Ashvegas: The City You Love. The News You Want.By James Harrison

Two weeks have slipped past since the last installment of the Hit List, and wouldn’t you know it—both weeks have been chock-full of smokin’ hot political news.

Police predicaments

There’s a new chief in town. Police Chief William Anderson’s interim replacement was named last week. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, former Santa Cruz chief Steve Belcher will begin serving at the post on Jan. 19 next year. Meanwhile, the Citizen-Times has filed a lawsuit over the police department’s holding of videos recorded at a host of recent public events. Keeping on the police beat, city leaders heard concerns from community members on plans for the troubled police department this week, and not long following the announcement that Belcher would be coming to Asheville, the incoming chief told the paper that he did not see the department as being in crisis mode compared to other situations he’s handled.

City Council digest

Fast times at Asheville City Council. With a full agenda on their plates last week, the group voted to increase density limits for residential development in 11 commercial zoning districts across the city—a move which has the potential to impact up to a fifth of the city’s total acreage. The group also voted approve a 104-unit apartment complex in West Asheville, and postponed a vote for a proposed 300-unit apartment complex in Oakley.

Council contenders

So who’s running? After a couple names were floated last week, more potential candidates for next year’s City Council elections have begun to surface. Among them—Western North Carolina Alliance co-director Julie Mayfield, and former commission candidate Keith Young. Also mentioned last week were James Bullman and Rich Lee—but Bullman announced this week he’d forego a run. Lee’s still in. So far, no incumbents whose seats are up for grabs have announced whether they intend to seek re-election or not. Look for it in the new year.

GOP whoopee

Did you know—Obama’s a Marxist, he’s been “put on notice,” and the federal government’s credit card has been torn to shreds? Those were among the lines (more or less) delivered by high-profile Republicans at last week’s annual Christmas GOP gathering hosted by former U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor in Asheville. Among the attendees were former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Gov. Pat McCrory, and U.S. Sen.-elect Thom Tillis. For a full rundown which catches the tenor of the event, check out this Citizen-Times report from Mark Barrett.

Whip Van Duyn

This week state Sen. Terry Van Duyn was elected by her colleagues to the Senate Minority Whip position, a post she’ll hold for at least two years. Van Duyn, who was appointed to the seat following the death of former Sen. Martin Nesbitt, said she was one of five senators to express interest in the position—five out of sixteen Democrats in the 50-member Senate.

McCrory Minutes

Remember the coal ash issues dominating news earlier this year? In an appearance on 60 Minutes last week, Gov. Pat McCrory addressed them to a national audience. During the show, the governor said Duke Energy had done “very little” to clean its remaining pools up. The comments would’ve appeared significant—as McCrory, a former employee of Duke, would’ve appeared to be distancing himself from the company. Not so. Following the show’s airing, the governor fired back, telling Raleigh station WFMY he was taken out of context.

McCrory vulnerable

That’s the line from a National Journal report, which listed Gov. Pat McCrory as the “most vulnerable Republican incumbent on the gubernatorial map” in 2016. Yikes! Not the kind of news you wanna hear. But considering our next headline for McCrory this one’s pretty tame—

Payout pandemonium

Quite the storm for Gov. Pat McCrory this week. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported on questionable payouts accepted by the governor after he took office—amounting to more than $171,000 from online mortgage provider Tree.com. Both McCrory and South Carolina U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford accepted payouts for serving on the company’s board—positions they were required to relinquish once they were elected to office. Despite not publicly disclosing all aspects of the payout until this year, McCrory vehemently denied any wrongdoing, instead attacking AP for a report filled with errors and “malice.” The governor came out swinging—releasing a fact check along with a 34-page rebuttal of the article, along with appearances on news shows. He also asked supporters to use the occasion as an excuse to fund his campaign coffer, as an effort to defeat media “false claims and innuendo.”

Conflict on Cromnibus

Did you know the government came kinda close to shutting down last week? When it came time to vote on a funding bill, congressmen from Western North Carolina disagreed. According to the Citizen-Times, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, who serves as chief deputy whip for the House GOP, voted in favor of the $1.1 trillion bill. U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, on the other hand, voted against it because of its lack of addressing President Barack Obama’s recent executive order on immigration. It wasn’t the first time Meadows held his ground at the risk of a shutdown. If you recall, the congressman was among those who helped spearhead the effort to defund the government over the Affordable Care Act in 2013, an effort which ultimately led to a brief shutdown. He was later hailed by CNN as “architect” of the shutdown.

Hagan Out

Bidding farewell to her Senate colleagues, an emotional outgoing U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan offered heartfelt thanks to the people of North Carolina last week for sending her to Washington. The senator also offered a rundown of her tenure, and gave some parting advice for those staying on. The speech is 13 minutes long, you can watch the whole thing here.

Burr confidential

When he returns to Washington next year, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr will assume a high-profile role—ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Anticipating the change, several news organizations have stories on the chairman-in-waiting’s plans. Among them—higher scrutiny of intelligence agencies, but no promises of greater transparency (according to this News & Observer report). Another item worth noting—Burr said last week he has no intention of holding hearings on the controversial leaked CIA torture report, calling it a “blatant attempt to smear the Bush administration.” His future colleague, U.S. Sen.-elect Thom Tillis, echoed Burr’s sentiment, criticizing the report’s release and possible ramifications it might have.

Other appointments

Along with Burr’s post on the Intel committee, appointments to various committees for other Western North Carolina lawmakers were announced this week. According to the News & Observer, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis will serve on the Senate Armed Forces, Judiciary, Veterans Affairs and the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committees. Burr will also serve on the Finance and Health, Labor and Pensions Committees. In the House, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows will be chairing the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, which is a branch of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It’s a step up for him.

Some other items you should definitely check out

Land Wars—Asheville Blade

When the city doesn’t pay a living wage—Asheville Blade

I-26 Connector: A plan to get it done?—Citizen-Times

McCrory names lobbyist deputy chief of staff—WRAL

NC first lady finds Asheville her “heaven”—Citizen-Times

Governor decks halls with favorite records—News & Observer

McHenry, Meadows question Gruber—Citizen-Times

Tillis displeased with Cuba announcement—WRAL

Thom Tillis names new Senate staff—Charlotte Observer

Outside groups set spending record in midterms—NY Times

Incoming freshmen get quick infusion of corporate cash—Bloomberg

McCrory, Burr lead 2016 poll despite low approval—News & Observer

North Carolina is “Ground Zero” for 2016—National Journal

That’s it for this week! Merry Christmas!

 James Harrison recently returned to Asheville after working as a government reporter for Nooga.com, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter at @jharrisonAVL.

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