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Morning Memo: Amid controversy, political hire further fans DHHS flames

ANOTHER POLITICAL HIRE IN AGENCY UNDER FIRE: Former McCrory campaign filmmaker will work on DHHS 'brand' A lobbyist and filmmaker who made an election-night video for Gov. Pat McCrory is the new brand and marketing manager at the state Department of Health and Human Services. Aaron Mullins, 38, started the job Sept. 4. He makes $68,000 a year.

Mullins is one of several new staff members at state agencies with political connections. Ricky Diaz, who worked on McCrory’s campaign, is a spokesman at DHHS making $85,000. Heather Jeffreys, finance director for McCrory’s campaign, has a communications job at the N.C. Department of Transportation making $58,879. Read more here.

***Get a statewide political news roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo -- and look for more polling numbers on the govenror later today.***

Morning Memo: Two more headlines raise heat on McCrory administration

MORE HUGE SALARIES AT DHHS -- Secretary hired staffer from husband’s firm; McCrory’s office says he does a “helluva” good job: An adviser to state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has been paid more than $228,000 by the state for eight months of work.

The state Department of Health and Human Services signed a personal services contract with Joe Hauck to serve as “senior adviser” at the agency. The initial contract was extended at least four times between March 1 and Aug. 1, and was modified at least once to pay him more “due to increased hours of work per day,” according to a state Department of Health and Human Services contracts website. According to DHHS, Hauck started under contract in January to work in Wos’ office. The contract is now set to expire Nov. 30, and it is capped at $310,000.

TIMING OF SHANAHAN’S DEPARTURE RAISES MORE QUESTIONS: Kieran Shanahan’s unexpected resignation as head of the state’s public safety agency in July came as he appeared to be making long-term plans to remain in the job. Three days before he resigned, efforts were underway to complete his clearance for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so that he could be designated as the state official eligible to receive sensitive information in North Carolina about terrorist and other threats.

Also, the Office of State Budget and Management planned to have a “strategic” budget meeting with Shanahan on the day before he departed, which Shanahan indicated he would attend.

***Read more details on the latest two stories to sidetrack the McCrory administration below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: National Republicans launch billboards targeting Hagan

REPUBLICANS LAUNCH BILLBOARDS HITTING KAY HAGAN: The National Republican Senatorial Committee is debuting seven billboards across the state targeting U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's support for the federal health care law. Republicans are trying to make the case that Hagan, a Democrat facing re-election in 2014, accomplished nothing besides supporting Obamacare in the first five years of her term. (See a copy of the billboard here.)

"Kay Hagan promised North Carolinians that she would govern as a centrist, but instead has been a Democratic partisan, supporting the President's signature initiatives lock, stock and barrel," said Brook Hougesen, a NRSC spokeswoman.

The effort is designed to put the one-term incumbent -- who polls show is vulnerable -- on the defensive while the GOP struggles to find a dominant candidate. House Speaker Thom Tillis is the most prominent name in the race but other major Republicans are still considering whether to run. Cary physician Greg Brannon, a tea party candidate, is also making a bid. The billboards are located in Greensboro, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and the Raleigh-Durham area.

***More North Carolina political news -- including U.S. Senate campaign updates -- below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Tillis dodges shutdown questions; McHenry pressed on Obamacare

TILLIS DODGES GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN QUESTION: Republican Thom Tillis is emphasizing his opposition to the federal health care law in his campaign for the U.S. Senate but at the same time he's avoiding answering some questions on the issue. A Democratic Party operative recently asked the Republican House speaker about whether he agrees with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others who suggested shutting down government to defund the federal health care law.

While walking to a recent D.C. fundraiser, Tillis didn't offer a direct answer -- even though if elected he may face similar circumstance. "It's not my decision to make but anything we could do to slow down or eliminate Obamacare would be good for the nation," he said in a video posted online. (Watch above.)

Does Tillis agree with North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr that a shutdown is the "dumbest idea" ever? Again no answer. "I'm going to leave that to the duly elected senators but i think we can do to stop Sen. Hagan and President Obama from creating all the uncertainty and cost that comes with Obamacare it would be a good thing," he said. Expect both questions to return soon.

***See the Tillis video below in the Dome Morning Memo, along with another video from Republicans punking people at the "Moral Monday" rally.

Joking about the school naming fight in Wake County

The controversy over the Wake County school board renaming West Apex High School as Apex Friendship High School made its way into today’s State Board of Education meeting.

It came up because an applicant seeking permission to open in 2014 wants to be called West Charlotte Charter High School. Some state board members were concerned that it might be confusing to parents because there’s an existing school called West Charlotte High School.

As board members talked about requiring the charter applicant to get a name change, State Board Chairman Bill Cobey noted how he had been reading in newspapers about a fight over school names. While he didn’t bring up Wake by name, there was no doubt about what he was discussing.

“Let’s not go to naming schools, please,” Cobey said to laughs from the crowd.

Morning Memo: McCrory's earnings disclosed; Chairman's mortgage under fire

PAT McCRORY MADE $175,000 ON CORPORATE BOARDS: Gov. Pat McCrory’s state financial disclosure form offers little insight into his wealth. But newly filed corporate records show the Republican made more than $175,000 in 2012 as a board member for two publicly traded companies. According to federal Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed in May, McCrory made $138,204 in total compensation (salary and stock awards) as a director at Tree.com, an online mortgage lender, through Dec. 31, 2012. SEC records filed in late July show he earned another $38,555 in total compensation as a Kewaunee Scientific director from April 2012 to the end of the year. The company paid his health insurance, which accounts for about $9,000 of the total.

McCrory resigned both boards just before he became governor. What still remains unknown: how much he made as a consultant for his brother’s firm and his previous salary at Moore & Van Allen, a Charlotte law firm that does lobbying work. (Not to mention his clients for each.) And his total wealth.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN FACES CRITICS AGAIN: N.C. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller is facing heat from his naysayers again. Democratic operative Frank Eaton recently posted new court documents online showing Voller's home subject to foreclosure for delinquent payments.

But Voller refutes the suggestions that his finances -- which previously became a liability for Democrats -- are once again poised to embarrass the party. A day after the July 25 filing from Wells Fargo, Voller was accepted in a mortgage modification program, according to documents he provided to Dome. He said the court filing was merely part of the modification process.

***Read more from Voller and get a roundup of North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.

Bill letting charter schools expand could end Pamlico County litigation

Ongoing legal proceedings between Pamlico County Schools and the Arapaho Charter School could be halted by a conference report the House adopted Tuesday.

A provision was added to House Bill 250, which originally addressed public charter school enrollment rules. The addition would allow North Carolina charter schools to expand their education one grade level per year. It would end Arapaho Charter School’s battle with Pamlico County, allowing the Arapaho to increase from serving grades K-8 to serving K-12. Pamlico County school administrators oppose the expansion because it would draw more students away from Pamlico County High School in favor of charter education.

House sends McCrory a stack of reading material

The House gave about 20 bills final legislative approval Tuesday and sent them on to Gov. Pat McCrory. Here are some notable ones:

Under House Bill 250, charter schools will no longer need to ask permission from the State Board of Education to expand by adding one grade. The unchecked expansion raised questions last week because of the potential impact on small school districts, but the House ended up approving it 117-0. The bill will also give charter school admission preferences brothers and sisters of school alumni.

House Bill 492 allows Medicaid recipients who have Alzheimer's disease to receive up to 130 hours of personal care services per month, up from 80 hours. The bill was approved in a 114-0 vote. Owners of assisted living facilities wanted the increase, saying 80 hours was not enough to care for people with dementia.

The House passed the "Big Gulp" bill 99-16. This legislation promoted by the American Legislative Executive Council prohibits cities and towns from banning sales of big sodas, a la New York City and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. House Bill 683 also says food producers cannot be held liable in court for making people obese.

Morning Memo: Abortion bill back on agenda; McCrory's misfire at Obama

ABORTION BILL IS 'CHRISTMAS IN JULY': The abortion bill resurfaces for discussion in the House on Tuesday after a vocal protest against it a day earlier. (More on Monday's demonstrations below.) So we know what critics say about the abortion bill, but what about supporters? Christian Action League's Rev. Mark Creech is asking proponents to "pray for Christmas in July." On the group's website, he writes: "In all my days, I have never seen a bill so full of good content. I have shared with my friends that the legislation is a veritable Christmas tree of beautiful lights and ornaments representing life, justice and other righteous principles. The only thing missing is the crowning star of final passage and the governor’s signature. For those of us who believe in faith, family, and freedom, this bill is Christmas in July."

McCRORY'S MISFIRE AT OBAMA: Gov. Pat McCrory sought to deflect blame for North Carolina's decision to curtail jobless benefits by pointing the finger Monday at President Barack Obama's administration. The problem is he pointed in the wrong direction. (Read more below.)

***Click below for details about the controversial abortion bill and more North Carolina political news and analysis in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Bill loosens reins on charters

A state Senate committee approved a charter school bill that would free them from going to the State Board of Education for permission to add grades, and would allow the charters to give enrollment preference to siblings of school alumni.

Most parents get their children into charters by entering them in lotteries, but the law allows schools to give preferences in admissions to enrolled students' brothers and sisters and the children of teachers and principals. The most successful charters have many more students entering their lotteries than they have available seats.

Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, said extending the sibling preference wouldn't be fair. "If someone wants to apply, there should be an equal shot," he said.

The amendment was approved on a close voice vote.

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