Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Bill Maher's screed rips North Carolina GOP

BILL MAHER RIPS NORTH CAROLINA A NEW ONE: Comedian and liberal commenter Bill Maher spent five minutes recapping North Carolina's rightward political shift concluding: "North Carolina is going ape $*!# in a way no other state has."

Maher introduces the clip comparing the state to a third world country "where Democracy itself hangs in the balance." He later blames Art Pope for the circumstances and suggested his guest Jay-Z ought to buy the state. See the clip above.

McCRORY WATCH: Gov. Pat McCrory hasn’t signed any bills in a week and there are 38 of them on his desk. Deadline to sign them is a minute before midnight on Sunday, Aug. 25. He signed a spate of legislation July 29.

***The biggest bill on his desk -- read about it below. Along with more North Carolina political news in the Dome Morning Memo.***

VOTER ID BILL WITH ELECTION CHANGES LOOMS: When Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signs North Carolina’s sweeping new elections bill as expected this month, critics will be ready to act, too – in court.

The bill not only contains one of the nation’s strictest photo ID laws but compresses the time for early voting and ends straight-ticket balloting. It would no longer count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. “I have never seen a single law that is more anti-voter,” says Penda Hair, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, a civil rights group in Washington. “North Carolina now joins a very short list of (states) that seem … motivated to stop people from voting.” Read more here.

THE BIG STORY: STATE UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM BACKLOGGED: Nearly 13,000 of North Carolina's jobless are stuck in a severe backlog in the state's unemployment office that's kept some waiting months for decisions on their request for benefits.

State officials say key parts of the system are running two months behind. But the unemployed say the wait is much longer – up to four months overall for some. The officials say the delays stem from two state recessions that forced hundreds of thousands into unemployment offices. They're working to reduce the backlog, they said, but it's a slow process.

The problems come as North Carolina grapples with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country. And with a new unemployment law ending long-term benefits for more than 65,000 unemployed, some are questioning whether North Carolina's wait times will worsen. People without jobs say months without compensation can be emotionally taxing and financially devastating. Read more here.

McCRORY TO RELEASE RURAL CENTER MONEY:Gov. Pat McCrory’s office announced Sunday that 14 programs formerly funded by the state Rural Economic Center will get grants totaling more than $730,000 from the state Commerce Department.

McCrory asked the Office of State Budget and Management to freeze grants of Rural Center funds after a state audit found that the center had failed to follow the law and regulations in awarding grants. “Funds will be released as the Office of State Budget and Management determines the grants are in compliance with state laws and rules, and as they come due,” McCrory said in a statement. “The OSBM is working diligently in its review so that funds can be distributed in a timely manner.” More here.

HERE'S ONE WAY TO HELP GET SPEAKERSHIP VOTES: The race to replace House Speaker Thom Tillis for the 2015 session is well underway. And as Patrick Gannon at The Insider reports, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a leading contender, is giving the colleagues whose votes she needs campaign cash: "Samuelson doled out more than $86,000 in the first half of 2013 to the campaigns of fellow House Republicans and other GOP political committees, according to her campaign finance report filed with the State Board of Elections. Samuelson gave most of the cash in $4,000 chunks in late June to the campaign committees of about 15 Republican House freshmen, although some longer-serving legislators also received money. Samuelson, a strong fundraiser, is expected to be a top contender for House speaker next session.

"Samuelson didn't respond to an email. Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, said as a chief fundraiser for the House Republicans, Samuelson issued a challenge that she would give $4,000 to members who raised that much money themselves in the first reporting period. She apparently followed through. "It was perfectly legit, good sport," Stam said. According to her finance report, Samuelson raised $79,000 from Jan. 1 to June 30, adding to more than $70,000 she had on hand at the start of the cycle. Her donations to fellow Republicans and other spending left her campaign account with less than $18,000 as of June 30. The News & Observer's Under the Dome blog reported that Samuelson has sent out invitations for an Aug. 15 fundraiser in Raleigh. Helping out fellow Republicans is nothing new for Samuelson. In the last election cycle, she raised nearly $600,000, dispersing much of it to her GOP colleagues."

'MORAL MONDAY' TOUR HITS THE ROAD: From AP: With the North Carolina General Assembly finished for the year, protesters are bringing their Moral Monday demonstrations on the road. The NAACP and other liberal groups plan to protest Monday at 5 p.m. in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse in Asheville.

The protests went on for 13 weeks in Raleigh at the Legislative Building with nearly 1,000 arrests. Organizers wanted to point out what they said were the Republican-majority Legislature and governor rolling back progress in education, social and economic equality and assuring all qualified people have the right to vote. North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber will be at the Asheville protests and has said he plans to take the Moral Monday protests to all 13 of North Carolina's congressional districts.

ELLMERS WANTS TO EXEMPT CANCER FIGHTING FROM SEQUESTRATION: U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers voted for across-the-board budget cuts and likes that they are chipping down federal spending. But she’s trying to fix what she says is an unintended consequence: Senior citizens fighting cancer must pay more and often travel farther for their chemotherapy.

The Republican congresswoman from Dunn, a former nurse, has been drumming up support for a bill she wrote that would exempt cancer treatments from the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

She had 106 members of the House of Representatives signed on to the plan – both Republicans and Democrats – before Congress began its August recess on Friday. Ellmers says she’s confident that the bipartisan show of support will mean a vote in favor of the bill on the House floor in September. Read more here.

BARRY SAUNDERS ON JULIUS CHAMBERS: "The world will also never get enough justice. That’s where Julius Chambers comes in. Chambers, the Mount Gilead native who became a nationally known attorney and fighter for justice, died Friday. He was 76. Mount Gilead was next door in Montgomery County, but Chambers always spoke fondly of childhood friends from neighboring Richmond. There wasn’t, as George Wallace, the late governor of Alabama once said about the Republican and Democratic parties, “a dime’s worth of difference between” the two." Read more here.

GUN SEIZURES AT RDU GROWING: ... The TSA tries to discourage carrying weapons in luggage with civil fines that can reach as high as $7,500 for a loaded gun. Last year, the agency assessed $1.8 million in penalties for firearms seized at checkpoints. Several RDU passengers said the TSA mentioned a fine of $3,000 and agreed to accept $1,500 if it were paid quickly. One traveler said TSA told him he would not have to pay anything.

A judge decides later whether to destroy the gun or return it to the owner. Law enforcement officials say the guns usually are not returned. The applicable criminal laws vary from state to state. In North Carolina, airport violators usually are charged with illegally carrying a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days of community service. But guilty verdicts appear to be rare.

Checking 47 RDU cases since July 2011 involving illegal guns, knives and brass knuckles – all handled in Wake County courts – The News & Observer found 25 charges dismissed, one prayer for judgment and no guilty verdicts. Records for a few cases could not be found; the others were pending. Read more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Gov. Pat McCrory announced the following appointments Saturday:

• Acupuncture Licensing Board: Dr. Mary Majebe from Buncombe County. Majebe is the founder and director of Chinese Acupuncture and Herbology Clinic in Asheville. The clinic has been in operation since 1985. Majebe is also the president of the Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts in Asheville. She will be filling the role of a licensed acupuncturist. Each term length is three years.

• North Carolina Psychology Board: Anthony Powell of Pender County. Powell is the mental health director at Pender Correctional Institution and an adjunct faculty member at Campbell University, teaching criminal justice and psychology courses. He is being reappointed to his second term. Matthew Van Horn, who is an attorney with his own law practice in Raleigh. His practice includes personal injury and medical malpractice. Each term length is three years.

• Podiatry Examiners: Dr. David Kirlin of Gaston County. Kirlin is a podiatrist and is being reappointed to his second term in a licensed podiatrist seat. Each term length is three years.

• State Board of Examiners in Optometry: Dr. William Rafferty of Forsyth County. Rafferty works in the Winston-Salem office for Duke Health in the ophthalmology division. He will be serving his first term and filling the role of a licensed optometrist. Each term length is five years.

EFFECTS OF UNEMPLOYMENT CUTS TO GROW LARGER: On July 1, a new North Carolina law changed the state’s unemployment benefits, reducing the maximum weekly payout from $535 to $350 and the eligibility from 26 weeks to between 12 and 20, depending on the unemployment rate. The change, enacted by the N.C. legislature this session, also effectively ended extended federal unemployment insurance to more than 65,000 long-term unemployed. As more people see their state benefits expire in the coming months, advocates for families worry about the short- and long-term effects on children. Read more here.

VOTER PRE-REGISTRATION: North Carolina implemented pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-old eligible voters in 2010. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans, overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 102-4. Jenn Frye, associate director of Democracy NC, a voter advocacy group, said the bill’s intention was to increase voter participation among young people and to educate them about the voting process. “The thinking was this is a good time to sign them up as future voters,” Frye said. Since the law went into effect, more than 100,000 teenagers have pre-registered, she said. Now it's going away. Read more here.

NATIONAL POLITICAL STORY OF NOTE: The tea party may shun its political stars. From AP: ... As many tea party stars seek re-election next year and (Marco) Rubio considers a 2016 presidential run, conservative activists are finding themselves at a crossroads. Many of their standard-bearers have embraced more moderate positions on bedrock issues such as immigration and health care, broadening their appeal in swing states but dampening grass-roots passion. Read more here.

CHARLOTTE AIRPORT FIGHT TWEAKS LOCAL POLITICS: In the fight for Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the City Council’s two Republicans – Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey – have been closely aligned with the council’s Democratic majority. Dulin has been especially adamant that the city keep control of the airport, blasting efforts by the GOP-dominated General Assembly to put someone else in charge.

He called a consultant that recommended an authority “slick.” He called an airport advisory member who was lobbying for an authority a “chump.” And he’s said passionately that the city-owned airport belongs, in part, to him – and his father and grandfather before him. But in the fall election to replace Dulin – who isn’t running for re-election – other Republicans are taking a less strident tone. Read more here.

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