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Art Pope key legislative ambassador but not subject to reporting rules

State Budget Director Art Pope is becoming a frequent face at the N.C. General Assembly, especially as spending and tax issue dominate the final weeks.

At Gov. Pat McCrory’s direction, Pope crafted a compromise tax scenario in June that combined House and Senate ideas and presented it to a few House lawmakers. He worked the legislative halls and attending meetings various other times. And he attended a Senate committee meeting June 30 when President Pro Tem Phil Berger debuted the latest bill to overhaul the tax code.

His actions raise questions about whether Pope should register as a McCrory administration legislative liaison.

Morning Memo: Expect a late night at legislature as bills fly fast

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The action starts early Tuesday and will likely stretch past 10 p.m. again. The House and Senate plan to convene a skeletal session just before 10 a.m. to read in committee reports, then recess until 2 p.m. House Speaker Thom Tillis said the session will go until 5:15 p.m. or so before a dinner recess for committee meetings. The chamber will reconvene at 7 p.m. and go late. The Senate isn't expected to stay as long but its calendar is getting crowded. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events.

McCRORY'S OFFICE WON'T RELEASE DAILY SCHEDULE ANYMORE: The governor's Communications Director Kim Genardo is changing the office's policy of releasing a daily calendar. Genardo said if there is no event scheduled, she won't send out a notice stating as much, meaning some days will have no notice to the governor's schedule. McCrory pledged to release a daily schedule during the gubernatorial campaign as he bashed his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, for taking a "secret" trip to Pennsylvania to study fracking rigs. Republicans jumped on McCrory's Democratic opponent for not pledging to do the same. “Everyone knew where I was as mayor,” McCrory said a year ago. “My records were open."

***A busy week means lots of news below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send more news and tips to ****

Suspicious package that cleared Administration Building tests negative

The suspicious package in Gov. Pat McCrory's office that caused the Administration Building to be evacuated Thursday turned out to be a false alarm.

The package was tested for toxicity and results came back negative, said Kim Genardo, the governor's spokeswoman

“Fortunately it was a false alarm,” she said. “But you can never too be vigilant.”

A member of the governor's staff opened a package late Thursday and became concerned about it's contents, contacting emergency personnel. The building was evacuated for about 35 minutes, while a hazmet team removed the package.

Morning Memo: McCrory to sign Medicaid bill, three others

McCRORY TO SIGN MEDICAID BILL, THREE OTHERS: Much like the bill to cut unemployment benefits, Gov. Pat McCrory will hold a private signing at the Capitol for a bill to block the expansion of Medicaid health care coverage to roughly 500,000, the majority of which are uninsured. The measure also blocks a state-based health insurance exchange and generated a heated debate in the N.C. General Assembly, where it passed largely along party lines. McCrory said the state is not ready for either part of the federal health care law at this point. The Republican governor will also sign the possum drop bill (HB66), a funding fix for group homes (SB4) and a measure to impose great penalties for protests that disturb military funerals (HB19) at 4:30 p.m.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A House Judiciary subcommittee looks at a bill (HB156) to limit the N.C. Education Lottery's ability to advertise and offer new types of games, as well as take the word "education" from its official name. The issue is likely to split Republicans and Democrats, much as the original lottery vote did. Another House subcommittee will consider a measure to open campus police records held by private colleges to public inspection. The Senate Education Committee will take up two bills related to digital learning. Both chambers convene at 2 p.m. McCrory and state officials are participating in a hurricane drill Wednesday morning.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a must-read to start any day in the North Carolina political world.***

Morning Memo: Redistricting in the courts, education in the legislature

THE MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL STORY IN N.C.: The legal fight about the new political boundaries drawn by Republicans in the redistricting process is headed to court this week. A three-judge panelwill hear the arguments Monday and Tuesday after Democrats and groups fighting the maps filed suit contending they were unlawful. The new boundaries seal Republican power in the state legislature for the next decade and Democrats need a judicial reversal to regain strength.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House will focus on education this week, with local school superintendents from across the state invited to meet with lawmakers. House Speaker Thom Tillis will hold a 3 p.m. press conference to discuss "education week." The House and Senate convene Monday evening for skeleton sessions. No votes are expected.

***Good Monday morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Find more political news and a weekend headline wrap below. And find out more information about the N&O's new iPad app, available for download now. (Programming note: Dome is not available on the app at the moment. Look for an upgrade later.)***

NBC 17 reporter becoming McCrory's communications director

UPDATED: NBC 17 political reporter Kim Genardo is joining the governor's office as communications director.

The station made the announcement this morning. She replaces Chris Walker, who left after three months, citing family concerns. Gov. Pat McCrory's office made it official a few hours later. “Kim Genardo is a very talented professional who has a wealth of experience in media and covering state government,"McCrory said in a statement. "We are thrilled to have her as part of our team.”

Genardo, who starts her new job Wednesday, has been with the station for 15 years. She is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She will receive a $120,000 annual salary.

Media blogger Jim Romenesko is raising questions about the move, noting Genardo interviewed McCrory 10 days before the announcement.

NBC-17 sets Democratic primary gubernatorial debate, 3 nights, 3 debates

NBC-17 and the N.C. League of Women Voters have released details for the April 18th Democratic primary gubernatorial debate.

The one-hour debate will be held at 8 p.m.with Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, former Congressman Bob Etheridge, and state Rep. Bill Faison. The debate will be moderated by NBC-17 political reporter Kim Genardo and officiated by the League of Women Voters.

The debate will be made available to media across the state both online and over the air.

It will be the third consecutive night of TV debates for the Democrats -- three nights, three debates.

They will debate Monday, April 16th with WRAL, Tuesday April 17th at UNC-TV and Wednesday at NBC-17. On Thursday April 19th, the early voting period begins.

Senate debate format favors questions

The format for tonight's Democratic Senate debate includes plenty of room for the candidates to answer questions.

The debate, to be broadcast live at 7:30 p.m. on NBC-17 and streamed live is co-sponsored by NBC-17 and the League of Women Voters of N.C. Questions for the candidates will come from questions submitted by voters as well as a panel of journalists.

Debate moderator, Kim Genardo, said the debate will have three segments. Candidates will not make an opening statement, but will have an opportunity to give a closing. Each candidate will have the option to use two rebuttals throughout the night. 

Democratic candidates scheduled to participate in the debate include Elaine Marshall, Cal Cunningham, Ken Lewis, Marcus Williams and Ann Worthy. 

All six registered candidates were invited to participate, said Judie Burke, a board member of the League of Women Voters. Candidates had to demonstrate that they met a certain threshold of effort in their campaigns. Susan Harris of Old Fort did not return her invitation. 

Dome will be blogging throughout the event, so check with us for analysis and any claims that need a good ol' fact checking. 

Perdue's talk-show straw man?

Gov. Beverly Perdue borrowed a page from President Obama tonight.

In her first State of the State speech before the legislature, the Democratic governor noted the "tough times" in the economy and called for an end to political bickering.

"Starting today, it is no longer business as usual for North Carolina's budget," she said. "I want all of our citizens to know that it's a new day in North Carolina. Everything is on the table. We do not have time for talk-show political posturing or petty partisan games."

Though the state capital has a handful of political talk shows — N.C. Spin, News 14 Carolina's "Political Connections" and some episodes of "Headline Saturday" — it is hardly overrun by the pundits that rule Washington, D.C.

(Kim Genardo's "At Issue" show was canceled last month.)

But President Obama has gotten a lot of mileage in recent weeks out of criticizing radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

There are a number of radio shows around the state with similar styles to Limbaugh, such as those on WPTF AM radio in the Triangle. But they don't have a statewide reach.

Quick Hits

* N&O editor John Drescher remembers another side of former Gov. Bob Scott — the politician who refused to answer a difficult question from a reporter.

* Greensboro News-Record columnist Doug Clark wonders why the public campaign finance system should spend $200,000 to elect a powerless schools superintendent.

* WUNC radio reporter Laura Leslie mourns the end of NBC-17's "At Issue" weekly political news show, praises hard work of anchor Kim Genardo.

* Blogger Dr. Frank argues that the legislature's balanced budget requirement may be too restrictive during a recession since suggested cuts aren't even close.

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