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Morning Memo: Harris stakes his ground; GOP lawmaker presses McCrory

HARRIS DECLARES HE'S THE SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE IN THE RACE: The Rev. Mark Harris, a leading social conservative, entered the North Carolina Senate race Wednesday, setting up a potential insider/outsider GOP primary showdown next May with House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Harris, the outgoing president of the state Baptist Convention, said he would campaign as a staunch advocate for lowering taxes, reducing government, ending Obamacare and protecting gun rights, that he would back measures that he believes would improve “traditional moral values.” Read more here.

GOP SENATOR SAYS McCRORY ADMINISTRATION IS BREAKING THE LAW: A high-ranking Republican state senator said Wednesday that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is flouting the law. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, complained that McCrory hasn’t named an independent Unemployment Review Board to review decisions on unemployment benefits made by the state Division of Employment Security. Rucho’s remarks came during a legislative committee meeting where lawmakers were questioning Dale Folwell, the agency’s head. Read more here.

***Read more on the Harris announcement and a North Carolina political roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Roy Cooper, Pat McCrory spar on voting lawsuit

Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday that it is an “unnecessary expense” for Gov. Pat McCrory to hire an outside attorney to represent North Carolina against the Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging the state’s new voting law. “Our office continues to have the primary responsibility to defend the state,” Cooper told reporters. “Our staff will continue to do that.”

The Democrat’s remarks sparked a political blame game about how the state is defending the lawsuit – one with implications for 2016, when Cooper is considering challenging the Republican governor.

Responding to Cooper’s remarks, Bob Stephens, McCrory’s chief legal counsel, said the cost “falls squarely at the feet of the attorney general.”

Who's ready for 2016? PPP poll puts Democrats ahead of McCrory

Less than a year into Gov. Pat McCrory's term, a new Democratic poll indicates that voters are looking for an alternative.

Public Policy Polling -- a Raleigh firm never shy about looking far ahead to the next hypothetical political contest -- tested the Republican governor against four Democrats and found the challengers all held an edge, though ever-so-slightly in certain cases.

Attorney General Roy Cooper shows the best in a potential 2016 matchup, topping McCrory by 6 percentage points. State Treasurer Janet Cowell, former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and state Sen. Josh Stein all edge the governor but within the margin of error. (From PPP: McCrory's down 48/42 to Cooper, 47/43 to Cowell, 45/42 to Meeker, and 44/42 to Stein.) The Sept. 6-9 poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus four percent.

Morning Memo: McCrory opposed to new casino; Hagan still trumps GOP rivals

McCRORY OPPOSES CATAWBA CASINO: The Catawba Nation has filed an application with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in a first step toward gaining permission to build a casino and resort in Cleveland County. But Gov. Pat McCrory declined requests to endorse the application, a spokesman said Monday. In his first comments on the project, the governor's office said McCrory “remains unconvinced that any new casino proposal is in the best interest of North Carolina.” Read more here.

2014 U.S. SENATE POLL: Look for a new Public Policy Polling survey on North Carolina's U.S. Senate race later today. In a preview, Politico reports that Democrat Kay Hagan is still trumping her GOP rivals and Senate leader Phil Berger is slightly edging House Speaker Thom Tillis in a hypothetical GOP primary-- though nearly half of voters are still unsure.

***Get a full N.C. political news roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: Two more headlines raise heat on McCrory administration

MORE HUGE SALARIES AT DHHS -- Secretary hired staffer from husband’s firm; McCrory’s office says he does a “helluva” good job: An adviser to state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has been paid more than $228,000 by the state for eight months of work.

The state Department of Health and Human Services signed a personal services contract with Joe Hauck to serve as “senior adviser” at the agency. The initial contract was extended at least four times between March 1 and Aug. 1, and was modified at least once to pay him more “due to increased hours of work per day,” according to a state Department of Health and Human Services contracts website. According to DHHS, Hauck started under contract in January to work in Wos’ office. The contract is now set to expire Nov. 30, and it is capped at $310,000.

TIMING OF SHANAHAN’S DEPARTURE RAISES MORE QUESTIONS: Kieran Shanahan’s unexpected resignation as head of the state’s public safety agency in July came as he appeared to be making long-term plans to remain in the job. Three days before he resigned, efforts were underway to complete his clearance for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so that he could be designated as the state official eligible to receive sensitive information in North Carolina about terrorist and other threats.

Also, the Office of State Budget and Management planned to have a “strategic” budget meeting with Shanahan on the day before he departed, which Shanahan indicated he would attend.

***Read more details on the latest two stories to sidetrack the McCrory administration below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: NCGA studies Colo. school choice; DHHS execs see pay bump

NCGA STAFF EXAMINES COLORADO SCHOOL CHOICE: Three employees of the General Assembly went to Douglas County, Colo., for nearly a week in June to examine that county’s school funding model and determine the feasibility of trying something similar in North Carolina.

The Douglas County school district, the third largest in Colorado, is known for its emphasis on school choice and has pursued major – and often controversial – education reforms in recent years. Read more here.

***Get a full wrap on North Carolina political headlines below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: N.C. Dems host muted event; McCrory explores gambling deal

N.C. DEMS HOST MUTED CONFAB: The N.C. Democratic Party hosts its executive committee meeting Saturday in Greensboro but the fanfare from years past is missing. The evening Sanford Hunt Frye Dinner is merely a reception this year. The event is typically one of the party's larger fundraisers and Massachusettes Gov. Deval Patrick served as keynote speaker in 2012. This year, no headliner as a speaker and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan isn't even attending. It speaks to the party's still weakened status and lack of defining political leadership. A Democratic spokesman said the party opted for a reception because of the party's meeting is expected to last until 5 p.m. (But as anyone who has attended these in the past knows, they alwasy run long.) Former Gov. Jim Hunt and former state Supreme Court Justice Henry Frye, the event's namesakes, will address the party faithful.

McCRORY ADMINISTRATION EXPLORES MOVE TO EXPAND GAMBLING IN NORTH CAROLINA: Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is considering a potential deal to allow a South Carolina-based Indian tribe to open a casino just across the border in North Carolina in a move that is generating swift and fierce opposition from top Republican lawmakers. A new effort to expand gambling operations in the state could net North Carolina millions of dollars under a revenue-sharing agreement with the Catawba Indian Nation.

But it would carry significant political risk for McCrory, pitting the Republican governor against members of his own party.

***Read more on the potential casino deal below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Senate GOP debuts new, more restrictive voter ID bill

UPDATED: Senate Republicans debuted a new voter ID bill Thursday that removes a provision allowing college identification to cast ballots at the polls.

Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca said he had concerns about accepting public and private college ID cards. But he said the college students would be eligible to get a free photo ID card from the state. The change will increase the cost of the bill but the price tag is unknown.

Morning Memo: Education bills in House, Senate; film credits get scrutiny

WAS IT REALLY AN APOLOGY? Rep. Larry Pittman issued a letter of apology to House Speaker Thom Tillis. But did he apologize for what he said -- that the potential Republican candidate for U.S. Senate is thwarting gun legislation and other "constitutional conservative" measures -- or just the way he said it? Read it again: "While we do still have some disagreement about process, I have done damage to his reputation in a manner in which I did not consider at the time," Pittman wrote.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Two major education bills in the legislature today: the House will consider a bill to limit pre-K enrollment and the Senate will hear a measure to overhaul how charter schools are regulated. The calendars are full of other measures, touching on everything from the environment to insurance.Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a National Day of Prayer service in Greenville at 12:15 p.m. and then tour the downtown Main Street minutes later. He also plans to attend the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame gala at 7 p.m.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Keep reading below for more on the questions surrounding Mel Watt's confirmation and other North Carolina political news and analysis.***

Potential Hillary Clinton bid looks strong early in North Carolina

An early -- repeat, early -- 2016 presidential poll in North Carolina looks good for Democrat Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for the White House.

In a hypothetical matchup against Republican Marco Rubio, another potential candidate, Clinton wins 49 percent to 42 percent with 9 percent undecided, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey.

The Raleigh-based Democratic firm also found that Clinton also bests Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, 52 percent to 40 percent with 8 percent undecided.

The numbers break largely along partisan lines with Clinton holding a slight advantage against independents. The former secretary of state also gets about 55 percent of women against both potential challengers, while men narrowly favor the Republican. The automated PPP poll, taken April 11-14, has a 4 percentage point margin of error.

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