NC Deep Dive

Behind the Candidate Conversations: Navigating Fairness in Election Coverage With Amanda Benbow Lunn

September 27, 2023 Amanda Lunn
NC Deep Dive
Behind the Candidate Conversations: Navigating Fairness in Election Coverage With Amanda Benbow Lunn
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered how great podcast hosts keep discussions non-biased and fair during politically charged election seasons? Well, let me, Amanda Benbow Lunn, pull back the curtain for you. I'll be talking about my dedication to democracy, transparency, and the commitment we all have to preserve the integrity of our elections. Listen as I open up about the extensive efforts I've undertaken to connect with all candidates, ensuring a complete representation of voices.

Strap in for a candid conversation about the upcoming Fuquay Varina and Holly Springs municipal elections, with a deep-dive into exactly what items will be on your ballot and their significance for our community. As a bonus, I share some personal quirks and passions in a lightning round, underscoring my commitment to understanding the humanity behind every candidate. I believe we all need to play an active part in the election process. So, get ready for a series of honest, enlightening talks with our potential future leaders!

Campaign Finance Reports for All Candidate Committees

Voter Information
--Register to Vote
--Voter Info (Designated Polling Places, Sample Ballots, Registration Status, Voting Jurisdiction, Verify Address and Party Affiliation)
--Election Information
 --Election Day Voting FAQs
--Absentee by Mail FAQs

Early Voting Locations
October 19th-November 4th
Wake County Board of Elections Office: 1200 N. New Hope Rd., Raleigh, 27610

October 28th-November 4th
 --Avery Street Recreation Center: 125 Avery St., Garner, 27529
--John M. Brown Community Center: 53 Hunter St., Apex, 27502

Tuesday, November 7th from 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM

Support the show

As always, if you are interested in being on or sponsoring the podcast or if you have any particular issues, thoughts, or questions you'd like explored on the podcast, please email Your contributions would be greatly appreciated.

Now, let's dive in!

Amanda Benbow Lunn:

Hello friends, you are listening to the Holly Springs Deep Dive podcast, soon to be called the NC Deep Dive. I am your host, Amanda Benbow Lunn, and this episode serves as an introduction to our 2023 candidate conversation segment for the upcoming municipal elections in Holly Springs and Fuquay Varina. Without further ado, my friends, let's dive in. While the Holly Springs Deep Dive has been in existence, covering Holly Springs elections, for a number of years now, this is my first foray and it's the first time Fuquay Varina has been included. Prior to two months ago, I knew absolutely nothing about podcasting, so I thank you immensely for your patience and grace. While I work towards my mission of diving into local issues, building community, sharing perspectives and keeping you better informed, I am striving to keep the candidate segments and the election coverage as fair, non-biased and transparent as possible. I have no education nor expertise or experience in journalism, so please bear with me and know I may fail often, as I am learning something new, even if my heart is in the right place. Just as an FYI, I am not getting paid for this. Within the next five years, I do plan to monotonize the podcast so it can be a viable business, but currently I am not making a thing. I have put in over 120 hours of work into this candidate segment in the past month and a half and I have invested about $1000, in addition to working on and in my other two businesses and volunteering with the community and raising my two girls. Why on earth am I doing this, you might ask. It's because of responsibility and how much I value democracy. I feel the typical responsibility for myself individually, along with the responsibility of my family. However, I also feel a large responsibility towards my local communities, my state and my country. I feel it is important to do my fair share in what I absolutely can to protect our democracy and to be there for my community. I believe democracy demands it from us and that it's a team sport. Democracy means to me free and fair elections where people feel safe and free to run for office and voters are safe and free to learn about the various candidates and to vote however best resonates with them. I believe in the three branches of government and their checks and balances. I believe in the law of the land and our constitutions and for our ability to adapt them through representative democracy. I believe that when we don't voice our opinions and take action by voting, that we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our communities and future generations. Democracy, in my opinion, is the foundation of all we hold dear. I believe in everyone having a voice, even if, and especially if, it's different from mine. A representative democracy creates the best atmosphere for growth and accountability a checks and balances of sorts to greed, power, ego and personal gain at the cost of the community at large. I describe myself as someone who is fairly naive and an optimist who is pretty pragmatic. I tend to be able to understand where people are coming from and why they might not think like I do. It leads me to understand I don't know everything and that I might not have all the answers, as I only have knowledge of a set number of variables. Leaning in with curiosity rather than animosity has shown me the more people we include gives us the best chance at making the best decisions, because we create the space to be aware of as many variables as possible. Yes, I might be a Democrat, though over the past year and a half I have had difficulty with that label, but 99% of the policies and platforms that resonate with me fall in the realm of liberal and a Democrat. In this space, on this podcast, though I am first an American and second a North Carolinian with a tie, for the third being a Fuquavarinian and a Holly Springser, y'all are my chosen family. Y'all are who I've decided to raise my family amongst. You are my village and I hope you know you are part of mine as well. So in this podcast, throughout the election segments, it is imperative this be a nonpartisan place. People mean more than politics. I'm going to say that again People mean more than politics. The issues we discuss that affect us locally shouldn't be partisan. In this space, I am beholden to my heart and soul and to you as listeners and potential voters. I am not beholden to any party group or party or candidate Outside of this space. Will I do my due diligence as a citizen and work towards electing people who I feel resonate with what is important to me and who I believe will serve the best interest of all those I care about? Yes, absolutely, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to as well. Good candidates need all the support they can get and not just passive support. They need active support. You could canvas phone bank, write postcards, attend events, share social media messages, make financial contributions and pull greet. I will do my best to ensure that I highlight where I stand on a personal level in my personal space, but I also will be honest with people. If I know where they stand on the political spectrum, I will share who might be the best fit for them. I have friends and clients from all walks of life and points of view. I have no problem sharing my knowledge and being respectful in a helpful sort of way On my personal platforms. I will also be honest when I feel someone is not operating in the best interest of the community at large. My top core values are love and trust, followed closely by balance. Extremes are great to help us know the breadth of options, but because I so value democracy and checks and balances and understand the human potential for greed, power and ego, I realize when it comes to leading our communities, state and country, extremes become dangerous and they threaten the voice of the diverse majority. Hence the need in this space, during the election segment, to be as nonpartisan, professional, respectful and nonbiased as possible. I know 100% of people will not agree with me on 100% of the issues 100% of the time, and that's okay, because I cherish love, trust, balance and accountability. I also cherish feedback, both good and bad, if you think I've been biased, if you feel I've done something wrong, if you feel I'm out of line, please gently reach out to me. I may not always agree and I may not ultimately change my course, but I will truly take a minute to hear you and think about where you are coming from and do a deep dive on how I may best proceed Outside of this space. If I speak out against someone or some topic, it almost always comes from a place of love. I'm trying to protect someone or I'm attempting to show love by voicing how they might change so they can better achieve their goals or to grow as a human. When I was considering taking over this podcast, I knew how much Karen valued the election segment. I wondered if I might be able to do it justice. Would candidates feel comfortable talking with me? Would I be able to hold space without judgment to allow candidates to feel comfortable? There are only a couple of candidates who I felt might have an issue with that based on our past, none of which are running in this election. For Holly Springs I knew two candidates who were running both very loosely and both only since the beginning of this year. In Fuquay Varina I recognized the name of five of the candidates, but only know one on any sort of deeper level, and that candidate I mostly know only on a professional level. To formulate the questions within the candidate conversations, I created a survey. Twenty people participated in the survey. From their emails I was able to ascertain who a number of the respondents were to know that I had achieved a relatively even sample size between those with liberal and conservative views. Interestingly enough, I saw pretty much the same concerns from all those who answered. I originally communicated with the candidates on August 11th via email that the candidates provided when they filed for office. From there I also called, texted the number listed when they filed, emailed and or messaged them via social media. I attempted to make contact once a week in the beginning and every few days towards the end, trying to balance giving friendly reminders about the upcoming deadlines, knowing that people get busy and overwhelmed and that it might fall off their radar, and I tried to balance that with feeling like I was nagging or being a nuisance. I did not want to do that. The original deadline was September 19th, but I did extend the deadline to September 24th. For the election segment featuring Holly Springs. I was able to procure five out of the nine candidate conversations for you, specifically Chris Deshazor, Jack Turnwald, Annie Drees, Scoop Green and Travis Groo. Staci Almquist scheduled and rescheduled her conversation three times and while I was able to extend the deadline once to give her grace within an emergency, I felt it wasn't fair to voters to extend it again, since she will need time to listen before early voting begins on October 19th. Staci was communicative with me each time. She has a lot on her plate. She's taking care of her mom who is ill, is working on her doctorate and works and runs a business. She believes her schedule will calm down in November, allowing her the time and capability to take on a town council position. Danielle Hewetson, Brian Dennis and Brian Norman never responded to my emails, phone calls and or social media messages in which I was able to see, for at least one of the messages, that it was seen. For the election segment featuring Fuquay Varina. I was able to procure two out of seven candidate conversations. I knew this may be more difficult, since it's the first time Fuquay Varina has ever been covered and because the name of the podcast is still the Holly Springs Deep Dive. That is why I will be switching to the NC Deep Dive after the election. Originally I had five candidates in Fuquay Varina commit to doing a podcast. I was successful with William Bill Harris and Elizabeth Parent. Nolan Perry responded and set up a conversation right away but due to the tragic passing of his mom just beforehand, he asked to reschedule. He never ended up rescheduling and after that point did not respond to any of my emails, calls, text or social media messages. Mike Ferig and I talked twice on the phone in which he stated he was interested and planned to schedule his conversation. He never followed through and did not respond to my reminder texts, calls or email as we were nearing the deadline. Charlie Adcock and Jason Wunch never responded to any of my calls, emails, text and or social media messages. Since I noticed for the most part those not responding were Republicans. I reached out to a friend who shared one of their websites on a Facebook post. They stated they didn't know the individual and weren't part of their campaign team, but they gave me a contact to reach out to from the Southern Wake Conservative Coalition. I had previously seen an event or an ad where they were hosting something featuring the Republican candidates, so I reached out and asked the contact if they might be able to act as a liaison, as I was having a difficult time connecting with some of the candidates. I was told they did reach out to those candidates and that each of those candidates declined to be part of the candidate segment on the Holly Springs Deep Dive podcast. I was told they were only speaking with trusted reporters and only speaking at live events because there was a history of their words being manipulated or taken out of context in the media. I shared that I fully understood their fears but that I was truly trying to build bridges and allow everyone's voice to be heard, because I absolutely have listeners who would resonate with their voices, platforms and viewpoints. I tried to think how I might be able to meet them in the middle somewhere. I stated that I didn't think I could manage a live podcast, as I don't know if that's even a possibility and if it is I just haven't learned how yet but that as soon as we are done recording, a transcript is produced and that I could immediately share that transcript and then either edit the podcast for sound quality, like I am doing for all the other candidates, or I could not edit it at all and share the file before I publish the podcast live so that the candidate, someone on their campaign team or someone at the Southern Wake Conservative Coalition could compare the transcript to the edited version to make sure I didn't do anything to compromise the integrity of their voice or message. At which point they declined again on the candidates' behalf, stating that the candidates were pretty busy and wouldn't do it. They mentioned the Holly Springs candidates did plan to take part in the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce's candidate forum on October 5th. They did not have information regarding if the Fuquay Varina Republican candidates would be participating in the Fuquay Varina Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Tuesday, October 24th, at 7 pm at the Fuquay Varina Arts Center. I tried reaching out as best I could to see how we might work together to best serve the people in our communities, to find out a way to put people over politics. I understand that I tend to put a lot of trust into people right from the start, unless they give me a reason personally not to. I also understand that it's the opposite for some. Some will only trust once it's earned. I asked for a foothold to gain their trust and was denied an opportunity. I did also send out another email to those the representative at the Southern Wake Conservative Coalition spoke on behalf. I wanted to make sure that what they spoke did truly represent their thoughts and I said I would interpret a lack of a response that what they lias on shared fully represented their thoughts. Only Brian Norman responded back. He said he wasn't trying to ignore me but he was swamped and he was choosing to decline. Mike and Nolan I reached out to towards the end, as they had both previously committed, and shared about printing the transcripts in case they were worried about the editing, and I also offered to do one podcast with both of them in case that might make them more comfortable. I did not receive a response from either one of them. Marilyn Gardner responded to my phone calls. We had a couple of conversations, one in which she shared her anxiety about being on a podcast and doing something way outside her comfort zone, but she did state that she felt I calmed her worries and that she would participate and schedule her conversation. Our other conversation was when I was calling to check in and remind her of the upcoming deadline, by which she shared she was too busy and she was choosing to focus elsewhere, so she did not end up scheduling her conversation. While on some level, I feel I have failed you all, as I am not able to deliver all 16 candidate conversations. I know I did my best to reach out to all and try to meet them where they felt they needed to be met. For those that didn't respond at all, I am sad and disappointed, but I honor that it is within their rights to decline. They don't owe me or this podcast anything, though I did hope that they would feel they owed you as voters. I'm not wholly sure if they individually felt a certain sort of way or if it was a party directive, but at the end of the day, I feel it's a disservice towards voters and democracy in general, and I hope they show up for you in other ways. As a voter, it is important to me to have responsive politicians in office. I want to know, when I reach out, that they may hear my voice, that they consider my voice and that they can communicate respectfully and effectively. I want to know that when you reach out, they will take the time to hear and consider your voice as well. It's concerning when representatives of people do not communicate or respond with those they are representing. That is a major red flag to me. As you ponder who you are voting for, reach out to them. Ask a different minded friend to reach out and check in to see if they got a response. I will list their contact info in their individual show notes at www. hollyspringsdeepdive. com within their candidate episode. While I haven't looked at the current numbers, last year when I looked, the number of unaffiliated voters in Holly Springs and Fuquay Varina was almost just as much as the total number of Democrats and Republicans put together. A lot of this, from my understanding, is that people are tired of the drama. They're tired of the politics. They just want people who are genuine to work on their behalf, to create spaces where they can thrive and continue on complacently, without having to place their valuable time and resources to make sure politicians aren't taking advantage of them for their own or their party's own greed, power or ego. Candidates and politicians would be wise to read the room, especially since it takes considerably more time and resources to reach unaffiliated voters. And for clarity in North Carolina there is no independent party. Sometimes people use the words independent and unaffiliated here to mean the same thing. While the municipal elections are non-partisan, sometimes affiliation does matter to voters In Holly Springs. Staci Almquist and Scoop Green are unaffiliated. Brian Dennis, Danielle Hewetson and Brian Norman are registered Republicans. Chris Deshazor, Jack Turnwald and Annie Drees are registered Democrats. Travis Groo is a registered Libertarian. In Fuquay Varina Charlie Adcock, Mike Ferig, Nolan Perry and, currently, Jason Wunch are registered Republicans. Jason did switch his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican after the 2021 election or sometime right around then. William Bill Harris, Marilyn Gardner and Elizabeth Parent are registered Democrats. There are no candidates with any other affiliation and none who are unaffiliated running for office in Fuquay Varina. I did not reach out to Blake Massengill, as he's running unopposed for the mayoral seat in Fuquay Varina. He is also a Republican, For those who are curious. Sample ballots have not been released yet as of the recording of this episode. However, in Holly Springs, you will have three sections you will be voting for, the first of which is the four-year seat for the Board of Commissioners for Holly Springs. You will be eligible to vote for up to two of the five candidates in this section. The second item on your ballot will be for the unexpired Commissioner seat for Holly Springs, which is a two-year seat. This is to fill Kristi Bennett's seat as she resigned midterm. You will be able to vote for only one of the four candidates running for this particular office. The third thing on your ballot will be the 2023 Parks Bond, where you will vote yes or no in authorizing the town of Holly Springs, up to seven years, to take out up to $100 million in general obligation bonds for park, greenway and recreation projects, while granting them the authority to raise property taxes as necessary. They are projecting up to a $0.05 property tax increase, though they had a $20 million park bond pass in 2011 with a five-cent potential increase in property taxes, and a 2018 $40 million transportation bond with a projected five-cent property tax increase as well. While there has been some fluctuation over the years, overall, from 2011 to today, the net difference has only been just over half a cent increase from 41.5 cents to just over 42 cents per hundred dollars of property valuation. 12 of the 15 municipalities in Wake County have a higher tax rate than Holly Springs. Holly Springs is only higher than two of them. For more information, check out our recent podcast on Unraveling the 2023 Holly Springs Parks Bond. If you are in Fuquay Varina, you will have four items to vote on when you are handed your ballot. The first will be for the mayoral seat, since Blake Massengill is the only candidate unless there is some substantial written-in candidate, he will be the winner. The second item to vote on will be for the board of commissioner's seat for Fuquay Varia. This seat will be for a normal four-year term. You will be eligible to vote for up to three of the five candidates in this section. The third item on your ballot will be for the unexpired term seat for the board of commissioners that opened up when Tracy Cook formerly Tracy Watson stepped down. This seat will be for a two-year term. You will be eligible to vote for one of the two candidates running for this race. Lastly, you too will have a 2023 parks bond you will be voting on. You will vote yes or no in authorizing the town of Fuquay Varina, up to seven years, to take out up to $60 million in general obligation bonds for parks and recreation projects. They estimate an up to an 8 cent property tax increase. They recently had a 2018 parks bond with a projected 4.5 cent increase that was limited to 3 cents. In actuality, since 2008, Fuquay Varina's overall net difference has been an increase of 7 cents, from 38.5 cents to 45.5 cents. Currently, there are eight municipalities in Wake County with higher property tax rates and six that have lower property tax rates. Councilman Bryan Haynes has committed to doing an episode delving into the 2023 Fuquay Varina Parks Bond, so please be on the lookout for that within the next couple of weeks. As I postulated about the candidate segment, knowing so many had chosen not to prioritize to speak with you via this medium, I decided to still include an episode for each of them, as I truly feel it is important for you to have as much information as possible In their episodes. I am merely reading off of their website or other information that is easily googled in case this medium is more helpful for you. In all the episode show notes found at www. hollyspringsdeepdive. com, I have included their contact information and relevant voting information. All in all, though, I was able to capture some really great candidate conversations, and I want to take a moment to thank the candidates who chose to participate. It was such an honor to get to speak with you and showcase a less formal and more personable experience. So often, I feel, we put candidates on some sort of pedestal, and when we do, it removes a level of humanity. It's important to understand they are humans just like us, with their own strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and quirks. Some of those who spoke with me had a decent amount of anxiety. Some had some major technical challenges. I'm sure some had fears about how their words might be edited or used against them. I'm sure all of them are super busy. They have their normal lives, which for most of us that alone can be overwhelming. But they also have chosen to step up and run for office, which takes busy to a whole new level. Yet they chose to prioritize speaking with you. They took the time to respond to emails, texts and phone calls. They committed, they followed through, they showed up. They did not give in to fear. They did not shut down when faced with challenges. They allowed vulnerability and effectively communicated their thoughts. I have zero qualms about them being able to communicate with you or show up for you if they were to be elected. It was such a joy seeing the authentic glow in these candidates radiate and to understand them and their experiences in a whole new light. As always, I am continuously assessing and reassessing to see how I may improve. If you have any ideas on how to bridge the scats that I may be more successful in capturing a larger chunk of candidate voices moving forward, I'd love to hear them. At the moment, my best thought is to have someone who leans conservative join me in conducting the election segment. Again, if you know somebody who leans conservative, who is also open to being a pragmatic, nonpartisan voice in this space, I'd love for you to share. If you, by chance, live in the extra-territorial jurisdiction also known as ETJ, you will not be eligible to vote in this year's election. While you are held to town ordinances, you do not pay town taxes. You absolutely can help share your voice by actively helping candidates who may best resonate with you. I encourage those living in the ETJ, as well as all of you, to be active. Contact candidates, share your concerns, see how they respond to you, check in with your friends who are hopefully doing the same, and then actively participate by contributing financially to campaigns, canvassing, calling, texting, writing postcards, attending events, sharing emails and social media messages, poll greeting and by voting, if you are at all able. If, for some reason, you need assistance in getting to the polls, please absolutely reach out. I would be happy to help as I may. Since I include a lightning round of questions within all my episodes, I think it's only fair play to play along. What is my favorite book? My absolute favorite book is the thesaurus, followed somewhat closely by Harry Potter. Who is someone that I look up to and view as a role model? It is hands down my mom. She is an amazing woman who, after my parents divorced, she raised us four kids working on a Walmart paycheck and I am not sure how she did it, but she has an amazing work ethic and always shows up for those she cares about, and she has always been kind and inclusive. What's my favorite way to relax and let go? Dancing. That is the only time, really, when my brain shuts completely off and I can stop being so pragmatic and I can just let loose. What's one thing that fills my heart with joy? When people share their light and passion, being their authentic and real selves, I see them literally light up and their auras are just so absolutely beautiful. What's my greatest weakness? I have many of them At the moment. I'm going to go ahead and say my focus. I tend to be a workaholic and strive to be productive. That cuts into family and friend time and fun as well. What was one thing I wished for as a kid? I had always wanted a base group of friends that I had known always from being little kids, like everyone else seemed to have. This was one of the downfalls of being part of a military family. What's something on your bucket list? I don't really have a bucket list. I tend to create items in the moment and just say that I'm putting them on my bucket list as I go to cross them off. But if I were to say one thing right now, it would be to go back and visit England, where I was born, and to continue to push myself to learn new things and healthfully stretch beyond my comfort zone. What is my favorite thing about myself? My persistence and ability to adapt and find the silver lining and good in most any situation. I hope you find all of this information helpful in this election segment and the candidate conversations and again, if you have any feedback, I would absolutely love to hear it. Thanks so much for your time and for just showing up for the candidates and your communities and democracy in general. I really appreciate it. Democracy is at the heart of all we hold dear. Our local governments have the influence to decide our community's priorities. These offices have a major impact on our daily lives and can have real consequences. They create and enforce local ordinances, fund our local fire and police departments create the structure and ambiance of our communities and decide our local property taxes. Lower voter turnout in local elections means your vote has even more of an impact. Early voting starts October 19th at the Wake County Board of Elections and begins October 28th and will run through November 4th at the John M Brown Community Center in Apex and the Avery Street Recreation Center in Garner. During early voting, you may go to any of these early voting sites. Election Day will be Tuesday, November 7th. On Election Day, you have to go to your designated polling site. Please remember you will need a valid ID to vote. This year, the voter registration deadline is October 13th, though you may also be eligible to register at the voting sites during the early voting period. And that brings this episode of the Holly Springs Deep Dive Podcast, soon to be called the NC Deep Dive, to a close. Make sure you check out all the other relevant candidate episodes for the Board of Commissioners, also known as Town Council for Holly Springs, and Fuquay Varina, at www. HollySpringsDeepDive. com, Spotify, apple Podcasts, audible or wherever you currently listen to your podcasts. I will include helpful links for each candidate and voting in general in their episode show notes on our website. If you have any thoughts or topics you'd like to share. You may do so through social media or via email at Holly SpringsP odcast@ gmail. com. Thank you for engaging in today's episode and becoming a more informed citizen. Democracy is a team sport. Together, we make democracy work and our communities a better place to work, live and play. Your vote absolutely matters. Your voice absolutely matters. You, my friend, absolutely matter. Until next time, my friends. Namaste, the love and light in me sees and honors the love and light in you.

Introducing the 2023 Candidate Conversations
Challenges With Candidate Communication
Holly Springs & Fuquay Varina Elections Information