Loretta Boniti

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Message clear to NC delegates at RNC: Turn the state red again in November

TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican National Convention gets under way in full Tuesday.

It was a quiet day Monday due to a shortened schedule brought on by the threat of Isaac. However, delegates received their first taste of what the week will hold. The first big order of business of the Republican National Convention was a chance to get an up close and personal visit from the convention’s keynote speaker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

“You let me down, I know enough about North Carolina to know, I know where to find you,” said Christie.

Christie’s message was clear, North Carolina is a state of consequence. It means Republican faithful need to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get to work once they get home from the Republican National Convention.

First-time convention attendee and NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, he said he believes the conservative message will resonate with North Carolina voters.

“At the end of the day, people are asking, ‘Do we have leadership that is going to improve the economy?’,” said Tillis.

This question as of whether or not President Barack Obama and his administration has done enough improve the economic woes of the country is the No. 1 question on the minds of many citizens. Some conservative observers say if Mitt Romney can use the convention to convince voters he is a strong leader, it will go a long way to getting him elected in November.

“It is not just about jobs. It is also competence to lead. When you are throwing out an incumbent president you have to be sure the person you are voting for can do the job and that is where Mitt Romney is right now. He has to be clear that bar to the American public and voters that he can handle being president,” said Francis DeLuca of the Civitas Institute.

Convention activities begin Tuesday afternoon. Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to give his speech around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Despite Isaac, NC delegates gather in Tampa for delayed GOP convention

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — North Carolina’s delegation at the Republican National Convention is not letting Isaac bring it down.

Members say they are ready to get to work. Winds were picking up in the Tampa Bay area throughout the day on Sunday and by nightfall the rain had started. But the less than perfect weather was not bringing down the excitement for the North Carolina delegation in Tampa.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun, just excited to get things cranked up so we can get folks excited and get folks to vote,” said delegate Bill Lack, Buncombe County.

For plenty of the people within North Carolina’s delegation, the concern over Isaac are feelings they have been through before and the weather won’t dampen their spirits.

“I actually lived in Tampa in the 1980’s-1990’s. I have experienced hurricanes and I have experienced how to prepare for them,” said delegate Dianna Bingle, Cabarrus County.

Bingle has first hand knowledge of hurricane threats in the Tampa Bay region. She said she watched the reports while back home in Cabarrus County about Isaac heading toward Tampa Bay, but that did not lessen her desire to head to come to the Republican National Comvention.

Bingle’s spirit is reflected by many who say the weather reports look good to them and they are ready to get to work.

Legislators question state Medicaid contracts

RALEIGH — The legislative committee charged with oversight of state programs had a lot of questions Wednesday about a recent audit of the Division of Medical Assistance’s Medicaid fraud and abuse program.

The audit found that the contracts were written in a way that during these first years of the program,the state did not see a lot of return for its millions of dollars of investment.

“Everything was going to be in place and working for the IBM contract in three months that it was going to be up and going,” said State Auditor Beth Wood. “After 19 months we have only seen $420,000 dollars, when the return on investment was expected to be 900 percent.”

Wood said three of the four contracts were not written in the best interest of the state and that creates no incentive for these companies to bring in big bucks for North Carolina.

“The vendor would have been a little better, maybe, in identifying the fraudulent practices, the risk of being able to collect on what was identified as fraud,” said Wood. “The actual recoupment may have been a lot higher percentage.”

The Division of Medical Assistance says while it agrees that the contracts need some work, there are things the audit is not looking at.

“What isn’t being measured here to is the deterrent effect,” said DMA Director Michael Watson. “What we are finding is as we are identifying providers as having problems, their billings go down, the costs go down.”

Watson told the committee that there had to be higher fees off the top as software was created and sold to the state but the costs will go down.

“As collections start to flow through the system, you’ll start to see that flat fee look very good in terms of return on investment,” said Watson.

Wood said she believes these contracts could have been written to have the state only pay out after fraud was detected and money was collected.

The Department of Health and Human Services said since North Carolina is the first state using these practices, it was not clear how the contracts should be written.

Lawmakers: Students could be held back for poor reading scores

RALEIGH – Students in North Carolina may want to start brushing on up their reading skills this year because by next year it could hold them back in school.

A provision within the state budget approved by lawmakers said in the 2013-2014, school year, a student could not advance to fourth grade if the don’t pass a third grade reading test.

But one education leader said this won’t help students.

Sen. Phil Berger proposed an Excellence in Education package to state lawmakers this year, and many of the key points in that proposal were incorporated into the final budget bill that is now state law.

“The key to the program is making sure that kids know how to read by the end of third grade,” said Berger.

But the state Superintendent of Public Instruction said the plan to end social promotion in third grade if students can’t read on grade level is a bad idea.

“Retaining students at the end of the third grade does not pay off in the long run,” said June Atkinson.

Atkinson said she applauds the idea of putting an emphasis on reading and that there is money being given to create help for students who are falling behind in reading.

But she said the directive to stop promotion in third grade doesn’t make sense.

“Students who are proficient in math, should not have to repeat the third grade to take math again. So we need to have a different model than just retention of student,” said Atkinson.

But this is modeled after a plan being used in Florida and the Jeb Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education says it has been very successful.

“For years, we knew that a third of our kids couldn’t read they weren’t set up for success, but the emotional outcry from that wasn’t the same as it was for retention,” said Jaryn Emhof, communications director for the foundation.

The numbers tell the story in Florida. Right now, about six percent of their third graders are being retained because of reading – more than it was a decade ago.

But half what it was in 2002- when their no social promotion policy was implemented.

“I think parents should welcome the increased attention on their students and make sure we are identifying kids who are struggling early on,” said Emhof.

Atkinson said she agrees with the increased attention but said this is not the way to help kids ultimately succeed.

John Tedesco is running against Atkinson to be the new superintendent of public instruction in an statement to News 14 Carolina: "We cannot continue to just pass kids through the system who are not ready. We need to solve the problems in reading as early as possible and not just pass it on down the line. "

Perdue signs lifesaving bills into law

RALEIGH — In April 2009, many state lawmakers watched as their colleague Representative Becky Carney, a Mecklenburg Democrat, suffered a heart attack.

Her family talked to News 14 Carolina a day later and said their mom was alive for one reason.

“Without a defibrillator on site, we would be having a very different conversation right now,” Carney’s oldest son, Brian Gillette, said in 2009.

Carney was saved when an automated external defibrillator, or AED, was used to help her as she was experiencing heart failure.

On Thursday, Gillette was on hand as Gov.Bev Perdue signed a bill into law that puts AED’s in all state buildings.

“Ninety-five percent of the folks in cardiac arrest die before they reach a hospital,” said Perdue.

Perdue also signed a second bill that is aimed at putting some teeth into an existing state law. This requires North Carolina students to complete CPR training before they graduate from high school.

“How you all know as clearly as I do, that there was a law on the books,” said Perdue. “Everybody was saying isn’t that nice. But nobody across the state was bothering to teach the CPR course or to make sure that kids knew how to perform CPR.”

The American Heart Association students over 13 years old are capable of learning this live-saving technique because they possess the strength by that age to perform it properly.

“Hand and glove,” said Perdue. “These two things can save lives in our state. [This is] Important legislation.”

Carney’s family said they agree and said they hope these new laws help other families have the happy ending they got.

“We have a great celebration every year,” Gillette said on Thursday. “And we remember the people who have now entered our lives. As people who had special skills, as people who kept cool under fire, as people who saved her life.

The AHA said that in the United States someone suffers from cardiac arrest every two minutes.

Low turnout expected for 2nd Primary

RALEIGH— North Carolina voters head to the polls on Tuesday, finalizing the ballot for November’s General Election.

Voters will be deciding which candidates will advance from the second primary elections. However, many voters may not be taking part in the election process.

Election workers are already busy setting up precincts around the state preparing for Tuesday’s second primary.

“We’re probably going to have a very light turnout,” said Gary Bartlett with the NC State Board of Elections.

Light might be an understatement. During the early voting period for the second primaries 36,526 voters came to the polls. North Carolina has approximately 6.3 million registered voters statewide.

“You have to look at this and say ‘Is this really going to give us a mandate for candidate “X” or candidate “Y”?’ said political analyst David McLennan. “And really it is not.”

State election officials say when people look at their early voting numbers, it is tough to imagine that there will be long lines at the polls on Tuesday.

“You know Council of State races, once you get below governor, they just don’t drive turnout,” said McLennan.

There are five races on the ballot that are for statewide offices: four on the Republican ticket and one to determine a Democratic nominee. But Bartlett said he predicts some polling places might not see a single voter on Tuesday.

“That is a possibility. That can and has happened in the past,” said Bartlett.

It is a possibility that is pretty costly for the state. Each voting precinct will staff an average of three to four workers on Tuesday. There are approximately 3,000 polling places statewide. That will cost the state between $6 million and $7 million.

Election officials say the three second primary congressional races in the western part of the state may pull in a few extra voters. However, according to Bartlett even there, the numbers were low during early voting.

“Still the numbers I have seen for those areas are disappointing. In fact it is almost shameful,” said Bartlett.

Polling locations are open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm on Tuesday.

Two Republicans vie for lieutenant governor nomination

RALEIGH — Two men remain in the race to be the republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Both say they have the right kind of experience for the job, even though both would be newcomers to the political scene on Jones Street.

“My background as a business owner, an architect, a senior partner with the largest architecture firm in the state, lends itself to that executive type administration that would need,” said candidate Dan Forest.

“The three major responsibilities of lieutenant governor are things that I have dealt with in similar situations on the board of commissioners,” said candidate Tony Gurley.

Gurley has served on the Wake County Board of Commissioners since winning the seat in 2002.

He has been a small business owner and also a partner in a law firm. He says he will use the bully pulpit of lieutenant governor to become an advocate.

“Absolutely I want to take up a cause, and that cause is being the champion of small business in North Carolina,” said Gurley.

Forest garnered the most votes in the first primary election in May, but not a big enough percentage to win the nomination. He is a former partner in an architectural firm and a newcomer to the world of politics.

He said it is important for the state to look forward to what our next big industry can be.

“But we don’t spend a lot of time looking forward and saying what’s next for North Carolina,” said Forest. “What’s the future? And what’s the path to get there?”

Both candidates say they feel like the current republican controlled general assembly is doing a good job.

“I would give them an ‘A’ for for their efforts this time around,” said Forest. “For two sessions they have passed bills I believe in, and most conservatives in North Carolina believe and would want to see passed.”

“I think they’ve done a great job. I would give them a ‘B-plus’," said Gurley. “Very good effort. But even they would tell you this is just the first step.”

Whichever candidate wins the republican nomination will face off against Democrat Linda Coleman in November.

NC Supreme Court hears arguments in redistricting case

RALEIGH – It was a packed house to hear the arguments over what evidence should be disclosed in the on-going district line battle in North Carolina. Defendants said they believe they have turned over all the necessary documents.

“I feel very confident in our legal counsel, which incidentally includes the Attorney General’s Office, and have every confidence that they have lived up to the letter of the law,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis.

A lower court three-judge panel said legislative leaders had to turn over correspondence between them and their counsel which occurred prior to the maps being finalized.

But the leaders, who are the defendants in this case, said some of the correspondence falls under attorney-client privilege.

“We knew we were going to go to the DC courts, so we were preparing a case from day one knowing that we had that,” said Sen. Robert Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, “and because of that you have to have attorney client privilege as you move forward.”

Justices questioned the plaintiff’s attorney as to why the attorney-client privilege should be waived.

They said the actual issue here is that the defendants are including too many people in their list of attorneys.

“The defendants have suggested that attorneys doesn’t really mean attorneys providing legal advice,” said attorney Edwin Speas, “it means attorneys drawing maps. Well, your honors, I don’t know how you could possibly read the word counsel to mean counsel but not mean counsel doing legal work. That makes no sense.”

Plaintiffs said they believe the defendants might not be turning over the key evidence.

“Did they unconstitutional split precincts, divide counties, and create these gerrymandered districts?” asked Speas. “And the evidence we are looking for is relevant to that, we believe.”

Grades mixed for first GOP-controlled General Assembly in more than a century

RALEIGH — The first full two-year session with Republican leadership in the General Assembly has come to a close.

This was the first time in well over one hundred years, their agenda directed the day to day operations of the legislature.

It was historic day on Jan. 26, 2011, the first time in about 140 years since Republicans were in control of the full General Assembly.

“By and large, they met their objectives. If the number one objective was to not raises taxes, they met that objective,” said William Peace University Profession David McLennan.

Republicans had a long to-do list after waiting so many years to be in power. That list included passing a budget without raising taxes, lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, and reducing regulatory burdens. All were these were able to be checked off.

But there were some issues on the list that didn’t get done – passing a voter ID bill, put an eminent domain constitutional amendment on the ballot, and passing the health care protection act.

Some conservatives said the Republican-controlled legislature gets mixed reviews for their performance.

“And for people who are really big advocates for open government and making sure that everything faces sunlight and is completely transparent are going to be disappointed,” said Mitch Kokai of the John Locke Foundation.

Republicans were in charge during the key redistricting process that takes place every 10 years. By all accounts, this should mean when the 2012 elections happen in the fall, even more Republicans will come into power.

Political observers said it would be difficult to lose seats after redistricting, but even staying even in the legislature could mean the Republican message and agenda was not well received.

“If we see a lot of new Republicans in the General Assembly, that means it was the message plus redistricting. If it’s a modest number of Republicans, it means that redistricting was an advantage for them, but maybe the message is deteriorating a little bit,” said McLennan.

Democrats argue the Republicans’ style is all wrong for the state, cutting too much and not having the right priorities.

Conservatives see it differently.

“We didn’t raise taxes. We allowed the education budget and the budget in general to grow, but we didn’t allow spending to spike to an unsustainable level. We did a better job of spending the recurring expenses on recurring expenses and one-time expenses on one-time expenses,” said Kokai.

Republicans currently hold a super majority in the Senate and are a few seats short of that in the House. The Republicans’ goal is to gain those House seats this fall, and gain control of the Governor’s Mansion.

NC General Assembly legislative session ends

RALEIGH — There were big successes in the final hours of the 2012 legislative session for the Republican-led General Assembly.

The budget, fracking and racial justice were the big topics that found resolutions Monday. This was a feat that was only accomplished because some Democrats were willing to cross the aisle.

“We’re now approaching either 18 or 19 members of the 52-member minority caucus who have joined with us on any number of veto overrides. The House can’t override a veto without convincing Democratic members to vote with us,” said Republican Rep. Thom Tillis.

The Senate finished up its work in the early hours of the morning, sending most of its members home by 4 a.m. Tuesday. The House was back in session later Tuesday morning, taking up several pieces of legislation, including final budget fixes and other technical corrections.

“The bill that passed out, there were some folks that didn’t think it was a clean technical corrections bill. We did make some substantive changes but members, I hope you recall, we were very direct about what those changes were. We even had a summary prepared,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-District26.

This closed out the Republicans first full session in power, and it’s a session Democrats said brought the state in the wrong direction.

“I think someone described this session as toxic and I think that is a good description. There is not a lot of good will around here right now,” said Democrat Joe Hackney.

Republicans said that overall, this was a successful two years where they were able to get a budget with no tax increases approved, regulatory regulations relaxed and some conservative social issues addressed.