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A few good races (and a few opportunities)



Labor Day traditionally kicks off the election season. Not for the candidates, of course. Most of them have been at it for months (or since they were in high school, take your choice). But for the voters, that dwindling band of democracy's believers, it's just two months until Election Day, Nov. 7, and less than that if you vote early.

Herewith, an introduction to the campaign around here, such as it is.

CONGRESS: You'd like to have some influence on the nation's direction this fall? Then as Horace Greeley once said, go west--actually southwest--to the 8th Congressional District, where Democratic challenger Larry Kissell is coming up on the outside against Republican incumbent Robin ("Oops, I did it again") Hayes. Schoolteacher Kissell is remarkably clear about the war in Iraq ("We got into it in a year, we can get out in a year") and other issues. On the other hand, Hayes, the textile heir and ex-gubernatorial candidate, said he'd vote against NAFTA, but then voted for it; then, seeing what NAFTA did to the textile industry in his district, he honest-to-golly promised he'd never vote for CAFTA, after which he voted for that, too.

In the Triangle, incumbent Democrats David Price and Bob Etheridge are running in safe districts against Republican nobodies. And in Democrat Brad Miller's safe district, perpetual Republican candidate Vernon Robinson is trying to be funny with his gay-bashing and illegal-immigrant rants, but has succeeded only in sounding like an ass. And an ass who lives in Winston-Salem, at that.

Thus, control of the House won't turn on the Triangle's seats. But it could turn on a Kissell win, and maybe one by ex-NFL quarterback Heath Shuler over Republican Rep. Charles Taylor in the Asheville area.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY: There must be some issues in Orange and Durham counties, but since only Democrats run there, they don't come up at election time. In Wake, though, a couple of heretofore safe Republican districts could be in play given strong Democratic challengers, the rightward tilt of the incumbents, and the possibility that we're in for an anti-Bush landslide. In Southwest Wake's 36th district, Republican Nelson Dollar got a lot of free ink last week for his perfect attendance record, but Dollar's old Republican rival, ex-Rep. David Miner, is helping Democratic challenger Greer Beaty. And in northern Wake's 41st district, Rep. Russell Capps doesn't just lean right, he's fully prone and down for the count if Democrat Ty Harrell can generate a big Democratic turnout.

Issues here? Yes, two: Public schools and impact fees. Capps, the Wake Taxpayers Association leader, has never seen a school bond issue he liked--indeed, he would support more Christian schools (along with taxpayer-funded vouchers) to building more public ones. Dollar isn't against school funding, just the taxes. Whether either of them will campaign against the 2006 bond isn't clear yet, nor whether Beaty or Harrell will campaign for a requirement that developers pay school-related impact fees--which the developer-friendly Republicans oppose.

WAKE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS: The county's two Republican factions are on display in these four district races, matched against a generally weak set of Democratic challengers. From the moderate side of the GOP, Commissioners Tony Gurley and Joe Bryan are backing the proposed $970 million school bond, while from the conservative wing, Commissioner Phil Jeffreys is against it, and former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble--running for the seat Republican Herb Council is vacating--hasn't been heard from yet.

On the impact-fees question, Jeffreys is the one Republican in Wake who says developers should be made to pay something toward new-school costs. A curmudgeonly "no" vote on so many other issues, Jeffreys is the cultural outlier among the four Republicans, but is no more conservative than fashion-plate Coble, who lost his mayoral post in 2001 after pronouncing his uncle Jesse Helms his political hero and smart-growth planning "a baby that should be killed in its crib." And Coble, also defeated for a state Senate seat in 2002, is running against the most formidable of the four Democratic challengers, Rodger Koopman, a technology consultant who is an outspoken proponent of impact fees as the best alternative to higher property-tax rates.

Neither Koopman nor any of the other three Democrats running--respectively, Lindy Brown (against Jeffreys), Don Mial (against Bryan) and Martha Brock (against Gurley)--have ever been elected to anything, however. Brock is a member of the Governor's Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities and is campaigning in favor of better mental health services in Wake County.

The political reality of Wake County, moreover, is that the Democratic commissioners are often no more progressive than the moderate Republicans. On the current board, for instance, which is 5-2 Republican, the fact that the two Democrats vote with the majority most of the time has the effect of immunizing Gurley and Bryan from criticism by their Democratic opponents--even a truthteller like Brock.

Coble and Jeffreys, though, are a different story. They're very immune.

WakeUP Wake County, the progressive antidote to the sprawl lobby (and the Wake Taxpayers Association) holds an issues and recruitment meeting Saturday, Sept. 16, 9:30-11:30 a.m., at West Raleigh Presbyterian Church (near NCSU). I'll be there talking about transportation--hope to see you. For more, see the Citizen blog at www.indyweekblogs.com/citizen.

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