N.C. politics this week: What you may have missed
Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses what we think are some interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s a week in review:
Testy Exchange: The Oct. 2 N.C. State Board of Education got heated when members questioned State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s recent purchases of iPads. Where did he get the money for the devices? How did he determine which schools would get the iPads? Johnson bristled at the questions. Johnson said he found the money in his superintendent budget to buy 800 iPads because of his “fiscal conservative nature.” “It’s quite a shame that we are sitting here having a conversation like this instead of celebrating the fact that we got more resources to classrooms,” Johnson said.
Board confirmations: The State Board of Education will again have a full board. On Oct. 2, the House and the Senate voted in a joint session to approve three nominations. Donna A. Tipton-Rogers and J. Wendell Hall were approved to join the state education board, and current board member J.B. Buxton was confirmed for another term.
#DantheMan: Supporters took to social media to defend East Carolina University interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach. Gerlach was placed on administrative leave after videos emerged of him drinking and dancing with students at a local bar. Hashtags such as #DantheMan and #FreeDan have popped up on Twitter. A Change.org petition to reinstate Gerlach has garnered more than 13,000 signatures. Some students chanted “We want Dan,” before an Oct. 3 football game against Temple.
FEMA denial: On Oct. 8, FEMA rejected North Carolina’s request for Individual Assistance for Hurricane Dorian. “This is disappointing news for families who lost everything in Hurricane Dorian and still need help,” Ford Porter, a spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, said in a statement. Dorian hit the N.C. coast Sept. 5. Cooper requested Individual Assistance on Sept. 21 for Carteret, Dare, Hyde, and New Hanover counties to help families pay for temporary housing, home repair, home replacement, and other disaster recovery relegated expenses.
Medicaid expansion questions: Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, wants to know if the state can handle Medicaid expansion. The Pitt County Democrat sent a letter Oct. 4 to Mandy Cohen, secretary of N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, requesting assurances the state could handle adding more people to the program. He pointed to comments by State Auditor Beth Wood about faults with the Medicaid program. “While I would like to see us close the Medicaid coverage gap, I also believe we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure there is accountability in state government,” Davis wrote in the letter. Becki Gray, John Locke Foundation senior vice president, first reported the letter in a blog post Oct. 7. Gray posed the question: Is this the break in the longstanding budget stalemate? Davis later told Carolina Journal he still supports the veto.
Impeachment polling numbers: A little more than 50% of N.C. voters are unhappy with President Trump’s job performance. The numbers represent the latest poll from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling. While 51% disapprove of Trump’s job performance, 46% of respondents are satisfied with his work. Voters are evenly divided on impeachment. Forty-eight percent support impeachment, but 48% oppose the measure. The remaining 4% are unsure. The survey polled 963 N.C. voters from Oct. 4-6 using telephones and cellphones. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.2%.
Discharge petitions: Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton, filed discharge petitions to get two of her bills out of the Senate Rules Committee. Senate Bill 660 directs the General Assembly to have a workplace harassment plan. Under the bill, lawmakers and their staffs would have to take mandatory annual ethics training to prevent harassment and discrimination. Smith’s other bill, Senate Bill 184, would have the state adopt and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The two bills have been in the Senate Rules Committee since early spring. It’s likely the maneuver is publicity for her 2020 U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Republican Thom Tillis. At least 34 senators would have to sign the discharge petition to move either bill to the floor for a vote.
Chapel Hill audit: A parts vendor improperly billed Chapel Hill about $210,000 that didn’t match related work orders. The Office of the State Auditor reported the billing discrepancy in an Oct. 8 audit report. The town contracted with Walker Automotive Parts to buy and manage parts for the town’s Fleet Management Division. Chapel Hill ended up paying for duplicate orders, parts that didn’t fit the Fleet Management Division vehicles, core deposit charges, and parts that didn’t match work orders. The vendor has paid back $134,112 to the town. The audit report says Chapel Hill failed to catch the errors because of faulty oversight and inadequate parts detail reporting. Findings were sent to a district attorney to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
Friendly loan: A $500,000 loan has landed House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis in the fundraising maze surrounding the state Department of Insurance. Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, accepted a loan in June 2018 from John Gray, a friend and fellow farmer. The loan was to help Lewis with his struggling farm. Gray was indicted in March for allegedly trying to bribe N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who cooperated with prosecutors. Greg Lindberg, an insurance tycoon; associate John Palermo; and then-N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes were also indicted. Hayes recently pleaded guilty and this week was convicted on several charges. Lewis said Gray was a friend, but the loan wasn’t a “sweetheart deal.” The House Rules Chairman said he was unaware at the time of any impending legal troubles facing Gray.
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