Monday, August 11, 2003 12:00AM EDT

UNDER THE DOME

Morgan plucks post-session aides from some lawmakers

UP: STATE BUDGET WOES: The Department of Health and Human Services learns it may have mistakenly sent hospitals $224 million in Medicaid payments for which they didn't qualify. State officials can only hope the feds aren't paying attention.

UP: BIOMANUFACTURING: Golden LEAF Foundation will spend $60 million on biomanufacturing centers at N.C. State University, N.C. Central University and several community colleges as part of a $65 million effort to provide workers for the growing industry.

UP: N.C. CENTRAL UNIVERSITY: In addition to its $19.1 million in biomanufacturing money, NCCU receives its first clean state audit in 20 years.

House Republican Speaker Richard Morgan has stoked anger within his party by telling eight representatives they will have no paid staff while the legislature is out of session.

In recent years, House speakers have allowed each member to keep an aide or two working part time after the session ended . House Democratic Speaker Jim Black authorized full- or part- time hours for all 59 of his colleagues. He also gave part-time work to an intern for Rep. Julia Howard, a Mocksville Republican and Finance Committee chairwoman.

Morgan didn't fund staff for John Blust of Greensboro, Arlie Culp of Randolph County, Jerry Dockham of Davidson County, Sam Ellis of Raleigh, Patrick McHenry of Gastonia, Ed McMahan of Charlotte, Frank Mitchell of Iredell County and John Rhodes of Mecklenburg County. Blust, Ellis, McMahan and Mitchell have been vocal critics of Morgan, but the others haven't.

"This whole thing has caught me off- guard," said McHenry, a freshman. "I thought by being nice to everyone and not getting caught up in childish and petty games that I would be more effective in the legislature."

McHenry met with Morgan, a Moore County Republican, last week to get him to reconsider. He said Morgan wanted him to stop playing both sides of the Republican divide.

Morgan deployed four core supporters with all 60 Democrats to knock out the Republican caucus nominee for speaker, later striking a deal to share the post with Democrat Jim Black. Some Republicans remain upset over the outcome .

Morgan said he was not using the legislative assistants to retaliate against critics.

"I prefer to dwell on the fact that speakers reserve the right to appoint and assign interim work, and that's what I'm doing," Morgan said. "We might even be saving a little money for this state."

He noted that supplying year-round legislative assistants for every House member is a relatively recent innovation. Republicans didn't get them until Harold Brubaker became speaker in 1995 .

But the legislators say their constituents now have less access as a result of Morgan's decision. All told, the eight represent about a half-million North Carolinians.

They also say that their aides are innocent victims.

"Eight secretaries lost their pay and health care just because of his vindictiveness," Mitchell said.

But one lawmaker said the affair showed him something else: L egislators don't need so much staff assistance anyway. "We're not having to spend money on legislative assistants for three days a week for work they can do in a couple hours," Rhodes said.

But he agreed with his colleagues that Morgan's actions were childish and unfair to his constituents.

"We haven't been very loyal to the king," Rhodes said. "Sorry, but we're not in a monarchy; we're in a democracy, and I don't bow to kings."

New faces represent Coble

U.S. Rep. Howard Coble has a new legislative assistant and a new constituent liaison.

Robbie Boone of Raleigh, a former assistant vice president at U.S. Trust Co. of North Carolina, is the new legislative assistant. He replaces Brad Jones, who is attending the Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach .

Jennifer Brady of Ramseur, a recent graduate of Appalachian State University, is the new constituent liaison. She replaces Eric Brown, who now works for a homeland security consulting firm in Crystal City, Va.


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