obama’s health care plan have surfaced.

"In fact, Hagan has been sort of like a cork, floating in an ocean – her popularity rising and falling based on the political waves in Raleigh and Washington.

"When Republicans were criticized for the federal government shutdown, Hagan’s numbers went up. As Democrats are criticized for the health care rollout, Hagan’s numbers go down.

"During her five years in the Senate, Hagan has not carved out a strong brand or image for herself." Read the full column here.

2. DHHS HIRING CONTRACT WORKERS WITH LITTLE JUSTIFICATION: In most major departments in state government, officials must explain in writing when they want to hire an individual with a contract for services. But at the Department of Health and Human Services, where Secretary Aldona Wos has awarded at least seven such deals, those rules are not being followed in most cases.

Wos, an appointee of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, has awarded a number of high-dollar contracts, including one worth $312,000 a year to former State Auditor Les Merritt and another worth $310,000 to a vice president from the company owned by Wos’ husband. But in both of those cases, and in at least four others, the department says it can’t locate any memos written to justify the contracts.

Department policy requires a justification memo for sole-source and personal-services contracts. Under state law, the documents would be public records. But do they exist? Read more here.

3. GUN RIGHTS GROUP PUSHING NEW LAW: From AP -- When North Carolina lawmakers approved a bill expanding where concealed weapons are legally allowed, it created a dilemma for communities that had banned firearms from playgrounds.

To comply with the legislation, some municipalities have had to change their local laws. While some community leaders have expressed outrage, gun rights groups say its time municipalities follow the law — and they're watching to make sure they do. If they don't, legal action could follow.

"The days when local government bureaucrats can ignore state law with respect to firearms are over," said Paul Valone, founder of Grass Roots North Carolina, a gun rights group. "We want these municipalities to comply with the law. I don't think that's too much to ask." Read more here.

4. DEMOCRATIC LEADERS SAY HEALTHCARE WON'T HURT HAGAN: Democratic leaders in counties across the state say they don’t think problems with the health care law will hurt their party or Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s re-election efforts next year – even as they work on a post-holiday game plan to change the conversation.

Hagan has slipped in the polls the past several weeks as Republicans have linked her to the Affordable Care Act through ad campaigns. But Democrats argue that it’s too early to know what the public will think of the health care changes in the months ahead.

They also have to wait to see whether the health insurance shopping site, HealthCare.gov, starts working properly. The White House set Saturday as its own deadline for making it work for most people. Read more here.

5. GOP WORKS TO MEND IMAGE AMONG TEACHERS: One Republican agenda item for the 2014 legislative session appears clear: pay increases for teachers. But as Republican legislative leaders began this month to look at how to boost stagnant salaries for educators, they are finding little agreement about how to make it work.

House and Senate leaders are moving in different directions. And both are confounded by how to pay for the raises, especially after GOP leaders passed a tax law that cut the corporate tax rate and lowered the individual tax rate.

But any discussion about a pay increase starts as a math problem. A 1 percent raise for state employees and teachers would cost about $160 million a year, legislative leaders said. It’s unlikely lawmakers would give teachers a raise without doing the same for other state workers. “Cost is a big obstacle,” said Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Republican House budget writer. Read more here.


'JAYBIRD' McCRARY DIES: From the High Point Enterprise -- Paul “Jaybird” McCrary, a towering figure in Davidson County politics for decades who was the longest-serving sheriff in the county’s history, died Thursday at the age of 83.

McCrary served 16 years as sheriff before later becoming a state legislator in the N.C. House of Representatives. He retired from politics 13 years ago having never lost an election. Read more here.

NOT SURPRISING: State Sen. Josh Stein, a Wake County Democrat, is eyeing the state attorney general’s office in 2016. Stein, in a phone interview Wednesday, confirmed his interest in taking over for N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is expected to run for governor. Read more here.

N.C. MENTION: Eleven Republican doctors are running for the Senate, hoping that voters will see their medical expertise as an asset amid the administration’s botched rollout of ObamaCare. Read more here.

MORE NC -- Tesla woos car-guy lawmakers with rides to counter dealers' cash: From The Detroit News -- "Tesla Motors Inc. was in trouble in North Carolina. Prohibited from opening showrooms there, it was on the way to being unable to sell cars at all when the state Senate voted unanimously to block online auto sales.

"Then Tesla turned out a lobbying weapon that, in the home state of stock-car racing’s hall of fame, spoke louder than money. It parked a Model S at the capitol and invited lawmakers and Republican Governor Pat McCrory to take it for a spin." Read more here.

TAX GRAB BY LAWMAKERS HITS NON-PROFITS: Expect more of these headlines as the new tax year approaches. This one comes from the Elkin Tribune. Read more here.

...AND HERE'S ANOTHER: ‘Ticket taxes to rise’ from the N&O -- When Ambassador Entertainment raises the ticket prices at its four Raleigh movie theaters in January – its first price hike in four years – moviegoers will receive leaflets blaming the increase on state legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory.

“I plan to put responsibility where responsibility is due,” said Bill Peebles, president of Ambassador, whose theaters include the Rialto and Mission Valley Cinema.

The upcoming expansion of the state sales tax to a broad range of admissions charges – including movies, college and professional sporting events, concerts, plays and museums – means that arts patrons and sports fans alike will probably pay more to enjoy their favorite pastimes. Read more here.

SWEEPSTAKES PARLORS SHUTTER DOORS: The owners of the Woodlawn Business Center Sweepstakes parlor want dejected patrons to know exactly who is responsible for the gaming center being closed. A sign scrawled on a dry-erase board hangs to the left of the door: “Closed due too police-DA’s office governor thank you.”

Mecklenburg’s sweepstakes saga took another turn Sunday – the deadline for operators to close before facing potential investigation and prosecution.

Some owners, operators and manufacturers of the sweepstakes machines have said they would change their software to comply with the law – again – but an informal survey of parlors by the Observer showed most had their doors closed Sunday. Read more here.

NUCOR CEO DAN DiMICCO ON RUNNING FOR OFFICE: "Thought about it? No. Have people mentioned it to me? Yes. In the environment that they have in Washington today, running for office would be a futile situation for someone like myself. I’d be frustrated overnight. I’ve told people I would be happy to be an adviser to any leader in Congress or in the White House who is serious about addressing the real crisis." Read more here.

MSNBC HEADLINE -- In North Carolina, hard-right shift hits a roadblock. Read it here.