Loretta Boniti

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Report: Few state agencies follow vehicle best practices

RALEIGH — More bad news for the oversight of North Carolina’s state owned vehicles.

The Legislative Program Evaluation Committee heard the third of three reports on this issue on Wednesday.

Previous reports showed missing vehicles, and unclear practices for issue state plates. This report said that very few state agencies follow fleet management best practices.

“The Department of Transportation is the only agency that fully implemented fleet management best practices across their entire fleet,” Sean Hamel with the Program Evaluation Division told the committee.

The good news is DOT accounts for 30 percent of all state owned vehicles. The bad news is that means nearly 20,000 state owned vehicles are not meeting best practices standards.

Best practices included everything from creating and following policies and procedures to financial management of the fleet.

“Anything less than full implementation of best management practices for North Carolina state vehicles is inefficient and wasteful,” said Hamel.

The joint house and senate committee agreed to advance recommendations that would put all management and operation of state vehicles under the Department of Administration, better mark cars to indicate which state agency they are part of and clarify current laws about what constitutes a state owned car.

These recommendations will now be put in bill form, and likely be presented to the full General Assembly when the reconvene in May.

Both political parties gunning for youth vote in 2012

RALEIGH – At N.C. State University, students are paying attention to the issues this election season.

But political observers said that doesn’t necessarily mean they will head to the ballot boxes next month.

“If they determine policy, then they would defeat Amendment One,” said N.C. State researcher Michael Cobb. “But this is the least likely demographic to actually vote.”

Cobb just released the spring "Pack Poll" which surveyed nearly 900 Wolfpack students. Almost eight out of 10 of them are registered voters.

In the survey, the majority of this group labeled themselves as Republicans, but they leaned toward the liberal side on social issues, that is, if they knew what the issues were.

“It is nice to have people out in the Brickyard that are doing voter registration and getting people involved,” said Anna-Marie Massoglia, N.C. State senior. “But people are still pretty hesitant to vote on issues that they really aren’t sure about.”

State Republicans said they believe this is a demographic they can win over for 2012.

“They are going to say have we heard President Obama’s rhetoric before. They have. It hasn’t delivered the results that President Obama said it would,” said Rob Lockwood, N.C. Republican Party spokesman, “and they are going to take that into serious consideration.”

But Democrats disagree.

“People realize that our President, Barack Obama, has kept his promise to young americans,” said Sam Spencer of the Young Democrats of North Carolina.

In 2008 nationally, Obama won two-thirds of the vote from 18 to 24 year olds. When you look at a state like North Carolina, where he won by a narrow 14,000 vote margin, the youth vote really mattered.

But as of Nov. 2011, North Carolina lost about 48,000 youth voters from the rolls, 80 percent of them were Democrats.

Political observers said the challenge now through election day is to try to get some excitement in these young voters.

“I would be surprised in the may elections if 30 to 40 percent of the students voted, that would be a really good turnout for that demographic,” said Cobb.

Gov. candidates struggling to raise funds in quiet primary race

RALEIGH — The last time North Carolinians were having to pick a candidate during the gubernatorial primary season, on the democratic ticket political heavy weights Bev Perdue and Richard Moore were on the ticket.

By this point in the primary season, they had spent well over $10 million campaigning for their party’s nomination. This time, the airwaves have been practically silent.

“When Perdue announced she was not running, she left democratic candidates really 100 days to plan a campaign,” said political analyst David McLennan from William Peace University. “And at least one of those candidates, Etheridge, had no plans until he announced.”

One-hundred days to decide if they wanted to run, get organized, and raise the money needed to get out their message.

“You look at the 2000 campaign,” said Democratic consultant Andrew Whalen, “Richard Moore and then-Lt. Gov. Perdue, really had been running for governor for three years. Much different than the 100 days that Lt. Gov. Dalton or Mr. Etheridge had been running.”

The rush to get candidates at the gubernatorial level had a ripple effect down the ticket, with lieutenant governor candidates also needing to come forward for the Democrats.

For at least one consultant who works with one of those down-ticket candidates, they said this has not been an easy primary cycle.

“It is all driven because there is a truly a lack of money on the Democratic side right now,” Brad Crone said on Tuesday night’s edition of Capital Tonight. “There is a real gasp for air. Especially from your down ticket candidates.”

With money not flowing as quickly, there have also been an increased interest in online campaigning by candidates.

“Even though they may cost $10,000 dollars to produce the ad, you don’t have to buy time so the costs are relatively low,” said McLennan.

“So many people are getting their information from so many other sources than the traditional broadcast media outlets,” said Whalen. “It’s a way to reach folks directly at a lower cost.”

But even with a bare-bones budget for many in the primary, the consensus is come November, the money will be flowing and the noise level will be turned up.

North Carolina voters head to the polls on May 8 for the primary.

Santorum’s exit shouldn’t affect turnout for NC primaries

RALEIGH — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum announced Tuesday that he is suspending his campaign. The move comes about a month before North Carolina voters head to the polls for the primaries, and some political observers say his exit may not have a huge effect on the ballot box.

“While this presidential race for us is over for me and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” Santorum said.

His exit leaves Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and the heavily-favored Mitt Romney still running for the nomination to face President Obama in November.

Even though he’s dropped out, Santorum’s name will still be on North Carolina’s primary ballot.

“North Carolina voters now have one less active campaign to listen to but there are still several candidates on the ballot besides those three, including Rick Santorum, so there are still choices for people to vote for,” said Rob Lockwood, of the North Carolina Republican Party.

Many pundits believe his exit will lessen the excitement in this race because Santorum was the one candidate who was able to claim multiple victories over from front-runner Romney. His withdrawal begs the question – will it hurt the conservative-lead ballot initiative known as the marriage amendment?

“The marriage amendment is passing by about 20 points right now. I think if there is lower turnout in the Republican primary due to the lack of contested presidential race, that is probably worth three or four points to the people trying to defeat the marriage amendment. It is not a huge game changer,” said Tom Jensen from Public Policy Poling.

Conservatives say even without the draw of a tough presidential primary or hotly-contest governor’s race, voters will still make their voices heard at the polls May 8.

“The marriage amendment is in very good shape simply because voters in the Republican primary, the independents and conservative Democrats who believe in it are going to vote because it is a very important issue to them,” Lockwood said.

With several crowded Congressional primary contests, political observers say there are still enough races to get people to the polls next month.

Lawmakers mulling eminent domain restrictions

RALEIGH – North Carolina voters may soon be given the opportunity to decide when and if private property can be condemned to then be used by another entity.

This issue – known as eminent domain – has been brewing since a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision gave broad rights to cities to take land which is privately owned.

But North Carolina is looking to greatly restrict that right.

The Court said that a city acted in accordance with the law, when it condemned and took private property, and in turn leased it to a private company because the jobs and tax base created was for the better good of the public.

But it also left hundreds of people without a home after their property was condemned.

“Not to build a school or build a road, or build a highway, but to convey it from one private property owner to another private land owner because they felt like the other land owner would serve a greater public purpose,” said Rep. David Lewis.

Under a constitutional amendment proposal that state lawmakers are mulling, voters would get to decide if North Carolina wants to restrict this practice, known as eminent domain.

“Private property is private property,” said Lewis. “We believe it to be the foundation of our society.”

After much negotiation, the state House approved putting this proposal on November’s ballot. Many of the entities involved in the negotiations said the proposal being put forward should protect property owners and those who may need property for public use.

“We have put a fair amount of research into it,” said Chuck Neely, of the railroad freight company CSX, “and we believe it will not impair the railroads from their ability to take when they need to.”

Federal Medicaid regulators extend deadline for NC to meet new requirements

RALEIGH — The Wednesday morning meeting of the legislative Government Operations Committee started with good news. The federal government has granted the state an extension as it looks to get in line with national personal care services standards.
 
“Its a very large Band-aid,” said Al Delia, Acting Secretary of N.C. Health and Human Service. “It may be a sucher and gauze over that.”
 
North Carolina was set to lose more than $400 million at the end of the month because, in many cases, it does not comply with federal rules about personal care services. Personal care services range from people getting help at home with simple day-to-day tasks to those in adult care homes who need help with everything from medications to bathing.
 
The acting secretary of Health and Human Services says this step was necessary so the state can continue its negotiations with the feds. For some who provide personal care services, they say they are concerned with what the state had to promise in order to get the extension.
 
“I anticipate that every single month, unless there is a deadline met, for whatever the plan says, and we don’t know for certain what the plan says — the secretary will share that with us this afternoon – that we are still under the threat of the money getting cut off,” said Lou Wilson, with the Long Term Care Association.

Legislators say they are frustrated because the Department of Health and Human Services has not included them in the negotiations or even made them aware of the problem until recently.
 
“This is a terrible example of where this issue backed up and waited until there was a crisis,” said Sen. Pete Brunstetter, a Forsyth County Republican.
 
After an hour of questioning, legislators said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the personal care talks. But, they say, they are happy they have until the end of the year to work on a solution to meeting the necessary requirements.

Lawmakers debate law to limit lawsuits against pharma companies

RALEIGH — Fifteen-year-old Brittany Prewitt was not in Raleigh to testify Thursday.

She died two years ago from complications from taking the medication prescribed for her acne. Her grandfather spoke on her behalf.

“She wanted to be a nurse,” said her grandfather, Bill Prewitt, while fighting off tears. “But she won’t get to grow up to be anything.”

Prewitt asked state lawmakers to remember his granddaughter as they consider legislation to bar people from suing manufacturers and sellers of drugs if the drug company had complied with FDA standards.

Some said this is the best way to keep drugs safe because there is a risk to patients if multiple litigations and rulings are taking place in multiple states.

“These de-facto court created warnings could readily oppose conflicting requirements on manufacturers who already must comply with FDA regulations," said John Del Giorno, with GlaxoSmithKline.

Others argue current laws make the state unappealing for drug manufacturers, whom often serve as large employers.

“The proposed language would not make North Carolina an outlayer,” said Gary Salamido with the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, “but more in line with the national trend.”

Some said that argument is wrong.

“This is just a bad idea,” said Janet Ward Black, an attorney from Greensboro. “This is a bill that does nothing. It doesn’t draw industry here. It doesn’t draw jobs. All it does is limit North Carolinians right to compensation when they are injured from the wrong doing of a corporation.”

For families like the Prewitts, they said no compensation will bring their granddaughter back, but that doesn’t mean the drug company should get away without punishment.

“Everyone should be responsible for their actions and whatever devastation they might cause any family,” said Prewitt.

This proposal is in a Senate subcommittee. The group will meet again next month.

Annexation law under fire from state court

RALEIGH — State lawmakers overwhelmingly agreed to an overhaul to North Carolina’s current annexation laws during the last legislative session.

Among other things, the law said city services need to be provided, and at a quicker rate, for newly annexed landowners or that the landowner can opt out.

It is another bullet point of the law that had several cities really balking at the proposal. It said that taxpaying citizens would have have the opportunity to override a city’s annexation decision.

The law said that if 60 percent of landowners choose not to allow the annexation, it can’t happen.

“It was an important aspect, “ said Paul Meyer with N.C. League of Municipalities, “but most certainly was one of those issues that was hotly in debate during the discussion.”

Then secondary legislation was passed to include annexations already in progress to be part of the petition process. On Monday, a judge said this petition process is unconstitutional.

“It is upsetting to me that those good, hardworking people,” said James Eldrige, an attorney working with folks in the Monkey Junction area near the coast, “what they worked for so hard is now suddenly reversed.”

With this ruling from the courts, legislators said the next step might be redrafting this law.

“I think if some of these cities continue to push down this road, they may not like what they get back from the General Assembly,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican.

It is likely this ruling with be appealed to a higher court.

Obama image on blog angers many

RALEIGH — A racially-charged photoshopped image of President Barack Obama has outraged some North Carolinians, including the person in charge of the website it appeared on.

The image ran on the John Locke Foundation’s Charlotte-area blog.

As of today, the blogger, Tara Servatius, is no longer working with John Locke, but questions still remain about the political discourse the image invokes.

“It’s just offensive and I am sorry that it ran on any of our sites for even a second-much less hours or days,” said John Hood, John Locke’s president.

Hood said he does not condone the image a freelance contributor put up the foundation’s blog this week.

“This is exactly the kind of offensive, over-the-top imagery and rhetoric that is making our political conversation course and ugly,” said Hood.

The image showed President Barack Obama’s head photoshopped onto the body of a man dressed in chains and wearing high heeled boots. In front of him sits a bucket of fried chicken.

This accompanies an article about the president’s stance on gay marriage.

The blogger, Tara Servatius, said in a statement to News 14 Carolina:

“I am genuinely sorry my inclusion of the photo has caused controversy for the John Locke Foundation. If it has offended anyone, I sincerely apologize. That was not my intent. It was meant to illustrate Obama’s southern political strategy, nothing more. An honest reading of the piece itself shows there is nothing offensive in it.

If you read that piece and another I did on the gay marriage ban, you will see that I actually think that holding the marriage ban vote this year is a bad political move in North Carolina because it could distract voters from the economy, which should be the main issue.”

Servatius resigned Thursday from her position as a freelance blogger for John Locke.

Political observers point out she is not the first person to cross into the divisive political debate.

“I just think we have a seen a coarsening of our discourse in these kinds of images, whether they be on the conservative or liberal side, happen,” said political analyst David McLennan.

McLennan points to examples of this from both sides of the aisle — from constant imagery of President Obama to images from 2008 of then vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

“Whether it is sexual or racial imagery, or imagery where you attack someone’s child with Downs, unfortunately, that is what we see more and more of,” says McLennan.

Civil rights leaders said this is not the type of discourse they want to see this election season.

“As I talked to my colleagues across the South they said they are used to this type of thing,” said Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president. “Attempt to scandalize and degrade rather than have legitimate political debate.”

For The John Locke Foundation, it said it has apologized to the NAACP and said this image had no place on their site.

In a follow-up email from Servatius to News 14 Carolina she further explained her position in posted the image:

“Also wanted to add that at the time, I was searching for a picture of the president in drag to illustrate his southern political strategy of courting young voters, 70 percent of whom support gay marriage. It was one of the first photos to come up on Google Images. Regrettably, I didn’t think about the racial implications of the picture when I posted it. I simply don’t think in those terms. Unfortunately some people do. To me, fried chicken is simply a Southern cuisine.”

Economy is top issue for N.C. in Elon University/News 14 Carolina poll

Elon University/News 14 Carolina Poll

To see the complete results of the Elon University/News 14 Carolina poll, click here.

RALEIGH — Even as the economy continues to get better, North Carolinians still said it’s their biggest concern for the state.

In a poll released by Elon University and News 14 Carolina Friday, the economy and jobs top the list of the most important issues for the Tar Heel State, with education landing at a distant second.

“It probably is the most salient issue for people and it is being covered by the news,” said Michael Cobb, polling expert, N.C. State University.

The Elon University/News 14 Carolina poll questioned 605 people at random on what they believe the most important issue is facing North Carolina.

Not all of them are registered voters.

Almost 53 percent said the economy, including jobs and unemployment issues, topped their list. That was followed by education, energy, taxes, healthcare, family values and crime and drugs.

This list comes as no surprise to political observers.

“People are worried about their jobs, they are worried about their pay, they are worried about health care, their benefits, so it really isn’t a surprise that the economy is the issue,” said John Robinson, communications director of the Elon University Poll.

So what does this mean in a year where all eyes are on the November election? For starters, incumbents will have to fight off any negative light on these issues.

“The economy is not going well, both national and state, and people tend to blame those who are in power,” said Cobb.

In another poll question, respondents were asked on a scale of one to five how important some of these issues were when they decide which candidate to vote for.

Again the economy ranks high as a very important issue for North Carolinians. Education and health care also had very important rankings by over sixty percent of those polled.

In fact, all of the issues listed as important ranked has highly important for more than 35 percent of the people polled.

Observers said these number indicate what candidates need to focus on for the next eight months.

That’s the conventional wisdom is that the economy is going to decide the election,” said Don Taylor, with Duke University, “And I think that is the conventional wisdom because that is what most people are focused on.”

The Elon University Poll is a neutral, independent operation fully funded by Elon University as a public service to the region. It is conducted six times each year to facilitate informed public policy making through the better understanding of citizens’ opinions and attitudes.