As the late Don Meredith used to sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”
The second and last candidate forum for the 2012 election campaign has come and gone. Voting starts on Thursday. Election Day itself is only three weeks away. Soon, this latest version of the “Most Important Election in our Lifetime” will be over.
I can hardly wait.
Yes, years ago, I lived for elections. I thought political campaigns and voting to be the most exciting things in the world. A paucity of good national candidates for president over the years took the edge off my interest. Intractable partisanship pretty much soured me on the entire process.
Now I dread elections — especially in presidential election years — and am relieved when they’re over and done.
That said, I still enjoy covering local races for things like the county Board of Commissioners and Board of Education. It’s fun when there are active campaigns for sheriff, register of deeds, clerk of court or district attorney. Two years ago, we had great campaigns, high voter interest and entertaining elections for sheriff, clerk and DA. The latter came down to only a handful of votes.
This year, the intense spotlight on the presidential race has squashed the buzz that often hovers over our local races. I discussed this with a few candidates at both of the forums hosted by the Times-News and WPCM radio 920. All agreed that the quiet is deafening this year for Alamance County races.
It’s sad is what it is.
I was heartened a bit Monday night at our second forum involving Alamance County candidates for state House and Senate as well as the hopefuls for county Board of Commissioners. The crowd at the Paramount was much larger than for the Oct. 1 session involving Board of Education and register of deeds candidates. The lower section of the Paramount Theater had only a few empty seats and many opted to sit in the balcony.
It was also a very engaged audience who arrived with a lot of great questions. We had so many, in fact, that we didn’t have time for nearly all (those candidates for General Assembly do like to talk!). We had a handful of questions geared to specific people but ended up trimming those in favor of questions all the candidates could field.
Here are some stray observations.
1. Republican state Sen. Rick Gunn is coming into his own as a public speaker. In his previous two election campaigns (defeat in 2008 and victory in 2010) he came off as aloof, arrogant and just a little uncomfortable. Gunn on Monday seemed in his element: Composed, folksy and in command of his pro-business message. He had facts and examples at the ready. It was a very impressive appearance.
2. Democratic House District 63 candidate Patty Phillipps also performed well in her first time at one of our forums. Like Gunn, she seemed comfortable, engaged and on point with her message. It took some courage to appear at a public forum only a week after news broke about her arrest for driving while impaired.
3. Speaking of the DWI charge, none of our audience questions dealt with that subject in any way. Surprising. We were prepared for such a question and intended to ask if it came up.
4. Republican Dennis Riddell and Democrat Morris McAdoo running in House District 64 both exhibited the kind of stage presence required to be successful in the legislature.
5. Most of the questions for the General Assembly candidates focused on education and the budget. Not surprising. Those were the two biggest items the GOP-led legislature handled in the past two years.
6. One question directed to a candidate that didn’t get asked was for Burlington Councilman Steve Ross, who is running against Phillipps in District 63. It had to do with campaign finance reporting and who — or what — is donating money to Ross’s campaign. We will be doing a big story in the Times-News on campaign contributions for all the candidates. Hopefully we can address this subject at that time.
7. Our audience was very interested in the Board of Commissioners candidates and offered a ton of questions. A great one that didn’t get asked was this: “What is your plan for the old Graham school building on Main Street that the county purchased?” I would’ve liked to hear an answer to that question myself.
8. We had a couple of questions that involved the U.S. Department of Justice and its probe of the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff was in the audience as five of the six candidates expressed support in his battle with the DOJ over allegations of profiling Hispanic residents for arrest. Only Democratic candidate Ann Vaughan said the county should not pay the sheriff’s legal expenses. She was also the only candidate to support negotiating with the DOJ.
9. One question was submitted specifically for Vaughan but wasn’t asked due to time constraints. It was “Were you instrumental in getting the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the sheriff’s office and if so, why?”
10. The most interesting fact of note to come from a candidate was from retired county manager / attorney David I. Smith, a Republican running for the board. During discussion of whether the county should pay the sheriff’s legal expenses, Smith noted that the county now has four attorneys on staff and wondered why. A good question from someone who knows the job.
11. All of the candidates thanked us and WPCM for our efforts toward producing the forum. In turn, I would like to thank WPCM radio host Byron Tucker for his outstanding job as moderator. He keeps this operation running smoothly and professionally. As city editor Brent Lancaster likes to say, “Byron makes this a whole lot easier for us to do.” I certainly agree.
12. Thanks also to Dave Wright and his staff at the Paramount Theater in Burlington. It’s a wonderful venue for the forum and a treasure in the downtown area. Dave likes the traffic for an event that he feels draws people to the facility how would never visit it otherwise.
13. And a special thanks to Heather Mebane, one of our Teens & 20s staff members. Heather was inspired by our pink newspaper last week to have an impromptu fund-raiser for breast cancer awareness. Heather and her mom Karen made cupcakes and handed them out to those departing the forum in return for a donation to the Norville Breast Care Center.
A great gesture that really made our event special.