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Morning Memo: GOP moves to limit early voting as budget debate begins

REPUBLICANS MOVE TO CURTAIL EARLY VOTING: Republicans are moving in the final days of the legislative session to cut early voting by a week, limit Sunday voting and curtail some voter registration efforts in a sweeping bill that is expected to debut Tuesday. The measure also may advance the state's presidential primary to a week after South Carolina's first-in-the-South contest. The last-minute election measures will appear in a Senate bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. (Check Dome for more on the bill later today.)

EDUCATION FOCUS OF BUDGET DEBATE: The N.C. Association of Educators is threatening to sue over the tenure provisions in the state budget. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said for the first time in her 30-year career, she fears for the future of public education. “I am truly worried about the ongoing starvation of our public schools,” she said. “I see other states making a commitment to public education. In our state I see in this budget we’re cutting teachers, we’re cutting teacher assistants, we’re cutting instructional support.”

With education as the focus, the House and Senate will take budget votes Tuesday and Wednesday as they race toward the end of session.

***More on the state budget and other North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

McCrory continues to push for offshore drilling

Gov. Pat McCrory continues to emphasize his desire to drill for oil and gas off the North Carolina coast.

Earlier this month, he joined the governors of Virginia and South Carolina in petitioning the Obama administration to partner on offshore energy exploration. On Friday, his office announced he joined the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group that advocates for drilling.

“Pursuing responsible exploration and development of our offshore resources will help us reach our shared goal of greater energy independence and will create thousands of jobs," McCrory said in a statement released by his office.

McCrory to meet with governors of Va and SC on offshore drilling

Gov. Pat McCrory said he plans to go Washington next week to meet with the governors of Virginia and South Carolina to discuss forming an Outer Continental Shelf coalition to discuss off shore drilling for oil and gas.

McCrory said he plans to meet with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and South Carolina Nikki Haley to discuss such issues as revenue sharing agreements with the federal government for future drilling rights.

“North Carolina has to get into the energy business,” McCrory told the Emerging Issues Forum in downtown Raleigh on Tuesday. “We are going to do it safely. We are going to get into it in an environmentally sound way.''

“We can either sit on the sidelines like the governors of the past 10 years or take proactive measures and get North Carolina in the energy business,” he said.

Morning Roundup: McCrory-Dalton debate likely to get overshadowed

North Carolina’s major candidates for governor will hold the first of three statewide televised debates Wednesday, in a match-up that could be overshadowed – like much of their campaign – by the presidential contest.

The debate, sponsored by the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation, was designed to piggyback on interest in the presidential debate. But not everyone is convinced that the governor’s debate will benefit from the pairing. Read more here.

More political headlines:

--Five weeks before Election Day, about 14,000 North Carolina voters already have cast absentee ballots – a total equal to President Barack Obama’s margin of victory in 2008. The number is etched into the minds of conservatives who are placing a greater emphasis than ever this year on absentee voting by mail, suggesting it could make the difference in another tight election contest.

Weekend Roundup: Questions to debate in the governor's race

On Wednesday, the first of three televised gubernatorial debates will be held between Democrat Walter Dalton and Republican Pat McCrory. This is a key moment in particular for Dalton, the lieutenant governor, who trails the former Charlotte mayor in all the polls. The one-hour debate will begin at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast across the state. Rob Christensen gives his 10 questions for the candidates.

More political headlines:

--North Carolina’s next governor could determine whether the broad changes that are remaking the state’s environmental landscape – both political and natural – continue or are reined in. But both candidates are mostly silent on the issue.

--Five weeks before Election Day, the best place to get a snapshot of the presidential race in North Carolina might well be up here in the mountain towns of Watauga County. Unlike the Republican-red counties surrounding it, Watauga has turned purple in its politics – just like North Carolina, still one of nine battleground states in the 2012 contest between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Romney energy plan calls for oil drilling off North Carolina coast

Mitt Romney's plan to make the nation energy independent by 2020 starts with offshore drilling for oil in the Carolinas and Virginia.

The Republican presidential candidate previewed the plan Wednesday and plans a larger announcement today, the Washington Post reported. Romney wants to allow states to lease federal lands for oil, coal and natural gas development. Read more here.

The Republican-dominated state legislature in North Carolina is likely to endorse the plan, considering they too want more drilling off the coast as part of a compact with other states.

State energy policy gets all the attention

Fracking is again taking center stage in the debate about the future of the state's energy sources -- but it comes as prominent Republicans make nice with green energy.

On fracking, from today's News & Observer: "North Carolina's study on the potential for a shale gas industry should slow down and focus less on how the practice would be managed and regulated and more on whether it should be allowed at all, speakers said at a public hearing Monday night.

"Why do we have to have this whole study done by May?" Chatham County Commissioner Sally Kost asked state representatives at the crowded meeting in Sanford. With so many issues to consider, the state should take the time to do a comprehensive study, she said." Read more here.

State Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican, suggests GOP legislative leaders nearly have the votes to override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of an energy bill to allow offshore natural gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale.

But at the same time, prominent N.C. Republicans -- including U.S. Sen. Richard Burr -- cheered a renewable energy project (a $5 million solar farm) announced in Mount Airy -- a move that probably would surprise and excite fracking critics.

House Speaker Thom Tillis even test drove an all-electric Chevy Volt on the way to the event. At the solar event, he said the state "can come up with a comprehensive energy strategy that makes sense," according to his staff.

Offshore drilling losing support

A majority of North Carolinians back offshore drilling, although support has dropped sharply since the oil spill in the Gulf, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

The survey found that 51 percent support drilling off North Carolina's coast. That is down from 63 percent last April.

Likewise, opposition to offshore drilling has risen since April, from 30 percent to 40 percent, according to the survey.

The poll, conducted Sept. 20-23, surveyed 584 North Carolina residents – not just voters – and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Drill baby drill (again)

The opposition to offshore drilling in North Carolina has proven to be short lived.

As the threat of the oil spill in the Gulf recedes, support for drilling off the North Carolina coast grows, according to a new survey, Rob Christensen reports.

Tar Heel voters say they support offshore drilling by a 50 to 39 percent margin, according to a new survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic leaning firm based in Raleigh.

North Carolina opinion has been on a bit of a roller coaster. Last month, at the height of the BP oil spill only 42 supported drilling and 46 percent opposed, according to the same polling firm.

Last April, before the spill, there was strong support for drilling, with 61 percent in favor and 26 percent opposed, according to PPP.

The survey of 624 likely voters was taken July 27-31 and had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

Public opinion turns on offshore drilling, poll says

What a difference a few months make.

Three months ago, 60 percent of North Carolinians supported offshore drilling. Now, after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 42 percent support it, while a plurality - 46 percent - oppose it.

That's according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm in Raleigh.

Public opinion has shifted each month since the spill, PPP polls show. The April poll (pre-spill) showed 26 percent of voters opposed to drilling. That increased to 38 percent in May, 39 percent in June, and now 46 percent in July.
 
PPP surveyed 502 North Carolina voters June 28-30. The survey’s margin of
error is plus or minus four percentage points.

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