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In new Democratic polling, some state lawmakers looking vulnerable

The upheaval from the legislative session continues to reverberate as lawmakers look at what it did for their prospects in 2014. Voters are wavering, Republicans are openly discussing a course-correction next year and the N.C. Democratic Party is trying to capitalize. And now, it's showing in legislative district polls.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in Raleigh, recently looked at eight state Senate districts held by Republicans, finding two leaning Democrat and six more in the toss-up category. PPP pollster Tom Jensen writes that "the political landscape has shifted in such a way that Democrats have a lot more opportunities to eat into the Republican majority next year than could have ever been imagined even six months ago."


More fallout over heated Wake County schools exchange

The controversy over the heated exchange Thursday between Wake County school board member Jim Martin and state Sen. Neal Hunt isn't going away.

Martin contends he wasn't acting unprofessionally when he confronted Hunt in the hallway of the Legislative Office Building. Martin submitted this letter to the editor to explain the exchange.

In a related matter, Tom Fetzer charges that Martin and school board member Susan Evans acted in a threatening and harassing manner when they confronted Hunt.

Wake schools bill advances in Senate

The state Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill letting the Wake County Board of Commissioners take control of school construction away from the school board.

An earlier bill passed by the Senate that affected Wake and eight other counties has stalled in the House. Senate Republicans revived the issue by changing a totally different bill about school funding into one giving construction authority only to the Wake commissioners.

“The intent, of course, is to allow the school board members to have more time to focus on education needs and the Wake County Commissioners — the more business-oriented folks — to be able to focus on the real estate, construction and site-acqusition needs for the county,” said Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican.

The bill passed 26-9 along partisan lines with a final vote taking place Monday. Read more here.

Morning Memo: Speaker's hometown paper calls for his resignation

HOUSE SPEAKER'S HOMETOWN PAPER CALLS FOR HIS RESIGNATION: Responding to the second story (here and here) in a month about House Speaker Thom Tillis skipping session to fundraise for his U.S. Senate campaign, The Charlotte Observer editorial board said he needs to resign his post. In an editorial headlined, "Tillis tries but can't serve two masters," they concluded: "It’s fine that Tillis is interested in higher office, and we don’t fault him for recognizing the need to raise millions. But the fiscal year started three weeks ago and the legislature still has not agreed on a budget. Tillis is missing sessions. His actions are raising questions of conflict of interest.

"He has shown he can’t give his undivided attention to the N.C. House and the U.S. Senate at the same time. He should give up his Speaker’s gavel, resign from his House seat and give his full energy to his Senate bid, unencumbered by such distractions as running the state."

Facing this question before, Tillis has said he intends to remain speaker and do his job. But he also said he wouldn't actively campaign during the legislative session, a pledge that is in question. Some Republicans are starting to privately grumble that he may need to step down. Read the editorial here.

PAT McCRORY ON HIS FALLING APPROVAL RATINGS: Meh. WCNC-TV's Dave Wagner interviewed Gov. Pat McCrory and asked about the latest PPP numbers showing McCrory in the negative for the first time in his term. Accccording to a @WagnerWCNC tweet, McCrory replied: "I'm shocked they're not lower, cause we're stepping on the toes of the status quo."

***Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo -- more North Carolina political news and analysis below.****

Heated exchange marks Wake schools bill

Things got a little testy today between state Sen. Neal Hunt and Wake County school board member Jim Martin after a committee passed a bill giving authority for school construction to the Wake commissioners.

Following the vote in the Senate Rules Committee, a News & Observer reporter interviewed Hunt in the hallway about the new bill that would limit the change in school construction authority to Wake. During the interview, Martin stepped in to ask Hunt questions.

Action on Wake County school construction bill not expected until next week

It could be next week before the state House takes up a bill that would allow the commissioners in Wake County and several other counties to take control of school construction.

House Rules Committee Chairman Tim Moore said Tuesday that he's not been asked yet by Sen. Neal Hunt to take up Senate Bill 236. Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said he doesn't anticipate considering the bill until next week.

Moore said he expects that Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, is trying to firm up support among the GOP Caucus before asking for action on the bill. The House Government Committee rejected the bill last week because of the opposition of some Republican legislators, prompting the full House to move the bill to the Rules Committee.

75 mph dies in N.C. House

The N.C. House didn't want a law allowing posted speeds of 75 miles per hour on some highways. And as it turns out, even studying higher speeds was too much for most members.

The House rejected in a 44-64 vote a bill that would have had the state Department of Transportation study highways and propose four places where 75 mile per hour speed limits would be safe to test. The bill was a watered down version of a bill that would allowed DOT to increase speeds on some highways to 75 mph, five miles higher than the current limit.

House members said Thursday that raising speeds to 75 miles an hour is dangerous, and asking for four test projects would mean that higher speeds would eventually be allowed.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, sped through the Senate with little opposition.

5 speeding tickets later, Sen. Hunt passes bill to hike speed limit

The Senate made fast work this week of Sen. Neal Hunt’s proposal to raise the top speed limit on North Carolina highways to 75 mph. Hunt, a Republican from Raleigh, filed his proposal April 2. It zoomed through a committee Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday, without debate.

“It’s a reasonable idea to let the professionals decide if traffic can move a little faster than we let it go now,” Hunt said Thursday. “It’s not mandatory, but if DOT thinks it’s appropriate to go that fast, then it’s OK with me.”

Sen. Dan Blue, a Democrat from Raleigh, cast the only dissenting vote. He told the Associated Press later that he just wanted to know more about how DOT would decide which roads qualify for faster speeds than 70 mph, the current maximum.

Hunt, 70, knows what it’s like to go faster than DOT thinks is appropriate. His driving record includes five speeding convictions in five different counties between 1988 and 1998. A legal limit of 75 mph would have helped him in a couple of cases, but officers clocked him driving a little faster than that on three occasions. “Be sure to point out that I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 14 years,” Hunt said.

Asked whether he was driving more slowly these days – or just lucky, he chuckled and said: “No comment.” --Bruce Siceloff, staff writer

Sig Hutchinson files to challenge Neal Hunt for state senate

Sig Hutchinson, a prominent Raleigh Democrat and environmental advocate, filed paperwork to run for the state Senate this week, lining up a challenge against incumbent Neal Hunt, a lead Republican budget writer.

“This legislature has become misdirected in creating an environment for high paying jobs instead focusing on penalizing teachers and education. It’s now all about special interests and there is no doubt we can do better,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

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.

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