Population growth since the last census entitles North Carolina to another seat in the U.S. House, and the 13th congressional district is the result. Anchored in Raleigh, the new district swings north and west to Guilford County, which explains why three of the six Democrats hail from the Triangle and three from Greensboro.
We wrestled some with this endorsement, because of the six, there are three excellent candidates, each with strong progressive credentials and a record of solid public service. Moreover, two of the three, state Sen. Bill Martin and Robin Britt, a former U.S. House member, both flatly oppose the death penalty. Voters who base their decision on that issue will have a tough time choosing between them: Martin, who's represented Guilford County in the General Assembly for 18 years, is the Senate's Human Resources Committee chair and one of its foremost advocates for people in need; Britt, who won and then lost a Greensboro-based House district in the '80s in a series of cliffhanger elections against Republican Howard Coble, bounced back to start a foundation for poor kids and families and helped get Gov. Jim Hunt's Smart Start program going as a member of his cabinet in the '90s.
We could go on about both of them, but the fact is that half of the voters in the 13th District live in Wake County, and only one-fifth are in Guilford County. And neither Martin nor Britt has put a campaign on the ground in Raleigh, where the votes are. Indeed, Martin, who is black, failed to get the endorsement of Raleigh's African-American political organization, the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association (RWCA), seemingly because he didn't really work for it. Thus, the real contest looks like it's between two Raleigh Democrats: former State Democratic Chair Lawrence Davis, the conservative in the field; and State Sen. Brad Miller, D-Wake, who did win the RWCA's nod and enjoys the near-unanimous support of Raleigh's progressive community. We, too, support Miller.
Over three Senate terms, we've watched Miller struggle to maintain his progressive voice within a rigid party caucus dominated by more conservative Democrats. As he says, he's fought some battles and not fought others, trying to influence the party's agenda and at the same time avoid "being the smug purist." For the last two years of state budget strife and cuts, his public voice has been missed while he carried the party's water on reapportionment, a nasty bit of business for which his reward was the chance to draw up the new 13th District. Somebody had to do it, you might say.
This campaign is a reminder, though, that Miller has been and continues to be a legislator of intelligence, energy and courage. Miller was one of the first to stand up for gay and lesbian rights. He fought the hog industry. He fought for tough gun laws, making himself a target for the National Rifle Association. He sponsored the bill that reined in racial profiling by the cops (the so-called "Driving While Black" bill), and is speaking out now against the Bush administration's trashing of civil liberties in the hunt for terrorists. Miller supports the death penalty "for the most heinous crimes," but also voted to stop executing the mentally retarded and supported a moratorium on all executions while issues of racial discrimination and inadequate legal representation remain.
We're confident that, if he's elected, Brad Miller will represent Raleigh well in Congress. But that's a big if. Lawrence Davis is a formidable opponent. A lawyer-lobbyist in a blue-chip firm, Davis likes to remind folks that he's "Jim Hunt's law partner" and a Jim Hunt Democrat--meaning, of course, pro-business and not overly interested in collecting taxes from the wealthy. He's got the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and such notable old-line Dems as former state Treasurer Harlan Boyles. If that's your brand of Democrat, Davis is the guy. And if progressive Democrats split three ways, he'll be the guy.
Two other Democrats are running. Gee, we like Ronnie Ansley, who is a heckuva nice guy and probably a good lawyer, too, but way over his head in this race as he was two years ago when he ran for lieutenant governor. Gene Gay is a perennial candidate of no distinction.
On the Republican side, we liked businesswoman Carolyn Grant well enough when she was a middle-of-the-road Democrat--not well enough to endorse her free-spending campaign for Raleigh mayor in '99, however. Drubbed in that race, she switched parties and is now competing with fellow ex-Democrat Graham Boyd for the mantle of true conservative Republican. This frosts the third candidate in the GOP primary, Paul Smith, a conservative Republican of long standing and one who is not afraid to call for dumping the federal income tax and replacing it with a sales tax. Now there's a bad idea.
As between Grant and Boyd, she is a business owner with some civic credentials (former Raleigh Chamber of Commerce chair, a Jim Hunt appointee to the state Board of Transportation); he is an official with the N.C. Tobacco Growers Association whose main claim to fame is that his members raked in the big bucks from the national tobacco settlement.
N.C. Senate 14
Here's a pickle. Neither of the Republicans running in this primary answered our questions, and both--from what we know of them--sound, well, not like what we'd want in the Senate. The winner will run against Wake County Commissioner Vernon Malone, unopposed in the Democratic primary, in a majority-black district that Malone doubtless will win. For the record, one Republican, Carol Bennett, is a horse breeder in Knightdale who once taught college physics but now seems to spend her spare time filing lawsuits pro se, a bent she's now under court order to stifle unless she runs her stuff by an actual lawyer first. The other, Loretta Thompson, is an anti-abortion rights activist who has a cable-access show of her own in Knightdale and works as an administrative assistant in an employment firm. Thompson's anti-lottery. Bennett's for it.
N.C. Senate 15
What can we say about the incumbent, Republican Sen. John Carrington, without violating mom's old rule? We can't say anything nice. So we must say--apropos of Carrington's contribution to the public discourse in his four Senate terms--Nothing. No bills passed (and, in eight years, just two introduced), no remarks made, no interviews. And we don't mean just no interviews with us. No interviews with anybody, including the voters, who have never seen him at a candidates forum. In our mind, he's ... oops. Sorry, mom. Former Wake Forest Mayor George Mackie, the other GOP contender, got voted out after alleging corruption in town government without much to back it up. But he did stand for open government and against closed-door town board meetings. That's enough for us to hope he can oust Carrington in the primary. If not, maybe Gerry Bowles, who's unopposed on the Democratic side, can do it.
N.C. Senate 17
Another no-brainer for our Republican friends. Former Wake County Manager Richard Stevens is a capable leader, if conservative. He favors reforms to make the state tax system more progressive, including closing at least some of the many corporate tax loopholes; however, he's not ready to add a sales tax to services--but find a Republican who is. He's anti-public financing of campaigns, anti-abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother's life, in favor of the death penalty, pro-Outer Loop, "has concerns about current transit proposals"--so why are we endorsing him? Because he's educable, and in many roles as a public professional, including 16 years as county manager, he's proven to be not as narrow-minded as so many in the GOP. Stevens' opponent, David Sharpe, who owns a sign business in Apex, would seem to be an example of the latter. He described himself elsewhere as having strong views--though not so strong that he would put them in writing for us. And his experience in political and civic life? Uh, none. So all that stuff he told The News & Observer about running government like a business and not following "rigid routines" left us thinking his strong views are on subjects he knows nothing about.
On the Democratic side, Thomas Hunt is running unopposed.
N.C. House 34
Republicans can sort this one out, we trust. Novice candidate Don Munford, a corporate lawyer, is endorsed by former Raleigh Mayors Tom Fetzer and Paul Coble, plus Tom Ellis, the brains behind Jesse Helms. Novice candidate Al Nunn, a retired airline pilot, is endorsed by Jane Helms Knox, Jesse's daughter, plus state Reps. Sam Ellis, Russell Capps and Rick Eddins and state Sen. John Carrington. As these are the Republicans who've least contributed to the public good in their times, we can't join either lineup. A third Republican candidate, retired State Capitol Police Lt. J.H. Ross, points out that notwithstanding GOP doctrine (whatever the question, answer cut, cut, cut), the state should spend more money on the mentally ill and others in need. Ross isn't raising money. The others have six-figure campaigns, including TV commercials that insult voters' intelligence and--in Munford's case--misrepresent how much the "big-spending liberals" raised taxes last year. Ugh.
Democrat Julie Paul is unopposed in the primary.
N.C. House 35
Rep. Jennifer Weiss, the incumbent in this Cary-based district, is a rising star on the Democratic side--ranked the most effective first-term member in the House recently by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. She's already got a nice list of accomplishments on the local-advocacy front, including her bill to curb the clear-cutting of trees in Durham, Cary and Morrisville (not her fault Raleigh isn't on this list) and support for more public transportation funding in the Triangle. On big-picture issues, she's a progressive voice for closing corporate tax loopholes and against thinking a state lottery is a fair way to pay for education.
Her opponent in the primary, Daniel A. Young, is not a serious alternative. His preoccupation is proving that the $25 fine he paid a decade ago for giving a cop the finger was a miscarriage of justice.
Darryl Black is unopposed on the Republican side.
N.C. House 36
No Democrats running, so this primary between two Cary Republicans is the main event. The incumbent, Rep. David Miner, has been in office 10 years and is part of the Republican leadership in the House. Given how useless the House Republicans have been lately on issue after issue, that's not to his credit. We keep waiting to hear some evidence of Miner's moderating influence, because he is a thoughtful moderate. Or he was, but of late, Miner's attention's been elsewhere--on the Bush White House. Miner's a big George W. fan, raised money for him, gets invited to the Crawford ranch, etcetera. If bounced out of his state office, he'd doubtless land on his cowboy boots in a federal one.
Our choice: Charles Cromer, a lawyer with a prior stint in the House in 1985-90 when he lived in Davidson County. On the issues, Cromer looks like the same sort of fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican as Miner. Cromer's against making the state tax system more progressive, except that he supports closing corporate tax loopholes. Abortion? "I see no place for this issue in the public arena," he says.
What recommends Cromer is a long record of advocacy, while in the legislature and later as a lobbyist, for the mentally ill and the mentally retarded. He's been president of Carolina Legal Assistance, the nonprofit that represents mentally handicapped clients, for example. We think he'll be the kind of effective Republican Miner used to be, before he got stars in his eyes.
N.C. House District 37
Two familiar Republicans are facing off here. Paul "Skip" Stam, of Apex, is now 51, which just shows you how time marches on. No longer is he the youthful bete noir of all things progressive that he managed to be in his one House term a dozen years ago. A bunch of losing campaigns since (for the House, Senate and, in '98 and '00 for the N.C. Court of Appeals) haven't dimmed his ardor, just his blonde hair. Let's put it this way: If we were looking for a barrister to argue our Christian Coalition, anti-abortion, anti-tax, anti-government case, we can't think of anyone better. (Anti-lottery and anti-bribes to business, too, so it's not all bad.)
Then there's Kenn Gardner. This is his third campaign in six years, each in its own way odder than the one before. In '96, he lost a Republican primary for Wake County commissioner, then endorsed the Democratic candidate. In '00, he ran against that same Democrat, Yevonne Brannon, and won. We can't see that he's accomplished anything in his two years in office, but here he goes again, taking a free shot: If he loses, he simply remains on the Wake Board of Commissioners.
On the whole, Gardner's certainly more moderate than Stam. Plus, if he wins--and the Republican nominee will be a heavy favorite in this district over Democrat J.C. Knowles, who's unopposed--maybe we can get Brannon back as a Wake commissioner.
N.C. House District 38
A big thumbs-up for Democrat Deborah Ross, whom we trust will be elected and serve with distinction in the place being vacated by one of our favorite legislators, Bob Hensley. This redrawn Raleigh-Garner district is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the primary winner will face only a Libertarian Party opponent in November. Ross, who is white, faces two African-American opponents, both of whom live in Southeast Raleigh but could otherwise not be more different. Gene Jordan is a real estate agent-appraiser who has almost no political experience. Alexander Killens, by contrast, makes his living in politics as a campaign organizer and sometime government aide. However, Killens was barred from government service five years ago--for five years--when he pleaded guilty to an obstruction of justice charge in connection with his job as head of the state Division of Motor Vehicles and the Algie Toomer patronage mess. Killens didn't respond to our questionnaire (neither did Jordan, for that matter), and we read in The News & Observer that he blew them off, too. So sad.
Happily, Ross is whip smart and a genuine progressive force. At 38, she's coming off seven years as executive director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) branch, during which--notwithstanding that civil liberties are a tough sell in the General Assembly--she steadily rose up the list of effective lobbyists. Her top priority: "Ensur(ing) that all children have the opportunity to receive an excellent public school education." From most Democrats, that's boilerplate--they don't lift a finger to equalize the odds for rural kids and the poor. Ross, though, means what she says. And then she goes after it. She's gone after it in this campaign and looks to be well ahead.
N.C. House District 39
The Democratic primary winner will run against Republican incumbent Sam Ellis. We're pulling for Darren Jackson, by process of elimination. Bobby Hoffman, a building contractor from Clayton, offers reasonable answers on tax and school issues, but he brings a Homebuilders Association approach to growth questions and hasn't got much civic experience. Barry Perry, who owns Perry's Gun Shop in Wendell, does: He's a former town commissioner whose family name goes way back over there. But when he says North Carolina doesn't have a revenue problem, only a spending problem, he's got it wrong.
Jackson, who practices law in Zebulon, has served on the East Wake Education Foundation board and is currently its vice president. He's a mainstream Democrat who gave us no particular reason to support him (he won't take the $104 a day expense account if elected? Guess he can afford not to.) but no reason to reject him, either.
Wake County Clerk of Courts
The three Democratic candidates agree that the office of court clerk isn't what it oughta be. In different ways, each of them says that efficiency, customer service and employee morale must be improved. Gil File, who holds the office now, has already started, creating the first Web site and getting money from the state to improve the handling of court orders in domestic violence and child support cases. File's not responsible for what's wrong. He got the job in 2001 when John Kennedy, who held it for 18 years, was appointed head of the state Administrative Office of the Courts. Still, it seems like the office needs a thorough going over by someone with a fresh perspective. File, who has worked nowhere else in the six years since he graduated from law school, is not in a position to do that.
Both outside candidates would bring a customer's perspective to the job, and both are well-qualified. In fact, to some extent they're like twins: Each is in his mid-40s; each worked his way up; each has a solo law practice; each is highly regarded in his community. One, Mark Perry, is a Raleigh native with lots of support in the city. He'd be a good choice. We're drawn to the other, Tim Gunther, who has just a little wider range of experience, including a four-year stint in the Navy and a job with the Seafarers Union before college and law school, respectively. He practices in Apex, handling both civil and criminal cases. Gunther is strongly committed to staff development, equal opportunity and clear performance standards and has a background in human resource development, his field as a Cornell undergraduate.