Dole expects a debate

May 10, 2002 

Although Elizabeth Dole has avoided joint appearances with her fellow Republican Senate candidates, the former Cabinet secretary suggested she is likely to debate the Democratic nominee.

"I presume we will," Dole said at a Raleigh news conference this week.

That presumes, however, that Dole is the GOP nominee. She is one of seven Republicans seeking the nomination.

Meanwhile, Dole was drawing criticism from the state Democratic Party, which asserted that a statement she made at the news conference "raises questions again about her honesty."

Dole noted that she had missed a Republican Senate candidates' forum sponsored by the state's newspaper editorial writers that was held last month in New Bern, because she was attending the N.C. Right to Life Convention in Greensboro.

"The very day I was being criticized for not being in a forum in New Bern unfortunately no one asked where I was," Dole said. "I was in a forum for Senate candidates ... being held at the same time."

At the forum in New Bern, four GOP candidates -- Venkat Challa of Lewisville, Ada Fisher of Salisbury, Jim Parker of Lumberton, and Jim Snyder of Lexington --answered a series of questions.

The invitation for the Right to Life meeting said it was holding a "meet the candidate session." Dole was given a chance to make remarks, as were Republican Timothy Cook of Browns Summit, Democrat David Tidwell of Climax, and Snyder's campaign manager, Chase White.

Politics and the bench

Supporters of public financing of elections for North Carolina's top judges are touting a new poll that suggests the public is worried about political influence in the judiciary.

The poll found that 84 percent of the voters are concerned that lawyers are the biggest contributors to the campaigns of judges. And the survey found that 78 percent believe that political donations have some influence over judges' decisions.

"The impression voters have that there are two tiers of justice has the potential to damage the overall reputation of the system in the future," said a memorandum released by American Viewpoint, a polling firm in Alexandria, Va., that works mainly for Republicans.

The N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based group promoting campaign finance reforms, paid for the poll.

The center is pushing a bill that would set up a system of voluntary public financing starting in 2004 for candidates for the state Supreme Court and for the state Court of Appeals.

The bill would create a complicated system that would be paid for by a $1 check-off on the state income tax form and a $50 increase in the privilege license fee for lawyers. It would also make races for the high court nonpartisan -- a measure that drew intense opposition from Senate Republicans.

The measure passed the state Senate last year, and supporters hope the state House will pass the measure this year.

The survey found that 71 percent of the voters favored the bill pending in the House. The poll found little opposition to the judicial reform issue and said there was "virtually no political backlash" for supporting the plan.

The survey of 600 likely North Carolina voters was conducted April 29 through May 2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Staff writer Rob Christensen can be reached at 829-4532 or robc@newsobserver.com.

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