Orange County has had a particularly effective legislative delegation--especially considering their liberal bent compared to the more conservative leadership in both houses--and for that reason we see no reason to change it. The Independent endorses state Rep. Joe Hackney, a Democrat, in House District 54; Rep. Verla Insko, a Democrat, in House District 56 and state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat, in Senate District 23.
In his 22 years in the House, Hackney has been a strong influence behind the scenes. He was rated fifth in effectiveness by his peers, has been a supporter of strengthening environmental protection legislation and for campaign finance reform, and this year says he would pay for educational improvements mandated by the Leandro decision with an increase in cigarette taxes. He faces a Libertarian opponent, Frederick C. Blackburn, who has a more specific platform than many of the Libertarians who argue solely for less government everywhere. Blackburn opposes any new taxes and the Patriot Act, and favors legalizing drugs.
Insko, a four-term incumbent, has maintained a steady focus on education and human services. She says that despite early proposals for massive cuts to mental health and other health and human services, much of the money ended up being restored. She is running against Will Shooter, a Libertarian who opposes any tax increases.
Kinnaird is the only incumbent previously representing Orange County who had a primary race, against her former colleague, state Sen. Howard Lee, because of redistricting. Lee's voice will be missed, but we are certain Kinnaird will continue working hard in the public interest on issues such as pushing Blue Cross to offer creation of a foundation in return for going for-profit, gaining a moratorium on factory hog farms and having land set aside for conservancies and trusts. She is running against Peter Morcombe, a Republican from Hillsborough who says job creation and reducing wasteful state spending are his priorities, and Christopher Todd Goss, a Libertarian from Carrboro who supports the party's straight line against governmental interference in people's lives.
There's one other legislative race for District 55 in northern Orange County and Hillsborough that's a result of redistricting. It's between 12-year incumbent Democrat Allen Gordon of Roxboro and Republican Kathy Hartkopf. Neither has a remotely progressive platform, and The Independent endorses neither.
Orange County Commissioners
The Independent endorsed the three incumbent Orange County commissioners in the primary, and there's no reason not to do so again in the race for three seats. The three, Alice Gordon, Steve Halkiotis and Barry Jacobs, have generally supported the kind of policies in the county that have made it as successful as it is--an emphasis on urban planning, funding for education and protection of the environment. They face two Republicans, Jamie Daniel and Robin Staudt, who haven't bothered to answer questionnaires, and Libertarian Seth Fehrs, who says he wants to represent the interests of northern Orange County against the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill in the south.
Chatham County Commissioners
The only Chatham County Commissioners seat that's contested on Nov. 5 is also the most contested seat in the county's recent history. Republican-turned-Democrat Raymond "Bunkey" Morgan faces a Libertarian challenger in the next chapter of the on-going saga of District 4, which encompasses north-central Chatham.
Morgan's Republican challenger withdrew his name from the ballot directly after the contentious primary, when it was clear the Republican Party would continue supporting Morgan, who changed his affiliation specifically to unseat progressive incumbent Democrat Gary Phillips. With support from high-dollar development interests around the Triangle and in California, as well as taxpayers disgruntled by a recent tax revaluation, Morgan beat Phillips by 320 votes on Sept. 10.
Morgan, a car wash owner and business proponent, was propped up by a Siler City-based group calling itself Chatham County NOW, which funded an acidic anti-Phillips mail and phone campaign.
In addition to the questionable campaign tactics, Morgan's candidacy is fraught with discrepancies. His boasting of financial prowess rings hollow when compared with his personal record, which includes federal tax liens for failure to pay personal and corporate taxes, as well as dozens of civil lawsuits regarding his business dealings. The District 1 Republican, who lost his first commissioners bid two years ago, also changed his party affiliation and his official residency to become a District 4 Democrat. Though he satisfied the letter of the elections law through several challenges both before and after the primary, it's clear Morgan still lives at least part of the time in his "former" home in Apex.
Because political and financial shenanigans like Morgan's render him unfit to represent the interests of Chatham's citizens, The Independent endorsement goes to Libertarian Michael Coffee. Coffee, a BellSouth technician and part-time organic farmer who moved to Chatham from Asheville two years ago, is a thoughtful, intelligent candidate who provides a badly needed alternative to Morgan.
Chatham County Sheriff
The Chatham County Sheriff's Department, plagued by the seemingly unending missing marijuana scandal, has been the butt of so many jokes that sometimes it's easy to forget that there are law enforcement problems in Chatham requiring serious attention. Unsolved break-ins are running high, and the department, assigned to protect a sprawling yet dispersed county, is spread woefully thin. More than most sheriffs, the one who represents Chatham needs to deal with the pressures and problems that arise from quickly changing demographics.
Richard Webster, who soundly defeated four other Democratic candidates in the September primary, is the still the clear favorite for citizens seeking to return respectability and responsiveness to the department. Webster makes a good case that he has the breadth of experience to do the job that many want but few could handle.
Webster, a Pittsboro police officer who served for a decade as a Chatham sheriff's deputy, has earned the respect of people who work with the county's most vulnerable citizens. Progressive politicians, domestic violence advocates and Latino community leaders all say that Webster is the one candidate who has shown he has his finger on the pulse of the county's most pressing concerns.
Webster's Republican opponent, Siler City narcotics detective Jimmy Bowden, has by most accounts served diligently as a law officer for the last decade. But his experience--both as a policeman and as a community advocate--doesn't rival Webster's. Bowden's proposal for putting prisoners to work without pay seems simply draconian, summoning images of chain-gang labor.