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Morning Memo: Feds to challenge N.C. voting law; Senate candidates scrap for cash

FEDS TO CHALLENGE NORTH CAROLINA’S VOTING LAW: The U.S. Department of Justice will file a lawsuit Monday to stop North Carolina’s new voter ID law, which critics have said is the most sweeping law of its kind, according to a person briefed on the department’s plans.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who has said he will fight state voting laws that he sees as discriminatory, will announce the lawsuit at noon Monday, along with the three U.S. attorneys from the state. Critics said the law will disenfranchise African-American and elderly voters, while the Republican-led General Assembly in Raleigh said the law will protect the state’s voters from potential fraud.

***Read more on the forthcoming lawsuit, get #NCSEN updates and a roundup of North Carolina political headlines below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Tricia Cotham has health scare

Rep. Tricia Cotham and her family were enjoying a weekend day at Tweetsie Railroad when she suddenly collapsed, Jim Morrill of The Charlotte Observer reports. Her mother, Mecklenburg commissioners Chair Pat Cotham, called for help. An ambulance took Cotham to Watauga Medical Center in Boone.

Morrill writes:

There she underwent heart tests and Sunday returned home to Matthews, where she was admitted to Novant Health Matthews for more tests. Cotham, nearly six months pregnant, was released and told to stay in bed and rest. She's also scheduled to see more specialists.

"I am very grateful for the outpouring of support and prayers from the community, constituents and other elected officials," she said.

Her 2 1/2-year-old son Elliot, who was with her at Tweetsie, got more excitement than he expected at the mountain amusement park.

"He has asked every day, '(Will) Mommy go in an ambulance today'," Cotham said.

Morning Memo: McCrory adminstration reverses Confederate flag stance

FLAG FLAP PROMPTS McCRORY ABOUT-FACE: A Confederate battle flag hung inside the old North Carolina State Capitol last week to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is being taken down after civil rights leaders raised concerns. The decision was announced Friday evening, hours after the Associated Press published a story about the flag, which officials said was part of an historical display intended to replicate how the antebellum building appeared in 1863. The flag had been planned to hang in the House chamber until April 2015, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of federal troops in Raleigh.

"This is a temporary exhibit in an historic site, but I've learned the governor's administration is going to use the old House chamber as working space," Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz said Friday night. "Given that information, this display will end this weekend rather than April of 2015." The decision was a quick about-face for the McCrory administration, which initially defended the display. More from AP here.

***Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Much more N.C. political news and analysis below. ***

Democrats searching for unified voice; Hall seeking minority leader job

Democrats won the White House again and picked up seats in the U.S. Senate, but the party in Raleigh is noticeably less rambunctious.

It remains unclear who will lead Democratic efforts in the Tar Heel State, but the picture may become clearer when the House Democratic Caucus will meet privately in the legislative building at 1 p.m. Wednesday to select a minority leader; Senate Democrats will meet for the same reason in mid-December.

Rep. Larry Hall of Durham has been active in pursuing the role of House minority leader.

A preview of what's to come in Democratic superintendent race

With candidate filing a mere six weeks away, it's worth noting something we missed in late December: the heated rhetoric from two Democratic state lawmakers in the nascent race for state superintendent.

It began with Fayetteville Rep. Rick Glazier's formal entry into the campaign -- even though sitting Democratic superintendent June Atkinson has yet to announce her re-election plans. State Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Charlotte area Democrat, who is also eyeing the post, sent a missive to her supporters titled "Let's Stand Together."

"This is just the latest of many attempts by a small group of education elites to undermine June Atkinson's efforts," Cotham said, without explaining what she meant by "education elites." "As June was preparing for re-election in 2008, this same legislator - who now wants your vote for superintendent - sponsored legislation to take away the voters' right to elect the superintendent and to eliminate the superintendent's historic role as an executive officer of our state."

Glazier's campaign manager Adam Scott suggested Cotham is guilty of negative campaigning -- the opposite from her email title. "Representative Cotham’s letter clearly indicates that, if she decides to run for Superintendent, she intends to run a negative campaign. Democrats should be united in fighting Republican attacks against our teachers and our schools-- not each other," he said in statement.

Now political observers are just waiting to hear from Atkinson, so the gloves can really come off.

Liberal advocacy group goes after Democratic state superintendent, as possible replacements make moves

Progress North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group, is taking aim at Democratic State Superintendent June Atkinson for her silence on the issue of school budget cuts.

For months, the group focused on Republican state lawmakers -- particularly House Speaker Thom Tillis -- for slashing education funding by $400 million, cuts that led to teacher layoffs.

But today, as Atkinson appeared before a legislative committee, Progress NC sent a statement asking her for action. "As state superintendent, it’s her job to be the state’s biggest advocate for public schools," said Gerrick Brenner, the group's executive director. "Right now, June Atkinson is failing teachers and students, by not standing up to lawmakers who continue to hide behind false rhetoric after they slashed school budgets."

The statement comes as Atkinson weighs whether to seek another term as superintendent. Two Democratic state lawmakers, Rick Glazier and Tricia Cotham, are making strong moves for the post. 

Glazier issued a statement Tuesday about to a study concerning student achievement for those in middle grades. And Cotham's twitter feed is so education and campaign focused she sounds like a declared candidate as she visits schools.

1323194562 Liberal advocacy group goes after Democratic state superintendent, as possible replacements make moves The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Charlotte Dem interested in state Superintendent post

State Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Charlotte Democrat, says she'll run for state Superintendent of Public Instruction "if there's a vacancy," writes CharO's Jim Morrill.

Incumbent Democrat June Atkinson says she'll decide whether to run for a third term at the end of the year.

Others thinking about running: Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, and Republican Wake school board member John Tedesco.

Abortion-rights supporters say bill disrespects women

House Democratic women spoke out against a bill meant to discourage abortions, saying it marks the government's intrusion into the relationship between women and their doctors, and fails to acknowledge the different and difficult circumstances women face when seeking to end their pregnancies.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, would require women wait 24-hours before abortions. In that time, they would be given information on medical risks, danger to subsequent pregnancies, and "any adverse psychological effects associated with abortion."

The bill would require women have ultrasounds within 72 hours before abortions. Under the bill, the doctor or technician would describe the developing fetus, but the women would not have to look or listen.

Opponents said the requirements would further traumatize rape victims.

"There is no compassion for rape victims," said Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. The requirements are meant to "terrify" and "shame" women, she said. "Women deserve better than this."

Samuelson said information should not be withheld from women.

"A rape victim is already traumatized," she said. "Let's make sure she had the information she needs so she doesn't later feel traumatized because she didn't understand what she was doing."

House approves national tests for middle, high schools

The House approved a bill that will require the State Board of Education to plan for and administer ACT pre-tests to 8th and 10th graders and the ACT to 11th graders, if they have the money.

The state board has been talking for months about administering the national tests in middle and high school to see if students are prepared for college.

Under the bill, schools would also be able to administer a test called WorkKeys that's meant to determine whether students are ready for community college or jobs.

The legislature voted earlier this session to eliminate four state end-of-course exams. The ACT bill sponsors said the national tests would be better than the state tests at determining how students are doing.

"It truly gets to the problem we need to address, finding a way to address accountability and remediation," said Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg Democrat and a bill sponsor.

Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Stokes County Republican and bill sponsor, said in an interview that the tests are "needed to address the remediation problem, especially in community colleges."

The community colleges have found for years that  significant numbers of students are not ready for college work.

Offering the tests will cost about $7 million, and the House budget writers have not included the money in their proposal. But Holloway said they were trying to find it.

House Dems: Charter bill part of GOP extremist agenda

A Senate bill on charter schools is part of an "extreme right-wing" GOP agenda and a "direct assault on the public schools of North Carolina," House Minority Leader Joe Hackney said this morning.

The charter bill will "bankrupt our schools in order to cater to the most narrow elements within their party," said Tricia Cotham, a Matthews Democrat.

House Democrats launched their own assault on the charter school bill the state Senate passed last week. Democrats said it could lead to unchecked growth of bad charters and drain money from traditional schools to support them.

The Senate bill that eliminates the 100-school limit on charters would require school districts to split more of their money with charters. Legislators said districts would have to share band booster money, even if charters don't have a band, give lunch money to charters that don't have food programs, and hand over money that supports pre-school programs to charters that don't offer them.

Senators say they have put into law three state Appeals Court decisions on charter funding that said local districts need to distribute more of their money to charters.

"Why, why are we going to do something that is going to wreck the public schools of this state as we know them?" asked Marvin Lucas, a Spring Lake Democrat who has supported lifting the 100-school cap.

Lucas tore up a copy of the Senate bill to dramatize his opinion. House Democrats said they will file their own version.

The bill deletes requirements for minimum charter enrolllment, which Democrats said could allow home schools to establish charters and receive public money. 

Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican and the bill's sponsor, said those claims are ridiculous.

Homeschools could not meet all the requirements of starting a charter: establishing a board, coming up a financial plan, and getting approval from the new charter commission, Stevens said.

Correction: Changes inaccurate attribution. 

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