Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Quest for election information in North Carolina

As published in the Chapel Hill Herald on November 4th, 2006:

It's not often that you will hear me compliment John Hood, the president of the right-wing think tank John Locke Foundation. But when it comes to breaking down the important battlegrounds for control of the North Carolina General Assembly in Tuesday's election, he's provided some important analysis where the state's major newspapers have failed.

With much of my attention focused on the national congressional picture and our local elections, I realized late last week that I didn't really know what races I would need to monitor on election night to find out the new balance of power in our state House and Senate.

The first place I went to look was www.nclive.org, a great service you can access through UNC and the Chapel Hill Public Library that provides archives for 15 of the state's major newspapers, including The Herald-Sun. I figured any worthwhile article about the race for control of the Legislature would include Greer Beaty, an appealing Democrat running against a freshman Republican in Cary. Her race is widely considered to be among the most competitive in the state.

So I searched for appearances of her name in all 15 of those papers. I was stunned to find that her only mention outside the News and Observer of Raleigh was a brief comment I had made about her in a column in early August.

It seemed inconceivable to me that no paper outside the Triangle had done any substantive analysis of the key face-offs for control of our Legislature, so I figured maybe for whatever reason people weren't including her in their lists.

Next I did a search for Joe Sam Queen. Queen was one of the rare bright spots for Democrats in the 2002 election when Republicans swept most of the important contests in North Carolina. He was elected to a Senate seat in the western part of the state, but then narrowly defeated for re-election in 2004. Now he's running again in this seemingly Democratic year in hopes of recapturing his seat.

This may be the tightest legislative contest in the state, but it still has not been covered in any of the state's newspapers besides The Asheville Citizen-Times and a few brief mentions in Associated Press wire stories.

Clearly, North Carolina's newspapers have little interest anymore in providing substantive coverage of state politics. The only news stories that have generated much traction on a statewide level during this election cycle are a nutty state Supreme Court candidate whose antics have led her to be disavowed by the Democratic Party, and a congressional candidate running in a district he doesn't even live in whose campaign has been characterized by crazy attacks.

Political coverage should not be restricted to candidates who make our state look bad. With the scandals that surrounded the General Assembly during its last term, the stakes are high in state legislative elections this year. I believe newspapers have an obligation to go beyond the off-beat news stories that might draw readers' attention.

They should be covering the important races that will determine where power lies in Raleigh for the next two years.

That's where John Hood comes in to the picture.

After realizing I wasn't going to find the information I was looking for in the state's major daily newspapers, I turned to Google to see if any other Web sites were providing the information I was looking for.

What I found were two of Hood's daily columns from early September. In one he outlined the state's six most competitive Senate races.

In the other he breaks down 15 of the tightest House races. His analysis is lucid and relatively nonpartisan and makes for an enjoyable and informative read. If you're interested in knowing what to watch for on Tuesday night check it out at www.carolinajournal.com.

I do think Hood's analysis is slightly off in that he does not include three races in the Triangle that should be close.

One is the aforementioned contest between Greer Beaty and incumbent Nelson Dollar. Also in Wake County incumbent Russell Capps faces an uphill battle for reelection against attractive Democratic challenger Ty Harrell, and incumbent Republican Paul Stam is nervous about challenger Ed Ridpath. These, in addition to those outlined by Hood, should be the ones to watch.

North Carolina's newspapers are failing their readers by not providing more substantive political coverage.

I hope this is a trend that begins to reverse itself in the coming years. It is still important that voters be able to get information from impartial observers instead of the punditry on both sides of the aisle.

Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Please remember to get out and vote!



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