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Morning Memo: Another DHHS hire raises questions; FEC chides Tillis camp

ANOTHER HIRE RAISES QUESTIONS AT DHHS -- Unadvertised job goes to former tea party member: The state Department of Health and Human Services has filled a newly created $95,000 senior planner position with a Greenville woman who was a medical school lecturer for three years but who has been absent from the health care labor force since 2002.

Margaret "Mardy" Peal, 42, has been hired as part of the "Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina," Gov. Pat McCrory’s initiative to allow private insurance companies to run the government’s health care program for the poor in North Carolina.

Peal gave $1,250 to the McCrory campaign in 2012. She helped organize the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party in 2010. The job was not posted, which prevented others from applying. Department officials declined to provide a job description or list Peal’s duties. Read more here.

***More on Peal and news from the U.S. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

MORE ON PEAL: WRAL-TV highlights Peal’s abortion stance: "Peal was also listed in 2010 under her married name, Grubb, as a member of the board of directors for the anti-abortion Carolina Pregnancy Center, which provides "abortion alternatives, post abortion support and abstinence education with the hope of transforming lives through Jesus Christ," according to its Facebook page. The hire comes as the agency prepares to rewrite state rules governing access to abortion and grapple with massive Medicaid shortfalls. It also follows weeks of headlines about highly-paid staffers and contractors at the top of DHHS." Read more here.

TILLIS CAMP SAYS IT’S RESOLVING FEC COMPLAINT: The Federal Elections Commission recently identified more than $20,000 in excessive contributions to Thom Tillis’ U.S. Senate campaign -- a problem a campaign spokesman said Tuesday they working to fix. The campaign also contends the FEC acted too quickly in sending the letter. The FEC letter identified five donors who gave more than the $2,600 donation limit, including prominent North Carolina businessman Felix Sabates. Another donor on the list is Anthony Cupisz, the president of ACN, a Concord company that found itself in hot water about an alleged pyramid scheme. The complaint was later resolved. ACN representatives donated more than $20,000 to Tillis’ campaign.

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will attend the CED Tech Venture conference closing lunch Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. in Raleigh before convening his Education Cabinet for a 1 p.m. meeting.

THREE QUESTIONS FOR WEDNESDAY:

1. When will Senate leader Phil Berger (finally) make a decision about the U.S. Senate?

2. With two public events, will Pat McCrory finally answer reporters questions after dodging other recent openings?

3. More DHHS hires are making news -- when will Secretary Wos respond to all the headlines?

BUSINESS LEADERS COUNTER COMMON CORE CRITICS: Citing a new report that forecasts a skills gap in the American workforce, business leaders came together Tuesday to support the Common Core standards for public schools in North Carolina.

They said the Common Core State Standards are key to reversing that gap by better preparing students for success in college and the workplace. The standards, recently adopted by North Carolina and most other states, are aimed at deeper learning and problem solving in language arts and math.

"By 2022, if we don’t find a way to gin up our commitment to education, we will be 46,000 people short of the kinds of workers that we need in the workforce," said Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. "Today, even with the success our market has with the unemployment rate, there are still very significant skill gaps."

Common Core has come under fire by some conservative critics across the country, including North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has recorded several YouTube videos questioning the standards. Read more here.

HPU POLL: Read more on the numbers here.

MORE CANDIDATES FOR FOUSHEE’S SEAT: Chapel Hill-Carrboro school administrator Graig Meyer and Chapel Hill Town Council member Laurin Easthom and have become the latest candidates to seek state Rep. Valerie Foushee’s N.C. House District 50 seat. Read more here.

NEW UNC-CHAPEL HILL CHANCELLOR: On higher education in the 21st century: "Education has changed faster in the last 10 years than it has ever changed in history. It’s really important that we talk about our education. Are we teaching them well? Are we giving them the right skill sets? People want to talk about that, too. ... We’re going to spend a lot of time strategizing for the future. We have to, because to not do that is to fall so far behind so fast. That would be a real loss for us." Read more here.

A LOOK AT CROSSROADS:House Speaker Thom Tillis will attend an American Crossroads event. Here’s a new look at the group from National Journal: "If 2012 was the campaign of the super PAC, 2013 is shaping up to prove the maxim that there's an unceasing appetite for groups to spend money in politics. But there's one power player that's lying low in the off year: Karl Rove's American Crossroads. Even with the influx of outside cash, the granddaddy of all super PACs hasn't spent a dime on campaign activity this year." Read more here.

THE STATE OF SEGREGATION IN NORTH CAROLINA: From a new UNC Center for Civil Rights report: "While some of the results are startling, especially with respect to educational disparities and environmental justice issues,ultimately this report may raise more questions than provide answers." Read more here.

NC GOP SUMMONS MEDIA -- TO CHASTISE MEDIA: The N.C. Republican Party announced Tuesday a seemingly impromptu press conference Tuesday, calling the Raleigh media to its headquarters for a "can’t-miss" announcement. From WNCN: "The head of the North Carolina Republican Party on Tuesday criticized the media for how it is covering the Moral Monday marches. Claude Pope, who is a cousin of state budget director Art Pope, told reporters that the media was not covering the "inflammatory" rhetoric and theatrics of the marches properly. Read more here.

HAGAN TO HEADLINE CONVENTION: The Democratic Women of North Carolina will hold its state convention in Shelby this weekend. The organization says about 200 people are expected to attend strategy sessions for the 2014 elections and listen to Democratic Party leaders. Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and State Treasurer Janet Cowell are expected to speak, along with Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, State Auditor Beth Wood, Rep. Larry Hall and Sen. Josh Stein.

A question: Will Hagan or other Democratic leaders back the proposed Catawba casino there in Cleveland County?

ICYMI -- GOP STATE LAWMAKER SAYS N.C. FERRY DIVISION EMPLOYEE MURDERED IN COVER UP: From The Daily Advance -- "State Rep. Bob Steinburg says he’s convinced a N.C. Ferry Division employee was murdered in 2005 to keep him from cooperating with state and federal probes of the ferry division, even though local and state investigators both determined the employee committed suicide.

Steinburg, R-Chowan, said he’s basing his belief that Daniel Noe was murdered on conversations he’s had with current and former employees of the ferry division, all of whom have spoken to him on the condition their identities be protected, out of fear of reprisal.

Some of those Steinburg has spoken to are afraid of more than losing their jobs, the lawmaker said. They also say, "I don’t want to end up like Danny Noe."

Noe, 59, was found dead in his home in Carteret County in April 2005. He was found with his hands tied behind his back and a large plastic bag over his head. The official cause of death was asphyxiation. The "Carolina Journal," a conservative-leaning publication based in Raleigh, said that Noe’s death came as he was assisting state and federal investigators with a probe into illegal dredging in the Currituck Sound. Read more here.

FROM REP. DAVID LEWIS: Charge sales tax for Internet purchases: From a press release — "Similar to efforts recently passed by Governor Walker in Wisconsin and Governor Kasich in Ohio, I plan to work with my colleagues in the North Carolina General Assembly to introduce legislation that, upon passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act or other e-fairness legislation in the United States Congress, will proportionally use any new revenue to lower the state’s income tax," Lewis said. "The bigger you make the base, the lower you can set the rate, and closing the online sales tax loophole is an important step to bring fairness to the marketplace."

NOTICE TO GOV. McCRORY: Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, became the latest corporation to opt for ending a long-standing company practice of insuring its retirees, a cost-saving approach already embraced by IBM, Time Warner, Caterpillar, General Electric, DuPont and many others. Read more here.

FAA GIVES NEW COMMISSION COLD SHOULDER: The newly created Charlotte Airport Commission believes it’s getting the cold shoulder from the FAA. The commission, which is trying to persuade the federal government that it should run Charlotte Douglas International Airport, said the FAA won’t listen to its position and called the administration’s actions "unreasonable." Read more here.


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