Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Cooper makes conservative group’s naughty and nice list

Resident Roy Cooper is "nice" but Attorney General Roy Cooper is "naughty" on the Civitas Institute's list this holiday season.

The conservative organization supports most of the Republican legislative agenda and often targets the Democrat, so it's no surprise to see Cooper on the bad side of their list.

In this case, they criticize him for speaking out against the GOP majority on matters his office is defending in court. The "nice" part applauds Cooper, the average everyday voter, for speaking his mind on state policy issues. The kicker on resident Cooper's write up is dripping in sour egg nog: "robust debate is vital for democracy," Civitas wrote.

One other two-time list appearance is the State Board of Elections. Civitas President Francis DeLuca openly campaigned for a spot on the board but Gov. Pat McCrory didn't appoint him. (Senate leader Phil Berger recently appointed him to the State Ethics Commission.)

On the list, the board makes the "nice" side for appointing Kim Strach as executive director and booting Gary Bartlett, which Civitas considered a bias Democratic appointee. But the board makes the "naughty" list of not ousting board attorney Don Wright. See the list here.

*** Note to readers: The Dome Morning Memo is preparing to take a holiday break. It may appear intermittently when news demands but look for a robust return in January. In the meantime, keep checking Dome for the latest in North Carolina political news. And don’t miss the top newsmakers, quotes and stores in a year-in-review series that will debut next week. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: A legislative committee on industry utility fees will meet at 9:30 a.m. in room 544 of the legislative office building.

BRIAN BROWN GETS A CHALLENGER: Republican state Rep. Brian Brown, who represents a key swing district in the Greenville, is getting a Democratic challenger.

Brian Farkas, 26, is preparing to run against Brown in the 9th District. Farkas works at JKF Architecture in Greenville as director of client relations and development. He graduated with a master's degree in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013.

"My past experience in successfully making government work for the people, coupled with my current work in my family's small business, provides me with the unique experience necessary to effectively represent the people of the 9th District," he said in a statement.

MORE 2014 campaign news -- RACE TO REPLACE TILLIS: A current and former Cornelius town official will face off in a Republican primary for the state House seat being vacated by Republican Speaker Thom Tillis. Recently re-elected Commissioner John Bradford announced his bid Wednesday. Former Mayor Lynette Rinker already is in the race. Read more here.

DENR SECRETARY JOHN SKVARLA IS A LETTER WRITING MACHINE: The first letter to the editor is a blistering rebuttal to criticism leveled from an outgoing Department of Environment and Natural Resources employee.

He writes in the N&O: “The News & Observer made a surprising decision when it chose to print a Point of View piece by a former Department of Environment and Natural Resources employee on Dec. 16 (“Why I left my DENR job: conscience”). The decision was remarkable considering that once readers plodded through nearly 700 words of emotion, hyperbole and conjecture, a total of one fact remained. This is progress! That sole fact crushes this paper’s previous record of avoiding facts altogether when attacking the agency.” Read more here.

In the second letter he comes to the defense of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos -- on a topic in which Skvarla's agency isn't involved. He writes recently in the Southern Pines Pilot: "After reading your editorial “NCTracks Mess: Who’s to Blame?” (Nov. 24), I must point out glaring omissions that may mislead your readers to believe that NCTracks has been a failure and is the fault of the new administration or my colleague Aldona Wos." Read the full letter here.

WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL MAKES A PLEA TO BOEING -- CONSIDER US: From an editorial -- "The state of North Carolina and the Triad, which includes the major cities of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, cannot offer billions in tax and other financial incentives. Our governor, Pat McCrory, is deeply involved in the Boeing proposal, so we know the state and the region are making a serious run at it. But the fact is, money is not going to be what attracts you to North Carolina." Read more here.

HOW THE CALENDAR COULD SHAPE THE GOP SENATE PRIMARY: From Roll Call -- "Stories about Republican primaries are all the rage, and we’re still nearly three months from the first actual election. But in all of the analysis of vulnerable senators, voting scorecards and outside groups, it’s important to remember the calendar and how primary results could affect subsequent races.

"It’s possible that a snowball effect could work for or against tea-party-aligned groups next year, depending on the outcomes."

The North Carolina connection: The article doesn't contemplate a huge role for the state's primary May 6, saying it is likely to go to a runoff in July. But it's right in the middle of the much-watched contests on the list.

ICYMI -- Rand Paul on Greg Brannon: On the final day of Brannon's "money bomb" Monday, Rand Paul promoted it on his Facebook page saying: "Greg Brannon is the type of 100% fight to repeal ObamaCare conservative I need in the U.S. Senate. Support his "Retreat is NOT an Option Money Bomb" by clicking the link below."

LIST TIME -- It's the list time of the season -- and Dome will debut its own in coming days -- and North Carolina is making the cut. Salon is out with the latest, naming the state as the location for the 5 most dangerous abortion restrictions in 2013. Read it here.

REVOLVING DOOR CONCERNS AUDITOR, LAWMAKERS: North Carolina legislators are interested in slowing the revolving door that has caused some state employees to take jobs with vendors working for the state.

Talk of a new law warding off potential conflicts of interest was triggered by a state audit of the Medicaid claims system this month that found a senior program manager at the state Department of Health and Human Services had gone to work for the vendor, Computer Sciences Corp. State Auditor Beth Wood described the program manager, Paul Guthery, as the “go-to person” for the state on the massive computer project.

Guthery left his $126,500-a-year state job in August to work for CSC. DHHS approved CSC’s hiring Guthery on Aug. 21, and Wood said the company offered him the job while he was employed with the state. He started work for the company on Aug. 27.

“This person left DHHS one day and literally went to work for the vendor,” she said. Read more here.

LAWMAKERS EYEING UNC SYSTEM EFFICIENCIES: North Carolina's public university system should increase its focus on efficiency as students and taxpayers alike grapple with the rising cost of higher education, a report Wednesday to state legislators said.

The recommendations came from the Legislature's Program Evaluation Division, which is responsible for checking into how well state services are being delivered. That includes measuring the performance of chancellors who run each of the 17 University of North Carolina campuses and in part on how well schools meet academic and operational efficiency goals. A top university system executive said in a written response that it will look at tying efficiency improvements to chancellors' performance evaluations. Read more here.

CONGRESS SIGNS OFF ON BUDGET AGREEMENT: From AP in WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation Wednesday scaling back across-the-board cuts on programs ranging from the Pentagon to the national park system, adding a late dusting of bipartisanship to a year more likely to be remembered for a partial government shutdown and near-perpetual gridlock.

Obama's signature was assured on the measure, which lawmakers in both parties and at opposite ends of the Capitol said they hoped would curb budget brinkmanship and prevent more shutdowns in the near future.

"It's a good first step away from the shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served to act as a drag on our economy," he said of the measure in a statement issued after the vote. And yet, he quickly added, "there is much more work to do to ensure our economy works for every working American."

The legislation passed the Democratic-controlled Senate on a vote of 64-36, six days after clearing the Republican-run House by a similarly bipartisan margin of 332-94. Read more here.

N.C. COURT BLOCKS HOSPITAL ATTEMPT: The N.C. Court of Appeals has rebuffed a long-standing attempt by a Winston-Salem-based health care company to build a hospital in Wake County. Novant Health has for years been trying to break into the lucrative Triangle market, but the state appellate court ruled Tuesday that Novant failed to make its case for building a hospital in Holly Springs. Read more here.

NEW CHARLOTTE MAYOR LOOKS TO EASE TENSION WITH LAWMAKERS: New Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon has been quietly reaching out to Mecklenburg lawmakers after a year that saw relations between the city and state plummet to a new low. Cannon has offered to meet with each member of the delegation. He named one of the City Council’s two Republicans to head the committee that serves as a liaison with state government. Read more here.

THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: From the Sanford Herald -- Before a Republican-backed law was enacted this summer making the Lee County Board of Education and the Sanford City Council into politically partisan groups, the school board had five Republican members. It now has two.

For the school board's vice chairman, a former Lee County Republican Party officer, that law was the tipping point. Mark Akinosho switched to the Democratic Party soon after the bill became law and said that in addition to disagreeing with the law itself, he was also disappointed at the way local Republican leaders designed the bill without consulting anyone who would actually be affected by it. Read more here.

COUNTIES NEED FEDERAL FUNDS: From the Asheville Citizen-Times — North Carolina counties will be out nearly $4 million unless the Senate allocates payments for the federal government’s land. The money, from a program called payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILT, is critical in some of the state’s most rural counties. Read more here.

N.C. in NYT --THE DEATH PENALTY DECLINES: The death penalty in the United States continued its pattern of broad decline in 2013, with experts attributing the low numbers to a critical shortage of drugs used for lethal injection, increasing public concern over judicial mistakes and the expense of capital cases, and a growing preference for life without parole. Read more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Michael Pearlmutter, executive director of the N.C Institute of Political Leadership, is resigning Dec. 31 to take the equivalent position at the Partnership for Clean Competition, an international anti-doping partnership started by the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

Also at the end of the year, Anna Haberlein, the communications director for U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson of Concord, will step down and take the same job for Christine Jones’ gubernatorial campaign in Arizona. Robert Reid, the press secretary for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr will decamp and move into Haberlein’s former post.