The state employees association is trying to form a third party to run candidates against the three North Carolina Democratic congressmen who voted against the health care bill.
Efforts are under way to get a third party, called North Carolina First, on the ballot, for the fall election. If successful, the new party would field candidates against Democratic Reps. Larry Kissell of Biscoe, Mike McIntyre of Lumberton and Heath Shuler of Waynesville.
"If there are going to be representatives who go to Washington and get in tight with the insurance companies and corporations and forget about the people who sent them there, we need to find another venue to look out for their interests," said Greg Rideout, a spokesman for the party.
The muscle behind the effort is the State Employees Association of North Carolina and its national affiliate, the Service Employees International Union. Both groups were heavily involved in lobbying for passage of President Barack Obama's health care bill.
In order for a third party to qualify to get on the ballot, the new group must collect nearly 90,000 signatures by June 1. Rideout said there were already more than 100 canvassers working in Raleigh and in Charlotte to collect signatures.
While the primary focus will be on the three Democrats who voted against the health care bill, Rideout said the plans are for the party to exist "long term" and possibly be involved in other political contests.
Two Charlotte-area legislators gained the unfortunate distinction of worst attendance record during last year's legislative session.
Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat, and Rep. Jeff Barnhart, a Concord Republican, accumulated the worst attendance records in their respective chambers, with the exception of fellow lawmakers who were ill or had surgery during the session. The records were tallied by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
Graham attended 91 of 112 legislative days, for an 81 percent attendance rate. The only lower record was that of Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican, who was sidelined with a broken kneecap.
"Not only am I a state senator, but I work for a living as well," Graham said, adding that the supposed part-time job is full time. "I try to balance the responsibilities of serving as well as making a living at the same time."
Legislators receive less than $14,000 a year in salary, plus $559 per month for expenses.
Barnhart made it to 95 of 114 days, or 83 percent. Rep. Beverly Earle, a Charlotte Democrat, who underwent two back surgeries last year, and Rep. Becky Carney, also a Charlotte Democrat, who was out for two months after suffering cardiac arrest, had lower attendance figures.
The GOP's edge
Longtime Democratic consultant Gary Pearce says Republicans have a big advantage heading into this year's elections.
The new chairman of the N.C. Republican Party has been visible and relentless in his attacks against Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, Pearce says on his blog, Talking about Politics.
"Fetzer is traveling around the state like a heat-seeking missile. His attacks on Governor Perdue make headlines week after week. Democratic Chair David Young is a stark contrast. He's clearly not comfortable playing the role of political hit man. Unlike Fetzer, who is a total political animal, Young has other things going on in his life: his business, a young family and the UNC Board of Governors. Plus he lives in Asheville. As the campaign goes on and Fetzer goes on and on, some Democrats may get restive - and start calling for Young to speak up and lash out."
By staff writers Rob Christensen, Mark Johnson and Benjamin Niolet
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