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Personnel file: Former Rep. Gillespie takes on new roles

Former state Rep. Mitch Gillespie is taking on two new roles in the McCrory administration. The governor appointed the Marion Republican to the Southern States Energy Board and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. He is currently the assistant secretary at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Other recent appointments from Gov. Pat McCrory:

--George Howard, the former business partner with DENR Secretary John Skvarla, was named to the Interstate Mining Commission. Howard is the co-founder and CEO of Raleigh-based Restoration Systems, an environmental mitigation company. He is also on the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission.

Josh Dobson replaces Mitch Gillespie in N.C. House

A McDowell County commissioner will replace former Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who left office to join the McCrory administration. Josh Dobson was appointed to the vacancy by the 85th House District Republican Party. “Josh will do well in Raleigh,” Gillespie said in a statement released by the House speaker's office. “I am confident that he will continue the work we’ve started in our district and in Raleigh.”

According to the speaker's office, Dobson is a McDowell County native who received a bachelor's from Gardner-Webb University and a master's degree from Appalachian State. He is married with one daughter.

Skvarla names DENR team

Secretary John Skvarla Wednesday named his team to run the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. As expected, former state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a small business owner and a long-time critic of DENR, was named assistant secretary for the environment. Brad Ives was named assistant secretary for natural resources. He is currently vice president for corporate development at Semprius, a manufacturer of solar panels in Research Triangle Park. Neal Robbins was named director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs. He is an attorney with Robbins Law in Winston-Salem, where his practice focused on debtor-creditor issues. Lacy Presnell, a Raleigh attorney, was named general counsel. Mary Penny Thompson, who had been chief deputy, was named acting assistant secretary for administration.

Another fracking excursion

Four state House members interested in fracking and about a half dozen state employees are in Pennsylvania this week on a fact finding mission with an agenda that includes meetings with an energy company, environmental groups, and citizens with contaminated water. 

Rep. Mitch Gillespie said he last week that and Reps. Jamie Boles, Chuck McGrady and Mike Stone planned to go to Pennsylvania's Bradford County for another tour of drilling rigs today with Chesapeake Energy. All four legislators are Republican.

Filling out the itinerary for the rest of the week, the group is scheduled for a dinner meeting with members of a local environmental nonprofit group,  will meet with a natural gas exploratory advisory committee, and have dinner with residents whose water is contaminated, Gillespie said. The group will spend most of Friday at a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection office, looking for advice on best practices, he said.

The House Speaker's office is paying for the members, Gillespie said, and the state budget had money set aside for state Department of Environment and Natural Resources employees' travel expenses.

Legislators were criticized for taking a one-sided, tax-payer funded fracking trip last year, when they were guided by representatives of Chesapeake Energy, the world's top shale gas producer. 

Lawmakers are working on legislation to permit extraction of natural gas from shale through the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Reactions to residential school plan vary

Asked by the legislature to consolidate schools for blind and deaf students, state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has come up with a plan that would keep all three  residential schools open while combining administrative jobs for two of them. The plan includes bringing in revenue by leasing space on the campuses. 

The three schools serve a total of about 200 students, and the legislature was looking to save about $5.5 million a year by closing one of them and transferring its students. Each of the schools has ardent backers who argued vociferously for a favorite.

Legislative reactions to DPI's range from slightly irritated, ("It appears they didn't want to make the tough decision and kicked it back to us," said Rep. Mitch Gillespie of McDowell County) to pleased ("Sounds like a very positive step to me," said Sen. Neal Hunt of Wake County.)

Gov. Bev Perdue said in a statement that Republicans shouldn't be looking to close a school at all.

“The Republican budget is full of extreme, short-sighted and unnecessary cuts to education," she said. "It’s hard to understand in North Carolina why the General Assembly pitted deaf children against blind children in a fight to keep their school open. North Carolina must find ways to reduce spending, but our future demands that we also make investments in our people. Our constitution guarantees a quality education for all, and that includes deaf and blind children.”


UPDATE: Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield praised the decision to keep open the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.

He and Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones wrote DPI last month supporting the Wilson school. 

Butterfield said today all the schools should be supported.

"Each of these institutions are essential to their communities and the population they serve," Butterfield said in a statement.

And, Wake Superintendent Tony Tata told school board members today that he's been talking with the state Department of Public Instruction for the past two months about leasing part of the Governor Morehead School campus, staff writer T. Keung Hui reports.

Tata said it could be a "win-win scenario" for both Wake and the visually impaired students.Tata said there's no agreement yet, but he'll present it to the board when it's ready.

Budget season nearing end?

On what would be the start of a holiday weekend for legislators, Republican leaders and GOP budget writers were huddling for some after-hours money talk.

At about 6 p.m., long after the House and Senate finished their official business, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis were still at the legislative complex. Tillis said earlier this week that he hoped Senate could be persuaded to adopt enough House positions on the budget so the House would be able to agree to the version that comes out of the Senate without the usual conference committee.

The House budget is $19.3 billion and the Senate version is about $19.4 billion.

Much of the work is going on behind closed doors, but Rep. Mitch Gillespie, one of the main House budget writers, was out scouting for dinner shortly after 6:00.

So, is the budget the Senate is scheduled to pass next week going to be the version that goes to Gov. Bev Perdue?

"We're working on it," Gillespie said. "We're talking, and negotiating, and planning and strategizing. How's that?"

Bill seeks 'Choose Life' plate

About 70 people showed up for a rally at the Legislative Building this morning in support of a bill to create a "Choose Life" specialty license plate that would raise money for private, non-profit adoption agencies.

"This bill has the potential to raise a lot of money for women who need it to support their pregnancies,” said Rep. Paul Stam of Apex, the House Republican leader.

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a Marion Republican, said he has been unable to get a floor vote on his proposal, despite eight years of effort, reports Bruce Siceloff.

"It's sad we're the only southeastern state that does not have a 'Choose Life' plate," said Barbara Holt, president of N.C. Right to Life.

Some speakers said pregnant women should receive information about all their options, including abortion. Gillespie's bill would not allow money from the Choose Life plate sales to be distributed to any organization that "provides, promotes, counsels, or refers for abortion."

On the budget: Mitch Gillespie

Mitch GillespieRep. Mitch Gillespie
Marion Republican
Sixth Term

What two things would you cut in the state budget? He declined to offer any proposed cuts but said Republicans have suggestions.

Are there any taxes you would be in favor of increasing? "I'm not in favor of any tax increases, even sin taxes. You're still taking money out of people's pockets and sending it to a bureaucracy in Raleigh."

— Mark Johnson

Smith's political contributors: $14,500

Fred Smith has received $14,500 from other politician's campaign funds since 2007.

According to his mid-year and year-end campaign finance reports, the Republican gubernatorial candidate received donations from 13 campaigns.

The top contributors were state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who gave $4,000; Rep. Leo Daughtry, who gave $3,000; and former Senate candidate Todd Siebels, who gave $2,000.

He also received $1,000 each from Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and Sen. Jim Forrester, $750 each from Sens. Richard Stevens of Cary and Jerry Tillman of Randolph County, and $500 each from Reps. James H. Langdon, Carolyn Justus of Henderson County and Mark Hilton of Catawba County.

He also received donations from Rep. Phillip Frye of Mitchell County, former Rep. Russell Capps of Wake County and Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman.

Smith raised $690,000 by end of 2007

Fred Smith raised $690,922 by the end of 2007.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate raised $632,984 from larger donors, including state Rep. Carolyn Justice, Raleigh attorney Perry Safran and developer Andy Ammons, according to a campaign finance report filed with the State Board of Elections today.

He raised $28,823 from donors who gave less than $50; $14,500 from political action committees, including Progress Energy, Wachovia and Wal-Mart; and $14,500 from political campaigns, including state Reps. Mitch Gillespie and Leo Daughtry.

In addition, he loaned his campaign $1.9 million.

At the same time, Smith spent $1.5 million on barbecue, renting facilities for campaign events, production of television ads, consultants, signs and bumper stickers.

That left him with $1.1 million in cash on hand at the end of the year.

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