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The battle over school vouchers in North Carolina is now before the state Supreme Court, thanks to an emergency motion filed late Monday by attorneys on behalf of Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and parents to allow the taxpayer-funded vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last week, to be disbursed to private schools immediately while the fate of the program is decided.

Plaintiffs challenging the school voucher program – parents, educators, community members and school boards represented by the N.C. Justice Center, the North Carolina Association of Educators, and the N.C. School Boards Association – filed a response Tuesday morning to the motion now before the state’s highest court.

“[The defendants] implore the Court to put millions of taxpayer dollars at risk by turning on the spigot of public funds almost a month before the SEAA’s long-planned disbursement schedule, nullifying a decision by a senior trial judge entered after months of discovery and consideration of hundreds of pages of evidence and briefs,” said the plaintiffs’ response. Read More

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House Speaker Thom Tillis may have more name recognition than many of the other candidates in Republican U.S. Senate primary, but that has not translated into more support among voters.

New numbers released this week by Public Policy Polling find that Tillis leads the GOP field for the upcoming May 6th primary with 18% of the support among potential voters. That compares with 15% for Greg Brannon, 11% for Mark Harris, 7% for Heather Grant, 6% for Ted Alexander, 5% for Alex Bradshaw, 2% for Jim Snyder, and 1% for Edward Kryn.

And while 34% of voters remain undecided, PPP suggests Tillis would need to win most of them to reach the 40% mark and avoid a summer runoff.

Dr. Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University, says Tillis has failed to breakaway from his Republican challengers, struggling to portray himself as the best candidate to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Hagan in November.

Taylor joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to handicap the Senate race and discuss the role of big money in the political process.
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For those wanting to hear more from the candidates, Time Warner Cable News will broadcast an  hour-long debate April 22 at Davidson College featuring  all eight of the Republican challengers hoping for a chance to unseat Sen. Hagan.

Early voting for the May primary begins April 24th.

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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque  has apparently fired Joe Cheshire, the Raleigh attorney that represented him during a trial last year that ended in convictions for the former lawmaker.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who stepped down from the legislature after his federal indictment, was convicted in June of stealing funds from two federally-funded economic development groups he ran. He asked for a new trial after a juror admitted doing outside research during verdict deliberations. Read More

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It looks like Governor McCrory’s role in the big tax cut debate between House and Senate leaders might be merely to market what the legislative leaders come up with.

Here’s what House Speaker Thom Tillis told the News & Observer about McCrory’s role in the discussion about a tax deal.

We need the governor fully on board so he can communicate it and get people to understand it.

That’s a bit of an odd take from Tillis. He didn’t say they need to work with the governor because he is running the state or because he is the top elected official of their own political party or heaven forbid, because he might have some policy ideas and strongly held views of his own about taxes.

No, they need the governor on board only to sell the package that Berger and Tillis decide on. It is pretty clear legislative leaders believe they are in charge in Raleigh these days. McCrory? He is their PR guy.

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Federal prosecutors finished calling witnesses Monday to testify in the trial against Stephen LaRoque, a former Kinston state representative accused of stealing from two economic development charities he ran.

LaRoque could testify as early as tomorrow, as his defense attorneys begin to make their case.

The 49-year-old Republican that was a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee could face more than 90 years in prison if convicted of the dozen criminal charges he faces. Federal prosecutors believe LaRoque used the federally-funded East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company to buy cars, a rental home, expensive jewelry, replica Faberge eggs and a Greenville ice skating rink. The non-profits had received more than $8 million in funding from a anti-poverty rural lending program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where LaRoque’s non-profits were supposed to be lending out money to needy businesses in rural areas of the state.

LaRoque has plead not guilty to the charges and will likely testify in his own defense today or tomorrow. His attorneys, Joe Cheshire and Elliot Abrams, have argued that LaRoque was owed the $300,000 that prosecutors contend was stolen, and that the USDA had confusing rules about how to handle the publicly-sourced money. Two public accountants LaRoque used have also testified that they felt the state lawmaker had left money owed from his lucrative contract in the non-profit’s bank accounts.

“Basically, you can’t steal your own money,” Abrams said in court Monday. Read More