Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Pray-in targets lawmakers, Foxx to join Obama administration

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AT LEGISLATURE: Clergy and students will participate in an act of civil disobedience Monday at the Legislative Building "in response to the collective acts of the legislature," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP. The action, from 5 p.m.- 6 p.m.,  will be a "form of a pray-in," Barber said. The House convenes at 4 p.m., the Senate at 7 p.m. The NAACP has opposed the legislative actions reducing unemployment benefits, state House approval of photo voter ID, and other legislative measures. 

FOXX TO TAKE OBAMA POST: President Barack Obama on Monday will nominate Mayor Anthony Foxx to be secretary of transportation, a White House official said Sunday on the condition of anonymity. The nomination of Foxx, whose city hosted last year’s Democratic National Convention, would make him the only African-American selected for a Cabinet opening in Obama’s second term. (More below.)

***Good morning. Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo -- a full roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis below. ***

UPDATED: TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The Senate will consider a measure on the floor today to designed to streamline school regulations and give school districts more flexibility, among a half-dozen other measures, including legislation targeted at Blue Cross Blue Shield's health care plans. The House will not take any votes Monday. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his schedule.

FOXX CONFIRMATION: Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who studies federal nominations, said he didn’t expect Foxx to have a difficult nomination process. As a mayor, Tobias said, Foxx has less baggage than he would as a Congressman, for example. “Sometimes it’s better not to be in the Washington morass,” Tobias said. “He has a different perspective. He has the perspective as a mayor from a progressive state. And that’s valuable.”

He said Foxx will probably be questioned about his lack of direct transportation experience. But Tobias noted Foxx has relevant experience leading a city that is a major transportation hub that includes one of the country’s busiest airports and the junction of two interstate highways. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee could host hearings on Foxx’s nomination as early as late May or June, Tobias estimated. The full Senate will have to confirm him. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairs the committee, which has only one member from the Carolinas – Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. If confirmed, Foxx could be on the job by July 4, Tobias said. Full story.

FOXX MAKES BIG LEAP: If Anthony Foxx becomes the next Secretary of Transportation, he will oversee a vast bureaucracy that manages the nation’s highway programs, aviation, railroads and transit – a fact that has raised hopes that the Charlotte mayor could steer federal money to North Carolina. Full story.

MSNBC FEATURES N.C. VOTER ID FIGHT: State NAACP President Rev. William Barber appeared on MSNBC's UP with Steve Kornacki this weekend to push back against the Republican-led plan to implement a voter ID requirement to vote at the polls in North Carolina. Watch it here. Gerrick Brenner, the executive director of Progress NC, an advocacy group fighting the measure, also got some face time on the issue.

LYNN WHEELER FOR U.S. SENATE? The former Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem tells the Charlotte Business Journal that she is considering a bid against Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014. "There are people who are urging me to run, and I’ve told them I will think about it," she told the paper, which also found new domain names had been bought. Her possible candidacy suggests Republicans may look to a woman to run against Hagan and a large primary fight with so many potential candidates in the mix at this point. Full story.

N.C. PRE-K WINS PRAISE BUT FACE CUTS: North Carolina had one of the best pre-kindergarten programs in the country in 2011-12, but it also experienced one of the nation’s biggest drops in enrollment, according to a report released Monday. Nationally, state funding for preschool dropped by $548 million in 2011-12 compared with the previous year, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Adjusted for inflation, it was the largest one-year drop on record. The budget for N.C. Pre-K was cut 20 percent and enrollment dropped 19 percent, the report states. By percentage, the enrollment reduction was the largest in the country. Full story.

WHERE DID $1 BILLION GO? During the past four years, as Democrats and Republicans battled over sales and income taxes, higher tuition at state universities and the loss of 4,350 teachers in public schools, a substantial amount of money slipped through the fingers of state leaders.

It didn’t disappear in one big sweep. The money stayed out of the state treasury, with little debate or notice, through scores of breaks in the state’s tax code. Some of the cash vanished in a string of new breaks granted by legislators, while still more evaporated because of loopholes approved years ago that continued to grow. The cost this year, according to an estimate by the state Department of Revenue: $1 billion.

A SPECIAL DEAL: Two years ago, Berger cut the kind of deal that prompts people to talk about reform. Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, quietly maneuvered through the legislature a $400,000 annual tax break for a business that had given the N.C. Republican Senate Committee a $15,000 donation a year earlier. The political action committee of Alex Lee Inc., the Hickory-based company that owns the Lowes Foods supermarket chain, gave the donation in April 2010. Berger put it to use to help gain a Republican majority in the Senate in the election that fall.

At the time, the company was in danger of losing a tax break it had won earlier for creating jobs. After initially expanding, Alex Lee had started cutting jobs. The next year, Berger steered a bill through the Senate that protected the tax break, giving a sponsor, state Sen. Linda Garrou, a Winston-Salem Democrat, a list of talking points. She had received $4,000 from the PAC the previous year. But Berger couldn’t get the bill through the House. And so, in the waning days of the 2011 session, Berger’s staff arranged for an amendment to an unrelated House bill that would allow Alex Lee to continue receiving the tax break.

The state senator who handled the amended bill, Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, said he did not realize the amendment had been included. The bill drew questions in the House but still passed and became law. It will save Alex Lee $2.1 million in corporate income taxes over five years. Berger said in an interview that the tax break would boost the Hickory area because it required Alex Lee to invest at least $4 million in its facilities. Berger said the local senator, Austin Allran, sponsored the original legislation. Full story.

CHRISTENSEN: RURAL N.C FACING MORE HURT From his column -- "Here is government logic at work. If there are any two communities in North Carolina that don’t need extra help, they are Cary and Charlotte – two of the fastest growing and most prosperous places in the state. So state and local governments are spending about $35,000 per job in incentives – or $94 million total – to help bring MetLife, the insurance giant, to both cities.
"Rural North Carolina, meanwhile, is hurting. Things are so bad that 47 counties have lost population over the past two years or so. The state’s response? North Carolina is contemplating cutting programs and institutions and shifting policy in ways that will likely further damage the rural parts of the state." Full story.

JAMIE HAHN FUNERAL: Someone placed an oversized picture of a smiling Jameson “Jamie” Kirk Hahn in the pulpit of the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church before the start of a memorial service for her late Saturday morning. But an even more impressive portrait of Hahn emerged during the service in downtown Raleigh: an idealistic, passionate woman with a loud, unrestrained cackle of a laugh. Someone who would not let the cynicism of modern politics prevent her from believing that the power of government could make a difference in the world.

IN THE PEWS: John Edwards, Brad Miller, David Price, Ken Lewis, among others. Full story.

A BOND THAT BROKE: Their friendship began in the Pentecostal church, teenage chums in a fading furniture town. But it wasn’t always an obvious friendship. Nation Hahn had a zeal for liberal politics even as a teen, a rarity in the foothills of Caldwell County. He took Advanced Placement classes at Hibriten High. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He moved quickly into Democratic Party circles after college, rubbing shoulders with big names. Jon Broyhill grew up conservative, graduating from Harris Chapel Christian Academy. He didn’t go to college. He worked at Lowes Foods in Lenoir after high school. He declared bankruptcy at age 23, owing more than $32,000. Full story.

BURY THE NEWS -- McCRORY'S 6 PM FRIDAY PRESS RELEASE: Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday evening announced he was replacing all members of the State Board of Elections. The appointments take effect Wednesday – just as an investigation into political contributions made to McCrory and other top Republicans’ officeholders’ campaigns is getting underway. Three Republicans and two Democrats will replace the current three-Democrat, two-Republican board. The board’s majority represents the governor’s party.

NEW MEMBERS: Josh Howard, an attorney who handles federal and criminal law at a Raleigh firm, enters with extensive experience in the area of ethics and elections. He was a junior counsel in the Independent Counsel’s Office in Washington during the investigations of President Bill Clinton, including the inquiry into his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also served at the Department of Justice and assisted in the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state Republican Party recommended Howard to fill a vacancy on the Board of Elections in 2011, but Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue refused to seat him and asked for more names.

Another new GOP appointee is Paul Foley, a 35-year-old lawyer from Winston-Salem. He is the general counsel at the state Republican Party, an unpaid position elected by GOP activists at the party’s state convention. He served as an at-large alternative delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention. The third GOP nominee is Rhonda Amoroso, the New Hanover County GOP party chair. One of the Democrats, Maya Kricker, is the current chair of the Chatham County Board of Elections. The other Democratic appointee is Joshua Malcolm, the current chair of the Robeson County Board of Elections. Full story.

WHO WILL LEAD THE NEXT DEMOCRAT PARTY? This time Jim Hunt will not be available to rescue the North Carolina Democratic Party. It is a role that Hunt, the former four-term governor, has often played, bailing out Tar Heel Democrats when they hit troubled waters. He did it in the early 1970s and again in the early 1990s, restoring Democratic rule after Republican governors. But approaching his 75th birthday next month, Hunt has aged out of the political rescue business. The Democratic Party, many of whose leaders gathered Saturday for its annual Jefferson-Jackson Day fundraising dinner at the Raleigh Convention Center, is in deeper trouble than in the past.

DEMS PLAN MODEST GAINS TO MAKE MAJORITY: State Democratic Chairman Randy Voller, mayor of Pittsboro, said Democrats are devising a plan to recapture the legislature over three election cycles – though they hope to accomplish the task sooner.
“We are not going to get it all back in 2014,” Voller said Saturday. “So the gains we are going to have to make are over the 2014, 2016 and 2018 (elections) in the House and the Senate.” Rep. Larry Hall of Durham, the minority leader, told the Democratic breakfast Saturday that the goal in 2014 is to win back seven House seats from Republicans. That would cut the GOP margin in the House from 77-43 to 70-50. Full story.

ONCE TOP DOG, HOSPITALS NOW FIGHT FOR TRACTION: Stung by a series of unusual setbacks at the General Assembly, the North Carolina hospital industry is launching a public relations campaign aimed, in part, at protecting revenues and staving off competition from lower cost surgery centers. In a social media initiative targeted at lawmakers and their constituents, the N.C. Hospital Association says that hospitals are “fighting for their economic survival.” The association and some of the state’s bigger hospitals also are hiring more GOP lobbyists to make inroads with the Republicans who control the state House, Senate and the governor’s mansion. Full story.

MEDICAL EXAMINERS' WORK CHALLENGED: N.C. medical examiners are supposed to investigate suspicious and violent deaths, but the state’s former chief medical examiner for years was aware of careless work that raised the risk of faulty death rulings. At issue in the hearing before the N.C. Industrial Commission is whether the state should pay damages to grieving families for egregious errors by medical examiners. Full story.

PROGRAM TO FIGHT PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE: A nonprofit program credited with reducing prescription drug overdose deaths by 69 percent in one North Carolina county is going statewide this year with a $2.6 million grant from state and private sources. Community Care of North Carolina will oversee the expansion of Project Lazarus, which has helped bring down Wilkes County’s soaring overdose death rates, said Michael Lancaster, director of behavior health for Community Care, a network of medical providers and services. Full story.

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