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Chief justice candidate's supporters looking for early money lead

Candidates for state Supreme Court are already anticipating expensive campaigns next year, following last year’s record-breaking contest between successful incumbent Justice Paul Newby and challenger Sam Ervin IV from the state Court of Appeals.

Recently, a fundraising letter went out on behalf of Justice Mark Martin, who is running for chief justice on the court, appealing for an early showing of financial muscle to dissuade potential opponents.

“Despite Mark’s accomplishments and his impressive qualifications for this position, there are those who are currently trying to recruit an opponent to run against Mark,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler writes in the letter. “Let’s respond to this effort by sending a strong message of financial support for mark and for his campaign effort.”

No one has yet announced a challenge to the seat being vacated by Chief Justice Sarah Parker, who reaches mandatory retirement age next year.

Two candidates have announced their intentions for Martin’s seat: Ervin and fellow appeals court Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr.

Morning Memo: Hagan gets opponent; Records show deeper DHHS troubles

KAY HAGAN GETS A FEISTY CHALLENGER: All the attention is focused on the Republicans vying to replace Democrat Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate. But Hagan, too, will face a primary challenger. The Fayetteville Observer reports that Fred Westphal, a retired educator from outside Fayetteville, plans to make a bid. And he’s mighty sure of his chances. "She doesn’t have a chance against me," Westphal, 76, told The Fayetteville Observer. "She won’t get the party nomination."

INTERNAL EMAILS SHED MORE LIGHT ON DHHS TROUBLES: The state agency overseeing the new computer system that sends money to health professionals treating poor patients downplayed problems with the software even as complaints rolled in to Gov. Pat McCrory’s office from doctors, dentists and medical equipment companies.

Correspondence obtained by The News & Observer from McCrory’s office show that complaints were flowing in from frustrated health care providers, with some appealing directly to his chief of staff and his lawyer, by the end of July. Those complaints were passed on to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the system. On Aug. 5, DHHS sent out the news release "NCTracks is on Track."

***Read more from the DHHS records and get a full political news roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Justice Beasley will run for her seat in 2014

State Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley announced Wednesday she will be a candidate for her current seat next year.

Beasley was a state appeals court judge when Gov. Bev Perdue in December appointed her to the vacant Supreme Court seat created when Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson retired.

Beasley said she will formally file in February for the election in November 2014.

She served on the Court of Appeals from 2009 to 2012, and was a district court judge in Cumberland County from 1999 to 2008.

She received her law degree at the University of Tennessee.

Morning Memo: GOP faces messy veto politics, with Tillis in spotlight

UPDATED: THE POLITICS OF THE VETO: In pushing to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s of an immigration bill in coming days, Republicans find themselves in the middle of a political mess. The bill won near unanimous approval in the state Senate (43-1) but a solid block of conservative House Republicans voted against it (85-28). Now that McCrory has framed the bill as an anti-immigration conservative test, will that change? A leading Republican -- who voted no -- says the vote isn’t likely to change. And another no vote, GOP Rep. Frank Iller, issued a statement Tuesday saying the bill "opens up too many loopholes in the eVerify system."

EYES ON TILLIS: But what will Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis do? Political analyst John Davis said the race is too "fragile" for Tillis to upset the conservatives in his party. "Tillis cannot make any mistakes especially with the right," David said. "By rushing back into the arena and trying to override McCrory’s veto on the immigration bill, he does risk alienating some members of the Republican Party who are very, very sensitive about this issue."

***More on the 2014 U.S. Senate race -- and the potential Republican field -- below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: National Republicans launch billboards targeting Hagan

REPUBLICANS LAUNCH BILLBOARDS HITTING KAY HAGAN: The National Republican Senatorial Committee is debuting seven billboards across the state targeting U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's support for the federal health care law. Republicans are trying to make the case that Hagan, a Democrat facing re-election in 2014, accomplished nothing besides supporting Obamacare in the first five years of her term. (See a copy of the billboard here.)

"Kay Hagan promised North Carolinians that she would govern as a centrist, but instead has been a Democratic partisan, supporting the President's signature initiatives lock, stock and barrel," said Brook Hougesen, a NRSC spokeswoman.

The effort is designed to put the one-term incumbent -- who polls show is vulnerable -- on the defensive while the GOP struggles to find a dominant candidate. House Speaker Thom Tillis is the most prominent name in the race but other major Republicans are still considering whether to run. Cary physician Greg Brannon, a tea party candidate, is also making a bid. The billboards are located in Greensboro, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and the Raleigh-Durham area.

***More North Carolina political news -- including U.S. Senate campaign updates -- below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Bob Hunter retiring from NC appeals court, Inman to run for seat

Judge Bob Hunter said Wednesday he would not seek re-election in 2014, retiring from his seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Wake County Superior Court Judge Lucy Inman said she plans to run for Hunter's seat. Inman has held her seat for three years.

Hunter, 69, served on the appeals court for 15 years. He was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt in won an eight year term in 1998. Hunter participated in deciding an estimated 4,000 cases and authored more than 1,500 opinions.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my service, and hope that I have made a positive contribution during my years on the Court of Appeals," Hunter said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing this work through the remainder of my term.''

Before joining the court, he represented McDowell County from 1980 until 1998 in the state House, where he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the North Carolina Courts Commission, the Southern Legislative Conference and the Council of State Governments.

NC Bar Association asks governor to veto judicial discipline secrecy bill

CORRECTED: The Senate vote totals have been corrected.

The state’s main professional organization for lawyers on Tuesday asked the governor to veto a bill that would protect from public disclosure judges who are disciplined.

HB652 would take away the authority of the Judicial Standards Commission to issue public reprimands, unless the state Supreme Court agrees and discloses the information. It would also make disciplinary hearings private and keep case records confidential, unless the Supreme Court takes disciplinary action.

The bill would also let the Supreme Court discipline its own members, instead of assigning those cases to the most senior six judges on the state Court of Appeals.

Holcombe to challenge Davis in Appeals Court race

District Court Judge Paul A. Holcombe of Clayton has announced he will run for the N.C. Court of Appeals seat now held by Judge Mark Davis.

Holcombe, who grew up in Raleigh, worked as a prosecutor in Tennessee and in Cabarrus an Johnston Counties before being elected to the district court in 2008. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the law school at the University of Tennessee.

Davis was general counsel to Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue when he was appointed to the bench shortly before Perdue left office.

Morning Memo: Common Core fight hits North Carolina, tax bill divides GOP

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House tax plan returns for an unscheduled stop in another committee Wednesday morning. Look for lawmakers to possibly strip a provision added the day before by Finance Committee Chairwoman Julia Howard to remove the cap on home-related tax deductions. Continuing the fast timeline, bill sponsor David Lewis said the measure could hit the floor this week. The bill to fast-track fracking will get a vote in a House committee at 10 a.m. The full House will take a final vote to repeal the Racial Justice Act and consider a bill to redraw the Wake County school district boundaries. The Senate will work through a lengthy calendar that includes two beer bills and a measure requiring biodegradable plastic bottles to carry certain wording on their labels.

LT. GOV LAUNCHES COMMON CORE FIGHT: On Tuesday, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest posted a nearly four-minute video on YouTube, titled “My Concerns with Common Core.” In it, he said he has serious qualms about the state’s “rush to implement” the K-12 standard. Common Core was rolled out in North Carolina’s classrooms last fall. Forest vowed a critical review starting Wednesday during orientation for new members of the State Board of Education, suggesting “perhaps a fresh set of eyes will give us reason to pause, and make sure our state looks, before we leap into the Common Core.” 

***Additional details on Common Core, Thom Tillis' U.S. Senate bid and much more below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Appellate court dominoes

Appeals Court Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr. said he will run next year for the state Supreme Court seat held by Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin.

Martin announced last week that he is running to replace Chief Justice Sarah Parker, who reaches mandatory retirement age next year and is not eligible to run.

Hunter was elected to the appeals court in 2008. Hunter used to practice law in Greensboro, but now lives in Morehead City.

This Bob Hunter, a Republican, is not to be mistaken for the other Appeals Court Judge Bob Hunter, who is a Democrat.

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