Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Washington takes great interest in race to oust Walter Jones

“Could this be former Vice President Dick Cheney’s revenge for U.S. Rep. Walter Jones suggesting that he should rot in hell for his role in the Iraq War?”

That’s the provocative start to N&O columnist Rob Christensen’s column this morning on the 3rd District congressional race in which Taylor Griffin came from Washington to take on longtime incumbent Walter Jones.

It’s an intriguing race that Washington is obviously following closely. More from the column: Cheney allies and others are pouring money into Eastern North Carolina to take out Jones in next month’s GOP primary.

The Emergency Committee for Israel has put $348,000 into an independent TV campaign “against Jones. Its chairman is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a Cheney ally.

This comes on top of the $197,000 in TV ads from an independent group called Ending Spending Action Fund, which is chaired by Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade. ...

This is the first time a primary challenger has had the funding to compete with Jones, who has one of the best-known names in Tar Heel politics. His father was in Congress before him, and Jones has served for 20 years.

Jonathan Brooks, Jones’ chief political strategist, said the influx of money is an example of Potomac politics being played out along the Pamlico Sound. “It’s the neocons going after the paleocons,” Brooks said. “It’s part of the larger civil war going on in the Republican Party.” Read more here.

***Get analysis of the U.S. Senate race, teacher pay push and more below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will meet with his education cabinet at 1 p.m. as the conversation about how to better compensate teachers stalls with a legislative committee’s inaction earlier this week.

A full day of meetings at the legislative building today. The most attention will focus on lawmakers who are looking at how to clean up Jordan Lake. They meet at 9 a.m. in room 544 LOB, and public comment is expected. A heart disease and stroke prevention task force meets at 9:30 a.m. in room 1027 LB. The purchase and contract study committee meets at 1 p.m. in room 544 LOB. The much-watched program evaluation oversight committee meets at 1 p.m. in room 643 LOB. The Permanency Innovation Initiative panel meets at 2 p.m. in 414 LOB.

The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission also will hold its final meeting. (See more below.)

THE TALKER – CAN GOP REVIVE TEACHER PAY HIKES AS MOOD DIMS? A month before the legislative session reconvenes, the likelihood that all North Carolina teachers will see a pay raise this year appears to be fading.

Republican leaders are pushing a plan to increase starting salaries for teachers but offering no boost for veteran educators. A legislative panel reached a dead end on the broader issue this week. The latest revenue report forecasts limited growth, so GOP legislative leaders say the state is too cash-strapped for the across-the-board increases demanded by teachers, who rank among the lowest paid in the nation.

The situation is putting renewed scrutiny on a key reason for the state’s financial picture: the tax cutting measure authored by Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders. The measure cuts personal and corporate income taxes, leaving the state with $2.4 billion less in revenue in the next five fiscal years, according to legislative analysts’ projections. ...

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Senate GOP leader from Archdale, said increasing teacher pay across the board is a multiple year process and no broad pay hikes are likely in the legislative session that begins May 14. “Yes, you can go back and say if we didn’t cut taxes we would have money for education,” he said. “But that money is also going back into the economy and getting people back to work.”

Mark Jewell, the teachers association official, took issue with McCrory’s repeated assertion in recent months that cost overruns for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income residents, is to blame for the state’s financial restraint. “It’s getting very tiresome to hear,” Jewell said. “They keep blaming poor people for the state the state is in. To pit poor people and public schools against each other is not a healthy solution.” Read more here.

ADDENDUM: Even with the legislative panel kerfuffle, the governor’s office and House lawmakers say they will push a small pay hike – expected to near 2 percent – for teachers. McCrory will include one in his budget proposal set for release in a few weeks. The question is where the money comes from and whether it has the full support to pass this year.

#NCSEN ---

THE HEATHER GRANT PROFILE: Heather Grant says the military taught her to be a problem-solver. But truth is, she’s always liked to fix things.

When her father started an insurance business in the ’90s, she went to work for him to fix it up. When her son was diagnosed with benign chest tumors when he was a baby, she became a nurse so she could better care for him. And when, after nursing school, she heard that military families weren’t getting good health care, she joined the Army so she could try to fix that, too.

Once discharged, she moved to Wilkesboro and re-immersed herself in the state where she grew up and found a new problem she wanted to fix: Washington. ... She’s a long-shot candidate in the crowded Republican primary race, steadily trailing the trio of Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris that has taken the lead. Read more here.

MARK HARRIS REPORTS RAISING $400K IN FIRST QUARTER: Republican Mark Harris’ campaign disclosed Tuesday that it raised about $400,000 in the first three months of the year and had roughly the same amount in bank for the final six weeks of the GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

His total is far below the millions House Speaker Thom Tillis is raising and just short of the roughly $500,000 rival Greg Brannon reported raising in the first quarter.

The campaign touted the numbers but didn’t release how much it raised through March this year. It emphasized the “total raised” since he entered the race in October, about $800,000. But a campaign spokesman confirmed the number to Dome.

Harris’ campaign said 80 percent of its donations come from North Carolina, a number they believe bested other rivals. “Our in-state donor base is fueling our efforts, which confirms that our message is resonating with North Carolinians, setting us apart from other campaigns,” Harris said in a statement.”

THOM TILLIS HELPED BUILD A SIDEWALK: From the Wilkesboro Journal Patriot – Thom Tillis, the speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, was in Wilkesboro Friday afternoon to inspect the new sidewalk and road improvement project along Meadowview Drive. The 1,500-foot sidewalk extends from N.C. 268 West to the area near the John A. Walker Center.

The $280,000 Department of Transportation project was paid for with a total of $110,000 from the State House and Senate Department of Transportation discretionary funds, in-kind labor and materials from the Town of Wilkesboro, and funding from the Department of Transportation. The total project cost was $278,145.

Tillis, who helped get the $55,000 from the House DOT discretionary budget, said Friday, “When we make trips around the state, we like to see how the discretionary funding has been spent.” Read more here.

NEWS & RECORD DEFENDS ITS ENDORSEMENT OF LITTLE-KNOWN JIM SNYDER IN GOP PRIMARY: Writes News & Record editorial writer Doug Clark – Sam Hieb at Piedmont Publius misunderstands our endorsement of Jim Snyder in the Republican U.S. Senate primary. Hieb asks, “ ... is he the candidate with the best shot at defeating incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan?” He concludes, “... I can’t help but think they’re endorsing the candidate who has the least chance of defeating her in November.”

Our purpose wasn’t to endorse the Republican we think has the best or worst chance of defeating Hagan.

After all, we gave a very strong endorsement of Hagan for the Democratic nomination. It wouldn’t make sense to endorse the candidates we thought had the best chance of defeating each other. We’ll look at the general election match-up when we get there. See the surprising – to say the least – original endorsement here.

THE BIG PICTURE: From the Washington Post – Wealthy political donors pumped millions of dollars into Democratic and Republican super PACs in the first quarter of the year – a sign that independent political groups will once again have a large impact on this year’s midterm contests. Read more here.

ALIPAC ENDORSES BRANNON: A North Carolina-based organization that focuses on stopping illegal immigration has endorsed Greg Brannon in the U.S. Senate race. “Every candidate running for US Senate in North Carolina this year supports a form of amnesty for illegal immigrants except for Dr. Greg Brannon!” said William Gheen, the group’s president, in a statement.

NRA ENDORSES TILLIS: The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund has endorsed Republican Thom Tillis in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate primary. Victory Fund chairman Chris Cox called Tillis “a champion on Second Amendment issues.”

#NCPOL ---

FORMER GOV. MARTIN ENDORSES MARK MARTIN FOR CHIEF JUSTICE: Former Republican Gov. Jim Martin emails to put his lot behind Mark Martin for the top seat on the state’s Supreme Court. He writes: “When I was governor, I appointed Mark Martin (no relation) to the Superior Court Bench. ... No person has ever been elected to the office of Chief Justice who did not first serve on the Supreme Court, and Mark Martin is the only candidate in this race who has actually served on the Supreme Court. Mark is also the only candidate in this race who has actually authored an appellate opinion.”

Martin faces Superior Court Judge Ola Mae Lewis in November.

DPI BACKTRACKS, SAYS CHARTER SCHOOL SALARY DATA MUST BE PUBLIC: North Carolina’s top education officials now say charter schools must publicly reveal salaries, reversing a March announcement that the independent public schools are exempt from that requirement.

“Public charter schools should disclose how they spend all tax dollars, including salaries paid,” N.C. Board of Education Chairman William Cobey said in a recent email.

“Charter schools are set up and organized as public schools. Therefore I believe salaries are to be open to the public for review,” state Superintendent June Atkinson said Monday. Atkinson said that when the N.C. Department of Public Instruction said in March that charter salaries are not subject to public disclosure, “our attorneys misunderstood the question.” Read more here.

THE GREAT DEBATE – WHO ARE WINNERS, LOSERS IN NEW TAX SYSTEM? AP: Gov. Pat McCrory and his fiscal allies used Tuesday’s tax-filing deadline to highlight a tax overhaul passed last summer that they say will benefit most North Carolina residents — either by leaving more money in their wallets or providing them with new jobs. But critics insist most people will see higher taxes and government services still hindered by cash shortages.

McCrory, Republican lawmakers and representatives of conservative think tanks participated in a news conference to celebrate the law’s changes, which include lower individual and corporate income tax rates, along with the elimination of scores of credits, exemptions and deductions. ...

The news conference coincided with Tuesday’s release of an annual report from the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council that ranked North Carolina the sixth most economically competitive state, compared to 22nd a year ago. Council leaders credited the tax overhaul with the jump in the economic outlook rankings, the largest this year.

Opponents of the overhaul held their own news conference to lament the loss of a refundable tax credit for the working poor that the Republican-led legislature allowed to expire with 2013 tax year filings. Read more here.

FRACKING PANEL TO MEET FINAL TIME: The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission is set to hold its last regular meeting Wednesday before the state’s proposed safety standards for fracking are taken to public hearings in community auditoriums this summer.

Wednesday’s meeting will culminate a year-and-a-half of intense, technical review that fracking critics considered too rushed and advocates praised as meticulously thorough. By the end of the meeting, the commission will have produced about 120 safety rules, setting the stage for packed public comment sessions in August that are likely to be heated.

“It’s quite possible they could influence, in a minor way or a major way, some of the tweaks that we apply to the rules,” said Commission Chairman James Womack. “They could catch something we’ve missed. They could cause us to rework some aspect of our rule writing.” Read more here.

ROY COOPER NOT IN A HURRY ON GAY MARRIAGE CASE: Attorney General Roy Cooper, the target of several challenges to North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban, has asked a judge to delay the most recent lawsuit until a higher court rules on a more sweeping marriage case.

Last week, the ACLU of North Carolina and other groups sued Cooper and several state officials on behalf of three same-sex couples – one from Hickory – who are dealing with serious medical issues. Those health concerns require quick action by a court to overturn the state bans on same-sex marriages for insurance, adoption and health care purposes, the suit claims. Read more here.

PHIL BERGER JR PICKS UP ENDORSEMENT: Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, considered by some a key player in the government shutdown debate, endorsed Phil Berger Jr.’s campaign for the 6th District Congressional seat. “He is a proven conservative leader in our state, and he will be an effective member to join our fight in Washington to restore the conservative values that made our nation great,” said Meadows in a statement released by Berger Jr.’s campaign.

THE TOP FUNDRAISER IN 6TH DISTRICT: Republican Zach Matheny posted the most money raised in the first quarter among the crowded field for outgoing Rep. Howard Coble’s seat. He raised $166,000. No. 2: Democrat Laura Fjeld, who has raized the most overall and remains the cash on hand leader with $200,000 in the bank, her campaign reported.

DEMOCRATS RANK N.C. REPUBLICANS ON “WORST OF THE WORST” LIST: The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s No. 16 ranking refers to a bill that would remake N.C. pre-K, a move Democrats say would kick out Spanish-speaking kids. See it here.

JOHN EDWARDS CAMPAIGN CASH: Via @davelevinthal at the Center for Public Integrity, John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign committee: still $331,586 in debt a decade later. See here.

THE PARTING QUOTE – FROM N.C. SENATE RACE IN GREENSBORO: “It’s hard-nosed politics down there (in Raleigh),” challenger Skip Alston said. “They take no prisoners, and neither do I.” Read more here.


Study says N.C. immigrants have positive economic impact. Read more here.

GOP lawmakers want to intervene in school vouchers case. Read more here.

Democrats target Republicans, including Ellmers, on immigration. Read more here.

McCrory tweaked for use of “infamous” to describe the Masters’ green jacket. Read more here.

Feds say N.C. has cleared food stamp backlog. Read more here.