Friday, February 29, 2008

Wow, what a day at the State Board of Elections. First, Jim Long decides not to run for Insurance Commissioner after 24 years in that post (most in NC history, 3rd most in U.S. history).

Then as we're interviewing the candidates who want to replace him that filed at the last minute, Richard Morgan comes walking in the door.

Morgan is the former Speaker of the House who cut a deal with Jim Black to split the position and angered a number of Republicans. In 2006, he lost in the Republican primary to keep his House seat.

Today, he filed for DPI Superintendent of public schools. We were the only camera there to talk to him afterward. So, click on the button above to hear it for yourself. You'll notice he's lost a lot of weight and looks quite healthy as well.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

RALEIGH -- A new study calls for new taxes and better priorities to help a growing transportation crisis.

The NC Budget and Tax center released the report Thursday morning. It comes as a state panel continues to work on solutions as well.

DOT officials claim the state faces an estimated 65 billion dollar road funding shortfall over the next 25 years. A big chunk of money to pay for roads comes from a tax on gas but those funds are dwindling as cars become more fuel efficient. Wednesday's report pushes state leaders to find new money.

"What we have to do is move toward a system of revenue that actually taxes the mileage that we drive on this state's roads," Steve Jackson, who wrote the report, said.

Beau Mills agrees. He represents the state's largest cities at the legislature for the NC Metropolitan Coalition and NC Go.

"When you turn your spicket on and you get water out of it you pay for how much water you get out of it," Mills said. "Well we need to think of a way so when you drive on a road you pay for how much you use it."

But technology to make that happen is still a decade or more away. In the short term, Jackson wants the state to focus on easing congestion in urban areas. He believes current funding formulas pushes too much money in areas that don't have congestion.

"These are Rolls Royce facilities when all they really need is a Dodge," Jackson said.

The legislature makes the big decisions and funds transportation and there is a special committee called the 21st Century Transportation Commission that is looking at many of these issues, but Jackson feels the focus is a little fuzzy.

"The one consistent message out of the commission is send more money and to that we would say hang on just a minute why don't you fix what you got first before you start reaching for more money," Jackson added.

Timing is also an issue in finding solutions. The cost to build roads has risen as much as 80-percent in four years thanks to inflation and it's only getting worse.

That's a tough stat to swallow considering the state expects four million more people to move here by 2030.

The report also criticizes the state for ignoring public transportation needs. This study comes just months after a state paid consultant told DPT it lacked proper planning and direction.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Asking the right questions-or enough questions?

An interesting read on GOP Gubernatorial candidate Bob Orr's blog

He's talking about whether or not the right questions are being asked and what grabs our attention as reporters. It's an interesting thing the news. One day you can release something that is mundane and every newspaper and television station covers it like it's the most important story in the world. The next day a fire kills two babies and the same release gets 30 seconds at most. It's a sad but true nature of the business. I naturally feel political and state government stories are some of the most important stories. The decisions on Jones Street impact every North Carolinian.

However, our education reporter feels the same about her stories. Managers, who worry about ratings, can be concerned about what's simply going to draw in the most viewers which means more advertising dollars. Let's face it, this is a business and there are bills to pay. I know, I said it. That's not a philosophical belief, but a reality check on my part.

The truth is, the primary season is the most difficult. Consider my position. I am the only political reporter for a statewide television news channel. That means I have several bosses who must approve my one story of the day. I generally get one minute and thirty seconds to air that story. During the primary there are, in the governor's race alone, 4 GOP candidates and 2 Democrats. That means in order to get a fair story I need to get interviews with all the candidates. What's the likelihood of that happening on short notice? On top of that, the nature of a campaign and blogging these days leads to very detailed information. Some might call it nitpicky. We often get detoured from NC issues instead focusing on issues of past fundraising efforts, personal property listings, and where these candidates live.

That's all vital information but for a television station that challenge is too large and too great to report on a daily basis. Ryan over at Under the Dome does a tremendous job with the blog and breaking new information that's sometimes big news and sometimes other news that could be considered trivial. In general, it's all interesting but my point is that's his job. The blog is what he does and he can email or call candidates and have a response fairly quickly.

In television, I need to get in person interviews with all parties involved. That involves time setting it up, traveling and shooting the interview, then driving back and writing and editing.

No excuses, but that's why you often see TV mostly passing up on stories often. Do I wish we took more time to do longer stories that focus entirely on important issues to this state? Absolutely! However, I'm one man who doesn't make the final decisions. There is a lot more that goes into those decisions than a simple yes or no on whether to cover something.

I sympathize with Justice Orr. It's unfortunate in a world filled with such amazing technology that a campaign without deep pockets struggles to be heard. But, in a world where Brittany Spears makes tv news, what else would you expect? Sadly, that's the truth.
Wow, can I not wait until Friday is over.

Before I go on, don't get me wrong I want everyone who has a story to call me and PLEASE continue to keep me in the loop.

However, the last two weeks of filing for public office are unreal to say the least. It's hard to keep track first of all because it's not as simple as one Democrat and one Republican. With the primary there are numerous people on both sides. And they ALL want a lengthy interview if not a set appearance on the show.

Again, I completely understand and wish I could accomodate. However, there's only so much time and I have to convince my boss that it's worth covering. On top of that with so many candidates in some races it's impossible to have enough time even in the course of the 30 minute show to air it all.

I have never had so many phone calls and emails in one week. It's interesting to say the least and even the smallest of campaigns are much more organized than even four years ago in my estimation. It is funny, however, that the "smaller" races and "unknown" candidates even have people making the calls for them.

Part of me will be happy after May 6th. That means one candidate from each party to focus on. While we have newsrooms in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Chapel Hill, Salisbury, and Goldsboro, I am the ONLY reporter covering politics and state government.

I love it but all the communication is exhausting and makes it difficult to even find time to squeeze in a blog entry.

With that said, without all this communication, I wouldn't have stories to write and blog about!

So, I'm not complaining, I just wanted to give a perspective of what it's like behind the scenes and the amount of "campaigning" that goes on from gubernatorial candidates to city council candidates with reporters.

Again, please keep the info coming!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ralph Nader is running for president again but it's unlikely his name will end up on the ballot in North Carolina.

Third party candidates must jump a huge hurdle to get on the ballot in this state, and that hurdle includes tens of thousands of signatures.

The winner of the Republican and Democratic primaries will now face a familiar foe, third party candidate Ralph Nader.

"You see the discrimination against small parties as if they're second class citizens," Nader said Sunday. "We have to get over that. The voters want more choices, more voices, and we have to give it to them."

But you likely will not find nader on North Carolina ballots in November.

"It's extremely difficult to get any third party candidate on the ballot," Elon University pollster Dr. Hunter Bacot said. "You have to get so many signatures to have validated by the election board and to have put forward."

State law requires third party candidates to get enough signatures to match two percent of the total vote in the past election.

This year that number is just under 70-thousand verified signatures from registered voters. Candidates have until June first. The state Libertarian party still needs more than 3000 to get their candidate for governor on the ballot.

"For any number of reasons we lost 15, 20, 30-percent of the signatures we get and so right now we've collected about 96,000 raw unverified signatures," NC Libertarian Party Chair Barbara Howe said.

Often those problem signatures come from people who don't put down the right information or are not registered to vote.

There is a much easier way to get on the ballot then getting random signatures all across this state. It used to be if a candidate got 10-percent of the vote in an election they would on the next ballot. That has now changed to two percent, but that has proven difficult as well. Howe ran for governor in 2004. She got just 52,000 votes which amounted to 1.5-percent.

Regardless, Howe believes her party will get enough signatures and hopes for two percent in this year's election.

If not, as the state grows and new voters register it will only mean more signatures required which means more time and money for a party without deep pockets

The Libertarian party is also suing the state to get ballot access this fall and in the future. A judge could take up the issue in court as early as next month.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A couple quick Friday notes...

Gary Bartlett from the state board of elections believes the Democratic primary could see a 50-percent turnout if the state matters in the national race.

That also could mean long lines at the polls. Counties are staffed and funded for a 16-31 percent turnout.

"The biggest cost in elections is labor and they do not have the infrastructure, manpower wise, to meet with this new increase of interest," Bartlett said.

The state is working to hand out $750,000 in grants at a March 4th meeting to help hire help. They are also working on getting as much as $7 million for new machines and one stop voting sites for November. However, Bartlett says about $10-12 million is actually needed.

Urban counties are doing better than rural counties, but it could lead to some long lines in numerous areas.

Secondly, you may have seen my report on Wednesday that Gov. Easley will soon propose some significant law changes to deal with droughts. Essentially the state could mandate minimum water restrictions for each level of drought. Currently, local communities make those decisions. Easley also wants more power to divert water in emergency situations.

Anywho, we followed up on the story today and talked with League of Municipalities top dog Ellis Hankins today. His group represents communities at the legislature.

He likes the idea of standardizing what each stage of restrictions mean across the state, however he still wants restriction decisions to remain on the local level.

"Most of the decision-making power and authority and discretion needs to stay right there at the local level but there certainly is a role for the state and governor," Hankins said.

Communities could put in place stronger restrictions but would have to adhere to the minimum put in place by the state.

Easley plans to unveil his plan as early as next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Easley announcement coming...

I spent my afternoon at the Agriculture Drought Response committee meeting at the legislature where Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler told lawmakers how they can help farmers and the drought.

But the more interesting story came from Gov. Easley's Senior Advisor Franklin Freeman.

He says as early as next week, Gov. Easley will unveil several proposals to help with the current drought and future droughts as well.

The proposal would force some communities to put mandatory water restrictions in place. The restrictions would vary depending on what level of drought that community is facing. Currently towns and cities can decide when and how to put restrictions in place. Essentially a minimum level of restrictions would be required for each level of the drought.

"That doesn't mean they can't do more but at least we know from a minimum standpoint what a municipality is doing presently we don't, there's no minimum standard," Freeman said in an interview.

Another proposal would allow the state to keep better tabs on private wells. Gov. Easley also wants more power to get water to cities in desperate situations much faster. His proposals would all need approval from the state legislature.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Foreign born in our jails... So, I spent most of my morning at a legislative committee meeting focusing on criminal justice issues. I was there to get an update on the 287g program. It essentially trains sheriff's deputies to get involved in apprehending illegal immigrants who commit crimes. Tucked in the back of the paperwork was an interesting survey. You may remember Senate Bill 229. It requires jail personnel, as of Jan. 1, to attempt to determine if someone charged with a felony or impaired driving offense is a legal resident of the United States. The Sheriff's Association and ICE wrapped up a survey on February 14th. The survey of North Carolina jails found that a statewide average of 11% of inmates were foreign born. The numbers ranged from 0% in some counties to 26% in one county. The average in metropolitan counties was about 20%. Now keep in mind these inmates are foreign born not necessarily illegal immigrants. However, when Sheriff Association Executive Vice President Eddie Caldwell was asked about that, he said it's reasonable to believe a large number of the inmates are in this country illegally.

Monday, February 18, 2008

An interesting debate...

So, this isn't politics but it's an interesting story in our newsroom today. I'm sure you've heard about the massive meat recall. Well, I believe 20 school districts in our state got the tainted meat. CNN has made video of the "downed" cows and "inhumane" conditions available. Our news managers made a decision not to air the video because it may disturb some viewers much like harmed pets, etc.

Instead we showed video of cows in fields and beef being cooked. This evening we actually have video of the beef that's being recalled.

We have been bombarded by email and angry phone calls because we are not airing the cow video. The viewers claim we are not being truthful or telling the entire story by not showing the video. We talk about the investigation that led to the video but no matter what we say these viewers are adament about their opinion.

It's an interesting question because newspapers will not show video so their stories are not accurate? I'm not siding either way because, frankly, I don't make those decisions here, but I thought it was an interesting behind the scenes look at what happens in some newsrooms.

So, the dinner table question for you tonight is are we not being truthful by trying to be conservative for more sensitive viewers and just using the information itself?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Huge voter registration surge!

After checking NC Board of Elections records how about these numbers. From January 1st through February 11th alone, 64,413 people registered to vote. Elections Director Gary Bartlett says that at least 60% of those are under 40 years old and a huge chunk are in the 18-30 range.

Bartlett says the state has never seen young people represent the largest chunk of new voters. Usually it is the opposite.

Here's how it breaks down...

Democrats - 25,811
Republicans - 18,125
Independents - 20,447

After visiting a couple college campuses today it's clear these new voters are soley registering to vote in the Presidential election.

The question is how could this impact state races like governor? According to at least one candidate it will have no impact.

This morning Bev Perdue said, "I don't think it causes us to rethink anything. All were doing is trying to get our message out there of hope and opportunity out there and building a new north carolina from the mountains to the coast."

Here's another problem in counties across the state. Bartlett says counties are used to and can afford an 18-31% turnout which is typical. He believes turnout will hit 40% or higher without a Presidential primary race that matters. If it does matter, he believes turnout will hit 50% or more. He said it is time for counties to hit the panic button. With a lack of machines or workers that could lead to extremely long lines and frustration at the polls.

Bartlett says the state is working on getting some grants to help out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gov. Easley's future?

Governor Easley's speech at the Emerging Issues Forum on Tuesday has blogs speaking to his future. Easley spoke on energy and announced a new center to research battery operated cars.

I have to admit a number of us were talking about his speech afterward. It was cleary one of his more energetic, entertaining, and well written speeches in some time. Some of his current and former advisors also remarked that his last couple speeches have been some of his best.

It has a number of speculators speculating if he's a potential VEEP candidate or could be pushing for another elected office. Here's the thing, maybe it's not an elected office? Could the DNC be talking to him about a future Attorney General position? He's got a good record of winning elections and doing well in a southern state that picks Republicans for federal races.

On the other hand, perhaps he's thinking legacy. Gov. Hunt is known as the education governor, so perhaps Easley is working on making energy his legacy and has plans after his term.

Or maybe he's just energized and has nothing to lose since it's his last term. He has been very relaxed, funny, and makes jokes he wouldn't have in the past.

I can tell you his office requested a copy of his speech from us today. HOWEVER, I can also tell you his office has done that in the past but not on a regular basis.

It's all speculation and that's what makes it fun!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Easley on a number of things...

Governor Easley made a big proposal or announcement today. NC State, Progress Energy, and Duke Energy will all work together to try and redevelop batteries to run your car. You could go 100-150 miles without recharging. You could then simply plug it into a regular electrical outlet and charge it up again or there would even be public charging stations.

There is similar technology available today but the battery costs $10,000 and won't stay charged as long and takes a long time to charge. They all hope to have significant progress in 2-5 years. By the way it will cost $5 mill to start up and $1 mill each year. The Gov. hopes to get grants but also has some money in his upcoming budget proposal.

On another note, Easley ripped an audit last week that basically said DOT is wasting taxpayer money for late projects. Easley focused on parts that said DOT didn't research enough on projects. Easley said you don't need to research common sense.

He also says he's not ready to endorse a candidate for President. As Governor, Easley is a superdelegate. He said he wants the candidates to focus more on education.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Emerging issues..

I'm on my way out the door but just a few notes from the Emerging Issues Forum that focused on energy today. I'll write more tomorrow.

From Gov. Jim Hunt - he told me if he was still governor he would make the state energy office a department with resources to set goals and reach them in this state. He also hopes the current candidates make it a huge topic in the campaigns. If they don't, he thinks voters will demand it.

From Sen. Marc Basnight - he supports looking into wind power and wants to put money into it soon. He doesn't want it near homes or scenic spots but mentioned the Pamlico Sound as a potential place. This is a very hot topic in his home of the Outer Banks as well as the mountains.

There is so much more and we actually taped long interviews with both as well as Sen. Richard Burr that will air this week on Political Connections (Friday at 6pm, Sunday at 11am).

More tomorrow-Gov. Easley speaks at the forum.

Hope you had a great Monday!

Friday, February 08, 2008

To spend or not to spend?

So Congress has approved tax rebates to 130 million Americans. If you haven't heard, it's $600 for singles making $75,000 or less, $1200 for couples making $150,000 or less, $300 for 20 million low income seniors and disabled veterans, and $300 extra for parents per child. It's an effort to stimulate the economy.

So will it?

Most economists I've talked with today, including Mike Walden at NCSU, say the best thing for individuals is to save it or pay down debt. The government wants you to spend it.

Walden says it's more of a feel good effort and statistics show just 30% actually spend the money.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill next week and checks could be in your mailbox anytime between May and August.

Have a great weekend everybody! Monday, I'm at the Emerging Issues Forum where energy is the topic. We're taping a show there and talking to Gov. Hunt and some high powered CEO's. Should be interesting.

Until then...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dropout rate gets worse....

So much attention has been centered around North Carolina's dropout rate. It's at the tip of the tongue of every politician who is either running for office or is speaking to an education group.

The legislature has two separate committees looking at the issue.

Today, the state board of education got an update from last year. It's even worse, in fact, it's the worst it's been in seven years. 5.24% is the number or 23,550 students compared to 5.04% last year.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg jumped to 6.4% as did Forsyth County. Wake is up over 4% while Durham dropped to under 5%.

Coincidentally, a joint legislative committee taking up the dropout issue met up today as well. They were hearing suggestions from outside advocates.

NCAE guru Eddie Davis had some interesting suggestions from his group (teachers mainly). One was starting school at 3pm in some alternative schools to keep students with kids, who are married, who have health problems, who need to work to help put food on the table, etc.

It's clear thinking outside the box in this day and age will be required. The question is how long can the state afford to study these issues without finding solutions that work in the short term versus the long term.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

NC Primary importance...

So, the big buzz after Super Tuesday is "Will North Carolina matter for the first time since 1988?" The state's late primary usually keeps the voters from having any influence on nominees. With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in such a close delegate race, there's talk NC could still be in play and our delegate plate is definitely a decent size.

The key thing to remember is there are still 16 states, some delegate rich, that will vote before any in our state.

As a state political reporter here's my question for the day. If our state matters in the Democratic primary and the candidates come here to campaign and there's a huge turnout, what will that mean for the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races?

A large turnout with voters focused soley on the Presidential race could mean a large contingency of voters that could have a huge impact on the the state races. The big question is whether or not those voters would favor name recognition and would the sex of a candidate matter with these voters. Conventional wisdom would tell you they will be independent voters wanting to make a difference in the Presidential race, but would they inform themselves on the state races or just randomly pick a candidate?

Oh what a fun time for those of us who do this for a living!!!

Most pundits I've talked with today give it a 50/50 shot for our state to matter. This is all the focus of Political Connections Friday night at 6 and Sunday morning at 11 on Political Connections.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Duper Tuesday..

I'm working a nightshift tonight updating Super Tuesday results on the news channel. I have to admit it's rather anticlimatic being here after being in the thick of things in South Carolina.

I'm such a nerd, but elections are really fun and really exciting. There's so much strategy in every move, every press release, every speech, every rally, every everything. Fascinating.

I have to wonder how many of you are feeling sitting at home and not waiting for results here in North Carolina. As you probably know, North Carolina's primary is not until May 6th. That's actually the topic of this weekend's Political Connections if you're interested in hearing more about the topic.

Anywho, 24 states are up for grabs. From primaries to caucuses to conventions 1681 Democratic delegates are available (2025 needed to win) and 1023 on the Republican side (1191 needed to win).

Huckabee won earlier in the West Virginia GOP convention. At 7pm the polls closed in Georgia and the networks already declared Obama the winner with a too close to call on the Republican side. In case you're curious here's the timeframe for the rest of the night as far as closing time at the polls.

Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee


Arizona, New Mexico, New York



Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Alaska, Colorado, and Idaho all have caucuses that start and end at various times tonight.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Good afternoon!

Well after two weeks following Presidential candidates and a week off to get over bronchitis, it's back to work! You know the feeling! You spend at least half your first day reading emails, going through mail, and trying to get your brain back into the routine of things.

Today, I covered Attorney General Roy Cooper and the Commissioner of Banks announcing that homeowners facing foreclosure issues can call a hotline. The hotline provides free phone counseling 24 hours a day. In the next month, the national hotline will connect the homeowners to an appointment for an in-person session.

Filings are up 135% since 2005. The state ranks 18th in the nation for most foreclosure filings.

The officials were clear this was not taxpayer money funding the program and it was not a bailout for homeowners who took on too much mortgage.

Should be interesting to see if it helps. Stats show more than 50% never ask for help until it's too late.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and I'll be working a late shift to try and sort out the 22 states from coast to coast. Should be a fascinating day to say the least!

I wish I had more to share, but my brain is still trying to get back in the routine as well! See you tomorrow!