N.C. Senate, District 16
Orange and Chatham voters will elect two state senators in a race that has added some new wrinkles to this area's political fabric. Here, as with so many other local races, Democratic incumbents have snagged Independent endorsements based on their track records, not merely their rhetoric.
Of course, sometimes the record and rhetoric match up in splendid fashion, as is the case with Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, the former Carrboro mayor who is seeking her third term in the General Assembly. "I represent those with a progressive vision for our state," she told The Independent, "as well as those without a powerful voice in our society," and her record supports the claim. A concern for those meeker voices has exhibited itself in Kinnaird's exemplary agenda, which runs from environmental vigilance to strong public education to reform of campaign financing and the prescription drug industry.
Kinnaird's colleague and virtual running mate, Sen. Howard N. Lee, once served as mayor of Chapel Hill and has held a state Senate seat from 1990-94 and 1996 to the present. A noted Senate power-broker, Lee may have gotten too close to power for his own good. In 1998, he accepted sizable campaign contributions from wealthy backers of privatizing the UNC healthcare system--and then helped push through a plan that left his longtime supporters in the State Employees Association of North Carolina seething.
In retaliation, the association has departed from its normal practice and endorsed one of Lee's opponents, Asheboro Republican Bill Boyd. It's an odd choice; Boyd, a one-time head of the N.C. Christian Coalition, has pledged to listen faithfully to state workers, but during previous service in the N.C. House he did not distinguish himself as a particularly effective legislator. Vickie Hargrove, the other Republican candidate, has run a virtual non-campaign and apparently has even less to offer than Boyd.
So Lee's still got our vote, and he's still one of the two smart choices for District 16. A former N.C. Secretary of Natural Resources, in the Senate Lee has demonstrated a knowledgeable commitment to environmental concerns. He supports caps on prescription drug prices and has been an effective advocate for public education from preschool to the state university system. And perhaps his scrape with the state workers association will send him back to office with a renewed appreciation of the interests of a key constituency.
N.C. House, District 24
This is one race where voters can feel good about going with what (and who) they know. District 24 residents can select two familiar names on the Orange County ballot and send a powerful pair of progressives back to the State House. Reps. Joe Hackney and Verla Insko, two Democrats, have proven their abilities to turn high-minded principles into practical legislation.
Hackney, an attorney and farmer, is seeking his 11th term. He's distinguished himself by safeguarding and expanding education budgets and backing aggressive environmental protections. An unapologetic advocate of state funding of abortions for women who can't afford them, he doesn't shrink from defending progressive positions on divisive state issues.
Insko, a retired health administrator, former Orange County Commissioner and veteran Democratic activist, is just as clear about her priorities. When's the last time you heard a state legislator say, as Insko did in response to an Independent candidate survey, that "I believe in an activist government that provides for the common good and protects the vulnerable"? A co-sponsor of the Clean Elections Act, she's been a persistent voice for campaign finance reforms to keep the powerful in check. If she goes back to the House for what will be her third term in that office, she's planning to push for a major overhaul and improvement of state services for citizens with mental illness and substance-abuse problems. She also wants universal health care and would press toward that goal with a number of legislative initiatives.
Three opponents offer alternatives to Hackney and Insko, but not the sort of alternatives that progressive voters generally look for. Libertarian candidate John H. Bauman, a retired physician who worked five years in a Butner prison, says that "my main qualification is my inexperience in politics"--and he's willing to prove it by pushing for a flat tax and "a government limited to essentials." Republican Rod L. Chaney is a Baptist minister and strident social conservative. The other GOP candidate, retired sales executive William Towne, says his three priorities are to fund a massive increase in higher-education funding, build more and better roads, and at the same time cut taxes.
Orange Board of Commissioners
Margaret W. Brown, one of two top-tier candidates in the Orange Commissioners race, said it best at a recent campaign appearance: "The rubber hits the road at the county level. This is where you can see if your public officials really care about people and will get things done." In their previous terms on the board, Brown and fellow Democratic incumbent Moses Carey Jr. have given voters reason to think these candidates can be both caring and effective.
The two commissioners have endeavored to keep commercial growth in check where it threatens land, air and water, stressing environmental concerns as key to public health and quality of life. They say environmental and economic planning go hand in hand--that businesses need a healthy environment as much as residents do. And they also stand up for more affordable housing and for county support of social services that have dissipated with federal budget cuts.
The positions of the two Republican challengers make this vote a no-brainer for Orange residents who want county government to remain a progressive stronghold. Both Wesley Cook and David C. Herman say that the county has sacrificed commercial possibilities to unnecessary environmental restrictions, and that if elected, they would reverse the current approach.
Chatham Board of Commissioners
With a population that continues to grow in number as well as diversity, Chatham County and its commissioners face several important challenges in the coming years--economic development, land-use planning, education and racial tensions, to name a few. Fortunately for Chatham voters, two of this year's commissioner candidates appear to be more than up to the task.
In District 1, Democratic candidate Bob Atwater is a strong advocate of planning, smart growth and the environment. The former Air Force pilot and UNC-Chapel Hill administrator recognizes the economic value of attracting new industry to the county, as long as businesses are sustainable and environmentally sensitive. He opposes lucrative incentive packages to attract industry. Also, as a parent of a Chatham County student, Atwater recognizes the challenges facing the county's public schools. To keep up with the growing number of students in the county, he would lobby the state legislature for funding to build new school facilities. He also supports increasing teacher pay to help retain quality teachers currently being lost to more lucrative jobs in surrounding counties.Atwater's opponent, Republican Bunkey Morgan, is a car-wash owner who entered the race in August as a replacement for Bill Carraway. Morgan is a pro-business, pro-development candidate who believes preservation of the county's rural, agricultural heritage should be left to the large landowners and farmers. His top educational priority? Not more funding for schools and teachers. Primarily, he wants the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners to get along better
Democrat Margaret Pollard, the incumbent in District 2, has developed a reputation during her six years on the board as a bridge-builder and a strong supporter of social services and the environment. Like Atwater, she favors new industry to expand the county's tax base, but only if it is environmentally sustainable. Also, both Pollard and Atwater demonstrate a sensitivity to the plight of the county's growing population of migrant workers, both legal and illegal. Pollard was on the board in 1999 when a letter was sent to the INS essentially asking the agency to help the county get rid of its illegal immigrants. Though she signed the letter, Pollard admits that appealing to the INS was a mistake she still has trouble justifying.
While Pollard's top priority for the coming term is increasing funding for teacher pay and new school facilities, her opponent, Republican Andy Wilkie, says schools and other public facilities should just use the funds they have more efficiently. Wilkie's plan, which he calls "smart spending," ignores the real need for an expanded revenue stream, and students would pay the price.