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Democratic lawmakers testify in redistricting trial

From AP: Current and former Democratic state legislators are testifying at a trial where judges are weighing arguments whether the redistricting maps drawn by North Carolina Republicans in 2011 are legal or should be thrown out.

State Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh and former Sen. Eric Mansfield of Fayetteville told a three-judge panel Tuesday there was no need for Republicans to increase the black voting age population in their districts to make them majority-black to ensure black voters can elect their favored candidates.

Mansfield and Blue testified white voters are willing to elect black candidates due to changing voting patterns and views on race. Republican legislative leaders and the state argue racially polarized voting still exists in North Carolina and majority-black districts can be drawn to avoid federal voting rights challenges. R

5 speeding tickets later, Sen. Hunt passes bill to hike speed limit

The Senate made fast work this week of Sen. Neal Hunt’s proposal to raise the top speed limit on North Carolina highways to 75 mph. Hunt, a Republican from Raleigh, filed his proposal April 2. It zoomed through a committee Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday, without debate.

“It’s a reasonable idea to let the professionals decide if traffic can move a little faster than we let it go now,” Hunt said Thursday. “It’s not mandatory, but if DOT thinks it’s appropriate to go that fast, then it’s OK with me.”

Sen. Dan Blue, a Democrat from Raleigh, cast the only dissenting vote. He told the Associated Press later that he just wanted to know more about how DOT would decide which roads qualify for faster speeds than 70 mph, the current maximum.

Hunt, 70, knows what it’s like to go faster than DOT thinks is appropriate. His driving record includes five speeding convictions in five different counties between 1988 and 1998. A legal limit of 75 mph would have helped him in a couple of cases, but officers clocked him driving a little faster than that on three occasions. “Be sure to point out that I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 14 years,” Hunt said.

Asked whether he was driving more slowly these days – or just lucky, he chuckled and said: “No comment.” --Bruce Siceloff, staff writer

Senate Democratic Caucus makes Blue, Clodfelter co-chairs

Democrats in the North Carolina Senate have named the following officers for the upcoming legislative session:   

 

Senator Dan Blue (Wake), Caucus Co-Chair 

Senator Dan Clodfelter (Mecklenburg), Caucus Co-Chair

Senator Ellie Kinnaird (Orange), Caucus Secretary

Senator Martin Nesbitt (Buncombe), Minority Leader

Senator Josh Stein (Wake), Minority Whip

Senator Gladys Robinson (Guilford), Deputy Minority Leader

Senator Floyd McKissick (Durham), Deputy Minority Leader

Senator Clark Jenkins (Edgecombe), Deputy Minority Leader    

Senate Democrats will select minority leader in mid-December

When the Senate Democratic Caucus meets in mid-December to select the minority leader – another term for Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Jr. or someone else – members insist the decision will not be contentious and that talks will be more centered on the best strategy for working with the Republican majorities that are all around.

“The fact of the matter is, there’s a small enough number of us that everyone in the caucus is going to have their voice heard,” said Sen. Dan Blue. “Nobody has called around to indicate any change or specific candidates.”

Clinton is Obama's salesman-in-chief

Bill Clinton acted as salesman-in-chief for Barack Obama Sunday, both touting the president's policies as having saved the country from a Depression, while writing off Mitt Romneys proposals as the failed “trick-down” economics of the past.

The former president said Obama's policies of investing in public-private partnerships in research, and education,and student loans that have helped fuel the rapid growth of the Research Triangle.

“You are going to vote your hopes rather than your fears North Carolina,” Clinton told a crowd in Raleigh's Pullen Park, that park officials estimated at 4,000.

Senate passes $20.1 billion budget along party lines

The political poker continued Thursday as the Senate debated a $20.1 billion budget approved along party lines. The budget now goes to the House. 

A day following a Democratic play to get Republicans to affirm their support  for what Democrats have dubbed the "tax cut for millionaires," Republican Sen. Bob Rucho challenged  Democrats to vote for the 3/4-cent sales tax increase that Gov. Bev Perdue proposed and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton supported. 

The increase would allow Democrats to continue their "tax and spend" policies, Rucho said. 

On Wednesday, Democrats tried to get a vote to limit a new $3,500 tax cut to businesses with incomes of $100,000 or less, and use the revenue from excluding bigger and wealthier businesses for schools and eugenics compensation.  Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to avoid the vote. 

Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said Rucho would rather tax everyday people rather the rich. 

"Apparently, Sen. Rucho thinks this is a good idea," Blue said. "You tax rank-and-file North Carolinians rather than taxing these millionaires that he excluded in the last session."

The tax increase proposal died in a unanimous vote. 

This all takes on added importance in an election year, with Republicans trying to tie Perdue to Dalton, the Democratic candidate for governor. 

Senate leader Phil Berger's office sent out this statement after the vote.

“It is clear the Perdue/Dalton tax plan is nothing more than an election year gimmick to allow Democrats to speak out of both sides of their mouth," Berger said. "The fact that every single member of the Senate voted against the tax hike shows what a bad idea it is.

 

Update: The House unanimously rejected the Senate version of the state budget. That means negotiating teams of House members and senators will get together to work out a compromise. 

Dan Blue rules out governor's race

State Sen. Dan Blue, a former House speaker, said today, he will not seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

The announcement was not unexpected. Blue had been exploring a gubernatorial bid for several weeks, but in recent days had seemed to be leaning against making the race.

“After long and very deep thought, I have decided not to run for governor,” Blue said in a statement. “But I am greatly moved by and want to thank the hundreds of people who called, emailed and talked to me about mounting a campaign. I am forever grateful.''

“As we look to our future,” Blue said, “its going to take a lot of discussion, deliberation, determination and thoughtful decisions, and we have to be focused on education and enhancing opportunities for all the people of our state.

“I believe several of the state Democratic gubernatorial candidates share this conviction and either can successfully move this state forward. Whoever win the nomination is going to need a strong General Assembly to help translate his ideas into effective policy. And I pledge to be a fearless advocate in the Senate to help our Democratic governor get and keep our state on the right track.''

Dan Blue said he's still looking at governor's race

State Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh said he was still weighing a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.

“I'm still thinking, I'm still trying to see what the field looks like,” Blue, a former House Speaker, said minutes after Congressman Brad Miller announced he would not run.

“I have not ruled it out,” he said. “The thing is once you decide you are changing everything else you had planned at least for the next eight or nine months.”

He said he still talking to people.  He said he has received dozens of phone calls and emails.

Dan Blue seriously looking at governor's race

State Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh said today he is “seriously looking” at seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

Blue, a former House speaker, said he has been approached by supporters about running since Gov. Bev Perdue's surprise announcement  that she would not seek re-election.

“I am seriously looking at it,” Blue said in an interview.

“I have talked to scores of people and given some thought to it and some analysis,” Blue said. “It's a pretty significant undertaking and you just don't dash in to it.''

He said he considering factors as his Raleigh law practice, family obligations, as well as political considerations.

“Typically people spend months and years deciding when and where they will they do this – be the leader of 10 million people,” Blue said. “It's not something you go about lightly.''

Blue said he hoped to make a decision shortly after the beginning of the filing period, which begins next Monday. Blue said he wants to have a better sense of what the Democratic field will look like.

Blue, a veteran lawmaker, was the the first African-American speaker elected in the South in 1991. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002, finishing second in the Democratic primary to Erskine Bowles.

The Democratic primary is likely to be composed of at least 30 percent African-American voters. He also is well known in one of the state's major media markets.

Bowles makes strongest Democratic candidate for governor, polls show

In a crowded Democratic field for governor, only Erskine Bowles can match Republican Pat McCrory at this point, according to a poll released Monday.

Bowles, the former two-time U.S. Senate candidate, trails McCrory 44 to 42 percent in a hypothetical matchup -- a virtual deadlock with McCrory's advantage within the 4.2 percent margin of error. The problem: Bowles isn't in the race yet.

The Public Policy Polling survey tested 13 Democratic candidates against McCrory, the likely GOP nominee and former Charlotte mayor, after Gov. Bev Perdue dropped out. Pollster Tom Jensen argues that Democrats have a better chance with Perdue out of the race. In a generic partisan matchup, voters split evenly -- 46 percent supporting a Democratic candidates and 45 percent supporting a Republican. 

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