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Wake Commissioner Tony Gurley on defeat of school construction bill

Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley is attributing “jealousy” and unexpected defections among state House Republicans for the defeat of a bill that would have changed who controls school construction.

Wake GOP commissioners had asked for state legislation that would have turned authority for school construction away from the school board and over to the county. After starting as a statewide bill, the state Senate approved a version that only included Wake and a handful of other counties.

After that bill stalled in the House, a new bill affecting only Wake was approved by the Senate. But the vote to approve it in the House was defeated near the end of the session in July as a number of Republican legislators opposed the bill.

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 County school board hires Theresa Kostrzewa to be its lobbyist

The Wake County school system is paying longtime lobbyist Theresa Kostrzewa $35,000 to encourage the General Assembly not to pass legislation changing school ownership and school board elections.

School board chairman Keith Sutton said he picked Kostrzewa because she's effective, is willing to work for the school board and has no conflicts of interest. Kostrzewa was ranked the state's ninth-most influential lobbyist last year by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

"She's a top 10 lobbyist," Sutton said in an interview Wednesday.

Morning Memo: Senate GOP questioned on legality of power grab

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: No votes in the House on Thursday but the Senate is expected to give final approval to a bill to purge the state's boards of any Democratic appointees. Gov. Pat McCrory hosts legislators for a private breakfast and attends two closed-door events in Wake County. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller is hosting a morning press conference to lay out his vision for the minority party amid GOP reign.

TEA PARTY GROUP MAY SCREEN GOP U.S. SENATE CANDIDATES: Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said his group may begin to support candidates in Republican primaries, the Daily Caller reports. The move could have implications on North Carolina's U.S. Senate race in 2014 -- which is expected to draw a robust field to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan. Americans for Prosperity is a tea party group that once held close ties to Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, Art Pope, who led the national board and donated significantly to the organization.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis of N.C. politics below.***

The "influencers"

Campaigns & Elections, a trade magazine for politicos, named the top "political influencers" in its latest edition. Ten from each state made it to the list.

Five Republicans and five Democrats, a mix of North Carolina lobbyists and campaign consultants, got the nod.

The five Republicans: John Davis of John Davis Consulting; Tom Fetzer, lobbyist and former Raleigh mayor and state GOP chairman; lobbyist Dana Simpson; political consultant Carter Wrenn; and political consultant Chris Sinclair. Davis is actually unaffiliated.

The five Democrats: Political consultant Brad Crone; consultant Mike Davis; strategist Scott Falmlen, a former state Democratic Party executive director; lobbyist Bruce Thompson; and Andrew Whalen, consultant for the Blue Dog Coalition and a former state Democratic Party executive director.

Scott Laster leaving state GOP, joins new lobbying firm in Raleigh

The executive director of the N.C. Republican Party is resigning at the end of the year to join his wife in a new lobbying firm that opened earlier this year in Raleigh.

Scott Laster, 45, served as the party's day-to-day manager for a year moving from the House GOP caucus where he coordinated politics after the party took power at the legislature for the first time in more than a century. 

He is joining Southern Strategy Group, a lobbying firm that opened in July. His wife, Kristen Laster, is the managing partner in Raleigh.

Ranking of top lobbyists shades Republican, includes new faces

UPDATED: The lobbyists with the most clout on Jones Street are increasingly Republicans, according to the 2012 rankings in the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research survey of the top 60. (See full list here.)

The top 10 (with 2010 rank): 1. Dana Simpson (14); 2. Tom Fetzer (unranked); 3. Andy Ellen (2); 4. John McMillan (1); 5. Harry Kaplan (9); 6. Chuck Neely (10); 7. Connie Wilson (unranked); 8. John McAlister (13); 9. Theresa Kostrzewa (23); 10. John Bode (4).

The unscientific rankings are compiled through surveys of lawmakers, lobbyists and capital correspondents. About two dozen of the lobbyists who made this year’s top 60 are ranked for the first time and most represent an assortment of special interests on contract. The top 10 features mostly lobbyists with Republican ties, a reversal from two years ago when Democrats filled the upper echelon.

Read the full story here. And read below to see the center's breakdown.


Fetzer endorses Romney

Tom Fetzer, who had been state chairman of Newt Gingrich's campaign, has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“Washington has a spending problem and President Obama is making it worse,” said Fetzer, a former Raleigh mayor and former state GOP chairman. “Mitt Romney has proposed bold solutions to fix our spending crisis. He comes from the private sector and knows that we can't spend more than we take in.''

Newt Gingrich forms North Carolina campaign team

UPDATED: Newt Gingrich's campaign became the first in North Carolina to announce a leadership team, another sign that the state's May 8 primary may matter in the contests for the Republican presidential nomination.

Tom Fetzer, a lobbyist and former state party chairman, will serve as chairman for Gingrich's campaign in the Tar Heel state. Kiernan Shanahan, a Raleigh attorney and former state party finance director, will take the finance director role. Karen Rotterman, a Raleigh consultant who helped elect former Gov. Jim Martin and President George W. Bush, will tackle the political strategy.

In making the announcement, Gingrich's campaign suggested the North Carolina primary -- though late in the nomination process -- could play a role in picking the GOP nominee. "North Carolina will be a key state in the Republican primary process and a crucial battleground state in the fall of 2012," Gingrich said in a statement.

Just yesterday, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said a muddled race with no clear favorite candidate will extend the contest and make the state relevant.

Fetzer and Shanahan are serving as volunteers while Rotterman is a paid consultant.

In a recent meeting in Washington, Shanahan said the Gingrich campaign mapped at least one scenario where North Carolina delegates will matter. "There is a scenario not unlike Obama and Clinton in 2008," Shanahan said, referring to the protracted Democratic nomination in 2008.

Shanahan called Gingrich "an agent of fundamental change" with leadership credentials and solutions. He dismisses the idea that he is merely the latest flavor of the month for fickle Republican voters who have cycled through Rick Perry and Herman Cain in recent weeks. "His surge is more intense and more sustained than others," he said.

North Carolina often plays second fiddle to its neighbor South Carolina, which hosts the "first in the South" primary every four years. And it's unclear whether other campaigns -- particularly Mitt Romney's team -- also will lay the groundwork in the state.

"I think North Carolina days being ignored by both parties in the presidential primaries are over," Fetzer said. "This is a battleground state."

Inside WakeMed's lobbying campaign to buy Rex Hospital

This spring, Tom Fetzer navigated the halls of the legislature, just as he had many times before. Fetzer, a Republican who had previously served on WakeMed's board, was in a strong position. He was former state Republican Party chairman, and his guys were now in power. WakeMed had hired him as a lobbyist to help make the case that Rex ought to be sold.

He started with a simple sales pitch: Wouldn't you like to help close this $3 billion budget shortfall by selling off a $750 million asset that the state shouldn't own? The question the new legislators asked in response was a tougher one to answer, Fetzer said. How did UNC Health Care end up with this hospital, anyway?

The timing was fortuitous for WakeMed. The Republicans who took control of the House and Senate in 2010 cherished private enterprise and despised clunky government. The Democrats who had offered assistance when UNC asked, senators Tony Rand and Marc Basnight, were no longer around.

Soon, Republican legislators were asking questions that UNC had rarely faced. Roper, a conservative Republican himself, was taken aback by the chill in the legislature. "It is really the legislature's role that has raised the stakes," he said.

Read more about WakeMed's lobbying effort on Jones Street and find the entire four-part series on Wake County's hospital war here.

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