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"Flash mob" plays catch on governor's lawn

A "flash mob" of liberal activists staged a game of catch on the State Capitol lawn on Thursday morning, poking fun at this week's gubernatorial baseball theme.

About enough people to field two baseball teams tossed balls back and forth for a while, drawing mild curiosity from State Capitol Police officers but no arrests.

Advocacy groups called out Gov. Pat McCrory for playing catch on Monday rather than meeting with a group of school children delivering petitions calling on the governor to support education.

On Wednesday, McCrory released a video he made congratulating N.C. State and UNC baseball teams for making it to the College World Series. In it, McCrory sports a baseball glove and ball in hand, and makes reference to the earlier controversy.

McCrory signs a whole lot of bills

Gov. Pat McCrory has writer’s cramp, or he should. He signed 39 bills on Wednesday.

His office is highlighting HB903, a bill related to transferring credits from community college to the UNC system; HB146, which requires the state Board of Education to teach cursive writing and memorizing multiplication tables; and SB129, which prohibits issuance of a certain kind of debt.

Bill sponsors joined the governor for the signings.

Update: BTW, here are the rest of those bills: HB 10, HB 25, HB 32, HB 114, HB 125, HB 142, HB 301, HB 315, HB 361, HB 368, HB 383, HB 384, HB 407, HB 410, HB 449, HB 480, HB 532, HB 581, HB 591, HB 610, HB 687, HB 710, HB 774, HB 788, HB 789, HB 813, HB 821, HB 829, SB 208, SB 210, SB 252, SB 279, SB 433, SB 460, SB 603 and SB 634.

Morning Memo: Another gambling bust with N.C. ties; Hagan remains against gay marriage

ANOTHER GAMBLING BUST WITH N.C. TIES: On the same day Florida prosecutors busted a gambling operation that snared a company with major North Carolina political ties, an Ohio prosecutor leveled a new indictment against another sweepstakes company with Tar Heel ties.

The March 13 superseding indictment updated charges filed in May against VS2 Worldwide Communications, a company that operated illegal Internet sweepstakes gaming software, according to local news reports. The company's owners, Phillip Cornick of New Jersey and Richard Upchurch of Ramseur, face charges in Ohio of money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

The two men and their wives contributed more than $45,000 to North Carolina political candidates -- including Gov. Pat McCrory -- with more than half coming after their initial May indictments.

HAGAN ONE OF 11 SENATE DEMOCRATS NOT TO ENDORSE GAY MARRIAGE: North Carolina's Kay Hagan remains opposed to gay marriage, even though three prominent Democrats colleagues recently shifted their stances. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday (California's Proposition 8) and Wednesday (the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA) about same-sex marriage.

**More on the VS2's campaign contributions and Hagan's stance on gay marriage below in today's Dome Morning Memo. Sends news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Thanks for reading.***

McCrory offers modest budget, small pay raise for state workers

Gov. Pat McCrory proposed a modest $20.6 billion state budget Wednesday that includes a 1 percent pay hike for state employees but limits spending growth to 2 percent.

The Republican governor emphasized spending on education and economic development, two campaign priorities in the plan, by including money to hire 1,800 additional classroom teachers and $2.7 million to craft a new branding strategy to lure companies to the state. Another 5,000 at risk 4-year-olds would be able to get into pre-kindergarten programs, at a cost of $9 million a year. But it also cuts $117 million that now funds teacher assistants.

“We have a sound foundation but the foundation now has some cracks in it,” McCrory said in an announcement at the Capitol. “Our immediate goal is to fill in those cracks ... so we can have stronger foundation for future generations.”

McCrory included no major high-priced spending initiatives, reflecting the state’s still tenuous economic picture and his campaign promises to limit government programs. On average, state agencies will see their budgets cut 1 percent to 3 percent from the current year’s $20.2 billion spending plan, leading to some jobs cuts and the elimination of longtime state interests. The budget year starts July 1.

Morning Memo: Redistricting in the courts, education in the legislature

THE MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL STORY IN N.C.: The legal fight about the new political boundaries drawn by Republicans in the redistricting process is headed to court this week. A three-judge panelwill hear the arguments Monday and Tuesday after Democrats and groups fighting the maps filed suit contending they were unlawful. The new boundaries seal Republican power in the state legislature for the next decade and Democrats need a judicial reversal to regain strength.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House will focus on education this week, with local school superintendents from across the state invited to meet with lawmakers. House Speaker Thom Tillis will hold a 3 p.m. press conference to discuss "education week." The House and Senate convene Monday evening for skeleton sessions. No votes are expected.

***Good Monday morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Find more political news and a weekend headline wrap below. And find out more information about the N&O's new iPad app, available for download now. (Programming note: Dome is not available on the app at the moment. Look for an upgrade later.)***

Morning Memo: Florida GOP governor takes N.C. Democrats approach

FLORIDA GOP GOV -- AN OBAMACARE HATER -- TAKES THE REP. INSKO APPROACH: That's right. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who first entered politics to fight the federal health care law, is proposing to take the money for Medicaid expansion for the first three years when Washington will pay the full cost. State Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, proposed the same thing in North Carolina, but Republican lawmakers shot it down repeatedly. "That's just completely nonsensical and doesn't work," Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar said of Inkso's idea.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House is taking it easy today. A skeletal session with no recorded votes -- none until Tuesday, in fact. The Senate will convene for action at noon. But most the action will take place in the Commerce Committee where the bill to speed up and incentivize fracking with get a hearing. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his schedule. He leaves this evening for Washington to attend the National Governors Association and Republican Governors Association winter meetings. Wonder if McCrory will talk to Scott and Ohio Gov. John Kasich about how their recent decisions to expand Medicaid?

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

Morning Memo: What voters want to hear McCrory say in State of State

McCRORY TO SIGN FIRST BILL, GIVE STATE OF STATE ADDRESS: As expected, Gov. Pat McCrory is making the most of an education bill that hit his desk last week, as opposed to another that will cut unemployment benefits. From AP: McCrory planned to put his signature on a law Monday morning in Asheboro that requires the State Board of Education develop by the fall of 2014 new diplomas that make clear a student is ready for college, ready a vocational career, or both. The bill received final approval from the General Assembly last week. McCrory was scheduled to visit Randolph Community College's industrial center for the bill signing. The bill's primary sponsor is from Randolph County.

The bill also tells the state board to look at ways to make it easier to license vocational and technical teachers. The new law fits well into McCrory's campaign platform about public schools preparing students for the work world.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Apologies for Dome's technical difficulties last week. The blog back in shape now. Click below for more North Carolina political news.

Morning Memo: A new 2014 map, McCrory mum on second big departure

UPDATED: WHAT REDISTRICTING MEANS: Only one competitive congressional race in 2014. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball political rankings show what happens when congressional districts are packed with like-minded folks. Of the state's 13 congressional races, only one is deemed competitive between parties. The seat is Democratic Congressman Mike McIntyre in District 7. McIntyre won a close race in 2012 -- one of the few where Mitt Romney won the president vote -- and another tight contest is expected in 2014. The pundits at University of Virginia give him the early edge, though, ranking the race "leans Democratic."

***You are reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis below.***

McCrory takes his pro-business message to tobacco growers

Gov. Pat McCrory pitched his pro-business agenda to a receptive audience Friday morning: the annual meeting of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina at the State Fairgrounds.

His remarks were bookended by standing ovations and interrupted by applause three times, as he assured several hundred in attendance that their industry represented the kind of business people that he is trying to help.

UNC president responds to McCrory radio remarks

UNC President Tom Ross responded to Gov. Pat McCrory's provocative comments today about the creation of a university funding model based on how many UNC graduates get jobs.

Ross said the quality of a UNC's value to North Carolina "should not be measured by jobs filled alone."

McCrory's comments have drawn a strong reaction from faculty, who said the governor's focus on education as job training is misplaced. The best preparation for a complex and changing world is a liberal arts education, many argued. McCrory's remarks came during a radio interview with Bill Bennett in which he took aim at gender studies, philosophy and African language courses.

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