Ashvegas Political Hit List: Full speed ahead on fracking, Huckabee at Harrah’s, more

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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

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!

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

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Big Al June 5, 2014

    THIS veteran agrees with Senator Burr. As a healthcare professional who has visited VA medical centers for clinical experience, I have been less than impressed with the overall quality of care they provide. Not horrible, mind you, but not worthy of the gushing praise of the VA by some veterans.

    I note that those who heap the greatest praise on the VA are the WW2/Korea/Vietnam era that got into the system decades ago before it broke, and make up the bulk of the good ole’ boy, beer hall ranks of the VFW, American Legion, etc.

    I suspect that most of the vets from Desert Storm to Iraq/Afghanistan are the ones having the trouble getting into the system now, and they, like me, don’t care much for the VFW or Legion, or share those groups’ blind allegiance to the VA. Of course, as they are not VFW/Legion, THEIR voices only get heard when they demand action from their elected representatives.

  2. Tim Peck June 1, 2014

    FRACKNATION: The Truth About Fracking

    Lessons from the Debate over Fracking

  3. truckwilkins May 31, 2014

    Yankees are amazing!bulldoze a road up th side of a steep mountain push the trees off to the side it rains the mud goes into the creek turns it brown goes into the French broad that your so concerned about and of course you build a house three times bigger than you need and then talk about someone elses carbon foot print a bunce of selfrightoues say you want to help poor people how does driving up our electric bills help us? and global warming?you cant reliably predict the weather for next week but your going to predict the weather fifty years from now are you just stupid? truckwilkins

    1. NFB May 31, 2014

      Punctuation is your friend.

      So is a dictionary which will tell you the difference between weather and climate.

      1. truckwilkins May 31, 2014

        save our mountain environment go home! trucowilkins
        beware the southron who is no longer polite

        1. Jimmy Mule June 4, 2014


    2. chris May 31, 2014

      Neil deGrasse Tyson will school you on weather and climate change:

      The More You Know!

  4. Stacey May 30, 2014

    I am very sad that we are going to sacrifice our personal health and the health and beauty of the mountains all in the name of cheap energy. This is a tragic move for Western North Carolina, a place that depends on tourism to survive.

  5. RHS May 30, 2014

    Also, Buncombe County Commission District 3 may get an independent candidate in November.

    1. Matt June 1, 2014

      Interesting article, thanks. But it doesn’t seem like much of a bust up in the Dakotas….

  6. theOtherBarry May 30, 2014

    …sending it to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory (who is widely expected to sign it into law)

    Ya think?

    They made a big to-do about McCrory selling off his Duke stock after the coal-ash spill. Only one news venue in the state, WFAE in Charlotte, reported that he had conspicuously not sold off his Spectra Energy stock. Spectra was spun off from Duke to run their natural gas business, right before McCrory was spun off to run for Governor.

    Well, the other shoe has dropped. It’s been revealed that Spectra is preparing to build (at the request of Duke Energy), a $4 billion, 427-mile natural gas pipeline from the heart of the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, all the way down across North Carolina to the border with South Carolina.

    Conflict of interest much, Pat?


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