Under the Dome

Morning Memo: What would Jesus do with the Bonner Bridge?

The Bonner Bridge is no "bridge to nowhere" but it's likewise drenched in politics. Gov. Pat McCrory invoked politics in blaming environmentalists for its closure last week. Then Transportation Secretary Tony Tata dropped a bomb of a quote that rattled the N.C. political sphere about latte-sipping environmental lawyers enjoying air-conditioned offices (p.s. How does Tata like his coffee?).

The conversation continues Monday as Rev. Mark Creech, the executive director of the Christian Action League, invokes God to talk bridge politics. In a column at the Christian Post, he writes: "The Bonner Bridge closing is a case in point as to how our worldview affects us for either good or bad. Moreover, it demonstrates that when some point of view other than a biblical worldview is granted supremacy in public-policy, it inevitably results in harm to God's crowning and most beloved creative achievement – man.

"Sen. Cook is right; the environmentalists in this case need to get out of the way. But they might consider an even greater reason for getting out of the way than the trouble they've caused the people of Hatteras Island. Much of the philosophy behind what they do stands as an obstruction to the purposes of God."

Lost is the story of the shifting sands of the Outer Banks. Read the full Christian Post column. Check out the environmental group's reaction to the governor and more from the N&O about how the bridge closure is affecting residents.

*** Five months from the GOP Senate primary, the state’s premier 2014 contest is getting more attention. Read about it below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory is attending the Charlotte Chamber’s economic outlook conference at 12:30 p.m. Monday. A House and Senate legislative committee on local government holds its first meeting at 10 a.m. Monday to look at the issue of local debt.


A1 NEW YORK TIMES TODAY -- Three senators try to hold off GOP in South. From the story: "Ms. Hagan’s race in North Carolina is in many ways a local version of the larger problems both parties confront. As a first-term senator elected during the Democratic sweep of 2008, she is now challenged with differentiating herself from a national party that many independents feel has veered too far to the left. To signal her unhappiness with the poorly executed rollout of the health care law, she has called for an investigation into how HealthCare.gov was designed and built.

"But she may ultimately benefit from state Republican leaders prone to overreaching. Her leading opponent is the speaker of the State House of Representatives, Thom Tillis, who has helped lead Republicans in Raleigh as they pushed through laws to regulate abortion clinics, tighten voter identification requirements and reduce early voting. Republicans this year also approved cuts to education while allowing people with concealed-weapons permits to take their guns onto school property.

"Democrats say those moves will make it easy to portray Republicans as reckless and extreme. “It hasn’t been the best of times the past couple of cycles here,” conceded Robert Dempsey, executive director of the State Democratic Party. "But this is a deeply purple state, and in my humble opinion probably trends slightly blue." Read more here.

FIVE MONTHS OUT, A LOOK AT THE GOP PRIMARY: Last year, tea party activists from around the country helped a Texas Republican named Ted Cruz overcome long odds to beat a better-known, better-funded primary opponent backed by the GOP establishment. Could North Carolina be the next tea party triumph? Read more here.

LT. GOV. DAN FORREST PREDICTS A RUN-OFF -- From the Asheville Citizen-Times: “Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said Saturday the crowded U.S. Senate Republican primary will likely come down to a runoff election. He made his remarks after meeting with guest at the Charles Taylor Holiday Dinner who paid $125 to attend a private reception with Republican leaders and some of the Senate candidates. ...

“They are all good friends,” said Forest, who was the master of ceremony for the event. “All good guys. All bring different strengths to this race. It will be a positive primary for sure, and it will come down to a runoff most likely. When you put this many candidates in a race it is going to come down to whoever gets the grassroots out, whoever gets people to the polls.” Read more here.

MORE ON THE HAGAN AD PUSH -- From Roll Call. Read here.

BLOG: The Democrats’ new ad. Why Thom Tillis loves it. Read here.

WALL STREET JOURNAL -- Running from Obamacare: “Many Democrats up for re-election next year have to find some way to defend their past support for ObamaCare. A new campaign spot for Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina hints at how some candidates might try to pull this off.” Read more here.

RELATED -- HOW HEALTH CARE IS PLAYING AT LOCAL LEVEL -- Sunday Charlotte Observer: Charlotte-area insurance agents and navigators who have been trying since Oct. 1 to help people enroll in health insurance say the federal government’s online marketplace is working much better since Nov. 30.

That was the deadline, imposed by President Barack Obama’s administration, to get the malfunctioning website, Healthcare.gov, running smoothly after its disastrous kickoff. “Every day it’s getting a little better,” said Chris Blount, an agent with Piedmont Benefits Group in Charlotte. “On October 1, on a scale of 1 to 10, it was point 5. Now it’s probably a 7. We are actually getting people through.

“Some (people are) not 100 percent thrilled,” Blount said. “But our store is just full of people, and we’re starting to see a lot of success stories. ... We’ve got a stack of applications in our office, and we can’t get them through fast enough.”


DOES N.C. HAVE THE STOMACH FOR A BOEING BID? As Charlotte officials join the multistate competition for Boeing’s 777X jetliner plant, a site selection consultant who has worked with the company questioned whether North Carolina has the stomach for a full-scale multimillion-dollar bidding war.

And in another wrinkle, Charlotte might not be the only area of the state that’s interested in the new jetliner. Although Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the surrounding area appear to meet all of Boeing’s criteria for the new plant, other North Carolina sites near major airports could also fit the bill. Read more here.

TAX PLAN HITS HOME: The most significant overhaul of North Carolina tax law in a generation takes effect in a few weeks, ushering in sweeping changes that include more take-home pay and a broader sales tax that includes movie and concert tickets.

But first comes the paperwork.

Most taxpayers are being asked to complete a new form this month, a direct consequence of the new income tax system. It’s a complication – some would say hassle – for employees and employers alike that is drawing complaints even from some who cheered when GOP lawmakers pushed through a new tax bill and Gov. Pat McCrory signed it into law in July. Read more here.

INSIDE THE PLAN -- COMMERCE REORGANIZATION TO FAST FOR SOME: A state Commerce Department proposal about the coming privatization of many of the agency’s functions shows that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is poised to move dozens of jobs and millions of public dollars to a recently formed private nonprofit early next year.

The speed and sweep of the restructuring have caught some lawmakers off guard, and several are questioning whether the administration has the authority to overhaul the department without further General Assembly approval. A brief and vaguely written provision in the state budget passed earlier this year gave Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker the authority to create the public-private partnership, called the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

State Sen. Harry Brown, an Onslow County Republican who has been at the center of Commerce changes, said his interpretation of the budget provision is that it allows Commerce officials only to create the public-private partnership.

… The reorganization plan, obtained by The News & Observer, ... shows the department requesting to set aside nearly $1.8 million for potential severance payments to 65 Commerce employees, including economic developers, the director of tourism development, the director of film industry development and the director of industrial recruiting. It’s unclear whether those employees would lose their jobs or simply be transferred to the partnership. Read more here.

A FRACKING LOCK BOX: The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission has come up with yet another potential solution to the thorny problem of how to deal with chemicals that will be used in fracking. The commissioners want the chemical data to be safeguarded in an “electronic lock box” that could be accessed digitally in the event of a chemical spill or other accident. Read more here.

PUBLIC RECORDS STORY RESONATES OUTSIDE RALEIGH -- A Gaston Gazette Editorial: "During both of his gubernatorial campaigns, Pat McCrory promised better transparency and said he would make it easier for the public to know what is going on in state government. Apparently he left out the disclaimer – “as long as they’re willing to pay for it.”

"McCrory’s administration is setting a chilling precedent that could make it more difficult for average North Carolinians to get copies of public records that by law belong to the people. They’re your records, compiled and stored by people paid with your tax dollars. But McCrory and his top administrators have interpreted state law to mean they can charge exorbitant fees for fulfilling public records requests." Read more here.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Roy Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general and a leading 2016 gubernatorial contender for the Democrats, is scheduled to be on trial in late April for a campaign ad that aired more than a decade ago. Read more here.

CHRISTENSEN: It is one of the coincidences of history that the three great political figures of our age became famous after spending time in South African jails. Read more here.

MOVEMENT FOR REDISTRICTING REFORM GROWS: A coalition of groups is trying to take the politics out of the most political activity in state government: drawing legislative and congressional districts.

The latest effort to end gerrymandering comes from groups representing organizations as diverse as the John Locke Foundation and the NC Policy Watch. The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is holding community meetings across the state – the next will be Wednesday night in Apex – to drum up support for a big change that would likely lead to more legislative and congressional races. Read more here.

CDC REPORT ON CAMP LEJEUNE WATER: A long-awaited study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a link between tainted tap water at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina and increased risk of serious birth defects and childhood cancers. Read more here.