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Morning Memo: GOP Senate hopefuls take hard line on defunding Obamacare

North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Senate candidates are taking a hard line on federal budget negotiations – a position that puts them at odds with the state’s lone GOP senator, Richard Burr.

Four Republican candidates said Monday they support efforts to defund the federal health care act, apparently even if those efforts lead to a government shutdown. Their comments came the same day state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger announced he won’t join those running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Kay Hagan.

***Read more from the GOP candidates -- reaction to Berger's decision -- below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will visit a Capgemini delivery center in Charlotte to celebrate the company's anniversary at 9:30 a.m. -- the event is closed to the press and public. He will later meet with TV and radio station general managers for a "roundtable discussion" at the Executive Mansion in another event that is closed to the press -- except, of course, those invited for the discussion. McCrory recently criticized the press for asking too many questions and digging too deeply into his administration's hires.

2014 GOP CANDIDATES ON DEFUNDING OBAMACARE:

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius, who has raised more money than any GOP Senate candidate, called Obamacare “a mortal threat to our economy.” “Republicans should do everything in our power to undo it,” he said in a statement. “That means using every tool available to us including this (budget) fight. ... This is not a complicated decision. Republicans should stand on our principles.”

Senate candidate Heather Grant, a Wilkesboro nurse, said any shutdown would not be the Republicans’ fault. “If there’s a shutdown, that is on the president,” she said.

Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor who plans to formally join the race Oct. 2, says he also supports effort to kill the federal health care law, much of which takes effect next week. “I do think that this is an opportunity to stop Obamacare,” he said. “The solution doesn’t have to be to shut down the government. ... If the president himself chooses to shut down the government, that would be his decision, (and) that would be a shame. I do think there are ideas on the table that would avoid a shutdown and avoid funding Obamacare.”

Candidate Greg Brannon, a Cary physician, said he supports Cruz and his fellow GOP senator, Mike Lee of Utah. “As a senator, I would do exactly what Lee and Cruz are talking about,” Brannon said. “If there’s a shutdown, that would be on Reid and the president.” Read more here.

BERGER OPTS OUT: One more prominent Republican is taking a pass on North Carolina’s much-watched U.S. Senate race in 2014, but the field of challengers remains far from settled. State Senate leader Phil Berger announced Monday he will not make a bid to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan, ending weeks of speculation about his political intentions that threatened to scramble the state’s political balance.

REACTION: “I still think the race is fluid on the Republican side, and in my view a front-runner has yet to emerge,” said Marc Rotterman, a GOP media consultant who is not working for any campaign. “I don’t think a candidate has emerged yet that the base says, ‘Yes, I will follow you over the hill.’”

“The announcement breathes some sighs of relief in the Tillis camp,” said Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political watcher. “But Tillis has still got to be worried about social conservatives and whether they start looking at someone like Harris.”

Paul Shumaker, a consultant for the Tillis campaign, said no single candidate could settle the race at this point. “North Carolina is a big state, and it takes a lot to get ready for a campaign,” he said, suggesting Tillis, who launched his bid in May, holds the advantage. Right now, “it is about building the financial resources it takes to run a race in North Carolina.” Read the whole story here.

FROM QUESTIONABLE HIRES TO ANOTHER BIG DEPARTURE AT DHHS: The state Medicaid director has resigned after only eight months on the job, raising more questions about troubles at the state’s program to provide health care to the poor. Carol Steckel, who took on responsibility for holding state Medicaid costs in check and for reshaping it into a managed care program, submitted a resignation letter Monday to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Legislative leaders from both parties expressed concern over Steckel’s decision. The leading House budget writer said he hoped the resignation would slow the momentum toward transferring Medicaid to commercial insurers. And the House minority leader said it was further proof that the General Assembly needs to investigate turmoil at the department and its management of the $14 billion Medicaid program.

PARTING WORDS: Reached on the phone Monday, Steckel declined to comment. In a written statement released by DHHS, Steckel said the Wellcare job was “a great opportunity,” and called Wos a “strong and dynamic leader.” She added: “In just a short time together, we have made good progress on reforming the state’s Medicaid program to control costs and improve care.”

REACTION: Rep. Nelson Dollar, the House’s chief budget writer, said Steckel’s departure was an opportunity for a fresh look at Medicaid reform. “A number of us have been looking at a variety of models other than commercial managed care,” said Dollar, a Cary Republican. “We have many strengths in our Medicaid program that we would like to build on.”

Rep. Larry Hall, the House minority leader, said Steckel’s departure is more evidence of a troubled department. … Hall said he looks forward to getting some answers Oct. 8 at a legislative oversight meeting that will focus on the department. Read more here.

NEWSPAPER CALLS FOR WOS TO RESIGN, OR McCRORY TO FIRE HER: "Aldona Wos must immediately resign her position as the secretary of our state’s Department of Health and Human Services. If she does not, Gov. Pat McCrory has to make the decision for her. Wos helped raise money for McCrory’s gubernatorial campaign last fall. Her department’s hires are foul-smelling of campaign worker exchanges. The governor’s campaign against a corrupt culture in Raleigh has long left the station. Allowing her to continue disables McCrory’s integrity while she digs a deeper hole." Read it here.

NEW STATE AUDIT: "Report Summary:Investigators determined that Facilities employees at Winston-Salem State University received a financial benefit that totaled $45,000 from January 2012 through March 2013. These employees were not required to pay commuting fees for daily transportation between the university and their homes. Additionally, these employees may have violated IRS regulations and state law by not paying a commuting fee." Read the audit here.

McCRORY'S TOUR TALKS UP STATE'S JOB PROBLEM: Gov. Pat McCrory said North Carolina manufacturers are struggling to find people to fill jobs — even though the state’s unemployment rate is the nation’s sixth-highest. McCrory made the comment Monday at a Gaston County luncheon attended by business and political leaders. It was the latest stop in a series of visits McCrory plans with business people across the state. Read more here.

McCRORY EXPLAINS HIS OPPOSITION TO CATAWBA CASINO: From Charlotte Business Journal -- "N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory underscored his opposition to the Catawba Indian Nation’s plans for a casino in Kings Mountain during a morning visit today to neighboring Gaston County. He says he’s concerned that if the Catawbas were granted the opportunity to bring gambling to Cleveland County, others would follow, carving out N.C. territories for casinos.

“I don’t agree with the loophole that the Catawbas are using to gain traction on that effort,” he said during a stop at the String Bean restaurant in Belmont, where he lunched with 50 or so real estate, business and government leaders. … It would be a loophole for the whole gaming industry where they would find islands within our state for casinos, to jump borders and form a new island of gaming,” he said. That idea isn’t supported by rules that allow Native Americans to open casinos around the country, McCrory said. Read more here.

MOONEYHAM: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest might want to consider one of the lessons that Gov. Pat McCrory has been learning since assuming the state’s top political job back in January. In Raleigh, politicians who go around making off-the cuff remarks that aren’t backed up by facts tend to get a little dinged up. The media and interest groups aligned with the opposing political party usually hold you accountable for what you say. Read the full column here.

COUNTY COURTS UNSORT APPEALS RULING: The N.C. Court of Appeals says (a firefighter's) stop may have been an illegal search and seizure that violated her constitutional rights. It has vacated (Dorothy) Verkerk’s 2012 DWI conviction. An Orange County judge will schedule new hearings to resolve complicated Fourth Amendment questions in the case. Verkerk, 54, a UNC-Chapel Hill art professor and former Chapel Hill Town Council member, could ultimately be convicted again of DWI. Or she could go free. Read more here.

FASTER SPEED LIMITS ON CAPITAL CITY ROADS: Drivers will be able to legally go a little faster on some Triangle highways later this month. The N.C. Department of Transportation announced Monday that it will increase the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph on three major roads by the end of September. They are: Interstate 540 between Glenwood Avenue and I-40; all of N.C. 540, including the Triangle Expressway;
N.C. 147 between N.C. 540 and I-40. Read more here.

SCHOOL BOARD TO RETHINK BOOK BAN: The Randolph County Board of Education has scheduled a second look at its decision to ban Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" from school libraries. The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reports the board has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday in Asheboro. The meeting was announced last Thursday. Read more here.

REFLECTING ON SESSION: Political experts came together (at Duke University) Monday evening to reflect on the tumultuous state of politics in North Carolina over the last year.

PERSONNEL FILE: AP-- The attorney for a key committee in the North Carolina Senate is now the general counsel for Senate leader Phil Berger. Berger's office said Monday that Andrew Tripp has succeeded Tracy Kimbrell, who left the job earlier this month to return to her previous law firm.

Tripp worked for the past 2½ years as counsel for the Senate Rules Committee, led by chairman Sen. Tom Apodaca. Tripp received a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Duke University law degree. He worked for more than five years in private practice before moving to state government.


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