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At the NC Democratic Party Bloggers Conference

Yesterday I attended the one-day NC Democratic Party Bloggers Conference, organized by party chair Jerry Meek. It's the first gathering of this nature that I've attended and there are a number of local and national bloggers (and pols) here to discuss how the Dem Party in NC can work with the netroots.

Because of that, nearly all the bloggers present are deeply involved in covering state politics. I don't cover my state's political issues on a regular basis here on the Blend, other than those directly related to the overall focus on national civil equality issues — there aren't enough hours in the day, plus the folks at the meeting do a kick-ass job!

Matt Stoller of mydd.com, who came down to share his thoughts about the netroots and strategy, said this about the NC blogs:

It's a well-developed community that helped boost Larry Kissel to a near-win in NC-08.  BlueNC is fast becoming an institution in state politics, and they are learning and improving their ability to influence the political process.  North Carolina is a state to watch to flip in 2008 or 2012.  The progressive movement here is full of talented and committed activists who are working to leverage the new political power on the internet, and with some work on the national level and a little bit of funding and coordination, it will turn purple.

In case you're curious, I was the only person of color in the room (is there a trend here?), one of only three women present (including Betsy).  Indefatigable local activist (and Blender) Matt Hill Comer was there, and brought his younger brother take in the action. It was also great to see and meet the folks from BlueNC, and to see Kirk from Exile on Jones Street again, as well as Gordon Smith of Scrutiny Hooligans.

Others at the gathering were State Representative Jim Harrell, III (D-90), and Tim Cullen, the director of internet communications for the 2008 presidential campaign of Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. I was also pleased that the internet savvy, frequent DKos diarist Congressman Brad Miller was able to attend.

Matt Stoller said this about the NC blogs:

It's a well-developed community that helped boost Larry Kissel to a near-win in NC-08.  BlueNC is fast becoming an institution in state politics, and they are learning and improving their ability to influence the political process.  North Carolina is a state to watch to flip in 2008 or 2012.  The progressive movement here is full of talented and committed activists who are working to leverage the new political power on the internet, and with some work on the national level and a little bit of funding and coordination, it will turn purple.

Some of my rough notes, certainly incomplete as I was participating in the discussion, are after the flip.[A live-blogging diary with more details by cskendrick is over at DKos.]

Meek announced that in its 2007 budget, it has includs a full-time Internet Communications Director to beef up the party's website, increase traffic, enhance web fundaising, and to take it to the next level. The party hopes to have it filled by March 1. This is the first state party to create a FT internet focused position — there are 8 million voters in the Tar Heel state to reach, so Meek hopes to get to more of them through e-communication techniques. Schorr Johnson, the NCDP's communications director would focus on opp research and facilitating communications with the MSM.

I only wish more members of Congress were as connected to “the tubes” as Congressman Miller. He easily won re-election last year (beating the unhinged Vernon “Twilight Zone” Robinson). Congressman Miller noted that he received a lot of flak from the Republican party chair Ferrell Blount and Robinson for posting on DKos — as if there was something wrong with a candidate or elected official blogging or posting in a blog community. He feels that it is unfounded criticism because he's received nothing but positive results from participating in the blogosphere. He notes that candidates and representatives and their staffs are very conscious about who has netroots' support. Being in contact and receiving that support matters, but it's hard to pinpoint how to systematically do this, so it's a learning process for the majority of those on the Hill

Miller said that the first real inkling that members of Congress could feel the heat from the blogosphere was on the bankruptcy bill. The wave of criticism against those who voted yes was significant, and the level of the negative response completely caught them off guard.

Miller: “Trying to figure out how to reach the audiences of specific blogs is difficult.”

As we all know, one way to to get attention is to be incendiary. Miller noted that Vernon Robinson actually whipped him on the Internet, in terms of getting attention and getting money pouring in from all the fringe wingnuts around the coutnry. However, that national constituency didn't translate into on-the-ground support, which Miller had more than plenty of. The congressman had more volunteers and face-to-face grassroots resources to easily nail the win (Robinson garnered only 36% of the vote — which is still scary if you think about it).

Elected officials, Miller cautioned, should never post a press release as a blog entry. It gets a person flamed and reduces respect for that person. Attacking the blogosphere is a mistake, Miller says, and politicians have caught on quickly that doing so will blow up in their faces. He thinks there will be less criticism and more engagement with the blogosphere. “They have to respect the intelligence of people reading and writing them.” State and local blogs should be engaged by local candidates, or “boutique” blogs, as Miller refers to them, that will give them the best level of exposure rather than posting to a DKos or MyDD, which are much too large. “It's not like journalism — it's activism. Get to know them.”

James Protzman (Anglico) of BlueNC mentioned the fact that bloggers like Kirk have been denied press credentials, and that it's something that needs to happen to increase the legitimacy of state blogs. There haven't been good answers about how to grant them to date because of the fear that it will open the floodgates for any blogger to gain credentials.

Rep. Miller is being talked up (coaxed) to run for the Senate seat currently held by The Empty Wig Elizabeth Dole. He's read the calls for him to run, appreciates it, but since he's just been re-elected and now the Dems are in the majority, it's attractive to stay where he is and make a difference. He is attracted to the ability to do more in the Senate, but he knows that if he did decide to run, he would effectively be an absentee representative because of the work that's needed to raise money and launch an effective campaign. Sherrod Brown, who did the same in (ILLINOIS) alerted him to the dilemma. Miller would need $12-15 million to wage an effective campaign, and the DSCC has been leaning hard on Easley to run, and even if they came around to back Miller, he's still not sure that he would run. He laughed talking about his status as a native Tar Heel, not a transplant, “my grandparents were cousins…you can't get much more Southern
than that.”

Is there a common agenda among progressive bloggers?
— everyone wants to grow the medium
— it's about creating a new way of informing politicians about issues
— to legitimize the medium — while not journalists, bloggers can do in-depth coverage and bring perspectives never covered in the MSM.

Jim Harrell, III, of the NC House, spoke at lunch and discussed what's coming up in the current legislative session, including environmental issues, a death penalty moratorium. and immigration. As with most states dealing with the surging numbers of undocumented workers, NC voters are upset (including one elected official who called for them to be bused back home!), but so many of these same rural counties are wholly dependent on undocumented labor (particularly in agriculture) that it is essential for the state's economy.

The NC marriage amendment — alarming news

Stephen Gheen raised an important issue regarding committee reform in the House. Progressive forces have taken issue with bills that have been bottled up in committee and now, with a strong Dem majority, it's possible that reform on that front will ensure that a constitutional amendment bill will make it out of committee and to a vote — and it will most certainly pass if that is the case.

In essence, progressive forces will inadvertently ensure that our civil rights will be determined at the ballot box — gays will have be tossed under the bus in the Tar Heel state by the Democratic Party.

I asked Harrell if he would vote for a state amendment to ban gays and lesbians from marrying — he said no.

Participating in this conversation and thinking about the prospect of a marriage amendment bill coming to a vote (and most certainly passing). Appalling. What a tragedy it would be that reform under Dem control would result in gay Tarheels' civil rights tossed aside, particularly because of the amount of time, effort and money that gay and lesbian North Carolinians have given to elect Democrats in this state.

An education campaign (for our legislators and voters) is necessary, and addressing the religion issue head-on is absolutely part of it — there are progressive people of faith who can speak out on this issue. Also, we live in a state with a massive number of employers with progressive policies that include anti-discrimination measures and partner benefits for their gay employees. Discrimination is bad for recruitment, bad for retention and bad for business. A marriage amendment in NC will drive business away.

I noted on DKos that those with little exposure to a sane discussion about marriage equality are behind the times, and clearly unaware of how to begin an honest debate; I mentioned in the thread what I've said here — it boils down to a lawmaker's ability to answer the question:

Is it appropriate for the people of North Carolina to determine the civil rights of their fellow citizens by direct vote at the ballot box?

Appeals to voters based on “fairness” to gays and lesbians has proven to be unsuccessful, as we saw in Wisconsin, so it will be a hard slog to stop an amendment here if it proceeds. You best believe I'll stay on top of this development.

I discussed the idea of countering with a bill that will curl their hair (suggested by kevinbgoode at my blog the other day):

Apparently the Secretary of State in Washington has approved the wording of a proposed referendum for voters called the Defense of Marriage Initiative.

When the Supreme Court of Washington last year issued their bogus little decision that the state had the right to regulate marriage in the interest of procreation, some gay activists got together to codify that into law. This initiative, if enough signatures are gathered to put it on the ballot, would limit marriage to only those people who are capable of procreating, and those who fail to procreate within three years will have their marriage annulled.

Similarly, any unmarried couple who create a child will be considered “married.” The group also plans to introducing a referendum banning divorce or separation of any “married” couple when there are children.

***

Matt Stoller spoke, discussing the 2008 presidential campaign. The sense that the power structure in DC (the gang of 500 — MSM, party hacks) is weaker and threatened by the blogosphere.

2008 will still be about Bush and Iraq. Bloggers are now coalescing — video, more offline meetings. Matt sees Facebook as a place to recruit young activists. And we need to provide structures to bring them in through the blogosphere, to reach them with information on political campaigns — the key is to bring information to them, you can't make the users come to the information.

***

Check out other blogs of attendees for coverage of the event…

Leslie Bland bluenc.com
Gordon Smith scrutinyhooligans.blogspot.com
Matt Hill Comer interstateq.com
Tim Cullen, Director of Internet Communications, Dodd for President
Greg Flynn www.bluenc.com
Stephen Gheen thepoliticaljunkies.net
Schorr Johnson, Communications Director, N.C. Democratic Party
Christian Kendrick dailykos.com
Jerry Meek, Chair, N.C. Democratic Party
Brad Miller, Member of Congress
Betsy Muse thesoutherndem.blogspot.com
George Pence www.bluenc.com
Robert Peterson bluenc.com
James Protzman bluenc.com
Kirk Ross www.exileonjonesstreet.com
Pam Spaulding pamshouseblend.com
Matt Stoller mydd.com
Aric Vance thesyntaxofthings.org
Jerry Williamson www.wataugadems.com/blog/wwatch.html

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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