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Tillis opens N.C. House session with right-to-work pledge

House Speaker Thom Tillis pledged to keep North Carolina a union-free state in his opening address at the legislature Wednesday.

The Cornelius Republican said the Republicans in the super-majority "will continue to be the least unionized state in the United States," spurring applause from Republicans and blank looks from Democrats.

Common Cause asks N.C. attorney general to investigate ALEC

An advocacy group is asking Attorney General Roy Cooper to investigate the tax status of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that counts House Speaker Thom Tillis as one of its top members.

Common Cause sent the letter Tuesday just weeks after it filed a whistleblower complaint against ALEC with the IRS, saying they are operating as a tax-exempt nonprofit while lobbying state legislatures across the country.

"Common Cause has discovered compelling evidence that ALEC is a corporate lobby masquerading as a charity. ALEC’s compliance with state tax, gift, solicitation and lobbying laws should be reviewed by your office and/or appropriate state regulatory authorities," the letter states.


Weekend Roundup: Huge rural county early vote pushes marriage amendment

The amendment banning civil unions and same-sex marriage has spurred grass-roots action throughout the state and has helped drive early voters to the polls in record numbers. It has also revealed generational and urban-rural divisions.

Turnout for early voting is high in places such as Mitchell and Alexander counties, which have large Republican majorities and where the amendment is expected to win easily, and in Durham and Orange counties, heavily Democratic counties with a high concentration of younger voters, where it is expected to lose. Read more here -- and get a list of top 10 early vote counties and an age breakdown of voters.

More political headlines:

--Long after the controversy over President Obama’s birthplace seemed settled, some Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina have brought new attention to the issue as they seek advantages in hard-fought primary races.

Richard Hudson told a Tea Party group in Rowan County recently that “there’s no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship.” And Hudson, former campaign manager to GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, isn't the only one.

Another association cuts ties with lobbyist linked to House staffer

The fallout from romantic relationships between lobbyists and top staffers in House Speaker Thom Tillis' office continues.

The Coastal Conservation Association cut ties with contract lobbyist Dean Plunkett a day after Tillis disclosed a relationship with one of his staffers, Amy Hobbs, who is expected to resign this week.

Morning Roundup: Speaker Tillis heard rumors about staffer's affair with lobbyist

House Speaker Thom Tillis said he heard rumors about an affair his former chief of staff had with a state lobbyist but Charles Thomas denied the relationship. Tillis, who bunks with Thomas in Raleigh, answered questions about the after Thomas' resignation last week for an affair with a homebuilders association lobbyist. Tillis also acknowledged a second staffer, Amy Hobbs, had a romantic relationship with a different lobbyist, Dean Plunkett, and would resign. Read the full story here.

Lots more political news:

-- A Charlotte area man is being questioned for firing a shotgun at an anti-amendment sign, which he recorded in a YouTube video that received widespread attention a week before the May 8 primary on the marriage referendum.

--Jurors at the John Edwards trial saw video on Tuesday afternoon of the house outside Chapel Hill where Edwards’ pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, lived for several months while hiding from National Enquirer reporters. Cheri Young, the wife of Edwards’ political aide Andrew Young, made the video in September 2008 while going through the two-story house in the Governors Club, a gated community near Chapel Hill. Day 7 Trial coverage here.

Second aide to House Speaker Thom Tillis to resign after affair with lobbyist

House Speaker Thom Tillis says he asked chief of staff Charles Thomas earlier this year if he was having an affair with a lobbyist, but Thomas lied to him about it.

Tillis says that a review of correspondence and other records showed no favoritism from Thomas toward the lobbyist, Jessica B. Hayes of the N.C. Home Builders Association.

Tillis, in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, also said a second staffer has resigned after having an affair with a different lobbyist.

More details soon

Home Builders lobbyist resigns after report ties her to House speaker's aide

Jessica B. Hayes, the lobbyist for the North Carolina Home Builders Association who was in an intimate relationship with the chief of staff for the speaker of the state House, has resigned her position.

“I asked for and she voluntarily submitted her resignation,” Mike Carpenter, the association’s executive vice president and general counsel, said Friday.

Charles Thomas, chief of staff for House Speaker Thom Tillis, resigned a day earlier after being questioned about the relationship by The News & Observer.

Morning Roundup: Democratic governors gather in Charlotte

Gov. Bev Perdue is hosting a policy meeting assembled by the nation's Democratic governors that's also expected to raise big money for their party's candidates this November.

The Democratic Governors Association starts a two-day regional policy conference on education, technology and health care on Thursday in Charlotte, AP reports. The two-day event also is expected to bring in $2 million for the group. The association can receive unlimited contributions from corporations and other groups.

In other political headlines:

--It’s a busy election year with lots of primary races, and in some places, lots of candidates. Some voters have so many choices that their ballots have races on both front and back.

Task force investigating unemployment fraud needs examples of fraud

The N.C. House wants the public to submit evidence of unemployment fraud to bolster their efforts to reform the system. A task force formed by Speaker Thom Tillis is trying to identify fraud and abuse in the unemployment system is asking people to email comments to members. "Individuals, particularly those impacted by fraudulent overpayments, are encouraged to submit their ideas ..." the notice reads. 

"In my district, I’ve discovered several startling cases of unemployment fraud and my concern is that there are similar stories out there that have not been brought to our attention," said Rep. G.L. Pridgen, a task force co-chairman in a statement.

The solicitation appears to bolster critics complaints that the House task force is a solution in search of a problem. 

N.C. Railroad makes its case to House lawmakers

The N.C. Railroad Company took its turn on the hot seat Tuesday testifying before a state House committee looking at whether to sell extraneous state assets.

Company President Scott Saylor made no qualms about the fact he thinks privatizing the railroad would hurt its mission. He said part of the organization's job is to help spur economic development and a private company would only worry about the bottom line.

"This railroad creates jobs," he said in an interview after the meeting. But he added, "I don't envy the budget decisions  the House and Senate are making in this economic environment."

The railroad makes money by leasing the use of the tracks to Norfolk Southern. The lease generates about $14 million a year. About 80 percent of the company's revenue goes to capital improvements, such as track upgrades and new overpasses.

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