Regional Roundtable: News From Outside The Beltway

Host Michel Martin continues her conversation with regional newspaper editors on what news is grabbing their readers' attention.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we'll talk about just what it takes to get the federal government up and running again with the Washington Post's Joe Davidson. He writes the Federal Diary.

But first, we continue our conversation with regional editors. We've been talking with them about how this whole issue of the government shutdown has been playing out where they live. Dana Coffield is city editor of the Denver Post. Christopher Ave is political editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Michael Smolens is government editor at U-T San Diego, formally known as the San Diego Union-Tribune. Now before the break, Christopher was telling us that this has caused some people to kind of think about their relationship with the government, what the government actually does. Dana, I wanted to ask you, you can - you know, you can see where that could cut both ways. I mean, you were telling us there are different opinions about this depending on what people's politics are. That seems to be the case around the country. The people who felt that this was a fight worth having, do you think they still feel that way?

DANA COFFIELD: Well, we saw a lot of our conservative congressmen come around to say that this is no way to run a government and we need to get some solutions and not be so intently focused on defunding Obamacare. I think one of the - in our community, in our flood area, we have a thing called the 51st State move going on where people are contemplating secession from the state of Colorado because they feel disenfranchised from our local government. And that same area was affected by flood. And I think that in those areas, they're going to have to be thinking about, well, as you said, our relationship with government. They are not hugely economically powerful communities and they're having to count on FEMA aid and other federal aid to get their roads back, their sewage treatment plants back and even community, you know, tourism amenities like local history museums. And so, yeah, I do think it forces us to look at what federal government brings to us. And we may not notice it until it's a crisis but it is part of our day-to-day life.

MARTIN: Where would they go? What would they do? What's the plan?

COFFIELD: The plan - the secession plan?

MARTIN: Yeah, the secession plan - to become their own state? What would they call it?

COFFIELD: Yes, they would - they don't have a name for it. They've been calling it North Colorado for planning purposes. And there are 10 counties that have that on the fall ballot - shall we proceed with seceding from the government. And their complaint is, you know, we're very Front Range centric - that's the area where the city of Denver is - and their needs were not represented in the statehouse. And on some levels you can say, oh, wow, are our needs being represented in the United States capitol? So it feels like a little bit of a microcosm for me.

MARTIN: Interesting. So it'll be interesting to watch that vote to see whether the dialogue around that issue changes as a result of what people have been experiencing.

COFFIELD: You're correct. They were hard-core, hard on it, this summer and will be interesting to see how the vote turns out in the next couple weeks.

MARTIN: Michael Smolens, the issue of the former mayor, San Diego mayor, Bob Filner, has still been in the news there. And I'm just interested in how, you know - we talked about this on the program yesterday, these sexual harassment charges against him, these mounting sexual harassment charges that finally became a big enough drama that he agreed to resign and has now accepted criminal responsibility and accepting a plea deal that bars him from serving in office again and probation and a number of other things. How has that story kind of played out alongside of this other story of the government shutdown? I know it's very different, but it's all, like, politicians behaving badly in a way.

MICHAEL SMOLENS: Well, it's certainly harmonic in the news business. Harmonic conversions of a lot of big stories at once, yes. Just the other day, the former mayor did agree to a plea deal and accepted guilty pleas on a few charges regarding the sexual harassment scandal. You know, at the same time, we're dealing with this, you know, very large federal operation here in San Diego with the military and these civilian workers who are dealing with the furlough and the shutdown. And, you know, we're also having a special mayoral election because the mayor is out. So we're dealing with a lot of things. And I don't know that people quite make that connection.

I mean, you know, the mayor - the former mayor's situation, we seem to think people put that on an individual more than politicians behaving badly. I mean, we know there's that kind of behavior in the past and sexual scandals among politicians, but I don't know how much that discourages them about government beyond where they already are and I think, as we were talking earlier, there's been a lot of skepticism and concern over the years, in the last decade or so, just the way people view government. And this certainly, I think, you know, furthers that trend of people being disengaged and don't think that government works and is detached from their daily lives to a lot of degrees. So while there were huge stories and huge situations that grab people's attention here, I don't really see them as that connected in the government mind. But one thing about San Diego, and sort of getting back to what we were talking about earlier about St. Louis, I don't think a lot of people would see too many similarities between San Diego and St. Louis, but politically, there kind of is.

People view San Diego as a Republican and conservative base, which is really outdated. The city of San Diego is heavily democratic, both in its political structure and voter registration. The overall county, it's about even. So I think you've got different views as to where you live in San Diego in terms of the view of Congress and particularly who is to blame. We haven't taken particular polls but I think it's an educated guess that within the city of San Diego, the Republicans were taking on serious water in the view of the public, whereas it might be a little bit more charitable countywide.

MARTIN: Well, Christopher Ave, you've got - in St. Louis, you do have one - do you still see it as a bright spot? The St. Louis Cardinals are going to game six, so does that at least kind of - I don't know, how is that playing out? Is that adding relief or anxiety to the situation?

CHRISTOPHER AVE: Well, it's only the most important news story in the entire region and perhaps in the state of Missouri and even Illinois. Yeah. No, the Cardinals overshadow all here. Although, I will say that my newspaper this morning played the end of the shutdown and the temporary settlement above the Cardinals, but I should also note to just to be honest that the Cardinals did lose yesterday. So if the Cardinals had won yesterday, I'm not sure how we would have played those two stories.

MARTIN: So are you hopeful? Are you hopeful? Are you positive? What are you - cautiously optimistic about their chances, if I may push you to do an un-journalistic thing and kind of take a position here?

AVE: No push is necessary, Michel. I am supremely confident in the St. Louis Cardinals.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we'll leave it there for now. Christopher Ave's a political editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was kind enough to join us from St. Louis Public Radio in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Smolens is government editor at U-T San Diego. He joined us from his home office in San Diego. And Dana Coffield is city editor of the Denver Post with us from Boulder, Colorado. I'm not sure how that happened. But thank you so much. Thank you all so much for joining us.

AVE: Thanks for having us.

SMOLENS: Thanks, Michel.

COFFIELD: Thanks for having us.

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