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Morning Memo: Circus returns to town, McCrory's big gaffe

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The circus returns to town as lawmakers start the legislative session at noon. The House and Senate calendars show no bills for consideration and no committees are scheduled to meet -- the first will meet Thursday, it appears. For the first day, the action will take place largely behind the scenes as lawmakers file bills for the session. In the House, each lawmaker can file 10 bills and there is no limit in the Senate. What will they emphasize this year?

Gov. Pat McCrory welcomed lawmakers back to Raleigh with a private breakfast at the mansion. The move is reminiscent of how former Gov. Jim Hunt would engage the legislature to successfully push his agenda. Will McCrory become his own chief lobbyist? The Republican remains mum about where he stands much of the GOP legislative agenda, so far.

McCRORY'S BIG 'GENDER STUDIES' GAFFE: More and more it's looking like McCrory's comments on higher education to national radio show host Bill Bennett amounted to a major gaffe. By the end of the day -- after his remarks about funding universities and liberal arts courses went viral and elicited a caustic reaction in the public sphere -- his press shop began tempering his language if not outright apologizing. “This was not meant to be a personal attack on UNC,” said spokeswoman Crystal Feldman. “Gov. McCrory did not mean to tarnish UNC’s reputation.”

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- a daily source for the latests analysis and news in North Carolina politics.***

MORE ON McCRORY COMMENTS: It played as the lead story on the front page of The News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and Greensboro News-Record and also made the front of the Winston-Salem Journal.

An apology seems appropriate to many in academia. From the story: Karey Harwood, associate professor of religious studies and women’s and gender studies at N.C. State, said the vocational focus is short sighted. “I don’t know what kinds of jobs McCrory wishes for UNC graduates, but his comments certainly suggest that he has low expectations for UNC students and for the state of North Carolina, which is disappointing — and insulting,” Harwood said.

A SLIGHT TOWARDS WOMEN? McCrory's comments on gender studies (saying if you want to take the classes, go to private school, because the state shouldn't subsidize course that don't lead to jobs) overshadowed another remark that also caused women to react strongly. To some, McCrory's statement about women and career paths left an uneasy impression. “Most people don’t realize that two-thirds of my students are women,” McCrory said. “Most of them are either going into health care or taking junior college programs, when in fact, I’ve got a lot of unemployed men who typically go into technology or mechanics or welding or something. If they do, they can get six-figure pay right now but instead they’re on unemployment.”

McCRORY'S OFFICE EMPHASIZES TRANSPARENCY AFTER WITHHOLDING PUBLIC RECORDS: From AP's Gary Robertson: "The new Governor's Office initially declined last week to immediately provide the salaries for three workers but said they would be released when the office was fully staffed. The pay information, which state law says is available to the public, has been routinely provided by other administrations. ... North Carolina Press Association counsel Mike Tadych said Tuesday the desire of a state agency to delay the release of personnel data until all workers are included is irrelevant to what the law says. "If someone is hired, then this information as a matter of law is a public record" and shouldn't be held back, Tadych said.

McCrory's office said it's committed to transparency, which the governor ran on during the 2012 campaign. "We have followed the letter of North Carolina law," Feldman said Tuesday.

PERSONNEL NOTE: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office named a new press secretary Tuesday. Shelly Carver served as a legislative assistant for Sen. Ralph Hise for the past two years. Carver is a native of Spruce Pine and previously worked as a grants administrator for the Mitchell County Development Foundation and a membership manager for the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce. The previous press secretary, Brandon Greife, is now working as a research assistant for Sens. Louis Pate and Hise on healthcare issues.

NEW POLITICAL TV SHOW LAUNCHES THIS WEEKEND: Plain Talk Politics, a new Sunday morning political show hosted by Democratic operative Jeanne Bonds, begins taping Wednesday. State Reps. Tim Moore, a Republican, and Kelly Alexander, a Democrat, will talk tax reform on the first episode that airs at noon Sunday on NBC-17. Bonds helped manage former Democratic lawmaker Bill Faison's failed primary bid for governor and formerly served as Knightdale mayor.

DON'T MISS THESE POLITICAL HEADLINES

GUN ISSUE PUTS KAY HAGAN IN A TOUGH SPOT: From The N&O: As a Democrat from a swing state, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina already faces a tough re-election fight next year. But with gun control emerging as a key political issue in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., last month that left 20 elementary school children dead, holding onto her seat could become even more of a challenge.

Hagan casts herself as a moderate who fits in with the culture of her native state. On guns, a political fault line in the country as deep as those on abortion and gay marriage, she’s quick to brandish her bona fides: She grew up in a family of hunters, enjoys hiking and fishing, and co-chairs the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. But the first-term Democrat faces the possibility of having to cast votes in the Senate this year on a variety of gun control measures that her critics could turn into political weapons.

DAVIDSON COUNTY JUDGE BLOCKS SWEEPSTAKE BAN: From The Dispatch: "A court order filed Monday in Davidson County enjoins authorities from enforcing a sweepstakes ban against a software licensor that provides products to businesses across North Carolina. The restraining order temporarily bars state officials, county sheriffs and local law enforcement from warning, threatening, citing or removing any products from sweepstakes businesses that use software licensed by International Internet Technologies, LLC (IIT).

Earlier this month, Davidson County sheriff’s deputies charged operators of the Hickory Tree Business Center in Midway with misdemeanor possession of electronic machines and other devices for sweepstakes. The citation, one of at least five others issued throughout the county, followed a recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision that upheld a 2010 state law banning the controversial gaming machines."

HAGAN FORMS NEW JOINT FUNDRAISING PAC: From The Hill: Four Democratic senators who are up for reelection in 2014 have joined forces on fundraising. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) created a joint fundraising committee last week called Senate Victory 2014, according to Federal Election Commission records. Hagan is the most vulnerable senator in the group, and could face a tough reelection fight if a strong Republican challenger emerges, according to a recent poll.

BERGER CITES PERSONAL STORY FOR TAX REFORM:Senate leader Phil Berger describes a hard-knock upbringing to make a point about tax reform in North Carolina. "Things were not easy, but we believed in opportunity and the American Dream," he writes in a Charlotte Observer op-ed today. "Sadly, today that opportunity is slipping for many. Hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow are fading. ... Why? A big reason is our broken tax system."

McCRORY ACCUSES PERDUE OF SCUTTLING AUDIT: From the Carolina Journal, a conservative publication: "McCrory said he has asked State Auditor Beth Wood to launch sweeping performance and financial audits to identify problem areas. And he took a swipe at Perdue over her inaction in that realm. “I’ve asked [Wood] to do as many audits as she can as quick as possible to help us evaluate where the breakdowns are in the system, something that the previous governor was attempting to dissuade the auditor from doing,” McCrory said. “I’m doing just the opposite. We want someone to dig down deep … and there are more audits to come,” McCrory said. Some administrative audits are complementing Wood’s work.

...But as he attempts to shore up a government foundation, McCrory is making progress in some areas. Without revealing names, he said he nominated on Tuesday afternoon three candidates, including a chairman, for the State Board of Education. The General Assembly could approve them as soon as Monday, he said. He said he also would nominate four or five people for the N.C. Board of Transportation this week, but declined to reveal who they would be."

NEW COALITIONS FORMED TO COUNTER GOP AGENDA: From The N&O: Republican leaders on Tuesday outlined a contentious plan to make fundamental changes in how children are educated, how people and corporations are taxed, and what regulations businesses must follow when lawmaking resumes Wednesday. Emboldened by expanded majorities and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, lawmakers promise to push through changes quickly. Facing the prospect of losing what they for years have taken for granted, liberal groups are coalescing to make sure their arguments are heard. Meanwhile, groups that support the Republican agenda plan to make sure that lawmakers deliver on campaign promises.

GOP TO SPEED TIMETABLE ON FRACKING: From The N&O: State House Speaker Thom Tillis confirmed rumors Tuesday that impatient state lawmakers could attempt to speed up the timetable for natural gas fracking in North Carolina. The Republican lawmaker said he’s willing to consider such proposals, but also said he’s inclined to let the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission complete its task by the October 2014 deadline set by the state legislature last year.


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