Nearly 50 contested races and seven bond referenda: Starting Thursday, voters in the Triangle will elect leaders to such lofty posts as president and governor as well as state and local lawmakers whose decisions affect our lives in the most concrete ways: Who we can marry. Who can vote. Whether women can plan their pregnancies. What developments can be built. What contaminants—and how much of them—can enter our waterways, landfills and air.
The political fringe, particularly on the tea party right, is eating the center, stoked by the influence of Super PACs and an influx of enormous sums of money into campaigns.
It is against this backdrop that our endorsements try to determine which candidates will fight for the greater good: social justice, compassion, equality and opportunity for everyone regardless of class, race and gender.
Early voting runs Oct. 18–Nov. 3. Find your one-stop early-voting location. Election Day is Nov. 6.
Please note: We do not endorse in uncontested races. Also, if you vote a straight party ticket, you still must cast separate votes for President and Vice President as well as for judicial races. Lastly, you can register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day only during early voting; you cannot register to vote on Election Day.
U.S. House District 1 (part of Durham County)
- G.K. Butterfield
Many Durham residents are unaware of Democratic incumbent G.K. Butterfield because this is the first election in which he has run in the county. The 1st Congressional District was among those redrawn by state Republicans and includes parts of Durham County, which now is home to—count them—four congressional districts.
But Butterfield has Durham connections, having earned a bachelor's and law degrees from N.C. Central University.
We endorse G.K. Butterfield, a veteran and former Superior Court judge, who was elected to the House in 2004.
He supported the Affordable Care Act and, as a veteran, pushes for additional health care and other benefits for veterans, including those suffering from ailments related to Agent Orange herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War.
Some of his new district extends north and east along the Virginia border as well as areas down east. The region includes farming communities, which Butterfield has advocated for particularly in his support of funding for socially disadvantaged farmers to efficiently irrigate their crops.
He serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and in that role, he supports legislation that would incentivize renewable and green energy economy. He does hedge on a more aggressive program to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, stating that he is in favor of a "market-based approach" to capping carbon emissions to give businesses more time to adopt cleaner energy sources. We understand the need for a transition time, but the energy industry is notoriously slow—unless prodded by regulation—to change.
He is also the Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Commerce Manufacturing and Trade, which oversees interstate and foreign trade. He is also a member of the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy.
Darryl Holloman, a Libertarian, has not run much of a campaign. His website was last updated April 9 and features Holloman's post on "Obama, Keynes and the GSA," criticizing a lavish party the Government Services Administration threw for themselves in Las Vegas in 2010. What this has to do with Butterfield remains a mystery.
Republican Pete DiLauro is a former Marine and Vietnam veteran who retired from the New York City Police Department. His website rails against socialism—hardly a threat in America—and contends that Butterfield had a privileged lifestyle because his father was a dentist and the first black politician in Wilson. When we think of privilege, yes, being black in the South in the 1950s and 1960s immediately comes to mind. Would DiLauro have made the same claim about a white candidate whose father was a dentist and politician?
U.S. House District 2 (parts of Chatham and Southwestern Wake counties)
- Steve Wilkins
Renee Ellmers got elected to Congress in 2010 as a conservative Republican, narrowly defeating longtime representative Bob Etheridge in a nasty campaign full of tea party falsehoods. Her promises were lofty—she would not take special interest or PAC money, for example—but alas, once in Congress, she got a reality check. You need money and you may have to play well with others, at least within your party.
A nurse, Ellmers opposes the Affordable Care Act, supporting instead "free market solutions" (we have those and they're not working). She opposes a woman's right to choose. And in the issues section of her House website, it is blank under "energy and environment." She takes no stand on energy and the environment?
To Ellmers credit, she did oppose Amendment 1 on the grounds it bans civil unions, but in Congress, she signed on to three bills that support the Defense of Marriage Act, the constitutionality of which is in question.
Given her, uh, bona fides, we endorse Steve Wilkins, a Democrat. Originally from Durham, the Army veteran lives in Moore County. He supports the Affordable Care Act, more federal assistance for rural communities, enhanced veterans' programs and additional investments in infrastructure.
We disagree with Wilkins' stand that we need to increase our domestic oil and gas sources, even, as he says, in the short run. While he says the nation's energy policy needs alternatives to fossil fuels, we would like him to take a more assertive stand for renewables and conservation.
That said, Wilkins is on the right track and gets our endorsement.
U.S. House District 4 (parts of Durham, Orange, Chatham and Wake counties)
- David Price
When Republicans in the General Assembly redrew the congressional districts, they double-bunked two longtime Democratic incumbents in House District 4: David Price, the longtime rep for the district, and Brad Miller, who previously represented District 13, a solidly Democratic area of Wake County.
Faced with the prospect of running head-to-head against Price in a Democratic primary, Miller, a leader on banking reform, stepped down to let the elder congressman run again.
We endorse David Price, who, with the exception of two years, has been the 4th District congressman since 1997. Although he's not as left-leaning as his Orange and Durham county constituencies—he lives in Chapel Hill—now that his district extends toward Cumberland County and Fayetteville, his positions likely represent the district as a whole. (It also includes slivers of more-conservative Western Wake County.)
His support for education—keeping it affordable and extending rates for student loans—is key. He voted to end tax loopholes that encouraged corporations to ship job overseas. Notably, he voted for the Affordable Care Act and supports the overturn of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to funnel unlimited amounts of money into elections.
Price's opponent, Tim D'Annunzio, a tea partier from Raeford, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 in the 8th District. On his rambling and at times incoherent website, he espouses a Christian nation by quoting from a 1926 Calvin Coolidge speech. He calls abortion "murder," says "history has proven that nuclear energy can be used safely" (paging Three Mile Island and Fukushima) and is a lifetime member of the NRA. His public persona is so out there that the state Republican party has distanced itself from him.
U.S. House District 6 (parts of Durham and Orange counties)
- Tony Foriest
Who is this Howard Coble guy? Northern Durham and Orange residents might wonder. He's not to be confused with Paul Coble, the Wake County commissioner who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for U.S. House District 13.
However, Howard Coble, a Republican, was first elected to the House in 1984.
The 6th Congressional District used to include parts of the Piedmont but not the Triangle. Now it runs from northern Durham and Orange west to Guilford County (but not Greensboro) and along the Virginia border. In other words, a lot of rural Republican territory.
No surprises with Coble: He toes the party line, opposing abortion, the Affordable Health Care Act (he calls it a "government takeover") and new gun regulations.He sits on the judiciary committee, which oversees immigration reform. He supports "immigration reform" to include a workable guest worker program, e-Verify and securing the border. You couldn't call Coble a centrist on immigration, but at least he concedes that immigrants are needed in the U.S. labor force.
With this in mind, we endorse Democrat Tony Foriest, a former two-term state senator who wants to make the jump to Congress. While in the state senate, the Graham resident and graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill served on several key committees, including appropriations, commerce, education, health care and finance. He voted for a bill that was a precursor to the original Racial Justice Act, supported the statewide indoor smoking ban and anti-bullying legislation. He also voted for a bill mandating that insurance companies cover mental health equally with other health areas.
In his congressional campaign, his focus is on affordable health care, education and economy—and we trust he would bring a progressive vision to those issues.
New district boundaries? Time for a new representative.
U.S. House District 13 (parts of East Durham and Wake counties)
- Charles Malone
George Holding, the former U.S. attorney, is essentially trying to buy this seat via his family-funded Super PAC, American Foundations Committee, which is pouring money into his campaign—a half-million dollars during the Republican primary.
Super PACs are one of the outgrowths of Citizens United and can raise and spend unlimited funds for elections, so long as the committees don't coordinate with the candidates.
(How that's possible when your cousins are running the Super PAC is mind-boggling.)
Unsurprisingly, Holding beat fellow Republican Paul Coble in the spring, and now faces Democrat Charles Malone in the newly drawn 13th congressional district formerly occupied by Brad Miller. (Miller retired from Congress after being double-bunked with David Price in District 4.)
We endorse Charles Malone, an Equal Employment Opportunity officer with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. A progressive, he supports additional regulation of the financial industry, the Affordable Care Act and a "massive infusion of government intervention via infrastructural work and additional hiring of teachers and police officers" to lift the U.S. economy.
He opposes capital punishment and Amendment 1 ("Enduring laws come from justice, not majorities," he wrote in his Indy questionnaire) and supports a women's right to choose.
- Walter Dalton
Let's be honest. Democratic candidate Walter Dalton started this race from behind and he hasn't gained much, if any, ground. Linked—for better or worse—to unpopular Gov. Bev Perdue, Dalton faces a strong GOP candidate in former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.
McCrory, a businessman who served a record seven terms in Charlotte's top post, outraised the Dalton campaign and has spent his dollars decrying Dalton as part of a dysfunctional Democratic party beleaguered by a sickly economy and political scandal. If you pay attention to polls, it seems the message has caught on.
But Dalton—a moderate progressive—has always been more than his conservative counterparts let on. An attorney from Rutherfordton, Dalton is a defender of North Carolina's public schools. He understands that a strong economy and strong schools are inextricably linked. As governor, Dalton would oppose conservative education cuts that stress our already overextended public school systems. Don't expect the same from McCrory, a boilerplate Republican who would rather discuss tax reform than education.
To be sure, Dalton is not perfect. He's pro-fracking, a natural gas drilling practice that poses too many environmental risks for too little economic payoff. Meanwhile, too often in this campaign, the Democratic candidate has seemed short on big ideas or, worse yet, invisible. That's a side effect of the deep pockets backing McCrory's media blitz, but Dalton's feisty debate with McCrory in early October—in which he hammered McCrory as a slick businessman beholden to the wealthy—seemed too late.
Libertarian candidate Barbara Howe is true to her party's values: She's socially progressive and fiscally conservative. Third-party inclusion helps further political dialogue, but Howe's vilification of most government activities is too far to the right.
Despite Dalton's shortcomings, the prospect of a Republican governor such as McCrory allowing the far-right impulses of a bitterly unpopular N.C. General Assembly to go unchecked is troubling. McCrory may have played the role of centrist as Charlotte's mayor, but his statewide campaigns have veered ever rightward. Republican lawmakers have already stripped school funding, plumbed vital regulatory agencies like the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and advanced the discriminatory Amendment 1. Expect more of the same if McCrory wins this race, more than enough reason to vote for Dalton.
- Linda Coleman
One might remember Raleigh business exec Dan Forest as one of many candidates tossing out red meat at the Romney-Ryan rally in Raleigh this summer. Forest's platform includes calls to lower the state's gas tax, eliminate the corporate income tax altogether and designate a lower tax bracket for small business owners. Public schools hold a "state-run monopoly" on education, Forest has been quoted as saying. He's also eager to press hot-button immigration reform.
The difference between Forest and his Democratic opponent, former Wake County Commissioner Linda Coleman, is significant. A former teacher, Coleman is strong on education, pushing for restored state funding and denouncing calls to "privatize" education. Democrats in 2012 have wisely seized on displeasure with Republicans' education cuts, and the party is keying on a slate of schools-first candidates like Coleman to take advantage of the unrest.
Coleman is also an advocate for Planned Parenthood, a popular political football for conservatives like Forest in this election cycle. Meanwhile, many leaders say they are serious about harnessing alternative energy, but we believe Coleman means it when she espouses the benefits of clean energy.
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The auditor investigates state government to ensure taxpayer money is being properly spent and accounted for. Although the office roots out waste, the job of cleaning it up lies with the governor, Legislature or the head of the audited agency.
We endorse Beth Wood, the incumbent, for a second term. Under her leadership, the auditor's office has exposed millions of dollars in waste, some of it identified via the fraud hotline. (Whistleblowers can report tips with the guarantee of anonymity.)
Asked on our candidate questionnaire what areas require additional attention, Wood responded, "spending in the Department of Health and Human Services," because of the agency's sheer size.
In her questionnaire, Wood notes that the auditor's job is strictly nonpartisan. This means the office should not audit to carry out a political agenda. We trust Wood to continue to evaluate state government using objective measurements of compliance.
Wood's Republican opponent, Debra Goldman, sits on the Wake County school board. While Goldman has occasionally drifted to the center and away from the histrionics of the board's Republican majority, she, like her colleague John Tedesco, has made herself politically radioactive. (Tedesco is running for superintendent of public instruction.)
A stint on the highly partisan Wake County school board is not necessarily a résumé-builder. It certainly hasn't prepared Goldman for a job that requires a dispassionate approach.
Commissioner of Agriculture
- Walter Smith
We endorsed Walter Smith of Yadkinville in the primary, and we endorse him again as the person to defeat incumbent Steve Troxler. Smith's priorities include stemming the loss of farmland and family farms. He has worked for the Farm Service Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administering ag programs to farmers.
The former Boonville mayor has wide knowledge of ag issues, including food safety, farm subsidies and the federal farm bill, which was scheduled for a vote this year but is stalled in Congress. We hope that if elected agriculture commissioner Smith prioritizes the needs of small farms over agribusiness.
Smith would be a welcome respite from Steve Troxler, the reigning agriculture commissioner since 2005. He has held several leadership positions within the government ag world, including the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C.
However, the good ol' boy network of farm bureaus and other powerful big ag insiders gives us pause. Big ag and its bloated federal subsidies are not the answer to America's food issues such as safety, genetically modified organisms, small farms and hunger.
In addition, the latest affront from the ag department is Butterballgate, the controversy in which an agriculture department employee tipped a local Butterball slaughter and processing facility accused of mistreating animals that it would be inspected. The employee was disciplined but kept her job.
We also think pesticide rules and enforcement should be strengthened, as should animal welfare rules, which also fall under the commissioner's purview.
Commissioner of Insurance
- Wayne Goodwin
We endorse incumbent Wayne Goodwin, who is running for a second term. We applaud his attention to insurance issues affecting coastal property owners. He is seeking greater consumer protections for these property owners, who may not be able to afford or even apply for insurance in these hurricane-prone areas. One way he is doing this is to stagger rate hikes over several years so that property owners aren't hit with sticker shock.
While Goodwin understands that insurance companies are businesses and thus want to make a profit, he is also aware of their power to tip the scales toward their interests. He recently persuaded the Legislature to require public comment periods after insurance company rate filings and is focusing on making insurance policies readable—reducing the legalese—for lay people.
His opponent, Mike Causey, a retired insurance professional, worked as a lobbyist for the insurance industry. He ran for commissioner in 1992, 1996 and 2000 against then-commissioner Jim Long. He worked as a lobbyist for several groups, including Citizens for Insurance Reform. He opposes ObamaCare and disagrees with the Supreme Court's ruling that most of it is constitutional.
Commissioner of Labor
- Cherie Berry
This is a difficult endorsement in that we're less than excited about either candidate, incumbent Cherie Berry, a Republican, or challenger John Brooks, a Democrat.
Berry has held her post for 11 years. While she touts that the number of workplace injuries and illnesses have decreased, we point out that those are only the reported incidents. Migrant workers, a significant yet invisible part of the state's labor force, continue to suffer workplace injuries, heat- and pesticide-related illnesses, inadequate housing and civil rights violations, including sexual abuse of female field workers.
Meanwhile, Brooks, who served as labor commissioner for 16 years, from 1977–1993, has a spotty history. It was under his watch that the infamous fire at a Hamlet chicken processing plant, Imperial Foods, killed 25 workers. It was later learned that exit doors had been locked and the labor department had not conducted a safety inspection at the facility in 11 years.
Should this incident color Brooks' political career? For the families of the 25 workers, yes it should. In addition, Brooks, currently a staff attorney with the N.C. Industrial Commission, had 16 years to accomplish his goals.
Which brings us back to Berry: As N.C. Policy Watch reported last week, author Bryant Simon has been trying to get public documents from the labor department—witness accounts of the Hamlet fire—for 16 months. Agency officials say they will begin—after nearly a year and half since the request—transcribing the interviews.
We hold our collective nose and endorse Berry, with the caveat she needs to fix the serious issues facing workers who pick our crops and harvest our Christmas trees. And she needs to immediately provide researchers—and anyone—the public records regarding the Hamlet fire.
Secretary of State
Elaine Marshall has held the secretary of state post for 16 years and we endorse her for another term. Although the secretary of state does not heavily influence public policy, it does affect the everyday North Carolina citizen. For example, as we reported when we endorsed Marshall in her unsuccessful U.S. Senate run in 2010, her office registers lobbyists. (Go to https://www.secretary.state.nc.us/corporations/CSearch.aspx to see a list.) Marshall successfully pushed for laws requiring lobbyists to more fully disclose their spending. The law also closed the loophole that allowed them to pay for legislators' meals and drinks without reporting it.
Her office registers corporations doing business in North Carolina and all securities offerings—also public information at http://www.secretary.state.nc.us/lobbyists—and she used her position to help recover more than $300 million for North Carolinians victimized by fraudulent investment schemes.
She defeated Cal Cunningham in a primary for U.S. Senate two years ago but then managed to lose to Republican incumbent Richard Burr in the election. That's no reflection on her leadership ability, though. She's not a professional campaigner, which we consider a plus.
Her Republican opponent, Chowan County Commissioner Ed Goodwin, describes himself as a "conservative family farmer and entrepreneur." An Air Force veteran, he retired from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in 2004.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
If you've followed the candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, then our endorsement of incumbent June Atkinson shouldn't surprise you. She's running against tea-party poster boy John Tedesco, whose political crowning achievement is dismantling Wake County schools' former diversity policy with his fellow Republicans on that board. Public education, be afraid. Be very afraid.
But a vote for Atkinson is not simply a vote for the lesser of two evils. Atkinson showed quite a bit of spine when Gov. Beverly Perdue tried to gut the position of state superintendent back in 2009. Atkinson sued the governor and won.
She started her career in the classroom and worked through the ranks at the Department of Public Instruction, for which she gets a gold star in our book, even if it doesn't mean much to Tedesco. Tedesco has built his campaign on the fact he's not an educator. In fact, he believes that since DPI represents a state full of educators, the superintendent has no business being a teacher. They aren't reform-minded enough, he believes.
Tedesco tells people he doesn't want to gut public education. What he does say is that there needs to be more innovation in the way DPI does business. It's code-speak for making more cuts to the system, and being "innovative" with whatever money is left.
Atkinson may not be as progressive as we'd like her to be on some issues. She, like Tedesco, supports performance pay for teachers, albeit more cautiously. We suggest a vote for Atkinson so that in her third term she can get just as aggressive with a general assembly that's likely to continue gutting public education as she did with Gov. Perdue.
- Janet Cowell
We endorse Janet Cowell, a former state senator and Raleigh city councilor who is seeking a second term. As we reported in our endorsement for the primary, Cowell has performed admirably in her role as the state's fiscal officer. She is responsible for investing $75 billion in state pension funds, which have increased in value by an average of 9.5 percent annually.
With an MBA and a background in finance, she has spoken out for modernizing the state's tax system to capture more revenues from service-sector businesses while reducing the highly regressive sales tax on retail goods.
Steve Royal, her Republican opponent is an accountant. On his campaign website, he notes that he served more than eight years with the N.C. National Guard, "achieving expert status with the M-16 rifle and was given the security clearance of 'secret.'" We're not sure how that's related to being treasurer.
District 15 (Northeast Wake County)
- Sig Hutchinson
We did not endorse Republican Neal Hunt in his 2010 re-election bid. It's because he gave us ample reasons not to.
First elected to Senate in 2004, the one-time Raleigh city councilman has previously supported measures that define marriage as the union of only a man and woman and that require voter registration forms to be printed only in English.
In subsequent years, Hunt has not budged from his far-right stance. In the 2011, he voted in approval of legislation that requires women seeking abortions to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before receiving what remains a legal medical procedure. Then there's his 2012 "yea" vote to limit the scope of the historic Racial Justice Act.
In short, Republicans have trucked several nakedly regressive bills to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk since becoming the majority in the General Assembly. And Hunt has been a willing facilitator.
That's why we endorse his opponent, Democrat Sigmund "Sig" Hutchinson. A professional sales consultant, the 59-year-old Hutchinson hasn't held a public office. However, he does have progressive bona fides. Both the League of Conservation Voters and the North Carolina National Organization for Women Political Action Committee have endorsed him. He's come out strongly for a woman's right to choose and against Amendment 1.
Hutchinson also has a deep background in environmental advocacy, as evidenced by his opposition to recently passed legislation that authorizes fracking. He's also a member of the Wake County Open Spaces and Parks Advisory Committee.
The election of Hutchinson would chip away from the 31-19 Republican majority in the state Senate. With the gubernatorial veto power up for grabs this election, progressives in the Legislature are going to need all the help they can get.
District 17 (Southwest Wake County)
- Erv Portman
The race to replace retiring Republican state Sen. Richard Stevens is a fairly easy one to call. In one corner, you have professed pro-business, anti-regulation Republican Tamara Barringer. She's a Raleigh attorney and an adjunct assistant professor of legal studies at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, and this race marks her first run for public office. Nonetheless, she has been anointed by the state GOP, who have been spending money to stave off Democratic challenges in races across the state, including this one. Barringer did not turn in an Indy questionnaire. But she's come out as an opponent of collective bargaining and has associated herself with the faction of Republicans that have refused to restore public education funding levels until, as they've put it, public schools can be fixed.
That's not the same thing as having an actual plan to increase achievement in public schools. We can't back that. That's why we're endorsing Erv Portman. The 57-year-old Cary businessman is attempting to make the jump to the General Assembly from the Wake County Board of Commissioners, where he's served since being appointed to the board in 2011 following the retirement of Stan Norwalk.
Voters might think that an ambitious move. But Portman brings with him nearly a decade of public service experience, having spent more than a year navigating one of the more partisan iterations of the Wake County board in recent memory. He also served nearly five years on the Cary Town Council.
It helps that we like his record. He joined the other members of the board's Democratic minority in February to oppose a nonbinding resolution endorsing Amendment 1. He also touts his support of restoring funding for the state's public schools, though he's opposed to instituting additional sales taxes to fill the budget gap.
Portman has instead come out in favor of closing existing tax loopholes, like the one passed by the Republican-led General Assembly earlier this year that gives local corporations of any size a tax break on their first $50,000 of income.
As a counterbalance in the state Senate, Portman is the clear choice. He would add a centrist philosophy to a body that needs an infusion of it.
District 18 (parts of Wake and Franklin counties)
We endorse Doug Berger, a four-term Democrat and longtime resident of Franklin County, for his stances on many progressive issues. He opposed Amendment 1, the fracking bill and the Women's Right to Know Act, which would require women, including victims of rape and incest, who are seeking abortions to undergo intrusive transvaginal ultrasounds.
Berger supported the original version of the Racial Justice Act, a measure that addressed the racial disparities in death penalty sentences. Republicans gutted the bill in the last legislative session.
Chad Barefoot, the Republican challenger, has lived in the district, which the GOP re-carved to favor the party, only since last year. Cut from the same cloth as ultra-conservative House Majority Leader Paul Stam, Barefoot, 29, has virtually no public service experience, other than an appointment to the Wake County Citizens Energy Advisory Commission; he has attended about half of the commission's meetings this year, according to public documents.
Barefoot is part of a larger strategy, one begun in 2010 when the GOP, funded in part by ultra-conservative millionaires such as Art Pope, seized control of the House and Senate: Change the map, buy a few seats and continue, unabated, the conservative agenda of cutting public education, rolling back women's reproductive rights and extending tax cuts to the wealthy.
Barefoot hasn't earned the seat. And North Carolina does not need another Stam clone with its attendant far-right politics in the General Assembly.
District 22 (parts of Durham, Person and Caswell counties)
- Mike Woodard
Current Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard is an easy choice in the race for District 22. An active city leader and stout progressive, Woodard backs the Racial Justice Act, supports a woman's right to choose, opposes fracking and the discriminatory Amendment 1. He supports the governor's proposed three-fourths of 1-cent sales tax to balance the state budget and head off further education cuts. Furthermore, he will not support more stringent voter identification laws, a transparent conservative bid to lower turnout among Democratic voters.
His opponent, Chapel Hill attorney Milton Holmes, is running a bizarrely weak campaign. His web presence is nonexistent. He was even gruff with a survey from the conservative Civitas group, offering up terse one-word answers and apparently leaving many questions blank. Here's what we know about Holmes: He says the tax rate is too high. He opposes nonpartisan redistricting. He opposes the sales tax for education. And how does North Carolina fix its budget nightmares? Reduce spending.
We'll take Woodard.
District 23 (parts of Orange and Chatham counties)
- Ellie Kinnaird
Longtime state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird has been a progressive champion in Raleigh for eight terms. A former Carrboro mayor and retired attorney, Kinnaird wants to restore public school funding cut by majority Republicans. She opposed deep cuts to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a valuable environmental agency devalued by frack-happy conservatives. She touts the jobs that could be created if North Carolina invests in renewable energy. And she was a Democratic advocate for nonpartisan redistricting back in 2003, long before short-sighted Democrats found themselves swallowing a bitterly partisan redistricting overseen by majority Republicans. Democrats didn't fix this problem when they had the chance, now we're all paying for it. But don't blame Kinnaird, who is running in a new District 23 that includes Chatham and Orange counties.
Republican challenger Dave Carter is a moderate conservative who, based on his responses to an Indy questionnaire, opposes the death penalty and calls for a cautious approach to fracking.
He heavily emphasizes his own job struggles—he's been laid off twice—as reason for his election. But while we're sure he can empathize, Carter is, alas, short on ideas and long on grand statements. When discussing the state's economic maladies on his campaign website, Carter puzzlingly cites his proficiency in Microsoft Excel, Word and Project. Huh?
District 35 (Eastern Wake County)
In the Republican primary, we endorsed Chris Malone because he was more tolerable than his opponent, Duane Cutlip. But this is the race for the seat being essentially vacated by Jennifer Weiss. A solid progressive, Weiss opted for retirement after being drawn out of her own district during the last round of gerrymandering. And for his part, Malone has taken a number of anti-progressive stances.
In public statements, Malone has hinted at support for civil unions. But on issue of state- sanctioned gay marriage, he's staunchly opposed. We can't rightly back a candidate who takes that position.
So we endorse Lori Millberg of Wendell. She too has sat on the Wake County school board, serving from 2005 to 2009. Currently a business administrator in her husband's Raleigh law firm, she's won the endorsement of a cadre of Wake County municipal leaders. That includes the mayors of Knightdale and Zebulon. The progressive women's group Lillian's List has also endorsed Millberg.
District 36 (South-Central Wake County)
- Lisa Baker
We endorse Democratic challenger Lisa Baker. According to her Indy questionnaire, Baker is pro-health care and anti-fracking. That helps. But our backing is mostly due to her running as the philosophical counterpoint to the incumbent, Republican Nelson Dollar.
That's not a knock on Baker. A 51-year-old community volunteer and political novice, Baker volunteered to run for the office when no other Dem would. And that's commendable. But as a first-time candidate with zero legislative or political experience, she's not the most ideal person to take on a four-term incumbent.
While acknowledging the difficulty, we're still not ready to concede that recruiting a reasonably qualified person to attempt dethroning one of Wake County's arch-conservative legislators is some quixotic enterprise. The progressive and moderate voters of District 36 deserve a serious contender. And from the state Democratic Party on down, the groups whose task it is to identify that person aren't delivering.
District 37 (Southern Wake County)
Our opinions of elected officials aren't etched in stone. That said, Paul Stam has done nothing in the last two years to persuade us that he's different from the anti-public school, anti-environment and anti-gay Republican we've never endorsed. And as long as he sticks to these stances, we never will.
Over the last two years, we've watched as Stam, as House Majority Leader, has ushered through numerous loathable bills. Fracking? Check. Amendment 1? Not only did Stam vote to place it on the ballot, he wrote the actual amendment.
It's no surprise then that we endorse his challenger, Jason Wunsch.
With such an entrenched opponent, it makes sense that Wunsch is positioning himself as the anti-Stam. Thus far, his campaign has been short of specifics and long on condemnation of Stam's own positions. But Wunsch, an attorney from Lillington, gets that offering tax credits for private education while slashing funding for public schools is not the way to improve education for the vast majority. He's also the only candidate in this race who recognizes that failure to fix public education may ultimately inhibit economic growth. It's also worth mentioning that Wunsch strongly opposed Amendment 1.
Wunsch has run for office before. He made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Fuquay-Varina Board of Commissioners in 2011. But even as a relative newcomer to politics, he's picked up some key endorsements from retiring state representative Jennifer Weiss, Wake County Commissioner Erv Portman and Wake County Democratic Chairman Dan Blue.
District 38 (East-Central Wake County)
- Yvonne Lewis Holley
When House District 38 got a bad facelift in the last round of redistricting, Democrat Deborah Ross was forced out, leaving her seat open for the taking. Enter Yvonne Lewis Holley, whom we are endorsing.
Recently retired from a career as a procurement specialist for state government, she handily defeated two other candidates in the Democratic primary contest, taking 60 percent of the total vote. And without a Republican challenger, she looked to have a cakewalk into the statehouse. But now she faces Shane Murphy, a career educator and social studies teacher at Carnage Middle School in Raleigh.
Murphy, who is running as an independent, did not submit an Indy questionnaire. But his campaign keys on the restoration of funding for public schools.
Forcing Republican leaders to engage with legislators who are also educators, people who have been on the bad end of slashed budgets, is tempting. But unlike Murphy, Holley has a history of public service. It's also worth remembering that the state House is a generally monochromatic electoral body, and Holley is a woman of color vying to represent a majority black district that includes southeast Raleigh.
Both are intriguing candidates. But if the question is who would be the more capable legislator, Holley, with her experience, is the clear choice.
District 40 (Northern Wake County)
We endorse Democrat William Watson Jones. Of the three candidates running for the seat, only one is making the case for progressive ideas. That's Jones. He supports marriage equality and opposes Republican-led efforts to block the implementation of Obamacare.
Like many of the Democratic challengers running this election year, Jones, a 57-year-old former police chief of Bunn, is a political novice. Despite the lack of legislative experience, he's secured key endorsements from Equality North Carolina and the Triangle Labor Council.
If his opponent, Republican Marilyn Avila, is breaking a sweat in her re-election bid, it's hard to tell. Her campaign website is under construction. And she raised only $18,000 during the second quarter fundraising period, according to campaign disclosure reports. That's walking around money compared with the sums her Republican brethren have been soliciting. And that's surprising because Avila is as regressive a conservative as can be found in the General Assembly these days. If Paul Stam had two X chromosomes, he'd be Marilyn Avila.
Given Avila's record, we're almost tempted to endorse Ronald Richard Reale as a spoiler. Reale is a professed conservative Libertarian. Like Avila, Reale did not submit an Indy questionnaire. But a gander at his various websites indicates that Reale is treating his campaign as a platform from which to make various bizarre accusations about Wake County Child Protective Services.
Reale's personal disputes with CPS, though tragic, do not a viable campaign issue make. As someone who affiliates with the tea party, not receiving an endorsement from the Indy may be the greatest compliment we could pay him.
District 41 (Southwestern Wake County)
- Jim Messina
Incumbent Tom Murry isn't the most fire-breathing Republican you'll ever meet. However, he's had one term to prove himself an independent-minded one. And it's there that he's fallen short.
Murry has instead latched on with the faction of legislators who believe the state should put off calculating sea level change on the coasts and that medical clinics that provide abortions should have their funding curtailed.
We endorse his opponent, Jim Messina. A 49-year-old businessman and nonprofit consultant, Messina's background is noticeably lacking legislative experience. Still, in months of campaigning, he's made the case for a more measured approach to governance.
While Murry voted to approve fracking, Messina has come out in favor of deauthorizing it until full evaluations of its environmental and economic impact can be completed. He's also opposed to further limitations of the Racial Justice Act.
Bottom line: The last thing the Legislature needs is another representative who's guided by conservative groupthink. To better make the case for their ideals, progressives in the House need Messina.
District 49 (North-Central Wake County)
- Keith Karlsson
This is the district vacated by freshman Republican Glen Bradley when he gambled that Wake County residents would support a candidate for state Senate who advocates for returning to the gold standard.
Not unexpectedly, Bradley finished a distant third in the spring Republican primary behind Chad Barefoot and Michael Schriver. Now his old seat in the house is up for grabs.
This is a contest between a retiring neurosurgeon with ties to the rabidly conservative John Locke Foundation and a onetime tech guru with a background rooted in progressive politics. We endorse the latter.
Our endorsement goes to Keith Karlsson, who spent the bulk of his professional career working at Research Triangle Park. Now retired, he's worked for nearly 30 years in computer networking for companies such as IBM and Cisco Systems. His résumé, like so many of this year's Democratic challengers, is absent of legislative experience. But he's long been active in county politics, with stints as chair of the Wake County Democratic Party and North Wake Citizens Advisory Council.
His strong stance on women's health and marriage equality have earned Karlsson endorsements from Equality North Carolina, NARAL NC-PAC and Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund.
We couldn't make a serious case for Jim Fulghum, a prototypical small government, anti-tax Republican. We could see him evolving into a gruffly pragmatic legislator whose ideology is tempered by a career spent working under the maxim "do no harm." But his membership on the John Locke Foundation Board of Directors is troublesome. The JLF is a Raleigh-based conservative think tank funded by Art Pope's myriad foundations. And there may not be government regulation on the state's books that its members would not roll back.
Our view is the Legislature and the district don't need another right-wing ideologue. What it needs instead is someone who is progressive and familiar with the local issues facing Wake County. Karlsson is it.
District 50 (parts of Orange and Durham counties)
- Valerie Foushee
We endorse Chapel Hill Democrat Valerie Foushee for this seat. An influential former member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board and now the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Foushee is a reliable progressive voice that would be a welcome addition in the conservative General Assembly. She earned our respect in September when she spurred Orange commissioners to promise funds for a community center in the Rogers Road neighborhood. As expected, Foushee promises to support public education funding at the state level.
Foushee's opponent, Hillsborough pastor Rod Chaney, mixes his theology with his sociology. On his campaign site, he reminds us that "not a single founding father was secular in his worldview." How do we know? Nonetheless, it doesn't answer the question of how we address North Carolina's myriad economic and social ailments. He's pro-fracking, opposes school funding increases and overly simplifies our economic straits as being a question of tax burden. We've heard this before. Let's not hear it again.
District 54 (Chatham County and part of Lee County)
This district, once the bastion of longtime House leader Joe Hackney, gets a facelift in 2012. The newly drawn district includes all of Chatham County and part of Lee County. We can't think of a more solid candidate to win this race than Deb McManus, a Siler City Democrat with education bona fides. McManus has served three terms on the Chatham County Board of Education. It's no surprise, then, that her campaign focuses on education, particularly restoring budget funding slashed by majority conservatives in the N.C. General Assembly. McManus understands that strong schools and a trained labor force are essential to shoring up the economy. Consider as well that McManus is a strong pro-choice advocate.
Her opponent, former Chatham GOP Chairwoman Cathy Wright, offers a stark contrast to McManus. She aims for long-range education reform that weighs whether schools are "productive" with their funding, a subjective question that begs for partisan bickering. No doubt, Wright is a strong candidate, often providing decent, reasonable debate when many resort to name-calling. That is commendable. But her stances—pro-fracking, anti-abortion rights, anti-Obamacare—are too far right to get our endorsement.
District 56 (Orange County)
Republicans simply aren't giving us a clear reason why eight-term Democrat Verla Insko should not hold on to her seat. Insko, a former school board member in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, is strong on education funding and classroom diversity. Insko promotes job development through clean energy, defends women's rights and voted against Republicans' override of Gov. Bev Perdue's fracking veto. Insko also wants to expand community college programs for professional and technical training, a boon in counties where quality jobs skip an untrained workforce.
Republican Karrie Mead has no political experience, which shows when she devotes a good chunk of her campaign blog to taking on President Obama. Mead needs to focus on problems she can solve in the N.C. General Assembly. She takes a populist route in her campaigning but doesn't deliver many specifics. Insko is the stronger choice here.
Board of Commissioners (vote for both seats)
Although there's no chance of the Republican majority changing hands on the seven-member Wake County Board of Commissioners, these races are vital. The commissioners control the purse strings for Wake County schools, and they hold the key to Wake County's transit future.
We strongly endorse political newcomer Caroline Sullivan in this district because of her stances on transit funding and education. Sullivan regularly mentions in her stump speech that she'd be the only commissioner with children in the school system. She says that experience has led her to understand that overcrowding is a huge issue and a construction bond for schools can't wait.
Sullivan is running against Republican Dale Cooke, who is opposed to a half-cent sales tax referendum that would pay for commuter rail and expanded public transportation in the Triangle. Durham County has already passed such measures—Orange County voters cast ballots on a similar referendum in this election—and we believe it's time for Wake County to wake up and do the same thing. Sullivan shares that belief.
Cooke thinks the best way to deal with Wake County's development, whether schools or transportation, is to increase the tax base and thereby the revenue. We're not opposed to that, but we think anyone who won't consider raising taxes for the public good is irresponsible.
Cooke's views would fit in extraordinarily well with those of the GOP commissioners already on the board. But we don't think a county commission that wouldn't allow its citizens to vote on a transportation tax needs any extra support.
- Betty Lou Ward
District 6 is home to six-term incumbent Betty Lou Ward, and given her track record we have no reservation in endorsing her again.
Ward supports getting to work on a school construction bond and getting a half-cent transportation tax referendum on the ballot. During the past two years in particular, she has served as a strong voice against a far-right Republican majority that has done little in the way of local governance. The GOP-majority passed resolutions in support of Amendment 1 (a constitutional gay marriage and across-the-board civil unions ban) and a voter ID law that would restrict the ability of minorities to vote. They also entertained the notion that a devious United Nations' "sustainability" conspiracy might be affecting Wake County.
Add to that the failure to reach an agreement with the school board on a badly needed construction bond and the denial of Wake County citizens' right to vote on a half-cent sales tax that would pay for commuter rail and expanded public transportation.
Lest you think we're a bit too harsh on the current majority, take note that we endorsed current Republican board members Joe Bryan and Tony Gurley in 2006.
Ward's opponent, Republican Paul Fitts, supports being more creative with the school dollars that are already levied by the county commission. It's Republican-speak for don't expect any more money from us. He also doesn't believe the Triangle is ready for commuter rail and at a recent public forum tried to link increases in crime and unemployment to mass transit systems. We'll let that speak for itself.
Soil and Water District Supervisor
- Bill Cole
An important elected position you've never heard of, the county soil and water district supervisor manages conservation projects for farmland, forests, wildlife and other natural resources. Although the district can't enforce rules on environmental issues such as agricultural and urban runoff into streams (that's the state's job), it will gently encourage you, landowner or suburban lawn lover, to keep cow patties and weed killer out of our waterways. We thank you in advance.
A supervisor needs to have a firm grasp of the challenges particular to an area. In the case of Wake County, those include stream restoration, suburban/ urban runoff, the disappearance of farmland, and the ability to work with landowners and state and federal officials on conservation projects and funding.
We endorse Bill Cole, a software consultant from Cary, for this post. His excellent command of the issues facing Wake County is reflected in his list of priorities: managing water quality and quantity both above and below the ground, educating suburban and urban residents about water pollution from the over-application of lawn chemicals (Why do people hate dandelions so?) and strengthening local food systems.
His opponent, Patrick Lawson, is a real estate broker, which we feel could present a conflict of interest. What better way to pinpoint new real estate opportunities than working with landowners? In addition, Lawson's answers on the Indy questionnaire indicated he has a thin understanding of conservation issues.
Community College Bonds (all Wake County voters)
If continuing education is a priority—and it should be—vote YES on this bond, which expedites $200 million for Wake Tech expansion with the county chipping in another $10.2 million. Thousands of students are on waiting lists to attend the multi-campus college, which plans to use the cash for capital construction. The bulk of bond money would go to three new instructional buildings on its Northern Wake campus. Other projects include expansion on its Public Safety Education Campus in South Raleigh, renovations and repairs at the school's main campus and startup at its new Research Triangle Park Campus in Morrisville. No tax increase is required to fund the Wake Tech expansion.
Transportation, Fire Station, Parks Bonds (Cary voters only)
Vote YES on three bonds totaling $80 million in Cary. Town leaders plan to use about $57.6 million of the cash on recession-delayed transit improvements, including upgrades on streets, sidewalks, bridges and overpasses, as well as streetscaping, new traffic signals and more. Cary would spend another $15.8 million on local parks and recreation and another $6.4 million to update an outdated fire station. Each of these projects are quality-of-life issues, and town officials have effectively made their case that, without the bonds, these needed improvements will not happen.
There is a cost for taxpayers. According to Cary leaders, property taxes will increase by two cents in 2013 and another two cents in 2015. That means if you own a $250,000 home you'll pay an additional $50 per year. Cary currently has the lowest property tax rate in Wake County. If the bonds pass, that would not change.
Transportation, Parks Bonds (Morrisville voters only)
Morrisville voters have two bond packages totaling $20 million on the ballot. The majority, or about $14.3 million, is intended for transit improvements at the bottleneck at N.C. 54 and Chapel Hill Road. Transit can be a headache in Morrisville. With the region's growth, don't expect that headache to go away without an investment. Town leaders say they plan to build 1.7 miles of new roadway extending McCrimmon Parkway from N.C. 54 to Airport Boulevard and ending at Evans Road.
The second bond package would direct $5.7 million toward upgrades at Morrisville Community Park and the Morrisville Aquatics and Fitness Center. Look for new tennis courts, horseshoe pits, disc golf and a greenway extension at the former; tennis courts and an enclosed pool at the latter.
If both bonds are approved, residents will likely see a four-cent property tax rate hike by 2018. The cash will be presented in two votes, so you can vote for one without the other. But we think quality of life is a worthwhile investment in Morrisville. Vote YES on both bond packages.
Board of Commissioners (vote for five seats)
- Ellen Reckhow
After the primary, it appeared the Durham County Board of Commissioners race was done. All five seats had been elected—from a crowded field of 11 candidates—and unless someone decided to file to run in the General Election, it was over.
That happened when Omar Beasley, a Democrat, filed over the summer and became the sixth candidate in a five-person race.
So now it's a contest. The candidates are incumbents Ellen Reckhow, Michael Page and Brenda Howerton, and newcomers Beasley, Fred Foster Jr. and Wendy Jacobs.
In the primary, we endorsed Reckhow, Foster, Jacobs and Will Wilson (he lost). Unable to decide on a fifth candidate, we left the final seat unendorsed.
In the General Election, we're again endorsing Ellen Reckhow, Fred Foster Jr. and Wendy Jacobs.
- Fred Foster Jr.
Notably, we did not endorse Page and Howerton in the primary because of their support for 751 South, which earned them the backing of a Super PAC run by Southern Durham Development, which was behind the project.
But given the field of six, the last two endorsements go to Michael Page and Brenda Howerton, with the hopes they will make better decisions, particularly on development issues, in their next term.
As for Beasley, a bail bondsman and ex-N.C. Central University football player, he is on the board of the N.C. Bail Agents Association. His affiliation on the board gives us pause because the group has pushed for state legislation supported, if not written, by the American Legislative Exchange Council. A right-wing policymaking group, ALEC has drafted regressive legislation in many states.
- Wendy Jacobs
The association wanted the Legislature to pass a law requiring people to stay in jail for three days before getting a pre-trial release unless they bonded themselves out—via a bail bondsman, of course.
We're not saying Beasley is behind this, but his position on the board means he's in the thick of its questionable business. And we certainly don't need that on the board of commissioners.
Soil and Water District Supervisor
- Danielle Adams
As we noted in the endorsement for the Wake County supervisor, this is an important elected position you've never heard of. The county soil and water district supervisor manages conservation projects for farmland, forests, wildlife and other natural resources. Although the district can't enforce rules on environmental issues such as agricultural and urban runoff into streams (that's the state's job), it will gently encourage you, landowner or suburban lawn lover, to keep cow patties and weed killer out of our waterways. We thank you in advance.
A supervisor needs to have a firm grasp of the challenges particular to an area. In the case of Durham County, those include stream restoration, suburban/ urban runoff, the disappearance of farmland, and the ability to work with landowners and state and federal officials on conservation projects and funding.
We are impressed by Danielle Adams' depth of knowledge and understanding of environmental and conservation issues, and we endorse the incumbent for a second term.
In Durham, the district is encouraging county commissioners to adopted a unified watershed ordinance that will help homeowners more easily navigate the requirements. Secondly, the district is working on a voluntary program (the district has no major enforcement powers) to encourage homeowners to reduce the amount of fertilizers and other chemicals they apply to their lawns.
Adams, who is on the legislative committee of the state association, is also an ambassador to OxFam America's Sisters on the Planet advocacy program. As secretary of the Durham district, Adams was chosen as Outstanding Supervisor of the Year among the state's many soil and water district leaders, an impressive accolade for someone in her first term.
Yet she is unafraid to criticize the larger state association, noting in her questionnaire that "on a state level, districts are not keeping up with trends. As an association we failed to take a stand on fracking. We have not broadened our scope to include climate change, air quality, mountain top removal, deforestation, stormwater and nutrient management rules."
We applaud her honesty and hope she can change the state association from the inside as well as continue her work in Durham.
Her opponent, Kelly Smoke, while earnest in her concern for natural resources, lacks Adams' expertise and experience.
Board of Commissioners
- Bernadette Pelissier
Bernadette Pelissier is everything that you expect of an Orange County commissioner—socially progressive, environmentally conscious and bullish on public transit. Thus we endorse Pelissier, the current Board of Commissioners chairwoman, to retain her seat in 2012.
Since her election in 2008, Pelissier has run up a proud list of accomplishments.
Last year, she helped launch the Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center, a joint operation with Alamance, Chatham, Durham and Orange counties to foster local food entrepreneurs and farmers. She's been an advocate for bolstering public transit, an issue that is as much a social cause as it is economic and environmental. And her leadership spurred the merging of various county departments to increase efficiency in tight budget times.
Over the years, Orange County officials have been far too slow in mending their relationship with Rogers Road residents blighted by an aging landfill, unfulfilled promises and a dearth of public utilities. But under Pelissier's watch in September, commissioners sent the message that they would back a long-delayed community center for the neighborhood. Admittedly, departing Commissioner Valerie Foushee provided the fuel for that fire, but Pelissier didn't suck the oxygen out.
Pelissier's opponent, Hillsborough Republican Mary Carter, is an interesting candidate, but she fails to offer a clear reason to unseat Pelissier. However, Carter's Latino heritage makes her a welcome shot of diversity, and we agree with her assertion that a dissenting voice is good for government. A social moderate who backs same-sex health care benefits, Carter is a fiscal conservative who hits many of the standard GOP notes: Lower taxes! Improve education! Sounds good, now tell us how.
- Renee Price
It's hard to imagine a better fit for Orange County commissioner than Renee Price of Hillsborough, who has spent her life fighting for progressive change. A New York native, Price fought for inner-city reclamation and affordable housing before moving in 1990 to Orange County, where she became an advocate for small farms and environmental conservation.
Price has a wealth of experience, serving on many nonprofits and advisory boards over the last two decades, including the Planning Board, Historic Preservation Commission and the Commission for the Environment.
No surprise, Price is keying on transit and solid waste. Price is a proponent of mass transit's benefits for workers, the environment and the economy. She agrees the Orange County Landfill's closing is long overdue, and that residents responsible for creating the waste should be charged with disposing it. Price also encourages innovative solutions for Orange's trash headache, urging the county to explore waste-to-energy models, a method of energy recovery in which waste is incinerated in order to generate power. Recycling is still the preferred route here, but Price seems willing to explore creative options.
Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine a worse fit for Orange County than Chris Weaver, a self-described "screaming conservative" who identifies with tea partiers and seems more bent toward ideology than practicality. Weaver is a longtime business owner who blasts Orange as hostile toward business and demands lower taxes. He has a point that one-party rule can lead to blundering inefficiency, but it's hard to stomach his far-right views.
Weaver's view of government? "Government can only construct degrees of freedom in which prosperity may be created or suppressed." What about immigrants? "I will not vote for any tax dollars to be spent on non-citizens of the United States." Those are direct quotes from Weaver's campaign site. While we appreciate his blunt honesty, this is just a bad fit for Orange County.
One-Half Percent Local Sales and Use Tax
At the right—or, more aptly, wrong—time of day, it can take as long to drive the nine miles from Durham to Chapel Hill on U.S. 15-501 as it does the 30 miles to Raleigh on Interstate 40.
And if population projections are correct—an additional 40,000 people could move into Orange County by 2030—then the gridlock could be so intractable that cars will fossilize in their tracks, like dinosaurs. (How poetic, considering most cars run on fossil fuels.)
Getting cars off the road and people into buses and trains is important not only to ease traffic congestion but to improve the region's air quality. That's why we're saying vote FOR on a half-cent sales tax to fund expanded bus and light rail investments in Orange County. Durham County voters passed a similar measure last year.
The tax will not apply to food, medicine, gasoline, utilities and housing—life's basics, in other words. But the tax is expected to raise $5 million in annual revenue to pay for an impressive array of new mass transit. This is in addition to state and federal funding, vehicle registration fees and rental car taxes and a $25 million loan.
Within five years, new service is planned between Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham; expanded weekend night service, Saturday routes to Hillsborough and enhanced rural transit. Mebane, a car-dependent outpost on the Orange/ Alamance county line, also gets express bus service to Hillsborough and Durham.
In six years-plus, a new Amtrak station will be built in Hillsborough. Currently, the trains can't stop there without a station, forcing Orange County riders to drive to Burlington or Durham to catch the Amtrak, which defeats the point of mass transit.
By the time those 40,000 additional people show up, a $1.3 billion (Orange would pay $16.2 million annually to build, $3.4 million annually to operate), 17.3-mile light rail system between Orange and Durham counties—connecting downtowns, urban neighborhoods and medical centers—should be under way.
Some Orange County residents oppose the tax, saying the transit plan is ill-conceived. They argue the new tax can't be used for existing bus service and that it does not provide additional service to or from Chapel Hill to RTP, the airport or Raleigh. (TTA runs express and local service buses from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, plus transfers to RTP and the airport.) No plan exists for rail service between Wake and Orange counties.
The fate of the region's mass transit systems should not hinge on the shortsightedness of Republican Wake County commissioners, who won't put a measure on the ballot. Orange County should demonstrate its leadership on transportation and leave Wake in the dust.
Board of Commissioners
If fracking does come to pass in North Carolina, Chatham County is one of those places where it's likely to happen. So in the future, Chatham commissioners could face a number of questions about the controversial drilling practice. We endorse former board chairwoman and Democrat Sally Kost, who is clearly opposed to drilling. Her opponent, Republican Don Shilesky, is somewhere in the middle, although he promises a scientific, not emotional, analysis. This seems heartening, but we need clarity on an issue this big.
Still, Shilesky offers an inviting alternative as a challenger in this race. He's an environmental scientist who has worked as a technical consultant for trash bigwigs Waste Management Inc. He touts his expertise as a plus as Chatham negotiates a new hauling contract in 2014. Shilesky clearly brings expertise to the race, but so does Kost, a former budget director for Wake and Orange counties. Kost's fiscal experience is a major plus in these times.
The candidates diverge on education. Kost calls for more public school funding. Shilesky demands schools use the funding they have more wisely. If you've been watching North Carolina's GOP leaders in recent years, this is the type of thing they say when they're raiding the budget. In the end, you know what you're getting with an able progressive like Kost, which is better than what you might or might not be getting with Shilesky.
When Chatham County Democrats lost the majority on the Board of Commissioners in 2010, New Hill Democrat Mike Cross found himself in a diminished role on the board. That's not going to change in 2012. Only two seats are up for grabs this year and both are held by incumbent Democrats. Still, Cross—a U.S. Navy veteran who's held a county commission seat since 2004—is a solid progressive with experience and an ability to compromise. We endorse Cross for another term.
GOP challenger Bill Crawford, a former Pittsboro mayoral candidate, backs the conservative board in power. He demands reduced spending but doesn't offer specifics. And he's critical of school spending, calling for Chatham school officials to justify their budget requests. This is a common refrain among North Carolina Republicans eager to slice education dollars. Cross is the clear choice here.
Judicial Races (all nonpartisan)
N.C. Supreme Court
- Sam J. Ervin IV
Two qualified men, a Republican and Democrat, are vying for one seat on the state's highest court. And in this race, their party affiliation means everything. It also means nothing at all.
In North Carolina, judicial races are ostensibly nonpartisan, which makes a campaign an exercise in how many times one can fit the words "fairness" and "impartiality" into a stump speech.
Still, Republicans currently hold a 4-to-3 advantage on the state Supreme Court bench, according to the justices' voter registration. Meaning the political balance of the court, along with its philosophical bent, could shift based on the outcome of this race.
In this next eight-year term, the court could hear challenges to some recently passed legislation, including putting on the ballot Amendment 1, which codified in the state constitution a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions for both straight and gay couples. Politics could play a role in those decisions, so we endorse Judge Sam J. Ervin IV, who currently sits on the appellate court. In our view, he can render an impartial judgment no matter his personal views. About his Republican opponent, incumbent justice Paul Newby, there's still doubt.
Ervin, 56, is a jurist of high reputation. After obtaining a degree from Harvard Law School, he spent the next 18 years as a private practitioner in Morganton, N.C. He later served on the state utilities commission. In 2009, he won a seat on the State Court of Appeals.
Lawyers who've appeared before Ervin remark on his superior grasp of the law. As a sitting member of the Court of Appeals, he's written more 350 opinions. And in a long career, he's handled a range of decisions, from state energy regulations to murder cases.
Newby, too, is an accomplished jurist, having spent nearly two decades as a federal prosecutor before his 2004 election to the bench. But just this year, he's attended several tea party rallies; in 2005, shortly after he was first elected to the court, Newby was seen attending an anti-gay marriage rally.
More recently, state GOP chairman turned lobbyist Tom Fetzer, along with a handful of other high-powered conservatives, formed a political action committee to support Newby's re-election bid. The group has neither raised nor spent a dime since news of its formation made the rounds, according to the most recent financial disclosure reports.
Still, that it was formed at all indicates that Newby is the clear, unanimous choice by the conservative political elite.
State Court of Appeals
For Cressie Thigpen's professional experience and legal pedigree, he gets our endorsement. Like nearly all candidates for the judiciary, he touts his fairness and impartiality. And he strikes us, as well as members of the legal community, as a judge who will do as he says and apply the law equally and fairly.
Appointed to the N.C. Court of Appeals by Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2010, he's the first African-American lawyer to be inducted into the North Carolina General Practice Hall of Fame. That's helped him earn the endorsement of the Durham People's Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
Thigpen also has 30-plus years' experience as both trial lawyer and special superior court judge. That gives him the clear edge over his opponent, Robert Christopher Dillon. Endorsed by the Wake County GOP, the crux of Dillon's campaign is his oft-repeated pledge to not legislate from the bench.
That's a laudable pursuit. It's also a heap of red meat thrown out to Republican voters. As it stands, Dillon, an attorney who specializes in employment and regulatory law, has zero experience presiding over a court of any level. And that's what precludes him from the post.
Despite having no judicial experience, Republican David Robinson has stepped up to try and unseat Linda McGee. It's worth noting that McGee was first appointed to the bench in 1995, making her the longest serving woman on the court, and its second most senior judge.
Since diversity and experience are traits that we value highly, we endorse Linda McGee.
McGee is among nine Democratic judges on the state Court of Appeals. The other six are Republicans, according to voter registration records. If maintaining that majority is of importance for progressive values, then McGee is the pick. With her ensconced on the court, buttressing the Democratic majority, the philosophical status quo will be maintained as expected legal challenges to the Republican-led redistricting plan begin to make their way through the court system.
But even if the differential between Republicans and Democrats on the court were of no consequence, McGee would still be our choice. Robinson, who like McGee did not submit an Indy questionnaire, is an attorney for Nexus Pruet, a firm that specializes in corporate and employment law.
He's running on a platform of "judicial restraint." And while there's precedent for generally conservative judges sitting on the court, Robinson has no experience actually presiding over a courtroom.
- Wanda Bryant
We endorse Judge Wanda Bryant in her reelection bid. By all accounts, she's the type of judge that North Carolina deserves—fair, knowledgeable and respectful of all who enter her court.
A former prosecutor, her work history includes stints at the highest levels of the state and federal judiciary systems. She spent years as a deputy in the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. She's also worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney.
Bryant was appointed to the state Court of Appeals in 2001 by then-Gov. Mike Easley, a fellow Democrat. After serving for 11 years, she has written more than 1,000 opinions.
She's also been recognized by the Durham People's Alliance, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and Equality NC, all of whom have endorsed her in this election. That, and her wealth of experience, gives Bryant the nod.
Her Republican opponent, Martin McGee, has for the last 10 years served as a district court judge in Cabarrus County. But unlike some of the other challengers, he's not touting his party membership or conservative leanings as a qualification for the office. In fact, he's not confessed to any conservative judicial philosophy. That's a plus, given the unseemliness of his fellow challengers' near-naked partisanship.
Still, his record doesn't trump his opponent's. The choice is Bryant.
Wake County Superior Court
We endorse Abe Jones. First appointed to the court in 1995, he has nearly two decades of experience administering a trial court at the state's highest level and has an impressive résumé. But in recent months, lawyers have criticized Jones' administrative skills: his maintenance of the court calendar and tardiness in rendering his verdicts. That criticism reflected in a job performance evaluation survey compiled by the North Carolina Bar Association earlier this year.
Members were asked to rate judges on qualities ranging from administrative skills to legal ability to integrity. A total 690 lawyers weighed in with their opinions of Jones, and the results are enough to give us pause.
On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is the highest score, Jones received an overall mark of 3.3. That puts him well below most of his colleagues on the superior court bench, most of whom notched scores of 4 or higher.
More notably, Jones' score ranks him below his opponent, Bryan Collins. For nearly two decades, Collins has served as head of the Wake County Public Defender's Office. As a longtime trial lawyer, his peers in the legal community respect him. And we are impressed with his perspective on the role of the court and how the system can be improved to ensure that justice is served for defendants and plaintiffs both.
But we will not endorse to unseat an incumbent judge on lawyers' opinion alone. And despite the criticism, we could find no evidence that Jones has ever been reprimanded, publicly or otherwise, by the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission, the body tasked with investigating complaints of judicial misconduct. And not even his harshest critics can point to any egregious lapse in his understanding or administration of the law.
We believe that some of the criticism of Jones is valid. We hope that Jones considers it carefully and then works to make the appropriate changes.
Wake County District Court
District 10 (Gray seat)
- Erin Graber
We endorsed Erin Graber in the 2012 primary, and we endorse her again in the General Election.
Well-respected by her peers, Graber is a former advocate for domestic violence victims; her legal specialty is families and children—the types of cases often seen in district court. She also is concerned about budget cuts to indigent defense funding, not only from a fiscal standpoint but a constitutional one. Graber also participates in the Wake County Volunteer Lawyers Program and was profiled in N.C. Lawyers Weekly for her pro bono work.
Graber's opponent, Dan Nagle, ran for district court in 2010. He retired after 28 years in the Wake County Sheriff's Office, where he supervised the juvenile investigations unit. His list of supporters includes arch-conservatives House Majority Leader Skip Stam, Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble, U.S. Attorney George Holding (who is also running for Congress) and Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.
District 10 (Worley seat)
We didn't endorse either Anna Worley or Charles Gilliam in the primary. But since our choice, Daniel Barker, lost, we now have to choose between an incumbent, Worley, with poor administrative skills or a self-described conservative with corporate law experience.
Despite her shortcomings, we're cautiously endorsing Anna Worley because of her four years of experience on the bench. She is a Family Law Specialist certified by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Specialization and a certified Family Financial Mediator. She serves as a family court judge. She also sits in on domestic violence court and criminal courtrooms.
We strongly encourage her to become better organized and work on her administrative skills. Justice cannot be adequately served when there are unnecessary delays that upend families and victims who are already vulnerable.
Gilliam graduated summa cum laude from Michigan State law school and has worked in corporate, business and intellectual property law. He teaches classes in management innovation entrepreneurship at N.C. State University. He's clearly a bright guy, but his background doesn't adequately prepare him for the cases—family, domestic violence, custody, misdemeanor crimes, etc.—he could encounter as a district court judge.
Durham County Superior Court
In District 14A, we endorse Orlando Hudson. Hudson is the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge in a district that includes nearly all of Durham. Hudson was first appointed to the bench in 1989.
His answers s in the Indy questionnaire suggest that his ideas on how to make the trial process more efficient aren't novel. For instance, he says that the county build its own crime lab, so that evidence-processing delays at the state crime lab are no longer a factor.
Still, Hudson's peers in the legal community cite his knowledge of the law's intricacies and humane approach to meting out justice. It's earned him the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
But Hudson has received some criticism of late. That's a polite way of saying that before being removed from office, former Durham District Attorney Tracy Cline waged war on Hudson's reputation, accusing him of judicial misconduct.
However, the state Judicial Standards Commission, the panel tasked with reviewing such complaints, has since cleared Hudson of the charges. It was an ugly period. And Hudson has emerged from it intact.
For his opponent, Durham prosecutor Jim Dornfried, it's not uncommon for prosecutors to make the jump to the superior court bench. But Dornfried's own professional reputation may need to be rehabilitated before that happens.
He's received criticism from peers for impatience and unwillingness to utilize sentencing alternative programs. And in a recent survey conducted by the North Carolina Bar Association, he received below average marks for integrity and other qualities.
More importantly, however, Dornfried's candidacy reeks too much of the scandal that entangled his old boss. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood removed Cline from office in March for making what he ruled were "false and malicious" statements about Hudson's conduct. During Cline's three years as the county's top prosecutor, and when she herself was pulled into court to defend her accusations of Hudson, Dornfried was one of her chief lieutenants. The clear choice is Hudson.
Corrections: Elaine Marshall defeated Cal Cunningham in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary race; she then lost to Richard Burr. Cathy Wright resigned as chairwoman of the Chatham County GOP due to her House District 54 candidacy. Tamara Barringer is an adjunct assistant professor of legal studies at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School (not an adjunct professor at the UNC School of Law).