Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Democratic infighting plagues party

The beleaguered Democratic Party – out of power in Raleigh and searching for a comeback – is now battling itself.

In Greensboro, prominent Democrat and former NAACP leader Skip Alston announced his bid to challenge Democrat Gladys Robinson for her state senate seat.

And in Charlotte, Pat Cotham, a Democratic National Committee member from a prominent political family, was ousted from her post as county commission chairwoman by her own party.

First a dispatch from Greensboro from Travis Fain at The News & Record: Alston promised to focus his campaign on education, jobs, homelessness, veterans issues, school bullying and alternatives to incarceration. He cast Robinson as an ineffective senator and said his long career in the public eye gives him “the experience, the motivation and the background to make things happen in Raleigh.”

“We need effective representation,” he said.

Robinson brushed aside the criticism, saying she has worked hard for the district. “What’s important to me is what the citizens I serve say,” she said. Read more here.

And now from Jim Morrill at The Charlotte Observer: Pat Cotham sits on the Democratic National Committee, chairs a monthly Democratic forum and served as president of the Mecklenburg Democratic Women. Last year she was named Grassroots Democrat of the Year and this fall, Democratic Woman of the Year.

So why did her fellow Democrats oust her as chairwoman of the board of county commissioners One reason: Some thought she gave more deference to the board’s three Republicans than to five other Democrats.

“Reaching across the aisle was being done to the exclusion of reaching out to those in our same party,” new commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller said Wednesday. “It just became harder and harder to explain away.” Read more here.

*** Education politics, environmental politics and gambling politics – all below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a Cabarrus County Regional Chamber meeting at 11 a.m. Thursday in Concord and then head south to his hometown of Charlotte for a Johnson & Wales University reception at 6:15 p.m.

At 10 a.m., the joint legislative economic development oversight committee will consider targeting job creation in high unemployment areas, including the use of incentives. McCrory adviser Tony Almeida will also make a presentation.

THE BIG STORY -- TEACHER DEPARTURES REACH 5-YEAR HIGH -- More ammunition for GOP critics? Teacher turnover in North Carolina reached a five-year high last year with more teachers leaving their classrooms to take new jobs in education or move.

About 14.3 percent of teachers left their positions in the 2012-13 school year, according to the annual report, up from 12.1 percent in 2011-12. School districts employed 95,028 teachers last year, and local districts reported 13,616 left for a variety of reasons. Read more here.

ANOTHER BIG STORY -- NC has fewer teachers and more students: From AP -- Almost 17,200 additional students packed into North Carolina schools this year while the number of teachers dropped, according to new payroll data, leading to what some say are larger class sizes that inhibit learning.

There were 95,725 teachers working with more than 1.5 million students after the normal churn of the new academic year settled down in October, said Philip Price, the state Department of Public Instruction's chief finance officer.

The payroll and enrollment figures for the current year come as the state Board of Education opened its monthly two-day meeting Wednesday with an annual report on teacher turnover during the school year that concluded in May. Read more here.

RETAILERS WORRIED BY NC LOTTERY MOVE ONLINE: The N.C. Education Lottery ... on Thursday expands its reach to the Internet, where players can buy tickets only for three jackpot games – Powerball, Mega Millions and Carolina Cash 5.

State lottery officials say the online service is geared toward attracting new players, not taking business from retailers, who get 7 percent of each ticket sold. Nonetheless, some retailers, including Liles, are concerned about potential effects on in-store sales. Read more here.

Scott Sexton: The Winston-Salem Journal columnist asks: Legal, illegal? Who knows with sweepstakes parlors. Read more here.

BRIDGE POLITICS -- GOV. McCRORY BLAMES ENVIRONMENTALISTS FOR CLOSURE: Political leaders from Raleigh to Manteo say the closing of a key Outer Banks bridge is a “man-made disaster,” and they’re heaping blame on an environmental law firm that has stymied the state’s effort to replace the 50-year-old bridge.

Gov. Pat McCrory urged coastal residents to put pressure on the Southern Environmental Law Center to drop its appeal of a federal court ruling in September that dismissed its lawsuit to stop the new bridge. “The new bridge should have already been under construction, but the Southern Environmental (Law) Center is doing everything they can to block our efforts,” McCrory said Tuesday evening in a Nags Head radio station interview. “They’re putting people in jeopardy. And they’re putting jobs in jeopardy.”

EVERYMAN TATA -- Transportation Secretary Tony Tata flew to Dare County on Wednesday to echo his boss.

“These ivory tower elitists file these lawsuits from their air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill,” Tata said. “And they do so with their lattes and their contempt, and chuckle while the good people of the Outer Banks are fighting hard to scratch out a living here based on tourism and based on access.”

(Random question: Doesn't Tata's office in that nice stone building in Raleigh have air conditioning?) Read more here.

MORE COASTAL POLITICS -- McCRORY PUSHES FORWARD ON DRILLING OFFSHORE: North Carolina is among a group of coastal states pressing the Obama administration to end a two-decade moratorium and allow offshore exploration for oil and natural gas. Advocates here are hoping to get North Carolina included on the federal list of ocean waters to be set aside for future exploration.

Gov. Pat McCrory was recently made vice chairman of the two-year-old Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, giving the state a higher profile in offshore drilling. McCrory described his involvement at an energy conference Wednesday organized by the N.C. Chamber, the state's influential business lobbying organization.

Offshore drilling in U.S. waters is dependent on federal permitting, a process that got underway several years ago and stalled in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico three years ago. Read more here.

STATE, CHARLOTTE OFFICIALS TRY TO LURE BIG FISH: Charlotte officials are working to enter the multi-state competition for a manufacturing plant to build Boeing’s new 777X jetliner, a project that could potentially bring more than 8,000 jobs and a major aerospace industry player to the city.

Boeing has sent requests for proposals to more than a dozen cities and states to see if they’re willing to put up the incentives to win its new factory. Many of the states are publicly touting their efforts. Read more here.

SCHOOLS TASK FORCE MEETS: From Molly Parker at the Wilmington Star-News -- It was just coincidence that the Governor's Task Force on Safer Schools inaugural meeting was the same day that officials released chilling 911 tapes of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook school massacre. But the significance of the new development regarding the Newton, Conn., shooting was not lost on participants who gathered in Raleigh to discuss ways to make the state's schools safe places for children.

"They did things the best they could there and we're going to learn from them," said Frank Perry, secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

The 20-member group, which has James MacCallum, Brunswick County's Clerk of Superior Court, as vice chair, met for the first time Wednesday to outline a plan for moving forward. Gov. Pat McCrory announced the creation of the task force at Hoggard High School in Wilmington on Sept. 6. Read more here.

DAVID PRICE OP-ED ON IRAN: “Iran is not the Soviet Union, and whether its new president, Hassan Rouhani, will become his country’s Mikhail Gorbachev is an open question. An interim deal alone won’t negate the Iranian government’s long track record of antagonizing the international community, destabilizing the region and repressing its own people.

“But the P5+1 agreement does represent an opportunity – for negotiations toward a broader deal that decisively prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and, if that is achieved, for a new era of relations between Iran and the West.” Read more here.