INDY Week columnist Bob Geary's Raleigh news & politics blog

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's Senator-elect Franken as Coleman finally (seven months later) concedes

Posted by on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 4:30 PM


What's the Raleigh angle? Me. I love Al Franken.

He'll soon be Minnesota's junior senator.

Which makes 60 Democratic senators, a supposedly filibuster-proof number -- but only if they all hang together.

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Lee Sartain: "Just a candidate" for City Council at-large

Posted by on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 1:17 PM


From Q-Notes:

“I’m not particularly keen on being called the ‘gay candidate,’” Lee Sartain, a 2009 city council candidate in Raleigh, told Q-Notes.

In today’s time, Sartain said, gay and lesbian people actually have a chance to run for office and make a difference on a range of issues other than those pertaining to the LGBT community.

“One of the things that strikes me in 2009, is that if you look back over history and you look back to Harvey Milk — that was 30 years ago and he was the gay candidate,” Sartain said. “In 2009, you are not the gay candidate. You are just a candidate. I don’t necessarily think it is helpful for the community to run as the gay candidate. If you are, you might not even get my vote.”

Sartain is running for one of the two at-large City Council seats. If you signed up to follow him on Twitter, as I advised, you've been tweeted to this story already.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rep. Darren Jackson: I'm going to kiss my 10-year old goodnight and know that I voted the right way.

Posted by on Tue, Jun 23, 2009 at 8:10 AM


If you're in doubt about the wisdom of Senate Bill 526, the School Violence Prevention Act -- also known as the anti-bullying bill -- and especially about the provisions in it enumerating the kinds of kids who're most likely to be bullied (autistic, gay, perceived to be gay, and on and on) and therefore in need of school officials' protections, I recommend reading the 700 words spoken last night by Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake.

Jackson was in the 59-57 House majority last night in favor of the bill, pushing it ever closer to final enactment.

(Update, 6/23: Because the losing side asked for it, a second House vote was needed to pass the bill. It was conducted today, following another lengthy debate marked this time by a series of failed Republican amendments, and the tally in favor was 58-57. The bill previously passed the Senate.)

Rep. Jackson's statement --

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I got a letter from a constituent that I’d like to read a little bit about tonight in this forum. She wrote, I am the mother of a son with autism. I truly cannot comprehend the reluctance of any legislator to pass this bill. Bullies do exist, and they make life miserable for those unable to defend themselves. In a civilized society, why do we allow this?

My son is bright but different. Eccentric some would say. Unfortunately, this difference can be the catalyst for teasing and taunting, sometimes in a subtle form, and sometimes in more flagrant acts involving an emotional and physical violation. I know all too well that children can be cruel. It’s up to the adults in their lives to teach them acceptance and tolerance. Students learn more than academics in school, and part of their education should include how to treat others with respect and dignity and look to peers for support, not how to dodge a fist.

We can begin the process of tolerance tonight by taking a stand against bullying for any reason. I know some of you in this chamber have been having these culture wars for many years. This bill is not about that. At least it shouldn’t be, and it’s not for me. Instead, it’s personal, and I apologize for that.

Friends, God didn’t make us all exactly alike. Sometimes these perceived differences lead to bullying. Maybe the victim is a girl in middle school who is larger than her male counterparts, and likes sports, and is called a tomboy – or worse. Maybe it’s a disabled child with autism who’s called freak, weirdo, or even much worse names and is physically assaulted at school. Maybe it’s your child, your grandchild, your neice or nephew.

Or maybe the victim is a 10-year old little boy who just finished the 5th grade. Maybe he’s real small for his age, the smallest in his class. Maybe he doesn’t like contact sports, but instead loves to dance and sing and perform in the school production. He’s a natural. Maybe he’s a fan of soft colors and likes to wear pink, like his dad. Maybe he’s blessed to have his mother’s good looks and beautiful skin and soft facial features. Maybe he likes to hang out with girls because he’s not rough enough for the boys.

Maybe because of all these things, he’s called sissy boy, gay, homo or even worse. Perhaps his father is absolutely terrified of what middle school and high school will have in store for such a wonderful little boy. Maybe his parents or his teachers tried to teach him not to act a certain way or to talk about certain interests in front of other boys because it just leads to more bullying. You might say that they encourage him to hide his true personality. And why? Shouldn’t he be free to be himself? He’s not hurting anyone. He should be free to be what God made him. He’s 10. He doesn’t know what he is.

This bill simply says that no child should be bullied even if they are perceived to be poor, or disabled or maybe different. This bill’s about protecting kids; at least, it is for me. If this bill prevents one suicide, or one school violence episode, then it’s a success. If this bill is passed, then it will be a step forward for protecting children – maybe even one close to you.

If you’re going to vote no against this bill, at least be honest with yourself about why you’re doing it.

I’m going to count my vote as yes. And when my daughter and I, who’s serving as [a House] page this week, go out to eat and go home tonight, I’m going to go see her little brother, who’ll be in bed asleep. I’m going to lean across that bed and kiss my 10-year old goodnight. And I’m going to know that I voted the right way, the way to protect him and other children like him. And if that costs me my seat in this chamber, then so be it.

I hope you’ll join me in voting yes.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wake GOP calls out Allen's $10k raise, other Raleigh budget blunders

Posted by on Thu, Jun 18, 2009 at 4:38 PM


When the Raleigh City Council adopted its '09-10 budget Tuesday, Wake County's new Republican chair saw his opening. Today, speaking to the Wake Republican Women's Club, he ran through it. Claude Pope Jr. chided the Council, with its 7-1 Democratic majority, for failing to cut City Manager Russell Allen's proposed spending plan -- to the contrary, Pope noted with distaste, they added almost $2 million to it. The adopted budget leaves the city's property tax rate unchanged. In these parlous times, however, the Council should've cut it, Pope argued.

The budget offers pay raises of up to 4 percent to city employees, based on their merit. (No across-the-board pay hike for inflation.) Pope said police and firefighters "deserve all we can give them," but other city employees should've been asked to go without. The Council wouldn't even trim arts funding by the mere 11 percent that lone Republican Philip Isley proposed, Pope complained. Isley was the lone "no" vote on the budget, a fact cheered by the GOP faithful.

But the real applause line was about Allen's own pay raise, from $210,000 a year to $220,000. "I take it as a matter a principle," Pope said, "that in times like these," Pope said, "no government executive should be giving themselves a big pay raise."

Allen, he went on, should turn the money down.

Continue reading…

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Perdue: I'm passionate about education, will leave the rest to legislators

Posted by on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 3:14 PM


Gov. Bev Perdue jumped into the budget talks at the General Assembly today in a big way, calling for enough new revenues to protect school aid, keep class sizes at current levels and avoid laying off teachers and teacher assistants. Perdue "walked over" to the General Assembly early this morning, she said, to meet with the finance and appropriations chairs of the House and Senate. A few hours later, she was at the Capitol for the first of a statewide series of rallies/photo-ops with teachers. (Another was slated for Greensboro this afternoon.) Perdue was joined by Scott Ralls, head of the N.C. Community College system, and said she'd invited UNC President Erskine Bowles as well, though Bowles was otherwise committed. But Perdue focused all her fire on the importance of public schools as the "seed corn" for future economic growth in the state.

(Update: Together NC, a coalition of progressive groups, chooses to like Perdue said about education and hear in it a commitment to protect "education and services to the state's most vulnerable residents. The coalition's statement is below the fold.)

In a brief Q&A with reporters afterward, Perdue declined to be exact about how much new money she wants or how to raise it. "I have been very careful not to mandate a specific revenue source," she said. The budget adopted by the House last week would add $784 million in new revenues, mainly from a 1/4-cent sales tax increase and income-tax surcharges on those making $200,000 a year and up. According to one report, Perdue told the legislative leaders they should be looking for about twice that much.

Perdue said the state is facing a revenue shortfall of $4.7 billion for the fiscal year that begins in two weeks. Federal stimulus funds are expected to fill about one-third of that gap, with the balance to come from higher taxes and program cuts. The House budget, and an earlier one passed by the Senate, made steep cuts in education, social services and corrections budgets. Answering a question about the other cuts, Perdue said she's leaving it to the General Assembly to decide how to deal with mental health and other programs. "Today is about the public schools," she said. "My priority, made perfectly clear today, the only thing I'm passionate about right now is about -- you gotta protect the children, and you have to protect education. And I believe, as the General Assembly does that, they will take care of the other big holes that they've seen and talked about."

Continue reading…

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Athens Drive community library survives Wake's budget ax, GOP-Brown coalition

Posted by on Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 4:13 PM


The good news out of yesterday's Wake Commissioners meeting: The Athens Drive community library, unique for its location in Athens Drive High School, will survive as the county's only shared community-school library. Amazing that this good idea, which I extolled in the Indy last week, has never been replicated.

The bad news: The 4-3 vote in favor of restoring the county's contribution to the library (it would've reverted to a traditional high school library otherwise) came instead of Commissioner Stan Norwalk's effort to add the library funds ($212,000 for Athens Drive) plus an extra $5.6 million for social services programs and $3.3 million for the Wake Board of Education's budget. These small numbers in a budget totaling some $950 million.

Norwalk, a Democrat, was backed by two of his three Democratic mates, Commissioners Harold Webb and Betty Lou Ward, on the supposed Democrat-majority board. But the fourth Democrat, Lindy Brown, aligned with the three Republicans to defeat Norwalk's plan. The Republicans, and Brown, argued that spending the extra money -- and taking it from reserves -- might force a future tax hike. Yes, Norwalk said, if the economy doesn't improve. But that's a maybe, whereas the damage to current programs for kids and the poor is a certainty. The News & Observer, conveying its view that Norwalk's position was was much ado about nothing, covered it under the headline "Crotchety Wake Board Settles."

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Sic transit sales tax? Stein remains "optimistic" about the 1/2-cent transit tax

Posted by on Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 5:32 PM


House passage of an $18.6 billion budget over the weekend, with higher income tax levies on the well-off and a 1/4-cent sales tax hike on everybody, sets the stage for final budget negotiations among House Democrats, Senate Democrats and Gov. Bev Perdue's Democrats. But does the fact that the yawning budget hole is likely to filled in part with a sales-tax increase dull the chances of HB 148, the bill to give Triangle counties the option of raising their own sales taxes by 1/2-cent to pay for transit? When I asked Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, he conceded that "there definitely is a relationship" between the two things, but added that the transit bill "isn't doomed by any means." Indeed, he's still "optimistic" that it will be enacted.

HB 148 has already passed the House. But it did so with the help of a provision allowing 94 other, non-urban counties to increase their sales tax rates by 1/4-cent to pay for transportation needs; that provision helped attract support among rural Democrats (and a few Republicans) who otherwise might not have been inclined to back a measure letting Wake. Durham, Orange and the two Triad counties of Guilford and Forsythe go for the 1/2-cent tax hike.

Now, though, HB 148 is hanging fire in the Senate Finance Committee while budget writers try to bang out a final package of spending cuts and tax increases to fill the $4 billion revenue shortfall. And with a 1/4-cent sales tax hike a cornerstone of most budget schemes -- along with broadening the sales-tax base to cover additional services that aren't currently taxed -- there's widespread talk in the Senate of taking the 1/4-cent transit-tax option out of HB 148.

Stein, though, pointed out that every county already has the option of a 1/4-cent sales tax hike -- and can spend it for any purpose -- under legislation enacted two years ago that also gave counties the chance to increase their real-estate transfer taxes. The counties, thus far, have used neither option. But they could, so why do they need the sales-tax option all over again? Anyway, that's what senators are asking each other, according to Stein.

With or without the 1/4-cent for other counties, though, Stein thinks the 1/2-cent tax for transit in the Triangle and Triad will survive (Charlotte-Mecklenberg already has it). "There seems to be widespread consensus that the Triangle needs the option," he says.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fetzer edges Adams for state GOP chair

Posted by on Sat, Jun 13, 2009 at 8:31 PM


Former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer, who left public office a decade ago, is back. In a close contest, delegates to the state Republican Convention today chose Fetzer over Chad Adams as their new party leader. Some 1,600 delegates attended. By a weighted voting process, they cast a total of 8,180 votes. Fetzer fell just short of a majority on the first ballot, with 3,901 to Adams' 3,380; two other candidates received the rest, and both immediately withdrew. Before a second ballot could be completed, Adams also withdrew and conceded to Fetzer.

Adams pitched himself as the champion of grassroots politics, and his supporters characterized Fetzer as the establishment's choice. Fetzer, though, said he's also committed to party-building at the grassroots level.

The 54-year old Fetzer said he spent more than $50,000 on his campaign; Adams, according to Jack Hawke, a former state chair who advised him, spent between $30,000 and $40,000. Hawke said the candidates aren't required to make a public report of how much they raised or who contributed to them under a ruling by the state Attorney General's office. Fetzer said his raised his funds from "small donors -- a lot of them."

Adams was on leave from his job as a John Locke Foundation staffer (Art Pope, the Locke Foundation's financial angel, watched him go down to defeat) who'd said he would serve full-time in the post if elected and seek to be paid by the party. Fetzer said "it would nice to be compensated if the job's going to be full-time," but how it's structured isn't his decision, it's up to the party's executive committee.

Fetzer, who publicly denied being gay during the campaign, told the convention that Republicans understand what President Obama doesn't: "Even though we are tolerant of other religions, we are a Christian nation."

More on what the Republicans all said in coming pieces.

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Chad Adams vs. Tom Fetzer for chairman -- and the soul of the NC GOP

Posted by on Sat, Jun 13, 2009 at 9:54 AM


The state Republicans choose a new party chair today. Did some reconnaissance at the GOP convention last night: Chad Adams' backers liken their man's quest to the showdown four years ago in the Democratic party, when Gov. Mike Easley tapped Ed Turlington to be the Dems' state chair, but the rank-and-file rose up and picked Jerry Meek instead. Same thing here, the Adams team says. Tom Fetzer, the former Raleigh mayor, is the choice of the GOP establishment. Adams is the insurgents' favorite.

And as one Republicans not associated with either camp said to me, finding an effective state chair is much more important to the GOP today than it was to the Democrats in '05. Back then, Easley was a no-show leader, but the Democrats had other folks in high offices commanding public attention. Today's GOP has nobody.

Big flavor of Ron Paul libertarianism around Adams' side, and definitely a younger cohort of supporters. Around Fetzer, there were young and old, but mainly older folks. Adams' pitch is all about grassroots organizing and using technology to build the party. Fetzer emphasizes his fund-raising abilities and leads, in his printed stuff, with pictures of him from the '80s with the Gipper and Jesse Helms.

Feeling around the Raleigh convention center was that this is a close contest, and may turn on such factors as who shows up from Hoke County ...

... in a weighted voting process, each county's delegate count is fixed and based on GOP turnout in the '08 gubernatorial election. So Hoke County gets 22 votes, regardless how many delegates are sent by the county party. If two delegates from Hoke show up, each will cast 11 votes. But if only one shows , she'll cast all 22. As of last night, apparently, no one from Hoke was there.

(Updating that last point: One delegate did arrive from Hoke and cast all 22 votes for Adams. Three counties -- Jones, Tyrrell and Yancey -- had no delegates and thus cast no votes. The biggest delegation by far, not surprisingly, was Wake County's, with 324 actual Republicans in attendance (at $30 a head). Mecklenburg was next with 110.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rosa Gill will take House 33 seat, vacating her Wake school board seat

Posted by on Thu, Jun 11, 2009 at 9:03 PM

Rosa Gill, a 10-year veteran of the Wake Board of Education and its current chair, was chosen tonight to fill the state House seat in District 33. The House seat was vacated when Dan Blue was chosen to replace the late Sen. Vernon Malone in Senate District 14. Both districts are based in Southeast Raleigh and are predominantly Democratic and African-American.

Gill was picked by Democratic party officials over Bernard Allen II, whose father held this House seat until his death. The vote was close: Gill won with 21 votes to Allen's 17 on the third ballot. On the first two ballots, Gill led but fell just short of a majority, 19-17, with a third candidate, Abeni El-Amin, getting the other two -- one of which was her own as a precinct chair in the district.

Wake Democratic Chair Jack Nichols said he's been asked by the Governor's office to hand deliver a letter with Gill's appointment tomorrow morning. With the votes on the state budget in the offing, House Democrats and Gov. Bev Perdue obviously want Blue's replacement on hand as quickly as possible. By law, Perdue has seven days to fill the seat but is obligated to accept the party's choice.

Gill said she doesn't know who'll fill her vacancy on the school board. The other eight school board members will make the choice, but it must be someone who lives in Gill's Southeast Raleigh board district. And presumably, since Gill is the only African-American member of the school board, they will be looking for a person of color to replace her. Gill's seat is not up for re-election this fall, but four other seats on the board will be contested, with the board's pro-diversity policies -- supported by Gill and all four incumbents whose terms are expiring -- in the balance.

Kevin Hill is vice chair of the school board and will take over the gavel when Gill's resignation is official. Hill, also part of the current 8-1 majority in favor of diversity in school assignments, isn't up for re-election until 2011.

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