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

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Brad Miller: Count me out

Posted by on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Miller's statement:

After much consideration, I have decided not to run for Governor.

As a former state legislator and a citizen, I care deeply about the issues that North Carolina faces as a state.

My mother struggled as a widowed bookkeeper to make sure I had the opportunity for an education that was denied her and my father. We need a Governor who will fight the efforts of Republicans in the legislature to close those doors of opportunity by their assault on public education.

But the issues I have worked on in Congress for a decade are the injustice and dysfunction in our nation’s economy. The financial crisis was not the result of a “perfect storm” of unforeseeable economic events, but of blameworthy conduct, of what Franklin Roosevelt called “heedless greed,” for which there has been too little accountability.

Although my term in Congress expires at the end of the year, I believe I will have other opportunities to continue work on those issues.

I have been an energetic and determined candidate in the past. Although my determination to hold elective office appears now to be in remission, I may seek elective office again. And I will certainly support other energetic and determined candidates for office.

Other opportunities? Stay tuned ... might be something cool in his future.

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    "After much consideration, I have decided not to run for Governor."

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Raleigh events tonight, Saturday in anti-Amendment 1 campaign

Posted by on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 2:38 PM

HRClogo.jpg
Late notice this week, but phone banking to defeat Amendment One, the so-called DOMA*, is taking place every Thursday night at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh hall, 3313 Wade Avenue. It starts at 6:30 — bring your cell phone and a laptop computer if you have one.

Here's a Facebook link.

Starting March 26, phone banks will be held at the UUFR on Mondays and Thursdays. And on April 24, as the May 8 primary election date comes close, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. So don't say you didn't have time(s).

***

And this Saturday night, February 18, there's a benefit concert at the same UUFR location, organized by our friend Beth Padgett. It starts at 8, but suggest you get there early. The recommended donation is $7, but c'mon ...

Here's a bit about it from the UUFR website:

Join us from 8 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, February 18 in UUFR’s Sanctuary for what is guaranteed to be two hours of good music with friends in the cause for equality and dignity. Donations go to the Coalition to Protect NC Families, a group of organizations working to protect NC’s unmarried couples and their families from the many harms of Amendment One.

UUFR's own Interim Minister Don Rollins will open and act as the MC for other musicians, who include Someone’s Sister, the Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus, Rhythmicity, and more, as well as speakers Rev. Jimmy Creech and organizers from Race to the Ballot, the Coalition to Protect NC Families and UUFR’s Task Force to Protect All NC Families.


***

* Defense (??) of Marriage Amendment — that's what the proponents call it. How banning marriages between gay couples, banning civil unions, and banning legal powers-of-attorney between loving couples, protects marriage, I dunno.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dix Park: One step closer with Perdue boost

Posted by on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 4:26 PM

The Dix Visionaries plan
  • The Dix Visionaries plan

Gov. Bev Perdue has commissioned an appraisal of the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Hospital tract. It's said to be worth $60 million in the current real estate market, more ($86 million) if the seller is patient. An appraisal is an integral step to make the vision of Dix Park a reality some day, Perdue said.

(Update: If you've never seen the Dix tract, or if you've seen it only from a distance, here's a breakdown of what's there and what the possibilities are from our story in 2006.)

(I'll add that it's time for Raleigh — the city — and Dix Park advocates to put an offer on the table ... and not that $10 million offer that Charles Meeker made awhile ago when he was mayor. I've heard talk in City Hall of a $50 million offer, but $50 million paid at a rate of $1 million a year, which in terms of present value ain't that much. The mental health advocates are right that the Dix tract — originally more than 2,000 acres — was dedicated land for the purpose of helping people with mental illnesses. Some serious money contributed for that purpose is needed to seal this deal and make the Dix dream come true.)

Here's Perdue's statement:

RALEIGH — Gov. Bev Perdue announced today that an appraisal has been received for the Dorothea Dix campus, which has a current estimated value of $60 million and an estimated market value of $86 million. She has directed the N.C. Department of Administration (DOA) to draft a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a tenant representative to assist the State Property Office in eventually moving the 1,300 employees at Dix to cost-effective office space.

This is an integral step toward ultimately converting the Dix campus into a public park.

The proposals will also include possible consolidation of facilities for all N.C. Department of Health and Human Services employees.

“The process will take considerable time to complete, but this is an important step in turning this beautiful downtown property into a public park for the enjoyment of all North Carolinians,” Gov. Perdue said. “Taking a comprehensive look at DHHS’s current and long-term space needs will help us to transition to combined facilities that will help the department more efficiently serve the people of the state.”

The appraisal, conducted by Worthy & Wachtel, Inc., was transmitted today to DOA and may be reviewed online. It states that the 319-acre property’s prospective value, based on a fully rebounded market, is $86 million. Its current market value is $60 million. The values are predicated on the assumption that there are no hazardous materials present on the site that would require a major clean-up.

The State Property Office will begin drafting the RFP immediately with the goal of having it posted by February 24, 2012.

Gov. Perdue emphasized the importance of remembering the original role of the Dix campus in aiding mental health patients, and she reiterated the importance of sustaining the Mental Health Trust Fund.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

State v. Occupy Raleigh's Margaret Schucker: Dismissed

Posted by on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Margaret Schucker fought the law and -- she won.

Margaret Schucker, the disabled woman with Occupy Raleigh who wouldn't give up her seat on the sidewalk on that memorable day of October 27 and was summarily arrested for trespass by the Capitol Police, is a free woman. Scott Holmes, her lawyer, says the Wake County District Attorney's office dropped the charge against Schucker before a scheduled court date this morning.

Schucker's case was first set for December, then postponed to January by the DA's office, then to February. Why was it dropped? Unknown; it wasn't done in open court.

"I'm very pleased," Holmes said, "the District Attorney agreed that dismissing the case is what justice required."

Holmes reported that some other cases from the October 27 incident were rescheduled to April 10. He didn't know exactly how many. Seven others were arrested with Schucker when they sat down with her in a show of support and defiance at Capitol Police demands that she get her "stuff"—her chair—off the street. (A tweet from Occupy Raleigh tells me all seven were reset for April 10.)

In a statement, the ACLU of North Carolina hailed the decision as a victory for Schucker's First Amendment right of free speech and of her rights as a disabled person. She required the chair to exercise her rights, the ACLU said, because of a disabling back condition.

Holmes, an lawyer in the Durham firm of Brock, Payne and Meece, is an ACLU-N.C. Legal Foundation cooperating attorney.

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    Margaret Schucker fought the law and — she won.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Clay Aiken joins campaign vs. anti-gay Amendment One

Posted by on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 at 4:14 PM

Protect ALL NC Families, the leading organization in the campaign against Amendment One, is out with a brief video starring Clay Aiken, probably North Carolina's most famous openly gay citizen. (Am I overlooking somebody?)

Aiken, who had my vote for "American Idol" when he was up against Ruben Studdard nine years ago (or he would've had my vote if AT&T had installed more phone lines around here), says he loves the state and harbored an ambition to be governor.

He doesn't love discrimination, and says the anti-gay Amendment One, which seeks to ban not just gay marriages but civil unions and other marriage-like contractual arrangements, could have seriously bad if unintended consequences. Like costing some kids their health insurance —

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    Protect ALL NC Families, the leading organization in the campaign against Amendment One, is out with a brief video starring Clay Aiken.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Doesn't anybody wanna be Governor? (And is this the reason?)

Posted by on Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 4:36 PM

Lewis-Dollar-Dockham 4: The Republicans new House districts
  • Lewis-Dollar-Dockham 4: The Republicans' new House districts

I see by this previous post that it's been eight days since Brad Miller told us he'd be making up his mind quite soon about running for governor. I have no need to speculate whether he will or he won't. I only note for the record that, although many were called to see if they'd be running, few have chosen to do so.

Two weeks after Bev Perdue's abrupt announcement that she was terminating her re-election campaign, and one weekend away from the beginning of the filing period, we still have just three candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor: former Congressman Bob Etheridge, who wasn't doing anything else anyway; Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, about whom the same might be said; and state Rep. Bill Faison, about whom ... ditto. That's not what you would call a strong field.

Meanwhile, Erskine Bowles said no, Heath Shuler said no, Janet Cowell said no. Joe Hackney announced that he's retiring. And among the others who've been "mentioned" as prospects —or who've mentioned themselves — we have Brad Miller, Mike McIntyre, Richard Moore and Dan Blue all holding back, not taking themselves out of it but not getting in either. (And this just in: McIntyre isn't running.)

It occurs to me that, with the economy improving (a little) and Republicans being how they are (Mitt-ish), this may well be a Democratic year.

It occurs to me that President Obama is an odds-on bet to be re-elected, and maybe even to carry North Carolina.

It occurs to me that the idea of a Republican governor rubber-stamping the policies of a Republican General Assembly may not go down so well with the state's electorate.

It occurs to me, therefore, that it is highly likely that the Democratic nominee for governor — unless he or she is a complete washout — may well be elected.

And yet the list of those clamoring for the job is short.

Why?

***

I was pondering this question when I happened on the website of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which has the best analysis out there of the redistricting maps put together by the Republican-led General Assembly. NCFEF is business-funded, but the numbers don't lie and NCFEF's staff doesn't need to spin them.

Long story short, the Republicans have created districts for the state Senate and state House of Representatives so lopsided in their favor that, barring some sea change in political attitudes in North Carolina, we can look forward to a decade of Republican-controlled legislatures.

Would you want to be a Democratic governor facing four or eight years of Republican legislatures?

Republican legislatures, that is, that will block anything you want to do, so that the best you can hope for is to veto their stuff? Or maybe, just maybe, the Democrats could win the Senate in the next few elections, but all it takes is one Republican house in the legislature to screw up any and all Democratic initiatives.

To pass things, after all, you need the Senate and the House and the Governor's signature.

Good luck getting that to happen given how the Republicans' district maps put their thumbs on the election scales.

***

For those not conversant with the devious ways of redistricting, let me explain it this way:

In a state split roughly 50-50 between Democratic and Republican voters in most elections (Obama, e.g., carried North Carolina by less than 1% of the vote in 2008), "fair" districts would produce a Senate and House divided roughly 50-50 between the two parties; i.e., each party would have about the same number of votes as the other in each house.

[Parenthetically, I would note that with "fair" districts, a win by one party with, say, 55% of the overall vote — a pretty resounding victory in our two-party system — might give that party big working majorities in both houses. Why? Because that party's candidates would win most legislative races with somewhere between 51% ad 60% of the votes. Remember, in a winner-take-system like ours, a party that gets 45% of the overall vote doesn't get 45% of the seats. In fact, it may lose every legislative race 55-45% and get none of the seats.]

But in a political redistricting process, the party in power — in this case, the Republicans — can pack the other party's voters, the Democrats, into a relatively few districts, maximizing the number where Republican voters are in the majority.

When the Republicans are in control, moreover, the job of political gerrymandering is easier because black Democratic voters tend to live in small, compact communities. Under the Voting Rights Act, the voting power of black voters is supposed to be protected. Historically, this has meant creating majority-minority districts wherever possible around this compact black neighborhoods. Republicans don't just create majority-black districts, however; they create districts that are overwhelmingly black and/or low-income such that a Democratic candidate will win them with 80% or more of the vote.

"Pack" enough Democratic voters into a few districts, and you'll see that the most of the remaining districts will be majority-Republican by smaller but still sufficient margins — again, if all of the remaining districts come out 51-49 for the Republicans, they win every single one.

For more on how the Republicans have learned to abuse the Voting Rights Act — fascinating since they get few if any black votes; appalling because their appointees control the federal courts and allow them to abuse the Voting Rights Act — see "How the GOP is Resegregating the South" by Ari Berman in the latest issue of The Nation.

So here's what the analysts at NCFEF found with regard to the Republicans' House districts map. There are 120 House districts:

Based on our analysis of the "Lewis-Dollar-Dockham 4" plan, there are 34 Strong Democratic districts, 10 Leaning Democratic districts, 10 Swing districts, 18 Leaning Republican districts and 48 Strong Republican districts. Note that there are more Strong Republicans districts than there are Strong Democratic and Leaning Democratic districts combined. In order to retake a majority, Democrats would have to win all of the districts that favor their party, all of the Swing districts and at least seven seats in Leaning or Strong GOP territory.

And on the Senate side, of the 50 Senate districts, NCFEF says:

The summary chart depicts how difficult it will be for Democrats to regain a majority in the N.C. Senate under these maps. There are 18 districts that Lean Democratic or are Strongly Democratic, compared to 27 districts that Lean Republican or are Strongly Republican. Five districts are categorized as Swing, and Republicans currently hold three of those seats.

The point is, the Republicans have loaded up the maps to the point that the Democrats would probably need at least 55% of the votes in legislative races altogether to win 50% of the seats in either the Senate or the House.

Unless that happens (or the maps are struck down as unconstitutional by a court), a Democratic governor is in for the same crummy time Bev Perdue's been having since 2010. She can veto bills, but her vetoes may or may not be sustained by a legislature in which the Republicans hold a veto-proof 31-19 majority in the Senate and a nearly veto-proof 68-52 majority in the House — and that's before the redistricting goes into effect.

Erskine Bowles decided he had better things to do than be the Republicans' punching bag for the next four years. I can't say what's in Brad Miller's head today, but he too may be thinking that being governor with a Republican legislature is like having a toothache that doesn't go away.

If all you do is veto Republican bills and hang on, why not let Bob Etheridge do it?

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    Would you want to be a Democratic governor facing four or eight years of Republican legislatures?

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Wall Street's "Inside Job": Movie party Saturday at Pullen Baptist

Posted by on Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 11:20 AM

InsideJob.jpg
"Inside Job," the Charles Ferguson film about how Wall Street got hold of our economy, looted it and left it for dead, won the Academy Award for best documentary a year ago. I don't recall that it played in Raleigh; if it did, I missed it.*

So tomorrow, MoveOn.org is sponsoring "Inside Job" viewings in various locations, one of which is Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, 1801 Hillsborough Street. The movie starts at 4:30 p.m. MoveOn is calling this a movie party. I don't think anybody's going to be in a festive mood when it's over, but spring is coming and there may be talk of Occupying ... oh, I don't know, how about Occupying the Democratic National Convention?

You can check out the "Inside Job" trailer at the Sony Classics website.

* I did see Ferguson's first doc, "No End in Sight" (2007), which skewered the American war-industry complex and its nutty invasion of Iraq. "NEIS" was excellent. The reviews for "Inside Job" are even better.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Unconstitutional: California's same-sex marriage ban is discriminatory, federal appeals court says.

Posted by on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 at 4:39 PM

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision applies only in California, according to its terms. But by striking down California's Proposition 8, the voter-approved anti-gay marriage initiative, the court put the issue of gay marriage bans squarely before the U.S. Supreme Court.

North Carolina has an anti-gay marriage statute, and we'll vote in May on an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriages and also civil unions between same-sex partners.

However, a state — even in its constitution — can't discriminate against citizens in a way the U.S. Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment to the federal constitution. That's what the Civil War was all about: States can't violate fundamental rights.

Some day, we'll think about these gay marriage bans the same way we think about the Dred Scott decision.

Talking Points Memo posted a handy map of states and their status re: gay marriage, civil unions & equal rights.

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Rep. Jennifer Weiss won't run again: Bad news

Posted by on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 at 9:28 AM

State Rep. Jennifer Weiss
  • State Rep. Jennifer Weiss
The Republicans took hold of the redistricting process last year with a vengeance, and one casualty is Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, a true progressive and someone you could depend on throughout her 12 years in the General Assembly to do what she thought was right, not what was politically expedient. Weiss's home address in Cary was drawn into a Republican-heavy district now represented by Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake; meanwhile, a Democratic-leaning district next door was left without an incumbent. That's how they roll.

Weiss issued this statement today:

For the past twelve years, it has been a tremendous honor and privilege for me to represent the people of Wake County in the North Carolina House. Over the years, I have knocked on thousands of doors across the Triangle and listened to the views, concerns and suggestions of my constituents. I have worked with my colleagues to improve education and to prepare our workforce for 21st century jobs. I have fought to protect the health and safety of our children, senior citizens in our state and people with mental and physical disabilities. I have been a staunch advocate for public health and I have worked to preserve our air and water quality and to sustain and improve our quality of life.

I have decided not to file for re-election in 2012. This has been a difficult decision for me but I feel that it is time for me to take a break from politics, pursue some of my other interests and spend more time with my family and friends. Serving in the NC House has been one of the greatest opportunities in my life. Not only have I had a seat at the table, and a voice and a vote to promote policies that I believe in, I have also met remarkable people who care deeply about helping to move our state forward.

I will always be grateful to the people of the Triangle and across the State of NC who gave me the opportunity to serve in the NC House and provided me with help, advice and support. I feel very fortunate to have served under the leadership of former Speaker Hackney who continues to serve our state with distinction.

I am confident that there will be a strong Democratic candidate running in House District 41 who will launch an effective campaign for the NC House and who will provide the new district with the leadership needed to make NC more competitive in the global economy and to address the critical needs of our state.

I am honored to represent my constituents through the end of this year. No matter what the future holds, I will continue to advocate for policies that move NC in a positive direction.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Planned Parenthood: "Enormously grateful" for the support, Komen's reversal

Posted by on Fri, Feb 3, 2012 at 3:37 PM


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