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Below the Beltline 

It's a big tent for the slogging, blogging Democrats

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge is a Democrat, right? Just asking. Thanks to a handy little service called Megavote from the Progressive Democrats of America (, I've been following the voting records of the three House members who represent us here in the Triangle--all Democrats, mind you--and to put it succinctly, they're not the same. So far this session, however, Congressmen David Price and Brad Miller have similar records, with one glaring exception. And then there's Etheridge. Last week Etheridge voted yes with the Republican majority, while Price and Miller voted no, on the so-called "Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act," which passed the House 270-157. Don't be thrown by the Republican title, which bears as much relation to what was in the bill as "Clear Skies Act" does to the GOP anti-clean air bill. This was a garden variety anti-choice piece of legislation designed to throw more roadblocks in the way of obtaining a legal abortion.

Before that, there was the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act" (again, watch out for those GOP titles), which cracks down on credit-card debtors while carefully protecting the assets of the improvident rich. It passed the House 302-126 and is now law. Etheridge again voted with the Republicans, as did a misbegotten Price. Only Miller got this one right--he again voted no.

And let's not forget the infamous vote Etheridge cast in favor of what was termed a private bill "For the Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo," which invited the federal courts to play god for the benefit of the Christian right-wing. The House vote in the middle of a Sunday night was 203-58, with Price and Miller in the opposition.

Etheridge also supported the failed effort to attach an anti-gay marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and he's been pro-Bush all the way on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. On the other hand, he did vote against the Republican measure to permanently repeal the federal estate tax (in GOP-land, the "Death Tax Permanency Repeal Act"), joining Price and Miller on the losing side of the 272-162 vote.

Apparently, there's still a bit of economic populist in the otherwise conservative Etheridge. Democrats had proposed taxing estates larger than $3.5 million, or $7 million for married couples when the first spouse dies. Republicans insisted that nobody's estate be taxed, regardless whether the sum involved is $1,000 or $1 billion. Just wipe that tax out for everybody--what could be fairer than that?

While we're on the subject of the Democrats, here's a few names on the upside of the ledger:

Matthew Danielson: You can look him up at, his clever invention for collecting the stories of people who are Democrats and proud to tell you why. That aside, Danielson is the leader of the upstart Western Wake Democrats, which he tells me has an e-mail list of almost a thousand names after just one year and which turned out 350 people for its first big picnic last fall. "Everyone 'knows' that western Wake is a Republican area," Danielson says, which makes it all the more important that Democrats assert themselves--and field a credible candidate--in every local race in Cary, Apex and Holly Springs. Democrats can and do win there, Danielson reminds us. Just as important, when Democrats let Republicans run unopposed, the GOP walkovers are free to give or raise money for other Republican candidates in contested races. True.

Just now, Danielson's talking up the District 9 school board candidacy of Eleanor Goettee, whose campaign kickoff is Wednesday (May 4) at 5 p.m. at the Page-Walker Hotel in Cary. Goettee is a former social studies teacher and now works as executive director of the N.C. Professional Teaching Standards Commission, which tries to improve the trade. "She's very strong, very committed," he says, and a formidable challenger whether incumbent Bill Fletcher runs for re-election in October or not. We noted recently that District 9 is key to the hopes of Christian-right Republicans and the Assignment By Choice crowd who would like to break up ("de-consolidate") the Wake County school system. Fletcher, who's a Christian-right Republican himself in other ways, has resisted their scheme, supporting limited busing to maintain racial and economic balance in every Wake school. But Fletcher's refusal to concede defeat in the '04 race for state superintendent of schools--he continues to contest his narrow defeat to Democrat June Atkinson in the courts, blocking her from taking office--makes him dead meat from the left and right in Wake.

Lanya Shapiro: You may recognize her e-mail address, I think of her as Durham's answer to Blaise Strenn of Raleigh (an Indy "Citizen Award" winner in '04), the hardest-working progressive activist in the Bull City. Anyway, Shapiro's starting Traction--short for Triangle Action--"to jump-start civic engagement among 20-something and 30-something progressives." (Guess I'll have to start Re-Laxion, for the over-50 set, myself.) Her idea is to make politics hip with movies, open-mic nights, cool speakers, even a dodgeball team, while also letting folks share information about their local issues and candidates. "It's about watching Baked Alaska, a movie about global warming, and then working to get an HOV lane on I-40," Shapiro says. She could use some help, including $$$. Or, for that matter, $$. For starters, drop her a note and get some traction.

Lunsford Lane: Who is this man? (Woman?) Behind his nom de plume is a tart-tongued, but very well-informed Raleigh progressive who writes about city politics for the aptly titled And is his supposed cohort, "Dr. Walter de Gama," really someone else who lives in North Raleigh? Or merely the Outer-Loopy alter-ego to Lane's Inner-Beltline id? Whatever. (And, no, I don't know who's behind it, since the obvious culprit flatly denies any role.) BTB debuted in January, when Lane scalded Republican City Councilor Philip Isley for taking credit where it wasn't due. Soon, he was blasting the city's overhauled Web site, which continues to be horrible almost five months later--so bad, it must be said, that the Planning Commission petitioned the council this week to let them bring back their old Web site so they and the public could have a clue about what's happening. The lousy Web site, with its empty folders where the minutes of city meetings are supposed to be, has clearly handicapped Lane, but he's fought back recently with exposes of city inspections in Southeast Raleigh and--following up on a brief item here--the errant votes of the "Joisy Girls" (Democratic Councilors Jessie Taliaferro and Joyce Kekas, both formerly of the Garden State) in favor of hiring Republican Bill Cobey's lobbying firm. The former thing is a must-read. But as a former New Jersey resident myself, I'm calling him out on the latter one--that was strictly below the beltline, Lane. Watch it.

Johnny Edwards: And speaking of progressives, are you keeping up with our former U.S. senator as he aligns himself with organized labor and lefty community-action organizations like ACORN? Not to mention making poverty the centerpiece of his '08 explorations? Strikes me that, with the Honorable Hillary Clinton of New York moving steadily to the right, our Johnny could be shaping up as the New South-progressive alternative to her Wall Street-crony capitalism campaign. Check him out at


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