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Morning Memo: Senate GOP questioned on legality of power grab

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: No votes in the House on Thursday but the Senate is expected to give final approval to a bill to purge the state's boards of any Democratic appointees. Gov. Pat McCrory hosts legislators for a private breakfast and attends two closed-door events in Wake County. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller is hosting a morning press conference to lay out his vision for the minority party amid GOP reign.

TEA PARTY GROUP MAY SCREEN GOP U.S. SENATE CANDIDATES: Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said his group may begin to support candidates in Republican primaries, the Daily Caller reports. The move could have implications on North Carolina's U.S. Senate race in 2014 -- which is expected to draw a robust field to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan. Americans for Prosperity is a tea party group that once held close ties to Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, Art Pope, who led the national board and donated significantly to the organization.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis of N.C. politics below.***

Key legislators, business leaders on UNC strategic planning group

UNC system leaders have formed a broad advisory group that will help shape the future of the state's public universities.

Serving on the planning group are UNC chancellors, UNC board members, education leaders, business leaders and GOP leaders in the legislature -- House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger.

The appointments were announced this morning by UNC President Tom Ross and Peter Hans, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors.

Konnichiwa, y'all

Gov. Bev Perdue is on her way to Japan to drum up business for the state.

Perdue and state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco are leading a delegation to the 35th annual Southeast U.S./Japan joint meeting in Tokyo, according to her office. While there, Perdue and commerce officials will meet with export clients and businesses seeking new investments. After he leaves Japan, Crisco will take a two-day business recruitment trip to China.

GOP targets N.C. commerce official in state budget draft

UPDATED: Republican budget writers targeted a high-ranking commerce official by eliminating his job in the state budget draft.

Henry McKoy Jr., the assistant secretary for community assistance, faced tough questions earlier this year after reports about whether he properly disclosed his association with a dormant nonprofit where he was once a board member. Top commerce department officials renamed the nonprofit and repurposed it for a sustainability project designed to receive state funds.

House unemployment fraud task force starts work

A special House task force created by Speaker Thom Tillis to look at unemployment fraud met for the first time Tuesday. The hours-long meeting briefed lawmakers on the current unemployment system. A staff report said improper payments amounted to 9 percent with most being overpayments. A small portion, 2.4 percent, were fraudulent overpayments, lawmakers were told.

N.C. Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco welcomed the effort at the start of the meeting. He said the task force's review is "a part of an ongoing effort to minimize overpayments and fraud in the unemployment system."

The lawmakers lodged a number of questions, seeking ways to tighten requirements on those receiving government aid and the agency distributing money.

Crisco to announce decision on lt. gov. Tuesday

Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco said he will announce on Tuesday on whether he will enter the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

Crisco said he has been courted for the job and was considering it “pretty seriously.''

“The issue is whether there will be a strong business candidate,” Crisco said. “The dilemma is I love my job.”

The filing period ends Wednesday at noon.

There are already two Democratic candidates in the field – Linda Coleman, the state personnel director and a former lawmaker and state Sen. Eric Mansfield, a physician.

Perdue administration official attends GOP fundraiser

A top ranking official in Gov. Bev Perdue's administration turned a few heads Friday when he attended a local Republican party fundraiser in Randolph County.

A local politico snapped this photo (at right) of Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco talking to people at the Richard Petty Fish Fry and sent to Dome. The event is an annual fundraiser for the county GOP organization.

But an administration spokesman explained that  it was familiar turf for Crisco, who lives in Asheboro.

"This shouldn’t be surprising for two reasons," said commerce spokesman Tim Crowley. "One, Secretary Crisco has frequented the Richard Petty Fish Fry for many years.  He did attend again this year. Second, he has worked with Republicans on a regular basis to create jobs for all North Carolinians."

Perdue to check out Duke campus in China

This weekend, Gov. Bev Perdue and Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco will visit Duke University's future campus in China.

The pair, who are on a trade mission with North Carolina business leaders, will stop at Duke Kunshan University. The campus is under construction in Kunshan, a city 37 miles from Shanghai. It is a partnership between Duke, the city of Kunshan and Wuhan University in China.

The building of a campus in China has been controversial at Duke, where some faculty have raised questions about the expense and the market demand of a high-priced Duke degree for Chinese students.

"We are honored to have Gov. Perdue and Secretary Crisco visit the site of Duke Kunshan University," Duke President Richard Brodhead said in a statement. "We hope DKU will play an important role in the continued development of strong ties between North Carolina and China, and I am confident that the visit by the governor and the secreatary will enrich existing relationships and open the door to new areas of cooperation."

DKU is scheduled to open in the 2012-13 academic year, the university said.

Perdue says costly trip to China is worth the money

Gov. Bev Perdue departs tomorrow for an Asian trade mission to China and Japan. It will be her second trip to China in 2 1/2 years.

The question this time, amid the economic realities, is whether the trip is worthwhile. Perdue said yes. "This is the most robust economy in the world right now. North Carolina has to have a relationship with them," she said recently. "So it sounds like a lot of money. I know its a lot of money. But the only way we can build this international trade alliance is through personal contacts."

The commerce department also suggested that Honda Jet's recent expansion to its Greensboro facility is credited to the governor's previous trip to China. "There are significant leads we are spending time on while we are in Asia," said commerce department spokesman Tim Crowley.

The state budgeted $40,000 for the trip with another $60,000 coming from the commerce department's nonprofit -- the North Carolina Commerce Trade and Development Fund. 

Led by Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco, the nonprofit takes unlimited contributions from outside business interests, including some that lobby the governor and general assembly on legislation and policy. The commerce fund will pay for the receptions and gifts for foreign leaders, Crowley said.

The state's portion does not include money for a security detail, he added, which could cost about $20,000.

Perdue's husband and Crisco's wife will also travel to China but will pay their own way. The state bought the governor and secretary economy tickets on American Airlines and any upgrades are paid for from personal funds, Crowley said.

Perdue headed to Far East

 Gov. Bev Perdue will lead an eight-day economic development mission to China and Japan next month.

Along with Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco and other commerce department officials, the governor will visit Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, and Suzhou. She will also visit Tokyo while in Japan. Commerce officials will also hold meetings in Hong Kong and Nagoya.

Perdue will meet with business prospects and encourage them to invest in North Carolina and to buy Tar Heel products and services, according to the governor's office.

She will focus on high-growth potential sectors including energy, advanced manufacturing, automotive, aerospace, life sciences, pharmaceuticals and information technology. She will also visit two Chinese universities that have partnerships with with North Carolina universities.

The governor will also participate in National Governors Association meetings that will be going on in China.
Over the last decade, international investment and job creation has accounted for about 15 percent of all investment and jobs in North Carolina, amounting to more than $9 billion in investments and 40,000 jobs, according to the governor's office.

China is North Carolina’s second largest trading partner now, exporting over $2.2 billion worth of products and services.  Japan is North Carolina’s fourth largest trading partner, exporting more than $1.7 billion worth of products and services.

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