Representative Pricey Harrison
House District 571218 Legislative Building
Raleigh, NC 27601-1096
919-733-5771
Pricey.Harrison@ncleg.net
GREENSBORO, NC  February 2, 2018 Rep. Pricey Harrison
 Greetings,

Elections

Judge Restores Partisan Primaries for Appellate Court Races

Resources: Judge Eagles’ Opinion

A federal judge decided Wednesday that partisan primaries must go ahead for North Carolina appellate court races in 2018, partially halting a state law that had canceled them this year. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro said there was no justification from the state or the Republican legislators who passed the cancellation law to hold only free-for-all general elections in November for the statewide judgeships.

 

But Judge Eagles refused to extend the preliminary injunction sought by Democrats to local trial court seats, saying Republican legislators offered “a legitimate government interest” in eliminating those primary elections because they’ve been debating whether to redraw election districts for District Court and Superior Court. Judge Eagles said no such interest exists to cancel primaries for three Court of Appeals seats and one Supreme Court seat up for election this year because those elections are held without specific geographic districts. Barring any last-minute appeal or further alteration of the law, appellate court candidates can begin filing with other nonjudicial candidates Feb. 12, with primary elections May 8. “The defendants have made no showing of any governmental interest supporting the abolishment of a mechanism to narrow the field in partisan appellate judicial races,” Judge Eagles wrote.

 

Republican legislative leaders said they were reviewing their legal options and criticized Judge Eagles, nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, for the decision. Judge Eagles was also on a three-judge panel that in January ordered changes to North Carolina legislative maps in time for candidate filing. A request by Republicans to block enforcement of that order is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Democrats argued that their party’s rights of association were damaged by cancelling the primaries because they helped voters rally around their preferred candidate to put on the general election ballot. Otherwise, they said, multiple candidates from the same party will be on ballots, with no way to determine which person is the party’s nominee. In 2014, 19 people ran for a vacant seat on the Court of Appeals. A state elections board found the race contributed to voter confusion and longer precinct lines, Judge Eagles’ ruling says. “The burden and likelihood of harm is not speculative,” Judge Eagles wrote. She wrote that the Democrats’ right to association was burdened but not that severely, referring to arguments by lawyers for Republican leaders and the state that there are methods beyond a primary for a party to choose a favored candidate.

 

For the trial court seats, state officials could reasonably conclude that holding primaries under current election districts for trial court seats would bring confusion if they approve new district boundaries, according to Judge Eagles. “The court concludes that the legislature’s explanation is both legitimate and sufficiently weighty to justify the one-time cancellation of the 2018 judicial primaries for Superior and District Court judges,” She wrote.  As reported by Gary D. Robertson, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

 

Here is a link to a column on judicial redistricting efforts by the News and Record’s Susan Ladd:

Susan Ladd: Judicial redistricting is another coup by cartography

 

 

State Board of Elections Ruling

Resources: NC Supreme Court Ruling

Gov. Roy Cooper wants the legal wheels to spin faster after the North Carolina Supreme Court tossed out laws governing the makeup of a combined state elections and ethics board, hoping that will let him seat a new elections board quickly. Gov. Cooper’s private attorneys asked the justices Tuesday to hurry up formalizing last Friday’s split decision that favored Gov. Cooper. The court’s majority opinion said lawmakers had gone too far by requiring Gov. Cooper to choose half of the members of the combined board from a list of candidates generated by the Republican Party.

 

Under legal rules, the justices’ order doesn’t get sent to the panel of three trial judges who initially heard the case until Feb. 15. Then those judges will issue their own ruling on how the majority opinion affects the challenged laws. But the governor contends that aquicker resolution is needed because candidate filing for Congress, the legislature, district attorneys and county seats starts Feb. 12. There’s currently no elections board in place — the combined board was vacant since last spring — so formalizing the ruling could help create one sooner, Gov. Cooper lawyer Daniel Smith wrote in a brief.

 

The elections board can be the final arbiter in campaign finance investigations and local voting site decisions. “We need to get moving on this because filing opens very soon and it’s important for us to get started,” Gov. Cooper told reporters.

 

The lower-court judges, however, could say whether any part of the elections and ethics law can remain intact. But the governor said he believes last Friday’s 4-3 decision means election and ethics board laws revert to what they were before the Republican-controlled General Assembly changed them. Under the old laws, there was a separate State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission. The governor’s party would hold three of the election board’s five seats. The setup of the combined eight-member board, a majority of justices ruled last week, prevented Gov. Cooper from effective executive election laws in the way that he wanted.

 

The General Assembly likely would have to pass laws to conform to the decisions of the Supreme Court and the three-judge panel. Rep. David Lewis, who helped shepherd the law that was the focus of the decision, said Tuesday that the Republican legislators would respond to Gov. Cooper’s request to the Supreme Court as soon as possible. Earlier this week Rep. Lewis said he didn’t believe what the justices wrote prevented lawmakers from trying again to combine the elections and ethics panels if they choose. He said lawmakers were meeting with their lawyers to “understand the best way to move forward.” As reported by Gary D. Robertson, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

 

In the meantime, The Insider’s Colin Campbell reports that the N.C. Republican Party has withdrawn nominations it made in April, 2017 to the combined State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. NCGOP General Counsel Thomas Stark sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday to tell him the party “rescinds its pending nomination” because “the Governor no longer has authority to appoint to this board until further action by the General Assembly or the trial court.”

 

 

North Carolina Mismanaged Itself Into Electoral Chaos

As the state prepares for 2018 campaign filing deadlines in February, congressional and Statehouse maps and even the district boundaries for the judges who handle garden-variety divorces and drunken driving cases are all in flux. Candidates for North Carolina’s 13 U.S. House seats are poised to run for the fourth election cycle in a row under maps deemed unconstitutional by federal courts. State legislature candidates don’t know who their voters are in at least nine districts. Judges have had their primaries canceled and are threatened with a constitutional amendment throwing them out of office at the end of this year.  Meanwhile, the state elections board charged with overseeing voting in the state has been vacant for seven months.  Margaret Newkirk of Bloomberg News has an excellent piece on the chaos in our state.

 

 

Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Explained

There are lawsuits against our Congressional lines and our legislative lines.  The bottom line is we will likely use the same (unconstitutional) districts for 2018 Congressional elections that we used in 2016.  For legislative districts, we will use different lines in most of the state.  We should have certainty about which lines next week, but the most likely outcome is we will use some districts drawn by a court-appointed expert and some districts drawn by the legislature.  If you really want to get into the details, NC Policy Watch has a helpful summary of the pending court cases.  As reported by Melissa Boughton NC Policy Watch.

 

 

Environment

 

Governor Cooper Urges Secretary Zinke To Hold Public Hearings on Offshore Drilling Outside of Raleigh

Resource:  Governor’s letter also urges an extension of the public comment period

Governor Roy Cooper urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to grant a 60-day extension on public comments on offshore drilling and seismic testing off of North Carolina’s coast. In the letter to Sec. Zinke, Governor Cooper also urged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold additional public hearings on the North Carolina coast in Kill Devil Hills, Morehead City, and Wilmington. Currently, the only public feedback session is set to take place in Raleigh as an “open house.”  I have signed on to a similar letter from elected officials across the state.

 

“This extension is necessary to allow for public hearings in coastal areas and to give the public, especially the people of eastern North Carolina, sufficient time to submit comments on offshore drilling proposed for nearly the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf,” Gov. Cooper wrote in the letter. He has called on the Trump Administration to grant North Carolina an exemption from offshore drilling and seismic testing and has encouraged North Carolinians to share their feedback with the Interior Department at (202)208-3100. At least 30 coastal communities have passed resolutions opposing drilling, joining hundreds of businesses and a bipartisan group of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation.

 

Following the President Trump Administration’s proposal to open the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling, bipartisan governors of coastal states spoke out in opposition. Days after the announcement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida would be exempted from the plan, citing the importance of tourism and the coastal economy to the state. Gov. Cooper previously submitted public comments opposing seismic testing and drilling off North Carolina’s coast and on January 20, 2018, he requested an official exemption for North Carolina in a call with Secretary Zinke.

 

 

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Fund

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring more than natural gas to North Carolina. It could bring legal headaches for Gov. Roy Cooper. The underground conduit will supply fuel for Duke Energy power plants and, according to its developers, shower local governments with $60 million in property tax revenues by 2025. But the 600-mile line also came with a footnote: a $57.8 million environmental mitigation fund, which Gov. Cooper, or anyone he delegates, will control. This detail was disclosed Friday, Jan. 26, when a key state environmental permit was issued by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. Now both opponents and supporters of the pipeline are questioning the fund. Some environmentalists who oppose the pipeline decry the fund as unethical and troubling. Free market advocates, who are all for the pipeline, are researching the possibility of a legal challenge to get the account declared illegal.

 

The state Supreme Court has declared at least two disputed funds to be unconstitutional in past years; in each case school systems argued that money paid into special environmental funds should instead have gone into the state’s Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, which is earmarked for schools. One of the cases, decided by the Supreme Court in 2005, was brought by six local school boards, including Wake, Durham, and Johnston counties, and resulted in a $120 million windfall to the schools. More recently, a legal challenge to an environmental fund created by a corporation was filed last year in Wake County by the conservative Civitas Institute and the New Hanover County Board of Education. It is currently pending in the N.C. Court of Appeals. None of the funds in these cases, however, were under the direct control of the governor.

 

“It sure looks like they’re buying the permit, by paying up this slush fund,” said Francis De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute in Raleigh, which supports the pipeline. “He’s going to give [the money] out mostly to groups that support his agenda, and in some cases groups that support him politically.”

 

Therese Vick, a social justice organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, expressed dismay that the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality issued the controversial permit as Cooper worked out a financial deal on the side. She said the organization she works for would not bid for grants from a fund that she deems tainted money. “It certainly raises ethical issues — selling a permit,” she said.

 

Gov. Cooper issued his own statement last week to announce the mitigation fund and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality referred questions about the fund to Gov. Cooper’s office. The purpose of the money is to compensate for any disruptions the pipeline causes to natural habitats, forest wildlife, and tribal Indian traditions — and to invest in economic development. “The amount of the fund was reached in negotiations, not through a formula,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said by email. “The fund can be used for [environmental] mitigation, renewable energy projects, extending distribution lines for natural gas, and other economic development projects.” Mr. Porter rejected the notion that the fund is a pay-to-play scheme or a quid pro quo. “The permit was not contingent on the fund agreement,” he said. “The permit went through the normal review process at DEQ and it was separate from the creation of this fund.”  As reported by John Murawski, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

 

 

Pipeline Challenge

In the meantime, a coalition of conservation groups has gone to court to challenge federal regulators’ decision to approve the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The groups announced Tuesday that they had filed a petition with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond contesting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to permit the approximately 600-mile natural gas pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline, which would run through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina say the agency’s approval process is flawed and didn’t adequately determine the true need for the project. Lead developer Dominion Energy has said FERC conducted an exhaustive and thorough review. The commission has a standing policy not to comment on court cases. The Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed the lawsuit on behalf of 11 conservation groups.  As reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

 

 

Duke Rate Increase

Utility analysts say that Uncle Sam’s new tax law means Duke Energy Carolinas will reap between $171 million and $210.5 million in added revenue each year and that should result in a smaller rate increase for its customers. The recently passed federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 slashes Duke Energy Carolinas’ corporate income tax rate by about 40 percent, from the federal government’s previous take of 35 percent to its new 21 percent share, said Brian Coughlan, a utility rate analyst in Wilmington who filed a report on the issue earlier this week with the N.C. Utilities Commission, which sets the prices that consumers pay for utility services.

 

“Their tax bill will go down. They’re asking for a large rate increase,” Mr. Coughlan said of Duke Energy Carolinas’ $647 million request. “All we’re trying to argue is, hey, in determining what their rates ought to be take that into account. They ought to get a smaller increase to account for the break they are getting on their taxes,” said Mr. Coughlan, who submitted his report on behalf of the N.C. League of Municipalities. He is a former engineer and manager at the defunct Carolina Power & Light Co., and he now runs a private utility billing, auditing, and rate consulting company. He is working as an expert witness for the league, which wants the utilities commission to help city and town governments by maintaining reasonable rates that communities pay for electricity to, for example, keep streetlights shining at night and water plants working around the clock. The Charlotte-based utility asked the utilities commission this summer for a rate increase that, if approved as submitted, would net $647 million more a year for its division that serves the Triad, much of the state’s midsection, and its westernmost reaches.

 

Coal ash cleanup has been the most controversial part of the proposal because it accounts for more than half the requested increase in annual revenue, including $135 million a year for cleanup work already completed and $201 million a year in future costs related to coal ash “compliance.” The grimy waste product created by the generation of electricity dominated the discussion at last week’s public hearing the utilities commission held at the Guilford County Courthouse to gauge public thinking on the proposed rate increase.

 

Mr. Coughlan estimated in his report that under the new federal tax structure, Duke Energy Carolinas’ corporate tax burden would fall from the current amount of nearly $448 million a year to the division’s new tab for 2018 of about $277 million a year, or a tax break of $171 million. The utilities commission’s public staff, in a report it also filed this week, has estimated that the new law would bring Duke Energy Carolinas an even greater windfall. The public staff, an independent agency that advocates for consumers in matters before the utilities commission, predicts that the new tax law should boost Duke Energy Carolinas’ annual revenues by $210.5 million.

 

In fact, the public staff — which does not comment on its findings outside of official forums — found a total of nearly $300 million in potential cuts to the rate increase as originally proposed, including the tax-cut windfall as the largest component. Coughlan noted that the Duke Energy Carolinas rate request now being deliberated was made this summer, well before the new tax bill took shape in Washington and was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

 

But the utility was mum last week on whether it agreed with the analysts’ theory that its proposed rate increase should be trimmed in line with its newly reduced tax obligations. “Our customers will see savings and other benefits resulting from the new tax law,” company spokeswoman Meredith Archie said Friday in an email. “We are currently determining the best path forward and will include additional details when we respond to our regulators’ requests next week.”

 

The utility’s response next week would be in answer to an order from Edward Finley, the chairman of the utilities commission, requiring a detailed report from each of the state’s public utilities on how they plan to react to the new tax law, Ms. Archie indicated. As reported by Taft Wireback, GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD.

 

 

Duke Tax Cut

The AP reports that Duke Energy Corp. says it’s ready to pass along part of its windfall from the new federal tax law to North Carolina rate-payers, but is urging caution because the law’s full effects aren’t fully understood. The Charlotte-based company on Thursday asked regulators to allow it to use some of its tax savings to reduce part of its current or future rate increase requests. The company isn’t specifying how much of nearly $275 million in tax savings it’s willing to pass along to customers. The electricity giant is in the midst of seeking double-digit rate increases for millions of North Carolina customers. Utility regulators around the country are considering lowering electricity rates after tax cuts reducing top corporate income tax rates by 14 percent took effect last month.

 

 

GenX Dumping

The company behind the spills of the chemical called GenX into North Carolina drinking water knew the chemical was dangerous but ignored its internal studies and dumped it into the water anyway, a new legal complaint alleges. The complaint was filed Wednesday as part of a federal class-action lawsuit started in October against chemical companies Chemours and DuPont, by attorneys for residents of southeastern North Carolina. It also contends the company lied to government regulators about what it was doing at its plant near Fayetteville. The complaint alleges the companies “knew that these chemicals were extremely dangerous” but nevertheless “dumped these chemicals into the air and water surrounding the Fayetteville Works plant, simply to avoid the expense of taking safety precautions.”

“It seems that every day we learn more about the danger these substances pose and the extent of DuPont’s and Chemours’ callous disregard for the lives of thousands of North Carolinians,” Ted Leopold, one of the attorneys leading the class action, said in a news release from the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm and the Susman Godfrey law firm.

 

In December, attorneys for the companies wrote in a court filing that their accusers “have not shown (and cannot show) any urgency or irreparable harm.” The companies have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

 

It’s not only outside lawyers launching serious allegations against Chemours and DuPont. The state Department of Environmental Quality has made similar claims about corporate deception. Last year DEQ officials said representatives of the Fayetteville plant — which was originally run by DuPont and now by Chemours, a DuPont spinoff — had told the state they weren’t releasing any GenX into the Cape Fear River. But in reality, the state claims, the companies had been secretly dumping GenX into the river for years.  As reported by Will Doran, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

 

 

Senators Request DEQ Audit

Four North Carolina Republican senators, including Guilford’s Sen. Trudy Wade, asked last week for a federal audit of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s administration of permitting and Public Water Supply programs. “Because these are federally mandated programs, it is our belief that the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is in the best position to evaluate and advise us on the adequacy of North Carolina’s programs to protect public health and the natural environment,” said the letter, addressed to Trey Glenn, the EPA’s administrator for the Southeastern U.S. region.

In addition to calling for the audits, the senators’ letter requested EPA guidance on whether the state can set standards for emerging chemicals if there are no such federal standards; whether existing monitoring efforts are sufficient; whether the DEQ needs to tweak its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting process to allow for quicker reviews; and what, if any guidance, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other federal health agencies have released. Dated Jan. 23, 2018, the letter was also signed by Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover; Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick; and Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba. All are members of the Senate Select Committee on N.C. River Water Quality, which Sen. Wade chairs and has rarely met. As reported by Adam Wagner, WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS.

 

 

N.C. Science Panel

Scientists appointed to advise the state on GenX say they’re getting close to a recommendation on safety levels. The 16 members of the state Science Advisory Board, which met in Raleigh Monday, have been talking to scientists across the U.S. and around the world to learn all they can about GenX, an unregulated chemical discovered last year in the Cape Fear River. Tests show high doses of the contaminant can cause liver damage in animals, but no one knows exactly what a safe level is for humans. Dutch scientists have also been studying GenX because the company that makes it, Chemours, also has a plant in the Netherlands. So, the North Carolina panel held a video conference with scientists at the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.

“What we’ve got first of all is a lot of confirmation,” said Jamie Bartram, who heads the Science Advisory Board. “Much of what they’ve done confirms what we’ve been looking at.” The panel’s job is to advise state regulators on whether they’ve set the right health safety limit for GenX. North Carolina’s limit of 140 parts per trillion is almost identical to the Netherlands’ limit.

Board member Jackie MacDonald Gibson said both teams used the available data correctly, but because there’s no GenX testing data for humans, there’s a lot of uncertainty. “In some cases, the animal is a good model. In others it isn’t. We just really don’t know what the case is for GenX,” said Prof. Gibson, an associate professor at the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

The Science Advisory Board also will advise the state on other emerging contaminants — chemicals created by industries that find their way into the environment. There can be dozens of unregulated chemicals in the same water, and because the makers of those chemicals are allowed to keep their characteristics secret as confidential business information, there’s often little or no data available as to how they affect humans. Board members said they’re concerned about how those various chemicals might interact. As reported byLaura Leslie, WRAL NEWS.

 

 

Education

 

School Funding

North Carolina public school leaders urged lawmakers Wednesday to give them more flexibility in managing their budgets, more funding for students with disabilities and less responsibility in distributing money to charter schools. Local superintendents and school finance officers spoke before the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform to share their thoughts about education funding. The task force is working to overhaul the way North Carolina divvies up billions of dollars for local schools. A common theme school leaders returned to during the meeting was the need for increased flexibility in how they use state funds.

 

“Flexibility is important,” said Cleveland County Schools Superintendent Stephen Fisher.   “I understand with flexibility comes a lot of responsibility, and there’s accountability with that as well. I think that increased flexibility allows school districts and superintendents to try to be as innovative as possible to truly meet those needs.

 

North Carolina currently doles out public school funds using a series of 37 allotments, which designate specific amounts for classroom teachers, school building administration and so on. A 2016 report by the General Assembly’s research staff said the current system is too complex, lacks transparency and accountability and at times favors wealthier counties.

 

A major change several school leaders requested involved shifting responsibility for who distributes money to public charter schools. Local school districts are currently tasked with that, but some school leaders said the state or counties might be better equipped to distribute the money. New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Tim Markley said that could help eliminate the “sometimes adversarial role” between traditional public schools and charter schools when it comes to funding.

 

The 2016 report found that translating the state’s system for funding school districts into a method for providing per-pupil funding for charter schools has created several challenges. For example, providing transportation is optional for charter schools. As a result, 49 percent of charter schools got money for services they didn’t provide, the report found. On the other hand, some charter schools received less money than they should have based on how student membership was calculated.  As reported by Kelly Hinchcliffe, WRAL NEWS.

 

 

Student Debits

North Carolina’s new Education Savings Account program provides parents of special-needs students up to $9,000 a year for private school tuition, tutoring, and equipment. The application period opened Thursday. The program is the latest effort by the Republican-led state legislature to expand the ability of families to seek education options other than traditional public schools. Critics say the program is subject to fraud and takes away more money that could be used by traditional public schools. “It’s very high risk in terms of abuse,” said Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan advocate for better schools. “Our public schools are underfunded, where the vast majority of students go. Our public schools are better equipped to support students with special needs. We would prefer to see our state invest in public schools to meet the needs of all students, including students with disabilities, as opposed to this risky venture.”

 

Education savings accounts are among the programs promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group backed by corporations that proposes model legislation for state lawmakers to introduce. North Carolina became the sixth state to allow education savings accounts when it was included as part of last year’s budget. In addition to the ESA program, the state offers grants up to $8,000 a year for students with special needs and private school vouchers that pay up to $4,200 a year for children whose families meet income guidelines.

 

North Carolina will require families to file quarterly expense reports with documentation on how the money was spent. But Mr. Poston said the new program has few safeguards. “There’s virtually no oversight and accountability, and this program may be the worst in the lot in accountability measures,” he said. As reported by T. Keung Hui, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

 

 

Southern Education

Resources: Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South

North Carolina and other Southern states need to quickly do more to improve K-12 education as the number of “disadvantaged students” increases in the region’s public schools, according to a new report. “Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South,” a report released Tuesday, found that student achievement has increased significantly overall in the South in the past several decades. But the report found that Southern states must deal with historic inequities in education — student performance varies widely by race and income — that hold back many parts of the region.

 

To improve education, the report found that states need to get the South’s finest to become teachers, give students the support they need, strengthen students’ ability to go to college or get a job after high school, and match resources with students’ needs. “We can’t ignore the fact that the South and North Carolina lag behind the rest of the nation in school funding,” said Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, “It shows up in many ways.”

 

The report from the Columbia Group, a network of seven Southern nonprofit organizations that includes the Public School Forum, also includes polling data of registered voters. The first annual Education Poll of the South found strong support from voters to improve the state of K-12 education in the region. The poll found that 85 percent of voters say states should take action to correct differences in the quality of education within the state, and 84 percent say their states should adjust school funding to ensure greater fairness between wealthy and poor communities. The percentages were even higher to both questions for voters from North Carolina. “In North Carolina, this is a critical time to talk about school funding as the General Assembly begins its work on possibly overhauling school funding,” Mr. Poston said.

 

The report provides common ground across the political spectrum on issues such as improving teacher recruitment efforts and looking at how schools are funded and how money is spent, according to Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation. “This is a report that those on the left and the right will be receptive to,” he said.

 

“North Carolina has certainly been a leader in the last 20 to 30 years, but there are states making bigger gains right now,” Mr. Poston said. “Tennessee has been making some achievement gains in recent years, but all of us are seeing issues where gaps with lower-income students are widening.”  As reported by T. Keung Hui, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

 

 

Armed Teachers

A state legislative committee that oversees emergency management heard an update last week on school safety measures. The committee’s chair opened the meeting with a reflection on recent school shootings in other states.

 

“If you regularly read the paper, or watch the TV or listen to the radio, or pick up a telephone, too many times we’re seeing schools victimized across our nation,” began Rep. John Faircloth. Shootings at schools outside Dallas and in rural Kentucky made headlines last week. The legislative committee met to hear how schools and colleges across North Carolina are implementing a variety of safety measures enacted in a 2013 law.

 

John Dorman of the Department of Public Safety, Ben Matthews of the Department of Public Instruction, and Elizabeth Grovenstein of the North Carolina Community College System outlined ways that state agencies, public schools and colleges are complying with that law to improve student safety including active shooter drills, a phone app, and updated alarms.

 

But Rep. Larry Pittman and others said those measures don’t go far enough. Rep. Pittman said he would like to see every school resource officer armed, and for teachers to be allowed to carry concealed guns.  Rep. Pittman suggested that teachers with conceal carry permits be able to carry guns on school and college campuses. State law currently prohibits concealed carry on all school premises. Sen. Ronald Rabin, an army veteran, cautioned against allowing teachers to wield guns in chaotic situations when they don’t have the same level of training as police.   As reported by Liz Schlemmer, WUNC RADIO.

 

 

Class Size Fix

Lawmakers are in serious negotiations to work out a deal on a class size mandate that school districts say they cannot afford to carry out. The General Assembly two years ago passed budget language capping class sizes in kindergarten through the third grade, starting in the 2018-19 school year, saying the smaller classes would boost student achievement. But school leaders say the move will require extra teachers and more classrooms — both would require additional funding — or will force them to cut non-core classes, such as art, music, and physical education. House lawmakers voted unanimously last year to allow school districts some flexibility in class sizes inHB 13* (which I cosponsored) but Senate Republicans have repeatedly refused to consider it — until now.

Continued protests by parents and teachers, along with a nonstop barrage of calls and emails from both groups, have Senate leaders reconsidering their opposition. Lawmakers are taking a break until Feb. 8 while they wait for court rulings in three different lawsuits involving voting maps and election laws. But negotiators said they’re continuing to work in the meantime, and they’re hopeful they will have a deal by then that they can send to Gov. Roy Cooper. As reported by Laura Leslie, WRAL NEWS.

 

 

Gifted Gap Shortchanging Minority Students

The “gifted gap” that shortchanges black and Hispanic students across America is especially intense in North Carolina, a new study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute shows. The institute, an education reform think tank with offices in Ohio and Washington, D.C., reviewed national data on gifted programs in high-poverty schools, which are generally filled with black and brown students. The “Gifted Gap” report found that while most high-poverty schools offer programs for gifted students, they tend to be sparsely populated.

 

It documented that African-American and Hispanic students are underrepresented in gifted programs in all states and all types of schools, but even more so in schools where most students come from impoverished homes. North Carolina is among 22 states where fewer than 5 percent of black and Hispanic students are in gifted programs, compared with almost 10 percent of all North Carolina students. In North Carolina schools with poverty levels of 75 percent or higher, only 3.1 percent of black and Hispanic students and 5.1 percent of all students were in gifted programs. That was among the nation’s lowest levels.

 

“This new Fordham study shows some of the ways we lose potential Einsteins: specifically, the education system’s inability (or unwillingness) to do what it takes to develop the potential of hundreds of thousands of capable young people who hail from modest backgrounds,” says a forward by Fordham research executive Amber Northern and president emeritus Chester Finn Jr. The study reinforces the findings of Counted Out, a 2017 investigative series by The Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer that examined seven years of state data, focusing on low-income students with high scores on state math exams. That data showed low-income students were less likely than non-poor students with similar scores to get access to gifted programs and advanced classes. Racial gaps in gifted placement were noted there, too. As reported by Ann Doss Helms, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER.

 

 

N.C. A&T Provost 

N.C. A&T has named interim provost Beryl McEwen to the position permanently. The university announced Monday that its Board of Trustees voted last week to approve the appointment of McEwen, who has worked for A&T for the past 22 years. On Thursday, she officially will become the provost and executive vice chancellor of academic affairs. Dr. McEwen has served as interim provost — the second-ranking position at A&T — since August. Before that, Dr. McEwen was dean of the College of Business and Economics from 2014 to 2017. Since coming to A&T in 1995,  Dr. McEwen has worked as a professor of business education, associate dean of the business school, and vice provost for strategic planning and institutional effectiveness. Dr. McEwen holds a bachelor’s degree in business education from the University of Technology, Jamaica, and got her master’s and doctorate in business education from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  As reported by John Newsom, THE GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD.

 

 

Health

 

PACE Program

PACE, short for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, provides health care for seniors frail enough to qualify for nursing home care. Instead of winding up in a nursing home people who attend PACE programs come to the center several days per week, where they get meals, have activities, and receive all their health care. Participants also get some help at home, perhaps meals or medical equipment to make staying in their own houses easier.

 

Several PACE participants who spoke at an event late last year intended to help state officials put together an evaluation of North Carolina’s PACE programs. In the 2017 budget, legislators mandated a report to learn whether the program has been valuable for participants, to assess the quality of care, and to see if it’s time to allow PACE to expand in North Carolina. “Our goal was to get people here who have participated in PACE, who work in PACE, family caregivers in PACE to really let them hear from the horse’s mouth what PACE is all about,” said Linda Shaw, who runs the North Carolina PACE Association.

 

Most of the people in PACE programs are seniors who receive Medicare, the federally funded health care program for seniors and some people with severe disabilities. Ms. Shaw said most participants are also poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, the state and federally funded health care program that covers nursing home care for low-income seniors. PACE programs are required to act as the “sole source of services” for these recipients, providing everything from medications and transportation, to physician care and emergency services, to care for severe illnesses like cancer or even hospice care. In return, agencies that manage PACE programs receive a set amount each month for each person in the program.

 

Instead of Medicaid paying for nursing home care, which can run as much as $69,000 per year in North Carolina, the program pays for PACE. Over time, the costs end up being somewhat lower, Shaw said, but the real payoff comes in the improved quality of life. PACE participants are able to remain in their home communities, they get intellectual and social stimulation, and their caregivers get some peace of mind to continue with their lives and work.

 

Despite glowing reviews, for the past three years, lawmakers have put the brakes on PACE expansion. Existing programs have only been permitted to add three new participants per month and no new programs have been able to get started. Some lawmakers have noted that while PACE costs about the same as a nursing home, not every PACE participant would have ended up in an institution. This means the state spent money that could have been saved.

 

However, many lawmakers see the value in PACE. “In the General Assembly, many are critical of different programs or the way things can be done better… but I’ve never heard anything but positives about the PACE program,” said Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, a member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services. In particular, Dobson said he’d like to see expansion into rural counties, like the ones he represents. “The debate is how to continue the services and… how we should expand,” he said.

 

Ms. Shaw pointed out that even as the state moves the Medicaid program to managed care, PACE is already providing that type of care. She argued PACE addresses the social aspects of health, like poverty, isolation and housing that health leaders are now recognizing increase health care costs.  As reported by Rose Hoban, NC HEALTH NEWS.

 

 

Vaping Threat

Army medical leaders said Tuesday that a rash of North Carolina troops being hospitalized for serious medical issues believed to have been caused by vaping oils is a priority. The remarks come one day after the U.S. Army Public Health Center issued a public health alert stating that approximately 60 soldiers and Marines in the state experienced serious medical issues after using e-cigarettes or vaping products that were marketed as containing cannabidiol, or CBD, oil. The cases occurred over the course of a few weeks. “We consider this emerging public health threat a top priority, and the Army Public Health Center continues to monitor this issue and provide updates as new information becomes available,” said Chanel S. Weaver, a spokeswoman for the center. Most of the hospitalized troops have been treated at the Naval Medical Center at Camp Lejeune, officials said. Nine of the suspected cases have been treated at Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg. Service members have reported headaches, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, dilated pupils, dizziness, disorientation, agitation, and seizures, officials said. Those are all symptoms associated with synthetic cannabinoids.  As reported by Drew Brooks, THE FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER.

 

 

UNC Health Merger

Frustration is beginning to show about a proposal to make North Carolina home to one of the nation’s largest hospital systems. At issue is the lack of public details about a deal-in-progress that some are calling the biggest healthcare development in the state’s history. UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill and Carolinas  HealthCare System in Charlotte have been in discussions for at least five months on combining their operations into a joint company with more than 50 hospitals and 90,000 employees. They had expected to strike a deal this month, but may not be able to work out business terms until March.

 

The information blackout makes it impossible for anyone to assess whether such a business deal would be good for North Carolina’s residents or whether it would create a multi-tentacle monopoly capable of swallowing competitors and dictating prices for half the state.

 

Last week, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, announced it would not support the deal. Durham-based Blue Cross cited independent studies that conclude hospital consolidation leads to higher medical costs for patients and for health insurers. On Thursday, UNC system Board of Governors member Leo Daughtry said the board is also getting impatient. The board, which oversees the 17-campus UNC system, created a 6-member special committee to review the proposal, but Daughtry said the committee lacks the basic information it needs to conduct its due diligence to protect state-owned assets. Their concern: The UNC system includes UNC-Chapel Hill’s medical school, which could be subsumed into the UNC-Carolinas partnership. “We don’t know who’s going to be in control,” Mr. Daughtry said. “We really are somewhat frustrated that we are at this position.”

 

On Friday. N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell, whose office includes the health insurance plan for 700,000 state employees, teachers and retirees, told UNC’s Board of Governors that he also has an asset to look after. Amid years of steeply rising health care costs, the State Health Plan has a $35 billion unfunded liability and Mr. Folwell is looking for ways to cut $300 million from the plan’s expenses.  Asked if he is officially opposing the UNC-Carolinas partnership, Folwell demurred: “I’m not in the business of N-O, but I have to be in the business of K-N-O-W.”

 

UNC Health Care spokesman Phil Bridges said in an email that UNC’s medical school would remain under the control of the university and that the partnership’s joint operating committee would have no control over it. In the broad outline of the partnership, the joint operating committee would be controlled by an independent board. The company would have a new name and its own headquarters, none of which has been decided. Responding to Mr. Folwell’s concerns, UNC Health Care CEO Bill Roper said the UNC-Carolinas partnership is all about making North Carolinians healthier. Under the proposal, Dr. Roper would chair the new board that would oversee the combined system. As reported by John Murawski and Jane Stancill, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

 

 

Immigration

 

Foreign Nationals

Tens of thousands of foreign nationals living legally in the United States could soon lose government permission to earn a living while they are here. The Trump administration could end a program as soon as February that allows the spouses of legal foreign workers, mainly tech workers from India and China, to obtain their own work visas. Ending or changing the Obama-era rule could have major effects in western Wake County, where a group of 200 people — almost all women — have organized to fight against the potential change, writing letters and meeting with their members of Congress.

 

The Obama administration implemented the rule known as H4 EAD, or employment authorization documents, in 2015, in part to help deal with a massive backlog of H-1B visa holders from India and China waiting for green cards. Some estimates put the backlog at more than 1 million. H-1B visa holders from India can remain in the green card queue for years. If the backlog were to remain at current levels, they could wait up to 70 years, according to members of the group. The H4 EAD allows their spouses to work while they wait for a green card. Previously they were allowed to accompany their spouse to the United States, but not to work.

 

The Department of Homeland Security announced plans last fall for the change, citing President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order issued in April. The order tells agencies, among other things, to “protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system, including through the prevention of fraud or abuse.”

 

“The agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes” to carry out the executive order, said Joanne Talbot, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security, “including a thorough review of employment-based visa programs. No decision about H4 visas is final until the rulemaking process is completed.”  As reported by Brian Murphy, McCLATCHY DC.

 

 

MS-13 Deportation

When Maria Velasquez’ son was 10, he was forced to act as a messenger for the violent gang MS-13 in Honduras, according to documents filed in federal court this week in Charlotte. The boy, now 14, knew that some of the envelopes he carried contained money, which he guessed was connected to the gang’s extortion or drug operations. He and his mother fled to the United States. After crossing the border, Ms. Velasquez applied for asylum for herself and her son, who isn’t named in court documents due to his age. An immigration judge denied her application, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear her appeal. Velasquez and her lawyers are trying to reopen the case, but she has been ordered to report for deportation — on Wednesday, at 9 a.m. Her attorneys filed for an emergency stay Monday and had not gotten a response by midday Tuesday.

 

“Ms. Velasquez will be murdered if she returns to Honduras,” the court filing said. “(Her son), if he is not murdered, will be forcibly kidnapped and compelled to live a life of crime in service to MS-13.” They are particularly afraid of the 14-year-old boy’s paternal uncle, a local leader in MS-13. The uncle is childless and is “grooming” Ms. Velasquez’ son for the gang because of their family connection, the documents said.

 

People seeking asylum due to gang violence in Central America have had a particularly difficult time in Charlotte, where immigration cases are decided for North and South Carolina, according to a July 2017 story from The Marshall Project and The Washington Post. The three Charlotte-based immigration judges decided 1,295 asylum cases on their merits between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2017, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. They granted asylum in 18 percent of those cases. Nationwide, immigration judges granted nearly half of asylum claims during the same period.  As reported by Jane Wester, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER.

 

 

Economy

 

Rural Jobs

Governor Roy Cooper says not enough is being done to help rural N.C. counties build roads, expand high-speed internet, train people in job skills, and find other ways to improve the economy. So he has launched an initiative to make that happen much faster. North Carolina remains a rural state with 80 of its 100 counties struggling for a piece of the prosperity found in the booming urban and suburban counties.

Governor Cooper’s program, called Hometown Strong, is meant to cut through the bureaucracies with a small team that will help rural counties track down funding from state, federal and nonprofit sources. The team, so far just two people, will offer expertise on what projects are needed and can reasonably be attained, and help with paperwork and staffing. Most important, Hometown Strong is meant to make it clear that improving rural economic development is a priority for his administration.  Gov. Cooper has instructed the team to draw on all of the resources available from executive branch agencies under the auspices of the governor. Those include commerce, military affairs, information technology and transportation.  Gov. Cooper says he’s driven by his roots growing up, raising a family and working as a lawyer in Nash County.

The governor said when he selected his Cabinet after winning office in 2016, he considered where they grew up. The majority of the Cabinet, along with his chief of staff and state budget director, were raised in rural North Carolina. Then Gov. Cooper instructed Cabinet members to come up with their best ideas on how to improve the quality of life for those in economically distressed areas.

Governor Cooper reached into the ranks of trusted advisers and fellow Democrats with state government experience to run the initiative: Pryor Gibson, a former state representative from Anson County and lobbyist for former Gov. Bev Perdue, and Mary Penny Kelley, who has worked as legal counsel in Gov. Cooper’s justice department and in the state environmental agencies.

Some legislators are concerned about rural counties getting shortchanged when it to comes to state incentive grants. A joint House and Senate committee is working on rewriting the state’s economic development incentives programs because the current tier system — designed to steer funding to the counties that need the most help — isn’t working. That’s often because large companies choose to locate in urban centers that have amenities that many rural areas of the state do not.  As reported by Craig Jarvis, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

 

 

Person County Megasite

Person County has joined the hunt for a major industry by offering a newly certified “megasite” to accommodate a large-scale operation. Person, which is north of Durham County and borders Virginia, has the fifth megasite in North Carolina. The sites are designated by the state because they have enough acreage, potential workers and access to roads and utilities to attract big industrial companies. The 1,394-acre site puts Person County in contention with other rural areas of the state where land has been set aside for manufacturing operations that take up a lot of space. A site in Randolph County near Greensboro was seen as the state’s most likely candidate for the Toyota-Mazda joint car manufacturing plant. But it was the runner-up earlier this month when the companies chose Alabama instead.

At the Person County site, geotechnical studies have been done, wetlands and stream issues have been cleared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and environmental, archeological and wildlife studies have been completed. State transportation officials have approved a long-term traffic study. There are two megasites in Chatham County, one in Edgecombe County, and the Randolph County site. The Person County site, located in the northern part of the county, has been in the works since 2013.  As reported by Craig Jarvis, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

 

Politics

 

Koch Brothers Meeting

Two of North Carolina’s most prominent politicians and another who is less known but still quite powerful spent time with the conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch and their network of high-dollar campaign donors over last weekend. Several media accounts say 11th District U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Buncombe, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., were among the elected officials, all Republicans, who were to speak at the gathering at a luxury resort near Palm Springs, California. Rep. Meadows attended a similar Koch event in Colorado last June. Art Pope, a longtime donor and power behind the throne for the Republican Party in North Carolina, has long been a part of the Koch network and was also in attendance. News accounts say about 550 donors, who pledge to give at least $100,000 to the network, attended.

Donors were apparently prepared to be more generous in support of candidates than last June when at least one expressed frustration with what he considered inaction in Washington. Republican passage of tax reform last month brought some donors around. Network officials said they will spend $300 million to $400 million this year to support candidates in midterm elections, which will determine whether Republicans continue to control Congress, and on policy concerns. They said $20 million will go to tout the new tax law. The total is up from about $250 million in 2016, the Washington Post reported.

The Associated Press quoted Mr. Pope as saying he has become more supportive of President Trump in general — “The policies of this administration have really benefited the American people,” he said — but is worried about what may happen during the fall elections. Those concerns came up repeatedly among those at the conference. Economic indicators are generally favorable but President Trump is unpopular and the incumbent president’s party usually loses seats in Congress during midterm elections.

Mr. Meadows spoke as if he can envision either party in control after November, the AP reported. “I can make the case for losing 18 seats and no more. I can make the case for 28 seats,” he said. “It’s a long ways off. It depends what we do between now and November.”  As reported by Mark Barrett, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES.

 

 

Senator Robinson Move

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, has moved to downtown Greensboro to stay within the boundaries of Senate District 28 now that it has been redrawn to repair racial disparities.   Sen. Robinson, said that her former residence — which is between High Point and Greensboro — has been cut out of District 28 and placed in District 27 on the new election map, which  was redrawn at the request of a federal panel. District 27 is served by Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford. If Sen. Robinson had stayed, she might have been forced to face Sen. Wade in the upcoming fall election. Sen. Robinson said Monday that she will declare her candidacy for re-election when filing opens Feb. 12. No other candidates have said they will run in District 28. “I’ve decided to follow my constituents, and the majority of my constituents are in Greensboro,” she said.  As reported by Richard M. Barron, THE GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD.

 

 

Candidate Announcements

On Monday, the state Democratic Party announced five candidates running against incumbent Republicans in House districts, as part of another “Blue Monday” reveal. Two of the five candidates — Joe Fowler and Christy Clark — had previously announced their candidacy. And while the attention was mostly on Democratic House candidates on Monday, Beth Monaghan, a Republican from Charlotte, separately announced she will run against Sen. Dan Bishop in the Senate District 39 primary. Beth Monaghan, a North Carolina native, founded the accounting firm Monaghan Group in 1996. Since 2015, she has been a consultant and community volunteer.

Democrat Steven Buccini, from Guilford County, announced he was running for N.C. House District 59, which is currently represented by Republican Rep. Jon Hardister, the majority whip. Mr. Buccini is a Guilford native who studied electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkley. He’s previously worked for Apple and Uber. In Moore County, small business owner Lowell Simon will run in House District 52, a seat held by Republican Rep. Jamie Boles. Mr. Simon, a New York native, moved to North Carolina in 1968. In House District 75, Winston-Salem City Council member Dan Besse announced his candidacy. Republican Rep. Donny Lambeth represents the district currently. Mr. Besse is an attorney and has served on the council for 16 years. As reported by Lauren Horsch, THE INSIDER.

 

 

Political Donor

A Durham businessman who donated more than $3 million to groups benefiting Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and state Republicans is a relative newcomer to North Carolina politics who’s only voted in the state once, records show. Greg Lindberg is the founder and leader of Eli Global, an international investment firm that oversees companies ranging from insurance to magazines to eye care. He was the biggest financial contributor in 2017 to the N.C. Republican Party and two groups backing Forest, a Republican who’s expected to run for governor in 2020. Some of that money went to a relatively new group that’s been purchasing video equipment — not long after a nonprofit paid for equipment to set up a TV studio in the lieutenant governor’s office.

 

Mr. Lindberg’s support for Lt. Gov. Forest and the GOP surprised some observers because he gave extensively in 2016 to support Democratic Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. A political committee led by Eli Global executives and funded by Lindberg ran TV ads promoting Mr. Goodwin, who lost and is now the chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party. A spokesman for Mr. Goodwin says he had “no connection to or knowledge of the N.C. Opportunity Committee,” the political committee.

 

Mr. Lindberg is registered as an unaffiliated voter, but he’s only cast a ballot once — using same-day registration a few days before the November 2016 election, according to state records. His wife Tisha, who has sometimes matched his campaign contributions when he hit the legal maximum, is a registered Democrat.

 

Mr. Lindberg’s website describes his business as including “100 companies with 7,000 employees, $1.75 billion in revenue, and $20 billion in proforma assets including pending acquisitions.” His business began as a small healthcare industry newsletter in the early 1990s, and it began buying up other companies in 2001. The business model is to keep the original leaders in place after an acquisition by Eli Global, according to Lindberg’s website.

The companies under Eli Global include a magazine publisher with titles including Knives Illustrated, Victorian Homes, and Drag Racer, a Chapel Hill-based marketing firm, and a Dallas-based sports collectibles business, as well as several firms focusing on eye care, medical records and debt collection.

 

Many of the companies in Eli Global’s portfolio are in the insurance industry, often under the umbrella of Durham-based Global Bankers Insurance Group, which lists Mr. Lindberg as its founder. In September, Forest was the featured guest at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the insurance company’s new headquarters, according to a news release.

Mr. Lindberg made his first $400,000 contribution to a Forest-related campaign organization in August, finance records show. Prior to that, his political donations were aimed at politicians with influence over insurance regulations. He is the primary contributor to the North Carolina Opportunity Committee, which lists Eli Global executives as its leaders, and gave it $350,000 in 2016 when it ran pro-Goodwin TV ads. That committee remains active and got another $100,000 from Lindberg in October, but its current mission is unclear. Most of its recent spending went to longtime Democratic strategist Brad Crone’s firm, but Mr. Crone said he’s working under a confidentiality agreement and can’t comment on the group.

 

Mr. Lindberg, his business associates and their wives also gave a total of $31,000 in the spring of 2017 to N.C. Sen. Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland and co-chairman of the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee. Sen. Meredith said Thursday he’s “never met with” Mr. Lindberg or discussed insurance matters with him. Global Bankers Insurance has two registered lobbyists at the N.C. General Assembly, James Harrell and Tracy Kimbrell. Mr. Lindberg also gave $5,200 in September to Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson — the maximum legal amount. In 2016, he gave $5,400 to Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s campaign.

 

But his political activity stepped up dramatically in the second half of 2017. Between August and December, he gave a total of $1.4 million to the N.C. Republican Council of State Committee, which is run by Lt. Gov. Forest and can also spend money on behalf of other GOP Council of State officials. While his campaign can only accept donations of up to $5,200 per donor, the Council of State Committee can accept unlimited contributions.

 

The committee was created under a 2015 law that allows groups of Republicans or Democrats in either the legislature or statewide elected positions to create fundraising committees that act like political parties, but are controlled by elected officials. As the only donor to the Council of State Committee, Mr. Lindberg effectively bankrolled the group’s $42,000 in video equipment purchases — a move that came around the same time a nonprofit run by Forest donors contributed TV studio equipment to the lieutenant governor’s office. That studio is only used for official government business, but having video equipment at the Council of State Committee’s Raleigh office could allow Lt. Gov. Forest to produce campaign videos as he seeks to raise his profile ahead of a gubernatorial run.

 

Mr. Lindberg was also the sole donor in 2017 to Truth & Prosperity, a Super PAC that supports Lt. Gov. Forest, giving $1 million in late December. That group — which unlike the Council of State Committee can’t legally coordinate its activities with the Forest campaign — did not have any major spending in 2017. Mr. Lindberg gave a total of $890,000 last fall to the N.C. Republican Party — nearly half of its fundraising total for the six-month period, and substantially more than the $50,000 contributions the party received from two longtime conservative financiers, Raleigh businessmen Art Pope and Bob Luddy. Without the Lindberg money, the NCGOP would have spent more money than it received in the second half of 2017.

 

While Mr. Lindberg has had a substantial business presence in the Triangle for years, he’s not a well-known name — something he boasts about on his website. “We don’t crow about our success: our success speaks for itself,” he says on the website. “As a rule, we don’t do a lot of publicity and prefer to keep the focus on our customers and the people who serve them.”

 

Mr. Lindberg’s only recent foray into local headlines came in 2014 when he got into a legal dispute with prominent Chapel Hill businessman James Heavner, former owner of radio station WCHL. Eli Global was in the process of buying Heavner’s University Directories, a collegiate marketing publisher, when University Directories’ loans went into default. The company filed for bankruptcy as Mr. Heavner accused Mr. Lindberg of orchestrating a hostile takeover, while Mr. Lindberg accused University Directories of having “grossly mismanaged their financial operations.”

 

On Wednesday — days after Mr. Lindberg’s political activity began to make headlines — he posted a news release announcing that his company had reached a settlement in the University Directories lawsuit. Another January news release from Mr. Lindberg touts his sponsorship of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, which provides need-based scholarships to the state’s HBCUs. That group is led by black legislators — all of them Democrats who have little in common with Lt. Gov. Forest. As reported by Colin Campbell, THE INSIDER.

 

 

Local Matters

 

Guilford County Appointment

Governor Roy Cooper has announced 48 new appointments to state boards and commissions, including Matt Soule of Greensboro, who has been appointed to the Guilford County Community College Board of Trustees.

 

 

A&T Event

 

White House Reporter April Ryan,   A&T Four Member Joseph McNeil,   Human Rights Medal Recipient Bob Page,   A&T Four Member Jibreel Khazan

Yesterday, N.C. A&T held its 58th Sit-In Anniversary Celebration. It included an inspiring speech by White House Correspondent April Ryan, comments from the A&T Four (students who initiated the sit-in movement), and the presentation of the Human Rights Medal to Replacements CEO Bob Page, for his decades of work to promote equality and justice.

 

Cheers,

Pricey

 

The General Assembly remains in session and will remain so at least through next week. This week’s newsletter focuses on continued activity relating to redistricting, elections, the environment, education, health care, and other matters of potential interest.