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The Democratic wing gets a lift

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No surprise that President Bush--scion of the Prescott Bush clan of Kennebunkport and Connecticut--would sound the imperial charge on St. Patrick's Day. "The world's more full of weeping for it," as the Irish bard once said. But we'll raise a pint notwithstanding for our two congressmen. Democrat David Price, representing the 15-501 side of the Triangle (and, in presidential candidate Howard Dean's wonderful phrase, "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party"), watched the president's address Monday with constituents in Apex. Price repeated his opposition to Bush's unilateral actions. And Democrat Brad Miller, not previously heard from in opposition to Bush, has just broken decisively with the president. "I have often found (Bush's) arguments for immediate military action against Iraq unconvincing," Miller said in a letter to some of his constituents, "at times even contrived."

Miller said that while a democratic Iraq might emerge from the war, it's more likely that Iraq will disintegrate, as Yugoslavia did after Tito fell, unleashing ethnic strife and fanning anti-American hatred throughout the region.

Now, if we're talking political guts, it's one thing for Price to oppose the war and quite another for Miller to do it. Price is an eight-term incumbent ensconced in a safely liberal district. Miller is in his first term and represents a Raleigh-based district that's got a lot more John Edwardses in it, if you will, than Howard Deans.

Miller wasn't in Congress last fall when it voted (over dissents from Dems like Price) to give Bush a free hand on the war. Back then, Miller came out in favor of the congressional resolution while also saying, Edwards-style, that Bush shouldn't go to war without international backing. No reason Miller couldn't have continued to straddle the issue, as war drew nigh, by declaring--as indeed he did, following a visit to Fort Bragg on Monday--that he "backs the troops" and "pray(s) for their safety and that of innocent Iraqis."

But Miller didn't straddle. Instead, he wrote eloquently about why the president is risking catastrophe for no good reason. Bush has failed to show that Saddam Hussein poses an immediate threat to U.S. security interests, Miller said. Thus, "if disarmament or containment were truly our objective, then expanded weapons inspections would satisfactorily accomplish that objective for now," letting us concentrate on the more immediate threats from North Korea and Iran.

Removing a tyrant, Miller added, unless it's to prevent genocide, "should be a judgment of humanity, not a single nation, not even ours." Our insistence that we alone can decide "has estranged us from nations whose support we will need in the war with terror, which may last another generation," he said.

Crowder vs. Kirkman. Thomas Crowder, on the Indy's cover last week for his efforts to reform Raleigh planning, said he was maybe going to run for City Council in District D. Since then, he's dropped the maybe. Crowder met with the incumbent, Benson Kirkman, to say he'll be a candidate. Kirkman's response? "It's a shame he's splitting the district. But what I told him is, I'll kick his a--."

By tradition, District D--southwest Raleigh--supplies the council's most pro-neighborhoods, pro-downtown member (Miriam Block, Charles Meeker, Barlow Herget, Eric Reeves). Kirkman's held the seat since 1997. He's the hardest-working man in show business--someone who makes every meeting, knows every constituent, answers every phone call and e-mail. But some neighborhood leaders complain that he's not effective, not up to the "D" standard.

Two knocks on Kirkman: He's straddled the 4-to-2 issue (unrelated tenants in single-family houses), which is huge in the neighborhoods around N.C. State. And he shocked partisan Democrats by voting with the Republicans recently on the city's Washington lobbying contract, handing it--over Democratic Mayor Meeker's objections--to a firm headed by state Republican Party Chair Bill Cobey.

A close contest in D, incidentally, will only help Meeker's re-election chances by pumping up the turnout in his own backyard. Councilor John Odom, who's running against Meeker, will similarly benefit in his own District B--Northeast Raleigh--where three candidates are vying for Odom's seat. They are: Bruce Spader, a neighborhood leader in Brentwood; Jessie Taliaferro, a member of the planning commission; and John Knox, a retired cop and former acting police chief.

Song Sung Blue Cross. Watch out, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. A recent decision in Maryland could bode ill for the nonprofit company's effort to go for-profit.

Maryland Insurance Commissioner Steven Larsen just turned down a request by Maryland's Blue Cross, called CareFirst, to sell itself for $1.37 billion to Wellpoint Health Networks Inc., the old California Blue Cross, and give the money to foundations to be used for public health care programs.

The Maryland company said going for-profit would mean, "Better services for you." That's similar to North Carolina Blue's response when a tiny group of health-care types called Pro-Care came out against its plan to go corporate. Thus abused, Blue Cross shot back with a TV ad blitz. "Pro-Care is fighting our plan to become a stronger, for-profit company with better services for you," BCBS wailed.

Conversion is up to state Insurance Commissioner Jim Long, who can approve or reject it.

Larsen turned CareFirst down flat, saying health care programs for the public are what the nonprofit Blues are supposed to be doing in the first place.

Thinking of running for council? Contact rjgeary@aol.com, or call 412-5051.

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