Let’s get to it. Here comes the latest volume of the Ashevegas Political Hit List!
Budget season is upon us
It only comes once a year, and the wait is finally over. That’s right, the City of Asheville’s 2014-15 budget proposal dropped Tuesday. Have you read it yet? Scribes at both the Citizen-Times and Mountain Xpress offered reports on the $147.5 million proposal (one’s paywalled, the other’s free). The 74-page plan, put forward by City Manager Gary Jackson, includes a 3 percent raise for 1,140 city workers, funds to offer limited bus service on Sundays, and a large chunk for improvements to parks and greenways. Best of all, there’s no increase in property tax. A hearing for the budget is set for June 10, with a final vote on June 24.
The wild, wild General Assembly
The short session is living up to the hype! This week lawmakers in Raleigh had plenty on their plate. On Tuesday, House members kicked off the week by approving a bill on voice vote to grant a loophole to allow the famous (or infamous, depending on how you view it) Clay County New Year’s Eve Possum drop to continue. Around the same time, a band of protesters began barring themselves in the office of House Speaker (and U.S. Senate candidate) Thom Tillis, kickin-off a sit-in which would last nearly 11 hours. Police asked the group to leave, warning of arrest on multiple occasions long after the House building had closed. In the end, 14 protesters were arrested at 1:45 AM, and nary a one got to meet with Tillis.
Full speed ahead on fracking
Last week’s Senate-approved fracking bill sailed through the House Thursday, sending it to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory (who is widely expected to sign it into law). According to the Raleigh News & Observer, permits for fracking in North Carolina could be issued as soon as May 2015. While Rep. Tim Moffitt backed the bill, his WNC neighbor Rep. Nathan Ramsey was one of 12 Republicans to break ranks and vote against it. On Twitter, Ramsey explained he could not support the bill because he was “unsure” of how the state would respond in the event of mistake made by a driller. Better safe than sorry, right?
Senate spars with McCrory on budget
Speculation on a brooding tug-of-war between McCrory and GOP lawmakers appeared to be fulfilled this week, as state Senators unveiled their own budget proposal days after the governor’s plan was put forward. The$21.2 billion plan is the product of weeks of meetings behind closed doors, and makes “major shifts in state policy and spending,” according to a News & Observer report. Among the notable changes—an increase in proposed pay raises for teachers, and shifting control of Medicaid to a “new agency” outside the Department of Health and Human Services. Upon the budget’s release, McCrory expressed having “very serious concerns,” and on Thursday he came out in opposition to the teacher-pay component of the Senate plan. With GOP supermajorities in both the House and Senate chambers, McCrory’s predicament is leading Hill watchers to ask a familiar question once more: “Does the governor have any influence?”
Huckabee hitting Harrahs
It’s shaping up to be a weekend to remember in Cherokee. Members of the state’s GOP establishment will descend upon Harrah’s casino June 6-8 for the state convention, which will include a keynote address by former presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee’s addition to the schedule this week came after a bit of controversy, following a Sylva News Herald report which claimed Huckabee’s speaking fee of $15,000 was initially too high for convention organizers. Since then, the state GOP has denied Huckabee requested a fee. In addition to the Huckabee pep-rally, Republicans will officially nominate Thom Tillis as their candidate to challenge U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in November’s general election.
McHenry, Meadows call for VA head’s departure
On Thursday U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry joined the chorus of lawmakers calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Sec. Eric Shinseki. The release of an ongoing investigation of systemic problems within the department led McHenry to describe revelations on VA operations as “nothing short of disgusting.” On the heels of McHenry, neighboring U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows also issued a statement calling for the secretary’s resignation, along with “top-down-reform” at the agency handling veterans issues.
Burr busts in open letter
Heading into Memorial Day weekend, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr took his criticism of the ongoing VA scandal one step further. In addition to calling for resignation of Shinseki, Burr bashed leaders of veterans groups in an open letter “to America’s veterans” for “defending the status quo,” in order to protect relationships with the agency instead condemning Shinseki’s leadership. The comments ignited a firestorm of negative media attention for the senator, who is ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Among those slamming the senator were Veterans of Foreign Wars, who described Burr’s comments as a “monumental cheap shot,” and Vietnam Veterans for America, who called the letter “insulting” and “ugly.” Burr’s comments even drew response from VA committee chairman U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT., and inspired a 15-minute segment on the liberal Rachel Maddow show. Despite all that, Burr doubled down on his comments Wednesday, and added that outrage over his letter seemed to proved his point—that leaders of the nation’s veterans groups were more upset over his remarks than the mismanagement of VA.
Hagan on the prowl
Let the games begin. This week saw one of our first glimpses of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan leaving the sidelines to go directly after her GOP opponent, Thom Tillis (instead of leaving the chore to super PACs). During a stop in Raleigh Tuesday, Hagan swatted Tillis’ stance on climate change, along with his tenure in the General Assembly. Of course, Tillis hasn’t shied away from slamming Hagan’s work in the Senate in recent months, so it’s about time for Hagan to do some trash-talking of her own. Will it matter six months from now? Who knows. The good news is we get to be inundated with it as the summer sweats on.
Tillis leads nation in outside spending
Finally, here’s your friendly reminder that North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race is on pace to be the costliest in the country, and Thom Tillis is raking in outside funds. Guess that makes your vote worth something?
See ya next week!