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Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 8:37am


TO: Gov. Pat McCrory and John Skvarla

RE: Senate Bill 729 “Coal Ash Action Plan”

Your disposition of Senate Bill 729, which passed with veto-proof majorities in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, presents a unique opportunity for you, governor, to demonstrate leadership and independence. The legislation raises serious questions about separation of powers among the branches of North Carolina’s government and whether you, and governors that come after you, will have the authority they need, and that’s mandated by the state Constitution, to effectively carry out your duties. While you’re clearly uncomfortable in formal, “stick-to-the-script” situations, this proposal will require discipline if it is going to work. You have expressed some very valid concerns about the Coal Ash legislation the General Assembly sent you in its closing hours. While you were probably a bit premature in going to the press to talk about your reservations before it had been fully hashed out by your legal staff and experts at DENR, the criticism you’ve taken can be overcome. Here’s what you might consider doing sometime before the Sept. 20 deadline to act:

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 8:55am

MONEY TALKS, WHO’S LISTENING? -- One of the biggest challenges any political campaign faces is figuring out how to dominate the conversation – determining what issues get the most attention and who’s views are driven home to the voters. It’s why all that money is raised and all those ads flood the airwaves. On Tuesday, the Washington Post declared: “North Carolina is the race on which the Senate will pivot. … If you assume that Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota are gone for Democrats and that Arkansas and Louisiana are going to be tough, then the majority maker for Republicans looks increasingly like the swing state of North Carolina. … Spending by outside groups suggests they think North Carolina is the pivot; it's the race where the most outside money has been spent to date this cycle.” All that outside money – more than $16.5 million and it isn’t even Labor Day -- can be a blessing or a curse for candidates and their campaigns. For candidates short on cash, it can help keep their names and criticism of their opponents in the public eye. Campaign laws forbid, except in narrow cases, any coordination between the campaigns and these outside, independent, super PACs and flood of outside money. While often these outside groups take their messages from the theme and issues the candidates they favor are pushing, that isn’t always the case. The agendas of these outside groups aren’t always completely sync with the candidates they favor. With the mega tsunami of outside money coming into North Carolina, it could be a huge struggle for either Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis or Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan to get their message heard over the over the billion dollar bullhorns of the Koch brothers and others on the right and left. Currently, for example, the Tillis campaign is trying to stress education and the candidate’s boot-straps background. Meanwhile Carl Rove’s American Crossroads is flooding the airwaves with messages about balancing the federal budget – a distant third in priorities of voters according to last week’s USA TODAY North Carolina poll. As much of a struggle it will be for the two candidates to figure out how to dominate the discussion, that challenge will be even greater as they seek to navigate with, around and over the tens of millions these independent groups will be spending to press their message on North Carolina voters.

‘YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS, A …’ -- The political conventional wisdom (The Old CW) echoed “GOP glee” over incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s photo op with President Barack Obama. Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis’ U.S. Senate campaign asked: “Will a photo doom Kay Hagan?” There were plenty of snaps of the incumbent Democrat with the president Tuesday in Charlotte. But who else was in an uncropped photo – is that Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr? Who’s the guy giving Vice President Joe Biden a big hug a while back? And that same guy giving his pal Barack Obama a friendly slap on the back? Seems Hagan has some GOP company. Sure, Barack Obama isn’t the most popular political figure in North Carolina – with a 46 percent favorable rating in a recent USA TODAY statewide poll. Who might be less popular to stand beside? House Speaker Tillis recorded a 24 percent favorable rating in the poll; Gov. McCrory, a mere 38 percent.

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Monday, August 25, 2014 - 8:14am

Legislature addresses coal ash cleanup, safety (Rocky Mount Telegram) -- Creating legislation can be an ugly, contentious business, even when everyone is a member of the same party. Future legislatures probably will be asked to tweak and update the coal ash legislation of 2014. But passing a bill to address cleanup and safety was critical. It couldn’t wait. For that, North Carolina legislators are to be thanked and commended.

The Kochs' commercial appeal (Politico) -- The Koch brothers are showing up in so many campaign ads for Democrats, you’d think they were on the ballot. The commercials are full of images designed to make ordinary Americans bristle, from private jets to limousines to handshakes in dark rooms. They often feature the same images of Charles and David Koch in blazers and ties — portraits that could have appeared in the billionaires issue of Forbes magazine. And many of the ads point out that the wealthy industrialist brothers are behind rival ads that support Republicans. … Democrats’ decision to give the Kochs the Mitt Romney treatment highlights the degree to which the brothers’ unprecedented spending has upended American politics. This cycle, Koch-affiliated groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, are expected to spend up to a staggering $290 million to support conservative causes and candidates, much of it on advertising. … Senate Majority PAC, the main Democratic outside group trying to keep the Senate, has used the Kochs in its television spots in states including Michigan, Louisiana, Iowa and North Carolina. One ad it ran during the NCAA basketball tournament had a bracket showing a picture of the Kochs and the narrator saying: “A special interest bracket brought to you by the out-of-state billionaires the Koch brothers. They picked Thom Tillis to play for them. As speaker, Tillis passed a tax cut for the wealthiest while raising taxes on 80 percent of North Carolinians.”

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Saturday, August 23, 2014 - 9:01am

‘CAROLINA COMBACK’ OR ‘NORTH STATE STAGNATION?’ -- There’s hardly a road-side vegetable stand or machine shop that opens in North Carolina these days that Gov. Pat McCrory and his Department of Commerce don’t seize the opportunity for a news release or ribbon-cutting to announce new job creations. It’s seemed McCrory announces new jobs in the 10s or 20s while South Carolina announces them by the thousands. In the two years that McCrory’s been in office, even with the tax cuts enacted specifically to attract more industry and jobs, the number of new jobs announced has dropped 17 percent; the new job project inquiries dropped 16 percent; new projects announced dropped 8 percent; and total capital investment in new and expanded businesses has dropped 56 percent. Many of those in the Commerce Department who’d been involved in business recruitment in the previous administrations have been dismissed and not taken on by the new private enterprise that has taken over the state’s job-hunting efforts. It appears to be a high hill for the new enterprise to climb, not only making up for the ground lost the last two years, but also dealing with making up for jobs, in a variety of sectors including new energy and films, that will be headed elsewhere because of the elimination of various tax incentives and state assistance.

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Friday, August 22, 2014 - 8:43am

Hagan says coal ash bill doesn't go far enough (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan says North Carolina’s new coal ash regulations don’t go far enough in cleaning up Duke Energy’s toxic waste ponds. Her opponent, state Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, said the legislation would make the state a leader in dealing with the byproduct of burning coal for electricity. He said it would “help safeguard our water for future generations.” Hagan, a Democrat from Greensboro, said the state should require ash from every pond be placed in a “leak-proof area,” something the new law does not do.

Sierra Club: Coal ash bill falls short (Salisbury Post) -- N.C. Sierra Club response to final passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act: The legislature (Wednesday) gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash. … Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at 10 sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect N.C. residents and communities.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 9:35am

Environmentalists slam new coal ash bill (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- Critics of compromise coal ash legislation agreed to by North Carolina House and Senate conferees faulted the measure Wednesday for allowing the toxic material to remain in place at most of Duke Energy’s leaking dumps. The legislation requires the removal of ash within five years from the utility’s Asheville plant and three other facilities, but would let the material be capped in place at 10 other plants if they are deemed “low risk” by a new commission.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - 10:47am

Seeking help from the courts:

Last Thursday, in a Beaufort County Superior Court case that took place in Wilson, Judge Milton Fitch, Jr. granted the town’s request for a temporary restraining order, keeping Vidant Health and Pantego Creek, LLC, who objected to the ruling, from removing equipment from the building, shutting off the building’s utility service or demolishing the building, said Town Attorney John Tate.

“The town was concerned that equipment was going out of the building and they were preparing for demolition,” Tate said. “On Wednesday, a crane showed up at the hospital and that looked quite ominous to us so we filed for a temporary restraining order that will simply keep the hospital intact while we work out a solution.”

This conflict should force us to re-evaluate the way we approach the nexus of health care and the private sector. When your "business" has a major impact on the lives and health of a large percentage of the community, a P&L statement should not be sufficient evidence to plunge that community into a life-threatening crisis. This problem is screaming for a statutory solution, but I shudder to think what the GOP-controlled NCGA would come up with. They'd probably authorize Vidant to demolish Town Hall.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 9:03am

The N.C. Dept. of Commerce’s Division of Labor & Economic Analysis released the July monthly state employment figures Monday and the word is “up” -- as in higher than June’s. North Carolina’s 6.5 percent unemployment rate is higher than last month’s and still is higher than the national unemployment rate. That’s all stuff that can be found in typical accounts. Here are three facts about employment in North Carolina you won’t find in the usual coverage.

The only major sector experiencing a decrease in jobs over the last month as well as the last year – government. But you don’t need to tell that to folks at the public schools – particularly teacher assistants. Seasonally adjusted figures reveal a drop of 4,900 government jobs – from 710,100 a year ago to 705,200 for July 2014. When looking at stats that ARE NOT seasonally adjusted, the number of government employees in the last month, dropped from 684,300 in June to 608,800 – a 75,500 drop.

Workers are vanishing. While North Carolina’s population continues to grow, workers are disappearing from the labor force. A year ago, North Carolina’s workforce was 4,692,338. In July 2014 that number was 4,674,116. That means 18,222 people who once had jobs, or were looking for work, vanished. Imagine if the entire population of Clayton, Hendersonville, Morrisville, or Boone, just disappeared. One day they were here: contributing to the economy, playing, going to school, raising crops, and then a year later, poof and gone.

Manufacturing workers are taking home less pay. The average weekly hours for manufacturing production workers decreased 1 hour and six minutes in July compared to June – a drop to 43.8 hours. So, while average hourly wages increased a whopping 11 cents, to $16.79 an hour, those workers actually took home $13.65 LESS a week to an average $716.93.

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Monday, August 18, 2014 - 8:05am

Gerry Cohen, recently retired after more than 30 years as a bill drafter for the N.C. General Assembly, will be live on WUNC 91.5 Monday noon-1 pm (rebroadcast at 8 pm) as Frank Stasio's guest on "The State of Things."

Senate spoilers: 6 states to watch for third-party candidates (THE HILL) -- Spoiler alert: As both Democrats Republicans calculate their odds of a Senate majority, several third party candidates are complicating their math. Popular dissatisfaction with both parties — and bitter campaigns that are driving up candidates’ negatives on both sides — have helped boost third-party candidates in a number of states into the high single digits. Here are six races where third-party candidates could have a real impact on the election. NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heel State is similar to last year’s Virginia race — tons of negative advertising and two unpopular candidates, opening the door for a protest vote. Enter Libertarian Party nominee and pizza delivery man Sean Haugh, who despite almost no money has been pulling between 8 and 12 percent in most public and private polls. North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) may be able to pull some of those votes back from Haugh if he can unite a GOP base still somewhat split after the May primary. But Haugh is currently providing a home for some unhappy Republicans and right-leaning independents, making it harder for Tillis to catch up to Hagan, who’s had a lead in most recent polling. “In North Carolina [Haugh] could matter,” admitted one national Republican. “There are a lot of folks that haven't come around, they're still harboring ill will from the Republican primary and maybe haven't come around to Tillis yet. That doesn't mean that they un-persuadable though.”

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Sunday, August 17, 2014 - 8:45am


The sour, critical commentaries that are populating the editorial pages this weekend aren’t the only things causing some heartburn around the McCrory camp. In the coming days and weeks there are even bigger concerns looming.. Here are five questions that Gov. Pat McCrory, his brain trust, top DENR officials and his legal/communications team might be, are, or should be, pondering:

News reporters don’t wake up on sunny late spring morning and say to themselves: “We think we’ll toddle on down to the Ethics Commission and check out Ol’ Pat’s latest financial disclosure statement.” Someone, somewhere, made sure the news reporters knew what to look for and where.

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