President mentions Queen City in national address on Libya

President Barack Obama may have had the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in mind Monday night.

The President compared the Libyan city of Benghazi to North Carolina’s largest city and the 2012 DNC Convention host when he said, "we knew if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the same size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world."

The Charlotte mention in a national address quickly drew steady comments on Twitter, and was also mentioned on a Wall Street Journal blog.

In early February, Charlotte beat out fellow finalist cities Cleveland, Minneapolis and St. Louis to host the 2012 DNC Convention. It will be the first national party convention in the south since the Republican National Convention in Atlanta in 1988.

Unlicensed drivers becoming a huge problem in N.C.

We did a story Monday about another growing problem in the state, unlicensed drivers. Here’s a link to the story:

/content/top_stories/638734/lawmakers-look-to-increase-penalties-on-unlicensed-drivers

The gist is more and more people are driving while licensed revoked (DWLR) or No Operator’s License (NOR). Rep. Starnes introduced HB 451 last week that would strengthen penalties for DWLR.

http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2011&BillID=H451

Some of the penalties include increase fines, jail time and vehicle seizure.

There were a couple of alarming stats in the story. Twenty-four percent of all traffic fatalities in North Carolina involve at least one person DWLR. That’s approximately 400 people who die each year. The other alarming fact is of the 146,000+ DWLR charges, only 43,000+ are convicted. That’s less than 30 percent.

There’s obviously a disconnect here. AAA Carolinas is calling this a public health epidemic and lobbying hard to increase the penalties. They argue many judges have no idea a defendant’s past DWLR records are available. Now, I hear the court system’s technology budget is about to be cut by $10 million. It’s going to be hard to improve court technology with that type of budget cut.

With those alarming numbers, however, it seems the DWLR epidemic is hard to ignore.

Tax Increases Could Be On the Way For Guilford County Residents

GREENSBORO, N.C.– This week, Guilford County Commissioners held the first of two meetings to allow the public to make comments on this years very tight budget decision making process.

"We’ve cut out about 31 to 35 million dollars out of the county budget in order to not have a tax increase, and we’ve tightened up and our commitment over the last two years is to be doing more with less," said Guilford County Commission Chairman Skip Alston.

County Commissioner Chairman Skip Alston says the new budget will be reduced from $569 million to $564 million.And out of that around 99% is already allotted to things like education, human services public safety, and other entities.

"And then what we as County Commissioners end up arguing over is about 1/2 a percent of our budget," said Alston.

But some organizations like the Arts Council of both High Point and Greensboro are asking Commissioners to keep their needs in mind. Funding for each of the non-profits was cut by about one-third last year.

"That actually had a hard impact on High Point, we actually had to move out of the facility that we were in and we have moved into the lobby if you will, of Parks and Rec," said Debbie Lumpkins of the High Point Area Arts Council.

"It reduces the amount of dollars that we can grant back out through our organizations, and as you may well be aware, not only are we in a position right now to consider funding cuts from a county level, but we’re also through the North Carolina Arts Council, you know there’s talks of cuts from the state level as well and those are our only two sources of public funding," said Altina Layman of the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro

But Commissioners say because of the $650 million worth of Bonds approved in 2008 more funding is needed, funding that could come in the form of a possible six-percent take increase.

The County Manager is set to release the proposed budget to Commissioners on April 7. Two additional public comment meetings will follow that release. Anyone is invited to attend the meetings.

ON JONES STREET: Redistricting experts sits down with News 14 Carolina

Raleigh- Thomas Farr is known as THE redistricting expert here in North Carolina. He has argued a Congressional redistricting case in the 1990s that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, and won the landmark North Carolina legislative redistricting case in 2002. Now, the current Speaker of the House and President Pro-tem here in North Carolina have hired him on as their legal counsel as they navigate their way through the process. The first time legislative redistricting committees are meeting is on Wednesday at 3:00. Here is what Farr had to say about this year’s process:

ON JONES STREET- Calling all amateur detectives

Raleigh- Cue the music… dum, dum, dum… there is a mystery brewing in the State senate. On Tuesday, lawmakers were all set to pardon former Governor William Holden. Then a letter was left on the lawmakers’ desks. (This was a rather nasty historical review of Gov. Holden) This is against Senate rules- only senators can leave notes for other senators and have to notate who it is from if they do that. The sergeant at arms said that is ok, they would track down the culprit using the senate security camera. In the meantime, the pardon vote was delayed (allegedly NOT because of the letter).

Then news came down the security camera was broken. We may never know who left the letter. Democrats aren’t taking this explanation without a fight- Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt sent this letter to the sergeant at arms asking for ALL security footage.

Here is a bit of the exchange:
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Meanwhile- back to the pardon. The pardon bill has now been sent back to the rules committee for consideration. The bill sponsor (Sen. Neal Hunt, Wake County) says there has been some public pushback to the pardon- but he still wants to see it done. He says there are a few members of the majority caucus holding up the pardon. (Please note: these are republicans holding up a pardon of a Republican governor). Here is what he had to say after session:

As far as the missing tape?? This maybe a mystery that never get solved.

Sinsheimer sends another letter

Political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer has emerged with a new letter full of ideas. This time he has sent a letter to House Speaker and Republican Thom Tillis.

For those of you who don’t know, Sinsheimer is a former Democratic strategist. In recent years, he’s played a big role in initiating investigations into politicians from his own party including former House Speaker Jim Black.

He’s been quiet recently and even declined comment after Gov. Easley pleaded guilty to a felony last November. Sinsheimer has focused on clean and ethical government.

This letter focuses on three topics and features a mix of compliments and criticisms.

Sinsheimer first compliments Speaker Tillis about his initiative to create term limits for the top legislative leaders. The bill is currently making its way through the general assembly.

"Your leadership on this issue has been important, and I hope that the majority of both chambers will see the wisdom of this legislation," Sinsheimer said. "During the last five years, I have repeatedly advocated on this issue as I believe it is a critical reform."

His second point wasn’t as much of a criticism as a request to stop what he believes is closed door caucus meetings ending with legislation.

"Let me take the current charter school legislation as an example," Sinsheimer said. "In just a few short months, the General Assembly has taken a solid idea with bipartisan support—expanding our state’s charter school toolbox—and instead crafted legislation that has hardened the partisan divide in Raleigh."

His final point was much more critical. He’s clearly against the Voter ID bill. Not necessarily against the idea itself but the fact that campaign finance reforms are included in it.

"The fact that these provisions have been included in a bill that in all likelihood will be vetoed and/or challenged in the courts does not advance these campaign finance reforms or make their passage likely this session," Sinsheimer said. "I strongly support measures designed to lessen the influence of the pay-to-play culture in state politics, but the inclusion of these items in the “Restore Confidence in Government” legislation (H351, S352) is a death knell for reform."

He ends the letter by offering the opportunity to meet and talk about the issues.

Carolina on my mind

It’s becoming more and more apparent that North Carolina is a focal point of the 2012 Presidential election. Take this story I did Monday.

CHARLOTTE – President Obama is showcasing a small Charlotte company as an example of exporting product can help import jobs.

In his weekly address and in an op-ed piece, the president mentioned Rhino Assembly, a supplier and repairer of aerospace and automotive assembly tools. The company has a total of 18 employees but just dramatically increased its exports, specifically to Brazil.

“It’s not as difficult as we thought. So I think it’s exciting for us but if we can help get a message out for other companies in North Carolina and take that first step and get started with exporting,” said Leif Anderson, Vice President of Rhino Assembly.

This is the third time this year (that I can find) that President Obama specifically mentioned a North Carolina company in his weekly address. He also mentioned a Triad woman during his State of the Union address. Combine that with the big DNC Convention announcement, it adds up to a lot of publicity for the Tar Heel state.

It’s not just from the left, in the past couple of months, North Carolina’s hosted the likes of Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani is on his way next month.

It’s rare to see this many big name political figures in or talking about North Carolina this earlier in a Presidential cycle. I bet this only heats up as we head into 2012.

ON JONES STREET- Hands free cell phone bill gets Tillis support

RALEIGH — Speaker Thom Tillis says he is getting behind a proposal that would require a hands free device when talking on your cell phone while driving. He is not saying he is 100 percent in support of the idea- but says after he studies the statistics and considered the options- he believes this bill will generate a good discussion and could save lives. In a press conference Tuesday morning he talked about his thoughts about the bill- and why he doesn’t believe it would infringe on personal liberty. (FYI- Sen. Berger says he likely will not support the legislation). Here is some of what Tillis said:

Rep. Hall on voter ID

It’s one of the hottest stories in the legislature this week after a marathon public hearing on Tuesday. Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham) stopped by Tuesday to talk about the bill that would require a photo ID to vote.

He is against the plan. Here’s a small snippet of what he said when I asked him why Republicans are pushing this bill if it’s not about voter fraud.

"I think that people have in their minds that the route to power is to deny people their right to vote. That they won’t be able to win on the ideas. They won’t be able to win on the debate. But if we can keep you away from the ballot box to express your opinion then we can win."

I’m working on getting the bill’s co-author Rep. David Lewis in studio tomorrow. The entire interview airs on Political Connections Friday night at 6pm and Sunday 11am.

Nuclear power and bad timing for Duke Energy

CHARLOTTE — Talk about bad timing for Duke Energy. The same day the Japanese temporarily abandoned a nuclear power plant because of fluctuating radiation levels, Duke was seeking permission to pass along an additional $287 million to ratepayers for the opportunity to move forward plans for a new nuclear power plant in Gaffney, S.C. I realize, there’s a lot of words in that last statement, but that’s basically how it goes. At the Utilities Commission hearing, the Japanese situation was brought up frequently by opponents. It also appears the taste for nuclear power seems to be souring in the wake of the Japanese situation. Not from our viewers however. Check out the results from Tuesday’s web poll:

Should the U.S. put a moratorium on domestic nuclear development?

Yes (62) 21%

No (239) 79%

Interesting results seeing as how we’re still in the middle of the crisis in Japan. It’ll be interesting to see where the Obama administration goes from here. They were pushing nuclear power to help clean up greenhouse gas emissions. The GOP led state legislature was also supposed to push through this week a bill that would make it easier for energy companies to re-coup costs. That was postponed.

The next few days and the results of what happens in Japan could determine the energy future of this country for the next few decades.