Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hello anchor desk

Job change...

Some of you may have noticed I haven't posted on here as much as I have in the past. The reason is my job has changed. I've been promoted from Senior Political Reporter to Weeknight Evening Anchor. The bottom line is you're stuck seeing me a lot more often Monday-Friday nights on News 14 Carolina!

I am still following politics and am still doing Political Connections for the time being. Eventually I will be replaced and the new person will take over everything political.

However, I'm still going to keep up with it and I'm still going to be working to get long form indepth interviews with candidates and officials (i.e. governor, senators, etc.). As the prime time anchor I hope it actually makes it easier to bring those folks into our studio.

Those interviews will likely continue appearing on Political Connections even when I'm not the host.

It has been a joy to follow and cover state government and politics in the field on a daily basis but I'm really looking forward to this new challenge. I really can't wait for election night when I'm essentially directing it from the anchor desk!

I will continue to update the blog as I see fit for now and when I am relieved of politics I plan to start another blog of my own which I hope you will read as well. More details on that in the months to come.

For now, check out News 14 Carolina and please stay in close touch with me for story ideas, tips, etc!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Easley to have surgery

Is Governor Easley falling apart?

We got word today that Gov. Easley will have shoulder surgery tomorrow. I'll put the release below this. This is at least his third surgery that I can remember since he's been in office.

In January of 2003, Gov. Easley had bone spurs removed from his left shoulder at UNC Hospitals. He was in a sling for a few weeks.

In May of 2006, Gov. Easley had outpatient surgery on his left knee to repair a cartilage fissure.

Now we get word he's having the same bone spur surgery on his right shoulder but this time it's at Duke University hospitals.

You have to love the sense of humor of his doctor-full release is below.

RALEIGH – Gov. Mike Easley will undergo shoulder surgery on Tuesday at Duke Hospital in Durham. The surgery is expected to last approximately two hours and Easley will be numbed with a general nerve block to the affected area. His activity will be restricted for several months.

The following is a statement from Dr. Bill Garrett, Easley’s doctor:

“We will be removing bone spurs from the governor’s right shoulder area, including his AC joint and acromion – the area near the rotator cuff. The spurs were caused by extensive use of the shoulder during exercise, sports, and physical activities over several years. In addition to spurs, there are torn tendons that must be reattached with screws and sutures. This is very similar to the surgery on his shoulder in 2003, but is on the other side.

“He will be able to work, but will be wearing a sling for the next three to four weeks. I am advising the governor to restrict activity for several months and to refrain from high impact or strenuous activity like contact basketball, golf, shooting shot guns, weight lifting or NASCAR driving until next year. We might suggest he sign bills left handed as well. His signature will not be any worse.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lawmakers end session quickly

So hard to say goodbye...or is it!

Lawmakers frantically finished their work Friday and whisked away from Raleigh as fast as possible. There's several reasons for this. First and foremost, all 170 spots in the General Assembly are up for election every two years and this would be that time. They don't want to be here giving their opponents any possible ammunition.

Second, revenues keep dropping and the outlook is as well so they just want to get away from it.

At the beginning of the session there were high hopes to get work done on transportation, drought, mental health and many other big issues. But day one it was clear leadership was focused on one thing-get a budget amended and get out of dodge ASAP!

So how did they do? Obviously depends on who you ask. I think the bottom line is they did enough to touch on the subjects and not get crucified during elections but not too much to get crucified in elections. Sounds funny I know, yet it makes sense.

Just about everyone you talk to down there is completely focused on transportation next year. They are all waiting for the 21st Century Transportation Committee to come forward with recommendations later this year.

Expect huge debates over finding new revenue sources (i.e. new taxes or fees to replace dwindling gas tax funds). Sadly, public transportation probably won't get as much attention by lawmakers as it should even though I suspect it will be a pretty big portion of the 21st Century Committee.

So, how will we fund roads. That's perhaps the biggest question. Big bonds? That's another question to be answered. Will lawmakers look to put big bonds (big as in billion$) for transportation, water and sewer, land preservation, etc. That will be another huge debate whether or not to ask voters for a big chunk of cash or figure out other ways to fix the state's crumbling state infrastructure.

You'll also hear a lot about education as usual. Expect another push for significant teacher raises and new fixes for dropout issues.

Will lawmakers touch the death penalty, annexation, land transfer taxes, etc.? Who knows..depends on how the wind is blowing I would bet.

For now the wind's blowing them right out of town. Get ready for non-stop election coverage!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Easley signs NC budget

Easley quietly signs budget....

By press release, Gov. Easley announced he signed the amended budget. He's clearly not pleased with the budget by signing it so quietly. There was no news conference, no question and answer, just a quiet last signature on a budget as Governor.

It's no secret he was not pleased with lower teacher raises than he proposed and had concerns about spending and borrowing. There was even question whether he would sign it or just let it go into law without his signature after 10 days. I don't think too many people believed he would veto. It's an interesting end to his last budget process though since it was so quiet.

In the meantime, lawmakers are probably a bit giddy. This means they can wrap up session and get out of town for 2008 in time to hit the lakes or links this weekend.

Now it's just a matter of time what they can get through and/or kill between now and then as far as bills are concerned.

I think it's safe to say political coverage will take a major shift back to the elections next week with the legislature adjourning. Get ready!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Tuesday!

Well it appears lawmakers are going to do everything they can to wrap up the session and get out of town by the end of the week. The big question remains...will the Gov. sign the budget? He does have the option of not signing it and letting it simply go into law after 10 days which comes Friday.

In the meantime lawmakers are feverishly working on several last minute bills including the drought and gangs. There is a compromise on both that are both expected to pass.

Here's my story today on the gang issue.

RALEIGH -- Lawmakers have compromised on a plan that will officially make street gangs illegal in North Carolina.

Currently there is no law on the books that directly specifically deals with gangs. The legislation still needs final votes from the state house and senate.

Statewide there are an estimated 550 gangs with more than 14,000 members.

"We are at a crisis point in our state we have from all over this state gangs are popping up everywhere," Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenburg) said.

Lawmakers hope new proposals will stop gangs from growing even larger. For the first time in state history the plan would make gang activity a crime.
The proposals add new felonies to the law books for gang leaders who take part in gangs and recruit.

"The focus of the legislation is to go after the gang members not necessarily the rank and file gang members but those who are really running the operations through drugs, crimes, recruiting members, those who are in charge," Rep. Cotham added.

"Now we are aware gangs reach down to levels of 8, 9, 10 but the leadership the people who really profit from this that's where we've got to really hit," Rep. Bill Current (R-Gaston) said.

This bill has not been without controversy at the General Assembly. There is some concern it will target minority groups. There is also concerns about age restrictions.

For months, lawmakers argued what age these gang members should face adult charges. One version said 12 years old another said 16. A compromise settled on 15 years old.

After they serve their time the gang portion of their record is erased but any related charges involving weapons or anything else would stay on their record. Supporters say it's about time North Carolina puts gang laws on the books.

"It's so important to the foundation of our society that people feel safe in their homes and walk around and jog and feel safe in their homes," Rep. Current added.

They hope these new proposals with prevention and intervention programs will slow down one of the fastest growing crime problems in the state.
If approved and signed by the governor the law would take effect on December 1st. That means it would only impact crimes that take place on or after that date.

Friday, July 11, 2008

TGIF!!!!! Quite a week with Helms' funeral and the legislature scrambling to get out of here by next week.

Anywho, make sure to check out Political Connections tonight at 6pm (Friday) and Sunday again at 11am. We're focusing on all of our coverage from Jesse Helms this past week with a few guests added in.

I focused my daily effort today on the fundraising in the governor's race. Story is below..

RALEIGH -- Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has his work cut out for him in the fundraising department.

The Republican candidate for governor has less than half the amount of his opponent, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue.

"The Perdue is very consistent in their fundraising," Peace College political professor Dr. David McLennan said. "The McCrory campaign needs to pick it up to be quite honest."

In the second quarter Perdue raised $2.3 million dollars. She has $1.4 million in cash. McCrory reports more than a million dollars with $700,000 in cash.

In a statement, Perdue spokesman David Kochman writes "Voters across North Carolina share Bev Perdue's vision for world-class public schools, affordable health care, and economic opportunity for all North Carolina families."

McCrory campaign manager Richard Hudson writes in a statement, "When you consider the amount of money Pat has been able to raise in such a short time, it is easy to understand that he has momentum on his side."

On top of just entering the race in January, McCrory's advisors also point out he has raised more money than the last two Republican candidates.

McCrory's campaign says they raised $600,000 more than Patrick Ballantine did in the second quarter of the 2004 race. They also say he raised $190,000 more than Richard Vinroot did in 2000.

While money doesn't translate into votes, it does buy tv time which is important to get votes all across the state. Dr. McLennan believes the third quarter fundraising numbers could tell us how competitive election night will be in the governor's race.

"I think that's what we'll watch for," Dr. McLennan added. "Is he bringing in money from across the state to show statewide support and is he bringing in enough money to make himself competitive with Perdue."

In the U.S. Senate race, Kay Hagan kept pace with Elizabeth Dole raising money during the second quarter. However, Dole still has more than two and a half times the amount of money in her campaign war chest.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wrappin up...

It appears more and more likely that lawmakers will wrap up by the end of next week.
Yesterday, House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman told me he expected them to be done by then. Today, committees were working overtime to get through bills.

Drought will likely get wrapped up. I'm told there's an agreement on anti-gang legislation and it will be rolled out next week. So, if you need something with a lawmaker better see them quick cause you're likely to see nothing but dust by the end of next week.

In the meantime I did a story on Hannah Montana today. I know...just read below!

RALEIGH -- State lawmakers could ban software that allows brokers to sellout concerts or games in just minutes.

The software helps brokers get hundreds if not thousands of tickets. Those tickets are then sold for a much higher price on the internet. Teen sensation Hannah Montana sparked idea not only in North Carolina but other states as well.

Last fall, Hannah Montana came to Greensboro. Rob Fisher tried to buy tickets online the minute they went on sale.

"We clicked on any available seats and nothing came up so we figured maybe our computer clock was off by a minute or two so we tried again, tried again and nothing came up," Fisher said last September.

That's because the concert sold out in record time. Most of those tickets were likely bought in seconds by computer software.

"There are people in the country that have these robotic systems that actually come in," Sandy Sands, who represents Ticketmaster, said. "We're not talking about two dozen tickets, we're talking about hundreds and thousands of tickets."

Those tickets are then resold online for a much higher price. A proposed law continues to make its way through the legislature that would ban that software.

"And it will give the venue and the seller the ability to go after them and stop them and get an injunction and hit them for money damages which is a whole lot more than a little misdemeanor which is currently in the law now," Sands said.

While pretty much everyone including venues all across North Carolina are in favor of banning these computer programs, companies like eBay and Stub Hub do have concerns about a new tax in the bill they would have to collect.

The bill allows the resale of tickets online above the ticket price, but it charges a three percent tax.

Those companies argue it's not their responsibility, it's the person who sells the actual ticket. A company representative compared it to classified ad sales in newspapers.

"You're saying the newspaper should collect taxes on the appreciated value of the items sold in the classified ads," Bill Scoggin, who represents Stub Hub and eBay said.

The bill still needs approval in another committee and from the full House. Then it goes back to the Senate for approval there before heading to the governor's desk.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Rep. Holliman told me today he believes the House will close shop up sometime next week.

Here's a brief piece I did today on the subject..

RALEIGH -- Lawmakers approved a budget but their work is not over just yet.

From the drought to gang issues, some big ticket items remain on lawmakers plates. They are trying to finish up by next week and won't be back until january.

Outside the legislature, advocacy groups continue to push lawmakers for approval of several bills.

A moratorium on forced annexations passed the House already, but it still needs Senate approval. The Senate has approved a bill to repeal the land transfer sales tax, but it needs House approval. Both face an uphill battle.

There is likely a week or two left and it's a fast and furious push for lawmakers looking to get their bills passed.

"We want enough time to take a look at it and see if it's something we want to accomplish," House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman (D-Davidson) said. "If it's something that's not needed we'll be back in January."

Before then lawmakers are still working to pass new laws defining gangs for the first time. Leaders hope to resolve that soon.

Drought proposals are a major focus among House and Senate members. The most current compromise gives the state power to force water restrictions but local governments can still decide who must conserve and how much.

"This issue is not going to go away," Rep. Holliman added. "We can't just wait to see where it goes. We know we're getting a little rain but we still have a drought problem in this state and we need to address it."

But some lawmakers are worried about pushing through this legislation too fast.

"There are some questions about seeding too much authority to the state government or providing local governments too much over people who are not under local rules," Sen. Minority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said.

While there are a few big ticket items for lawmakers to take up, it's clear their goal is to leave as soon as possible with an election this fall. Rep. Holliman believes they will be out of raleigh sometime next week.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I need to get to an appointment but I wanted to make sure and at least post my story from Helms' funeral today. Someone else covered the actual funeral. I focused on who attended. More tomorrow..

RALEIGH -- A number of high profile people attended Jesse Helms' funeral.

From the Vice President to U.S. Senators, some big names said goodbye to Senator Helms.

More than two hours before the funeral started, mourners began arriving, including Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

"He supported mass transit, he was really tough on foreign policy and yet he was also friends with Bono the rock singer, but he was always consistent in the way he treated people and that's why I admired him," Mayor McCrory said.

Not long after, three white limousines brought the family of Helms to the church. Then a short time later two buses filled with members of Congress arrived, including Elizabeth and Bob Dole, Richard Burr, and at least two Democrats.

Moments later Senator Burr greeted Republican Presidential candidate John McCain's wife Cindy.

Governor Mike Easley and UNC system President Erskine Bowles walked into the church together followed by more than a dozen state lawmakers.

Shortly before 2:00pm, the Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney arrived.

"That to me says more about Jesse Helms than some of the things I've seen written lately," Helms' Chief of Staff Jimmy Broughton said. "When you have the funeral and that's a celebration of life and look who shows up to pay tribute to that life. It's the most diverse crowd ever."

After the funeral pall bearers brought Helms flag draped coffin down the stairs of the church. The family then followed to a private burial service.

Those who know Helms best say he would be shocked by the turnout for his own funeral with all the high profile politicians.

"He would have been blown away, totally overwhelmed if you would have said the Vice President would attend his funeral," Broughton added.

"He remained a common man and he told the people the truth and I think they always respected him for that," Sen. Fred Smith (R-Johnston) said.

Helms no doubt created a great deal of controversy during his life, but in death, it appears he will be most remembered for his courage to stand up for his beliefs.

Monday, July 07, 2008

How's this for a political reporter? I didn't find out about Jesse Helms' death Friday until Saturday!

I was at my brother's cabin in Wisconsin for the weekend and we were no where near watching television with 75 degree weather and a boat! My father-in-law called Saturday asking if I had heard. Kinda crazy.

I spent a large part of today talking with folks at the church who came to pay their final respects. We'll be covering his funeral live on News 14 Carolina tomorrow. In the meantime, here's my story about it from today. I'm hoping to do this week's show on the Senator as well.

RALEIGH -- The public is saying a final farewell to Jesse Helms today.

The Republican Senator died of natural causes on the Fourth of July. He was 86 years old. His body will continue to lie in repose at his Raleigh church until 8:00 pm tonight.

Thomas Allen was one of a dozen people who lined up an hour before the church doors opened. Allen brought letters he got from the senator.

"He was instrumental in not only helping me help handicap people with disabilities but ordinary citizens who may have had tough times in their lives," Allen said.

Ellen Baker brought her five year old son.

"He's just now entering schools and paying attention to the things around him and he doesn't understand it now but maybe he'll look back and say hey I remember that with my mom when we helped celebrate his life," Baker said.

Throughout the day a slow but steady line of people walked past the Senator's coffin in the church Helms attended for 67 years. They paused at his casket draped with an American flag with an honor guard from the NC Highway Patrol nearby.

"He was a very loyal and career senator so I just like to stop by to show my appreciation and thanks for him serving so long in the Senate," Garland Thompson, Jr. from the Christian Leadership Council said.

"I will remember Jesse Helms who spoke his mind," Baker added. "He was brave enough to say what he felt even when those things were not popular, he was the one who stood up and said the way he felt."

It was not just supporters who came to say a final farewell to Helms. In his 30 years as a senator he ruffled a lot of feathers, but even opponents of his work came to pay their final respects.

One of his most controversial moments involved his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"Again even if I don't agree with all his viewpoints I feel like he did a lot for the state of North Carolina," Gary Pennington said.

It was truly a day to remember Jesse Helms courage to stand up for his beliefs rather than argue over those beliefs that created so much controversy.

Helms funeral will take place at the same church at 2:00 Tuesday afternoon. A private burial service will follow. News 14 Carolina will air the entire funeral live.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Governor defends himself-I'm leaving for vacation!

So, Gov. Easley was a little defensive at a news conference this morning. He was asked extensively about overseas trips by he and the Mrs. to promote NC.

I have to wonder if at the end of his tenure when he's sitting in that Southport house of his working on some wood project next year, Gov. Easley's greatest regret will be picking a fight with McClatchey. That's who owns the N&O and Charlotte Observer. Since the mental health fiasco (including the now infamous news conference) the two newspapers have gone all out looking into Easley's public records. I'm not saying these issues shouldn't be investigated and/or debated. I just wonder if they would have gotten as much play or investigation if the tiff hadn't grown between the Gov's office and the newspaper chain.

It doesn't help that gas is $4.oo a gallon and the dollar is getting miserable value in Europe.

In some ways it's been a perfect storm for him to face such criticism for his actions in the past year.

Even Republicans will tell you these trips are worthwhile to bring in art exhibits for tourism and potential jobs to the state, but they have an issue with the first class treatment the Gov. and Mrs. paid for using taxpayers money.

Anywho..I'm headed home to MN to spend 5 days on the lake fishing and relaxing with the family.

Have a great 4th of July and good luck on all the state budget stuff..

I'm out!