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North Carolina's GOP Senate candidate will accept nomination at a casino

UPDATED: Picture this: North Carolina's Republican U.S. Senate candidate accepting the party's nomination at a casino. And what if that candidate is Mark Harris, the outgoing president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina?

It's a possibility. The N.C. Republican Party announced it will hold its 2014 state convention at the Harrah's Cherokee Casino and Hotel in the far western part of the state.

Even if it's not Harris who wins the nomination, the optics are less than ideal. Republican lawmakers were deeply divided in 2012 on whether to allow the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to expand gambling at the casino to include slot machines and live table games, such as blackjack and roulette. It's the most high-profile bill approved in the House -- where U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis presided -- that a majority of Republicans opposed.

Speaker Tillis, 100 House lawmakers sign letter opposing Catawba casino

House Speaker Thom Tillis and more than 100 House lawmakers signed a letter Tuesday to oppose a potential Catawba Nation casino in North Carolina.

The letter is directed to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in an effort to block the South Carolina tribe's efforts to acquire lands to establish a gaming operation north of the state line. The federal agency must take the lands into a trust for gaming to occur on the land.

The Catawba's are exploring land in Cleveland County along Interstate 85 for a potential gaming facility that could include Las Vegas-styled live dealers and slot machines. Local officials are touting it as an economic development effort and a top official in Gov. Pat McCrory's administration visited the site earlier this year.

Morning Memo: N.C. Dems host muted event; McCrory explores gambling deal

N.C. DEMS HOST MUTED CONFAB: The N.C. Democratic Party hosts its executive committee meeting Saturday in Greensboro but the fanfare from years past is missing. The evening Sanford Hunt Frye Dinner is merely a reception this year. The event is typically one of the party's larger fundraisers and Massachusettes Gov. Deval Patrick served as keynote speaker in 2012. This year, no headliner as a speaker and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan isn't even attending. It speaks to the party's still weakened status and lack of defining political leadership. A Democratic spokesman said the party opted for a reception because of the party's meeting is expected to last until 5 p.m. (But as anyone who has attended these in the past knows, they alwasy run long.) Former Gov. Jim Hunt and former state Supreme Court Justice Henry Frye, the event's namesakes, will address the party faithful.

McCRORY ADMINISTRATION EXPLORES MOVE TO EXPAND GAMBLING IN NORTH CAROLINA: Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is considering a potential deal to allow a South Carolina-based Indian tribe to open a casino just across the border in North Carolina in a move that is generating swift and fierce opposition from top Republican lawmakers. A new effort to expand gambling operations in the state could net North Carolina millions of dollars under a revenue-sharing agreement with the Catawba Indian Nation.

But it would carry significant political risk for McCrory, pitting the Republican governor against members of his own party.

***Read more on the potential casino deal 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.***

In surprise vote, House defeats Wake schools bill

Wake County schools’ multi-billion-dollar real estate portfolio will remain under the control of Wake County school board, barring renewed reconsideration of a bill that would have given control to the county commission. It failed to pass the House Wednesday afternoon, on a 54-62 vote.

House committee OK's new version of abortion bill

UPDATED: Hours after Gov. Pat McCrory threatened to veto a controversial abortion bill unless his concerns about it were addressed, a House committee approved on Wednesday a new version of the bill that apparently answers the governor's questions.

Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte, said questions raised by the state Department of Health and Human Services at a committee meeting on Tuesday had been resolved in discussions leading up to Wednesday's meeting.

The main changes were relaxing the proposed standards that abortion clinics would have to meet -- sharing some regulations with ambulatory surgery centers but not making them identical -- and allowing pregnant women to take abortion-inducing medicine at home after taking an initial dose at a clinic under a doctor's supervision.

House panel approves tougher immigration bill

A House panel rejected Democratic attempts to weaken a major immigration bill Wednesday, approving the measure to authorize Arizona-style police powers and give driving permits to those here illegally.

The 9-3 vote in the Judiciary Subcommittee included a few Democrats who favored a revised version, which came after the original bill drew serious opposition. "It's well balanced now," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, the speaker pro tem. "It's a law enforcement bill."

The measure -- House Bill 786 -- now heads to the Finance Committee. It allows police to detain those suspected of being in the country illegally for up to 24 hours. Democrats wanted to remove controversial provisions about detainments and appropriate documentation but failed largely along party lines. "I came in here with a bill and I'd like to leave with one," Rep. Harry Warren, a lead sponsor. 

GOP lawmakers to begin push for private school vouchers

House Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam said he plans to introduce a $90 million plan to provide vouchers that will allow many parents to send their children to private schools.

Stam said the bill will offer a maximum $4,200 “equal opportunity scholarship grant” per child for those who meet income eligibility requirements, he told the Carolina Journal.

He estimated that it 52 percent of North Carolina school children would be eligible for vouchers for the 2013-14 school year, and 65 percent the following year. He said a scholarship could not exceed 90 percent of the cost of a private school's charges for tuition fees.

Morning Memo: McCrory in spotlight in MetLife deal

BIG JOBS DEAL PUTS McCRORY IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Charlotte law firm Moore & Van Allen, where Gov. Pat McCrory was employed until just days before taking office, helped the New York-based insurance company negotiate with state and local governments to receive more than $94 million in taxpayer-funded incentives in return for the promise to add more than 2,600 jobs in the next three years. The connection raises questions in the minds of Democrats about McCrory’s role in the deal and again shines light on his employment at the law firm, which also runs a lobbying practice in Raleigh. Republicans used similar concerns to reject a major economic development project under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, citing how the company hired a Raleigh law firm that employed her son.

TODAY IN POLITICS: McCrory will tout the MetLife deal at another event in Charlotte Friday. The U.S. Labor Department reports the national unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, a four year low. The full N.C. Mining and Energy Commission meets Friday as the debate about what to do with fracking waste remains unresolved and lawmakers are getting involved.

Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Much more on the MetLife deal and the political implications below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Have a good weekend and Go Heels!

State lottery debate hits big question: Are people dumb?

The debate on a bill to neuter the state lottery hinged on one question Wednesday as a House panel considered the measure. "Do you really think the people of North Carolina are dumb?" state Rep. Mickey Michaux asked. "What you are trying to do here is regulate people's actions."

Michaux, a Durham Democrat, meant it as a serious question and Republican Paul "Skip" Stam said he considered it a good one. "It's variable," said Stam, a lead sponsor. "Even the smartest person given false information will act in a different way."

The measure -- dubbed "The Honest Lottery Act", or HB156 -- is aimed at limiting the N.C. Education Lottery's advertising and games, which the bill sponsors consider misleading. Stam agreed to remove a provision to change the lottery's name to the N.C. State Lottery because it would cost $6 million to rebrand.

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