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Morning Memo: Dems eager to replace Kinnaird; GOP's barbs in Senate fight

FOUR CANDIDATES SEEKING KINNAIRD SENATE SEAT: State Rep. Valerie Foushee and three others announced Wednesday their intent to seek state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird’s District 23 seat. The other candidates for Kinnaird’s seat that emerged Wednesday were retiring Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton; author and educator Amy Tiemann, and former Alamance County Rep. Alice Bordsen. Read more on the candidates here.

TODAY IN POLITICS: The country's former top military officer and the head of an Internet giant are the main attractions at a gathering of North Carolina business executives that will draw Gov. Pat McCrory. The CEO Forum is scheduled for Thursday at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh. Former U.S. Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell is speaking along with Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers. McCrory will attend the event at 8 a.m.

***More North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to capitol@newsobserver.com.***

GREG BRANNON POKES AT TILLIS -- Pushes GOP rival to pledge to defund Obamacare: U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon is using his far-right conservative views to draw a sharp divide between himself and Republican rival Thom Tillis on the issue of the federal health care law. Brannon favors the tea-party inspired move to defund Obamacare and criticizes Tillis -- though not by name -- for not agreeing to do the same. In manuevering to stake ground as the more conservative candidate in the GOP primary, Brannon calls Tillis an "establishment candidate."

From an email to supporters, Brannon writes: "We must take a stand and stop the government takeover of healthcare by DEFUNDING Obamacare at every opportunity. That’s exactly what I will do if elected to the U.S. Senate.

"And the truth is, I’m the ONLY candidate in this race for U.S. Senate that you can trust to follow through . . . In fact, unlike my establishment-backed opponent, I’ve signed a pledge promising to join Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz in their fight to defund ObamaCare.

"If we’re serious about bringing our country back from the brink the Big Government politicians have brought us to, I simply must be able to count on your support."

WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE ON 2014 N.C. SENATE RACE -- Republicans need to win North Carolina. But so far they’ve stumbled.: "So, why aren’t Republicans lining up to run against Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who is among the 2014 cycle’s most vulnerable incumbents? Three reasons stand out: the general belief in GOP circles that state House Speaker Thom Tillis is a potentially formidable candidate, even as he’s struggled early; the lack of a strong GOP bench; and the state’s political tilt and climate, which is not as conservative as it may seem." Read more here.

McCRORY SIGNS BILL TO INCREASE PATRONAGE POSITIONS: Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation into law Wednesday that he said will help North Carolina consumers make better health care decisions and aid his administration in running state government more efficiently.

The measure also increases from 1,000 to 1,500 the number of state government positions exempt from those rules so that the governor's administration can hire and fire more quickly in certain positions. It also expands which agencies can hire exempt employees.

Just last year, the legislature had more than doubled the previous cap on the number of exempt workers, who generally are policy makers. McCrory's office said the extra exempt positions will provide flexibility and accountability to Cabinet secretaries to carry out changes. McCrory also sought successfully provisions that attempt to reduce the length of time for the employee grievance process, which he said has averaged 450 days. Changes to the State Personnel Act — now named the North Carolina Human Resources Act under the law — were one of the Republican governor's priorities this year. "This is a good first step in initiating performance management and employee evaluation for all state workers," he said.

MORE THAN 30 BILLS REMAIN ON McCRORY'S DESK: McCrory still must act on 34 bills by Sunday night — either by signing or vetoing them — or they'll become law without his signature. Read more here.

ADVOCACY GROUP URGES LEGISLATURE TO INVESTIGATE McCRORY PAY RAISES: Progress North Carolina Action, an advocacy group battling with the Republican legislature, is now asking its foes to investigate the pay raises in the McCrory adminsitration. The plea -- which will make the sound of a tree falling in an uninhabited forest -- is designed to put more pressure on the McCrory administration regarding high salaries for two inexperience aides at the Department of Health and Human Services, which came after a directive from McCrory to freeze state government salaries.

McCRORY NAMES PERRY AS DPS SECRETARY: A month after the state’s law enforcement chief’s abrupt resignation, Gov. Pat McCrory named the interim leader at the Department of Public Safety as his newest agency secretary Wednesday. Frank Perry led the Division of Law Enforcement, overseeing the operations of Emergency Management, Highway Patrol, Alcohol Law Enforcement and State Capitol Police, before taking the interim job after Secretary Kieran Shanahan resigned in July.

Like his predecessor, Perry comes into the position with political ties. He donated $500 to McCrory’s 2012 campaign and served as a top official at a private foundation funded by an organization directed at the time by Art Pope, a major conservative donor who McCrory appointed as state budget director. Read more here.

N.C. STUDENTS LAST IN NATION ON ACT TEST: North Carolina’s high school class of 2013 scored last in the nation on the ACT, the test billed as the state’s new measure of college readiness. North Carolina is one of only nine states that require every high school junior to take the ACT; in many states, it is taken only by students who plan to go to college. The results, released Wednesday by ACT Inc., show North Carolina scored lowest of all states in the average composite score across four subjects – English, reading, mathematics and science.

A year earlier, when only 20 percent of the class of 2012 took the ACT, North Carolina ranked above the national average. The new scores for the class of 2013 show that only 17 percent of students met the ACT’s "college-ready" benchmarks in all four subjects. Read more here.

WAKE GOP OPPOSED TO SCHOOL BONDS -- Referendum could hold larger electoral message: A divided Wake County Republican Party announced its opposition Wednesday to a proposed $810 million school construction bond issue, but it was not clear whether Republicans or other conservative groups will mount a concerted effort to defeat the October ballot proposal.

In a written statement, Wake GOP officials said it was by the "narrowest of margins" that the party’s executive committee made the "difficult" decision to oppose the school bonds. County Republican leaders said they’re not sure whether they’ll campaign against the bonds. Another group that has historically been the main voice in anti-school bond efforts has yet to decide whether to get involved. Read more here.

COOPER PUSHES BACK AGAINST UTILITY RATE HIKE: Attorney General Roy Cooper continues to hammer at Duke Energy Carolinas’ latest rate hike, saying the utility’s profit margin is too high and unsupported by Duke’s evidence. Cooper, whose duties include advocating for consumers, won his appeal of Duke Carolinas’ 2011 rate case, which increased rates 7.2 percent.

The N.C. Supreme Court ruled this year that the state Utilities Commission didn’t fully document the impact to customers of the return on equity, or profit margin for shareholders, granted Duke. Cooper says the ruling should lead to lower utility profits and customer rates in other cases, including the one now before regulators. "Duke’s evidence in this rate case regarding customer impact was not significantly or meaningfully different from the evidence Duke presented in the prior rate case," Cooper’s staff wrote in a filing Tuesday. Read more here.

TROUBLED CASE COSTS COUNTY MONEY: Anson County and its insurers paid $1.475 million to Floyd Brown, the mentally disabled man jailed in a psychiatric hospital for 14 years based on a confession that his lawyers said was fabricated by an SBI agent and two county sheriff’s deputies. When added to a $7.85 million settlement paid by the State Bureau of Investigation and its insurers, Brown has been compensated a total of $9.325 million for the 14 years he spent locked in Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh. Read more here.

CHARLOTTE MAYORS RACE HEATS UP: James Mitchell has fired the first shot in Charlotte’s Democratic mayoral primary with a mailer that accuses fellow City Council member Patrick Cannon of opposing former Mayor Anthony Foxx on the streetcar and other issues.

The mailer, which began reaching voters Wednesday, features a photo of Foxx and says "Only one candidate for mayor supported Anthony Foxx’s Plan to Move Charlotte Forward." Punctuating what had been a low-key race, it came on the eve of early voting for the Sept. 10 primary. Early voting starts Thursday morning at uptown’s Hal Marshall Annex. Mitchell and Cannon are the leading Democrats in their primary. And in a city with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, either would stand a good chance of becoming the next mayor. Read more here.

WELLS FARGO ANNOUNCES LAYOFFS: Wells Fargo said Wednesday it’s laying off 284 employees in Charlotte as the bank trims its mortgage work force amid declining demand for refinancings. The positions are among 2,323 nationwide job cuts the company announced Wednesday, saying fewer homeowners are refinancing as interest rates rise.

The Charlotte job cuts are mostly in Wells Fargo’s fulfillment division. Wells Fargo spokesman Josh Dunn said most of the 2,323 positions being eliminated companywide are in that division, which processes applications for mortgages and refinancings. Read more here.

ICYMI: RESEARCH REPORT LOOKS AT MENTAL HEALTH WORKFORCE IN NORTH CAROLINA: The N.C. Center for Public Policy Research prepared a report looking at the workers in this key industry. Read it here.

KAY HAGAN AD: A TV ad thanking Demcoratic Sen. Kay Hagan is being aired by the American Chemistry Council. "Kay Hagan makes a difference" is the tagline. It began running earlier this month and appeared Wednesday on MSNBC in the Raleigh-Durham area. See it here.

MEADOWS LEADING CHARGE FOR SHUTDOWN: From Reuter -- Republican lawmakers, who staunchly oppose President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, are considering using a fall showdown over the country's borrowing limit as leverage to try to delay the law's implementation. … In the House of Representatives, Congressman Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, has been trying to rally House Republicans behind the government shutdown strategy and plans to release a letter on Thursday signed by lawmakers who support that tactic. Read more here.


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