Latest North Carolina news, sports, business and entertainment at 6:20 a.m. EDT
ELECTIONS BOARD-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
N Carolina elections director, top lawyer exiting roles
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The professionals in charge of protecting North Carolina’s elections for more than five years are being replaced.
State elections director Kim Strach and top elections attorney Josh Lawson leave their jobs Friday.
Strach was ousted earlier this month from the job she’s held since 2013. Strach was promoted to the job under Republican former Gov. Pat McCrory, but the elections board is now back in Democratic hands following lengthy litigation.
Lawson decided to quit when Strach was dumped. He’s being succeeded by his deputy, Katelyn Love.
Strach and Lawson worked to increase election security and investigated wrongdoing by former Republican state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell and 9th Congressional District GOP candidate Mark Harris.
Strach previously oversaw campaign finance investigations of Democratic House Speaker Jim Black and former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.
AVA GARDNER FESTIVAL
Ava Gardner Festival returns to NC for 1st time in 5 years
(Information from: The Wilson Daily Times, http://www.wilsondaily.com)
SMITHFIELD, N.C. (AP) – The Ava Gardner Festival is returning to North Carolina for the first time in five years.
The Wilson Times reports the festival is scheduled to return Friday and Saturday at the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield.
Museum director Lynell Seabold says several family members are expected to attend, as is Carmen Vargas, who was the actress’ personal assistant for the last 13 years of her life.
Gardner was born in 1922 in Grabtown, a community outside Smithfield. She died Jan. 25, 1990, at the age of 67 and is buried near Smithfield.
A new exhibit, “Ava: My Real Story,” will be unveiled Friday night. Seabold says it’s a photo essay-style display with an interactive kiosk.
The festival begins Friday morning and runs through Saturday afternoon.
Senate budget crossing finish line, talks with House next
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The Senate’s version of how North Carolina state government should operate for the next two years is almost done.
The chamber scheduled debate Friday for the second and final vote on the spending plan drawn up by Republicans. The GOP-controlled House already approved its spending plan four weeks ago, so the next step is for the two chambers to negotiate a final deal. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper could veto that plan if it doesn’t provide more things to his liking.
The Senate gave initial approval to its current plan on Thursday. The chamber’s Republicans highlighted education spending, tax cuts and reserves to get prepared for the next recession. Democrats said the Senate budget falls woefully short in meeting education and environmental needs and leaves out Medicaid expansion.
BLACK NIGHTCLUB-ENDANGERED LIST
Nightclub that served black community on endangered list
(Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – A North Carolina nightclub that served the black community during the era of segregation is now on a list of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic places.
The Charlotte Observer reports the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed The Excelsior Club in Charlotte on the list, making it the first property in North Carolina to make the list. It’s also designated as a historic landmark by the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Historic Landmarks Commission.
Musicians like Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong performed there. Bill Clinton and Al Gore campaigned there, and locals went to the club to celebrate Barack Obama’s election as the first African American president.
The club, which opened in 1944, closed in 2016. State Rep. Carla Cunningham, who owns the building, has filed paperwork to have it demolished.
Lawmakers delay proposed ban on smokable hemp
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A proposed ban on smokable hemp has North Carolina farmers worried as the state Senate agriculture committee considers legislation that would expand industrial hemp farming, which was originally established as a pilot program in 2015.
Farmers argued at a hearing Thursday that banning smokable hemp would hurt the lucrative hemp industry at a time where many farmers in the traditional tobacco-farming state are struggling due to hurricanes and decreased tobacco prices.
But the State Bureau of Investigation pushed to ban smokable hemp, saying it’s difficult for law enforcement to discern smokable hemp from marijuana.
Lawmakers amended the bill to delay the smokable hemp ban until Dec. 1, 2020, giving them time to figure out how to regulate the fast-growing industry. The committee plans to vote on the bill next week.
BABY DIES-PINE CONE
Police: 10-month-old dies after choking on a pine cone
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Authorities in North Carolina say a 10-month-old baby died at a day care after choking on a pine cone.
Raleigh police spokeswoman Laura Hourigan says the incident occurred Wednesday at a home child-care facility on the city’s south side.
News outlets report records from the state Department of Health and Human Services show the day care has a three-star license, with several violations documented in January, including having more than five children present and not showing proof that infants were visually checked every 15 minutes while sleeping. Those violations were corrected by the next check in February.
On Thursday, the department announced the day care’s license had been suspended.
No one at the day care answered a phone call seeking comment Thursday. Hourigan said an investigation is continuing.
CENSUS CITIZENSHIP QUESTION-LAWSUIT
Republican redistricting expert blamed for census question
NEW YORK (AP) – A new court filing by lawyers opposing adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census alleges a longtime Republican redistricting expert played a key role in making the change.
The filing Thursday in Manhattan federal court comes just as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legality of the addition announced last year.
Opponents say adding the question will discourage immigrants from participating and strengthen congressional representation and funding for areas where mostly Republicans reside.
The lawyers asked a New York judge to issue sanctions or other remedies. They say a Justice Department official and a transition official for President Donald Trump testified falsely about the Justice Department’s role in adding the citizenship question.
They say new documents reveal gerrymandering expert Thomas Hofeller’s role in adding the question.
BIG FLAG FLAP
TV’s ‘The Profit’ to visit store with enormous American flag
STATESVILLE, N.C. (AP) – The reality television star responsible for an oversized American flag at a recreational vehicle store he owns in North Carolina says he’s visiting the location to support the employees.
Marcus Lemonis plans to visit Gander RV in Statesville on Thursday. Lemonis said Wednesday that he wants to meet with employees “frustrated by the distraction” caused by the controversy about the flag.
The city of Statesville sued Gander RV over the flag, which violates its ordinance limiting the size of flags. City officials said Thursday that they’ll likely change the ordinance so the Gander RV flag can stay.
Lemonis wants no restrictions on the size of American flags, provided there are no safety issues.
Lemonis is star of the CNBC show “The Profit” and CEO of Camping World, which owns Gander RV.