Loretta Boniti

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Legislative Black Caucus set to wield power in new session

RALEIGH — African-Americans will wield some new strength in state politics this January.

The Legislative Black Caucus now holds a majority of seats within the minority ranks, meaning when it comes to setting agendas, naming leadership, and standing up to Republican ideology, this group will be the voice of Democratic officials.

No question about it, Republicans will rule the halls of the legislature when it convenes in January, setting the agenda and in many cases not needing any Democratic help to get bills passed.

But when you look at the make-up of the minority side of the aisle, not only are Democrats continuing to settle in to the role as the party on the sidelines, they will now also be adjusting to a new dynamic within their party.

"I think everyone understands the political landscape as it exists," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, "and we will have a majority of African-American members in the House and an even number in the Senate. With everyone being aware of that, I think the political dynamic will put us in a stronger position."

The Legislative Black Caucus could now choose who the minority leader is in the House, and could certainly block someone in the senate with their numbers.

McKissick said with this power, members of the Black Caucus are ready to step up to the plate, and help lead.

"There are quite a few I think we have substantial interest and I think it is yet to be determined who will emerge within that group to move into the forefront," he said. "But I think we have a lot of strong smart members within the African-American caucus who I think will be able to do so."

Political observers point out this will be a new spotlight for the black caucus to step in to — one that could get a lot of attention.

"If the Black Caucus does in fact engineer the selection of a minority leader and it’s someone who is very liberal, that is going to set a tone as to what the Democratic Party is perceived as, because how they stand up to the governor and the House and Senate leaders is very important," said David McLennan, with William Peace University.

For now, members of the Black Caucus said they are hopeful for a relationship of mutual respect and working together, but also said they are prepared to tackle the tough issues if they need to.

The Legislative Black Caucus is not scheduled to meet until December. The House and Senate minority is expected to meet after that to decide on their leadership for the next session.

Candidates make final pushes for votes before Election Day

RALEIGH — The final push is on.

Candidates, supporters, surrogates and staffers are out in full force to try to make their final pleas to voters before they cast their ballots on Tuesday, as parties work for victory on Election Day.

From phone banks, to rallies, to good old hand-shaking, candidates are crisscrossing the country, state and counties working for every last vote.

“Its all dependent on who shows up,” said Michael Bitzer of Catawba College.

When it comes to the presidential race, polls indicate North Carolina is as close as it comes.

About 2.7 million North Carolinians have already cast their ballots early, but political observer say the old cliche holds true that literally every vote will count this election day.

“They need to be focused on first identifying who didn’t show up at early voting,” said Bitzer, “and then making sure that the resources and the capabilities to get those folks to the polls on Tuesday is there.”

For the Democrats and Obama campaign this has meant sending some big names like Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton to make their case for another four years.

On the state level, it is a different story. Republican Pat McCrory has a clear lead in the polls even though he has a light schedule the day before the polls open he recently said he is not resting on good poll numbers.

“We’re going to fight for every single vote until the polls close on Tuesday evening,” said McCrory.

Walter Dalton is fighting for every last vote too.

“We are organized,” said Dalton, “and we know the people who are favorable and would vote for us and we are trying to encourage them to get on out to the polls.”

With 41 percent of the North Carolina electorate already casting their ballot, the pressure is on to get the rest of the electorate to the polls Tuesday.

NC election officials warn against voter misinformation, intimidation

RALEIGH — North Carolina voters are facing some obstacles as they cast their ballots from voter intimidation to election misinformation. Election officials said enough is enough.

“Some of it is mischievous,” said Gary Bartlett, NC State Board of Elections executive director. “Some of it is just mean-spiritedness.”

Bartlett said he is seeing more problems during this year’s early voting cycle than he has seen in his previous 20 years in elections.

“There have been fights that have broken out and there have been arrests made,” said Bartlett.

In fact, Bartlett sent a letter to all county board of election directors this week, warning them of problems he has seen throughout the state.

“There is really nothing we can do as staff,” says Wake County Board of Elections Deputy Director Gary Sims, “because if it is within that 50 foot we can stop it. But outside that 50 foot all we can do is make sure that we have an obstructed way for the voters to get to the polls.”

Voting site locations aren’t the only concerns. Letters were sent out to targeted voters throughout the state from two outside groups.

The letter asks: What if your neighbors knew whether or not you voted?

In some cases, News 14 Carolina viewers said it showed they did not vote in the last election, when they actually had, and they said this tactic alarmed them.

For its part, one of the groups sending the letters, Americans for Limited Government, sent News 14 Carolina a statement saying: "…Using publicly available information, we have been able to identify voters who have a tendency to vote but for whatever reason have failed to do so at the most critical moments. We unapologetically urge these voters to exercise their right to vote, a goal which we are confident everyone applauds."

But election officials said voters from around the state are upset that these letters are circulating.

“We do know that it has upset a lot of people and there has not been anything positive said about that,” said Bartlett.

Early voting continues through Saturday. Election day is Nov. 6.

Read the full statement from Americans for Limited Government:

"Americans for Limited Government’s (ALG’s) mailing has one goal and one goal only, to increase participation in the electoral process. We firmly believe that people who sit on the sidelines and do not engage in selecting our leaders are abandoning not just their right to a say but are diminishing everyone’s rights. We have a stake in the system, we all need to express our views.

Using publicly available information, we have been able to identify voters who have a tendency to vote but for whatever reason have failed to do so at the most critical moments. We unapologetically urge these voters to exercise their right to vote, a goal which we are confident everyone applauds.

While some may find the ability of campaigns or civic groups like ALG to access voting history worrisome, the reality is that in a representative democracy using voter lists and histories is a fundamental tool. Abe Lincoln advised his followers in the use of such information in his failed campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1858, refining his techniques to win the White House two years later.

Ultimately it is our hope that what we accomplish is an increase in participation in the process. If that is achieved, we at ALG will declare the American people the winners and celebrate."

Richard Manning, Communications Director,

NC State’s ‘Pack Poll’ takes a look at the presidential race

RALEIGH — The numbers are telling an interesting story at North Carolina State University.

The Pack Poll is a biennial survey of students- and this time faculty too- taking a look at the issues of the day. The hot topic this fall is the presidential showdown. On this campus, Romney has the slight edge.

“They think college students are a bunch of radicals,” said Michael Cobb, professor and head of the Pack Poll. “On the other hand, this is an engineering kind of oriented campus in the South. So other people think it is quite remarkable Obama is doing as well as he is here.”

In fact, the numbers show the students aren’t so radical.

But there is a big divide between the students and faculty. Students are split 50-50 on whether or not they approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, but the faculty approves of his job performance by a 79 to 20 ratio.

Students reflect what general polling of the presidential race have looked like in the state, with 42 percent for Obama and 44 percent for Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, the faculty overwhelmingly supports an Obama re-election with only 15 percent plan to vote Romney.

These numbers might not sit well with the Obama campaign, where in 2008 young voters helped push the president to victory, voting two for one for Obama over then republican nominee John McCain.

“Obama For America folks have been quite active on campus trying to register people to vote,” said Cobb. “Spreading out the word on the early voting and yet this might not be their best stomping grounds.”

For this survey of about a thousand people, students say the country is heading in the wrong direction and faculty thinks things are on track. This one snap shot showing the different perceptions heading into the big vote just two weeks from now.

Decision 2012: Up Close with Walter Dalton

In this News 14 Carolina Decision 2012 special, senior political reporter Loretta Boniti profiles Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, his life and career as he runs for governor of North Carolina.

Watch the full Walter and Lucille Dalton interview

News 14 Carolina’s Loretta Boniti sits down with Walter and Lucille Dalton in their home in Rutherfordton and talks about their relationship as husband and wife, mother and father.

Legislature scrutinizing Health and Human Services consolidation

RALEIGH — More than a thousand state Department of Health and Human Services employees work at the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus in Raleigh. But that could soon be changing, much sooner than some lawmakers think it should be.

“The legislature’s concern is that the governor is rushing this through far too quickly,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican, “and without full consideration.”

On Tuesday, the legislative DHHS Oversight Committee will meet. One agenda item is the consolidation of the agency. Earlier this year, the Department of Administration put out a bid for property for a new site.

But lawmakers wonder why the site of the current Dorthea Dix Hospital wasn’t even considered.

“Totally ignore plans that had been made for many, many years to at least consider and fully evaluate and price out what it would actually cost for us to either build or do a public-private partnership on the Dix campus,” said Dollar.

The Dix hospital recently shut its doors, which means a big part of the property is going unused.

Some have said they want a park to be built there for the city of Raleigh, but lawmakers said they want to make sure more offices shouldn’t be built there to help cut costs for consolidation.

“We in the General Assembly are very concerned about making sure the taxpayers are protected making sure we have the best options for consolidating the Department of Health and Human Services given the importance of the services they provide to citizens,” said Dollar.

For their part, the Department of Administration is not commenting prior to the meeting. But after news articles last week indicated that the property search was already narrowing amongst those who have put in property bids, DOA did send out a letter saying: "The fact is that discussion is ongoing and no proposals have been eliminated at this time."

The Legislative Oversight Committee meeting is Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Candidates prepare for first gubernatorial debate

RALEIGH — After months on the campaign trail, Wednesday’s debate will give both gubernatorial candidates a chance to answer questions, lay out their vision for the state and introduce themselves to those voters just tuning in to this race.

But polling numbers indicate that these two candidates will have very different missions during the debate.

“I think it is going to Pat McCrory’s to lose during the debate,” said Michael Bitzer, with Catawba College. “Walter Dalton has got to shake things up. I think that he has got to be aggressive but not to have it backfire against him. I really think it is pretty much Pat McCrory’s to lose. He needs to go in gaffe free."

That’s because the polls clearly favor McCrory. A snapshot of the left leaning Public Policy Polls since right after the May primary show that McCrory has held a steady lead.

In fact, he’s been up by at least 6 points over Dalton in every poll, with the latest poll showing the lead jumping to 10 points.

“Right now, Walter Dalton is facing a problem within his party in that about 20 percent of democrats are supporting Pat McCrory.,” said Bitzer. “If McCrory gets that type of crossover vote it is going to be very difficult for Walter Dalton to re-coalesce and get his party base in line as we go into the early voting and in to November.”

For his part, McCrory is cruising ahead right now raising more than $3 million in the last fundraising quarter — a million of that in one week. This is an indication there is momentum behind his campaign. Political observers said the debates are not likely to change that.

So for, Dalton the task if very daunting, because history is not on his favor,” said David McLennan with William Peace University. He has got to hope for a lot of bad things to happen to McCrory and history has shown that McCrory doesn’t make those kind of mistakes.”

News 14 Carolina will air the gubernatorial debate on Wed., Oct. 3 at 8 p.m.

Presidential polls evenly divided nationwide but beginning to shift blue

RALEIGH — According to polling numbers, President Barack Obama is starting to gain some momentum in his bid for re-election.

Although the country is fairly evenly divided over Republican and Democratic support, electoral college math and swing state shifts are looking good for the president. An overview of the United States today shows an even divide for President Obama.

Political observers have long said since the campaign will likely come down to a few key swing states. With 40 days to go that is still true. All eyes are on Ohio, Virginia, Florida and still to a certain degree, North Carolina to decide the race for president.

“If the election were today, Obama would definitely win every state he did in 2008 except for North Carolina and Indiana,” said Tom Jensen with Public Policy Polling.

The presidential race is getting more focused as November 6 approaches. The small group of swing states is now dwindling down to less than a handful and polling numbers are swinging in the presidents favor.

“So there isn’t really room for Romney if this polling is predictive, to find a map in which he can get 270 electoral votes,” said Michael Cobb of NC State University.

After averaging out all of the presidential polls numbers that have recently been released, President Obama has a four point lead over Mitt Romney. On this same day four years ago, there was an almost identical polling picture with Obama up 4.3 points over then Republican nominee John McCain.

Political observers say the more important numbers are the state-by-state numbers; where polls are also steadily tipping for President Obama.

“Since polling started in 1936, so there are 19 elections since that time, and in 18 of the 19, the candidate who is ahead in the polls at this time won,” said David Rohde of Duke University.

The website Real Clear Politics shows that Ohio is starting to fall into President Obama-blue category. The other swing states are still a toss up. However polls are now starting to indicate those toss ups are all polling in favor of President Obama at the moment as well.

Perdue legacy starting to be considered in waning days of term

RALEIGH — Gov. Bev Perdue was sworn in as the state’s top executive in January 2009 and is now approaching her final months in office. Political observers are starting to weigh in on how she will be remembered.

“She came in when the budget was in decline,” said William Peace University political science professor David McLennan, “the economy going downhill, halfway through have the republicans take over the general assembly. So conditions were such that she is not going to have huge pragmatic victories. Couldn’t afford it, or had opposition to it.”

It is rarely easy for those who work on opposite sides of the aisle to work together. For those who worked directly with her, they said they see highs and lows in her leadership.

“Her legacy will be marked in some part in her good work around education, around health and human services,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis. “But some of her legacy is rooted in her disagreements we had last year that we could only resolve through veto overrides.”

Observers said beyond anything else, there is one key point she is going to be remembered for.

“Obviously she is going to be remembered as the first female governor of North Carolina and first lieutenant governor,” said Carol Teal with Lillian’s List of North Carolina.

Lillian’s List works to get women elected into public office and they said Perdue’s ability to break the glass ceiling will likely be her crowning achievement.

But, Teal said Perdue will also be remembered for her political passions.

“If there is one policy issue that I think she will be known for,” said Teal, “it will be her strong stance on promoting and protecting public education.”

When Perdue sat down with News 14 Carolina in April, she said she agreed that education is her top concern and said even after her tenure education will remain a top priority.

“You all this is transformational for us,” Perdue said in April, “and I made a choice — politics or this — and I’m delighted I choose this for me. It is the right thing for me and for North Carolina."