NC Politics in the News (Sept. 25)

September 25, 2008

Pardon Our Dust

We recently launched this new site and are still in the process of updating some of our archived content. Some details of this article may be incomplete, links may be broken, and other elements may not display properly yet. We appreciate your patience and understanding.


1. Offshore Drilling
The Associated Press
September 17, 2008
Gov. Mike Easley thinks any bill Congress approves that expands offshore oil exploration should give states control over who can drill. In a letter sent Wednesday to the state’s congressional delegation, Easley asks members to support legislation that would give leasing rights to individual states, not oil companies. The Democratic governor says states are best suited to decide whether to allow for drilling to protect their citizens and economic security. The U.S. House approved a bill Tuesday that would open waters 50 miles off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to oil and natural gas development — if adjacent states agree to go along. The states wouldn’t get royalties from energy production. The legislation now heads to the Senate, where changes are expected.
2. Natural Gas
The Associated Press
September 18, 2008
PSNC Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas, the state’s two largest natural gas companies, are proposing significant rate reductions for the fall. PSNC Energy is proposing a residential rate cut of about 14 percent while Piedmont Natural Gas wants to cut rates by about 16 percent for residential users. The typical homeowner would save about $24 a month. The two utilities serve nearly 1.2 million customers in North Carolina. The reductions would take effect Oct. 1. Wholesale prices for natural gas are down about 50 percent in the past few months. The North Carolina Utilities Commission must consider the rate reductions, but approval is expected. Natural gas companies can ask the commission to adjust rates monthly.
3, Rate Hike
The Associated Press
September 16, 2008
The state Utilities Commission heard arguments Monday on whether to allow Progress Energy to raise residential rates by 11.5 percent. The company says the rate hike is needed to pay for higher fuel costs. In June, the Raleigh-based company filed a petition with the commission to raise rates by 16.2 percent for an average household using 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, to about $113 a month. Earlier this month, Progress Energy agreed to spread the increase over three years after negotiating with the commission’s Public Staff, which represents consumers and industrial customers. If the commission approves, the monthly bill would rise from about $97 to about $108 for a residential customer in December. Rates would likely increase again in December 2009. Progress spokesman Mike Hughes said the company needs to pass along about $203 million in higher fuel costs. The company will spend $1.9 billion in 2008 for coal, natural gas, fuel oil, and uranium to generate electricity in North Carolina and South Carolina, he said. The company burns coal to generate about half the electricity it produces. The commission is expected to rule on the request in November.
4. Economic Forecast
Triangle Business Journal
September 16, 2008
The latest quarterly economic forecast by UNC-Charlotte economist John Connaughton shows the state’s economy expanding by 1.7 percent this year. That’s down from the 2.4 percent increase in gross state product North Carolina experienced in 2007 and down from the 2.2 percent for 2008 that Connaughton projected in his previous quarterly forecast, which was released in June. He now says the state’s economy should add 23,920 net jobs during 2008, an increase of 0.6 percent over the employment level in December 2007. That is 11,000 fewer jobs than Connaughton had predicted in June. In 2009, Connaughton expects economic expansion of 2.5 percent, with 51,200 net jobs added to the state’s economy. He projects the strongest nonagricultural employment growth in services; finance, insurance and real estate; and wholesale trade. The UNC Charlotte Carolina Economic Forecast is published quarterly by UNC Charlotte.
5. Unemployment
The Associated Press
September 16, 2008
North Carolina’s unemployment rate reached its highest level in nearly seven years in August, according to data released Friday by the Employment Security Commission. The rate was 6.9 percent in August, up from 6.6 percent in July. That’s the highest the rate has been since January 2002. August was the eighth consecutive month that the unemployment rate increased. “While some of the employment loss can be attributed to students returning to school, we know the decline in the national economy is having an impact on North Carolina’s employment picture,” said commission Chairman Harry E. Payne Jr. “We are experiencing a very tight job market and we have a lot of job seekers.” The state rate remains above the national unemployment rate, which increased from 5.7 percent in July to 6.1 percent in August.
6. Changing State
September 21, 2008                      
September 20, 2008
Unaffiliated voters made up 18.5 percent of the state’s electorate in 2004. This year, they make up 21.9 percent. That increase has not gone unnoticed by the campaigns of presidential candidates. “As in many other states, independents determine the race,” said Marc Farinella, the state director for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign in North Carolina. Many attribute the increase to an influx of newcomers to the state – mostly from Democratic states in the Northeast and Midwest, and mostly into North Carolina suburbs. “There are so many folks moving here who are more used to having Daniel Patrick Moynihan as their senator than Jesse Helms,” said Tom Jensen, a Democratic pollster, comparing the late Democratic senator from New York with Helms, North Carolina’s late conservative lion. Democrats especially have hoped the change will play to their favor in a state that has long turned red in national elections. Meanwhile, Republicans say Democratic hopes this year are overstated, saying that current changes to the state’s demographics don’t mean defeat for GOP presidential hopeful John McCain.
Since 1980, the state has voted solidly Republican for president and largely Republican for the U.S. Senate. That trend hasn’t carried over to the U.S. House and state-level offices. And in terms of party affiliation, registered Democrats have long outnumbered registered Republicans. An important force in this pattern has been the large number of white, socially conservative Democrats, especially in rural areas and the eastern part of the state. Despite the party listed on their voter registration cards, these voters tend to vote Republican in national elections. But as more newcomers populate the state, conservative Democrats who are native to the state are being displaced in the electorate by new suburban voters who appear to reverse the old phenomenon. A recent study by Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina polling firm, revealed a curious paradox. Newcomers to North Carolina are less likely to register as Democrats than North Carolina natives — but the newcomers are more likely to actually vote for Democrats. Indeed, independents who are not natives are actually more likely to support Obama than native Democrats, the Democratic polling firm found. The results are based on a survey of 2,066 North Carolinians conducted Aug. 20-23. No Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since 1976.
Democrats see more good news in overall voter registration numbers. Since January, the state Democratic Party has registered more than eight times as many voters as Republicans have. A large factor was likely a competitive Democratic primary marked by intense voter registration drives by both the campaigns of Obama and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama’s campaign has since continued its registration efforts. Republicans acknowledge a less-than-ideal environment for their party this year, but they say they have no intentions of reducing their efforts here. “We are obviously treating it (North Carolina) as a competitive state, and we will not take our foot off the gas pedal until Election Day,” said Buzz Jacobs, the Southeast regional campaign manager for McCain. Obama has the organizational lead in the state with 375 paid staff and 34 campaign offices. McCain’s campaign said last week that it is boosting its paid staff from about 20 to as many as 30 and adding to its nine campaign offices across the state. “We believe North Carolina will ultimately be a red state again,” said Jacobs. “But it’s not going to come without a lot of hard work.”
7. Political City
September 16, 2008
Raleigh is the most political city in the country, according to Men’s Health magazine. In a recent issue, the magazine ranked the top ten most political cities based on percentages of active registered voters, ballots counted, percentage of income donated in the current presidential election, campaign spending, votes cast in the 2008 primary and votes cast in recent elections for governor and Senate. Raleigh topped Montgomery, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; Cleveland, Ohio; and Kansas City, Mo. for the top spot. Sixth place went to Greensboro, N.C.