Leading from the Left

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cowell for Treasurer

I'm pleased to support Janet Cowell for State Treasurer. Cowell is exactly the kind of public servant we can be proud of. She's progressive, practical, and persistent. I worked with Janet some in the legislature, and I can say that few other State Senators impress me more than Senator cowell. She takes strong positions on tough issues and doesn't back down.

Her MBA and business background, plus her hands on experience as a State Senator and a Raleigh City Council woman, make Janet an excellent choice to be our next Treasurer. I heartily endorse Janet's campaign for State Treasurer.

Check out her new TV ad here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

NC Warn on Shearon Harris

This press release just arrived from NC Warn. It's information worth knowing.


Contact: Jim Warren, NC WARN 919-416-5077

April 28, 2008

New Fire Program at Nuclear Plant is in Shambles

Watchdogs say NRC misled Congressman, demand feds suspend Harris license

DURHAM, NC – A controversial fire protection pilot program intended to remedy 16 years of broken promises over safety at the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant has itself collapsed into indefinite delay. Three watchdog groups today sent a federal report to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Gregory Jaczko indicating Progress Energy is still years away from compliance with critical safety regulations. They insisted that the five-member Commission use its discretionary authority to suspend Harris’ license, drop the pilot program, and order the plant into compliance with existing fire regulations for the protection of vital safe shutdown systems.

Also, the groups told U.S. Rep. David Price in a separate letter that NRC Chairman Dale Klein repeatedly misled the congressman earlier this month when responding to Price’s concerns about lax fire enforcement by the agency. Congressional frustration with NRC has grown markedly in recent months.

Fire is a leading risk factor for core meltdown at nuclear plants because it can disable control cables for 20-plus systems needed to shut down and cool the reactor core. Today, Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists and Beyond Nuclear, along with NC WARN of Durham, told Jaczko they believe his agency’s fire protection engineers have been bullied by the industry for too long, and that those professionals need the Commissioners’ support to enforce compliance at plants where fire barriers have been found to offer less than the required level of cable protection.

“Among all the federal agencies gutted by political pressure to protect big corporations, the NRC is probably the worst,” said Jim Warren of NC WARN today. “The FAA was forced to finally order airlines to fix wiring problems that could bring down a plane, but the NRC has for 16 years let Shearon Harris dodge similar corrections that could devastate several states with radioactive fallout.”

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Progress Energy repeatedly promised NRC it would soon replace inoperable fire barriers called Thermo-lag and Hemyc. But meanwhile, the Raleigh-based utility and others vigorously lobbied for NRC to relax the rules instead of forcing multi-million dollar corrections. When NRC fire engineers balked, Progress volunteered to adopt a new regulatory program based on complex risk studies on the likelihood of fires.

Under growing pressure from public interest groups – as well as local and state officials – calling for financial penalties or license suspension until the violations are fixed, Harris promised last year to apply for a license amendment this June, thus finally establishing a formal timetable for “upgrading” the plant’s fire protection. But a 116-page NRC staff report sent last month to Harris officials is replete with evidence that the transitional fire protection program is once again badly behind schedule. Among the pages of criticism, the agency wrote: “Very little detailed fire modeling has been done ... major changes to the modeling and resulting risk estimates are to be expected.”

“NRC has too long turned a blind eye on violations that in the event of fire mean the difference between safely shutting Harris down and a meltdown,” said Paul Gunter with Takoma Park, MD-based Beyond Nuclear. “NRC could become the Phoenix arising out of the shambles of its fire protection program by enforcement of the standing law,” said Gunter.

Commissioner Jaczko met twice with the watchdog groups in 2007, agreeing that years of noncompliance must end but urging patience with the new regulatory program. In today’s letter to Jaczko, NC WARN attorney John Runkle called the pilot program a trap where “NRC allows the nuclear plant operators another free ride because they are ‘studying’ the fire problem, rather than fixing it.”

Shearon Harris, located near Raleigh, uses more of the failed fire barrier – over 1.5 miles – than any other plant. Harris has suffered several past fires, including an electrical system blaze that destroyed much of the turbine building. The critics predicted in 2006 that shifting to the new, risk-based regulations would be used as an excuse for even more delay. Moreover, they warned that the new regulations based on “risk assessment” disregard the potential for fires caused by acts of malice. Numerous federal studies confirm that nuclear plants could be devastated by a variety of attack scenarios.

Last year, Rep. Price of North Carolina launched a Government Accountability Office investigation into the NRC’s oversight of fire protection, with a report expected by summer. On a separate track Rep. John Dingell plans to conduct hearings over various complaints against NRC, including the fire issue.

In January, the NRC’s Inspector General issued a report highly critical of the NRC, noting the agency has known since 1994 that the Hemyc barrier fails fire tests in minutes – less than half the duration required by NRC regulations. Of the 16 plants the IG found to be in violation, six are owned by NC-based Progress Energy and Duke Energy. To compensate for the years of noncompliance – the NRC is allowing the plants to rely on “interim” measures that have been neither tested nor approved by the agency.

The watchdogs told Rep. Price that NRC Chairman Klein’s letter to him seems deliberately worded to mislead the Congressman on key fire issues, and they believe Klein’s fellow commissioners and public affairs office warned him against sending the letter. Klein has been cited several times since 2006 for issuing deceptive statements regarding fire protections and nuclear plant defenses, and for promoting the industry he is charged with regulating.

“We look forward to the GAO report on fire protection that Rep. Price requested” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The NRC seems unable to make progress resolving fire protection problems by itself. Continued Congressional oversight attention can only hasten the day when millions of Americans are no longer at undue risk.”

Lochbaum and the others say it is obvious that Progress Energy still hasn’t made fire safety a priority since it hasn’t devoted the resources needed to keep its latest promises. They said it is time for NRC to force the company to make physical changes required under standing fire safety regulations.


The letters to Commissioner Jaczko and Rep. Price can be found at the top right of www.ncwarn.org

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Check Out My Ad for Freight Rail

Recently, I filmed an ad about the environmental benefits of shipping freight by rail vs by trucking. Did you know you can ship 1 ton of freight 423 miles on rail with just one gallon of fuel? Neither did I, until I shot this ad. But the bottom line is that it's much better for the environment to ship freight via rail that via trucks.

Here is the ad.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Equality North Carolina Secures Hospital Visitation Protections

If you are straight, you may never have thought about this. Most people haven't, frankly. But, for LGBT people, visiting your partner in the hospital can be a nightmare. Under NC law, you two aren't married and you're not blood relatives. So, basically, you don't have any legal right to participate in key medical decisions involving your partner's care, you are no legal right to receive information about your partner's condition, and may not even be allowed into your partner's room.

Imagine what that would feel like. Imagine if you were the patient and your partner wasn't there for you when you most needed him or her, when you were at your most vulnerable. Imagine if you were the partner, unable to assist an ill or dying partner. Not a good feeling, uh?

Well, as of this week, some of this has changed in NC. The state has adopted new rules that will allow a patient to designate anyone, regardless of relationship status, to visit his/her room. While this does not address the very real and very serious issue of participating in medical decisions, etc, it is a step towards fairer treatment for all. Below is the statement issued today by Equality NC:

North Carolina hospital patients will soon have a new right, ensuring that they can receive the visitors who matter most to them regardless of the legal status of their relationship. A new statewide rule will help ensure that same-sex partners and other loved ones will be treated the same as immediate family.

The rule adds a provision to the Patients' Bill of Rights, stating: "A patient has the right to designate visitors who shall receive the same visitation privileges as the patient's immediate family members, regardless of whether the visitors are legally related to the patient." The right applies to hospitals statewide.

"We know how important it is that patients have their loved ones by their sides, but all too often same-sex partners have been turned away when their partner is hospitalized." said Ian Palmquist, Executive Director. "The new policy will ensure that the patient's wishes are respected. This is a victory not just for same-sex couples, but for unmarried opposite-sex couples, caregivers, and other loved ones whom the state does not legally recognize."

Last summer, Equality NC Foundation petitioned the state to add this provision to the Patients' Bill of Rights, and has been advocating for it through the rule-making process. The Medical Care Commission unanimously approved the rule at its February meeting and on Thursday the Rules Review Commission gave final approval, allowing it to take effect on May 1.

Palmquist recognized the support of Sen. Kay Hagan (D-Guilford), who assisted the organization in seeking the rule change and securing the support of the N.C. Hospital Association. He also thanked Rep. Martha Alexander (D-Mecklenbug), who proposed legislation to accomplish the same goal in the 2007 session, along with co-sponsors Rep. Bill Faison (D-Orange) and Rep. Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake).

"Same-sex couples should know that this new policy only covers visitation," cautioned Palmquist. "In order to ensure that our partners have the ability to make medical decisions in the event we're incapacitated, we must still complete heath care powers of attorney."

Without a valid health care power of attorney, decision-making authority will go to the patient's nearest legal relative, and same-sex relationships receive no recognition under North Carolina law.

"This victory will have a real impact in the lives of LGBT North Carolinians," said Palmquist. "Equality North Carolina is working year-round to make North Carolina a state of equality."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mia Burroughs on Transfer Tax

Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board member Mia Burroughs sent out the following message this weekend. I thought it was an excellent argument for passage of the Transfer Tax referendum. Thanks, Mia!

Dear Friends-

I wanted to share with you my thoughts regarding the transfer tax. Although primary day is May 6th, early voting has started so I wanted to catch you now in case you are going to take advantage of that.

Why I Support the Transfer Tax

We have excellent schools. We are blessed with a diverse and growing student body.
Our community rightly insists that we serve ALL children so that each will be able
to pursue his or her dreams. In order to ensure we have highly-qualified teachers
and seats in buildings for each of these children, we will need to increase our County

Commissioners' options for raising funds.

Growth does not pay for growth. I believe that the fairest way to pay for schools is to
raise revenue from the transactions that are delivering new students to our system.
By law, we MUST serve each of these students. By our community's values, we MUST serve
each with excellent staff and facilities. In order to do this, one of two things will happen:
ANNUAL property taxes will increase to cover the whole shebang OR we can dampen property
tax increases and approve a transfer tax that is paid exactly once by the property

(commercial and home) seller. This method protects elderly and low-income residents
who fear being priced out of their homes from large increases in property taxes. Those
folks built our community and we shouldn't force them out.

The transfer tax is not new. It has been used for years, very successfully, in several
Eastern North Carolina counties so we don't have to worry about the law of unintended
consequences. It will allow us weave together the values that make Chapel Hill so great.
Please join me in voting for the transfer tax.

For more details, please go to www.4schools4parks.com.

Best regards,


Friday, April 18, 2008

Please contribute to Judge Arrowood

My post today is about Judge John Arrowood's campaign to retain his seat on the NC Court of Appeals.

Please take just a few minutes today to make a donation to John Arrowood, a Democrat running for the NC Court of Appeals. John's Republican opponent is a well-known conservative activist who most certainly will not represent our values.

Last September, John Arrowood was sworn in as a judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. This was an historic event for North Carolina as John became the first openly gay man to serve in a statewide position in our state....or in the entire South for that matter.

John's appointment to a statewide elective office is symbolic of the great strides we're making as progressives here in NC. I'm proud of John and proud that North Carolina is the first state in the South to break through this particular glass ceiling.

To keep his seat, John is running this year. And you guessed it....the far right is targetting John. They believe they can use bigotry to unseat a highly qualified judge who's done an outstanding job in his first year on the bench.

As people who care about fairness, we can't let these forces win.

Judge Arrowood needs to raise money now, right now, to launch an effective campaign to retain his seat on the Court of Appeals. I've already contributed to John's campaign and hope you will too.

Please make your checks payable to "The Committee to Keep Judge Arrowood" and mail them to P.O. Box 1628, Raleigh, NC 27602. Because of rules related to judicial financing, checks must come from registered voters within North Carolina; be in sums no great than $500 per voter; and be collected ASAP, but no later than May 1st. You are required to include your occupation and employer information for reporting purposes.

Your generous support NOW is crucial for John's chances to retain this seat. Judge Arrowood has until the May 6th primary to raise an additional $30,000. After the primary, public financing rules kick in, and John will not be allowed to raise any more money. Please join me in supporting John Arrowood, a Democrat running for NC Court of Appeals.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Latest on State Personnel Policy Situation

This just in from Equality NC Foundation....

Breaking News from Equality North Carolina

Yesterday we announced that the State had adopted a new policy protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Already, the right wing is trying to take away our victory.

Anti-gay House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Stam and the NC Family Policy Council have publicly denounced the policy and called for its removal. Reports in the press indicate that this State Personnel Commission has removed the new, non-discrimination language from their website.

Equality NC Foundation has been advocating for the new non-discrimination language at every step. We are deeply disappointed by these developments, but are working to ensure that the inclusive policy remains in effect.

We cannot allow pressure from Rep. Stam and the Family Policy Council to take away these basic protections for our state workers.

The process on this policy, and a related rule, has been long and involved. It's a bit complicated to explain, but North Carolina State government has both "rules" and "policies." Rules carry more weight and have more legal authority than policies, though policies are also consequential.

Last summer the State Personnel Commission voted to approve the policy and also began the rule-making process for a rule on this matter. That rule was unanimously approved by the State Personnel Commission at their December meeting. In February the 10-member Rules Review Commission voted 4-2 that the State Personnel Commission did not have the statutory authority to expand the rule in this way.

Although the proposed rule could not take effect, the policy was duly adopted by the State Personnel Commission and they have not rescinded it. Therefore, the policy protecting LGBT state-workers from discrimination remains in force.

Contrary to Rep. Stam's assertions, the State Personnel Commission's actions on this policy are firmly within its statutory mandate to "establish policies and rules governing ... programs of equal opportunity," and "provide for a fair and modern system of personnel administration."

We cannot let anti-gay legislators like Rep. Skip Stam, and anti-gay groups like the Family Policy Council, succeed in taking away our rights.

We'll keep you updated as this develops. You can help by making a tax-deductible contribution to Equality NC Foundation to support this critical effort. Click here to help us stop these attempts to roll-back our rights.

For Equality,

Ian Palmquist, Executive Director

Now You See 'em, Now You Don't: Disappearing Equal Rights

For a couple of days, state employees in North Carolina were covered from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For a couple of days, state workers were protected from being fired for being gay.

But, in one of more bizarre about-faces I've ever witnessed, non-discrimination language was removed from the State Personnel website almost as quickly as it appeared. No one is quite sure what happened, or why. Least of all me. But read this article from the Asheville-Citizen Times.

So for a few brief days, the LGBT state-workers were protected from discrimination. Alas. Regardless of this week's "now you see 'em, now you don't" equal rights, it's time state government protected the 10% of its employees who are LGBT. For pete's sake, it's 2008.

Monday, April 14, 2008

North Carolina, First in Fairness

North Carolina has become the first state in the south to add 'sexual orientation' to the state personnel policy's non-discrimination statement! This is a huge step for a southern state to take, and we should be proud of our state for making this change. Several members of the Council of State have already added 'sexual orientation' to their agency's non-discrimination polices (State Treasurer Richard Moore and Attorney General Roy Cooper,for example), but inclusion in the state personnel policy expands coverage to nearly all state employees.

Check out the statement on Equality NC's website.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Equality NC endorses Moore for Governor

Today Equality NC, North Carolina's statewide organization working for LGBT civil rights, issued endorsements in a number of state-wide and legislative races. In an historic move, Equality has endorsed a candidate in the Governor's race. This election marks a real shift in electoral politics in our state; a shift towards more inclusivity as both Bev Perdue and Richard Moore sought the endorsement of Equality NC.

After reviewing candidate questionnaires and after interviewing both candidates, Equality decided to endorse Richard Moore for Governor.

Here are the rest of the endorsements.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Fitzsimon on the Transfer Tax

Chris Fitzsimon had a wonderful article yesterday in is daily e-newsletter about the transfer tax. Definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hagan and Neal to Debate in Chapel Hill

This just in from the Orange County Democratic Party....

The Orange County Democratic Party and the UNC Young Democrats present the US Senate Candidate Forum on April 13 in the auditorium of the Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building of the UNC School of Social Work, 325 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill.

The event starts at 2:00 pm. Each candidate will speak and then answer questions from the audience. You are invited to meet the candidates before and after the event.

Public parking is available in a parking deck underneath the Global Education building next to the Tate-Turner-Kuralt building and on side streeets.

For more information about other Democratic candidates' events, go to http://orangedems.com/campaignclearinghouse.shtml.

Judge was Right on Wright

The judge, who presided over the trial of former State Representative Thomas Wright, sentenced Wright yesterday to 70-95 months in prison. This was a well-deserved, and relatively stiff, sentence on corruption charges. I commend the judge--and the jury--for a job well done.

Perhaps this case and verdict will send a cautionary message to other state legislators: Integrity matters.

I also commend Speaker Joe Hackney for his classy and transparent leadership of the State House. You couldn't ask for a better Speaker than Hackney. We're lucky to have him.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Could the Curtain Finally be Coming Down?

Is it possible that the curtain is finally coming down on one the most sordid period's of North Carolina's political history? Is it finally over?

I'm talking, of course, about the black cloud of corruption that has hung over the State House of Representatives for several years now. I know we all wish this were over, and perhaps now it is. Today, a jury convicted former Representative Thomas Wright of fraud. Here's the link to the News and Observer article which was just posted on their website.