It’s "Political" Science!

Elections are big deals in political science and there’s nothing that political scientist love more than using elections to test their theories.  Thinking about this primary season that we are now in however, reminds me more of natural science.  I’ll leave the scientific explanations to my colleague Jeff Danner, but I can’t help but see Newton’s “action – reaction” thing at work here.  The mind is a little fuzzy all these years later about all of the details, and I guess I could do the scholarly thing and look it up on that definitive source Wikipedia, but let’s just keep it simple: this primary season has races that really fit the “action – reaction” law.  Moreover, there are some other science things at work in this election too.

On February 29th (it was leap day, and I’ll not even attempt to explain the scientific reason why we have it!), filing for the May 8th party primaries closed, so we knew who was running.  Earlier, when the Board of Elections opened fillings on February 13th, there was a lot of excitement and even anxiety because of the political shocker of the year: on January 26th, Governor Beverly Perdue announced that she would not run for a second term.  And goodness, were there reactions!  Naturally, the common question was, “Who would file?”  Since another scientific truth is that nature abhors a vacuum, we could put our money on the fact that there would be people who would rush in.

So here’s how it went.  On the first day of filing, Bill Faison, to the surprise of only a few, signed up to run for governor.  By doing that, his House District 50 seat, which includes part of Chapel Hill and moves north through Orange County, was now an open seat.  Since we already know about that vacuum thing, Valarie Foushee filed to run to fill that seat the very same day.  As Valarie currently holds a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners, her decision not to run again (Valarie was first elected in 2004) created an open seat in Commissioner District 1.

Two people will be elected to represent District 1, and incumbent Pam Hemminger filed on February 13th to run for her second term.  The next day, Chapel Hill Town Council member Penny Rich also filed to run, and on February 20th, former Carrboro Board of Alderman member Mark Dorosin entered the race too.  Now here’s another scientific fact: three people competing for two seats means one can’t have the seat, so this will be what politicians call a real horse race.  Of course, we have to wonder if the usual incumbent’s advantage will work in this race, or could the sitting commissioner lose her seat.

If Ms. Rich wins, she would have to resign from the Chapel Hill Town Council, since we don’t allow people to hold two elected offices simultaneously (not that anyone is crazy enough to want to do it, are they?).  Her resignation would cause the other eight members to choose a new ninth member to serve for a year, and we all know from prior experience how much fun that “filling the vacancy” scientific process is.  If she doesn’t win, she would continue to serve the final year of her Council term.

The other reaction to note is that this many seats, whether held by incumbents or open, tend to draw other candidates.  Hence, you can go to the State Board of election website and see all of the people running for the various federal and state offices.  You can also go to the Orange County Board of Elections website to see who’s running in our State Senate, State House, County Commissioner, and Orange County Board of Education races.  What’s interesting this year is that, in some of our races, winning the Democratic primary will not be tantamount to being elected, as there are seats where the winning Democrat will face the winning Republican in the general election.  In contrast, the four incumbent District Court judges on our ballot are all running for the nonpartisan bench seats without opposition.

As the campaign season heats up and we experience the familiar process of campaign forums, meet and greets, letters to the editor, mailers, and campaign signs, we need to pay attention.  The national and statewide campaigns will spend tons on television and radio ads, but our local campaigns tend to be more direct.  This primary will also have increased attention and maybe participation because of Amendment 1 being on the ballot.  You can read the official explanation of the it by visiting this page.  People on both sides of the issue will spend small fortunes to get people out to vote for or against the constitutional amendment, and voter participation is a good thing.

It’s later than you think, so get familiar with the issues and with the candidates and their positions because on April 19th “One-Stop Voting” begins, and it ends on Saturday May 5th at 1 p.m.  Election Day is Tuesday May 8th.  Polls will open 6:30 a.m. and won’t close until 7:30 p.m. 

After the election, someone will claim they didn’t vote because they didn’t know anything about the candidates, or they were simply unaware of the election, or their one vote really didn’t matter, or tell you that it’s just a primary.  And folks, sad though it is, it’s as true as night follows day and as sure as the sun rising in the east.  And those are both scientific facts!

Opening ever so slightly

It is the kind of surprise for which every ambitious politician must be prepared: the unexpected decision by an incumbent elected official to retire.

It is, my friend Jay Rivers told me, the kind of window of opportunity that opens ever so slightly and rarely. Be ready to decide quickly and pounce on the unexpected opportunity, before the window closes as a result of others’ decisive action.

John Spratt, the former South Carolina congressman, once told me about his first campaign. It started when his congressman dropped the bombshell that he would not run for reelection. Many other ambitious politicians would have loved to go to Congress, but all were surprised and unprepared to gear up a campaign. Spratt, though surprised, was ready. Sometime earlier he had made a telephone list of key people in his district. Before the day was over, he called everybody on the list.

First, he asked for their support. He tried to get them to make a solid endorsement. When seasoned political leaders make such early commitments, most try to keep them. There are exceptions, but whatever their failings, such leaders like to have a reputation for keeping their word.

Politicians, like the rest of us, have a hard time turning down a request for support from a friend. Although the people on Spratt’s list had other friends who might have wanted to run, Spratt got their commitments because he was first to ask.

Some on the Spratt’s list would be more cautious, saying something like, “I am not ready to commit.” Spratt would try to get them to promise not to support anyone else until the dust settled and “we’ve had a chance to visit again.”

Others might tell Spratt that they liked him but that he would not be their first choice, saying, “I really hope Joe Blow will decide to run, and, if he does, I will have to support him.”

Then Spratt might ask, “If Joe doesn’t run, can I count on your support?”

All this early work garnered Spratt important supporters, some of whom might have gone to other candidates if he had not asked first.

Spratt’s first campaign was 30 years ago, but being first to make the calls is still critical.
Today, however, there is something even more important: Being ready, willing, and able to raise or give the multimillion dollars necessary to conduct the campaign.

When today’s political candidate makes these early calls for support, the first questions from many people will be, “Where is your money going to come from? Do you have enough personal money to put in the pot? Where are you going to get the millions and millions it takes to win?”

After Governor Beverly Perdue’s announcement that she will not run this year, Lt. Governor Walter Dalton and state Representative Bill Faison were ready. They have the advantage of being first to make the public request for support.

But as they are making calls and asking for commitments, they have to respond to the money questions. Faison has some personal wealth, but he will have to persuade prospective supporters that he has enough money and is willing to spend it. Dalton has shown he can raise funds to win a statewide race, but he will have to convince people that he can step up the fundraising to a much higher level.

Both are getting some cautious responses from people who think Erskine Bowles would be the strongest Democratic candidate or those loyal to one of the many other possible candidates.

But there is something nobody can take away from Dalton and Faison. They were ready. They are out there, making early calls. And they have a better chance to win than if they had waited until that window of opportunity started to close.

Stay-cation II

Blow the horns! It’s 5:00 p.m. on Friday! The last great escape of the summer has officially started. I’ve got friends headed to the NC coast and mountains as I type. Even know folks flying in from all over for a larger-than-life Las Vegas blow-out extravaganza. So many places, so little time left on the summer solstice clock.  After forfeiting a Memorial Day weekend trip to exotic Turks & Caicos, I promised myself that history would not repeat itself for the last official holiday weekend before fall. 
Welcome to Stay-cation II! Alas…it’s all good. (Re-visit my May 28th article on ideas for a home-bound holiday weekend if you’re in the same boat.) Instead of packing the car or boarding a plane I will be celebrating all things Chapel Hill starting with a favorite tradition…Fridays on the Front Porch at the Carolina Inn. Saturday’s season opener in Kenan Stadium should be glorious. Long live Tar Heel football and let the tailgating begin! Time to catch up on the Triangle’s plethora of dining, music and outdoor adventures.  The list is endless!
If you do get that itch to get in your car for a spontaneous road trip, Governor Beverly Perdue has made it clear that “the North Carolina coast is open for business.” Deals are out there. The Sanderling Inn just outside the quaint village of Duck on the northern Outer Banks slashed room rates in half this week to attract tourists. Check the internet and make some calls. There is still time to plan an overnight trip. Support our state’s economy and travel to the shore.
I’m keeping this short and sweet, as the Carolina Inn is calling my name. Stay tuned in next week when The Fashion Plate interviews clothing designer and Chapel Hill native Donna McMillan.
Have a safe and happy Labor-Free Labor Day Weekend!
This is my weekend story, share yours below!