By TOM HONIG
The loss of meaningful local journalism continues across the country, and at the same time the presidential campaign has taken on the look of a reality television show.
The two are related.
For years, as a reporter and editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, I noticed that the percentage of voter turnout — compared to the number of eligible voters — stood at about 30 percent. And 30 percent was roughly the percentage of newspaper readers in Santa Cruz, at least according to readership surveys.
I’d be willing to bet that there’s no such correlation anymore. As I watch the made-for-television events for presidential hopefuls, it appears to me that voter interest has changed. The old 30 percenters were as involved with local and state issues as they were with the national stage. Local and state issues were the ones covered by local print journalists, and they were the ones who kept interested readers informed.
Now, with newspapers in retreat and not covering local issues well, potential voters have turned their attention to the national scene.
National presidential politics in 2019 is dominated by charismatic and telegenic personalities and nationally known politicos. The front-runners busy themselves with daring populist proposals that are unlikely ever to be implemented, while the incumbent just seems to make up stuff if it helps his self-image. More and more, candidates are searching for the sound bite, some sort of attack one-liner that will make it to the news shows. Exhibit A: Kamala Harris attacks Joe Biden. Exhibit B: Everybody else attacks Kamala Harris.
All that comes at the expense of regional candidates who probably have more real-life, hands-on experience in governing than the celebrity senators who are leading in the polls.
For years, as reporter Tim Craig of The Washington Post points out, American voters paid attention to the nuts and bolts issues of politics. Governors who had proved themselves in office — Carter, Clinton and even Reagan — moved on to the national stage after having demonstrated a record of actually working in a bipartisan way.
Says Craig: “For the first time in a generation, political observers say, polls show no sitting or former governor is a front-runner for either political party’s nomination battle, at least so far. Experts say national politics is losing the bipartisan influence and executive experience that governors once brought to the table.”
And as Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and longtime Democratic strategist, points out: “Governors are the most important people in the country. . . . They should be at the forefront. Nothing happens in Washington, and all the action is in the states.”
Not that you’d notice if you only read political blogs and watched cable television.
In fact, I bet that more people could name the two dozen presidential candidates and the CNN moderators than could name their own county board of supervisors.
That’s what you get when you get your news from social media or cable TV.