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Morning Memo: Another big day at the statehouse, gambling money purge continues

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Another big day at the legislature as the legislative session nears the half-way mark and the bill filing deadline. 10 a.m.: The Senate Education Committee considers a bill to take charter school oversight authority away from the state's Department of Public Instruction and loosen requirements on the schools. Noon: House Public Utilities considers bill to stifle the state's consumer advocacy group. 1 p.m.: House Elections Committee will discuss repeal of campaign finance matching money for candidates, a measure included in the governor's budget. The committee sent a notice that the voter ID measure is on hold temporarily so it can consider other legislation, a reversal from what lawmakers planned. At the same time, the Senate Finance Committee will begin talk about taxes with discussion of a bill to reduce the burden on businesses but no votes are expected. 2 p.m.: The Carolina Panthers bill is on the House calendar. The Senate convenes simultaneously with no major bills on the desk.

Today, Gov. Pat McCrory sticks to his comfort zone for another address to another business group, this one is the N.C. Chamber's annual conference in Greensboro. Later in the day, he'll meet privately with the N.C. Sheriff's Association.

GAMBING MONEY PURGE CONTINUES: As the Morning Memo reported Tuesday, McCrory forfeited campaign contributions from a second sweepstakes company executive charged in an gambling ring. And as AP found, the purge is likely to continue: McCrory received another $8,000 in October from John Patrick Fannin and his wife, who live in Little River, South Carolina, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press. Fannin is also among the sweepstakes operators indicted by Florida prosecutors in the Allied Veteran's case. (A McCrory spokeswoman) said McCrory's campaign will review those donations, too.

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DHHS leader ducks reporters

State Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos and her deputies spent more than an hour talking to legislators Wednesday morning about department priorities, but she rushed down the back stairs before reporters could ask her about her decision to hire Dianna Lightfoot as the director of Child Development and Early Education.

Lightfoot never started work after media reports that she opposes pre-kindergarten, that she referred online to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as "butch," and to vaccination as "government intervention.

Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday that the Lightfoot hire was Wos' responsibility, but she has so far refused to answer questions about it.

DHHS spokeswoman Julie Henry said she did not know how Lightfoot was vetted.

Henry said Wos had to leave the legislative committee for another meeting.

Morning Memo: McCrory's negatives spike, AFP eyes 2014 race

MORNING MEMO EXCLUSIVE: McCrory approval rating constant but disapproval spikes A new poll scheduled for release Wednesday shows Gov. Pat McCrory's negatives jumped 14 points higher than when he took office in January, with one third of voters disapproving of his effort so far. At the same time, the survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows his approval rating essentially level at 47 percent, after starting his term at 45 percent, within the margin of error. The movement suggests North Carolina voters with no distinct opinion of McCrory a month ago now shift disproportionately against him, a byproduct of governing and the Republican's early stumbles in office.

DEMOCRATS TURN, HIGHER ED COMMENTS VIEWED NEGATIVELY:McCrory started in a honeymoon period with Democrats with only 26 percent disapproving and 48 percent not sure. Now, half of the state's Democrats disapprove. His margin of support among unaffiliated votes also slipped a bit to 48 percent approving and 31 percent disapproving in Feburary. About one-third of all voters polled disapproved of the governor's controversial comments about higher education with 26 percent approving and 42 percent unsure. The gaffe alone didn't likely move the numbers too much, the poll suggests. McCrory's pay raises to his cabinet secretaries are much less popular with 82 percent disapproving.

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McCrory treads lightly on Lightfoot appointment

Gov. Pat McCrory tread carefully when was asked Tuesday about Dianna Lightfoot, the controversial appointment to head the pre-kindergarten program that blew up last week.

The governor didn't want to get into the details of who was involved in the hiring of Lightfoot, apparently not wanting to put Health and Human Resources Secretary Aldona Wos, who he highly recruited for the post, on the spot. “I do not approve all undersecretaries,” McCrory said in an interview. “I give my secretaries a lot of flexibility.''

But when asked if he had signed off on the hiring, McCrory said he would defer any comment on the specifics to the DHHS.

Morning Memo: A new 2014 map, McCrory mum on second big departure

UPDATED: WHAT REDISTRICTING MEANS: Only one competitive congressional race in 2014. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball political rankings show what happens when congressional districts are packed with like-minded folks. Of the state's 13 congressional races, only one is deemed competitive between parties. The seat is Democratic Congressman Mike McIntyre in District 7. McIntyre won a close race in 2012 -- one of the few where Mitt Romney won the president vote -- and another tight contest is expected in 2014. The pundits at University of Virginia give him the early edge, though, ranking the race "leans Democratic."

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DHHS hire bows out amid controversy over her past positions, Facebook & Twitter postings

A controversial pick to head the state’s early childhood education programs – who was on record opposing the concept of those programs – has turned down the job, as questions mounted about her past remarks in online forums.

Dianna Lightfoot was scheduled to become the director of Childhood Development and Early Education in the state Department of Health and Human Services next week. On Thursday morning, she notified DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos “that she does not wish to be a distraction to the department and will pursue other opportunities,” a statement Wos’ office released mid-day Thursday said.

New director of NC Pre-K has advocated against early childhood education

The state's new director of child development and early childhood education apparently doesn't think too highly of early childhood education programs.

Dianna Lightfoot, whose appointment was announced Tuesday by Aldona Wos, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the president of the National Physicians Center.

A policy paper — signed by Lightfoot and two board members — on the nonprofit's website states that early childhood education programs "may actually be inferior to early learning opportunities at home."

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