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Common Sense: In short supply

Suddenly there's a spate of stories about the important health, education and social services programs slashed in the budget passed last week by the state House of Representatives. Better late than never. The day the budget hit the House floor, though, one organization called it for what it is: "very, very bad ... contains huge problems that will create and increase suffering all over the state."

"Consider This," the Common Sense Foundation's periodic e-mail blast, took Rep. David Miner, R-Wake, to task for calling the budget "family-friendly" when--to pick one example--it would freeze enrollment in the N.C. Healthy Choice program, shutting the door to affordable health insurance on 20,000 children of the working poor. Miner is co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

The next day, "Consider This" was back with a list of numbers from its new report on state sentencing policies, showing that more people were going to prison--mainly blacks, mainly for drug offenses--even though violent crime rates were down:

N.C. Violent Crime since '91: Down 19%.

N.C. Prison Population since '91: Up 65%.

N.C. rank for drug crime incarceration: 5.

Incarceration of black drug offenders: Up 501%.

Incarceration of black youth for drugs: Up 706%.

Common Sense thinks treatment is more effective than jail for drug users (15 times more effective). And less expensive. It suggests education programs for prison inmates who are illiterate (40%) or lack a high-school diploma (70%). How radical is that in a state where most politicians pledge never to reward prisoners with fancy schoolin' and such?

It's radical, all right, or just plain common sense. Either way, Common Sense stands out in Raleigh as the one group confronting the prevailing conservatism with progressive views on all the major issues and doing it in real time--that is, in time for the nightly news and the next morning's press. Raleigh has a number of solid advocacy groups producing careful research in specific policy fields. But Common Sense is the one working every day to translate the research into a political cause--with bite.

Perhaps it will not surprise you, then, to learn that Common Sense needs money. Today. Right now. Reach in your drawer, pull out that letter they mailed you with the return card, or else drop a check in the mail to P.O. Box 10808, Raleigh 27605.

The organization's money woes weren't helped when it lost its founding executive director, Chris Fitzsimon, to a job in Washington two months ago. But the crunch predated his departure, and it's since caused the group to hand layoff notices to its office manager and development director effective next week.

Meanwhile, Fitzsimon's post remains unfilled; research director David Mills has taken over on an interim basis, at the moment helped only by interns and volunteers.

If this sounds bleak, nonetheless CSF board member Jane Stein is optimistic that the organization will survive. Supporters and board members (who include Steve Schewel, president of the company that owns the The Independent) are redoubling their personal fund-raising efforts, though in truth Common Sense has more of a "strong policy board" than a "strong money board," Stein concedes.

Plainly, the rich folks who benefit from the political status quo, and who support groups like the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, CSF's well-funded conservative counterpart, far outnumber the progressive well-to-do.

Common Sense needs lots of $100 contributors and some $1,000 backers, too, to make up for the $100,000-a-year supporters the John Lockes can get but a group with common sense--arguing that the rich oughta share the wealth some more--never will.

My check, long overdue, is in the mail.


Common Sense: Gay Rights
Right after U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican, let loose with his bigoted comments about homosexuality, there was a "Consider This" from the Common Sense Foundation in our inbox. It noted that the N.C. Family Policy Council, testifying against legislation to protect gay state employees from employment discrimination, had compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia, just as Santorum had.

Then, to underscore how gay-bashing remains a popular Republican pasttime, we got a press release from Vernon Robinson, who at one time led the charter-school movement in Raleigh and is now an elected alderman in Winston-Salem. Robinson is running for Congress in the district represented by Richard Burr, an announced '04 Senate candidate. In the GOP primary, it's Robinson against state Sen. Virginia Foxx of Watauga County.

Well, Robinson just wanted us to know that Foxx once said she supports letting gays adopt children! And has taken contributions from N.C. Pride's political action committee! And it supports such horrible things as extending hate-crimes laws to gay-bashing!

We're doing Robinson's bidding here, we know, by signaling any right-wingers who might read this (especially any with money to give him) that he's the "unabashed conservative" who stands with Santorum, while Foxx--a right-winger by any reasonable standard--fails the test of being a total homophobe.

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