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Morning Memo: Another DHHS hire raises questions; FEC chides Tillis camp

ANOTHER HIRE RAISES QUESTIONS AT DHHS -- Unadvertised job goes to former tea party member: The state Department of Health and Human Services has filled a newly created $95,000 senior planner position with a Greenville woman who was a medical school lecturer for three years but who has been absent from the health care labor force since 2002.

Margaret "Mardy" Peal, 42, has been hired as part of the "Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina," Gov. Pat McCrory’s initiative to allow private insurance companies to run the government’s health care program for the poor in North Carolina.

Peal gave $1,250 to the McCrory campaign in 2012. She helped organize the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party in 2010. The job was not posted, which prevented others from applying. Department officials declined to provide a job description or list Peal’s duties. Read more here.

***More on Peal and news from the U.S. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Dems eager to replace Kinnaird; GOP's barbs in Senate fight

FOUR CANDIDATES SEEKING KINNAIRD SENATE SEAT: State Rep. Valerie Foushee and three others announced Wednesday their intent to seek state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird’s District 23 seat. The other candidates for Kinnaird’s seat that emerged Wednesday were retiring Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton; author and educator Amy Tiemann, and former Alamance County Rep. Alice Bordsen. Read more on the candidates here.

TODAY IN POLITICS: The country's former top military officer and the head of an Internet giant are the main attractions at a gathering of North Carolina business executives that will draw Gov. Pat McCrory. The CEO Forum is scheduled for Thursday at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh. Former U.S. Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell is speaking along with Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers. McCrory will attend the event at 8 a.m.

***More North Carolina political news from the U.S. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to capitol@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: All eyes on the House, NAACP fires back at McCrory

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The budget and tax watch continues. House and Senate lawmakers are negotiating on both issues this week hoping to break the logjam. Some movement may emerge later this week. In House committees, lawmakers will discuss a power shift at the Charlotte airport, a sweeping bill to weaken environmental protections and consider four election-related bills. With the election bills, it’s not so much what’s in them now -- but how they may get amended. Talk is rampant about an highly-controversial omnibus elections bill. The chambers convene at 2 p.m. The abortion bill is in limbo but not likely to come to a House vote Wednesday -- though stranger things have happened. After a one-day delay, the Senate will debate a bill to impose drug testing and background checks on some welfare recipients.

NAACP PRESIDENT CALLS McCRORY REMARKS 'DISINGENUOUS': Gov. Pat McCrory's take on "Moral Mondays" didn't sit well with Rev. William Barber, the N.C. NAACP president who is leading the weekly demonstrations. In a statement, Barber said McCrory is trying to "play nice and move away from his original comments about Moral Monday protestors being outsiders." He compared McCrory's words to George Wallace, who dismissed segregation as a few isolated instances.

***Read more reaction below -- and get the latest North Carolina political news and analysis -- in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Abortion bill back on agenda; McCrory's misfire at Obama

ABORTION BILL IS 'CHRISTMAS IN JULY': The abortion bill resurfaces for discussion in the House on Tuesday after a vocal protest against it a day earlier. (More on Monday's demonstrations below.) So we know what critics say about the abortion bill, but what about supporters? Christian Action League's Rev. Mark Creech is asking proponents to "pray for Christmas in July." On the group's website, he writes: "In all my days, I have never seen a bill so full of good content. I have shared with my friends that the legislation is a veritable Christmas tree of beautiful lights and ornaments representing life, justice and other righteous principles. The only thing missing is the crowning star of final passage and the governor’s signature. For those of us who believe in faith, family, and freedom, this bill is Christmas in July."

McCRORY'S MISFIRE AT OBAMA: Gov. Pat McCrory sought to deflect blame for North Carolina's decision to curtail jobless benefits by pointing the finger Monday at President Barack Obama's administration. The problem is he pointed in the wrong direction. (Read more below.)

***Click below for details about the controversial abortion bill and more North Carolina political news and analysis in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Hagan supports immigration bill, Burr against

HAGAN TO SUPPORT IMMIGRATION BILL: U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Wednesday announced that she’ll vote for an immigration overhaul that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, saying it will help North Carolina’s economy and strengthen the nation’s border security. “I’m ready to support a common-sense bill that’s going to fix our broken immigration system so that everybody plays by the same rules today,” the first-term Democrat said. “After listening to a wide variety of stakeholders throughout North Carolina, it’s clear to me supporting bill is the right decision for North Carolina.”

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A couple hot-button measures are resurfacing at the state legislature Thursday. The Commonsense Consumption Act, an ALEC-sponsored bill to give food manufacturers immunity against obesity-related lawsuits, appears in the Senate judiciary committee at 10 a.m. The N.C. version of the bill also includes a "Big Gulp" provision to prevent cities from passing a ban on large-sized sodas. A Sharia law measure is off the agenda. On the floor, the House will take a final vote on a bill to privatize much of the state commerce department and require certain abortion-related education in middle school health classes. The Senate will consider a bill that would restrict the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, thwarting other state efforts to set tough rules on the issue.

Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a dinner hosted by a nonprofit organized to boost his agenda in Greensboro this evening, a day after he defended it against critics who say it represents pay-for-access for special interests. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to attend the dinner, which costs $1,000 for two tickets. Dr. Ben Carson, the latest conservative TV darling, will appear at a 6:30 p.m. event in Raleigh to benefit the Upper Room church’s school.

***More on Kay Hagan's immigration vote and her potential GOP rival Thom Tillis' campaign, along with SCOTUS reaction and Mel Watt's confirmation fight, all below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Rural Center questions continue, First Lady steps out

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: In committees, a number of contentious measures are being considered for discussion only. The House Finance Committee will review a taxpayer bill of rights, known as TABOR, that would constitutionally limit state spending. The Senate Education Committee will look at a House-approved bill to give students with disabilities vouchers to attend private schools. Senate lawmakers will also hear a bill in the Finance Committee that critics argue would allow mega-dumps and attract out-of-state trash. Also, the House Commerce Committee will roll out a major bill on Gov. Pat McCrory's agenda to reorganize the state commerce department.

In a rare appearance, First Lady Ann McCrory will step into the spotlight and hold her first news conference to ask the Senate to pass a watered down measure to regulate so-called puppy mills. The House approved the bill but the Senate has sat on it for a month without action. Her event is at 3:30 p.m. at the mansion. Gov. McCrory will have breakfast with lawmakers and then host his education cabinet at 1 p.m.

RURAL CENTER UNDER FIRE: Several board members of the taxpayer-funded N.C. Rural Economic Development Center said this week they are concerned about practices brought to light in a recent News & Observer series and welcome additional oversight.Rural Center leaders, however, said the newspaper reports do not properly reflect the organization’s work.

***More on the Rural Center controversy -- and the N.C. Democratic Party troubles, as well as a headline only Asheville could do best -- below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Commerce pushes overhaul, dueling tax campaigns emerge

SECRETARY TO PITCH COMMERCE PRIVATIZATION PLAN: Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker will appear before a House panel Wednesday to pitch Gov. Pat McCrory's plan to privatize elements of the state's economic recruitment effort. Decker sent a memo to lawmakers with the talking points about the N.C. Economic Development Corporation a day earlier. She highlighted the efficiencies that McCrory's administration believes will be realized by consolidating various existing entities, including the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, some of the N.C. Biotechnology Center and the tourism and film offices, among others, in a private nonprofit entity led by political appointees. She will describe a phase-in approach in her testimony. McCrory's team drafted the outline for the private-public partnership -- funded mostly by taxpayer dollars -- before he ever took office. Tony Almeida, the governor's top economic adviser who will lead the effort, wrote a white paper, finalized in December, as a member of McCrory's transition team that laid out the vision. (More below.)

DUELING TAX CAMPAIGNS: Americans for Prosperity began airing a TV ad on cable and broadcast that touts Republican leaders commitment to a tax overhaul. Meanwhile, the Young Democrats will debut an effort Wednesday to criticize the Senate plan with a web ad highlighting the hike in grocery taxes and and a new website nctaxhike.com, which is designed to counter Senate Republicans nctaxcut.com. Check Dome later today to see both.

***More North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo -- including a rundown on the day's top stories.

Morning Memo: More Democratic trouble, N.C. vs. S.C. hoops rivalry renewed

UPDATED: DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S PROBLEMS GROW: The head of the North Carolina Democratic Party is facing questions about credit card charges made during a March trip to a Las Vegas casino to watch basketball games with his old college buddies. Records obtained by The Associated Press show state Democratic Chairman Randy Voller made $3,327 in charges to Southwest Airlines and the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel on an American Express Business Gold Card embossed with his name and that of the North Carolina Democratic Party. He said he's paid off the balance in full. Much more to this story -- click here.

N.C. LAWMAKERS TO PLAY "THE OTHER CAROLINA" IN BASKETBALL: North Carolina lawmakers will challenge their South Carolina counterparts to a game of hoops Wednesday evening at Reynolds Coliseum. The game is the first in at least four years between lawmakers from the two Carolinas. Rep. Burt Jones, a Rockingham Republican who will coach the North Carolina squad, helped revive the tradition. “The games in the past were pretty competitive,” he said. (Scouting report below.)

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for N.C. political news and fun (see below). Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. ***

Morning Memo: Fracking board under fire, Letterman takes shot at 'Dick' Burr

ENERGY COMPANY THWARTS FRACKING RULE: After more than six months of congenial meetings, the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission was set to approve its first fracking rule Friday, perhaps the most important of all the safety rules the commission will write to protect the public and safeguard the environment. The standard spells out which chemicals fracking operators have to publicly disclose when drilling natural gas wells in North Carolina.

But commissioners learned Thursday the proposal they had approved in committee in March is on ice. The problem: Fracking giant Halliburton has told North Carolina’s environmental regulators the rule goes too far. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is working to get the rule changed.

The developments raise questions about the independence and integrity of the Mining & Energy Commission, a panel created by the state legislature last year to create safety rules for shale gas exploration. Fracking refers to fracturing shale rock formations using high-pressure water and chemicals to release the natural gas trapped inside. Full story.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis from the North Carolina political arena below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Independent panel for Utilities Commission appointments sought

Advocacy group NC Warn took out a full-page ad in The News & Observer on Sunday keeping up the pressure on McCrory to disclose how much stock he owns in Duke Energy, where he used to work, and asking him to appoint an independent panel to choose members of the state Utilities Commission. Pending legislation would allow McCory and the General Assembly to replace all current members of the commission, which this year will consider a rate increase request from Duke Energy.

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