Under the Dome

Morning Memo: McCrory cabinet pick faces more questions, legislature returns

SKVARLA FACES NEW QUESTIONS: Secretary John Skvarla's memo to staff at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources this week is getting a good bit of attention and creating more questions than it answers. As reported here first, the agency's new mission statement includes this line: "environmental science is quite complex, comprised of many components, and most importantly, contains diversity of opinion." The memo also suggests the agency is more service organziation than state regulator. It raises big questions for the McCrory administration: Is climate change a scientific fact? What about sea level rise? And are human's responsible for global warming?


McCRORY DODGES GLOBAL WARMING QUESTION: As the DENR secretary questions the validity of science, the new Republican governor is sidestepping the global warming issue entirely. Pat McCrory told Travis Fain at the News & Record: "John (Skvarla) and I aren’t going to get caught up in the political semantics of either the left or the right on climate change or global warming. We believe in clean air, clean water and clean ground. ... As my father used to say ... we must walk the fine line between continuing our economic prosperity while also protecting the quality of life and the environment which brought may of us here. And that’s the fine line leadership must continue to walk.” Expect this question to re-emerge Wednesday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY: The GOP show begins on Jones Street. The Republican-supermajority takes power at the General Assembly, completing the new world order to North Carolina politics. Much of the action is perfunctory: swearing-in ceremony, voting on leadership already selected by Republican lawmakers and formalizing rules already determined by the GOP. The Senate action starts at 9 a.m. and the House will begin at noon (after gaveling into session and recessing at 9 a.m.). Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to make an appearance at the statehouse for both sessions.

ALSO: McCRORY SEEKS SOFTER GROUND ON VOTER ID:McCrory is offering to compromise on a voter ID measure, just as a new analysis shows as many as 613,000 voters may not have a valid photo ID card. He thinkgs other identification cards are acceptible, including a voter registration card. From the N&R: "But would he sign a bill that required photo ID? “I’m going to wait and see what we can negotiate with my colleagues. We will get (a voter ID bill), though."

McCRORY KEEPS TRANSITION THRIFTY: The first cost figures are coming in for McCrory's transition. So far, projections from the state's budget officie suggest expenses are expected to total less than $200,000, according to documents obtained by The News & Observer through a public records request. The Republican legislature gave him $660,000 for transition costs, double the amount of his Democratic predecessor. He said he would try not to spend it all. Not all costs are accounted for yet, and the total doesn't include any expenses related to the inauguration.

SALARIES: McCrory spent most the transition money on staff, particularly four key aides: Thomas Stith, Kelly Nicholson, Charles Duckett and Pattie Fleming, documents show. Stith made $10,894 a month in the transition, a total salary equal to about $131,000 a year. Nicholson took home $13,895 a month, or the equivalent of $166,740 a year. The total projected on transition salaries, budgeted through Jan. 18, is $192,000. The final number will be less because some staffers are moving to state payrolls before that date.

***For newcomers, welcome to the Dome Morning Memo, a new political must-read from the N&O that digests the day's news and previews what's ahead. Send questions, tips, stories to Thanks for reading. ***

--AS A SIDE NOTE, this story is worth a read. Washington Post political ace Chris Cillizza penned a column about why politics matter in government reporting. This is a question we get often at Dome and Cillizza answers it well.

--UNEMPLOYMENT INUSRANCE CUTS FAST-TRACKED; McCRORY ON BOARD: One of the fast-moving bills in the legislature is drafted and ready to go. A legislative committee approved a bill to curtail unemployment benefits by one-third, despite concerns for advocates for the jobless. And McCrory seems on board, saying he expects to get it soon after lawmakers convene Jan. 30.  “I think it’s the only plan I know of that will work. ... One of the first bills that I sill sign will be dealing with the (unemployment) debt.”

--QUOTED:“No state has ever cut their maximum benefit so severely,” George Wentworth, senior attorney at the National Employment Law Project, said at a press conference after the measure emerged from the Revenue Laws Study Committee.

--CONGRESS LESS POPULAR THAN COCKROACHES: Count on Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling in Raleigh to put Congress' dismal approval rating in perspective. He writes from his latest poll, "what we found is that Congress is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, and even Nickelback."

--A FISH TALE lands in the N.C. Supreme Court.

BIG, UNDER THE RADAR STORY: The question of whether Don Beason and his son Mark should pay fines for lobbying violations made its way to the N.C. Court of Appeals on Tuesday, where judges will decide the bounds of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall’s ability to levy fines under state lobbying law.

2014 WATCH:U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan sits down with Rob Christensen, offering a preview at her re-election themes in 2014. Meanwhile, Politico lists Hagan in a worst-on-the-Web story.

CHARLOTTE THE ALMIGHTY:As the legislature convenes, Charlotte is touting its own power in Raleigh now. From Jim Morrill: "When North Carolina’s new General Assembly convenes Wednesday, Mecklenburg County will enjoy its greatest influence in years, if not ever. A governor from Charlotte. A House speaker from Cornelius. A key senator from Matthews. A lieutenant governor who, as a mayor’s son, grew up in Charlotte."

TATA BREAKS HIS SILENCE: New transportation secretary Tony Tata gave WRAL-TV an exlusive on his "heartbroken" reaction to being fired as Wake County schools superintendent.

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