Colorado Education Advocates Unveil New Tactic

By Tim Hoover of the Denver Post….

Supporters of an initiative that would ask voters in November to raise taxes for education are using an online, grassroots strategy to gather signatures that could revolutionize the petition process.

“It is the first time that I have seen this kind of tactic,” said veteran ballot-issue consultant Rick Reiter. “I’m watching it closely because I could learn a lot.”

Great Education Colorado Action is the political arm of Great Education Colorado, a group that urges more spending on education, and it has sent e-mails to supporters and turned to social networking to jump-start a signature-gathering drive for Initiative 25.

That proposal would, for five years, raise state sales taxes from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and hike the state’s income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. If voters approved it, the proposal would generate an estimated $3 billion for K-12 and higher education.

Supporters say the tax hikes are needed to offset three years of deep cuts to education spending.

Critics say Coloradans are in no mood for a tax increase and the proposal would kill jobs during an economic recovery. Republicans have been the most vocal critics, but many Democrats have been silent on the proposal, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has repeatedly said Coloradans have “no appetite” for a tax increase.

The initiative filed by state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, doesn’t have the support so far of the state’s major business or education groups. That means the six-figure sums that are usually required to hire companies to conduct petition drives may not be forthcoming.

So supporters are trying a strategy that uses social network websites to ask people to sign the petitions. Supporters have set up a website that allows people to download petitions and then volunteer to gather signatures.

The kit includes instructions on how to gather 50 signatures to fill each petition and even how to properly staple the pages. It instructs volunteers to seek out a notary after gathering the signatures and then to return the signed petitions to supporters in Denver.

Every petition must bear an individual number, and the website where they can be downloaded assigns each one a unique number.

“The conventional wisdom is you need a lot of money to get something on the ballot,” said Lisa Weil, spokeswoman for Great Education Colorado. “Well, we don’t have that. What we’ve got is tens of thousands of education supporters who care about schools and affordable higher education.”

Instead of standing outside a supermarket, Weil said, volunteers can seek signatures on a more personal level. This closer-knit connection also will allow volunteers to better educate others about funding cuts for schools and colleges.

The hurdle to get an initiative on the ballot isn’t small. Supporters will have to gather the valid signatures of 86,105 registered Colorado voters, a benchmark that usually means circulators aim for as many as twice that number of signatures just to be safe.

“I think that the structure of what they’re doing has potential here,” said Reiter, the consultant, “but like all these things, when you need 11,000 people engaged in it, the management and the direct contact with those people will dictate whether this works or not.”

He added: “Hopefully 11,000 people have staplers. Because if you don’t staple it right, you’re done.”

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Does Greenpeace Cause More Harm than Good?

The effort to shut down Chicago’s two coal plants literally climbed to new levels on Tuesday, as eight activists from environmental watchdog group Greenpeace scaled the smokestack of the coal-fired Fisk Generating Station power plant.

The activists spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday morning hanging from the 450-foot high smokestack, while painting the phrase “Quit Coal” in giant letters.  The eight were later arrested and charged with felony criminal damage to property.

Eight more Greenpeace activists worked to halt the approach of a coal barge at the city’s other major power plant. The activists dropped off a bridge near the Crawford coal plant, and unfurled a banner with “We Can Stop Coal” written in both English in Spanish.

While the scene was hectic at Fisk, it was nothing compared to the chaos at Crawford.  Traffic was backed up for miles. Dozens of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances lined the street, where ornery officers barked at the press to stay on one side of the street. Meanwhile, the activists dangled below the bridge, preventing a coal barge from passing for hours.

The action was part of an ongoing campaign led by Greenpeace and other national and local environmental groups, focused on cleaning up air pollution by replacing both of Chicago’s coal plants with clean energy.

According to Greenpeace, coal fired power plants kill between 13,000 and 34,000 people a year.  That staggering figure includes the 42 Chicagoans who die as a result of pollution from Fisk and Crawford.  And according to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, residents are at risk for heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illness because of pollution from these plants.

“Some may question these aggressive tactics,” said SparkLight Communications President Joseph LaMountain.  “But Greenpeace has carved a unique niche with their ability to draw the spotlight onto issues they care about.  This is critical for the success of any movement and their actions, no matter how outlandish you may find them, have been essential to the environmental community’s success.”

Does a “Slut Walk” Help or Hurt the Cause?

Grassroots activists in want to redefine the word “slut.”

The movement to protest the culture of victim-blaming began in Toronto where the first SlutWalk was organized to protest a police officer’s comment that to avoid being sexually assaulted women should not dress like “sluts.”

These marches have since been organized around the world and one will hit the streets of Hamilton, Ontario in two weeks.  But will the walks achieve their goal, or simply reinforce negative stereotypes?

“The word slut is used to make women feel uncomfortable about how they’re presented to the world and to shame (them), and make them feel they need to police their bodies and police their sexualities in the way they express themselves,” said SlutWalk founder Nikki Wilson, 22, who is from Hamilton.

“We want the word slut to represent a person who is confident in their sexuality, somebody who likes sex and isn’t afraid of talking about that, who isn’t afraid of expressing that.”

According to SlutWalk Hamilton’s Facebook page, more than 800 people are planning on attending the march, which will begin at City Hall at 2 p.m. and then go into Hess Village and end at the Central Police Station.

“These marches have been a great success and they definitely send a message,” said Sparklight President Joseph LaMountain.  “But I question the wisdom of wearing fishnet stockings and other provocative clothing.  While sex generates media coverage and awareness, it could also reinforce some of the negative connotations the group is trying to eliminate.”

SlutWalk organizers could take a lesson from the gay and lesbian community.  They’ve sought to tone down some of the more outrageous behavior in an effort to “normalize” homosexuals in the eyes of the general public.  Over time, this strategy has contributed to increased acceptance of same-sex relationships in American society.

Retired MD Collects 5,800 Petition Signatures

A campaign to restore funding to a palliative care community service on the Upper North Shore has received a big response reports Tracey Findlay in the Hornsby and Upper North Shore Advocate.

Retired Wahroonga doctor Yvonne McMaster has collected 5800 signatures since launching the campaign in March. She intends to present the petition to Parliament House. Dr McMaster said she had been encouraged by the community response.

“I am now pretty confident we will get at least 10,000 signatures. I have had lots of replies and offers of help,” she said.

As reported in the Advocate in March, Dr McMaster is protesting against “a rationing of services” for the terminally ill after palliative care community funding was cut by $1.2 million by the then Northern Sydney and Central Coast Area Health Service in 2009.

OR Voters Reject School Bond…Lessons Learned

Last week we wrote about a Portland, Oregon ballot initiative to better fund public schools.  The measure was defeated by a narrow margin on Tuesday.  The following article by Susan Nielsen appeared in the May 16 edition of the Oregonian….

Portland isn’t the kind of city to have nail-biting elections over school taxes. Levies “coast to victory” in the news headlines here. A special income tax will “pass easily by wide margins,” even during an economic downturn.

Bonds pass, too — until this week, when Portland voters narrowly rejected a $548 million capital bond and upended conventional wisdom about their loyalties and limits. This man-bites-dog result provides some invaluable lessons for the district and its campaign team as they regroup for the next bond effort.

Starting with this lesson: Never take voters for granted. Listen to what they’re saying now — not what they’ve said in the past.

Early polling suggested broad support for a bond measure for Portland Public Schools. Election history also pointed to victory, with 58 percent of voters approving the last bond, more than 60 percent approving a special income tax and 63 percent approving the last levy. Portland appeared unstoppable, even as many other Oregon districts struggled with multiple rejections of more modest local tax measures.

The pro-schools track record may have dulled the district’s senses. (Of course voters will come through. Of course Portlanders will make sacrifices for school kids, once they see enough of those homespun yellow signs that say, “Portland (heart) Schools.” Of course the public will trust the district to work out the details later.)

School leaders and campaigners didn’t quite fathom the opposition brewing in pro-schools strongholds, including neighborhoods near Grant High and parent groups in the Sylvan Hills. They wrote off the grumblings as isolated complaints rather than major red flags.

They won’t do that again. Continue reading

Obama Works to Rebuild Grassroots Army

As reported by Ken Thomas of the Associated Press and published on May 16, 2011….

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is barely a month old, but Camille Gervasio and other volunteers nationwide already are hard at work.

“Are you with us? Are you in?” Gervasio asks into her iPhone, dialing through a call sheet resting on her laptop to line up supporters for an election 18 months away.

In call centers like this one on the eighth floor of an office building, the president’s backers are trying to take advantage of a head start over the still-forming Republican field and the benefits of incumbency to rebuild a grassroots effort that mobilized millions of voters in 2008.

Obama’s campaign has pledged to reach out to every voter it was in contact with during his first run, a herculean 50-state organizational effort to reconnect with its supporters — some of them now disillusioned with the president because of his policies — while giving it an early indication of any vulnerabilities among critical constituent groups.

Without having to focus on a primary opponent, Obama’s campaign also is spending much of its time and money trying to build foundations of support early in battleground states like Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Ohio that backed Obama last time but have since elected Republican governors, weakening state Democratic Party operations.

“Every single day we have to go scratch and claw for those votes,” Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said recently in a video outlining Obama’s strategy. He argued that Obama’s team must “act like an insurgent campaign” to win re-election.

In some ways, Obama’s first campaign never folded.

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Newt’s Presidential Launching Pad?

Newt Gingrich has been out of office for more than a decade. But he’s running for President? This National Journal article by Alex Roarty teh web of groups around Newt, and how he may use them in a 2012 White House bid…

He’s a 67-year-old with jowls and has a résumé that includes three wives and nearly 20 years in one of the nation’s least favorite institutions. He hasn’t held elective office in more than a decade. He’s been around so long that he defined the face of the last Republican revolution (in 1994). To reach the White House, he must overcome a field of fresher faces with larger political bases—not to mention more than a century of history that says there’s no path down Pennsylvania Avenue from the House of Representatives to the White House.

But for all of his drawbacks, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who on Thursday became the first major Republican figure to formally declare his interest in the GOP presidential nomination, still possesses something his foes can’t match: a network of businesses, political action committees, and media contacts that provide him relationships across the conservative movement. He owns or chairs five notable groups, which alternatively showcase his fundraising muscle or connection to the party’s grassroots activists. His 2012 candidacy, which faces significant challenges, could turn on whether he can mobilize that network into a formidable asset.

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