Politics & Government

Roy Cooper quietly meets with Democratic lawmakers

rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Call it the bagel strategy.

For at least the past two weeks, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper has held early morning meetings with groups of Democratic legislators to talk about his upcoming campaign for governor.

Two weeks ago, it was with members of the Wake County delegation. Last week it was with a handful of Mecklenburg lawmakers who gathered at a Raleigh condo next to a Glenwood Avenue bagel shop.

Cooper, who has yet to formally announce his campaign, has been meeting with small groups of legislators over coffee and bagels “to discuss the current challenges North Carolina faces as well as … his plans for 2016,” according to strategist Morgan Jackson.

Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte called the meeting “a friendly conversation.”

“He wanted to start his engagement with Charlotte and assure us that he was getting an early start on his engagement with the community,” Jackson said. Jim Morrill

An opponent for Schaffer?

When it comes to elections, Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer has had relatively smooth sailing. Since winning a Republican primary in 2012, she’s never had another opponent.

Next year could bring her first opponent in four years.

Sources say Tim Morgan, a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, could challenge her in southeast Charlotte’s District 105. Morgan declined to indulge in the speculation last week.

“Right now I am simply focused on the CMS budget,” he said. “That has 100 percent of my focus.”

The usually low-profile Schaffer led the House debate over last week’s bill that extended the wait for abortions from 24 to 72 hours. She was also a chief sponsor of this session’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Jim Morrill

Why ‘Senator No’ voted no on RFRA

Before House Speaker Tim Moore pulled the plug on it Thursday, few bills this session have been as contentious as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Though some Republicans had reservations, sentiment generally fell along party lines, with most Democrats opposed.

That was in sharp contrast to the wide bipartisan support a federal RFRA measure enjoyed in 1993. That bill, sponsored by Democrats, passed 97-3.

The only Republican to vote no was U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina. He explained why in the Congressional Record:

“With a name like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, how could anyone vote against it,” he said. “… (RFRA) has less to do with our legal and historical notions of religious liberties than it does with the creation of new rights and employment opportunities for the nation’s lawyers.

“This legislation … will make it easier for litigants with many different and singular religious beliefs to attack virtually all state and federal laws that somehow burden acts (they) engage in as part of their religious practice.”

Helms, who died in 2008, went on to cite concerns over litigation by inmates, specifically religions such as the Fruit of Islam or Church of the New Song.

“Religious freedom is important,” he said, “as long as you do not force the (government) to go bankrupt answering frivolous claims and accommodating phony religions.” Jim Morrill

Mixed signals from the Senate?

So much for consistency.

Last week, Sen. Andrew Brock of Davie County touted a bill he’s sponsoring with Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews. It would clarify the right of local governments to spend money to renovate historic structures.

Some think the bill is an alternative to a proposed state Historic Tax Credit favored by Gov. Pat McCrory and leaders in the House. Brock insisted it’s just “another tool” for cities and counties.

“This will give local governments power,” he said, arguing for local autonomy.

But already this session the Senate passed bills forcing changes on the makeup of the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County board of commissioners. Jim Morrill

New leaders for Mecklenburg parties

Mecklenburg County has two new party chairmen.

▪ At this month’s Democratic convention, lawyer Matt Newton defeated chairman Marc Friedland, who’d taken over last August.

▪ And last month, Mecklenburg Republicans chose Curtis Watkins, who works at Duke Energy. He replaces Brad Overcash. Jim Morrill

And we have a winner!

A sophomore at Ardrey Kell High School is a winner of the 2015 Congressional Art Competition. Claire Liu’s oil painting, titled “Popo,” was judged best entry among more than 35 pieces submitted from residents in the North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, said visitors to his office “stopped and stared” at Liu’s red and yellow painting of her 100-year-old great-grandmother.

“Now, Ms. Liu’s painting will hang in a busy corridor of the U.S. Capitol for the next year, where I am confident it will create traffic jams as even more people have the opportunity to admire her artwork,” Pittenger said.

She’ll also receive a scholarship offer from a Southeastern arts university and two complimentary airline tickets to fly her and a guest to Washington to attend a reception in her honor. Franco Ordoñez

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