Monday, November 3, 2003 12:00AM EST


Morgan recruits challenger to Mecklenburg foe


DOWN: GOV. MIKE EASLEY: No trick-or-treating at the Executive Mansion because Easley chased off to Southport on Halloween. Remember that when you go caroling, kids.

DOWN: PILLOWTEX: The bankrupt textile maker's workers learn that it can't cover their pensions, leaving their retirements in the hands of an overextended federal insurance fund. All this courtesy of a company that paid its CEO a $2.1 million signing bonus and a $300,000 salary for a tenure lasting 10 months.

DOWN: UNC TUTORING: UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University are cutting tutoring to make up for state budget cuts. In the meantime, they will rake in more cash from an expanded ACC. Is there a disconnect here?


Remember how state Rep. John Rhodes from Mecklenburg County asked fellow Republicans to protest House Speaker Richard Morgan's forthcoming fund-raiser at the Charlotte City Club? And how he predicted that Morgan will use his political money to defeat his Republican enemies?

Smart prediction, Representative Rhodes. Oh, and add your name to the enemies list, please.

Morgan told The News & Observer the other day that he has asked Tobin Henry, a real estate broker from Davidson, to challenge Rhodes, a real estate broker from Cornelius, in the Republican primary next year.

Henry is recovering from knee surgery and was unavailable to comment. His wife, Sarah, confirmed the conversation with the Republican speaker but noted that Henry has not made a decision yet. Henry, a registered Republican, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Davidson in 1999.

Rhodes said he's not surprised that Morgan, who was elected along with Democrat Jim Black to jointly lead the House of Representatives this year, is singling him out.

"That's no problem," Rhodes said. "You can either sit there and be very quiet or you can go ahead and tell the truth to the public and the voters and let them know what's going on with state government.

"Is it really democracy when you have 55 Republicans standing strong for their candidate and then five thugs come in and steal the speakership?"

Morgan said he has no intention of finding challengers for all his enemies within the Republican ranks.

"I don't think you need to beat everybody," he said. "But one or two of them would be nice."

Morgan's revenge, Part II

Speaking of beating one or two of his enemies, Morgan was more than happy to note that he also has spoken to Sheree Hedrick, a Wendell insurance broker and president of the Wendell Chamber of Commerce, about running against Morgan's longtime foe Sam Ellis, a state representative from southeastern Wake County.

"I was in the district, getting a register of what people thought of Sam," Morgan said. "I'm convinced that folks may think that he's an ineffective legislator."

Ellis, reached at his beach cottage over the weekend, was undaunted by the news. "Hey, Hitler invaded Poland and lost," Ellis said. He also noted that Morgan's real wish was to have drawn Ellis out of a job during the forthcoming redistricting session.

To do so would have solicited unwanted judicial scrutiny, Ellis said. It also might have upset the apple cart of the Democratic districts nearby -- something that wouldn't sit well with Black, Morgan's partner-in-arms, Ellis said.

"You can't mess with the district, so the next best thing is to come in with the big-money, bad-mouthing campaign -- the stuff Morgan's good at," Ellis said. "He's trying to change the face of the Republican Party, but there is a party that stands for what he's doing, and that's the Democrats. "We don't need two Democratic Parties."

Speaking of redistricting ...

Legislative leaders are preparing to bring the General Assembly back to town the week of Thanksgiving to redraw the state's political maps.

This will be the third time in two years that the General Assembly has had to draw new districts for the 170 legislative seats. A successful lawsuit by state Republicans resulted in the courts' dumping two earlier plans.

One theory on the Thanksgiving schedule is that it will encourage lawmakers to beat a hasty retreat and prevent them from dragging their feet on the highly political process.

Still, some expect Democratic Speaker Jim Black and others to bring up an entirely separate subject that week: whether to award incentives to R.J. Reynolds to attract 800 to 1,000 manufacturing and administrative jobs to Winston-Salem after RJR merges with British American Tobacco.