Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Wake GOP thinks it’s a Brannon v. Tillis battle

UPDATED: Five U.S. Senate candidates worked the crowd of 500-plus at the Wake County Republican Party convention Monday evening and Greg Brannon emerged with a win in the straw poll.

The tea party candidate took 45 percent to Tillis’ 33 percent, according to the party. Brannon’s campaign blasted the results to supporters in the final hours of the year’s first fundraising quarter.

The poll is a weak barometer of the May 6 Republican primary but follows a pattern of straw poll victories for Brannon that show energy among activists for his ideological vision, which is further to the right than many in the party.

Wake County is home to the most Republicans in the state and a key area of focus, particularly for Brannon, who lives in Cary, and Tillis, who is well known from his role as House speaker.

Heather Grant, Ted Alexander and Jim Snyder also attended the convention in Raleigh. but received 2 percent or less of the straw poll vote. Mark Harris did not attend but took 20 percent.

Among the party faithful Brannon and Tillis received much of the attention.

Delegate Carol Marino stopped to talk to Tillis. In an interview afterward, she said she is looking for a candidate who can beat Kay Hagan.

Asked who fits the bill in her mind, Marino said she is leaning toward Tillis because of his experience and a balance between ideology and pragmatism. “Some candidates are a little too narrow in their thinking,” she said. “I just want to see if anybody has an idea about growing the economy – and that’s my problem with Brannon. I’m certainly pro-Constitution but it’s got to be applied ... to today’s life.”

Told of her comments, Brannon said he believes the economy will improve if the federal government removes the bulk of the regulations.

Asked how much he expects it to improve the state’s job picture, Brannon said the free market would decide.

*** No foolin’. Get more from the Wake County GOP convention below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory and the Council of State will meet at 9 a.m. to consider a variety of state property matters.

At the statehouse, three legislative committees will meet. The joint legislative panel looking at administrative procedures meets at 10 a.m. in room 544 of the legislative office building. The oversight committee on workforce development meets at 1 p.m. in the same room.

Expect the most attention at the join legislative commission on energy policy as it debates the state’s potential economic boost from fracking and off-shore drilling. It meets at 1 p.m. in room 643 of the legislative office building.

At Duke University, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a rising Democratic star, will speak at 5:30 p.m. in the Fleishman Commons. The speech is free.

PREVIEW: American Crossroads debuts an ad hitting Kay Hagan and touting Thom Tillis. See it here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It might be a sign from God.” -- U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican, on the problems plaguing the healthcare.gov site as new enrollment ended Monday. He spoke at the Wake County GOP convention.

GOP RALLYING CRY FOR SENATE RACE: U.S. Rep. George Holding told Wake County Republicans not to get overconfident about the party’s prospects for winning the U.S. Senate, calling North Carolina “ground zero.”

The rallying cry was intended to rev activists and convince them to get involved. Holding warned Republicans that Democrats would “turnout in droves,” akin to a presidential race, and remarked on the low-turnout GOP events he had attended in recent weeks. “This is when the work needs to be done,” he said. “Don’t save your energies for 2016.”

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers carried the same message, rattling off a list of policies the Republican majority in the House prevented President Obama from passing. The biggest applause line: keeping Nancy Pelosi from being speaker.

ELLMERS FUNDRAISING PITCH: An email from the campaign just before the midnight Tuesday deadline invoked a phrase we’ll likely hear a lot if American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken in the Democratic challenger: “liberal Hollywood.” Aiken has countered the label already, highlighting how he grew up in Raleigh and lives in Chatham County.

THE BIG STORY -- EPA THOUGHT DENR TOO LENIENT ON DUKE ENERGY; ‘DUKE IS GETTTING IMPATIENT’: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thought North Carolina regulators were too lenient when they came up with a settlement with Duke Energy over coal ash plants.

The EPA’s questioning of the proposed settlement in 2013 surfaced in thousands of emails and other records that the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources recently made public in response to records requests by the news media, advocates and others.

The records also reveal tensions among state regulators, their supervisors and the nation’s largest utility company over the past five years as North Carolina began paying more attention to coal ash storage ponds in the wake of the catastrophic spill of the material in Tennessee in 2008.

“We need to move forward with this permit,” one DENR supervisor emailed colleagues in 2012, referring to a regulatory dispute at one power plant. “Duke is getting impatient.” Read more here.

THE MUST READ -- PAT McCRORY’S LOST ELECTION: A former Catawba College classmate describes the governor’s days on the campus in the 70s and the election he lost for student body president.

From the Triad City Beat piece: McCrory mounted an aggressive campaign for 1977-78 SGA President as part of a concerted effort to return student government to the strident, old-boy’s-club it had traditionally been. ... During “The Great Debate” (honest, that’s what they called it) McCrory positioned himself steadfastly against “wasteful spending,” expressing a desire to exert budgetary oversight across all student activities, especially the newspaper and arts magazines. As head of the Presidential Court he pledged stiffer penalties for those who violated the rules. Read more here.

WONK OUT -- WHY THOM TILLIS’ NAME APPEARS FIRST ON THE PRIMARY BALLOT: His last name is last alphabetically among eight Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, but “Thom Tillis” will appear first on GOP primary ballots across North Carolina in 2014, a position some studies show will give him a slight advantage.

Tillis’ name won’t be first on May 6 ballots because he leads in the polls or because his name was picked out of a hat. His name will be there because of a policy adopted by the State Board of Elections more than a decade ago that determines ballot order for primaries.

Put simply, the ballot order, based on candidates’ last names, switches back and forth on two-year cycles between alphabetical order and reverse alphabetical order, starting with a different letter each year. Confused? Read more here.

OUTSIDE GROUP RUNNING WEB ADS IN NC PUSHING BACK AGAINST KOCH ATTACKS: From National Review -- In a new ad released Monday, the Koch network is pushing back against its Democratic critics, chief among them Harry Reid, and one of his billionaire backers.

The ad, “Steyer Infection,” juxtaposes Harry Reid’s denunciation of the Koch brothers with a narrative about Reid’s relationship with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his brother Jim, who runs a ratings service for children’s products. ...

The ad is running online only and is being pushed particularly in Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina, where the liberal Senate Majority PAC — funded in part by billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg – has ads up slamming “out-of-state billionaires” and the ”corporate and special interests” it says are trying to buy the election. Read more here.

HEADLINE: Can Tillis get 40 percent? Read it here.

DOT CONSIDERS MILAGE TAX: A state Board of Transportation committee this week will receive a recommendation that North Carolina test-drive an approach that seems both daunting and inevitable: Start taxing drivers by the mile instead of by the gallon.

The idea of a mileage fee is simple. But the execution is complicated, and the politics are dicey.

At least 10 other states have considered mileage fees. ... In theory, with such a system in place, one day you might pay X cents a mile to the federal government for the 100 miles you added to the odometer last week – plus state taxes at different rates for the 80-mile share that took place in North Carolina and the 20 miles in Virginia. Meanwhile, Raleigh might claim a piece of the action, too, because you spent 50 of those miles on city streets.

It could be easy to set these per-mile rates so that the average driver pays about the equivalent of today’s per-gallon fuel tax. You could decide how much higher the per-mile charge would be for the heavy trucks that do most of the damage to our highways and bridges.

That sounds fair. And it sounds creepy. If the tax collectors know where we’ve been driving, who else knows? Read more here.

CHARLOTTE COUNCIL DELAYS DECISION ON CANNON REPLACEMENT: With days of whirlwind jockeying ending in apparent stalemate, Charlotte City Council members voted Monday night to delay the selection of a new mayor until April 7.

The decision came during a 15-minute meeting and capped a day of frenzied tweets, phone calls and online petitions. It came just five days after former Democratic Mayor Patrick Cannon resigned following his arrest on federal corruption charges. Read more here.

EQUALITY NC’s CHRIS SRGO OP-ED: In October 2013, when the N.C. Department of Revenue released a tax directive for the state’s legally-married, same-sex couples, barring them from filing a state personal income tax return under the status “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately,” it sent a strong message: On the day you file your state tax return, your marriage does not count.

In doing so, this new tax policy turned its back on simple, fair and transparent federal laws that allow married, same-sex couples to file jointly – with all of the requisite veracity of a “married” status – regardless of where they live. Read more here.

P is for POPE: A Washington Post blog lists the ABCs of “buying elections.” And Art Pope gets a mention. Read it here.

THE GOP MESSAGE ON TEACHER PAY: Republican lawmakers are honing their message about why the state is 46th in the nation in teacher pay and their plan to rectify the rank. State Rep. Tom Murry, a Morrisville Republican, is the latest to try out a few lines. See the ad here.


Democrats target Virginia Foxx’s voting record. Read more here.

N.C. to get federal storm aid. Read more here.