NCGA food drive

House Speaker Tim Moore – Photo:

As Chris Fitzsimon aptly noted last Thanksgiving, there are few things more maddening in the world of state politics than the spectacle of lawmakers piously calling for donations to help the poor even as they enact and defend new policies to do precisely the opposite.

Yet, here we are again today, watching as state legislative leaders “team up” with the state’s Retail Merchants Association to hold a “food drive” at the General Assembly just months after having concluded a legislative session that slashed unemployment insurance, eliminated the state Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, cut child care subsidies to thousands and denied affordable heath insurance to hundreds of thousands.

As Chris wrote last November:

“You’ve probably seen the request from a politician, asking you to donate generously to your local rescue mission, food pantry, emergency shelter or medical clinic. And you should. They do incredible work to help children and families who are struggling to survive.

But there’s a disconnect somehow in the holiday message and the rhetoric we hear from many political leaders and right-wing pundits the rest of the time. Low-income families and unemployed workers don’t fare so well in their press releases and talking points then.

Instead they are portrayed as lazy, people who are living off the government, who aren’t looking hard enough to find a job.

They are ‘takers’ we are told, the 47 percent that Mitt Romney so famously derided in the 2012 presidential campaign.

They need to help themselves, pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Those are the clichés and the stereotypes we hear about the poor and the unemployed in Raleigh and Washington, that helping people who are struggling only breeds dependence and makes them less likely to do what they need to do to lift themselves out of poverty.

And it goes beyond legitimate questions about the effectiveness of specific anti-poverty programs. It’s somehow become acceptable in the current political debate to blame people for their struggles, to question their character.”

The hard and plain truth: Even under the best of circumstances, private charitable efforts like food drives will always remain a small part of the solution to the problems of hunger and poverty in our state. Meanwhile, state political leaders continue to blame people in need and undermine the public structures that actually have the capacity to make a large and permanent difference.


One hopes and presumes it’s a coincidence, but it sure is strange that the longtime General Assembly website ( disappeared this morning just as legislative committees started to meet. For some weird reason, the General Assembly is now back at it’s old and rather archaic address In addition, some of the links on the main site (to the audio for various committee rooms) no longer work.

What’s up guys? Someone trying to make the case for Gov. McCrory’s plan to have a cabinet level I.T. Secretary?

(WRAL says the folks on Jones Street accidentally allowed the old domain to expire and are frantically working on it. Good grief!)

ncleg-domain issues


state Sen. Tom Apodaca

Longtime lobbyist Paula Wolf rounded up how many pies state Sen. Tom Apodaca has his fingers in over on her blog, Paulatics.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican who has been in the Senate for 12 years, is known for his off-the-cuff comments as well as influence in the state legislature.

Wolf, who until recently had worked as a lobbyist representing non-profit groups in the legislature, tallied up Apodaca’s current list of responsibilities.

From her blog:

Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Hendersonville) serves on 12 of the 23 Senate Standing Committees.

  •  He is the sole Chair of 2: Rules and Ways & Means.
  •  He is a Co-Chair of 3: Appropriations on Education/Higher Education, Insurance & Pensions and Retirement.
  •  He is a regular Member of 7: Appropriations on Base Budget, Appropriations on Justice & Public Safety, Commerce, Education/Higher Education, Finance, Judiciary I and Redistricting.

The daily calendar is under his purview as is the general flow of bills. As Rules Chair, Sen. Apodaca decides in which committee bills will be heard, and if they will be heard. It is also up to him whether a bill is debated on the Floor and what day.

His Committee assignments and his leadership responsibilities cover most of the issues expected to be hot this Session.

When you see Sen. Apodaca’s name in the media the word “powerful” will likely be used as a modifier to “Rules Chair” every time. Indeed, he is.



Stephen LaRoque, the former state representative accused of stealing $300,000 from federally-funded non-profits he ran, entered into a plea deal Monday.


Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque in 2011.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, plead guilty to one count of theft of $150,000 from a program receiving federal funds. The remaining 11 counts he faced will be dismissed, according to the court docket.

LaRoque also agreed to pay back $300,000 in restitution to the non-profit he once led, the East Carolina Development Corporation, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The plea was offered Monday at the federal courthouse in Greenville. No prior announcement of the hearing was made on the docket for LaRoque’s case.

LaRoque, a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, resigned from the legislature in July of 2012, shortly after he was indicted on the federal charges.

His sentencing will be on May 12, at the federal courthouse in Greenville before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard.

The charge LaRoque plead guilty to holds a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison. He could also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

LaRoque had been scheduled to go to trial next week, after convictions a jury handed down in a 2013 trial were set aside because of juror misconduct.

The federal investigation into LaRoque began shortly after a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation that found improprieties in his management of two economic development non-profits that received millions through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural lending program. The non-profit’s board of directors, which approved generous pay packages for LaRoque, consisted of himself, his wife and brother for several years.

His indictment on federal charges accused him of taking more than $300,000 from the non-profit to buy, amongst other things, a Greenville ice skating rink, replica Faberge eggs, jewelry and cars for his personal use.

Up until Monday, LaRoque had maintained he was innocent of criminal wrongdoing, and that the money he was accused of stealing was owed to him.

Shortly after his indictment, he said he wanted to seek revenge and “make heads roll” at USDA if he managed to get a political appointment heading the state office of the agency he was accused of stealing from.

This post has been changed from the original to correct the maximum fine LaRoque could face, up to $250,000. The post may be updated as further information about Monday’s plea deal is made available.


All 16 campuses in the North Carolina’s university system want to raise tuition and fees over the next two years.

The combined increases for tuition and fees, if approved, would range from 2 to 7 percent increases for in-state students, and up to 6 percent for out-of-state students for the school year beginning this fall. Additional increases are also being proposed for 2016-17.

At the top end of the scale, the UNC School of the Arts wants to charge students $8,499 and  N.C. State University would like to charge in-state students $8,407 in 2015-16. On the lower end, Elizabeth City State University asked for increases that would bring tuition and fees to $4,657.

A finance and budget committee of the UNC Board of Governors members heard about the requested increases on Thursday. The full 32-member board, all of whom were appointed by Republican state leaders, will meet once more to discuss the tuition increases before a Feb. 27 vote on the increases.

The figures looked at Thursday did not include room and board estimates.

North Carolina’s university tuition rates continue to be lower than what in-state tuition costs at many of its peers, according to information presented at the meeting by university system staff.

But the state also is obligated through the state Constitutions to have higher education costs “as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”

With significant cuts to the UNC system during the Recession (including $414 million for the 2011-13 biennium), students and their parents are paying a higher share of their education costs while levels of state support has dropped, according to a 2013 report by non-partisan legislative staff.

The report found that students paid $699 more for their education in 2013 than they did in 2007, while state support has dropped by $2,516 during that same time period.

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