News » News Feature

Big Stakes

Wake County Races


N.C. House, District 63
Though she is the incumbent, Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a Democrat from Cary, is actually staging her first electoral bid at the polls next week. Appointed to this House seat after the death of Rep. Jane Mosley late in 1999, Weiss has plunged into campaigning just as she dove into legislative issues once in office. A quick study and an experienced community activist, Weiss has already shown enough vigor and political smarts to suggest that she is ready to spearhead fair and forward-looking projects in the General Assembly.Weiss, who once headed the legal wing of the Women's Center in Raleigh and cut her political teeth campaigning for Wake County Democrats, appears ready to take the lead on important issues ranging from education to minority rights to public health. She says she's willing to invest in serious measures to safeguard natural resources. "When I vote for the environment, it just gives me an altogether good feeling," she told The Independent. "And if it costs us a little more today, it'll cost more in the future if we don't protect our air quality and our water."

Republican candidate Nancy H. Brown is about as worthy an opponent as a progressive Democrat could hope for. Eminently moderate and sharing Weiss' commitment to boosting school funding, Brown can boast of having spent years directly involved in early education, her profession. While she clearly has a lot to offer on that front, for the most part she supports the generic GOP program on economic and social issues. Brown would likely fall in line with the conservative rank-and-file on a slew of issues where Weiss would break new ground as a voice for progressive concerns.

N.C. House, District 64
It takes a special breed of politician to consistently take power-bucking stands like opposition to tax breaks for corporations--and then continue to win elections. Count Rep. Bob Hensley among that breed. The six-term incumbent, a Raleigh Democrat, has marshaled the support for his many return trips to office by staying active with a multitude of civic groups and by taking and defending progressive stances on a full range of policy questions. He's been an adamant and eloquent voice on how best to balance economic interests with human ones, especially on issues like education and the environment. If voters keep him in office, he says, a priority during his next term will be to "reverse the trend of mortgaging our children's futures to finance tax cuts for big businesses and the wealthy."In his first run for political office, Republican contender Lee Moorefield, a home builder and developer, has called for cutting taxes on small businesses and shifting more government functions to the Internet--whatever that means. Libertarian candidate Tom Luther, a mechanical engineer, is also new to electoral politics. "I am tired of choosing between moderate and extreme socialists," he says to summarize the two major parties. "I will focus on property rights and individual rights," he says to summarize his program.

N.C. House, District 62
Four-term Republican incumbent David Miner faces a three-way race for his seat in a district covering southwestern Wake, and including Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and parts of Cary. While largely sticking to the big-business Republican script, the 37-year-old businessman has been known to step out of that mold upon occasion. One example is his opposition to the crimes-against-nature law, a seldom-enforced sodomy law used mostly by the state to remind homosexuals that they lack equal protection, and that their intimate acts are criminal. Because of this ability to step out of his party's shoes and vote his conscience, and despite the fact that he is a big-time fundraiser for George W. Bush, Miner remains a much-needed voice on the Republican side of the aisle. Democratic challenger Gerald W. Holleman is the outspoken, longtime mayor of Holly Springs. He has a decent record on education and a notable commitment to inclusion, but he failed to respond to our repeated requests for information. Holleman recently sparked controversy over his title as the highest-paid mayor in Wake County, given his dual role as mayor and town administrator in a town of only 7,000. He has since given up the latter position.

Ian Sands is a Libertarian and Nortel Networks worker. Largely an ideologue, Sands believes in less government and has not mounted a significant campaign.

N.C. House, District 61
We support M. Jackson "Jack" Nichols in his bid for a House seat in this district covering part of inside-the-Beltline Raleigh, and areas to the northwest, both inside and outside the city. A former Wake County commissioner and attorney, Nichols offers considerable experience, as well as a commitment to regional planning and identifying environmentally friendly transportation options. His diligence is well-documented as is his capacity for inclusion.Nichols is running against Republican incumbent Art Pope, an attorney and businessman who took over Rep. Chuck Neely's seat last session after the latter announced his bid for the governor's mansion. Though liked and respected by legislators on both sides of the aisle, the staunchly conservative Pope falls far short of representing the forward-thinking vision that the district needs.

N.C. House, District 92
We'd like to see longtime teacher and legislative assistant Gerry Bowles represent this House district covering northern Wake County and parts of Durham. The former history teacher has mounted a feisty campaign against three-term incumbent and arch-conservative, J. Russell Capps, in this conservative-leaning district.Bowles would bring lengthy public-school experience, a concern for the environment and support for a moratorium on the death penalty--which she feels is flagrantly flawed and unfair--to the legislature. There are some weaknesses: She has an incomplete grasp of welfare and fiscal policy issues, and she supports current high-stakes testing policies in public schools.

But it's time to move beyond Capps' out-of-touch stances and legislative ineffectiveness. The former TV announcer and county planner wants to limit the teaching of evolution in public schools and was recently ranked a dismal 116th out of 120 house members in the Center for Public Policy Research's legislative effectiveness poll.

N.C. House, District 15
Back in April, we said that Democratic challenger Thomas B. Hunt would have to step up his low-key campaign if he wanted to earn our endorsement and unseat the firmly entrenched Republican incumbent Sam Ellis. The 31-year-old businessman and political-science student from Apex did not do so.

Ellis, a four-termer, has a solid base of support in this district that covers southeastern Wake County. But his backward-thinking conservative agenda makes him as unworthy of a vote as his invisible opponent.

N.C. House, District 21
We encourage you to return longtime Democratic incumbent and former Speaker Dan Blue to the House for another term. For two decades, the Raleigh Democrat has ably represented this district covering the southeastern part of the city. In the process, he has garnered broad appeal while remaining a champion of public education, youth and minority causes. Blue's attempt to regain the speaker post two years ago via an 11th-hour coalition with Republicans showed his willingness to take risks and think outside of the conventional party structure.Blue's opponent is 27-year-old Jesse Halliday, a Libertarian ideologue with no campaign experience who wants to limit the size and scope of government.

N.C. Senate, District 36
Has anyone seen my old friend John?

That's the question most voters are likely asking in District 36, which covers most of Cary and extends into west and northwest Raleigh. The three-term Republican incumbent and millionaire, John Carrington, has easily outspent his challengers in past races while largely distinguishing himself by not distinguishing himself. During six years in office, he has sponsored only three pieces of legislation, all of which died in committee. Last term, he missed more votes than all but seven senators. He is a consistent no-show at public events in his district and was recently voted the least effective senator in the state by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization. Carrington is also the owner of a police equipment company that has supplied riot gear to repressive foreign governments, including South Africa during the apartheid era.

Democratic challenger Jim Crew would provide District 36 with the leadership and attention it deserves. A retired business and economics professor, Crew has campaigned tirelessly to offset Carrington's five-to-one spending edge via door-to-door appeals in this large, conservative-leaning district. The moderate and well-informed Crew is a strong supporter of campaign finance reform, Smart Start and increased environmental controls. He opposes school vouchers, favors impact fees to keep growth in check and feels a mass-transit system would allow for higher-density residential areas while reducing urban sprawl. Crew is much less progressive in one area: He supports the death penalty and refuses to acknowledge the need for a moratorium. But despite this unfortunate stance, Crew's superior work ethic, mostly forward-thinking agenda and accessibility would offer a much-needed breath of fresh air to District 36.

N.C. Senate, District 14
Although Republican challenger John Bryant does support campaign finance reform, it would certainly take more than that to steal the leadership from either of the two proven and capable Democratic incumbents in District 14. We encourage you to return Sens. Brad Miller and Eric Reeves to their seats, and let them continue leading this district that covers a large portion of eastern Wake County, and part of Johnston County.Miller, a two-term senator, has been a consistent advocate for public schools and the environment, while also supporting campaign finance reform. Unlike most of the Democratic establishment, he rightfully voices skepticism about a heavy reliance on standardized testing, and insists that schools with the least advantaged students are being unfairly punished under the current education standards. The Raleigh attorney does, however, support the death penalty, and presently does not see the need for a moratorium.

Reeves, also a Raleigh attorney and supporter of the death penalty, favors a moratorium for capital cases that rely on scientific rather than physical evidence. His record is as sound as Miller's in terms of public-school support, especially in the critical area of educational technology. If reelected, Reeves will fight sprawl while continuing to prioritize such environmental issues as improved air quality and better storm-water policies.

Wake County Board of Commissioners
Conservative Republicans have had Wake County in a tizzy for years over school funding. The school system is adding 3,000 students a year, or about three new schools' worth. When the Republicans took control of the Board of Commissioners in 1994, though, they cut the property tax and slashed the school board's funding requests to do it. Democrats have won the two elections since, in '96 and '98, and now hold a 6-1 majority. Nonetheless, when all seven commissioners proposed a $650 million school construction bond in early '99, the conservatives attacked, and the voters massacred it at the polls.

This year, the commissioners are back with a pared-down bond proposal for $500 million, and there's virtually no opposition to it. Below, we endorse it. We note here, however, that the reason there's no opposition is that the new bond won't raise taxes--and the reason it won't is that the Wake commissioners had the guts to raise them by 10 cents a year following the first bond's defeat. That was a red-hot controversy at the time. In retrospect, its wisdom is clear for all to see. One way or another, taxes needed to go back up to cope with swelling school enrollments. The first bond would have increased taxes later. This one won't, because they've already been increased.

The gutsy commissioners who fought for the schools and won were the current chair, Betty Lou Ward, an ex-operating room nurse, and Yevonne Brannon, an N.C. State University official. Both are Democrats. Ward, in her three four-year terms, and Brannon, in one, have been progressive voices for the county, not just on school issues but for social services, for better land-use planning and--in Brannon's case, in particular--for open-space protection. Brannon's been the driving force behind a second bond issue on the Wake ballot this year to acquire undeveloped land for conservation before it's all gone. We're pleased to support their re-election.

Republicans Ray Paquette, who's running against Ward, and Kenn Gardner, who's opposing Brannon, say raising taxes last year was wrong. At least they have the decency not to promise any more cuts, only to "stop the waste"--which is not otherwise identified. Gardner's an oddball candidate. An architect, he ran in the GOP primary four years ago and lost, then endorsed Brannon in the election. Paquette, a businessman, lost to Ward in '96.

Commission candidates are elected to represent districts, but they run countywide. The third race this year is between incumbent Democrat Vernon Malone, the only black commissioner, and a retired CP&L manager, Republican Hildred Hutchins, who is brand new to county politics. Malone, who's retired too, used to be superintendent of the Gov. Morehead School, which serves the visually impaired. He's been a commissioner 16 years and surprised people by running again after saying he wouldn't. He's a little conservative for our taste, but we don't like the idea of an all-white board either, and Hutchins, though appealing personally, is essentially an anti-tax candidate like her GOP colleagues.

Wake Soil and Water Conservation Board
Let's give a cheer, and a vote, to John Y. Phelps, a surveyor by trade who's been a member of this board for 26 years. It's volunteer duty at no pay. "A labor of love," as he says. The board is the local arm of the federal soil conservation service, which helps farmers protect against erosion. It also oversees local sediment-control regulation of construction sites and, in Wake County, has put in flood-control structures at places like Crabtree Valley. Phelps, a former president in the state association of soil and water officers, has volunteered many hours lobbying in Raleigh and Washington for the modest funding the county boards get. His opponent, Marcia Lieber, works for the state division of water quality, so she knows the job. But Phelps is doing it well.

Superior Court Judge, District 10
This is a nonpartisan election for two trial-court positions. Superior Court seats in Wake County have special importance, because lawsuits of statewide significance--like the one going on now that challenges the constitutionality of North Carolina's campaign-finance practices--are heard in Raleigh.

Judge Howard Manning is hearing the campaign-finance suit. He recently issued a blockbuster decision in the Leandro case: that the state constitution's guarantee of equal educational opportunity for children requires that low-income kids be enrolled in a preschool program before kindergarten. It's a good ruling, an example of why he earns high marks from Democrats and Republicans alike for his thoughtful work. We think he's earned another term.

Former District Court Judge Don Overby earns our nod for the second seat. Overby was admired for his creativity in juvenile court cases, finding ways to make kids pay attention without hurting them--as when he removed one miscreant's Duke cap and cut it into pieces as punishment. He's also known for riding his motorcycle across the country to raise money for a center where children could stay when their parents were in court. Overby lost the '96 election to District Court Judge Ann Marie Calabria, which is no disgrace, and since May he's been serving as a fill-in judge. He's got the right stuff to move up.

The two other candidates are Fred Alphin, Jr. who used to work for the state banking commission and for the last 25 years has represented corporations and insurance companies; and Evelyn W. Hill, an assistant Wake County district attorney for 21 years. Hill's prosecuted some high-visibility murder cases. Her skills and temperament aren't considered as good as Manning's and Overby's.

District Court Judge, District 10
Two incumbents have done a good job and merit re-election. Democrat Fred M. Morelock, a judge for 14 years, is considered the county's best at family court issues, and was the first in the state to be given a specialized family law designation within his district court. His opponent, Republican Kris Bailey, has only been a lawyer for five years. Before, he had several jobs, including marriage counselor.

Republican Ann Marie Calabria, elected in 1996, has also done well in her first term, especially by reaching out to Spanish-speaking defendants. It was hard to get them placed with groups where they could do "community service" if they didn't speak English; she sentenced them instead to take English classes, while creating a task force to look for community groups that would take them. She's running against John Tantum, a Democrat and the Wendell town attorney.

The only other contested race is for an open seat. We support Democrat Steve F. Bryant, who has a lot of experience with criminal cases and some in family law, over Republican Jennifer Miller Green, who specializes in divorce cases. Bryant, who's practiced in Raleigh since 1994, worked for 14 years in the state Attorney General's office, first on cases involving Dorothea Dix Hospital, then in the utilities section, and finally as head of the appellate section of the criminal unit. He's supported by, among other groups, the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys and the Fraternal Order of Police. His wife, Dawn Bryant, is the Raleigh police department's lawyer, advising Chief Mitch Brown on personnel matters, and Bryant has pledged to recuse himself in cases where her advice is any factor.

Wake County Bond Issues
A year and a half ago, Wake County residents voted on a $650 million bonds proposal for school construction and renovation needs. Although the proposal was rejected in highly publicized fashion, the needs still remain. Therefore, we encourage a vote of yes on the $500 million school bonds question on Tuesday. The bonds would help ease overcrowding by paying for 14 new schools and improving close to 100 others. And unlike the previous one, this proposal appears to have broad-based support from the Wake community.

We also encourage Wake residents to vote yes on the $15 million open-space bond question. Under the proposal, relatively undisturbed open lands--forests, wetlands, fields, meadows--would be purchased and preserved as a way of protecting water quality and providing more parks. This is certainly a worthy cause, especially given the county's rapid growth.Easily the most contentious of the Wake proposals, the jail bonds would provide $20 million for the expansion of the Hammond Road jail in south Raleigh and the construction of a new facility to be built by fall 2002. Proponents argue the extra space is greatly needed to ease prison overcrowding, reduce tensions between inmates and restore humane conditions. Opponents cite a number of issues, including better utilization of existing space.

Though we are firm supporters of humane conditions for inmates, and acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of them are awaiting trial and have not been convicted, we can't encourage a yes vote on the jail bonds question. The push to build more prisons largely comes from shortsighted, quick-fix political attitudes toward crime. Prison overcrowding will continue to be a problem as long as lawmakers and their policies prioritize incarceration over prevention.

Raleigh Bond Issues
The city council wants permission to borrow $45 million for road projects, $16 million for parks projects, and $14 million for affordable housing. The last of these is the highest priority. Raleigh's long since spent the $20 million the voters approved for housing in 1990. Since then, housing costs haven't gone down, have they? Thus, $14 million is significantly less than what's needed. Theses funds get used to subsidize the work of nonprofit housing developers and to reduce borrowing costs for low-income buyers. Raleigh could be much more creative about integrating affordable-housing unites into upscale developments. With this money, at least voters can signal their interest in the subject. So vote for affordable housing, and for parks, also a priority with open space in the city disappearing fast.

But we recommend voting against the road bonds. We object for two reasons: First, we'd have preferred more money for housing and parks, less for roads. Second, Raleigh keeps approving developments where the roads are inadequate instead of steering it downtown, where transit and existing roads would do nicely. An "against" vote protests the sprawl--and if the city insists on doing the roadwork anyway, it can afford to pay for it without borrowing.

Add a comment