Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Democrats try to move forward, but problems remain

The Democratic Party managed to select a new executive director without resorting to a screaming fit. That’s essentially how low the bar is set these days for a party in crisis. But it’s problems are far from resolved.

Chairman Randy Voller nominated his ally, Casey Mann, who ran his campaign to win his post in 2013, and she won approval of the party’s executive council.

“I felt at this point the party needed someone who understands the mechanics of the party,” Voller said.

But she faces a pressing issue from the start: money. Voller told the executive council that the party had $60,000 in its operating account and warned that the financial situation could lead to furloughs or discussions about moving headquarters. Read more here.

*** Get more from the Democrats meeting in Greensboro in this party edition of the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will stop by the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board meeting at 9 a.m. in Raleigh before visiting a class at St. David’s School in Raleigh at 11 a.m. He will also hold a press conference for the launch of “Litter Free NC” at 2 p.m. along Interstate 40 near RDU airport.

A House committee on public enterprise systems meets at 9 a.m. in room 544 LOB. The State Ethics Commission meets at 10 a.m. at its headquarters in Raleigh. The child fatality task force meets at 2 p.m. in room 1027 LOB and a subcommittee of the joint health oversight committee that is looking at public guardianship meets at the same time in room 643 LOB.

THE BIG STORY – DEMOCRATIC PARTY SPLIT ON FULL DISPLAY: Top Democrats are distancing themselves from the Democratic Party as Chairman Randy Voller is pushing the party further to the left as part of an internal battle among establishments and activists. Read more here.

KAY HAGAN’S END-AROUND – U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s campaign is distancing itself from the N.C. Democratic Party.

Instead of creating a joint campaign committee through the state party, the standard practice, Hagan’s camp acknowledged Friday it would partner with the Wake County Democratic Party. The county party will serve as the hub for an operation that will raise millions to elect Democrats and more than a hundred staffers to get out the vote.

Through the coordinated campaign, known for now as Forward North Carolina, the county party is establishing a federal election committee. The move allows wealthy donors who give the $5,200 maximum to Hagan’s campaign to also donate to the coordinated effort. Both political parties operate such accounts.

Cory Warfield, an experienced national Democratic organizer who is leading Forward North Carolina, said the separate entity will allow the state party to “focus on their internal operations.”

“We are laser-focused on working in partnership with Democrats across the state to build one of the largest, savviest field operation and turnout efforts in history to elect Democrats across North Carolina,” he said. Read more here.

MORE ON WARFIELD: The Tennessee native served as field director for the Ohio coordinated campaign director for Sherrod Brown’s successful campaign in 2012 and deputy field director for Harry Reid in Nevada in 2010. He also was an organizer for John Edwards in Iowa in 2007.

VOLLER’S RESPONSE? Two days later, Voller pushed back against the Hagan move, saying in an interview, “it’s not a done deal.” In a nearly three-hour closed-door session in Greensboro, the party’s executive council approved a series of directives aimed at aligning its strategy with the Hagan campaign. Voller put them forward but declined to go into details.

BETH WOOD’S LETTER TO RANDY VOLLER: Upset with Robert Dempsey’s ouster, State Auditor Beth Wood sent an email to Chairman Randy Voller on Feb. 12 expressing her outrage.

The full email here: “In January 2014 I contributed $500 to the NC Democratic Party renewing as a Passport Patron. I am requesting a refund of that contribution.

“I am doing so because I have no confidence that my contribution (or anyone else’s) will be spent to elect Democrats to local, state and federal office. Since February of 2013 it became apparent to me that policies and procedures were not in place to ensure that contributions are accounted for, reconciled and deposited and spent for the intended purpose ... electing Democrats. ... As you know, thru my campaign treasurer, I have first hand knowledge.

“Making Casey your Interim Director AND based on the conversation we had last Friday regarding Robert Dempsey, it is apparent to me that there is no intent to put checks and balances in place that are necessary for financial accountability and fiscal responsibility. As a CPA and the NC State Auditor I know what fiscal accountability looks like and what it doesn’t.

“Again, please refund my contribution, no later than February 28, 2014. I will then send it on to individual Democratic candidates to help ensure their election/reelection.”

In an interview Friday, Wood declined to provide more details about what she referred to when she had “first hand knowledge.”


N&O SUNDAY A1 – COAL ASH PIT CLEAN UP MAY COST $1 BILLION: As public pressure builds to dig up coal ash from waste lagoons in North Carolina, Duke Energy is facing a potentially massive cleanup bill that the Charlotte electric utility has been trying to dodge.

Early indications suggest Duke’s price tag could approach $1 billion, based on ash removal expenses in South Carolina. Deciding who pays the bill – Duke’s customers or its shareholders – would pose another challenge.

New details on Duke’s coal-ash strategy are expected to emerge this week when the power company responds to a state demand for internal documents detailing options for handling the incinerated waste. The documents, due March 15, will cover specifics on Duke’s cost estimates and other calculations that state officials want to review so they can decide how to deal with ash pits that are contaminating groundwater. Read more here.

FRONT PAGES: Asheville’s Citizen-Times and Fayetteville Observer also had Duke Energy coal ash spill stories on Sunday A1.

FEWER REGULATORS AMID SPILL SCRUTINY: There are fewer people protecting the state’s waters than there were a month ago.

Last week, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources eliminated 13 percent of the staff positions in the Division of Water Resources. The cuts were only the latest step in years of winnowing the state agency. Legislators have erased jobs there every year since the recession in 2008.

The juxtaposition of regulators losing their jobs so soon after the environmental disaster at Dan River that spilled coal ash into the state’s waterways is jarring. But the cuts were planned last summer as part of the agency’s reorganization and are just a piece of a much more far-reaching scenario that has escalated since Republicans took control in 2011. Since then the state has imposed heavier budget cuts, reduced restrictions on private industry and required DENR’s staff to justify the agency’s regulations in an extensive review process that is just beginning. Read more here.

CHRISTENSEN – DUKE ENERGY HAS THE POWER: The company is deeply woven into North Carolina’s business, political and cultural fiber. It traces its origins to Buck Duke, the Durham tobacco baron, from whence Duke University emerged.

It also has had a good reputation: as a well-run utility and as a good performer on Wall Street. Its North Carolina customers have some of the lowest electric rates in the South, far below the national average.

But Duke Energy is coming under more scrutiny than at any time since the 1930s and 1940s, when populists criticized the power companies for not extending their lines to the countryside.

– GOOD LINE: The coal ash is not only coating miles of the Dan River, but it is also coating the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory with political muck. Read more here.


HAGAN NOT PART OF CLIMATE CHANGE PUSH: At least 28 Senate Democrats are pulling an all-nighter on Monday to wake up “stubborn” climate change deniers in Congress.

Notably absent from the marathon session will be the four most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection this year: Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) are not scheduled to take part, according to a list of speakers. Read more.

FACING RIGHTWARD CHALLENGE, PITTENGER AMPS HIS LANGUAGE: U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger is standing behind his inflammatory letter to potential donors in which, citing his role as chairman of the Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism, he charges President Barack Obama with being “Enemy Number One” and adds that the president has been influenced by an “Islamo-Communist upbringing.”

The fundraising letter, drafted by direct mailing firm Response Unlimited, was sent out days after tea party candidate Mike Steinberg announced he would challenge Pittenger in the primary. Steinberg said in an interview that Pittenger is not a true fiscal conservative. He cited Pittenger’s vote to raise the debt ceiling in order to end the recent government shutdown. Read more here.

SUNDAY A1 lead story in the Charlotte Observer – INSURANCE DEADLINES NEARS WITH THOUSANDS STILL UNINSURED: With two weeks left to enroll in health insurance for 2014 through the Affordable Care Act, tens of thousands of uninsured residents in North Carolina could face penalties if they don’t meet the March 31 deadline.

Despite a horrendous roll out – with the federal marketplace website malfunctioning for almost two months – about 4 million people nationwide had signed up by the first of February. That included more than 150,000 in North Carolina, the fifth-highest among states for enrollment.

Enrollment numbers through the end of February are expected to be announced this week. So far, they have been well below the Obama administration’s expectations. Read more here.

FEDS SAY DATA MAY NOT BE PUBLIC: The head of the state Division of Employment Security says that the federal government has thrown a monkey wrench into the agency’s legal battle with a Durham attorney over public records.

Agency chief Dale Folwell said that, after a phone conversation with federal Department of Labor officials Friday morning, he finds himself uncomfortably situated “between a rock and a hard place.” Read more here.

THE RACE TO REPLACE THOM TILLIS: One candidate has the money. One has the profile. And one has an issue that motivates a lot of voters.

The Republican primary in N.C. House District 98 is a high-profile contest to succeed a high-profile lawmaker: House Speaker Thom Tillis, a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate. Read more here.


N.C. Charter school official to speak at charter school's event, fundraiser. Read more here.

After sedation deaths, NC Dental Board seeks changes. Read more here.

A Charlotte political wrap. Read more here.

N.C. lawmakers question changes to military health care system. Read more here.

Agriculture commissioner downplays hog virus crisis. Read more here.