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

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Elaine Marshall for U.S. Senate? Well, that's a tough question ...

Posted by on Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 4:40 PM

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Final answer? Don't have one. This is strictly first impression. And I want to say, too, that I have yet to make Cal Cunningham's acquaintance or Ken Lewis's. (They are the other two announced candidates in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.) So in reporting that Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, when she spoke Tuesday night in Cary, gave me no reason to think she ought to be the next U.S. senator from North Carolina, I'm not making a comparative judgment. I'm just saying that any candidate, but especially a Democrat challenger in 2010, needs to show some fire and tell you exactly how she's going to make a difference in Washington when she gets there. Marshall, in Cary, did a poor job on both counts.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hillsborough Street bike lanes are looking good. (!)

Posted by on Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 11:44 AM

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The City Council's public works committee held its long-awaited meeting on the issue last night. The verdict, by unanimous decision: There should be bike lanes on all of Hillsborough Street from downtown to the Fairgrounds. No exception for the Hillsborough Street Project (Phase 1, remember) in front of N.C. State. For a city trying to move from car-dominated sprawldom to walkable-bikeable metro, it's a huge step forward -- assuming it holds. Hillsborough Street has great symbolic importance for Raleigh. It's also a place where bikes could one day be the dominant form of transportation if given a chance.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Passing health care reform by majority rule -- here's how

Posted by on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 11:53 AM

h/t: Talking Points Memo.



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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Obama's choice: Lincoln? Or Carter?

Posted by on Sun, Jan 24, 2010 at 1:20 PM

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Consensus of the Washington talking heads: Obama will "move to the center" following the debacle in Massachusetts.

If he does, Obama will go down in history as another Jimmy Carter, a very intelligent and well-intentioned fellow who just didn't get it in his one term as president.

May I recommend some reading this dreary Sunday in January? First, Frank Rich in The New York Times:

The Obama administration is so overstocked with Goldman Sachs-Robert Rubin alumni and so tainted by its back-room health care deals with pharmaceutical and insurance companies that conservative politicians, Brown included, can masquerade shamelessly as the populist alternative.

After that, read this piece on DailyKos about Abraham Lincoln and fighting for a cause. For Lincoln and the Union Army circa 1862, think Democratic Party and its massive advantages circa 2010 -- if only it would use them in the great causes of today.

In the spring of 1862, the vast army of the United States was gathered on the Virginia Peninsula. Landed by a massive and lengthy amphibious operation that was a testimony to the North's military and industrial might, the army had been brought to this swampy ground with the stated intention of "leaping" up the peninsula to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. The army's commander, General George McClellan, had trained and equipped his troops like no force in history. They were by far the largest, best equipped, best prepared, most formidable army on the face of the earth.

But McClellan (think Max Baucus) didn't want to fight. He dithered in hopes a centrist solution could be found.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

The way forward in health care

Posted by on Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 2:54 PM

So Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts, and all of a sudden the Democrats don't have a filibuster-proof 60-vote supermajority in the U.S. Senate to pass health care legislation. Nooze flash: They didn't have one before. Joe Lieberman is not a Democrat. (Google up some video of him at the '08 National Republican Convention).

I haven't written a word about health care of late because there was nothing to say that wasn't going to be disproven within a day by the clusterf--k that is the Democratic party in Washington circa November-January, 2009-10. But now, I think, the dust sh-- is settling in and the truth of the fact that the Democrats have never been in a position (given the ridiculous rules of the Senate) to stop a GOP-plus-Lieberman filibuster is beginning to filter through. Which means nothing worthwhile can be accomplished except by using the budget reconciliation process.

But remember, using reconciliation was always the preferred approach, always made sense, and always was what President Obama should've been doing but wasn't for reasons best known to, uh, maybe Rahm Emanuel? No-drama Obama? Equals No-fair health care.

Using reconciliation, Medicaid can be expanded to cover everyone who's poor or low-income; S-CHIP can be extended to every child; and a Medicare buy-in can be offered to everyone over age 50 or 55 or 45 -- or everybody. What a concept: Cover everybody. Universal coverage! Why didn't anyone think of that?

And later, put a bill in to ban insurers from dodging pre-existing conditions, dumping clients when they're ill, and/or loading on super-premiums (use the limit in the House-passed bill -- no more than double the youth rate for your older customers), and dare the Republicans to oppose it. And/or the House passes the Senate's passed bill after reconciliation supercedes all the bad stuff in it, which is a lot.

It's a formula kicking around out there now. Best short summary is offered by Jon Walker at Firedog Lake.

This thing ain't over 'til it's over, and it's not over until we achieve universal coverage. Obama's stepping back? OK, as long as it isn't for more than the weekend. How about stepping up at the State of the Union?

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

On the Supreme Court's dicta: Campaign financing needs a public option too

Posted by on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 3:43 PM

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The U.S. Supreme Court decision today green-lighting unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns (and labor, too, to the extent that America still has any) does one of two things, or maybe both. It (1) shreds the distinctions made in the law between free speech -- the First Amendment idea that we can say what we think without fear from the government -- and buying airtime so you can bombard the public with your message. And it (2) removes the tissue wrapping from the fiction that the distinctions made in the law are actually enforceable in practice (let alone actually enforced in practice).

So now we confront the reality: Big Money is at the center of the American political system, and the right and the left. It owns both political parties, in whole or part. (How else to explain Max Baucus?) The only answer to it -- I started to say alternative to it, but there's no way of eliminating Big Money's power, only of off-setting it), is to offer a "clean money" option to candidates who agree not to take Big Money's money. That means public financing of the kind North Carolina currently offers to judicial candidates and candidates for a few statewide offices (Auditor, Insurance Commissioner, Schools Superintendent).

Here's Bob Hall's take. He's our state's foremost voice on cleaning up government:

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John Edwards: I'm the dad.

Posted by on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 12:02 PM

It's in The New York Times.

Anyone have something they need to say about it? I don't.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

There it is: Wake GOP wants public vote on 17-story Raleigh police tower

Posted by on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 3:51 PM

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What took them so long? But today, the Wake Republican Party chairman, Claude Pope, called on the Raleigh City Council to hold a referendum on the proposed $205 million, 17-story public safety center. (There's a nice gallery of the architect's renderings up on the N&O's website.) Bonner Gaylord and John Odom, the two new (or in Odom's case, renewed) Council members, have questioned the project since taking office in December. Odom's a Republican; Gaylord, officially unaffiliated, came in with a lot of Republican backing. There are a bunch of issues surrounding the plan -- the cost, the location, the wisdom of tearing down an existing building so it can be replaced with a giant tower on-site -- but whether the Council should decide them or let the public in iit hasn't been part of the equation until now.

No one, to my knowledge, is doubting the need to replace the old public safety center -- including Claude Pope. Still, it never hurts to check with the voters on big-ticket projects, if only just to show them you care. If borrowing $205 million is such a good idea -- as City Manager Russell Allen and Mayor Charles Meeker say it is now that interest rates are at historic lows -- surely the voters will see its wisdom too, no? Or maybe it isn't such a good idea, and not because a new center isn't needed, but rather that it's the wrong building or it's in the wrong place or it's just the wrong year to be reaching into the public pocket.

If the city planned to issue general obligation bonds to pay for the project, under the state constitution it would need the voters' OK. Instead, however, it plans to issue "certificates of participation," which are just like G.O. bonds except that they're not due to a legalistic fatuity dreamed up by the bond lawyers and their good friends in the various legislatures of America. The theory of a C.O.P. is that if Raleigh should fail some day to pay on the bonds, rather than go bankrupt, Raleigh would turn the building over to the bondholders -- the "participants," as it were. Yeah, right.

The real purpose of C.O.P's, back in the day, was to avoid the voters while drawing on their credit anyway, albeit at a slightly higher interest rate for them to repay. Yes, I know everybody does it; but you know what your mother said about that.

Assuming, as I believe is the case, that Gaylord and Odom support a referendum, and Meeker and fellow Democrats Mary-Ann Baldwin and James West don't, and are ready to approve the tower, that means two of the three other Council members would have to join the Gaylord-Odom bandwagon to force the question to the ballot.

(Or it may be that if four Council members insist on a public vote, the project will be postponed or relocated out of fear the voters would say no.)

Thoughts?

The GOP press release is below the fold.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

NAACP calls Sunday forum on threat to Wake schools; WakeUP sets coalition

Posted by on Thu, Jan 7, 2010 at 5:49 PM

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State NAACP President William Barber, together with the presidents of the three Raleigh-Wake NAACP chapters, terms it an urgent meeting (flyer is copied to the right) after another tumultuous session of the Wake school board on Tuesday. "What is the Nature of the Threat of Re-Segregation" raised by the new school board majority? That's what the NAACP is asking now that the board, by a 5-4 vote, has resolved to put year-round school attendance back on a volunteer basis only -- no year-round assignments. And if the demand for year-round slots outstrips the supply, as it will in many parts of the county, the majority has determined to stop giving any preference in the application process to kids from low-income areas ("nodes").

This "blind" policy on year-round schools is considered by many to be the board majority's first step toward gutting the school system's longstanding diversity policy, which is designed to prevent having any "rich" schools or "poor" schools. For reasons not fully understood, low-income parents don't volunteer their kids for year-round schools as much as affluent parents do. A voluntary process, therefore, with a random lottery system if there are too many volunteers for a specific school, is likely to result in some rather upscale year-round schools, leaving in their wake (as it were) some traditional-calendar schools with much higher numbers of low-income kids.

It almost certainly will do that, in fact, unless the school board weighed in strongly with a countervailing diversity effort -- but that's just what the new majority is against with its "neighborhood schools" philosophy.

The NAACP meeting is at 5 pm Sunday at the Martin Street Baptist Church, 1001 East Martin St., Raleigh -- a short distance from Moore Square.

Meanwhile, WakeUP Wake County has formally announced the launch of the "Great Schools in Wake Coalition." Individuals and groups are invited to join.

The press release is copied below the fold.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wake school board votes 5-4 to end year-round assignments -- somehow

Posted by on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 9:46 PM

Bless her heart, not 30 seconds after she'd voted in favor of the resolution ending "mandatory" assignments to year-round schools, helping to pass it by a 5-4 vote, Margiotta-5 school board member Debra Goldman piped up with an urgent "parliamentary inquiry, parliamentary inquiry" to anyone who could answer it.

How's this going to work? Goldman asked.

To which Superintendent Del Burns, who might've been asked that question earlier but wasn't, could only reply: "I don't have an answer now as to how implementation will occur."

Burns said he'd get back to them asap.

In short, it was a fitting end to a day marked by the Wake board majority's new approach -- or to be accurate, the same approach it came in with on December 1 but which it seemed, for a time in mid-December, to have reconsidered.

That approach: Take a position first, deal with its implications later.  "Leading with the vision," John Tedesco calls it. But to critics, it sounds like: Cut once, measure twice, or measure as often as you want, but not 'til it's severed!

Once again, as we noted in our earlier post, the majority put a resolution on the agenda at the last minute, without notice to their colleagues, the public or (it seemed) even to Burns, and passed it as quick as they could before anybody could marshall an argument against it.

The question a plaintive Goldman seemed to be asking afterward was, now that we've banned sending kids to year-round schools against their parents' wishes -- a rare occurrence, apparently, though the only person with any data about it today was a parent in the audience who said it happened in just 134 cases last year -- does that mean there will be no assignments to year-round schools at all?

That could leave the year-rounds very empty if every students must be assigned to a traditional-calendar school first and only later allowed to opt out to a year-round.

Or perhaps what should happen is that parents would be asked to state a preference -- traditional calender or year-round calendar -- and kids would be assigned based on their responses?

But wait a minute. The board majority has chewed over a survey of parents' views about year-rounds for two consecutive committee of the whole sessions, including the one earlier today, with Magiotta & Co. insisting throughout -- as they hurried up the process -- that they were not trying to pin down anybody's intentions, only their general ideas.

Keith Sutton, who voted against the resolution, wondered why the majority waited until after those COW discussions to show their hand. He didn't get an answer. "Because we didn't need you to pass it" would've been, well, gratuitous.

Deborah Prickett, who offered the  resolution, resisted Sutton's and Anne McLaurin's efforts to get her to say what it would mean in practice, or even to define what "mandatory year-round assignments" are. "We'll be reversing," Prickett answered in circular fashion, whatever the policy was that resulted in mandatory year-round assignments in the first place.

But no it won't, because the resolution also bars any use of socio-economic data ("diversity") in the process of filling year-round schools. Diversity has been integral to every student assignment policy in Wake for 30 years. Not to mention that the number of students in year-round schools is far, far higher today than when the first year-round assignments were made in 1999.

Summing up the day, the board majority:

* Reversed course on year-round assignments, ending them for 2010-11 after having seemd to decide to take no such action until 2011-12 at the earliest.

* Did so this time without giving the public a chance to react or comment.

* Did so without giving Burns or his staff a chance to comment, and in fact after leading them to believe that they'd have several months -- and a survey of parents -- to guide their future planning.

When it was over, an unhappy McLaurin wondered if the majority still wanted the survey, and whether it was fair to ask the staff to do it while directing them to simultaneously overhaul the year-round schools process. "I think it's a lot to ask of staff," she said quietly, "to handle these things at the same time."

Try as he did to suppress it, Margiotta could've keep the smirk off his face. "I think they can do it," he said.

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