Labor Commissioner Race
Floyd has Berry's endorsement for her campaign. She's a longtime healthcare administrator who served in the N.C. House from 2008 to 2010 and was appointed to the UNC Board of Governor in 2015. Burris Floyd calls Berry her "mentor" in politics for decades, and Berry said in her endorsement that her friend's "education and business background, both in the health industry and in her experience as a small business owner, will serve her well in this position." Burris Floyd said she's experienced workplace safety issues firsthand working as a laboratory safety officer. "I understand the pressure that businesses have when they see an OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) inspector show up on their property," she said. "I want to partner with those businesses, help them go through the must-haves to avoid being penalized."
Dobson voiced a similar philosophy on the Department of Labor's regulatory role. Like Burris Floyd, he's a former county commissioner, and the McDowell County resident has served in the N.C. House since 2013. "I don't see the position as someone who should be on a crusade," he said, noting that most major labor laws are set by the legislature or at the federal level. "I think the main job is to keep the employees of North Carolina safe. ... I would like to expand the training and education to businesses." And while Dobson doesn't have Berry's endorsement, he does have backing from two other notable Republican leaders: Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows. Dobson currently is a chairman of the House Health and Appropriations committees and has worked outside of politics a budget analyst. He says his political skills and willingness to work across party lines would be helpful as labor commissioner. "You have to work with a lot of different entities to get the job done," he said.
In a low-profile race where advertising will be a key to getting voters' attention, Dobson has the cash advantage, raising $24,000 in the second half of 2019 and starting the new year with $71,100 on hand. Burris Floyd raised $12,300 in the same period and had $8,800 on hand. Stanley trailed his better-known opponents in fundraising, bringing in only $1,100. He could not be reached for an interview, but his campaign website says he is a former sheriff's deputy and former solid waste enforcement director for Columbus County. He now serves as safety manager and superintendent of operations for a construction company.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will face well-funded opposition from Holmes, as Democrats hope Berry's retirement will provide their best shot at taking over the Department of Labor. She has raised $58,600 in the second half of 2019 and has $119,900 on hand. While the Republicans praise Berry, Holmes wants to take the department's regulatory approach in a different direction. "No one running for commissioner of labor should tout continuing an approach that allows workers to be injured or die in the workplace with little to no accountability for unsafe working conditions," Holmes said, criticizing what she called Berry's "laissez-faire approach." "Supporting employers and workers' rights is not mutually exclusive. I will support businesses and help to identify and remedy unsafe working conditions and find the balance that workers have been denied under the current administration." Holmes is an attorney who has handled a number of workers' rights cases. If either Holmes or Burris Floyd wins in November, they'd be the first African-American women to serve in a non-judicial statewide election position.
The candidates from both parties are finding it challenging to get their message out amid higher-profile races for president, U.S. Senate and governor. Dobson said much of his campaign has involved "educating voters on what the Labor Department does beyond the elevators." In addition to elevators, the department inspects boilers, amusement park and fair rides, and mines and quarries. It investigates wage and hour law violations, employment discrimination complaints and workplace safety issues.
But thanks to Berry's decision to put her photo on elevator inspection placards, most people associate the elected office with elevator rides. The candidates to replace her say they're open to continuing the tradition -- which some observers have credited with Berry's easy re-elections. "I think it has educated people to an extent to what the Labor Department does, being able to put a face to a department," said Dobson, who says he'll put up his photo. Others aren't sure if they'll be an elevator presence but are keeping the option open. "I'll evaluate that when I become the winner," Burris Floyd said. "Would I like to see my face all over the state? As long as it's positive, yes."
Holmes, hasn't decided how she'll approach the issue. "I haven't made that determination as my focus is on elevating workers as my primary objective," she said in an email.
Campaign Fundraising for Lt. Governor
With campaign finance reports filed, several candidates in the crowded field of lieutenant governor hopefuls have a clear cash advantage. On the Democratic side, the leader is Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe. She raised a total of $197,000 in the second half of 2019, ending the year with $434,600 on hand. "Her strength in this report demonstrates that she is the best candidate to take on the Republican nominee in November," her campaign said in a news release. She's followed by Bill Toole, an attorney and former Gaston County Democratic Party chairman, who raised $138,000 and ended the year with $11,300 on hand. Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg, raised $81,000 and ended the year with $27,000 on hand. Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas raised $67,000 (of which he loaned himself $33,000) and ended the year with $71,000 on hand. Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, raised $39,900 and ended the year with $33,700 on hand. And financial services firm owner Ron Newton was dead last with $4,000 raised and $156 on hand.
On the Republican side of the lieutenant governor race, former Rep. Scott Stone, R-Mecklenburg, leads the pack in fundraising with $169,000 raised in the second half of 2019; he ended the year with $188,000 on hand. Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, is in second place with $158,000 raised and $119,800 on hand. Former legislative aide and lobbyist Greg Gebhardt raised $114,700, with $76,000 of that coming as a loan from the candidate. He had $95,600 on hand. New Bern businessman Buddy Bengel raised $55,200 and had $43,300 cash on hand. Former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers raised $48,500 and had $4,200 on hand. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson raised $14,600 and had $233,100 on hand. Both former Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran and Moore County attorney John Ritter raised just over $2,000, and Greensboro gun-rights activist Mark Robinson's finance report wasn't available as of Tuesday.
In the other crowded open-seat race -- superintendent of public instruction -- UNC-Greensboro professor Jen Mangrum led Democrats by raising $59,700 in the second half of 2019, ending the year with $23,400 on hand. Chapel Hill school board member James Barrett raised $25,100 and had $2,600 on hand. Wake County school board member Keith Sutton raised $17,300 and had $16,200 on hand. Michael Maher, an assistant dean at N.C. State University, raised $13,100 and had $6,000 on hand. Constance Johnson's report was not yet available. On the Republican side -- where candidates got a late start thanks to incumbent Mark Johnson switching races -- Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, raised $29,900 (including $25,000 he loaned his campaign) and had $39,700 on hand. Catherine Truitt, leader of WGU North Carolina and a former education advisor to Gov. Pat McCrory, raised $5,900 and had $1,500 on hand.
In the Republican primary for secretary of state, businessman E.C. Sykes led the field with $212,800, including $127,000 he loaned the campaign. Gaston County Commissioner Chad Brown raised $7,500, and Michael LaPaglia raised $7,200. The winner faces incumbent Democrat Elaine Marshall, who raised $133,800 and ended the year with $186,300 on hand. (Colin Campbell, THE INSIDER, 2/05/20)
Transportation Secretary Resigns
Jim Trogdon, who has led the N.C. Department of Transportation through several crises in recent years and has worked to prepare North Carolina for changes in transportation technology, will retire at the end of February, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday. Trogdon has "plans to return to the private sector," Cooper said in a news release, without elaborating. Eric Boyette will replace Trogdon at the helm of the N.C. Department of Transportation, the governor said in the press release. Boyette is secretary of the Department of Information Technology.
"Eric Boyette and Tracy Doaks have served our state with distinction throughout their careers, and I am pleased that they will continue working on behalf of all North Carolinians," Cooper said in the release. "I thank Secretary Trogdon for his service to North Carolina and the Department of Transportation." Doaks will serve as Secretary of the Department of Information Technology. She joined the Department of Information Technology in 2015. Her career also has included IT work at other government agencies as well as Duke Medicine and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
Trogdon told Cooper of his intent to retire in a one-page letter dated Jan. 28. In it, he highlighted some of NCDOT's accomplishments in the last three years, including reducing the amount of time it takes to begin construction on major highway projects, such as the widening of Interstate 40 in Johnston County and the completion of N.C. 540 across southern Wake County. The decision to leave NCDOT was Trogdon's, according to Steve Abbott, a department spokesman. Abbott said Trogdon was not available to speak to the press on Tuesday, but did release a written statement, saying he would work closely with Boyette on a transition.
A consultant's report into NCDOT spending, released in September, found a lack of communication between NCDOT financial staff and division managers responsible for construction that might have identified overspending. Based in part on that criticism, State Treasurer Dale Folwell called on Cooper to fire Trogdon in late October. On Tuesday, Folwell said his position was "about the need for change at the top of an organization that has lost its financial way," he said in a written statement. Cooper shrugged off Folwell's suggestion that he fire Trogdon, expressing confidence in his appointee. On Tuesday, House Speaker Tim Moore also praised Trogdon.
"Secretary Trogdon demonstrated impeccable leadership for North Carolina throughout a series of devastating natural disasters, rapid population growth, and unforeseen challenges facing our state's transportation infrastructure," Moore said in a written statement. State Senate leader Phil Berger also commended Trogdon, saying in a written statement, "I've always had a positive, productive relationship with Secretary Trogdon, and I'm sad to see him go." (Richard Stradling and Dan Kane, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, and THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/04/20)
UNCG Makes Budget Statement
UNCG has joined several other public universities in calling on North Carolina lawmakers to pass a state budget. UNCG trustees approved a resolution Wednesday urging the legislature "to enact a robust state budget that includes significant and meaningful support for the constituent institutions of the UNC System and compensation measures commensurate with the excellence of its faculty and staff." The boards of eight other state universities have passed similar measures in the past several weeks. That number includes UNC-Chapel Hill and both UNC System schools in Winston-Salem. N.C. A&T trustees on Wednesday said they will meet Friday morning to take up the matter. (John Newsom, GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD, 2/05/20)
CMS Scaling Back on Bonds
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is scaling back on the size of new high schools it promised to build during the 2017 bond campaign, and district officials aren't explaining the change. Three new high schools were a big part of the CMS pitch for voters to approve a record $922 million in school bonds. Two are entirely new schools in south and southwest Charlotte. The third will replace the cluster of aging buildings on the West Charlotte High campus. All three were described as $110 million projects with 125 classrooms each. But written updates, which haven't been discussed at school board meetings, have been listing those projects as 100-classroom buildings for months. That's 20% smaller than the original plans, and CMS hasn't said why it's making the change.
WFAE asked three CMS officials for an explanation. Spokeswoman Renee McCoy forwarded August bond updates. Carol Stamper, deputy superintendent over operations, referred questions to Chief of Staff LaTarzja Henry. Henry said she wasn't ready to answer yet, but plans to have information on bond changes ready next week. Individual bond projects aren't spelled out on the ballot, so legally CMS can make any changes it wants once the voters give their approval. (Ann Doss Helms, WFAE RADIO, 2/05/20)
I-26 Connector Passes Latest Hurdle
The I-26 Connector project, which at nearly $1 billion will be one of the largest highways projects ever in Western North Carolina, has passed a hurdle with the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. "The release of the FEIS is a major milestone for this project, which will reduce traffic congestion, increase commerce in the region, provide an improved gateway into Asheville, and include bicycle and pedestrian facilities," said Mark Gibbs, Division 13 engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, in a press release. "Our local partners have helped us reach this critical step which brings the project closer to becoming a reality."
The route selected for the Interstate 26 Connector will take much of the traffic off the Bowen Bridge just west of downtown Asheville. Building tunnels instead of a bridge would be prohibitively expensive, the DOT says. The press release notes the DOT anticipates final federal approval of the project this summer, when the Federal Highway Administration issues its Record of Decision. The FEIS also confirms the DOT's earlier decision on the preferred route plan. (John Boyle, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES, 2/05/20)
North Hills Expansion
Kane Realty has plans for expanding North Hills by redeveloping an almost 9-acre part of the site where JC Penney now sits. The proposal calls for five mixed-use buildings of up to 12 stories on Lassiter Mill Road against the I-40 Beltline. It would add more parking, food, retail and office space to the shopping center, and include multifamily housing. Kane Realty has submitted the plan to the City of Raleigh and the Raleigh Appearance Commission, which oversees the design and architecture of developments. If approved, Kane Realty CEO John Kane said that work on the first phase of redevelopment could begin in August or September this year. In an interview with The News & Observer, Kane said the entire project would take about two-and-a-half years to complete. The 50-year-old JC Penney, the oldest North Hills tenant, will close on April 24, the company announced last August. (Aaron Sánchez-Guerra, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/05/20)
Wake School Bond Vote May be Postponed
Wake County voters might not be asked to approve a school construction bond referendum this year, even though that would mean using a more expensive way to pay for school projects. Wake County staff recommended Friday waiting until 2022 to put the next school construction bond referendum on the ballot because of how many items already will be on the November 2020 ballot. Instead of a bond referendum this year, officials want to use an alternative borrowing method that would cost a 1/2 cent more on the property tax rate.
Commissioner Vickie Adamson said that 1/2 cent difference would only mean $15 more a year in property taxes on a home with a $300,000 assessed property value. Wake County voters last approved a school bond in 2018, when they overwhelmingly backed borrowing $548 million. That year, voters also approved borrowing $349.1 million for Wake Technical Community College projects and $120 million for parks, open space and recreation construction. (T. Keung Hui, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/07/20)
Charlotte to Get New Headquarters
A Pennsylvania company with $928 million in annual revenue plans to relocate to Charlotte in mid-2020. Glatfelter, a manufacturer and supplier of paper and non-woven material, announced in an earnings report Thursday it would relocate to Charlotte from York, Pa. The company has about 2,600 employees worldwide. Glatfelter CEO Dante Parrini said in a statement the decision to move was in part because Charlotte is a "larger metropolitan area" and the city gives access to a "larger pool of critical resources and talent for future growth." Parrini also said proximity to Charlotte Douglas International Airport was a factor in the move, allowing for easy business travel. The Charlotte Ledger newsletter first reported the news. It's not yet clear where in Charlotte the company would move. (Hannah Smoot, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/10/20)