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Morning Memo: McCrory administration slanted Medicaid report

McCRORY BOOED IN HIS HOMETOWN: For his 69th birthday party, Charlotte attorney Bill Diehl rented out The Fillmore at the N.C. Music Factory, hired rockers Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and invited around 400 of his closest friends, Jim Morrill reports. Among them: Gov. Pat McCrory.

When the band took a break, Diehl grabbed a mic and introduced McCrory, who was greeted with a loud smattering of boos. It wasn't the first time the former Charlotte mayor -- elected and re-elected seven times -- has heard boo birds in his hometown. In Charlotte, at least, the popular mayor has been a less popular governor. This summer he appeared at a concert at the Bechtler Museum. When he was formally introduced, many in the audience booed.

MUST-READ: For months, members of the McCrory administration have maintained that the state’s Medicaid program is "broken." But in the first of a two-part investigation, North Carolina Health News shows McCrory officials sat on information that would have depicted the state’s much-lauded Medicaid program in a better light. Read it here.

***More from the N.C. Health News story and an important notice to readers below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Republican former justice Orr helps Democrat Atkinson

Republican former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr crossed the aisle to help Democrat June Atkinson in her campaign for reelection as state Superintendent of Public Instruction. He recorded a robocall for her that went out to voters Friday.

Orr, who ran for governor in the GOP primary four years ago, represented Atkinson in her successful suit against Gov. Bev Perdue to be able to run the state Department of Public Instruction. A transcript of the call below.

N&O Pundit Panel: Etheridge embraces Washington, Dalton gets into policy weeds

The News & Observer asked four area political pundits to share their reaction about Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate. Here are their thoughts:

Andy Taylor, political scientist at N.C. State University: “The candidates are really beginning to distinguish themselves. Faison was feisty, repeatedly using language that the party’s base would approve of. Etheridge discussed his experience and steady hand, embracing his Washington record in a way you just don’t see candidates doing these days. Dalton, perhaps because he is left with no choice, projected himself as a technocrat, full of practical ideas.”

Thomas Mills, Democratic political strategist and co-founder of Bates & Mills Consulting in Carrboro: “The candidates’ closing arguments summed up their appearances pretty well. Walter Dalton talked about programs and policies; Bob Etheridge talked about experience and leadership; and Bill Faison talked about himself.”

Orr joins Poyner Spruill law firm

Former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr is joining the law firm of Poyner Spruill. Orr will work in the firm's Raleigh office and practice in the areas of general litigation and legislative and regulatory advocacy.

Earlier this month, Orr stepped down from his position as founding executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law. There he was an outspoken critic of the state's practice of using incentives to get companies to locate in North Carolina.

He also led several projects aimed at strengthening the state constitution through public education and legal action. Under his leadership, the institute successfully sued for public records and challenged public financing of political campaigns.

Before establishing the institute, Orr spent almost 10 years as a member of the Supreme Court and eight years on the Court of Appeals. The Hendersonville native was initially appointed to the bench by Gov. Jim Martin.

Justice Orr stepping down

Former state Supreme Court  Justice Robert Orr is stepping down from his position as founding executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law. Orr will return to private practice.

Jeanette Doran, who has been a senior staff attorney at the institute, will become the new executive director.

Since he left the Supreme Court in 2004, Orr has led the organization in several projects aimed at strengthening the state constitution through public education and legal action. It has successfully sued for public records and challenge public financing of political campaigns.

Orr will assist with the transition in leadership through the end of the year. On Thursday, the institute will move to a new office at 414 Fayetteville St. in downtown Raleigh.

Senate UNC board nominees

Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a wealthy business executive from Wilmington, and a former state Transportation Department secretary are on the list of 16 Senate nominees to the UNC Board of Governors.

The Senate on Thursday will pick eight members from the list of candidates.

Here are the nominees:

W. Louis Bissette, Jr. , an Asheville lawyer.

James E. (Ed) Broyhill, son of a former congressman

Fred Eshelman, executive of the contract research company PPD

John C. Fennebresque, a Charlotte lawyer

Ann B. Goodnight of SAS, a current board member

H. Frank Grangier, an agribusiness owner

Peter D. Hans, a current board member and "government relations strategic advisor" who has worked for Republican U.S. senators

Thomas J. Harrelson, a former DOT secretary

Luther H. Hodges, Jr., son of a former governor

Michael V. Lee,  a lawyer

Henry E. McKoy, Ralph E. "Bill" Mullins, Jr. , Robert F. Orr,  Philip D. Walker, Steve Warren, and Weston Willis.

Think-tank questions Perdue borrowing plan

More questions arose today about Gov. Bev Perdue's plan to borrow about $490 million from various state accounts to pay tax refunds.

The problems may go beyond those legislative Republicans raised yesterday about borrowing $100 million from the Employment Security Commission reserve fund, critics said.

Bob Orr, executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, said there may be multiple constitutional blocks to Perdue taking money intended for one purpose and using it for something else.

"The governor is required to administer the budget as passed by the General Assembly," said Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice. "It's not as though the governor can move the money around."

Perdue's spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson has vouched for the plan's legality.

Happy Constitution Day. All the best, Bob.

Does former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr sleep with a copy of the state constitution under his pillow?

Maybe not, but he sure likes talking about it. Now, his outfit, the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law has made it possible to keep a copy on your iPhone.

Just in time for Constitution Day.

And it's free.

The institute says the app is a joint project between its staff and software developer Brian Goins.

“We are excited to put the North Carolina constitution in the hands of North Carolinians,” said NCICL senior staff attorney Jason Kay.

“Now, more easily than ever before, citizens can read, study, and educate others about the state constitution—the cornerstone of state law and the chief limitation on state government.”

Thanks, NCICL.

Dome memo: Exonerated

A NEW LIFE: After 17 years behind bars for murder, three judges set Greg Taylor free after finding he was innocent. Taylor's freedom was possible because the state created an innocence commission, the first of its kind in the nation, to give the wrongly convicted a last shot at justice. Taylor's first post-prison meal: pasta salad with shrimp.

NEVER MIND: After weeks of getting slammed over a policy to change the high school history curriculum, state school officials backed down and abandoned plans to focus a history course on more recent events while leaving early history to elementary and middle school. Officials will now work on a new plan. Critics, get your e-mail accounts ready.

IRRELEVANT? State Auditor Beth Wood is delinquent on $1,200 worth of Wake County property taxes. Wood says her personal finances are irrelevant to the job she does as the state's chief financial watchdog.

IN OTHER NEWS: U.S. Sen. John Kerry says he is disappointed by the scandal that has brought down his one-time presidential running mate, John Edwards. State Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer attempted to smear former Gov. Mike Easley's legal troubles on Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. On the same day, lawyer and former gubernatorial candidate Bob Orr lost two legal challenges to incentives given to private business.

Judge to rule on whether cooking school suit proceeds

Former House Speaker Jim Black was not in the courtroom in Raleigh Tuesday, but he was very much part of this morning's arguments over a $10 million state subsidy to Johnson and Wales University, in Charlotte.

Lawyers from the state have asked Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan to dismiss a lawsuit over the appropriations to the school. Morgan heard arguments for four hours, called a recess and said he'll return at 3:30 p.m. to announce whether the lawsuit should be allowed to proceed.

Lawyers from the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law are trying to sue the state, claiming that the handout to the culinary school is unconstitutional, nothing more than a political promise made by Black and bankrolled by taxpayers. $6.5 million of the pledged funds have been given since 2003.

Black is in federal prison on corruption charges.

The institute lawyers want the state to force a refund and halt any future payments. Unlike other economic incentives, the Johnson and Wales money was a gift to single organization with no requirements for producing jobs or other measurable gains for the state, said Jeanette Doran, a staff lawyer with the institute.

"Johnson and Wales is required to do nothing," Doran said. "They can spend it however they want."

Lawyers for the state and the school contend that the legislature appropriates money for public purposes and education is a public purpose that, among other benefits, helps North Carolinians get jobs.

"The overall goal is to benefit the public," said Norma Harrell, of the N.C. Attorney General's office.

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