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"Common Sense in Government" wants to get out the vote? Really?

Ever wonder how to run a city council smear campaign? No? Ok, I’ll tell you anyway.

1) Get a few people together and get them to pledge to give you money if and when you form a political action committee.

2) Wait until the last minute to form that committee. (The state board of elections only requires that you file your paperwork within 10 days of forming your PAC, so you could conceivably raise and spend vast sums and never have to file anything until after the election! Neat!)

3) Put together a mailing full of anything you like. Make stuff up. Only the treasurer’s name will be on file anywhere, and folks can give up to $50 before they have to have their name associated with whatever fish wrap you send out. That’s democracy!

4) This is the important part. Be sure to time your mailing so the people you smear can’t respond in any effective way. The weekend before an election is especially good. Read More→

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Local Dems Back Public Option

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Saw this at the Progressive Pulse: the Progressive States Network — a fabulous organization that works to educate legislators and the public about progressive policy at the state level — has asked state legislators across the country to sign a letter supporting health care reform including a nationally-available public health insurance plan.

Two local legislators — Representatives Ray Rapp of Madison County and Asheville’s own Susan Fisher — signed on. No word yet on Reps. Bruce Goforth or Jane Whilden, or Sens. Nesbitt, Snow, Queen, or Apodaca.

Susan Fisher’s stance is no surprise for me: in August, a group of about 40 Buncombe Democratic precinct chairs and vice chairs wrote a letter to Heath Shuler endorsing the original version of HR 3200. I contacted several elected officials to see if they wanted to sign on as well, and Rep. Fisher was the only one-so far-to agree (if any others want to sign on, let me know). It’s great to see Ray Rapp on the list as well.

If you’re a constituent of any of the others, Progressive States Network is still taking signatures. You can go here to send a message to your state legislator asking them to sign.

Oh, and one other thing: we’ll see how this goes, but apparently one public option compromise being floated would allow states to opt out of a national plan. So there may be a good reason to get your local general assembly person on the record early.

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Wind power: still up in the air.

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indianturbinesThe state Senate is still working through the impasse on mountain wind power. Word is that one mountain senator, Steve Goss of Boone, is winning allies as he fights against an outright ban of ridgeline wind turbines that’s been proposed by three other mountain senators—Martin Nesbitt of Buncombe, Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville, and John Snow of Murphy.

In the meantime, calling Senator Nesbitt (919-715-3001) is a good idea. And you might ask his staffer why the senator is prepared to force mountain residents to forgo the economic benefits that come with wind power. According to this lovely four color pdf produced by the Department of Energy, wind power offers rural communities a much-needed chance to diversify their local economies. For example:

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No, really. Call him one more time – 202-225-6401 in DC; if the number there is busy (which is likely), try the Asheville office – 828-252-1651. Subject: health care insurance reform.

It seems like nobody knows what’s about to go down in the last House committee to take up the health care reform bill—perhaps not even the committee members themselves—but it sounds like mainstream Democrats are about to attempt once more to hash out their differences with their Blue Dog colleagues.

That’s why it’s probably a good idea to call our local Blue Dog. So – after thanking him for his vote on the climate-change bill, how about you make three points:

1) You’d like Congressman Shuler to stand with the President in supporting a robust public option, and you’d like him to encourage his fellow Blue Dog coalition members to do the same, especially those on the Energy and Commerce committee;

2) Some Blue Dogs are coming out in support of a strong public option, and you’d like the congressman to do likewise;

3) Mix and match any three of the following data about how the “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act” will improve the lives of those in the eleventh district (provided courtesy of the Energy and Commerce Committee staff). You see, if HB 3200 passes as it is currently written:

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How to kill a public option.

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blue_dogs_logoAs I mentioned last week, Heath Shuler signed on to a letter sent by some members of the Blue Dog coalition that opposed a Medicare-like public option. Now the Blue Dogs are at it again; three of their members on the House Energy and Commerce committee are blocking the House’s version of health care reform, and their bargaining position includes a couple of things that could render a public option worthless:

– Establish consumer-driven, state-based co-ops
– Create state-based exchanges with a federal fallback

The first is a move toward the co-ops they’ve been talking about in the Senate, except of course even Kent Conrad is talking about co-ops that draw members from across an entire region. State-based co-ops would simply accentuate the chief problem with co-ops—that they may not include enough people to successfully bargain for lower medical costs, thus raising premiums and making them ineffective as a means of giving more people access to health care.

State-based exchanges—in which, presumably, employers could select from a list of state-based insurers when choosing coverage—are an even worse idea. A state-based exchange in North Carolina would include Blue Cross/Blue Shield—the non-profit that posted a profit of nearly $200 million last year and paid its CEO more than $4 million—a couple of other big-league providers, and a struggling and likely ineffective state-based co-op. Combine a state-based exchange with a mandate for employers or individuals to purchase care, and you’re not going to see much in the way of competition. Instead, you’re likely to see pay increases for Blue Cross/Blue Shield executives.

All of that is to say that it’s probably time to give Heath Shuler another call, this time to let him know (as I just did) that you didn’t vote for him so he could help the Blue Dogs set the agenda in Washington. You voted for him so that he could help a Democratic president set the agenda. Say it politely, though. 202-225-6401. And if you can’t get through, there’s always the Asheville office: 828-252-1651. Though if you do call the Asheville office, please be extra polite. You could be talking to a neighbor.

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Wind Energy Update

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asuturbine1If you’re wondering where we are on the wind turbine ban in western North Carolina, it looks like a subcommittee of five state senators – Buncombe’s Martin Nesbitt, his near neighbors John Snow and Joe Sam Queen, Boone’s Steve Goss, and the chairman of the Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee will meet to hash out the legislation.

If you haven’t already contacted Martin Nesbitt (919-715-3001) to tell him you support wind energy, then do so.
This is also a good time to go over what we’ve learned about wind power in western North Carolina as a result of this controversy:

according to an analysis by a private firm, wind turbines could be sited on only 5% of the state’s ridgelines, mostly because so much of our land out here is under some form of environmental protection.

– Despite this, wind power from our mountains could create 800 megawatts of electricity.

-That’s enough electricity to power 400,000 homes; it comprises two-thirds of the wind power available on land in our state; and mountain wind power could satisfy as much as 20% of the renewable energy the state has committed to produce under the renewable energy portfolio standard adopted in 2007.

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mtrAs I mentioned last week, a bill intended to allow permitting of wind farms in North Carolina was on the brink of becoming a bill banning wind power in the mountains. Last Tuesday, thanks in part to a call-in effort that impressed the staff answering the phones, the senate Environment and Natural Resources committee did not put in that restrictive language. But they took out language that would have let the permitting process cover mountain counties, perhaps teeing the bill up for what happened yesterday in the Finance committee.

From the Citizen-Times, where Jordan Schrader is doing a great job of keeping up with what our delegation is doing in Raleigh:

State senators today unveiled a proposed change in the state’s ridge-protection law that would ban large-scale wind energy production in the mountains. The Senate Finance Committee added the language to a bill moving through the General Assembly that will shape where windmills are allowed to be built statewide. . . .

“It’s horrible. They just banned wind,” as a source of energy in the mountains, said Crystal Simmons, a Newland resident and Appalachian State University student who manages the school’s project that has erected a 150-foot windmill on campus. . . .

The addition advocated by [Buncombe Senator Martin] Nesbitt would allow only small windmills whose primary purpose is to generate electricity for use within a home.

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shulers-signatureThat’s Heath Shuler’s autograph on a Tennessee Vols cap letter some Blue Dog Coalition members sent last week to Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer outlining what they saw as the chief problems with the House’s proposal for health care reform.

As is so often the case, the Blue Dogs seem to be taking great pains to show how serious they are about policy discussions. Their complaints about the reform proposal range from its failure to include adequate delivery system reform, to questions about rural health care, to concerns about small business. But the main thrust of the letter should be of concern to those who support a public option.

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A committee in our state senate is poised to effectively ban wind turbines in western North Carolina.

After the jump I’ve got a list of legislators to contact. But first a little background. This year environmentalists and clean-energy advocates were seeking to clarify legislation that covered wind turbines. They were seeking language that would outline a clear state permitting system for wind farms, and would exempt turbines generating less than 100 megawatts from local ordinances regulating development (though the state could still deny a permit over aesthetic concerns).

They were even more interested in making it clear that turbines would be exempt from the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983, a state law that prohibited “tall buildings or structures” of more than 40 feet in height (though not power lines or other equipment) from being constructed along ridgelines.

So as of the beginning of last week, there was a bill up for consideration in the senate Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee that accomplished all that. And then, at some point between Monday and Friday, a person or persons unknown slipped language into the bill that would have exactly the opposite effect. The new language really clarifies things by making explicit that all wind turbines constructed for the purpose of generating and selling power were prohibited under the Mountain Ridge Protection Act.

The vote on this newly amended version comes tomorrow at 11 am. Until then, call the members of the committee and let them know you support wind power in western North Carolina (numbers after the jump). You might also want to call Martin Nesbitt, the state senator from Buncombe who has repeatedly expressed his objections to wind turbines in the mountains.
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First, don’t let the story at the Xpress stop you from writing and calling Kay Hagan about the public option. Kay Hagan may have “endorsed public health care” at a meeting with our local elected officials, but her office says she’s still considering various plans and has not yet even endorsed any form of public option — let alone a robust one.

That’s interesting, because Talking Points Memo is reporting that a draft of a public option has been leaked from the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee – one of the committees Hagan sits on, and the committee most likely to introduce a public option in the Senate. Here’s TPM’s take on the draft:

“Initial reports of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions process suggested that the committee’s draft would call for a public option that paid providers Medicare rates plus about 10 percent–a robust plan . . .

“This leak doesn’t rule that configuration out explicitly–but if it’s accurate, then the committee’s kicking the issue back over to the executive branch, and insisting only that the public plan operate on at least a level playing field with private insurers.

“It’s unclear whether this language will please freshman Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)–the HELP Democrat whose reservations about the public option have forced the committee to modify their plan and delay its roll out.”

So there you have it — we’re still waiting to find out whether a slightly watered-down (though strong enough to satisfy SEIU president Andy Stern) public option is sufficiently weak to satisfy Senator Hagan. My guess is that someone on the committee wants folks to know that every other Democrat is working in good faith to produce something close to President Obama’s vision, and that Kay Hagan is the sole obstacle. Her D.C. number: (202) 224-6342.

Now for the really shocking news: Read More→

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