Cunningham, Tillis to meet in UNC discussion on friendships across the political divide

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and former Demcoratic challenger Cal Cunningham will discuss building and maintaining friendships across the political divide.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and former N.C. State Senator Cal Cunningham, a Democrat, will meet in November as part of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Abbey Speaker series.

The event, to be held November 10 at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium of the FedEx Global Education Center and livestreamed on Zoom, will focus on building and maintaining friendships across the political divide.

Cunningham challenged Tillis for his U.S. Senate seat in 2020 but failed in the wake of a sex scandal in which text messages revealed he carried on an extramarital affair while campaigning for office. The contest was the most expensive in U.S. history, with campaigns and outside groups spending more than $280 million as the outcome helped decide control of the U.S. Senate.

Cunningham kept a low profile as the scandal erupted around him in October, which political observers said contributed to his loss. He has since remained relatively low-profile.

The discussion, co-sponsored by the  UNC Institute of Politics. will be moderated by Sarah Treul Roberts, professor of Political Science and faculty director of UNC’s Program for Public Discourse.

Register for the Tillis/Cunningham discussion here.

More information on upcoming events as part of the Abbey Speaker Series and Program for Public Discourse here.

N.C. A&T receives $23.7 million grant for clean energy training program

N.C. A&T has received a $23.7 million federal grant to create a clean energy workforce training program.

Gov. Roy Cooper was on campus in Greensboro Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan and others to announce the grant, from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.  The money, part of the American Rescue Plan good Jobs Challenge grant program, will go toward A&T’s new STEPs4GROWTH program, which will provide clean energy workforce training.

The university plans to have the program off the ground by 2026 and to place several thousand workers in the clean energy sector over five years.

Gov. Roy Cooper was on hand for the grant announcement at N.C. A&T Wednesday.

“You’ve heard a lot about the clean energy jobs coming to North Carolina by the thousands,” Cooper said Wednesday. “You know what keeps me up at night? Who’s going to fill those jobs.”

Cooper said the A&T program will be essential for the clean energy economy that is “important for our planet and our pocket books.”

“We are on the cutting edge of the clean energy economy,” Cooper said. “It is an intentional thing. And developing this talented, diverse workforce is going to be critical to the success.”

Cooper touted bipartisan state legislation requiring the power sector to reduce carbon emissions 70 percent by 2030 and to get to carbon zero by 2050. The state is pushing offshore wind power and attracting companies that make clean cars, planes and boats. That’s going to mean new skills are needed to build those things,

North Carolina’s universities and community colleges are the ideal place for these clean energy youth apprenticeship programs, Cooper, said – particularly the state’s thriving historically black college and universities (HBCUs).

“People are coming here because they know we value diversity,” Cooper said. “We also value education.”

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Report: federal investigation slowing Catawba Two Kings Casino development

The construction and opening of the Catawba Two Kings Casino in Cleveland County could be slowed by a federal investigation into how it was approved, according to a Sunday report from The Wall Street Journal. 

The report centers on Kings Mountain Equipment Supply LLC, a company which the Journal found gave shares to relatives of powerful politicians in North and South Carolina as the South Carolina tribe sought an unusual permission to build their casino across the border in North Carolina. Among those receiving shares were the brother of U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, and Democratic political operative Patti Sollis Doyle. The husband of former Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Haley’s attorney Butch Bowers also received shares, the Journal reported.

The future site of the Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort off Dixon School Road in Cleveland County. (Photo by Joe Killian)

The National Indian Gaming Commission is investigating.

Policy Watch readers will remember our series of stories on the troubled casino project from 2020, which included an examination of how local and state figures connected to the project profited and the questionable connections and history of the casino’s backers.

As the Policy Watch investigative series illuminated there have for years been questions about conflicts of interest and potential political corruption in the development.

Policy Watch’s investigation found the family of Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler owned land valued at $4.2 million in the area, including a 783 acre parcel within a mile of the new casino. Neisler, who confirmed those figures with Policy Watch, did not make the claim that mineral rights would prevent development and denied his family company’s large holdings amounted to a conflict of interests.

“My house even in town is going to go up in price, so that’s a conflict of interest,” Neisler told Policy Watch. “But that’s kind of looking in futuristic terms and saying, ‘Hey, something two miles down the road is going to be worth a whole lot because this is coming in.’ Well, it could and it couldn’t. I don’t know.”

The Catawba and Cherokee tribes have been in conflict over the casino development for years.

At issue: a proposed $273 million, 17-acre project in Cleveland County. The Catawba Indian Nation has been working for seven years to make the resort a reality. It plans gaming tables, 1,300 electronic game machines as well as restaurants, which it says will economically benefit the tribe and the area.

Although the Catawba’s headquarters are just across the border in Rock Hill, SC, the tribe claims the 17 acres in North Carolina as its ancestral land. The US Department of the Interior initially rejected the tribe’s request to acquire the land, citing a land settlement act approved by Congress in 1993. Under that act, the Catawba tribe is prohibited by South Carolina law from pursuing more lucrative gaming, having to restrict itself to high-stakes bingo. But the federal government reversed that decision in March, allowing the tribe to cross state lines and break ground on the resort in July.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opposes the resort. That tribe, which operates two casinos in western North Carolina, also claims the land in question as its ancestral territory and is suing in federal court. Tribal leaders say the federal government allowing the Catawba to move across state lines for the purposes of more lucrative gaming interests sets a bad precedent.

Clyburn, whose brother received shares in Kings Mountain Equipment LLC, filed the bill preventing the Cherokee tribe from being able to sue the federal government over the development.

Wake County to hold public meeting on plans for $35 million opioid settlement funds

Last year, nearly 200 people in Wake County died as a result of drug overdoses. More than 1,000 found themselves in hospital emergency rooms. Though COVID-19 and political chaos may have taken the spotlight in the last few years, the national opioid epidemic hasn’t gone anywhere.

Next week, Wake County is holding its first community meeting on how it will spend its share of a historic $26 billion National Opioid Settlement– more than $35 million over the next 18 years.“
“The opioid epidemic hits close to home for so many families, and even if your family hasn’t faced addiction problems, I’m sure you know a family that has,” said Sig Hutchinson, chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, in a statement this week. “For all these reasons and more, it’s important for residents to be able to weigh in on the best use of these funds to help the individuals and families in our community.”

On Tuesday, August 2, county leaders will join with healthcare workers and those experiencing addiction to discuss the best way to use the money, plan and prioritize. The meeting, to be held from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Wake County Commons Building, 4011 Carya Drive, Raleigh, is open to the public with a virtual option also available. Those interested in attending can register at

After Tuesday’s public brainstorming session, county staff will conduct an online public survey to determine priorities from among the strategies discussed. They will take recommendations to the Wake County Board of Commissioners’ Human Services Committee for consideration at the board’s August meeting.

The board is expected to make final decisions on the settlement funding in September.


UNC-Chapel Hill announces new vice chancellor of communications

Kamrhan Farwell has been named UNC-Chapel Hill’s next vice chancellor of communications, the university announced Thursday.

Farwell, now the vice chancellor and chief marketing and communications officer at the University of Missouri, will begin at UNC-Chapel Hill Sept. 26. She replaces Joel Curran, who left the university last October to take a position at the University of Notre Dame. Curran originated the role in 2013 but left last year in what appeared to be a wave of exits by high level staffers that included Joanne Peters Denny, director of the the university’s media relations and its chief diversity officer, Sibby Anderson-Thompkins.

Kamrhan Farwell (Photo Courtesy of the University of Missouri)

Farwell will have her work cut out for her. The past two years have brought a torrent of bad publicity for the university, from controversies over its poor response to COVID-19  and its failed attempt to hire acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones to continuing concern about the influence of deep-pocketed donors,  the North Carolina General Assembly’s conservative majority and its political appointees on the UNC Board of Governors.

In a message to the Carolina community Thursday, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said he has great confidence in Fawell.

“A highly respected leader, Farwell brings extensive experience to this role, most recently leading a 120-person communications team at the flagship campus known as Mizzou, as well as the University of Missouri System,” Giskiewicz wrote.

“For the past four years, Farwell has led all institutional communications, including comprehensive marketing and media strategies that have helped rebuild and bolster the University of Missouri’s reputation,” Guskiewicz wrote.  “During her tenure, freshman enrollment increased by 30 percent, the institution celebrated its first Nobel Prize and legislative support grew in 2022 by the highest percentage in 35 years.”

In her own statement, Farwell said she is looking forward to joining the Carolina community.

“I am inspired by the quality of the scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill, the integrity of the leadership, and the enthusiasm of faculty, staff, students and alumni,” she said. “I’m anxious to do my part in sharing the university’s compelling story and global impact with the world.”