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.