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Energizing voters

In his Oct. 4 article, "Soft on Big Money," Bob Geary is definitely on to a problem that afflicts elections in North Carolina. But his analysis puts the cart before the horse by failing to treat the underlying cause of the problem he identifies.

The problem, as laid out by Geary, is that hundreds of thousands of unregulated "soft money" contributions are pouring in from out of state to influence legislative elections. Most of the state's 170 House and Senate seats aren't at issue, because "gerrymandered" districts result in "safe seats" for the Democratic or Republican party nominee.

But a dozen or so seats that could go either way have the potential for deciding next year's redistricting struggle between Democrats and Republicans. It's in that handful of competitive districts where all those soft money contributions are destined and could be decisive. Geary's solution is to plug up the soft-money loophole and counter big money's influence with public financing of election campaigns.

It's a good solution, as far as it goes. It just doesn't go far enough. Curbing soft money and providing public financing can uphold election integrity in the dozen or so districts that Geary has identified as being competitive. But that doesn't help voters in the remaining 158 districts that aren't competitive. Regulating money has no effect if, as Geary points out, the incumbent-party nominee is already "ticketed to win" by gerrymandering.

Campaign finance reform can free politicians from obligations to wealthy special-interest contributors. But it's not enough to energize and empower voters to take back the political system. That can only come by providing voters a reason to cast their vote in the first place.

In The Independent's "Best Bets" column [Sept. 13], there was a preview of the Concert for Peace 2000, an event that featured local musicians attempting to raise awareness about the Center for Peace Education's Partnership for Peaceable Schools program.

--LEE MORTINMER, DURHAM Tuned to history

In The Independent's write-up, the line "in an ironic twist, the musical selections will include the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'" stirred many of us, musicians and organizers alike, to run to dictionaries and the Internet for more information, having been particularly moved by the rendition of this old song at the end of the afternoon's program.

Julia Ward Howe's words were first published as a poem in the February 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly as the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

In "Battle Hymn", Howe's words showed that she knew the same truth, spoken by Abraham Lincoln and read at the Concert for Peace 2000 by John Hope Franklin: "Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history ... the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. ... As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Consequently, we hold that the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was decidedly not an "ironic choice" for the Concert for Peace 2000, but rather an historically accurate and appropriate one.


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