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NC Student Athletes Could Be First to Join a Union

RALEIGH — While Northwestern University football players might have been the first in the country allowed to unionize, student athletes in North Carolina could be the first to actually join a union.

Starting this month, the State Employees Association of North Carolina, or SEANC, will allow college student athletes on scholarship at any of North Carolina’s 16 public universities to join the same union as all other state employees.

“SEANC wanted to be at the forefront because if this is the way student athletes want to be represented, in a union or any association, then SEANC wants to be the person and the organization to represent those student scholarship athletes in North Carolina,” Toni Davis of SEANC said.

Time Warner Cable News couldn’t find any scholarship student athletes willing or able to speak on camera, but other college students seem supportive of the idea, considering how much work scholarship athletes put into their sport and how much it makes for the university.

“They should be treated as employees,” Alexey Fayuk, an incoming NCSU freshman, said. “Students should have the right to join and unionize so that they can have a voice.”

SEANC leaders say joining the union for state employees is an easy and affordable way to do that.

“Our dues are $9 a month and with that you get our advocacy services, we have 3,000 member benefits and we also have several low-cost insurance programs—car insurance, renter’s insurance—that may be of interest,” Davis said.

– Heather Moore

Questions of the week: City/State relations, autism, state flavor of ice cream

Sen. Joel Ford, (D) Mecklenburg County

We turned to Twitter to get the questions you want to ask the legislators. Every Wednesday during the short session, Tim Boyum will ask those questions.

This week, we asked three questions:

  • How are city/state relations?
  • Do you support mandated health care for children with autism?
  • What should be the official state flavor of ice cream?

We talked with Sen. Joel Ford, Sen. Josh Stein, and Rep. Charles Jeter. Here are their responses:

On city/state relations

Ford: I believe the state can get a little too involved in local issues. I’m an elected official that happens to believe that local decisions need to be made locally.

Jeter: I think there’s a misperception to some degree. You look at the aesthetics bill. People say we’re going too far. The reality is the cities never had those rights, they usurped them over time. So we’re actually giving them those rights they don’t possess. I think there’s been a lack of communication, certainly, with Charlotte and the state,

Rep. Charles Jeter, (R) Mecklenburg County

there’s certainly been some issues there, and I’m not going to act like there’s not. But I do think there’s also a misunderstanding that North Carolina has very different rules. It’s not as clean-cut or as clear as some people make it out to be. I think it’s more complicated than that. I think you’ll find a much more mutually-beneficial

relationship as we move forward in the short session and, hopefully, in the long session next year.

Stein: There’s a philosophy that says “Government is best that’s closest to the people,” but what this Republican General Assembly has done is say “Government is best that’s closest to the people, so long as the people aren’t governed by Democrats.” They targeted Wake County, they targeted Charlotte, they targeted Asheville, they targeted Greensboro — anywhere where there are Democrats in control. It’s really unfortunate. It doesn’t matter if it’s Democrats or Republicans on that level, we should let people govern themselves.

Sen. Josh Stein, (D) Wake County

ON MANDATED AUTISM COVERAGE

Ford: I do believe the Senate needs to take up the issue. It’s a very emotional issue, and I am looking forward to having the bill being heard.

Jeter: Absolutely. It was widely reported that I guess I kind of staged a walk-out of the Affordable Care Act committee, because I have a strong believer in the autism bill. I hope the Senate will take it up; I’m sure they will. We have to get passed the idea that the word ‘mandate’ makes something bad. If ‘mandate’ is bad, then the polio vaccine is bad. What we have to look at when it comes to health mandates is there a business case for it; does it make sense, is it effective from a health-related standpoint, and does it save cost from a perspective of how we handle things. If you meet those two criteria, the word, in and of itself, shouldn’t be a detriment to passing good legislation, and I think the autism bill falls into that.

Stein: We absolutely should take it up. I, frankly, have not had an opportunity to study the bill, because it hasn’t come over yet, but my understanding is that it’s a way to care for kids so we save money down the road. If we give autistic children early intervention, producing greater benefits for those kids down the road, and that obviously is a positive thing.

STATE ICE CREAM FLAVOR

Ford: Metropolitan

Jeter: I’m going after my three kids, who eat Oreo cookie and cream ice cream all the time. In honor of my three children, I’m going with cookies and cream.

Stein: Chocolate

– Compiled by Tim Boyum and Ben McNeely

NY Times editor Jill Abramson addresses Wake Forest University graduates

WINSTON-SALEM—The commencement speech for about 18,000 Wake Forest University students came from an unlikely source Monday.

The former executive editor Jill Abramson addressed the graduates just after being fired from The New York Times.

In an uplifting and humorous speech, Jill Abramson congratulated students on their success and spoke about her own as well as obstacles saying she can very much relate with graduates who are now looking toward the future.

“You know the sting of losing or not getting what you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of,” she said in her first public speaking appearance since her firing.

Abramson says she only hesitated once when agreeing to speak at commencement on Monday, because she didn’t want to take away from the graduates’ excitement. “My only reluctance in showing up today was that the small media circus following me, would detract attention away from you. What total knockouts you are,” she said.

Students and parents say hearing from someone who broke the glass ceiling at the New York Times is inspiring, no matter what their current job is.

Abramson says she’s not removing her NY Times tattoo just because she no longer works there. She also told students that life is always unfinished business.

Abramson has not said explicitly why she was fired after a total of 17 years with the paper but her publisher says the decision was based on her management style.

– Elyse Mikalonis

Political leaders, community, and family to say final goodbye to Keith Crisco

ASHEBORO, N.C.- Funeral services will be held Friday for former Secretary of Commerce and Congressional candidate, Keith Crisco.

Crisco passed away Monday after falling in his home in Asheboro.

The 71 year-old former Secretary of Commerce was running for the Second District Congressional seat against former American Idol Clay Aiken.

Before he ran for Congress, Crisco served as state Commerce Secretary from 2009 to 2012 under former Gov. Bev Perdue. Crisco was widely respected on both sides of the political aisle for his work in economic development. He also owned and operated an elastics business in Asheboro, in a time when the textile industry in North Carolina was declining. His political career also included stints on the Asheboro City Council and the Asheboro City School Board.

Crisco grew up on a farm in Aquadale, in Stanly County, and attended Pfieffer University. He received a masters of business administration from Harvard University. He was a White House Fellow and spent years in the textile industry. He also served on boards at Pfieffer, Bennett College, and N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Jane; three children, and six grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. First United Methodist Church in Asheboro

Burial services will follow at New Hope Memorial Gardens.

– Elyse Mickalonis

Crisco had world-class resume with a hometown mentality

It’s hard to write about people who are from your hometown who did good in their little corner of the world. You feel like you’ve lost a little bit of yourself when they pass on.

I knew of Keith Crisco, but didn’t actually meet him until back in March, when he came by to record an interview with Tim Boyum. I walked out into the lobby to bring Crisco and his campaign staffer back to the studio. They were polite — but when I told him I was from Asheboro, he lit up and started rattling off names of old home folks.

I knew them all. He asked where I went to high school — Asheboro High School, class of 2000 (go Blue Comets!) He knew my pops, who has his office in downtown, and he knew my Sunday School teacher, Dave Rowe, who played for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s and has a Super Bowl ring. Crisco and Rowe served on the Asheboro City School Board together.

I had covered Crisco a number of times when he was commerce secretary under then-Gov. Bev Perdue. I was reporting for the local newspaper in Concord and he would visit quite often to Cabarrus County on fact-finding and facility tours. Concord and Kannapolis were two cities in transition from a textile-based economy, and Crisco knew that what jobs he could bring there, the effects would spill over into his native Stanly County and beyond.

It was the middle of the Great Recession, construction slowed, and very few businesses — large or small — were hiring or expanding. Crisco criss-crossed the state in the Commerce Department jet, trying to shore up industry, calm fears, and make state government’s presence known.

He had a tough job as commerce secretary in the middle of the recession. Not only that, but his boss, Bev Perdue, wasn’t exactly popular.

He served one term and went back home to Asheboro — back to his own business, Asheboro Elastics Company, then decided to run for Congress. Someone with an MBA from Harvard and White House Fellow on his or her resume is hard to keep down.

They say you have to leave home to make something of yourself. That may be true, especially if you’re from a small town. But you can always go back and do good there.

That’s a good lesson to remember, and one that Keith Crisco took to heart.

– Ben McNeely

Congressional candidate, former commerce sec. Keith Crisco dies at 71

Keith Crisco

Congressional candidate Keith Crisco was found dead at his home Monday afternoon.

He fell at his home on Thayer Drive in Asheboro around 1 p.m. His wife called 911 after the fall. Emergency workers reported he was dead at the scene.

Crisco was in the running for the U.S. House District 2 primary against Clay Aiken. He told Capital Tonight anchor Tim Boyum in March that he felt like his experience would benefit North Carolina in Congress.

“I looked around and I felt like Washington was spending a lot of time on the fringes,” he said. “This country cannot be governed from the fringes. It must be governed from the middle. That’s what I do. That’s what I did in four years as secretary of commerce, and I felt those abilities could be used in Washington.”

Because of Aiken’s celebrity, the race got national attention, with Crisco, a conservative Democrat, working to get his name out and known in the conservative-leaning 2nd District. The race between Crisco and Aiken turned ugly, when Crisco’s campaign ran ads hitting Aiken on absenteeism from board meetings for non-profits benefiting children. Aiken’s campaign accused Crisco of lying.

No winner has been declared in the race, but Crisco was behind Aiken by less than 400 votes. Longtime friend and Democratic consultant Brad Crone confirmed that Crisco planned to contact Aiken Tuesday morning and concede the race.

Before he ran for Congress, Crisco served as state Commerce Secretary from 2009 to 2012 under former Gov. Bev Perdue. Crisco was widely respected on both sides of the political aisle for his work in economic development. He also owned and operated an elastics business in Asheboro, in a time when the textile industry in North Carolina was declining. His political career also included stints on the Asheboro City Council and the Asheboro City School Board.

Crisco grew up on a farm in Aquadale, in Stanly County, and attended Pfieffer University. He received a masters of business administration from Harvard University. He was a White House Fellow and spent years in the textile industry. He also served on boards at Pfieffer, Bennett College, and N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Jane; three children, and six grandchildren.

His family said in a statement that they are “heartbroken:”

We are heartbroken to share the news that Keith has passed away after an accidental fall at his home this afternoon. Keith was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. He was a remarkable man with a tremendous dedication to his family and to public service. We appreciate the outpouring of love from our family and friends and all who knew him. While we mourn the loss of our beloved Keith, we ask the media to respect our privacy at this time.

From across the political spectrum, reaction to Crisco’s death was one of shock and sadness.

Clay Aiken, Crisco’s primary opponent, released this statement late Monday afternoon:

I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco’s death. Keith came from humble beginnings. No matter how high he rose – to Harvard, to the White House and to the Governor’s Cabinet – he never forgot where he came from. He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him. I am suspending all campaign activities as we pray for his family and friends.

Crisco’s old boss, former Gov. Bev Perdue, said he was one of the state’s giants:

Bob and I are devastated to learn that our good friend Keith Crisco has died.  He and Jane were tremendous personal friends as well as colleagues. Keith was a great North Carolinian who always did what he believed was best for his county, his state and his country. Political parties and perception were never part of his decision making. I asked him to leave Asheboro Elastics to be Commerce Secretary during the worst economic times since the Great Depression. He accepted that responsibility without hesitation because he loved this state and wanted to help when times were hard. His efforts helped in attracting more than 120,000 jobs as he worked across our state in both rural and urban areas and around the world to bring new jobs, expand existing jobs and stabilize our economy. Keith was one of North Carolina’s giants who made a real difference everyday he lived. He was active in local issues and loved The Lord. His wife Jane and their wonderful family were central to his life. Bob and I send our prayers and love to them and give thanks for their sacrifice in letting Keith share his life with us and the people of this state.

Gov. Pat McCrory said he and Crisco had a lasting friendship:

My heart sank, like so many other people who admired Keith Crisco, when I learned of his sudden passing. While I was a mayor, and now as governor, Keith was a partner, collaborator and strong advocate for the state he loved. Although Keith was a Democrat and a Pfeiffer University graduate, and I went to Catawba and am a Republican, nothing could stop Keith Crisco from building a lasting friendship. North Carolina was blessed and is a better state because of his leadership.

State Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said Crisco was “brilliant problem-solver:”

I got to know Secretary Crisco when Governor Perdue appointed him to be her Secretary of Commerce. Keith was a brilliant problem solver who liked to make good, solid public policy. He would have made a great Congressman and I know he felt strongly that the Second Congressional District needed new leadership in Washington. The Democratic family and North Carolina has lost a strong leader and our condolences go out to the Crisco family and community.

State Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope noted the similarities between Crisco and his own father, Claude Pope Sr., who served as commerce secretary under former Gov. Jim Martin:

We are incredibly shocked and saddened to hear about Keith Crisco’s sudden passing. Keith was an accomplished businessman and public servant with a sterling reputation and a tremendous amount of respect from North Carolinians across the partisan spectrum. Keith, like my father, served the state as Commerce Secretary with dignity and humility, and also like my father, passed away well before his time. Keith’s family is in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said Crisco was one of the state’s widely-respected public servants:

My deepest condolences go out to the Crisco family on the passing of one of our state’s most widely-respected public officials, Keith Crisco. I was honored to work with him on many issues that positively impacted the people of North Carolina, and I was struck by his professionalism and dedication to the citizens he served. He never wavered in his determination to improve the state he was so proud to call home. We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.

– Ben McNeely

Stage set for legislative kabuki as General Assembly returns for short session

It’s quiet on Jones Street now, but that soon will change this week.

The General Assembly returns for its legislative “short session” – named as such because of the timeframe the legislature meets in the early summer.

Yet, it seems like they never left Raleigh – what, with all the committee meetings to bang out proposed legislation and all.

This short session, however, will be different from ones in recent years’ past. In the long session of the Republican-led General Assembly last year, lawmakers passed changes to election law and teacher tenure, declined to expand the Medicaid program, reformed the state’s tax code, tried to take away control of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the Queen City, and, infamously, sneaked changes to abortion regulations into a bill about motorcycle safety.

The legislature did all this in front of a backdrop of protests, led by the Rev. William Barber and the state NAACP, as the weekly Moral Monday protests gained steam. Protestors sang songs in the courtyards of the Legislative Building and were arrested for trespassing – nearly 1,000 of them in all.

The legislature will be back, and so will the Moral Monday protestors – an amalgam of folks from all corners of the state, protesting for a litany of causes – public education, reproductive rights, voting rights, same-sex marriage, help for the poor and the unemployed.

Republicans have promised a proper short session. House Speaker Thom Tillis, fresh off his U.S. Senate primary victory, said business would move fast and lawmakers would be in and out.

After all, the U.S. Open is set to tee off in Pinehurst the first week of June. No one is under any allusions the short session will be done in two weeks, but they may certainly try.

The stage is set for some drama in the next month – and the issues on the agenda are complex:

  • Budget shortfall: Lawmakers are facing a nearly-$450 million budget shortfall in the two-year spending plan. This is ornery because the state is required to have a balanced budget. Changes to the state tax code and Medicaid overruns will make this complicated. But Republicans came into power promising to cut spending, lower taxes, and be generally fiscally responsible. This is the part of the play where we see if they can put their money where their mouths are.
  • Teacher pay: Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed raising the base pay of teachers early in their career to $35,000, and give all teachers an average 2 percent raise. He also proposed a flat $1,000 pay raise for state employees. Word is that State Budget Director Art Pope has been running around, cutting back spending in all state department, here and there, to make sure this happens this year. Despite the budget shortfall, McCrory promised the teacher pay raises would go through this year.
  • Medicaid: The state Medicaid system will see another shortfall this year – to the tune of $140 million. That’s smaller than in past years, but with a nearly-$450 million shortfall, that doesn’t help. This comes as DHHS changed its proposed plan for Medicaid reform and the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act – a certain politically-charged decision. Also, the state’s Medicaid reporting program – NCTracks – has been plagued with problems. Lawmakers still don’t have accurate numbers on Medicaid spending.
  • Common Core: A legislative education oversight committee proposed doing away with Common Core standards and creating a commission to create new state-specific standards for North Carolina’s public schools. This could create a fault line in Republican circles. Sen. Jerry Tillman, Rep. Bryan Holloway and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest want to do away with Common Core; but the state business community, led by the NC Chamber of Commerce, endorses Common Core as necessary standards for a changing workforce. This also is another disagreement between the legislature and the governor – who has endorsed Common Core.
  • Coal ash and fracking: As a federal investigation into the supposed cozy relationship between regulators at DENR and Duke Energy continues, lawmakers and Gov. McCrory are promising action on cleaning up coal ash across the state. It’s a legislative priority for the short session, but the cloud of suspicion surrounding coal ash legislation is thick. There are also proposed fracking regulations up for review and public hearings to be had before the first drill goes into the ground.
  • Dix Park: The City of Raleigh made the state a counter-offer of $51 million for 244 acres on Dix Hill and seven acres at the Morehead School, just across Western Boulevard, for a destination park. The state and the city are still trying to work out a fair price for the property after legislatures reneged on a deal former Gov. Bev Perdue made with the city. Complicating matters is that DHHS has all its office buildings on the site of the old state mental hospital, plus environmental clean-up issues from an old landfill. After the Senate blocked the deal, McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane put a holder agreement in place. That expires in July.

The legislature wants to tackle all this and be out of town, at the latest, by July.

The subplots for the short session are even more interesting – and have potential to overshadow the legislative kabuki theater on Jones Street.

This Republican legislature is known for its efficiency. As we saw in the long session, they get in, move bills, give time for debate, pass the bills, and get out of town. At least, that was on issues where the House and Senate agreed. This time around, these issues don’t necessarily carry the usual rank-and-file agreement among the Republican super-majority.

The fault lines within the party may become more apparent and even widen during the short session. McCrory will propose his budget, which includes his teacher pay plan, and other legislation he’s championing – like the public-private partnership for economic development, and first lady Ann McCrory’s puppy mill bill. But the legislature ignored the McCrorys’ pet project, and gave placeholder funding to set up the public-private corporation.

Gov. McCrory's political clout is on the line during the short session.

This time around, with the projected budget shortfall, legislators are already saying,” That’s great that you want to raise teacher pay, but we ain’t got the money.”

Remember: This is the same legislature that overrode McCrory’s two vetoes last year – vetoes of two relatively minor bills.

McCrory’s political clout is on the line this time around. Legislators pretty much steamrolled him last year. If he will play ball with the legislature on his priorities remains to be seen.

At the same time, Thom Tillis is running for the U.S. Senate, and incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan has already hit him on his legislative record. Whatever happens in the short session will almost certainly end up in attack ads in the fall.

And that’s just inside the Legislative Building.

Outside, the Moral Monday protests will return to Halifax Mall. Whether the arrests will continue remains to be seen. As for the prosecutions from last year’s batch of arrests, well, those are still bouncing around the Wake County DA’s office.

And also be prepared for national and partisan media to parachute in for the short session. At times, it may feel like a siege more than a legislative session in downtown Raleigh.

The play begins Wednesday at noon. Get your tickets now.

– Ben McNeely

To keep up with the updates on Jones Street during the short session, follow the Capital Tonight team on Twitter:

Committee discusses statewide open enrollment bill

RALEIGH—There could soon be unlimited options when it comes to parents selecting where they want their child to attend school.

The state’s program evaluation division will meet at the legislative office building at 1 p.m. to discuss a bill that would let students attend any public school of their choice.

Currently, more than 20 states allow student to enroll at the school of their choice. However, some educators have expressed their concerns specifically when it comes to funding.

Traditionally, students are assigned to attend schools near their homes. But some state officials are considering a plan that would make it possible for students to attend any public school in the state.

“The intentions are to allow parents that may not have a choice in where there students go and they think there school may not be at the highest performance they want it to be. They want their children to go to the best performing school they can,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.

Under the the proposal, school districts would have leeway to deny transfer requests for several reasons including lack of space. But state superintendent June Atkinson said there’s other factors to consider.

“One [reason] is the whole notion of transportation. The other is the funding of that student, how would the money follow the student,” said Atkinson.

At this stage, most of the funding for public schools flows directly from the General Assembly to each school district.

Watch the video here

Former President Jimmy Carter visits Raleigh to promote new book

RALEIGH — President Jimmy Carter stopped in Raleigh Wednesday to promote his new book on issues facing women.

The 39th president held a book signing at Quail Ridge Books & Music. Hundreds showed up to get his autograph. President Carter said it’s one of his most important books.

“We just saw, not only in this country, and around the world how bad it is. And the bad things the U.S. won’t take any stand,” he said.

The book tackles various issues including unequal pay, spousal abuse, genocide and sexual assaults on college campuses and in the military. It’s about 200 pages and costs nearly $30.
The president also wrote about how hundreds of thousands of women are sold into sexual slavery each year.

He’s calling on the U.S. to pass stricter laws when it comes to the treatment of women.

McCrory names judge as new Wake County DA

RALEIGH–Gov. Pat McCrory has selected a Wake County judge to replace District Attorney Colon Willoughby Jr., who announced his resignation last week.

Gov. McCrory said Judge Ned Mangum will take over when Willoughby leaves the post Monday. Mangum will be the prosecutor until Jan. 1.

Willoughby had already announced he would not seek re-election this year. He’s joining the Raleigh office of the McGuireWoods law firm May 1.

Willoughby was first elected as district attorney in 1986.

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