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Morning Memo: Democrats hit GOP on education in new ad campaign

SEE IT HERE FIRST: N.C. Democrats launch ad campaign hitting GOP on education: The headline "Republican leadership has failed teachers in North Carolina" is hitting newspapers across the state this week in full-page advertisements paid for by the N.C. Democratic Party. The ads target 17 legislative districts (eight Senate, nine House) and criticize Republicans for not increasing teacher pay, forcing class size increases, eliminating some teacher assistants, ending the back-to-school tax holiday, cutting money for textbooks and supplies, taking away the graduate school bonus for (future) teachers and allowing private school vouchers.

"We’re putting Gov. McCrory and Republican legislators on notice that their assault on public education is not going unnoticed," said Robert Dempsey, the party's executive director.

***See the ad and get a list of the targeted lawmakers below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

Document(s):
AD.pdf

Anti-fracking protesters chained themselves to state office building

A small group of protestors chained themselves to revolving doors at a state office building in downtown Raleigh and blocked the entry for over an hour in an act of political theater the participants termed civil disobedience.

Raleigh and State Capitol police arrived with bolt cutters to break up the protest and initially cordoned off the area as a “crime scene.” But they left the demonstrators undisturbed until the group dispersed on it own at midday without incident. Read more here.

New leadership at lead fracking office

The state office that will help with fracking rules is undergoing a leadership change and a name change. 

Long-time state employee Tracy Davis has been promoted to lead the N.C. Division of Land Resources, part of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 

Davis is a career staff member in the division's Land Quality section, and has worked for DENR for nearly 25 years. He replaces Jim Simons, who retired May 31. 

Under the new fracking law, the Division of Land Resources will  be called the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources come Aug. 1.

The division will work for the new Mining and Energy Commission, one of the groups that will write rules for fracking.

Morning Roundup: The Gingrich Interview

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Tuesday that he plans to start campaigning in North Carolina next week ahead of the state’s May 8 GOP presidential primary. The former House Speaker from Georgia talked by phone with Rob Christensen about his prospects, his differences with the other candidates, and his hopes for a brokered convention. Read the Q&A here.

In other news:

--The city of Charlotte has released dozens of pages of emails related to the Democratic National Convention in response to an Observer public records request – but most were heavily redacted, giving little or no insight into how the city is preparing for the convention. Officials cite security concerns. Read the full story here.

Morning Roundup: N.C. unemployment chief resigns

Lynn Holmes, the head of the state’s Division of Employment Security, is resigning effective April 15 to pursue new opportunities.

Holmes announced her resignation in an email to the division’s employees on Thursday. Her four-sentence resignation email said nothing more about her decision to depart. Read more here.

In other news from Friday:

--President Barack Obama's statement opposing the marriage amendment on the May 8 ballot drew praise from anti-amendment forces, who suggested it will help their cause. But supporters of the amendment said Obama has no business inserting himself in a state issue. Read more reaction the president's statement on the gay marriage amendment here.

Perdue statement opens door to fracking -- but doesn't endorse practice

Gov. Bev Perdue believes it is possible to safely drill for shale gas in North Carolina through a controversial practice known as fracking -- but she is not taking a stance on the issue until the state releases a full report Friday, her spokesman said.

The remarks came after the Democratic governor took a industry-led tour of fracking sites in Pennsylvania last week -- a trip that occurred without notice and came at the invitation of a fracking supporter.

Jon Romano, the governor's communications director, said Perdue's trip to Pennsylvania convinced her that fracking is possible in North Carolina. "She believes based on what she saw that it can be done safely," he said.

But Romano cautioned that her statement doesn't represent a full endorsement. He said Perdue is awaiting a N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources report on fracking -- expected to be released Friday -- before taking a formal stance on the issue.

Another fracking excursion

Four state House members interested in fracking and about a half dozen state employees are in Pennsylvania this week on a fact finding mission with an agenda that includes meetings with an energy company, environmental groups, and citizens with contaminated water. 

Rep. Mitch Gillespie said he last week that and Reps. Jamie Boles, Chuck McGrady and Mike Stone planned to go to Pennsylvania's Bradford County for another tour of drilling rigs today with Chesapeake Energy. All four legislators are Republican.

Filling out the itinerary for the rest of the week, the group is scheduled for a dinner meeting with members of a local environmental nonprofit group,  will meet with a natural gas exploratory advisory committee, and have dinner with residents whose water is contaminated, Gillespie said. The group will spend most of Friday at a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection office, looking for advice on best practices, he said.

The House Speaker's office is paying for the members, Gillespie said, and the state budget had money set aside for state Department of Environment and Natural Resources employees' travel expenses.

Legislators were criticized for taking a one-sided, tax-payer funded fracking trip last year, when they were guided by representatives of Chesapeake Energy, the world's top shale gas producer. 

Lawmakers are working on legislation to permit extraction of natural gas from shale through the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

State's fracking study to expand, offer recommendations

The state's ongoing study of the pros and cons of "fracking" will not merely be a neutral exercise in fact-gathering. In response to public demand, the study will pick a side -- either for or against the controversial method of exploring natural gas.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced the expanded scope of the study today, several months into conducting research. The likely outcome will be that the study and recommendations will be dismissed as biased by whoever disagrees with its conclusions.

The agency is conducting the study for the state legislature to help lawmakers determine whether they should legalize "fracking" in this state. The study is expected to be ready by May 1, in time for the 2012 legislative session.

"Fracking" refers to the hydraulic fracturing technology used to release gas trapped in prehistoric shale rock formations underground. "Fracking" is used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, a practice that's also not allowed in this state at this time.

Diana Kees, a spokeswoman for DENR, said today's announcement mere clarifies the intent of the study. "We always intended to make a recommendation one way or the other, but we didn't have it spelled out before," she said."We wanted to assure the public that we are going to address these things in the study."

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