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Morning Memo: Senate GOP questioned on legality of power grab

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: No votes in the House on Thursday but the Senate is expected to give final approval to a bill to purge the state's boards of any Democratic appointees. Gov. Pat McCrory hosts legislators for a private breakfast and attends two closed-door events in Wake County. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller is hosting a morning press conference to lay out his vision for the minority party amid GOP reign.

TEA PARTY GROUP MAY SCREEN GOP U.S. SENATE CANDIDATES: Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said his group may begin to support candidates in Republican primaries, the Daily Caller reports. The move could have implications on North Carolina's U.S. Senate race in 2014 -- which is expected to draw a robust field to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan. Americans for Prosperity is a tea party group that once held close ties to Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, Art Pope, who led the national board and donated significantly to the organization.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis of N.C. politics below.***

ART POPE FUNDS CLIMATE SKEPTICS: The Institute of Southern Studies published a new report looking at all the money McCrory's budget director gives to groups that question global warming. (For McCrory, it's an open question, too, and his environmental chief is an open skeptic.) From the story: "According to a Facing South analysis of the latest annual tax filing from the John William Pope Foundation, Art Pope's family fund gave almost $5.7 million from July 2011 through June 2012 to conservative think tanks and advocacy groups that work to deny the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and driven at least in part by human activities like burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. That represents 61 percent of total giving for the year by the Pope Foundation, which draws its wealth from the Pope family's discount-retail chain, Variety Wholesalers."

PERSONNEL FILE: Former Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco joined the N.C. Zoo Society's Board of Directors for a three year term. The private, nonprofit organization raises money for the N.C. Zoo -- and may play an even larger role in managing the property under legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

LABOR GETS INVOLVED IN IMMIGRATION ISSUE: The North Carolina chapter of the AFL-CIO announced their support Wednesday for comprehensive immigration reform "that protects immigrants and American workers." The group adopted a resolution calling on Congress to pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. “This morning we stand here together to say that immigrant workers have suffered long enough,” said MaryBe McMillan, state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, in a statement.  “It is time for the labor movement to do the right thing, to organize and fight back, because when we allow one group of workers to be exploited, all workers suffer.”

WAKE COUNTY BOARDS CLASH, HIRE LOBBYISTS:The struggle between Wake County’s two most powerful governing boards has escalated to the use of hired guns, with the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education each planning to spend tax money on lobbyists to press their cases at the state legislature. The opposing moves are novel, if not unprecedented. More here.

COUNTY BOARD HIRES FETZER:Joe Bryan, Republican chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said the commissioners had hired their own lobbyist Monday to push for the changes. Bryan said Wednesday that Tom Fetzer, the former Raleigh mayor and past state Republican Party chairman, will be paid $5,000 a month – for a maximum of $25,000 – to lobby legislators on the commissioners’ goals. “My reaction is, if we’re going to keep score, we’re going to win,” Bryan said Wednesday in a meeting with News & Observer reporters and editors.

LEGALITY OF GOP SWEEP QUESTIONED: Concerns over a far-reaching bill allowing Republicans to clear the decks of mostly Democratic appointments to key boards and commissions delayed the Senate’s approval on Wednesday, but only for a day. The Senate is expected to repeat its 33-16 vote along party lines Thursday, and then it will go to the House. Republicans brushed aside warnings that a provision in the bill to eliminate 12 special superior court judgeships might be unconstitutional, since the General Assembly is not allowed to remove a judge except by impeachment. GOP lawmakers said this is different because it is eliminating 12 positions, not targeting a specific judge.More here.

UNC SYSTEM HIGHER ED PLAN GREETED WITH CONCERN: In the midst of a shifting higher education landscape and a heated political argument about liberal arts versus job training for college students, UNC system leaders will chart the future course of the state’s public universities this week. The UNC Board of Governors will get its final look Thursday at a blueprint, months in the making, that will guide the strategy for the 17 public campuses through 2018. The board is scheduled to vote on the plan Friday.

The 121-page report’s goals include turning out more graduates more efficiently, investing in several “game changing” research areas, pushing aggressively into online learning and increasing accountability by publishing student outcomes and testing students on what they learn.But faculty members across the system have raised major concerns about the proposals and have argued for months that they have not had enough representation in the process.More here.

McCRORY'S VOCATIONAL BILL MOVING:From AP: A bill working its way through the North Carolina legislature would create new high school graduation requirements focused on vocational training intended to help students not headed to college find jobs. The measure backed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory sailed through a legislative committee Wednesday without opposition and appears headed for a quick vote in the Senate. More here.

BILL NAMED AFTER CHILD ABUSE CASE: Nine months after authorities say a Union County toddler was severely beaten by her stepfather, a new bill was filed in the state legislature Wednesday that could more than double sentences for some child abusers. More here.

LAWMAKERS TRY TO STRIP CHARLOTTE CONTROL OF AIRPORT: Concern that the city of Charlotte will no longer manage Charlotte Douglas International Airport “wisely” is one factor behind the move to transfer control to a regional authority, one lawmaker said Wednesday. Rep. Bill Brawley, who plans to spearhead the effort with Sen. Bob Rucho, a fellow Matthews Republican, said the effort comes in response to concerns of “senior business leaders.” More here.

LAWMAKER INTRODUCES 'BRANDONCARE': From the News & Record's Travis Fain: Sate Rep. Marcus Brandon filed legislation this week to provide taxpayer-funded health care to everyone in North Carolina. The idea stands no chance of passing the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Brandon, D-Guilford, knows this. He said he’s trying to make a point: If GOP legislators don’t like federal health care reform, fine. But now that it’s the law of the land, don’t break it apart without a backup plan.More here.

WINSTON-SALEM TO CRACK DOWN ON VIDEO SWEEPSTAKES: Front page in the Journal -- Winston-Salem law enforcement agencies say they are preparing to crack down on video sweepstakes halls that violate a state gaming ban, with nearly 200 machines targeted to be shut down by the end of the month. More here.


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