Wednesday, December 17, 2014

AP story becomes fodder for Pat McCrory fundraising appeal

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory's office hit back Wednesday after an Associated Press story reported that he had taken what it described as ethically questionable payouts from an online mortgage company, of which he was a director.

His campaign hit back too -- with a fundraising letter.

"We need your help," the campaign emailed supporters. "The media is at it again. This time it's the Associated Press. Yesterday they released a story attacking the Governor with false claims and innuendo made by anonymous people with no regard to the facts....

"Help Governor McCrory fight back and ensure that the citizens of North Carolina know the real story. Donate today ..."

The appeal was signed by "Team McCrory."

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest ramps up 2016 campaign

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is pushing his re-election campaign into a higher gear with a Thursday night fundraiser in Charlotte.

Forest's fundraiser will be at the Morehead Inn. Sponsors include former lawmaker Ed McMahan, former GOP mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock and Catawba County beer distributor Dean Proctor.

Spokesman Hal Weatherman says the event is the first event in a concerted push to get ready for the 2016 campaign. Forest had just over $20,000 in his campaign account at the end of June.

"We're completely focused on running for re-election," Weatherman said.

Forest has deep Charlotte ties. He's the son of Sue Myrick, the former mayor and longtime member of Congress. He grew up in town and attended McClintock Middle School and East Mecklenburg High. As a teen, he moved to Columbia but eventually returned and studied architecture at UNC Charlotte.

His fundraiser comes the same week another Charlottean, Gov. Pat McCrory, released a video that effectively kicks off his own re-election campaign.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Jennifer Roberts gets a jump on mayoral race

Democrat Jennifer Roberts is getting a headstart on next year's mayoral race -- and on her neighbor -- with a Wednesday night fundraiser.

Roberts is the former Mecklenburg commissioners' chair who announced for mayor in May. She also lobbied city council members for the job after the resignation of Patrick Cannon, who last month entered federal prison for corruption.

Roberts lost out to fellow Democrat Dan Clodfelter, who happens to live two doors from her on Clement Avenue.

Roberts' had already raised more than $59,000 through June. Her Wednesday night fundraiser at Chima Brazlian Steakhouse is attracting some prominent Democratic donors, and at least one Republican.

Names on the invitation include longtime donor Sarah Belk Gambrell, former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler, businessman Bertram Scott, restaurateur Stefan Latorre and lawyer Bill Diehl. There's also attorney Scott Syfert, a Republican.

Dan McCorkle, Clodfelter's longtime campaign manager, said he expects the mayor to file papers this week for a new committee. That would allow him to raise money for an expected mayoral run. A former state senator, he could transfer $42,000 from his state account to a local committee.

Clodfelter and Roberts could be joined in a race by one or more City Council Democrats.

"I think the party’s pretty split at this point," says Liz Johnson, a former county Democratic chair and a Roberts supporter. "But I think Jennifer maybe has shown proven leadership for a longer period of time and has a style a good number of people are comfortable with.”

Friday, November 21, 2014

In speaker's race, Leo Daughtry hopes second time's the charm

The last time Republican Rep. Leo Daughtry ran for N.C. House speaker, it precipitated one of the biggest legislative upheavals in state history.

Now the Smithfield lawyer is running again. He's one of six GOP lawmakers in a race that House Republicans will decide Saturday at a meeting in Asheboro.

In November 2002, Republicans had just won a slim, 61-59 majority in House elections. A split GOP caucus nominated Daughtry for speaker. Not everybody was happy.

Critics, led by GOP Rep. Richard Morgan, continued to criticize Daughtry while scheming with Democratic leader Jim Black. With the caucus still divided in late January, Daughtry stepped aside in the name of unity. Republicans chose veteran Republican George Holmes as would-be speaker.

But the bottom was falling out for Republicans. Rep. Michael Decker made a surprise party shift, giving Democrats one more vote. And Morgan cut a deal with Black that made them co-speakers and sparked a long-running feud within the Republican Party.

Turned out Black had given Decker cash, campaign contributions and favors to switch parties. Both would go to prison on federal corruption charges. Morgan became a pariah to many Republicans and lost his seat in a 2006 GOP primary.

Monday, November 17, 2014

White smoke for House Republicans Saturday?

Republican House members gather in Asheboro Saturday to pick a new leader, a process that one legislator compares to another celebrated conclave.

"It's like electing a Pope in the Sistine Chapel," says Rep. Charles Jeter, a Huntersville Republican. "You cast secret ballots. Nobody knows how you vote.

"The only thing is, we don't put up white smoke when we're done."

Six Republicans, including three from the greater Charlotte area, are running to replace GOP Speaker Thom Tillis, who was elected to the U.S. Senate. Republicans will meet at Randolph County Community College Saturday to nominate a candidate for speaker and elect other caucus leaders.

Running for speaker are Republican Reps. Tim Moore of Kings Mountain, John Blust of Greensboro, Justin Burr of Albemarle, Leo Daughtry of Smithfield,  Bryan Holloway of King and Mitchell Setzer of Catawba.

Like the cardinals in Rome, Republicans may have to go through several ballots before anyone gets the 38 votes needed. The winner would face a vote of the full House in January, though with 74 votes, a GOP candidate with broad party support will be the odds-on favorite.

Jeter is among other Republicans running for leadership positions. A candidate for GOP conference leader, a job that would give him oversight of the next elections, he's the only one running unopposed.

For Jeter, re-elected this month with 52.5 percent of the vote, that's welcome news.

"I'm certainly grateful that my election is unopposed," he says. "Being in a Democratic district where you're always going to be opposed, (it's nice) to finally be in an election unopposed."

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Spanish-language ad targets Tillis

My colleague Franco Ordonez reports that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis is the target of a new Spanish-language ad directed at North Carolina Latino voters.
The 30-second spot, that will be aired starting Friday, by liberal advocacy group People for the American Way says Tillis “doesn’t respect the values of our community.” It also targets his positions on education and minimum wage.

“Republicans like Thom Tillis keep blocking opportunities for us, and that kind of disrespect we will not allow!,” the ad states in Spanish.
Latino voters make up less than 2 percent of the electorate in North Carolina, but some experts say they could be the difference in the close race between Tillis, the Republican state House speaker, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
The ad makes no reference to immigration. Tillis opposes a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, while Hagan supported a Senate bill that provided such a path. She, however, opposed efforts by President Obama to issue an executive order that would allow more undocumented immigrants to remain and work in the country legally.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hagan stimulus money focus of new $1 million ad campaign

Freedom Partners Action Fund plans to launch a $1 million ad campaign targeting Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan over allegations that her family benefited from the 2009 stimulus program.

The group, funded by the conservative Koch brothers, announced the ad campaign Thursday.

The ad is the first broadcast response to a story first reported last month by Politico.

Politico cited public records in reporting that JDC Manufacturing, a company co-owned by Hagan's husband, Chip, got nearly $390,000 in grants and tax credits under the stimulus law, which Kay Hagan voted for.

Hagan's campaign said at the time that Hagan was not involved with the business and consulted an ethics attorney, who advised that there was no conflict of interest.

But the Freedom Partners' ad says, "The Hagans got richer and we paid the price."

Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner says the family did not profit from the transaction.

"Speaker Tillis and his allies are desperate to say or do anything that will keep the focus off of his failed record in the General Assembly," Weiner said Thursday. "So now they are resorting to false attacks on Kay's family. Kay's only involvement was to seek the opinion of an ethics attorney who found it would be appropriate for her husband's company to receive these grants just like hundreds of other North Carolina companies did."

Caitlin Legacki, a spokeswoman for JDC, said the federal money was monitored by inspectors and auditors. "Kay Hagan had no role during any of this process,: she said. "Under no circumstances did JDC profit from these grants and any assertion otherwise is false."

A 12th District first? A Republican outraises the Democrat

Republican Vince Coakley did something no Republican has done before in the 12th Congressional District: Raise more money in a quarter than his Democratic opponent.

Coakley raised $172,000 in the third quarter to Democrat Alma Adams' $158,000, according to new reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. He also had more cash on hand at the end of September, $105,000 to Adams' $64,000.

Not that money is a big advantage in the district, which is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Adams, a state legislator from Greensboro, has raised more for the entire election: $666,000 to Coakley's $291,000. But she had a competitive primary.

Both are running for the seat held for two decades by Charlotte Democrat Mel Watt, who left to head the National Housing Finance Agency. Each of their names will actually appear on the ballot twice. Once to fill Watt's unexpired term and once for a full term.

Adams and Coakley, a Charlotte broadcaster, are about as far apart on issues as candidates can be. Both tapped national fundraising bases.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guess who's not coming to the next Senate debate?

Four U.S. Senate candidates are expected to debate Friday night at UNC Charlotte. And none of them are named Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis.

Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh and three write-in candidates will appear at what's billed as an "all inclusive" debate sponsored by a group called Free the Vote North Carolina.

Hagan and Tillis were invited. Organizers never heard from Hagan; Tillis claimed a scheduling conflict.

It will be the second debate appearance for Haugh, who stood alongside the majority party candidates in Wilmington last week. It will be the first for write-in candidates Barry Gurney, John Rhodes and David Waddell.

Organizers say the debate is to show voters all their choices. That's what elections should be about, says Brian Irving, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party. "We have a democracy," he says, "All the choices available to (voters) should be allowed to speak.”

The event is trying to make a statement about a system that not only keeps some candidates out of debates but often off the ballot.

Some debate organizers, including media organizations, require a candidate to hit a certain polling number to participate. And North Carolina's ballot is notoriously hard to get on.

To get on the ballot, for example, a new political party or unaffiliated candidate has to submit petitions signed by 2 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Now that's 89,366.

Last year a bi-partisan group of state House lawmakers introduced the Voter Freedom Act of 2013, a measure that would have launched a study of ways to ease ballot access. It passed the House 109-5 but went to the Senate Rules Committee where it died.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Republicans doubling down on Thom Tillis

With polls tightening in North Carolina's Senate race, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is betting another $6.5 million on Thom Tillis.

The NRSC is investing that much to help Tillis on top of the $3.9 million already committed.

The move comes as groups are making last-minute adjustments to their spending strategies three weeks before Election Day. A week before the new N.C. investment, the NRSC canceled $850,000 in ads on behalf of Michigan Senate candidate Terry Lynn Land.

The NRSC bump still leaves it behind its Democratic counterpart. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent over $16 million on behalf of Sen. Kay Hagan, and just announced another $1 million.

The NRSC investment comes as internal tracking polls and outside surveys show the race is tightening. Real Clear Politics shows Hagan with an average lead of 1.5 points, smaller than just a few days ago.

After getting pummeled in TV spending for months, Tillis and his allies pulled even and even a little ahead in mid-September, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Lately they've been hitting Hagan with a series of ads that highlight the time she missed a Senate security hearing to attend a Park Avenue fundraiser.

"Even though Sen. Hagan has persistently led in the polls, it’s never been anywhere close to a lead too big to come back from," said Tom Jensen, director of Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling.

"For instance in 2008 we found her lead go from 3 points to 7 points just in the final week of the campaign. If Tillis could make a similar gain over the next 3 weeks that would be enough to erase the 3-4 point lead Hagan has in the polls right now. We’re finding that the overall national climate right now is trending in the GOP’s direction."


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Can Sean Haugh make Senate candidates play nice?

Sean Haugh watched this week's U.S. Senate debate in a bar with the sound down, just the way he liked it.

“I have absolutely no interest whatsoever," he said shortly before Tuesday's debate. "One of the reasons I don't watch it it I already know what they re going to say."

But Thursday night the Durham Libertarian and pizza delivery man will join Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis on the set of Wilmington's WECT studio for the third and probably last Senate debate.

Haugh doesn't plan to get into the personal attacks each of the main party candidates leveled on each other during their first two debates.

"I don’t feel any great need to talk about them" he said. "I think people are already familiar with all the reasons not to vote for them. They've done a good job of that."

In fact he thinks he might help change the tone.

"I hope my presence might help them play nice with each other,” he said.

Haugh has lingered in the single digits in most Senate polls. A USA Today/Suffolk University Poll released Wednesday had him at 4 percent. He had 7 percent in an NBC poll released Sunday.

So he could be a spoiler in what's expected to be a close race. But a spoiler for whom?

Conventional wisdom has been that he would take votes from Tillis. But an Elon University survey suggested just the opposite.

The online survey gave 763 voters a choice of a ballot with all three candidates and one with just Hagan and Tillis. It found that Haugh would siphon twice as many votes from Hagan as from Tillis.

Tillis, the survey directors concluded, "should be thankful that Haugh is on the ballot."

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

5 things to watch in tonight's Senate debate

Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Kay Hagan meet Tuesday night in their second debate. Here are five things to watch for. The hour-long debate starts at 7 and will be shown on most broadcast stations.

1. How will they handle the inevitable question on gay marriage?

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to gay marriage in North Carolina and other states, and couples could be tying the knot this month. Tillis opposes gay marriage and stood up for the constitutional amendment banning it. Now does he appeal to his base or to the middle that may be ready to accept what looks like the inevitability of same-sex marriage?

Hagan supports gay marriage, despite the fact that the amendment passed in 2012 with more than 60 percent of N.C. voters supporting it.

2. How will Hagan respond to criticism of her attendance at meetings of the Armed Services Committee, especially given the rise of ISIS?

And will Tillis say what he would do differently than President Obama in dealing with the militants?

3. How much will each candidate criticize the other over alleged conflicts of interest? Both have found themselves, or their families, the subject of recent stories.

4. How much of the debate will focus on the record of the Republican-controlled General Assembly as opposed to national issues?

5. How will Tillis address his opponent? In their first debate, he called her "Kay," sparking criticism from some. He alluded to that Saturday when he spoke at an event with Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

“Sen. Fisher – if you don’t mind me calling you Deb – I know some senators like titles,” he said.

Monday, September 15, 2014

New poll is latest showing Hagan with edge in Senate race

A new poll released today is the third in a week showing Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan with an advantage over Republican Thom Tillis in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race.

The latest came this morning from American Insights, a Republican-leaning firm in Raleigh. It found Hagan leading Tillis 43 percent to 34 percent among registered voters, with Libertarian Sean Haugh pulling 5 percent. The margin of error is 4.6 percentage points.

The 9-point lead is Hagan's largest in any recent poll.

"The race has unmistakably shifted towards Sen. Hagan in recent days," says polling director Pearce Godwin, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole. "This poll is a continuation and affirmation of the very recent trend in Sen. Hagan's direction. But there is still a lot of time left on the clock, and I would be surprised if this race does not revert to a jump ball between now and November."

Godwin says it appears to be a result at least in part of the barrage of Democratic ads against Tillis. Hi polls also suggest that Hagan was helped by her first debate with Tillis. Fifty-seven percent of likely female voters and 50 percent of like male voters said she performed better, according to the AI poll.

On Thursday a Rasmussen poll of likely voters showed Hagan leading Tillis 45 percent to 39 percent, while 6 percent favored somebody else and 9 percent were undecided.

A Survey USA/Civitas poll released the same day showed Hagan ahead 46 percent to 43 percent, with Haugh taking 5 percent.

Nate Silver's 538 blog took note of those two polls last week.

"The two polls together moved Hagan from a 45 percent underdog to a 61 percent percent favorite," it said. "With Hagan now leading, the FiveThirtyEight model does not project a single state in which President Obama won in either 2008 or 2012 to switch from Democratic to Republican control."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New ads urge minorities to vote -- for Republicans

Minorities have been the Democratic Party's most reliable voters in North Carolina and around the country. Now supporters of Ben Carson are trying to change that.

The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee is spending $300,000 on ads on radio stations geared to African Americans and Hispanics. It's spending another $230,000 on ads in Louisiana. The ads, which start in most markets today, target Democratic U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu.

The ads seek to persuade minority voters that Republican positions on  energy, abortion and education are more in line with their values than those of Democrats.

"Minority voters for 60 years have only heard what the Republican Party stands for from Democrats, and they haven't been kind descriptions," says Vernon Robinson, a Winston-Salem Republican and  campaign director of the draft Carson committee. "Democrats have been running ads that say Republicans want to kill your mom and your dog."

Robinson says the ads are designed to chip away at support for Hagan, who's in a tight race with Republican Thom Tillis.

"Even minor shifts in minority participation are significant in a close race because Kay Hagan doesn’t have any minority voters to give up,” he says.

Carson has said a Republican takeover of the Senate -- the GOP needs a net gain of 6 seats -- would encourage him to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

A retired neurosurgeon, Carson is also author of "One Nation," which currently sits atop the New York Times bestseller list.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tillis isn't only Republican pushing contraception changes

Republican Thom Tillis caused a few eyebrows to rise Wednesday night when the subject turned to contraception.

Debate moderator Norah O'Donnell asked Tillis and Democrat Kay Hagan what they thought of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which said a company that objects for religious reasons can deny employees contraceptive coverage.

"I believe contraception should be available probably more broadly than it is today," he said. "I actually agree with the American Medical Association, that we should make contraception more widely available. I think over-the-counter oral contraception should be available without prescription. If you do that, you will increase access and reduce barriers for having more options for women for contraception."
Turns out Tillis isn't the only GOP Senate candidate pushing the over-the-counter alternative.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Republican Senate candidates in Colorado, Virginia and Minnesota have also broached the idea of over-the-counter sales. The Times said the positions "bear the strong scent of election-year choreography."
Like candidates across the country, Tillis and Hagan are fighting over the women's vote.
Tillis said the Hobby Lobby decision was about religious freedom, not contraception.
Hagan disagrees with the ruling.
"Kay Hagan, I suspect, with the support that she's getting from the pharmaceutical industry, may have a variety of reasons to not put it on the counter," Tillis said, "but that's how you reduce costs and improve access."

Tillis suggested Hagan might oppose over-the-counter sales because of her support from the pharmaceutical industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, she's gotten over $425,000 in contributions from the industry.

Tillis' comments on contraception caught even supporters by surprise.

“We were a little surprised by the over-the-counter idea on contraception," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition. "But look what's happened in the race. Kay Hagan has tried to paint Thom Tillis as being extreme. She's  gone out there and created this false narrative that he’s trying to limit women's access to contraception.....
"Making contraception available over the counter is is a bad idea. But what we know about Tillis is he has a record of being pro-life. He’ll be a supporter of pro-life values in the Senate."

Melissa Reed, a vice president of Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund, said Tillis's proposal "masquerades as a solution, but it is not one."

"It's not surprising that Thom Tillis is trying to muddy the waters: 57 percent of women voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who opposes allowing employers like Hobby Lobby to refuse to cover birth control."

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Charlotte teacher hits Thom Tillis in new Kay Hagan ad

Justin Ashley,  a Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher who last year wrote an open letter to House Speaker Thom Tillis, is now featured in an ad for Tillis's U.S. Senate opponent, Democrat Kay Hagan.

A year ago, Ashley wrote to Tillis in the form of an op-ed in the Observer. In it, he explained how he had benefited from a North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship, a program the legislature ended. He implored Tillis to keep it.

 "I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do. I come from a low-income family, so this scholarship gave me the opportunity to go to college to become a teacher," he says in the new Hagan ad. " “This is an opportunity that no teacher will ever have again in this state. That scholarship, it was eliminated
under the last budget because of the cuts from Mr. Tillis.”

Like the other ads in the series, he says Tillis "has taken the money we need for our schools and given it to billionaires."

That's an allusion to last year's tax cuts, which Republicans credit with boosting the economy while Democrats say disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

Ashley, who won N.C. teacher of the year honors last year, is one of four people -- including a Charlotte student -- featured in four separate Hagan ads about education.

Says Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin: "Kay Hagan is hitting the panic button and running a negative campaign because she can’t defend her record of voting with Obama’s failed liberal agenda 95 percent of the time. ... Thom Tillis cut taxes and created opportunities for every North Carolinian taxpayer, which has helped middle-class families struggling under the Obama-Hagan economy get back on their feet. Under Thom’s leadership, education funding has increased every year, and teachers recently received historic 7 percent average pay raises."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sanders may offer choice for Democrats in 2016

Four years ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders made headlines with a passionate, 8-hour speech on the Senate floor lambasting the Bush-era tax cuts and bemoaning the growing gap between rich and poor.

Now Sanders, one of the Senate's two Independents, is taking that message on the road. On his itinerary:  The early presidential primary states of Iowa and South Carolina.

On Wednesday Sanders was in Charlotte to accept an award from the American Legion during its national convention. Sanders, who chairs the Senate's Veterans Affairs Committee, was honored with the Legion's Patriot Award.

"The cost of war doesn't end when the last shots are fired or the last missiles are launched," he told the Legion audience. "The cost of war continues until the vet receives all of the benefits that he or she has earned."

But when Sanders' met with me, it wasn't veterans that he wanted to talk about. It was the same subject he talked about four years ago and one he's cared about for a long time.

"The main issue that I have is that in America today the middle-class is disappearing while the gap between rich and poor is growing wider," he said. "...We need more people in politics working for ordinary people and not just the top 1 percent."

Sanders, who turns 73 in two weeks, says he hasn't made up his mond about 2016. And he's under no illusions about the prospect for a Democratic Socialist from Vermont getting the nomination, particularly in a field that could include a well-funded Hillary Clinton.

"I realize I'm not a household name," says Sanders, who refuses corporate donations though he has taken money from organized labor.

But he thinks there might be an opening for somebody with the right message. And he's going around the country seeing if audiences agree.

"I think the average American is a lot more frustrated with the establishment than a lot of people perceive," he says. "I think there's receptivity for voices that are going to speak for a working class that is being battered."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Will financial anxiety among older voters swing election?

A new poll by the AARP shows a lot of financial anxiety among North Carolina voters who are retired or planning to be.

And that anxiety could have implications for the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis. Exit polls in 2010, the last off-year election, showed more than a quarter of N.C. voters were seniors.

How bad is the anxiety? According to the survey of voters 50 and over:

-- 68 percent worry that their income falls behind the cost of living.

-- 67 percent of non-retirees  -- and 55 percent of retirees -- are 'more worried and concerned' than hopeful about meeting their financial goals.

-- 60 percent worry about paying too much in taxes.

-- 79 percent of those over 50 worry about saving enough for retirement.

Pollsters, a b-partisan team from North Star Opinion Research and Hart Research, found voters split evenly between Hagan and Tillis.

But they also found only 39 percent like the job being done by President Barack Obama. that's still nearly five times the 8 percent approval of Congress.

The poll reflects something else. It's why voters can expect to hear each candidate claim the other is a bigger threat to Social Security or Medicare.

Monday, July 14, 2014

No joke: Did Pat McCrory give Jon Stewart too much credit?

When Pat McCrory was the guest on Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins Monday morning, a caller asked him if there was any progress on the film credit issue.

Film credits are under fire by lawmakers who want to change the system, which now give production companies a 25 percent credit up to $20 million on qualifying expenses.

A Senate proposal would award grants totaling $20 million, a third of the total of $61 million that the incentive program paid out last year. The House budget contains a similar provision but leaves final amounts to be negotiated with the Senate.

McCrory wants a system of tax breaks more closely tied to film-related jobs and specific expenses. On Monday he said the Daily Show had received $400,000 in credits when it filmed in Charlotte during the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
But the state Film Office lists a different amount. Citing a report from the Department of Revenue, it shows that the Daily Show got a credit of $273,346.
The governor's office could not be reached.
Supporters say the industry provides 4,200 full-time and over 15,000 part-time jobs, with economic benefits in the millions.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hagan and Tillis dine together in Charlotte -- sort of

Attorney Steve Hockfield had just arrived at the Charlotte City Club Friday for a fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. When he got off the elevator, he was surprised to see people wearing name tags with the logo of her Republican opponent, Thom Tillis.

Turns out both candidates were there for simultaneous fundraising luncheons.

Separated only by a floor, they greeted supporters and introduced special guests. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan was there for Hagan. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stumped for Tillis.

Neither of the candidates met in the hallway or the elevator.

Said Tillis: "She apparently booked her fundraiser there after we did."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Debates are hot topic in Senate debate

Debates over debates are a ritual in political campaigns. Who asks the questions? How long for rebuttals? How high the podium?

The debate in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race hasn't even gotten that far.

Negotiators for Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis have yet to get to the table themselves.

Hagan laid out her debate plan in a May 29 letter to Tillis. She proposed accepting a request for a televised debate from the N.C. Association of Broadcasters.

"Once this debate has been finalized," she wrote, "I look forward to setting a productive and mutually agreed upon public debate schedule with mainstream media and moderators with ties to North Carolina."

On Thursday Paul Shumaker, Tillis's debate point person, emailed his counterpart Jim Phillips proposing a meeting to establish a schedule of debates. At least a half dozen other groups have asked to host one.

"The Tillis Campaign sees this process as one that is much larger than just finalizing debate details with the N.C. Broadcasters Association," he wrote. "In fact I assumed that as a seasoned political veteran you would see the value of a planning process that finalized a complete debate schedule through an inclusive process with all the organizations rather than an exclusive process with just one."

Phillips responded Thursday afternoon.

"It's clear we all agree that we need a spirited and productive public debate schedule like we proposed in our initial letter... Based on my experience negotiating debates in the past, I believe we will have the most effective process if we sit down with the Broadcasters and come to an agreement on all the many details involved in setting and conducting a debate. The first step will make it easier to determine the rest of the public debate schedule."

Shumaker says voters deserve many chances to the differences between the candidates, especially in a pivotal election nationally. He thinks Hagan is trying to avoid that.

"It appears this is about her trying to avoid multiple debates," he says. "We don't want an exclusive process where we're showing favoritism to one group over another."

There's no debate-ducking, according to Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner.

"We're open to as many as it takes to make sure voters have the opportunity to see the contrast between her record of putting North Carolina voters first and Speaker Tillis's record of putting special interests first."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Airport bill creates turbulence between colleagues

It didn't take long for Mecklenburg County's newest senator to get into a virtual shouting match with its senior senator.

It started when Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, publicly criticized a bill involving Charlotte's airport earlier this month. He called the bill, which came as a surprise to city officials as well as most lawmakers, a "sneak attack." That didn't sit well with Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican and a chief sponsor of the bill.

Neither did Jackson's subsequent fundraising appeal.

"Moments ago, Senator Rucho and the Republican majority slammed a bill through session that could strip Charlotte of its airport," he wrote in an email to supporters. "Right now the court is settling the matter. Apparently Senator Rucho has run out of patience. We all know this isn't about policy -- it's about control."

That prompted the following exchange between the two senators.

-- "Senator Jackson, we need leaders to tell the truth," he emailed back. "The court and the FAA are at an impasse and need clarification of the law. Shame on you for politicizing this most important economic issue for our community. The people of Mecklenburg county deserve better."

-- "Sen. Rucho, Our concerns about this bill were completely appropriate. 1) There was zero consultation with any of the stakeholders. 2) The bill was plainly substantive and not technical. 
3) The whole thing just smelled awful. I’m genuinely ready to work with you on this and any piece of legislation that impacts our county.  I think you’d find that I’m a flexible and reasonable person.  If there’s ever anything you’d like to collaborate on, my door is always open."
-- "Your political exploitation of an important economic issue and your fund raising letter is what smells," Rucho responded this week. "You apparently speak before you know the facts especially since you were not engaged in the original debate. You can't ignore the pay to play actions of the former mayor and the on going investigation by the FBI. There is already a pay to play connection with the airport taxi service and there is no telling who else will be implicated.
"It is all about insulating the airport from pay to play politics and cronyism but maybe that does not concern you."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Did Mayor Clodfelter part ways with law firm?

Dan Clodfelter has worked for Moore & Van Allen since 1978, long before he was elected to the Charlotte City Council, the state Senate and most recently as mayor.

But it now appears Clodfelter is no longer with the firm.

His name is not listed among the professionals on the firm's web site.

Google Clodfelter and the firm and one result that pops up is a Moore & Van Allen press release that touts his 2013 recognition by a legal magazine as a "Leader in Law." Click on the link and you get this: "The link you followed .... does not correspond to a valid address on this web site."

Through a spokeswoman, Clodfelter has repeatedly declined to talk about his relationship with the firm.

Ernie Reigel, chairman of the firm's management committee, did not return repeated calls.

As a lawyer with the firm, Clodfelter was scrupulous about avoiding potential conflicts involving his or his firm's clients.

Now, according to the city attorney, he doesn't have to disclose his employment until the next disclosure forms are due in January.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Mecklenburg senator wins office, loses job

When Democrat Jeff Jackson was declared the winner of a special party election to the N.C. Senate last month, he thanked his supporters, hugged his wife Marisa and whispered in her ear.

"Honey, I just lost my job," he told her.

Winning election cost Jackson his job as an assistant district attorney in Gaston County, a position he'd had for three years.

Jackson, 31, was elected by Mecklenburg County Democrats to fill the term of Dan Clodfelter, who left the Senate after his own selection as mayor of Charlotte following Patrick Cannon's arrest and resignation.

Jackson said the Administrative Office of the Courts had originally told him the Senate wouldn't interfere with his day job. But four days before the party vote, an official told him it would.

At issue is Article 6 Section 9 of the state constitution. It says, "No person who holds any office or place of trust or profit under the United States or ... under any other state or government, shall be eligible to hold any office in this State that is filled by election by the people."

"I knew that it was a risk," Jackson says. "But ... I had decided that even if it as going to cost me my job, it was still worth it.”
As a senator, Jackson makes $13,951 a year. A captain in the Army National Guard, he also gets Guard pay.

Now he's looking for someone willing to hire somebody who has a demanding, if part-time job in the General Assembly as well as annual two-week Guard duty.

Still, he saw his income drop almost 75 percent. That's one reason he told his wife with the applause still in the air after he was elected.

"I figured that was the safest time to tell her," he says.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Alexander high on hope for pot bill

State Rep. Kelly Alexander is nothing if not persistent.

The Charlotte Democrat is sponsoring yet another bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana. His bill, HB 1161, would amend the state constitution by adding a new section called the "Medical Cannabis Protection Act."

Alexander has sponsored medical marijuana bills before.
"I can see attitudes changing," he said this week in his legislative office.
Pot is legal for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state. And a total of 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, have medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
To Alexander, pot, at least for medical use, is no longer a Cheech and Chong fantasy, even in North Carolina.
A Republican, Rep. Pat McElraft of Emerald Isle, is co-sponsoring a bill along with Charlotte Democrat Becky Carney and others that would allow the use of hemp oil, derived from the cannabis plant, for treatment of certain disorders.
Not many people give Alexander's bill a chance. At least not yet.
"The trend is going in my direction," Alexander says. "I talk to conservatives. I talk to liberals. I talk to old folks. To people of all political persuasions united in their belief that the law needs to change, and where we are now just doesn't make any sense."

Monday, June 02, 2014

25 years ago, ex-mayor witnessed Tiananmen Square

Twenty-five years ago this week Chinese soldiers opened fire on protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. A future Charlotte mayor was there to witness it.

Richard Vinroot had been in China a few hours when he and a pair of friends found themselves in a in the square with 200,000 pro-democracy protesters.

Nearby, he saw protesters attack a soldier standing atop an armored personnel carrier, beating him and setting him on fire. Then he heard shots fired over the crowd. "I realized I was in a country that was about to have a revolution," he would recall later.

Vinroot was a city council member in the country with a delegation to visit Charlotte's Sister City, Baoding. They didn't expect to witness history.

Bill Guerrant, then the city's public information director, remembered feeling the tension from the moment they arrived. Troops packed the airport. Crowds lined the road as their bus took them to the Peace Hotel a few blocks from Tiananmen Square.

Despite orders not to leave the hotel, he and Vinroot snuck out with a friend and made their way toward the crowded square. There they stayed on the periphery, close to the walls of the Forbidden City.

They heard what Guerrant would remember as a strange vibration under their feet. They turned to each other. "Tanks," they said simultaneously.

At least hundreds died that night in Tiananmen Square. The next day the Charlotte delegation rode buses past bodies and charred vehicles on their way to the Great Wall. They went on to Baoding, where TV images of the Beijing riots were muted.

Years later, Vinroot would recall it a "never-never land."
"TV portrayed (Tiananmen Square) like a minor uprising," he later recalled. "It showed pictures of soldiers helping old ladies across the street."

Another Charlotte Republican also remembered the night.
For years, former Gov. Jim Martin kept a framed photo on the wall of his offices at Carolinas HealthCare System. It was the iconic photo of the lone protester standing in the path of a Chinese tank.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Start of session means -- fundraising time!

Tonight North Carolina's Republican and Democratic lawmakers will take part in what's become a ritual in Raleigh -- the pre-session fundraisers.

Republican House members will gather in a downtown restaurant, GOP senators in a private home. House Democrats will convene in a downtown office building and senators in a nearby wine shop.

Joining them all will be the usual cohort of lobbyists and political action committees, many making a circuit between events.

Once the short session begins Wednesday at noon, lawmakers will no longer be able to take PAC contributions. (They can never take them from lobbyists.)

The fundraisers will fill coffers for this fall's elections, with both sides looking to maximize their financial leverage entering the general election.

Already Tuesday one group boasted a record take. Josh Thomas, director of the House Republican Caucus, said the caucus is sitting on $1 million on hand -- the earliest it's ever reached that milestone.

"It’s the first time we’ve ever had it this early in the election cycle," Thomas said. "It really is a show of unity among our members."

The million dollars represents a significant boost since April. The caucus then reported $679,000 in the bank at the end of March.

House Democrats, by contrast, have about $430,000 on hand, according to caucus director Casey Wilkinson.

Senate Republicans have a war chest almost four times bigger than that of their Democratic counterparts.

Jane Pinsky, director of the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, can live with the fundraisers. But she doesn't want to have to wait until the next reports are due in July to see who's influencing legislators in a session that could be over by then.

"My coalition does not have an opinion on the amount of money in the game, but we do think it all needs to be disclosed," she said. "And if they're going to take money tonight they should disclose it before session starts tomorrow.

"I can make airline reservations on my phone. I can print airline tickets on my phone. There's no reason why they couldn’t disclose before session starts tomorrow from who they are accepting money tonight, or at least from whom they are accepting large contributions.”

The law banning legislators from accepting money from lobbyists won't apply to one Mecklenburg County lawmaker.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Huntersville, can accept lobbyists' money for his U.S. Senate campaign. Because Tillis has pledged to keep his job as speaker this session, critics say it opens the possibility for potential conflicts of interest.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Subtle swipes at Graham as ex-rival endorses Battle

Democrat George Battle III trotted out the endorsements Wednesday, with one ex-rival and a handful of other notable names backing his campaign in the 12th District Congressional District.

Battle won the endorsement of James "Smuggie" Mitchell, who dropped out of the 12th District race earlier this month. They were joined at a news conference by state Rep. Rodney Moore, former District Attorney Peter Gilchrist and Mecklenburg Commissioner Vilma Leake.

Battle, a political newcomer, sought to deflect concerns over his lack of experience in a race that features longtime legislators Alma Adams and Malcolm Graham.

"The race is not about what happened in the last 25 years," he said, "it's about what's going to happen in the next 25 years."

Without naming Graham, he went on to say he rejects the idea that "you an go hold an office, not show up, not be effective" and be qualified for another office. Graham, a senator, has been criticized for absences and for ranking by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research as the 44th most effective of 50 senators.

Battle supporters took other indirect swipes to a reporter.

Moore, a state House member who works with Graham in Raleigh, called Battle "the best person we can trust to go to Washington."

And Mitchell, Graham's former city council colleague, said Battle has the background and skills to go to Congress. Reminded that he served alongside Graham, he said, "In a way that should tell you something, too."

Graham recalled that Mitchell supported his opponent when he first ran for the Senate in 2004.

"I know who my supporters are," he said. "I know where my currency comes from, it comes from the people. James Mithcell supported Fountain Odom and here I stand. I wish everyone could support me. That's not possible. All I need is 51 percent to support me. I think the record speaks for itself....

"It's just Smuggie being Smuggie. He's all over the place.... And as related to George Battle, when you don't have a record yourself you have to talk about somebody else's record. If he would take his community service to the bank it would be returned 'not sufficient'."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Malcolm Graham campaign HQ gets 'Happy'

U.S. Rep and Civil Rights veteran John Lewis got happy. So did Malcolm Graham.

Graham, a Charlotte Democrat running for Congress in the 12th District, released a video Friday grooving along with his staff and Johnson C. Smith volunteers to "Happy," an infectious tune by Pharrell Williams.

The video shows Graham and the rest of his crew dancing around his campaign headquarters on a "stress-free Friday."

"This is serious stuff," he said of the race. "You've got to have fun."

The song has inspired a lot of videos, including one that showed the 74-year-old Lewis dancing to the tune.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Congressional games: Varsity vs JV?

Tuesday's 12th District congressional forum was already about an hour old when two candidates started with the metaphors.

"We're not giving out a lifetime achievement award," George Battle III told the audience at the Tuesday Morning Forum.

Battle, a first-time candidate, was talking about state Sen. Malcolm Graham, who had touted his experience in the legislature, the community and on Charlotte City Council.

"I don't want a lifetime achievement award," Graham shot back. "If we want to send experience (to Washington) now is not the time to send the junior varsity." After all, he said, experience counts.

Then it was Battle's turn.

"Sen. Graham has talked about experience," he said. "He's right. I don't have any experience compiling one of the Senate's worst attendance records over the last 10 years (and) one of the worst effectiveness rankings.

"It's always been my philosophy that I'd rather be a starter on the junior varsity than on the bench on the varsity."

New rankings by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research show Graham ranked 42nd of 50 senators in attendance last session, missing 10 of the 106 legislative days. The same survey ranked him 44th in effectiveness.

(Graham pointed to an NAACP scorecard, which gave him a grade of 96 for the last session.)

Graham and Battle were the only ones of seven Democratic candidates to show up at the forum. Among the missing" James "Smuggie" Mitchell. The forum came a day after he lost a bid to be appointed mayor, a job that went instead to Sen. Dan Clodfelter.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tillis holds another D.C. fundraiser

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, attacked by some GOP rivals for his ties to the party establishment, heads to Washington again next week for a Capitol Hill fundraiser.

Tillis will be the guest at a fundraiser at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Monday afternoon event will be headlined by Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Thune of South Dakota and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

The event will help fill Tillis's coffers, at $2,500 per political action committee and $1,000 per person.

It's not Tillis' first D.C. fundraiser. In December Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky helped host an event at the home of Geoffrey Gray, a lobbyist who, according to The Examiner, has represented Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Republican strategist Karl Rove, hardly a favorite of tea party conservatives, also has headlined Tillis fundraisers.

Greg Brannon, one of Tillis's seven GOP primary opponents, has sought to make an issue of Tillis's establishment ties. Brannon has been backed by tea party favorites, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

Another Republican candidate, Mark Harris, has his own fundraiser coming up Saturday. Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will headline a Raleigh fundraiser for the Charlotte pastor.

Update: Kevin McLaughlin of the NRSC says the group does not endorse in primaries, and its Capitol Hill building is open to any GOP candidate.

Monday, March 17, 2014

'Bunny Money' heiress dies at 103

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon was American royalty. The heiress to two family fortunes, she helped Jackie Kennedy design the White House Rose Garden and even entertained the Queen of England at her Virginia farm.

Mellon, who died Monday at 103, also had a cameo role in one of North Carolina's biggest scandals.

She was the source of more than $750,000 funneled to former Sen. John Edwards for his unsuccessful presidential campaign. The fund, dubbed "Bunny Money" by the Edwards' campaign, became part of the testimony at Edwards' 2011 trial for alleged federal campaign law violations. He was acquitted on one charge, a mistriail was declared on five others.

Mellon sent the money through Bryan Huffman, an interior designer from Monroe who had befriended the heiress a decade earlier. The money was eventually used to cover up Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter.

"She didn't particularly condemn people for having affairs," Huffman testified during the trial. "But she thought maybe you should pay your girlfriend yourself."

Huffman, 50, saw Mellon on Saturday when her family members called and invited him up to her northern Virginia farm to say goodbye.

He says Mellon bore Edwards no hard feelings.

"She had a good time with the notoriety, I think and she forgives people everything," he said. "She was magnanimous toward him. People that took advantage of her have to live with themselves.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

'Machine-Gun Social' candidate is back

It was four years ago that then-Republican Tim D'Annunzio first ran for office with a  controversial, if memorable, run for Congress in the 8th District.

Now the Hoke County businessman is back -- as a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate. He faces a rare Libertarian primary with longtime activist Sean Haugh.

In 2008 D'Annunzio ran for the Republican nomination to take on then-Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell. He first made headlines with a "Machine-Gun Social" fundraiser, with a raffle that offered as a prize an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

D'Annunzio, a self-made millionaire, spent over a half-million dollars on the race. At one point only four Congressional candidates in the country had spent more.

He was far out of the GOP mainstream. On his blog, he called President Barack Obama, Sen. Kay Hagan and other top Democrats "liberal leftist God haters." Strongly anti-abortion, he invoked Hitler in once attacking the president's support of abortion rights. "Obama," he wrote, "will be responsible for killing many more people before he is finished."

He had little love for reporters, whom he described as "demon beasts." During an interview on WBT radio, he told host Keith Larson that "there's a special place in hell for people like you." Larson called D'Annunzio "a delusional, deranged human being," and still the interview continued.

At one point then-GOP chairman Tom Fetzer took the unheard of step of calling D'Annunzio "unfit for public office at any level." He lost to Republican Harold Johnson in a runoff.

In 2011 D'Annunzio led a tea party insurgency against former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes' bid for state GOP chairman. In 2012, he lost soundly to Democratic Rep. David Price as the GOP nominee in the 4th District.

A former Army paratrooper, D'Annunzio made a fortune making body armor for U.S. troops. In 2010 he was given to marshal language in the campaign and in a blog he called "Christ's War."

That could offer a contrast to Haugh, his Libertarian opponent.

Haugh said he plans to use his campaign "to urge people to turn away from violence as a solution for political or social problems.... So I'll be talking about ending wars both real and metaphorical."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New ad by outside group slams Tillis

A liberal PAC is the latest outside group to weigh into North Carolina's U.S. Senate race.

The Patriot Majority USA PAC is spending $500,000 on an ad that accuses Senate candidate Thom Tillis, the state House speaker, of siding with health insurance companies and special interest groups.

The PAC is the second outside group to air ads against Tillis in the race. On the other side, Americans for Prosperity, supported by the conservative Koch brothers, has spent more than $6.5 million on ads attacking Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan.

Hagan has criticized the Koch brothers and unidentified special interests for running such ads. Patriot Majority, like AFP, doesn't disclose its donors.

Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw called out Hagan.

"While Kay Hagan denounces the use of outside funds against her, liberals in DC are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars falsely attacking Thom Tillis," he said. "Where is Kay Hagan's statement condemning these ads? Liberals in DC know that Thom Tillis is the candidate to beat Hagan."

Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said Hagan has criticized not only the AFP ads but what she calls the Koch brothers' conservative agenda. Hagan supports the Democratic-sponsored DISCLOSE act that would require more transparency from political groups.

"Kay was named the most moderate Senator (by the National Journal) because she always puts North Carolina first unlike Thom Tillis who has pushed an outside, special interest agenda that cut education spending and lowered taxes for the wealthy," Weiner said.

Weiner said has "no control over outside groups."

The Patriot ad is the latest to attack Tillis, who faces a handful of other Republicans in the May 6 primary. Tillis has out-raised his rivals with the support of GOP leaders in Washington.


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