Under the Dome

Morning Memo: 'Moral Mondays' grow; McCrory defends pay hikes

’MORAL MONDAY’ PROTESTS EXPAND: Moral Monday, the North Carolina protest movement that comes to Charlotte on Monday afternoon, was organized to counter the policies of the Republican-controlled General Assembly. The protests, which have received national attention, are not only grounded in religion but expanding their reach into churches. Organizers say they seek to reclaim the language of political morality.

Protesters from the Charlotte area are to gather in Marshall Park at 5 p.m. Elsewhere in the state, similar protests are scheduled Monday in the Yancey County town of Burnsville and in coastal Manteo. Read more here.

GOV. HUNT TELLS DEMOCRATS TO DO MORE: Former Gov. Jim Hunt delivered a pep talk to grassroots leaders of the state’s beleaguered Democratic Party on Saturday night, where he emphasized the basics of winning elections. Hunt told the crowd at a reception named partly in his honor to appeal to independent voters, run good candidates and raise money. "We’re not exactly the party of money," Hunt said, "but we can do more than we’ve done."

***Hear more from the Democratic Party meeting and get the latest N.C. political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

McCRORY ON DEFENSIVE, STANDS BY BIG SALARY HIKES: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is defending the big government salaries and raises granted to two young Republicans who worked on his 2012 campaign. The pair of 24-year olds, who have worked in state government since January and were recently promoted to key senior positions at the Department of Health and Human Services, are well qualified, McCrory told WNCN. Both beat out older job candidates for their positions, adding that it would be wrong to discriminate against someone on the basis of age, McCrory said.

There are plenty of people in state government who are well paid and that it was unfair to focus on McKillip and Diaz because of their ages, McCrory said. "We have university presidents making $400,000, we have coaches making a lot," McCrory said. "Listen, I wish we could have fair pay across the board, but to pick out two pays. ... I even questioned it. I said, 'How can we give a young guy this.' But I can't discriminate based on age. Just because a young person does a better job than an older person who may have gotten that job. I went, 'That's not right either.'"

He told WNCN the comparison to teacher pay is unfair. "It's sad," McCrory said. "I'd like teachers to make a lot more. I'd like teachers to make what TV anchors are paid. ... So I can apply that to a lot of professions. We've got to show more respect in the state and the nation for the teaching profession — and reward the best of the best. And that's my goal." Read more here.

LOCAL NEWSPAPER WANTS CATAWBA CASINO: The Shelby Star editorialized in favor of a potential Catawba Nation casino in Cleveland County and wrote it’s coverage based on how many jobs it could potentially create, without details on how those numbers were arrived and using anonymous sources. It’s not a surprise, though. The former publisher for the paper, Skip Foster, attended the meeting at the potential site with members of the McCrory administration. Foster declined to comment last week. Read the editorial here.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office is trying to distance McCrory from the deal. Days after declining to comment, a McCrory spokeswoman told the Star: "At the request of Cleveland County, administration staff attended one informational meeting to listen. This is a local initiative." But any top-level gaming would need McCrory’s signature on a compact -- which leading lawmakers say they oppose.

THE GOP PLAN B: Make it tougher for students to vote: From columnist Rob Christensen: "Republicans made a major push to win over young voters last year, putting operatives in the state at fairs and NASCAR events, and using social media to tell them how bad the economy was under Obama. Despite their efforts, Obama still won 67 percent of the 18-29 age group in North Carolina in November, according to exit polls.

"So Republicans moved to Plan B – if you can’t win over young people, make it harder for them to vote. The new voter law includes a requirement that all voters show a photo ID before they can cast their ballot. When the measure went through the House, it allowed students at public universities to use their college IDs, but when it went to the more conservative Senate, college IDs were taken out. Some concern was expressed about college IDs not being as secure as driver’s licenses.

"As Bob Phillips of Common Cause notes, even states with some of the toughest voter ID laws in the nation, such as Indiana and Georgia, allow college IDs at the polls. But not North Carolina. North Carolina is rich in colleges; there are more than 300,000 students here, including an estimated 50,000 from other states. In order to vote here, they need a N.C. driver’s license or a free non-driver ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles office.

A HIGH HURDLE TO VOTE: "To get a free ID, the student must show four documents, according to the DMV Web page. They must provide at least two documents for proof of age and identity: either a valid driver’s license from another state, an original birth certificate or an original Social Security card. They also must prove they have a Social Security number by providing a Social Security card, a 1099 Form, a W-2 Form, a DD-214 form or several other forms. Finally, the student must provide a proof of residency such as a North Carolina vehicle registration card, a North Carolina Voter Precinct Card, a utility or cable bill, a housing lease or mortgage statement, school records or several other documents.

"North Carolina’s new voter ID law would make thousands of young people, many of whom are first-time voters, have a harder time voting and ultimately may entice them to decide, ‘Why bother?’ " Phillips said." Read more here.

ANOTHER ELEX BILL CHANGE: Wrong precinct, no vote: From AP -- No more provisional For a decade, registered North Carolina voters who didn’t go to their home precincts on Election Day – by error or on purpose – could still ensure their top choices would count.

They’d fill out a conditional ballot from the incorrect precinct. If officials confirmed soon after that they were legally able to vote in the county, their votes for elections not specific to their home precincts would be tabulated.

But Republicans in the legislature say people should be responsible for knowing where they’re supposed to vote, rather than forcing election workers to cross-check their ballots and figure out their lawful choices. So they inserted in their elections overhaul bill passed last month a new law barring those out-of-precinct ballots – usually thousands combined annually in primary and general elections – from being counted at all. Read more here.

AG INDUSTRY WANTS A VETO OVERRIDE: The state’s agricultural industry is pushing for an override of the governor’s veto of an immigration bill that would have made it easier to use seasonal laborers. The N.C. Farm Bureau said Friday it is working with legislative leaders to persuade members of the General Assembly to reconvene in less than two weeks for override votes. They say the matter is urgent because without an override there will be a shortage of workers, which will lead to rotting crops and then less produce in grocery stores. "With the veto, it’s going to be devastating for our industry and for the majority of the farm industry, period," said Ralph Carter Jr., a blueberry farmer from Bladen County.

Challenging the governor’s veto has traction with agricultural interests and with House Speaker Thom Tillis, both of whom say they are concerned about more than that single bill. Both blame inaction in Washington for failing to address the nation’s immigration issues.

TROXLER OPPOSES McCRORY VETO: N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Steve Troxler thinks the current 90-day exemption isn’t sufficient for most farmers, said his spokesman, Brian Long. Growing seasons aren’t limited to 90 days, Long noted. Tobacco growing season begins in the winter and can last through harvest as late as October, he said. Sweet potatoes, tomatoes and apples are other examples of seasons that extend more than three months. "If foreign workers who are in the country legally perceive one state as having more hoops to jump through, they will avoid that state," Long said. "That could put farmers at risk of not being able to hire sufficient numbers of workers. Ultimately, crops could be left in fields to rot." Read more here.

MORE FROM THE DEMOCRATIC CONFAB -- A party trying to unite: Talk of unity dominated a meeting of state Democratic Party grassroots leaders earlier Saturday, as a proposed confidence vote in the party’s embattled chairman never gained traction. Media consultant Frank Eaton, who had called for a confidence vote in Chairman Randy Voller, did not attend the party’s state executive committee meeting, and open opposition to Voller’s leadership never materialized.

SOME DEMS NOT OPTIMISTIC ABOUT 2014: Legislative maps give Republican candidates advantages in most House and Senate districts. Though some Democrats talked of regaining a majority in either the state House or Senate, others said that it will take more than another year. "We just have to say to ourselves we’re not going to win in 2014," said William A. Franklin, a committee member from Burlington. "We’re in a real corner and we’ve got to turn it around. And we will. I have confidence." Read more here.

A FOCUS ON TEACHER PAY: As Courtlyn Reeves, a 25-year-old math teacher at North Mecklenburg High, begins his fourth year of teaching, he’s looking at a frozen salary that’s becoming less competitive with other states. He had started work on a master’s degree that would have earned him a 10-percent raise, but the state just eliminated extra pay for advanced degrees. "I’m ticked off, and so are my colleagues," Reeves told an overflow crowd at a forum on state education issues last week.

It’s a sentiment that’s been widely echoed since lawmakers passed the budget in July. North Carolina’s educators find themselves stranded between two compensation systems. The current one is disintegrating: Bonuses based on student gains and experience-based raises have vanished during the recession, and this year legislators eliminated pay for advanced degrees.

But a new system hasn’t been created. The result has been turmoil and angst. Officials remain uncertain how this summer’s changes will play out. Teachers are protesting and voicing dismay for their profession. Critics of this summer’s legislative session say North Carolina is losing its national image as a state that values education.

HOUSE SPEAKER THOM TILLIS ON TEACHER PAY -- SMALL RAISE POSSIBLE: "I think it certainly is a work in progress," said Jordan Shaw, spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg Republican. "We need to be able to pay teachers more. We need to be able to pay police officers more. We need to be able to pay firefighters more. The challenge is how we get there."

Tillis supports providing a small raise – similar to the 1.2 percent granted state employees in 2012 – in the 2014 legislative session, Shaw said last week. But getting teacher pay to a competitive level requires developing a performance pay system and "getting the overall budget under control," including rising Medicaid costs, he said. That’s likely to take years. Read more here.

RALEIGH TV STATION HOLDS EDUCATION FORUM: "WNCN takes an in-depth look at the future of K-12 education in North Carolina Monday, with a one-hour special that evaluates the issue in light of the recent General Assembly session. The special will air on television and online from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and then on the web from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"The State of our Schools – a Teacher Town Hall" will air from the auditorium of the Murphey School in downtown Raleigh."

SBI AGENT STILL ON JOB -- COPPER REFUSES TO TALK: The misconduct of State Bureau of Investigation Agent Mark Isley has rung up all sorts of costs: a $7.85 million payout for taxpayers and their insurers; 14 years behind bars for an innocent man with a severe mental disability; and another scar for law enforcement.

Isley, however, still has his job at the SBI, and there’s no indication from Attorney General Roy Cooper that it’s in jeopardy. Cooper, a four-term Democrat, refused to be interviewed last week about Isley and the Brown case. Isley, head of the bureau’s Medicaid Fraud Section, could not be reached for comment. Read more here.

McCRORY TOUTS COMMUNITY COLLEGES: Gov. Pat McCrory advocated a new way of funding community colleges Friday, based not on numbers of students but on training programs that yield the best job outcomes. In a speech to the N.C. Community College System board, McCrory said North Carolina’s 58 community colleges are key to the state’s economic recovery and its ability to attract good-paying jobs. Read more here.

FILM WORKERS RALLY FOR TAX BREAKS: Film industry workers on Saturday held a forum in Charlotte to defend the state’s film incentives program and urged colleagues to help educate the public about its benefits. Some lawmakers in Raleigh had targeted the program for elimination but no action was taken by the Republican leadership before the recent legislative session ended. Gov. Pat McCrory has yet to take a position on the program. "If the incentive goes away, it decimates this industry," said Aaron Syrett, director of the state film office. Read more here.

LAWMAKERS GIVE THEMSELVES POWER TO DEFEND LAWS: After passing politically divisive legislation on voting laws and setting in motion new abortion restrictions, North Carolina's Republican-led General Assembly has given itself the authority to defend them in court. Last month, in a last-minute move before adjourning for the year, lawmakers inserted two sentences into legislation clarifying a new hospital-billing law that would give the state House speaker and Senate leader the option to defend a state statute or provision of North Carolina's constitution and not rely on Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has until Aug. 25 to veto the measure. Cooper hasn't refused to defend the state in any case, though counterparts in California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania said they would not defend their states' same-sex marriage bans. Read more here.

FORMER N.C. POLITICIAN’S CAR SELLS FOR $27 MILLION: A rare 1967 Ferrari owned by a North Carolina orphan-turned-millionaire sold at auction for $27.5 million. The red Ferrari was one of only 10 ever built, and its single-family ownership increased interest in the sale, the Los Angeles Times reported. The owner, the late Eddie Smith, was a former mayor of Lexington, N.C. He died in 2007 at age 88. Since then, the car has been stored in a specially built garage. Read more here.

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