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Morning Memo: More Democratic trouble, N.C. vs. S.C. hoops rivalry renewed

DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S PROBLEMS GROW: The head of the North Carolina Democratic Party is facing questions about credit card charges made during a March trip to a Las Vegas casino to watch basketball games with his old college buddies. Records obtained by The Associated Press show state Democratic Chairman Randy Voller made $3,327 in charges to Southwest Airlines and the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel on an American Express Business Gold Card embossed with his name and that of the North Carolina Democratic Party. He said he's paid off the balance in full. Much more to this story -- click here.

N.C. LAWMAKERS TO PLAY "THE OTHER CAROLINA" IN BASKETBALL: North Carolina lawmakers will challenge their South Carolina counterparts to a game of hoops Wednesday evening at Reynolds Coliseum. The game is the first in at least four years between lawmakers from the two Carolinas. Rep. Burt Jones, a Rockingham Republican who will coach the North Carolina squad, helped revive the tradition. “The games in the past were pretty competitive,” he said. (Scouting report below.)

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for N.C. political news and fun (see below). Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. ***

IN THE LOCKER ROOM: The team includes big men Jeff Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican, and Chris Millis, a Hampstead Republican. Collins played with UNC great Phil Ford in high school, Jones said. “They are pretty good for being legislators,” he said.

The scouting report for the North Carolina team: a deep bench and desire to win, Jones said, will need to overcome the fact that “some of us are old and out of shape.” The JV squad – composed of lobbyists who work the N.C. legislative halls – plays at 5 p.m. Lawmakers take the court at 6:30 p.m. The event is free but volunteers will accept nonperishable food and cash donations. Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, a Charlotte Republican, will sing the national anthem, and other female lawmakers will cheer on the team. The North Carolina lawmakers are wearing gold “NCGA” jerseys.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: GOP leaders will revive the effort to void one of former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue's final accomplishments: the Dix park lease. The bill's supporters say the state can get a better deal for the land and will discuss legislation to end the lease in the House Judiciary Committee 15 minutes after the session ends today. Another House Judiciary committee will consider a measure at 10 a.m. to help renew capital punishment in North Carolina. And the Senate begins its debate on the budget with votes expected Wednesday and Thursday. Gov. Pat McCrory attended a JPMorgan Chase breakfast reception in Charlotte. He lists no other public events today.

SUNDAY BEST: Today is "Brims and Bows" day where ladies wear hats and men wear bowties. Morning Memo is sporting a Carolina argyle bowtie in solidarity for the basketball game.

FOXX IN THE SPOTLIGHT:Anthony Foxx appears to have a clear path to U.S. transportation secretary at his confirmation hearing Wednesday, as virtually all of his 16 predecessors have. The hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Live streaming video will be available at www.c-span.org. C-Span hadn’t decided Tuesday morning whether it also would show his hearing on one of its cable channels. Most of his predecessors were Washington insiders familiar to the senators who vetted them. Foxx, a second-term Democratic mayor of Charlotte, is relatively unknown in the capital in spite of his role last year at the Democratic National Convention, which his city hosted. Full story.

McCRORY MAKES THE ROUNDS: Gov. Pat McCrory is sitting down for interviews with favored media outlets this week to push back against the state Senate's budget plan. He told WRAL-TV's David Crabtree that he opposes moving the quasi-independent SBI to his Department of Public Safety. He also said he wouldn't issue his own tax plan -- despite talking about the topic over and over and over again on the campaign trail. He told Raleigh NBC affiliate that he is "confident" in a budget compromise with state lawmakers. And he sidestepped questions on News 14 about the abortion bill that passed the House and possible budget vetoes.

WILL TILLIS END FRIED SQUASH DAY? House Speaker Thom Tillis will stand with the American Heart Association at a 12:30 p.m. press conference Wednesday to announce an effort to promote healthier eating at the N.C. General Assembly. The event timing is noticeable: today is Fried Squash Day at the cafeteria in the legislative building, a traditional mark to the midweek, even though it's not a healthy one. Tillis and the association are trying to reduce high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease.

From the press release: "Speaker Tillis and the N.C. General Assembly will work with health advocates to assess the current food offerings available, recommend improvements and work to implement changes. Legislators and staff will be encouraged to eat a heart-healthy diet, reduce sodium consumption, get regular physical activity, maintain healthy weight, manage stress, limit alcohol and avoid tobacco smoke."

TOP 3 THINGS THAT RAISE TILLIS' BLOOD PRESSURE: Ahead of the announcement, the Morning Memo would like to add (in jest) other items that need to be addressed to help reduce Tillis' blood pressure: No. 1: Senate leader Phil Berger. No. 2: Rep. Larry Pittman. No. 3: Phil Berger (No really, No. 3: Kay Hagan).

MIKE HAGER WANTS YOU TO COME SHOOTIN': A House GOP leader (with his eyes set on the House speakership) is hosting a campaign fundraiser Saturday featuring skeet and trap shooting. ("Earplugs provided. Bring your own shotgun and ammunition.") Rep. Mike Hager's event is at the Piedmont Pistol and Rifle Club in Rutherfordton, his hometown. Hosts can pay $1,500 for a group of five and the chance to shoot with an unidentified "special guest." Individual tickets are $75. A shotgun will be raffled off at the end.

REPUBLICAN LAWMAKER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST McCRORY'S MEDICAID PLAN: Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican, wrote a letter to the editor outlining his opposition to privatizing Medicaid. "As a former hospital administrator, I know one of the largest programs needing reform is Medicaid. The $13 billion Medicaid program serves 1.5 million adults and children, some of the most disadvantaged in our state. I am not convinced that having for-profit managed-care companies deliver medical, mental and dental care is the most effective approach to reforming Medicaid. When all we have is a sketchy outline proposed by the secretary of Health and Human Services, I advocate a cautious and deliberate approach to studying options.

"Our state is fortunate to have outstanding hospitals and physicians. Let’s take advantage of our strengths and build on them to enhance our Medicaid program instead of moving down a path that will result in disastrous consequences for our most vulnerable citizens. Full letter.

FINAL POLL NOTES: Protesters not popular, but better than lawmakers: Only 38 percent approve of voters in the latest Public Policy Polling survey think highly of the nearly 160 protesters who have been arrested at the N.C. General Assembly. Another 40 percent view them unfavorably with a significant portion undecided. It raises questions about whether the efforts are working as intended, or galvanizing the opposition. But the silver lining: they are doing better in net favorability than Republican lawmakers in charge, PPP found.

One other curious number: only 29 percent of voters support the repeal of the state's antiquated literacy test and 36 percent are opposed. Another 35 percent are undecided, the Democratic firm found. Full results here.

SEN. RABIN GOES BALLISTIC ON OBAMA: Sen. Ron Rabin, a freshman Republican from Spring Lake sent an email to colleagues and supporters this week that attacks President Barack Obama in the strongest terms. "Current events in our nation's capital compel me to take action with regard to my sworn commitments to God and country," he writes. "I am appalled by the deceitful dialogue being attributed to the Obama Administration. By my standards, our government is outright lying to the American people. Here are some examples: Not calling the incident at Fort Hood, Texas what it is – an act of terrorism; the cover-up of the ill-conceived "Fast and Furious" fiasco; the obfuscation about Benghazi and leaving Americans to die because of indecision, or worse; the ongoing IRS scandal wherein a "non-partisan" government agency is caught discriminating against legitimate organizations based on political ideology; and, the recently revealed US government spying on the Associated Press. I believe culpability rests at the highest levels of the current administration and these outrageous actions should be punished 'to the max.'"

Rabin doesn't say what "to the max" means but later says these actions demand the "strongest possible sanctions. ....It is time for us to draw a real line in the sand."

SHANAHAN HAS McCRORY ADMINISTRATION SCRAMBLING: Department of Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan will no longer practice law on the side while he holds public office, his former law firm announced Tuesday afternoon. He has transitioned out of his practice at the law firm he started in 2001, and will be on a temporary leave of absence from that firm and from practicing law at all.

The announcement came after The News & Observer reported last week that Shanahan had been moonlighting at his law firm on a limited basis, and followed questions The N&O raised earlier today about connections between the law firm and the lobbying company that he and his wife formed in 2009.

Shanahan said last week that the law firm is no longer representing clients before the General Assembly, in order to avoid any conflicts of interest, since his appointment in January. But the lobbying company that his law firm is closely related to, CompassNC, does represent one client with a bill pending at the legislature. Resident Lenders of North Carolina is pushing a consumer finance bill, Senate Bill 489, and is represented by CompassNC. John Cooper is the firm’s managing member and J. Brad Edwards an associate member. The company represents a wide range of clients. Full story here.

HYBRID CARS SAVE TOO MUCH GAS, LAWMAKERS SAY: From the Star-News in Wilmington: "More than 28,000 North Carolina residents with electric or hybrid cars looking to pay less for gasoline are targets of the state Senate’s proposed budget. An annual fee of $100 for electric car owners and $50 for hybrid car owners would be levied on state residents. The fee would raise $1.5 million for the state Department of Transportation in the upcoming year.

State Senator Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, is a supporter of the measure, arguing that electric and hybrid car owners should not get a “free ride” by not paying state gas taxes. “We earn our revenue (for state) transportation from three sources: fees, highway use tax, or the 3 percent tax on automobile purchases, and the motor fuels tax, also known as the gas tax,” Rabon said. “(The gas tax) is about 55 percent of our revenue.” Full story.

A NCGA ROUNDUP: Click here.

NEWS FLASH: The N.C. NAACP sent an open letter to the governor and Republican legislative leaders demanding that they meet with "us and those you are hurting with your regressive policies."

FARMERS HOPE LIE IN FEDERAL IMMIGRATION BILL: Farmers across the country warn that shoppers will find even more imported food on their store shelves if Congress fails to pass immigration legislation that would guarantee them enough workers to milk their cows and harvest their fruits and vegetables. “The bottom line is people need to decide whether they’d rather import their labor or import their food,” said Randall Patterson, a China Grove, N.C., farmer who grows strawberries, cucumbers and watermelons among his crops. Patterson, 52, a third-generation farmer, employs about 140 foreign-born workers on his 1,200-acre farm legally through a federal system similar to the one a bipartisan team of senators wants to overhaul and streamline. Full story.

START YOUR ENGINES: Tesla Motors wants to show North Carolina residents why the company opposes a bill in the General Assembly that effectively blocks the Internet seller from doing business. Tesla will show its Model S electric car Wednesday outside the legislature to tell people about its award-winning automobile and influence the outcome of a bill expected to advance in the House in the coming weeks. The company is challenging legislation that prevents consumers from ordering cars online outside of the franchise-dealer system. State auto dealers argue those laws are in place to protect consumers. The company argues the laws simply protect monopolies. Full story.

AIRPORT FIGHT DIVIDES MAYORS: Charlotte’s former mayors had differing views Tuesday on the fight over control of Charlotte’s airport. But they generally agreed it should have been handled more openly. The debate over whether to shift control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city to an independent authority sparked perhaps the sharpest exchange of the night as the city’s five living former mayors gathered to talk about the challenges facing the Queen City. Gov. Pat McCrory, Richard Vinroot, Sue Myrick, Harvey Gantt and Eddie Knox drew a full house for the public forum at Central Piedmont Community College, sponsored by the Observer and PNC Bank. Full story.

STATE ADDS DUKE PLANT TO POLLUTER LAWSUIT: State regulators under pressure from environmental groups added Duke Energy’s Riverbend power plant, perched above Charlotte’s water supply, to a lawsuit over coal ash pollution. The N.C. Division of Water Quality filing Tuesday said contamination from coal ash lagoons at Mountain Island Lake, if not addressed, “poses a serious danger to the health, safety and welfare of the people of North Carolina and serious harm to the water resources of the state.” Full story.


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And for everything else there is the Gold Card

But Voller has much support to remain as head of the Democrats.

From the Republicans.

I just cannot imagine that they would want Randy to go.

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