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Purple haze

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Excuse me while I use a tortured analogy. In a rather spirited moment of debate in the doldrums of late last week, state Sen. David Weinstein (D-Robeson), speaking to defeat an amendment that would make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot, said we've already got plenty of parties--eight to 10 at least, by his observation--wrapped inside the Democrat and Republican camps.

Blessedly, he did not go on to identify the various factions, but he made a good point about how things have functioned, for the season at least, on Jones Street. This may or may not be instructive for the nation as a whole, but in North Carolina the center is holding. It's not a really solid consensus, more like a purple haze between red and blue around education, security and revving up the economy.

You see it when tighter stormwater rules are approved on the same day Duke Energy gets a pass on federal review of a power plant upgrade, or when a sales tax rollback is paired with a corporate tax rate cut.

Unless things go to hell this week over ethics and lobbying reform, the bottom line on this session is something like: not much partisan grandstanding and a lot done in fairly short order.

The haziness is not limited to Raleigh. Once you weed out all the apology work for the Bush administration, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Gov. Mike Easley could all but trade speeches these days. If they run against each other in 2008 for Dole's seat, as some people are speculating, we'll all be looking for what daylight's between them.

And further evidence of purple is that only the two most naïve members of our congressional delegation, Patrick McHenry and Virginia Foxx, took the bait and joined 31 other ultraconservative Republicans in holding up and then trying to gut the Voting Rights Act. Both were roundly canonized by the kind of people who like to debate whether apartheid was really all that bad, but it didn't go over well at home.

Shooting star

Speaking of McHenry, whose 10th Congressional District includes Shelby, Morganton and the furniture towns of Lenoir and Hickory, he's had a particularly strange few months. In April, he was officially censured by the North Carolina College Republicans for aggressively intervening in a national college Republican leadership election. The organization was so miffed that it dropped his name from its annual Rising Star award. That's a suitable analogy since it appears that McHenry, who in the House hitched his star to Team Delay, may be riding that comet down.

It won't happen this year, though, since he avoided a primary fight in May with Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright. And as of last Friday, McHenry has raised $1.1 million compared to $9.7 thousand raised by his Democratic challenger, Richard Carsner. But word is that Mayor Wright may not be so accommodating in '08. Should McHenry, who won the nomination in 2004 by 85 votes, be worried? Well, in a recent Washington Times article, he was one of three young reps named by The Hammer himself as "the next Tom Delay."

Take that any way you'd like.

Now ending

I've always felt some queasiness about legislative coverage by WUNC-TV, which draws a healthy paycheck from the state. Even though its shows North Carolina Now and Legislative Week in Review offer a disclaimer, the height of their firewall is a long-standing question mark.

Nevertheless, both shows, which have been canceled due to budget cuts, have offered steady coverage of politics and policy and provide the valuable statewide service of documenting the progress and regress of this state. And they did so, for the most part, without featuring pundits and politicians shouting at each other. Now, on the air for more than 12 years, ends Sept. 29 and Week in Review at the end of the session. They leave a void in public affairs programming and raise concerns about the future of the statewide network's public affairs programming.

One thing's for sure: Don't expect UNC-TV to emerge from its budget crunch thanks to a flood of donated cars, trucks and boats. Despite running thousands of spots encouraging donations, the station reported a net of $79,000 from 192 vehicles in its last annual report. At $400 or so per, that's roughly 44,000 vehicles shy of the budget for the two canceled shows.

Glad that's straight

After a long tussle, the state has clarified the kindergarten eye exam program--subject of a bit of House-Senate sparring as well as a component in House Speaker Jim Black's campaign finance intrigue. The Senate agreed to stand down from its outright ban and accept new language that, loosely translated, means: "Your kid really should have an eye exam."

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileonJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

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