Under the Dome

Morning Memo: GOP field to challenge Hagan increases to 7

The field of Republican candidates vying to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan increased to seven this week.

In an unexpected move, AP reports Lexington attorney Jim Snyder, a recent three-time candidate, filed to run Tuesday. He is likely to fit in the pack of candidates to the political right of House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Snyder said he entered the race because other candidates haven't been talking about past trade agreements that led to job closings across the state and the banking crisis at the start of the past recession. A social conservative, Snyder said abortion isn't being discussed enough, either.

He served briefly in the General Assembly in the early 1970s and ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002, losing in the primary to eventual general election victor Elizabeth Dole. He won the GOP primary for lieutenant governor in 2004 but ultimately lost to Democrat Bev Perdue. He ran for the same job in 2008 but finished second in the primary.

Retired physician Edward Kryn of Clayton, who has yet to mount a significant campaign, also filed.

Tillis is expected to file Wednesday. The other candidates are: Mark Harris, Greg Brannon, Heather Grant and Ted Alexander.

The more candidates the more likely the race goes to a July 15 runoff, but it remains unclear whether the cohort of lesser-funded and lesser-known can mount a serious challenge to Tillis.

***New poll numbers for Gov. Pat McCrory and more below in the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will tour the Siemens office in Cary at 2 p.m.

In Raleigh, two subcommittees of the health and human services oversight panel will meet this morning, while a House committee on the regulation of funerals is meeting in Hickory.

At 1 p.m., the state’s Medicaid Reform Advisory Group will hold a public meeting on Medicaid reform at the State Archives building in Raleigh.

ADDENDUM: The filing deadline is noon Friday. Read the AP story on the new candidates here.

NOT GOOD NUMBERS -- McCrory's negatives spike, Hagan under water: A new High Point University poll looking at the approval ratings of North Carolina's leading elected officials finds they are less than popular.

Gov. Pat McCrory's approval rating is essentially stagnant in the last month, sitting at 36 percent in the university's February poll. But his disapproval ratings soared to 49 percent from 40 percent in just a month. Only 15 percent are undecided. The margin of error for the poll of North Carolina residents -- conducted Feb. 16-20 with live callers -- is plus-or-minus 4.9 percent.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan isn't much better at 36 percent approval to 47 percent disapproval in February. Another 17 percent were unsure.

It's a slight uptick but within the margins compared to January as voters are beginning to develop better opinions about the freshman senator as she seeks re-election. In January, her numbers stood at 33-43 with 25 percent undecided.

The all-important right-direction, wrong-direction numbers shifted marginally too, moving to 18 percent right and 73 percent wrong in February from 23-65 a month earlier. See more poll numbers here.

THE BIG STORY -- DENR SEEKS NEW SETTLEMENT WITH DUKE ENERGY: Attorneys for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources have alerted a Wake County Superior Court judge to the agency’s plans to seek approval of a proposal with Duke Energy to settle two coal ash lawsuits.

In a letter to Judge Paul Ridgeway dated Feb. 20, the attorneys for the state outlined their intentions to bring forward a settlement proposal they had withdrawn from court consideration some 10 days earlier. Environmentalists had roundly criticized the proposed $99,000 settlement, and the court hearing to review it came amid great scrutiny of the relationship between DENR and the nation’s largest utility after a coal ash spill on the Dan River.

A federal criminal probe is underway, and the U.S. Justice Department has issued subpoenas to the environmental oversight agency and Duke Energy in anticipation of the convening of a federal grand jury on March 18, 19 and 20.

The new proposal, which DENR plans to offer the day after the grand jury session ends, might go beyond the initial settlement focus – violations at coal ash lagoons in Asheville and on Mountain Island Lake near Charlotte, according to DENR’s counsel. Read more here.

NEW DETAILS: STATE PROTOCOLS LED TO DELAYED NOTIFICATION: It was going on 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, when Jeffrey Childs returned to the emergency management communications center from a break carrying a soda and the state’s environmental hotline phone, which started to ring.

On the line was Allen Stowe, a Duke Energy environmental specialist, reporting a wastewater spill into the Dan River. Childs clicked through a checklist of questions on form EM-43, which is where state emergency management officials collect preliminary information to help them determine how to respond to potential disasters.

How much has been released? Childs asked. I don’t know, Stowe replied. Is it a drinking water source? Not there. Any fish killed that you know of? No.

Not sensing any urgency from the Duke Energy official that would have clued him in about the scale of the spill, Childs noted the incident in a daily log and didn’t alert the on-call water quality specialist. The phone call didn’t meet the Division of Emergency Management’s protocol to alert state environmental regulators. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources isn’t required to be notified unless more than 15,000 gallons of wastewater is spilled, or if fish are killed or a public water supply is contaminated.

As it turned out, tens of millions of gallons of coal ash and water were spilled, drinking water had to be treated downstream in Virginia, and the massive coal ash leak’s impact on aquatic life is not yet known.

DENR didn’t find out about that for 17 1/2 hours after the spill was discovered. Read more here.

SPILL PUTS PRESSURE ON OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO INCREASE OVERSIGHT: A massive North Carolina coal waste spill into a major river is increasing pressure on the Obama administration to start policing the more than 1,000 such waste storage sites across the nation.

The federal government doesn’t regulate the disposal of “coal ash,” the dustlike material that’s left over when pulverized coal is burned to fuel electrical power plants. Read more here.

RELATED: McCrory reiterates his call for Duke to move coal ash from near rivers. Read more here.

EFFORT TO DRAFT CHAVIS TO LEAD DEMOCRATIC PARTY CONTINUES: From the Charlotte Post -- In the aftermath of the recent political firestorm surrounding the nomination of Benjamin Chavis as executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Chavis says he can and will help the party muster the votes to win this fall. But only if the state party can overcome its internal differences and divisions and unify in asking him to help.

… Meanwhile, a statewide letter petition is being circulated to Democrats, asking the NCDP Executive Council to back Chairman Randy Voller in his efforts to recruit Chavis. In addition, support among black Democrats is growing as the party’s African-American Caucus has issued a statement backing Voller and Chavis. Read more here.

CHRISTENSEN: DON’T BECOME THE OTHER CAROLINA -- South Carolina is not Shangri-la. I mention this because it seems to have become common currency among some Republican leaders that the Tar Heel state needs to adopt the South Carolina model. That is because South Carolina is a more conservative, Republican-leaning state and has based its industrial policy more on a low tax strategy than North Carolina.

But has the South Carolina strategy produced better results? When you compare North Carolina and South Carolina by objective measures, our state comes out better. Read more here.

QUICK HEADLINES ---

AG Holder says discriminatory laws, like gay marriage bans, don’t need defending. Read more here.

Coming soon to North Carolina: Democrats return to ‘war on women’ message. Read more here.

GOP senate races may worsen conservative divide. Read more here.

ACLU joins Watauga County school book fight. Read more here.

Pot for potholes? Taxing marijuana is enticing idea for cash-strapped states. Read more here.

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