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By one vote, Cowell's bill for pension investment flexibility survives

By a rare narrow vote, the House Finance Committee approved a bill Wednesday to give State Treasurer Janet Cowell more flexibility to invest the state's pension money, even after the panel weakened the measure.

The 14-13 vote reflects the ardent opposition from the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which is concerned about the risk of moving into alternative investments and opposes Cowell's sole management of the retirement fund.

Cowell appeared at the meeting to push to increase the current 34 percent total cap on private asset investments, such as hedge funds and real estate, saying the state's $80 billion pension portfolio is too limited to stocks and bonds. She said with the stock market at all-time highs and interest rates about to rise, the current investment strategy is not sustainable.

New group formed to push for cities and towns

A new bipartisan group of business and city leaders have formed group to push urban issues in the new Republican-controlled state government.

The group, called the N.C. Communities and Business Alliance, includes Democrats such as former Gov. Jim Hunt and Republicans such as former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot. The group recently held their inaugural meeting.

The group was formed at a time when the traditional voice of the towns and cities, the N.C. League of Municipalities, has been taking a political beating in the legislature on such issues as annexation.

“The idea came out of the League of Muncipalities that there ought to be a new voice up there for urban areas that represented their issues and there were plenty of business people who felt the same way,” said Vinroot, a two-time GOP candidate for governor.

“The idea is to try to bring business and local government as a voice to be heard in Raleigh,” Vinroot said.

Morning Roundup: Perdue highlights federal budget impact in N.C.

The building drumbeat of companies seeking to protect their Pentagon revenues is building at a North Carolina event opposing more than $1 trillion in budget cuts slashing both domestic and defense programs, AP reports

Aerospace and defense industry executives are meeting in Cary on Wednesday to draw attention to the cuts looming at the end of the year unless Congress acts. Gov. Bev Perdue adds that the cuts also are poised to harm schools and other domestic priorities. Read more on today's event here.

More political news:

--Democratic convention organizers rounded out their headline speakers Tuesday with a lineup designed to amplify President Barack Obama’s campaign message while firing up his base. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will be the party’s first Latino keynoter. He’ll speak Tuesday night, Sept. 4, just after first lady Michelle Obama.

Richard Vinroot, Harvey Gantt appear in video against marriage referendum

Two former Charlotte mayors -- Republican Richard Vinroot and Democrat Harvey Gantt -- are appearing in a new Web video urging voters to cast ballots against the marriage amendment.

The so-called "Amendment 1" (not it's official name) would ban gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships. Vinroot's opposition to the constitutional amendment made headlines earlier this year -- and his appearance in a video produced by the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families is an even bigger step.

Morning Roundup: Controversial issues give way to education-themed day

A trio of controversial issues dominated the discussion Wednesday -- fracking, immigration and gay marriage -- but education is today's topic.

The N.C. Association of School Administrators will hold its annual conference in Raleigh today. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue will speak at 9 a.m., continuing her push for better education funding. And the Democratic candidates who want to replace her -- Bob Etheridge, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and Rep. Bill Faison -- will speak at a 5 p.m. forum, along with those seeking the state superintendent post.

Republican Pat McCrory released his education plan Wednesday, getting a day -- and a story -- all to himself on the topic. He outlined a series of proposals including merit pay for teachers, more accountability, faster expansion of charter schools and more e-learning.

For other headlines, see below.

Richard Vinroot opposes marriage amendment

Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a former Republican nominee for governor, said Wednesday that he opposes the state’s proposed marriage amendment, The Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill reports tonight.

Ranking charter laws

North Carolina is making progress in funding public charter schools fairly, according to an advocacy group, but should lift the cap that limits charters to 100.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked the state's charter law 32nd out of 40 the group compared to its model law. Eleven states don't have laws allowing charter schools, but Washington, D.C. ranks high on the list the Alliance released today. 

Alliance vice president for policy, Todd Ziebarth, gave credit to lawsuits brought by fomer Charlotte mayor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot for making it easier for charters in the state to get their fair share of public money. 

But the policies the State Board of Education adopted recently that set out criteria for charter school performance are too strict, Ziebarth said. 

Charters, particularly those that serve special education students or drop outs, need more time than the three years the state gives to prove themselves, Ziebarth said.

Wrenn is back in action

Carter Wrenn, who for decades struck fear into the hearts of North Carolina Democrats, is getting back into the political consulting business.

Wrenn has signed on as general consultant and chief strategist to help Renee Ellmers, a registered nurse and Republican who plans to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, Rob Christensen reports. He also agreed to a similar role for Raleigh publisher Bernie Reeves, if Reeves decides to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Miller next year.

Wrenn has been talking with other candidates as well.

Wrenn was a key strategist for the late Sen. Jesse Helms from the 1970's through the 1990's and also played a role in helping elect Republican U.S. Sens. John East and Lauch Faircloth. He also ran Helms' major political organization, the National Congressional Club, until it went out of business in the 1990s.

But Wrenn had basically retired from political campaigns since he was the chief strategist for Richard Vinroot's gubernatorial campaign in 2000. Wrenn has devoted most his energies to writing, working for corporate clients or appearing as a political analyst on TV.

Vinroot pledges $1 million to UNC

Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and his wife Judy have pledged $1 million to honor of his friend and former law partner, Bob Bradshaw Jr., to UNC Chapel Hill's School of Government, the largest individual donation ever made to that arm of the university.

"Judy and Richard Vinroot have shown extraordinary generosity and thoughtfulness in creating this new professorship and fellowship," Mike Smith, the school's dean said in a statement, the Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill reports.

Bradshaw, now retired, was a GOP leader in Mecklenburg County who went on to become chairman of the state party. Vinroot, one of his proteges, served two terms as mayor and ran for governor. Of the money, $666,000 will be matched by a state fund to create the $1 million Robert W. Bradshaw Jr. Distinguished Professorship. Another $334,000 will establish the Robert W. Bradshaw Jr. Public Administration Fellowship.

"Bob Bradshaw spent many years encouraging good people to enter public service, and then mentoring them once they did so," Vinroot said in a statement. "Wonderful examples of this are former Gov. Jim Martin and (former) 9th District Congressman Alex McMillan, both of whom are among Bob's protégés.

Vinroot works with Easley's son

Time heals some wounds, apparently.

In 2000, Democrat Mike Easley beat Republican Richard Vinroot in a rough and tumble gubernatorial campaign. They've rarely spoken or even seen each other in the years since, Jim Morrill reports.

But now Easley's son, Michael Jr., is working with his father's erstwhile rival at Vinroot's Charlotte law firm. The younger Easley, a law student at the University of North Carolina, is one of a handful of summer clerks at Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson.

He and Vinroot have hit it off, going to lunch at places such as the Diamond. Vinroot and his wife Judy have even talked about inviting Easley and other clerks to their home for dinner.

"He's a nice young man and his parents are nice people," Vinroot says. "I just happen to have a different political philosophy and we happened to bump into each other running for governor. He won and I lost."

Vinroot didn't want to comment on the Easleys' legal troubles. A federal grand jury in Raleigh is looking into free air trips the former governor took. Prosecutors have also interviewed the Fayetteville car dealer who loaned a 2000 GMC Yukon that was driven by Michael Jr.

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