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Morning Memo: N.C. part of 'great gerrymander', GOP legislature pushes ahead

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Monday legislative sessions are typically quiet but Republican lawmakers are using the first one this year to push two major proposals to overhaul unemployment benefits amid the state's $2.5 billion debt to the federal government (House) and block the expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law (Senate). The floor action for both chambers starts at 7 p.m. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events today.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Republicans have the votes to pass the measure but the question is how big a fight Democrats will mount. The tone and strategy of the Democratic opposition will help define the partisan relations this legislative session and signal whether the minority party will acquiesce to GOP supermajorities or make their lives difficult.

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- keep reading for more analysis and a N.C. political news digest. ***

VOLLER WANTS TO FIGHT: If new state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller has a say -- he wants to fight. After becoming head of the party Saturday -- fending off a late challenge from supporters of former Congressman Bob Etheridge -- he pledged to make the party a winner again with out becoming “GOP Lite.”

'THE GREAT GERRYMANDER OF 2012' SPOTLIGHTS N.C. Sam Wang, the founder of the Princeton Election Consortium, wrote in Sunday's New York Times about how the 2012 election results didn't reflect who was elected thanks to Republican redistricting: "Using statistical tools that are common in fields like my own, neuroscience, I have found strong evidence that this historic aberration arises from partisan disenfranchisement. Although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense, the rather asymmetrical results may surprise you. ... I have developed approaches to detect such shenanigans by looking only at election returns. To see how the sleuthing works, start with the naïve standard that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats. In November, five states failed to clear even this low bar: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. ... In North Carolina, where the two-party House vote was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican, the average simulated delegation was seven Democrats and six Republicans. The actual outcome? Four Democrats, nine Republicans — a split that occurred in less than 1 percent of simulations. If districts were drawn fairly, this lopsided discrepancy would hardly ever occur."

OF NIPPLES AND GUNS: Columnist Barry Saunders -- "One legislator wants to allow armed volunteers to patrol our schools, while two others want to protect us from exposed nipples on the streets. ...Oy vey! Because we’re eternal optimists inclined to give elected officials the benefit of the doubt, we should try to view both of these proposals as fulfillments of party campaign pledges. Remember how most Republicans promised that “jobs” would be their number one priority? Although it may not look like it, these two pieces of legislation could prove that they’re keeping their promise.

CAPITOL POLICE INVESTIGATION: The acting chief and a sergeant at the Capitol Police are under investigation for alleged improprieties involving off-duty work, the Secretary of Public Safety announced Sunday evening. The news release announcing the investigation was released at 6:13 p.m. Sunday, an unusual time for a government press release regarding a personnel matter. Pam Walker, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the department only learned about the allegations on Friday afternoon. Secretary Kieran Shanahan spent part of Saturday at the UNC-Virginia Tech basketball game sitting in the seats reserved for the governor's office.

McCRORY EXPLAINS HIMSELF, ON TRANSIT AT LEAST: Gov. Pat McCrory has a lot of explaining to do on a variety of issues he made public comments about in recent days. One is transit in Charlotte. McCrory says he was only trying to give the city of Charlotte “helpful advice” last week about not pursuing a streetcar, and wasn’t meddling in local affairs, as some Democrats have charged. “I considered it being helpful,” McCrory said in an interview Saturday with the Observer, his first public statements the matter. “I was just giving information as an advocate for the city. It was nothing I hadn’t said in the public. I had said it on (the television show) Flashpoint.”

A PLEDGE: Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and other Democrats have questioned whether McCrory or his supporters have pressured council members to reject the plan, due to the streetcar’s inclusion. McCrory said that’s not true. “I will continue to stay out of local issues,” he said.

McCRORY LOSING TOP STAFFER SO SOON: Communications Director Chris Walker is leaving just days after McCrory faced a firestorm for his comments regarding higher education and liberal arts courses like gender studies. Walker was in the process of buying a house in Raleigh but blamed the decision to leave on the inability to sell his house in Tennessee as well as the pending arrival in April of his second child. McCrory has given the press a cool reception since his remarks, refusing to take questions at two recent public events and attacking the media for mischaracterizing what he said.

McCRORY'S LETTER TO THE EDITOR: With the editorial pages still filled with reaction to his higher education comments, McCrory penned his own letter to the editor this weekend.

TAX EVANGELIST: Charlotte Sen. Bob Rucho is at the center of the tax debate pushing a plan to eliminate the state's income taxes. With missionary zeal, Rucho has shared his slides with audiences around the state, Jim Morrill writes in the Charlotte Observer. Read more here.

DEBUT: A new N.C. political TV show debuted Sunday. See clips from Plain Talk Politics' interview of Rules Chairman Tim Moore and Democrat Kelly Alexander here.

MORE TORUBLE FOR HARTSELL: In case you missed it -- A lawyer for state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell Jr. says he is still gathering documents related to campaign payments that state elections officials want to review. Meanwhile, new and conflicting information emerged about one of those payments.

FRACKING COMMISSION TO MINIMIZE PUBLIC INPUT?: The fracking commission is raising fresh questions about its commitment to citizen participation after an outspoken commissioner publicly denounced an advisory group for becoming too influential and “too big for their britches.” Commissioner George Howard wants the commission to clamp down on a “grandstanding” stakeholder panel that was set up to represent property owners, environmental groups and others.

NEW U.S. SENATOR RECALLS N.C. ROOTS:From the Winston-Salem Journal -- "William “Mo” Cowan has “rich and positive” memories of growing up in southern Yadkinville and attending Forbush High School in East Bend, and he also remembers seeing Ku Klux Klan members passing out literature and marching at his school over an interracial couple dating.
“I hope those recollections don’t cast a shadow on Yadkin County,” Cowan said."

McCRORY'S $5B PROBLEM: From AP -- Building repairs are just one example of what the Republican governor says are worse-then-expected problems as he tries to keep a campaign promise to fix what he called a “broken government.” McCrory and legislative leaders say they’ll be hard-pressed to find additional cash for maintenance next year beyond what state law requires and through finding other savings in state government because revenues aren’t projected to be robust. While a state panel says North Carolina could borrow more and still remain within guidelines to keep its credit ratings high, many Republicans at the legislature are wary about the state incurring more debt. The Department of Administration says the cost of correcting deficiencies within the state’s portfolio of nearly 12,000 buildings covering 117 million square feet is estimated at more than $5 billion — an amount equal to one-fourth of the state’s annual operating budget. Some structures are falling apart or are just plain dirty.


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Getting Ready To Dial 911

"McCRORY EXPLAINS HIMSELF, ON TRANSIT AT LEAST: Gov. Pat McCrory has a lot of explaining to do on a variety of issues he made public comments about in recent days. One is transit in Charlotte. McCrory says he was only trying to give the city of Charlotte “helpful advice” last week about not pursuing a streetcar, and wasn’t meddling in local affairs, as some Democrats have charged. “I considered it being helpful,” McCrory said in an interview Saturday with the Observer, his first public statements the matter. “I was just giving information as an advocate for the city. It was nothing I hadn’t said in the public. I had said it on (the television show) Flashpoint.”

"A PLEDGE: Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and other Democrats have questioned whether McCrory or his supporters have pressured council members to reject the plan, due to the streetcar’s inclusion. McCrory said that’s not true. “I will continue to stay out of local issues,” he said."

I smell something here; totally different than the Gov's comments. You should run this on the front page.

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