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Morning Memo: A call to action; Senate votes on welfare, Wake schools

Lawmakers don't get started until this afternoon with a committee meeting but that won't stop the protestors from showing up early.

NAACP President William Barber will be joined by clergy from around the state for a 10 a.m. news conference/protest at the General Assembly. The group plans to issue a "Call to Action to all People of Good Will of North Carolina to protest the immoral, mean-spirited, extremist and unconstitutional attacks against African-Americans, Latinos, poor and working people, women, students and the elderly launched by the far right."

Welcome to Monday, and thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. A roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis below.***

Morning Memo: McCrory to announce DOT plan, votes on drug testing and a Medicaid debate

Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to tell us how he wants to pay for new roads at 9:30 today. The governor's office has been tight-lipped saying only that he'll be making a transportation policy announcement. Looking for clues in the location he's chosen for his announcement — the NC History Museum — Dome will point out that it houses Richard Petty's advertising-ladened stock car. For those playing McCrory bing, key words will be public, private, customer and service.

***Good morning, and with the end of the week in sight, welcome to Dome Morning Memo, a look at the day ahead and a roundup of the news you might have missed Wednesday.

New GOP lawmakers begins term with an apology for his conduct

Wake County school board member Chris Malone, who had told police he was in a relationship with colleague Debra Goldman, issued an apology Friday to unspecified people whom he said he may have “disappointed.”

Malone won a close race earlier this month for the state House 35 seat. He dealt during the last few weeks of the campaign with disclosures that he had told Cary police in 2010 that he had a romantic relationship with Goldman. Goldman had denied they had a relationship.

Malone had said he would discuss the police report after the election. But he didn’t directly mention it in a written statement issued Friday. “I am mindful that we all have an obligation to live up to the highest standards of personal conduct,” Malone said. “To those I have disappointed, I would like to extend a heartfelt apology.”

Malone gave no specific reason for the apology. Malone also said in the statement he planned to resign his seat on the school board Dec. 31. He’ll be sworn into legislative office next month. Read more here.

Debra Goldman announces for state auditor

Wake County school board member Debra Goldman announced today that she would run for the position of state auditor.

In her announcement, the Cary Republican argued that she would be the watchdog that she charges has been lacking in the position now held by Democratic incumbent Beth Wood, who is seeking re-election. Goldman charged that Wood and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue “have excelled in both creating and ignoring scandals."

"The taxpayers of North Carolina have grown fearful of the end result of the increasing number of public financial scandals, reports of fiscal mismanagement, and the dire emergency resulting from shoddy and fraudulent Medicaid casework," Goldman says in a statement. "Even worse, North Carolinians have lost faith and confidence in their elected officials to the point of becoming cynical of their own state government and inured to the abuse of trust by our elected officials."

A member of the Republican majority elected to the board in 2009, Goldman becomes the third GOP-backed member to announce plans to run for higher office this year. Board member Chris Malone is running for a seat in the General Assembly and John Tedesco is running for state schools superintendent.

Goldman broke ranks with her Republican colleagues on several issues, including Tedesco’s plan to draw up a new zone-based assignment system. The fall election of a new Democratic majority to the school board means Goldman faces being in the minority through the rest of her term, which expires 2013.

Goldman points to her independent streak in her announcement.

“While serving as a leading member, and Vice-Chair of the 16th largest public school system in America, I have always led in the fight to put reform ahead of partisanship,” Goldman said in her statement. “Some would call that being a ‘maverick,’ some have even called that being a ‘watchdog.’ While I was leading that effort on a local level, I can safely say that I saw nothing of that kind of leadership in the higher levels of our state government.”

 - By staff writers T. Keung Hui and Rob Christensen

High school accreditation bill now state law

Over at the Wake Ed blog, reporter Keung Hui has a thorough accounting of the new state high school accreditation law.

The high school accreditation bill became state law Monday when Gov. Bev Perdue opted not to veto the legislation. But Perdue chose not to sign  it either.

That means that North Carolina-run colleges, universities and community colleges are prohibited from considering whether a student came from an accredited school when making admissions, scholarship and loan decisions. Read Hui's complete post here.

Bill rooted in Wake's school assignment debate passes House

A bill approved by the N.C. House Monday seeks to prohibit UNC-System universities and the state's community colleges from considering whether a student comes from an accredited high school when making decisions about admissions, scholarships and loans.

The bill was sponsored by Republican lawmakers in Wake and Burke counties to help their embattled school districts deal with the possible loss of high school accreditation. It also would require the state Board of Education to begin accrediting North Carolina public high schools at the request — and expense — of the school districts.

Democrats pointed out that funding for the state BOE in the would be slashed in the budget approved by the GOP-controlled legislature last week, and questioned whether the agency could properly administer any new duties.

But House Bill 342 passed the Hose by a vote of 66-46 with the support of Republican lawmakers that included sponsoring Wake County representatives Paul "Skip" Stam of Apex, Nelson Dollar of Cary and Marilyn Avila of Raleigh. 

The legislation is aimed blunting the authority of AdvancED, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based organization that accredits most of the state's high schools.

The bill was introduced in March two days before AdvancED issued a critical report requiring Wake County Public Schools to correct dozens of issues or risk losing high school accreditation. The school board, which tilts conservative by a 5-4 split, was accused of regularly violating its own policies while making key strategic decisions about the assignment of low-income and minority students over the past year.

AdvancED has also warned Burke County's high schools that they'll lose accreditation at the end of June unless the school board makes changes. Loss of accreditation could make it harder for students to get into some universities or receive some scholarships and financial aid.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

House: Wake School Board chair should vote

The partisan politics of the Wake County School Board spilled over to the state legislature Monday night as the House voted largely down party lines to support a Republican-backed bill to have the board chair vote on all issues.

Currently, the chair of the nine-member board votes only in the event of a tie.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican who is the primary sponsor of House Bill 498, said Wake is the only urban school district in the state where the chair doesn't vote. 

Rep. Rosa Gill, a Raleigh Democrat and past chairwoman of the Wake School Board, said that was for good reason. A non-voting chair allows that leader to serve as a creditable peacemaker and consensus builder between different board fractions.

Current school board chairman Ron Margiotta, a Republican, backs the change.

Rep. Deborah Ross, another Democrat from Raleigh, pointed out that the local board split 5-3 on the issue on that the county's legislative delegation was also divided on the issue, with all the Democrats opposed.

"Things are pretty hot with the board right now," said Ross, referring to contentious issues such as school assignment policy. "The last thing the Wake Schools need right now is another point of controversy."

Dollar then attempted to ask Ross a question, but mistakenly referred to her by the name of Rep. Jennifer Weiss. Ross declined to yield the floor for Dollar's question.

"I prefer not to yield until he learns who I am," a testy Ross replied.

Dollar then asked his rhetorical question to fellow Republican and bill co-sponsor Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, who promptly agreed with him.

The measure passed its second reading 71-47. A third reading, required to pass the chamber, is scheduled for Wednesday, when Gill said she planned to offer a new amendment. If approved, the bill will then go to the Senate for consideration.

Gov. Perdue to attend Wake school board election fundraiser

Gov. Bev Perdue and several other Democratic Party leaders are scheduled to attend a Thursday fundraiser in Raleigh for a group that's hoping to wrest control of the Wake County school board away from the Republican majority.

The stated goal of the fundraiser for the Wake Citizens for Good Government PAC is to benefit Wake school board candidates "who support high quality public schools for all children." The PAC was formed in 2009 and unsuccessfully ran a television attack ad against Republican-backed school board candidates.

The PAC was formed by Dean Debnam, president of the Democratic-leaning polling firm of Public Policy Polling. PPP has recently conducted surveys on Wake school issues for what the firm says is a private client.

Democrats have tried to rally their base against the changes made by the Republican school board majority, including the elimination of the use of socioeconomic diversity in student assignment.

ABC decision expected today

Move on out: More than 50 moving companies in North Carolina could have their operating certificates yanked by state regulators. (N&O)

ABC to follow FDA?: The state Alcoholic Beverage Commission will likely heed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's warnings about the ill effects of caffeinated malt beverages and ban them from store shelves in North Carolina. (N&O)

Berger has inside track: North Carolina Senate Republicans are ready to elevate Sen. Phil Berger of Eden to the top job in the chamber when the Senate GOP caucus meets today. (AP)

Workers fired: Nine workers at a state home for people with developmental disabilities in Morganton have been fired after an alleged case of abuse and the failure to report patient injuries. (N&O)

Wake School probe: The federal government will investigate complaints filed by the NAACP that the Wake County school board is discriminating against minority students. (N&O)

Pelosi and Boehner win: U.S. House Democrats voted Wednesday to retain Nancy Pelosi as their party chief when they become the minority in January.  While on the Republican side of the House, the majority picked John Boehner as the chamber's next speaker. (AP)

N.C. poet honored: Maya Angelou, who lives in Winston-Salem, was among those honored Wednesday with Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. (AP)

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