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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.

State auditor questions future of little-known agricultural loan program

State Auditor Beth Wood is questioning whether an obscure agricultural loan program run by the state should continue, saying it's operating at a loss and issuing few new loans.

The N.C. Agriculture Finance Authority issued four new loans totaling $622,670 in 2012 and one new loan for $590,000 through the end of February. All told, the agency administers 47 loans with seven staffer, down from 169 loans at its peak in 2004, state auditors found.

It has operated at a loss for four straight years at about $270,000 a year.

Auditors questioned whether the authority was "cost effectively meeting its legislative mandate, saying if the authority is abolished by the legislature, it could return $1 million to the state's bank account.

Morning Memo: Harris to enter Senate race; Black Caucus wants DHHS inquiry

MARK HARRIS TO MAKE U.S. SENATE BID OFFICIAL: Rev. Mark Harris plans to tell supporters Thursday that he’s decided to enter the race for Republican U.S. Senate nomination early next month, party sources told the Charlotte Observer. Harris, pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, has been on a "listening tour" around the state.

He’s expected to announce Oct. 2. Harris would join a list of GOP candidates that include House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary. The winner would face Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

WHERE CONGRESS STANDS ON SYRIA: An interactive graphic makes it easy to see where North Carolina’s congressional delegation -- and those in other states -- stand on the Syria question. Take a look here.

***Below in the Dome Morning Memo -- the latest on the DHHS salary controversy and state elections inquiry of a lawmaker’s campaign spending.***

Morning Memo: 'Moral Mondays' grow; McCrory defends pay hikes

’MORAL MONDAY’ PROTESTS EXPAND: Moral Monday, the North Carolina protest movement that comes to Charlotte on Monday afternoon, was organized to counter the policies of the Republican-controlled General Assembly.The protests, which have received national attention, are not only grounded in religion but expanding their reach into churches. Organizers say they seek to reclaim the language of political morality.

Protesters from the Charlotte area are to gather in Marshall Park at 5 p.m. Elsewhere in the state, similar protests are scheduled Monday in the Yancey County town of Burnsville and in coastal Manteo. Read more here.

GOV. HUNT TELLS DEMOCRATS TO DO MORE: Former Gov. Jim Hunt delivered a pep talk to grassroots leaders of the state’s beleaguered Democratic Party on Saturday night, where he emphasized the basics of winning elections. Hunt told the crowd at a reception named partly in his honor to appeal to independent voters, run good candidates and raise money. "We’re not exactly the party of money," Hunt said, "but we can do more than we’ve done."

***Hear more from the Democratic Party meeting and get the latest N.C. political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

N.C. growers seek veto override

The state’s agricultural industry is pushing for an override of the governor’s veto of an immigration bill that would have made it easier to use seasonal laborers.

The N.C. Farm Bureau said Friday it is working with legislative leaders to persuade members of the General Assembly to reconvene in less than two weeks for override votes. They say the matter is urgent because without an override there will be a shortage of workers, which will lead to rotting crops and then less produce in grocery stores.

Challenging the governor’s veto has traction with agricultural interests and with House Speaker Thom Tillis, both of whom say they are concerned about more than that single bill. Both blame inaction in Washington for failing to address the nation’s immigration issues. Tillis is a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate and is already talking about immigration.

By law, Gov. Pat McCrory has to reconvene the legislature to consider veto overrides within 40 days of adjournment, which falls on Sept. 4. The General Assembly will have to meet then or inform the governor the session would be unnecessary, which requires they send him a petition signed by a majority of both chambers by Aug. 25. If they do that, the legislature could also wait until next year’s short session to take up the override.

Read the full story here.

Farm bill gives legal, environmental protections to agriculture

A regulatory reform bill for the agricultural industry has sailed through the General Assembly and was signed into law last week by Gov. Pat McCrory.

SB638 provides protections to farmers and "agri-tourism" interests against what its backers call frivolous lawsuits. It is also intended to make it easier for businesses to find insurance for petting zoos, educational programs and other operations; protect farmers' water rights when there are water shortages; and give agriculture leeway in building and maintaining dams.

Another provision keeps from public scrutiny livestock and poultry operations' business records that might personally identify them, while allowing the state veterinarian to make public information affecting health.

The bill's co-sponsors were Sen. Brent Jackson, a Republican from Sampson County, who is also a farmer, and Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican from Davie County.

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler issued a statement thanking Jackson for his work on the bill.

Morning Memo: McCrory to sign Medicaid bill, three others

McCRORY TO SIGN MEDICAID BILL, THREE OTHERS: Much like the bill to cut unemployment benefits, Gov. Pat McCrory will hold a private signing at the Capitol for a bill to block the expansion of Medicaid health care coverage to roughly 500,000, the majority of which are uninsured. The measure also blocks a state-based health insurance exchange and generated a heated debate in the N.C. General Assembly, where it passed largely along party lines. McCrory said the state is not ready for either part of the federal health care law at this point. The Republican governor will also sign the possum drop bill (HB66), a funding fix for group homes (SB4) and a measure to impose great penalties for protests that disturb military funerals (HB19) at 4:30 p.m.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A House Judiciary subcommittee looks at a bill (HB156) to limit the N.C. Education Lottery's ability to advertise and offer new types of games, as well as take the word "education" from its official name. The issue is likely to split Republicans and Democrats, much as the original lottery vote did. Another House subcommittee will consider a measure to open campus police records held by private colleges to public inspection. The Senate Education Committee will take up two bills related to digital learning. Both chambers convene at 2 p.m. McCrory and state officials are participating in a hurricane drill Wednesday morning.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a must-read to start any day in the North Carolina political world.***

Troxler's TV ads in agriculture race surely will make you hungry

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is airing a pair of TV ads that tout his work on food safety and his agency's efforts to put N.C.-grown foods in schools. The farmer's market shots are sure to make you hungry. (See them below.)

Morning Roundup: Congressman Kissell refuses to debate GOP rival Hudson

Citing scheduling conflicts, U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C., has declined to commit to a locally televised debate with Republican challenger Richard Hudson.

Hudson, in a statement released by his campaign, called on the Democratic congressman “to come out of hiding.” Full story here.

More political headlines:

--Get a rundown on the feisty second presidential debate and see a fact check on the candidates' statements. Students at Queens College gave the win to the president.

--Emulating President Barack Obama, Walter Dalton also took an aggressive stance while Pat McCrory bobbed and weaved in the governor's race debate. And see an excerpt from a key exchange.

Farmers, ranchers for Romney sign up in NC

In August, Mitt Romney announced creation of a group aimed at helping him win in agriculture-heavy states. On Wednesday, his campaign announced the North Carolina leadership of his Farmers and Ranchers for Romney.

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