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The progressive prescription

How the General Assembly can cure the state's biggest ills

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See also: The progressive prescription | Expensive insurance for serious health problems | Big-money campaign contributions | Oil addiction | Holes in the Latino safety net | 10 more to watch | No ordinary day for 'HK on J'

Last week, Utilities Commissioner Bobby Owens appeared to doze (or maybe he was resting his eyes) during an important public hearing on Duke Energy. Whether you're appointed to a plum post by the governor, elected to a seat in the legislature, or just watching from the peanut gallery, you'll find that democracy is often tedious, usually messy, occasionally pettyand always necessary. Don't sleep through it.

The alarm clock rang Wednesday at high noon on the 2007 legislative session, which ends when its business is finished at an undetermined time this summer. This early phase of the session feels like New Year's Day, when a refreshed General Assembly resolves never again to ensnare itself in the lottery scandals or campaign finance shenanigans of the past. This year, by golly, they'll represent the people of North Carolina. This session, yessir, they will pass laws to improve schools, benefit taxpayers and build the state's economy.

If only it were that easy.

North Carolina has a spotty record on passing legislation to address the needs of the overlooked or maligned: health care for children, the poor and chronically ill, including those with mental illness; rights for Latino immigrants; rehabilitation for juveniles in prison; protection for our environment; affordable housing for low-income residents; and a moratorium on state-sponsored killing for those on death row.

There is hope that presumed Speaker of the House Joe Hackney, viewed as one of the state's most progressive lawmakers, will lead at least the House toward an agenda that provides not only for the haves, but for the have-nots, as well. But Hackney can't do it alone. The only way for all legislators to represent the citizenry is to untie themselves from the special interests that bankroll their campaigns and hitch their wagons to their constituents. This session, let's hope the legislature has the courage to set a progressive agenda. Plenty of people will be watching.

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