There's some logic in a vote for each of the three gubernatorial candidates. But finally, we endorse Democrat Bev Perdue based on her progressive positions on critical issues.
Perdue, the lieutenant governor for the past eight years, is locked in a close contest with Republican Pat McCrory, popular mayor of Charlotte for 13. McCrory's been a centrist leader for Charlotte, where he worked in concert with the city's banking and utility executives to bring smart-growth planning and a modern transit system to the Queen City. But in this campaign, he's taken regressive stances, bashing immigrants and pandering to fears about crime, while Perdue's stood for strengthening the public education system, for environmental protection and for investing in renewable energy sources.
Indeed, the Republican campaign against Perdue consists of the charge that she'd be "Status Quo Bev" if elected, continuing the centrist, pro-business policies of the past 16 years under Democrat Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley. McCrory, it's said, would "shake things up."
Maybe so, but McCrory's plans make the status quo look pretty good: He's for private school vouchers, supports amending the state constitution to discriminate against gays, is for ending health-care "mandates" that require insurance plans to cover specific procedures (mastectomies, for example), and promises to launch off-shore drilling with only the most perfunctory consideration of environmental impacts.
Perdue opposes vouchers, is pro-gay rights, has a plan to give every child (and more of their parents) access to affordable health insurance, and would allow offshore drilling only when assured it won't harm the coastal environment.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Perdue has the support of all of the state's major environmental, education and social-justice organizations.
Yes, state government is a mess. And perhaps McCrory, swinging a Republican broom in a Democrat-controlled town, could sweep it cleaner than Perdue, who also pledges a cleanup. But without fundamental campaign finance legislation, we doubt it. And on that subject, McCrory's been silent, while Perdue supports public financing for future gubernatorial campaigns and for all Council of State elections. The difference, in short, is that she not only promises to clean house, she offers a plan to do it.
Were there no substantive differences between the major-party candidates, we'd be recommending a protest vote for Libertarian Party candidate Michael C. Munger, based on the elements of his platform that make him the self-proclaimed "liberal in the race."
Munger, who chairs the political science department at Duke, is anti-capital punishment. He supports admitting the children of illegal immigrants to the UNC schools and community colleges. He is pro-gay marriage. His ideas on vouchers for public schools and for building only rural roads, not more urban highways, make good sense. But finally, the Libertarians would shortchange the public sector. And besides, Munger is not going to be the next governor; Perdue or McCrory will. And in that head-to-head contest, Perdue is the clear choice.
In the race for this powerless position, the only important question is which candidate would make the best governor should that terrible situation arise. It's not a close call. The answer is Democrat Walter H. Dalton.
A six-term state senator from Rutherford County, Dalton's a card-carrying member of the Democratic establishment in the General Assembly, a self-described team player who's been a leader on education issues and a co-chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. His best moves have come while addressing the housing foreclosure problem when it first arose here (he was named legislator of the year in 2006 by the N.C. Housing Coalition) and helping to author the Learn and Earn program that lets high school students work in vocational settings while taking relevant community college courses.
As lieutenant governor, Dalton says he won't hesitate to speak out if there's a "pressing issue" on which he disagrees with the governor or the legislative leadership—assuming both remain Democratic. But first, he'll talk to them. And listen. His view of the office is to fit his own ideas into the bigger Democratic scheme, then speak about them "with an amplified voice."
The same cannot be said for the Republican nominee, former state Sen. Robert Pittenger of Mecklenburg County. Pittenger, a wealthy real-estate investor who is spending heavily on his own campaign, was among the legislature's most right-wing members during his three Senate terms, crusading against public spending of every sort and for tax cuts that would benefit well-to-do folks like himself.
But he reserved his strongest bile for those who say that humans are causing global climate change: Pittenger thinks global warming is an unproven idea foisted on the public by deluded lefties.
The Libertarian Party candidate, Phillip Rhodes, is no option. His campaign, such as it is, is focused on stopping forced annexations and eliminating the language in the state constitution, required by Congress after the Civil War, that says we will not secede again from the Union.
Council of State
Editor's note: These endorsements are organized by the order in which they appear on the ballot.
Earlier this year, Democrat Roy Cooper closed one (but certainly not the final) chapter in the Duke lacrosse case after a special state investigation concluded the three players were innocent of raping Crystal Mangum at a party.
But Cooper's office usually delves into lower-profile issues: going after gas price gougers and shuttering predatory lenders, which Cooper has done during his tenure.
As important, under Cooper's direction, the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab now has 42 DNA analysts, up from five when he took office seven years ago. A former legislator, Cooper has taken some unpopular, but necessary stands as AG: banning those with severe mental illness from purchasing a gun and removing cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine from store shelves. It's inconvenient to ask the pharmacist for allergy medicine, but it helps keep the drugs out of the hands of meth-makers.
We endorse Cooper with one caveat: We seriously disagree with the establishment of the Information Sharing and Security Analysis Center, which, with Homeland Security funding, conducts surveillance not only on gangs—its main charge—but also peaceful demonstrations. While Cooper says in his questionnaire that ISSAC is "held accountable... to make sure rights are not violated," it is nearly impossible to verify that claim because many of its records and investigations aren't open to the public. In his next term, we demand that Cooper dismantle ISSAC, as it is in our opinion, a threat to civil liberties.
Lawyer Bob Crumley, a Republican, is running against Cooper.
We endorse Beth A. Wood, the Democratic challenger, based on her experience and well-focused understanding of what the state Auditor's job is—and also what it isn't.
Wood is a certified public accountant with 15 years experience in state government, including 10 years working under former Auditor Ralph Campbell, a Democrat, and then under the current officeholder, Republican Auditor Leslie Merritt.
We mention the party affiliations, but in fact the auditor's post is supposed to be above politics. The job is to track, after the fact, how state money was spent and determine whether it was used for the proper, legal purpose. If not, the auditor blows the whistle. She also blows the whistle when she sees spending that, though it's legal, is ineffective or not in the public's best interest. But it isn't the auditor's job to second-guess legislative appropriations, go looking for "waste," or play to the political crowds.
Wood charges, however, and the record shows, that Merritt, also a CPA and a former Wake County Commissioner, hasn't always kept the politics out of his auditing. That, she says, is why she quit as one of his principal aides and decided to run against him.
We question, for example, as Wood does, why Merritt thought it appropriate to investigate whether the State Board of Elections was keeping dead people on the voting rolls, as he did in 2007. Merritt even rushed to the General Assembly to urge that it not enact an early voting law with same-day registration until his "audit" was complete. His suspicions proved completely unfounded, however, and seemed to be nothing more than Republican voter-suppression tactics run wild.
Merritt also blundered when he insisted early on that state auditor was not a full-time job, and he was free to work for private clients as well. Under fire, he dropped that idea, but the fact that he ever held it doesn't say much for his judgment.
Wood pledges, if elected, to keep the politics out and her staff's work trained on following the money, not any political agendas. She has a well-conceived plan for staff training and for making her agency's operations more transparent and useful to the public and policymakers without, though, crossing the line into headline-hunting.
Commissioner of Agriculture
We strongly endorse Ronnie Ansley for his progressive views on the state's agriculture industry. While he has run for other offices over the years, agriculture commissioner seems like a good match. He supports biofuels—not ethanol, which uses food sources for fuel—locally grown and marketed products and sustainable energy sources. In addition, he would increase inspections of imported products and product labeling to allow consumers to know products' state and nation of origin.
Ansley would advocate that more minorities be considered for jobs and internships within the Department of Agriculture. He also wants to stop the loss of family farms and agricultural land due to estate taxes. He opposes euthanizing animals with carbon monoxide, which has earned him the support of the N.C. Animal Advocates.
He supports additional safety measures for migrant workers, particularly in regards to pesticide exposure. He also opposes the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, the federal disease research lab that could be sited in Butner.
Although Ansley is a lawyer with a master's degree in agriculture education, he does not think the Council of State should deliberate the death penalty. However, if called on to do so, Ansley would support a moratorium.
Steve Troxler, the Republican incumbent, fails on at least two counts: He supports the siting the NBAF in Butner, despite overwhelming opposition by citizens and other elected officials—and documents raising serious questions about its safety. In addition, his lack of leadership on the state's euthanasia rules has been disappointing.
Commissioner of Insurance
We've been strong supporters of outgoing Commissioner Jim Long, who's held this post for 24 years. Long was always on the consumers' side when the auto insurance companies came looking for rate increases, sending them away with less than they wanted, and sometimes even less than they had when they came in the door, but never so little that they didn't earn a fair return on their risk. On car rates, that's the commissioner's job. In other areas, like health insurance, the commissioner has little or no authority over rates, but retains the ability to speak out.
With Long departing, we endorse the assistant commissioner he groomed to be his successor, Democratic candidate Wayne Goodwin. Goodwin is a lawyer and former state representative from Rockingham County, a strongly progressive legislator who ran unsuccessfully for the labor commissioner's job in 2004. After he lost, Long installed him as his new No. 2 in the insurance department. Goodwin won the Democratic primary this year with Long's endorsement.
Goodwin promises to resist, as Long did, recurring legislative efforts to strip the office of its auto insurance rate-setting powers. He also wants to trim the number of North Carolina drivers—now 22 percent—who get assigned to the state's reinsurance pool and are, in effect, subsidized by all other insured drivers. And he's promising to push for legislative reform of the state's "Beach Plan," which insures coastal property owners at below-market rates.
The Republican candidate, former Raleigh City Councilor John Odom, echoes Goodwin's platform, and enjoys a straight-arrow reputation as a businessman (he owns three muffler-repair shops) and officeholder. But Odom has zero experience with insurance regulation, and on the City Council, he had a tendency to always see things from the business perspective. We think Goodwin's more likely to challenge industry claims and keep the consumers foremost in is mind.
Mark McMains of Fuquay-Varina, the Libertarian candidate, owns a body shop and two towing companies. He wants volunteer firefighters to be provided with health insurance.
Commissioner of Labor
Here's a thought: The state's labor commission should be on labor's side, not be an apologist for employers. (That's what the Commerce Department is for) All who agree will want to support the Democratic candidate, Mary Fant Donnan.
Donnan is a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, which funds nonprofit groups around the state. She formerly was a top aide to ex-Labor Commissioner Harry Payne, a Democrat who did not seek re-election eight years ago and was replaced by Republican Cherie Berry, the incumbent now running for a third term.
One indication of the difference between the candidates: Donnan is endorsed by the state AFL-CIO; Berry is backed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The endorsements reflect their divergent philosophies. Berry says her department works cooperatively with business on issues like workplace safety. She was roundly criticized by the Charlotte Observer when, after the newspaper's investigation disclosed rampant safety violations in poultry processing plants, Berry said her department wouldn't change its approach.
The newspaper recently reported that half of Berry's campaign contributions have come from the managers of companies with repeated workplace safety violations whose fines nonetheless have been minimal. Berry responded that she has no role in fine reductions, and there's no connection between what her department does and the contributions she's received.
Donnan advocates stronger safety enforcement measures. She also promises a fresh look at plant-safety rules that were developed by Payne but were dropped by Berry as a burden to business that sought to protect workers against repetitive motion injuries.
Elsewhere, Donnan advocates improved working conditions for farmworkers, increasing the state's minimum wage (Berry declined to take a position when it was last increased, in 2007, to $6.55 an hour), and working cooperatively with community colleges to improve literacy and help workers invest their savings.
Secretary of State
Elaine Marshall has served for 11 years as Secretary of State, and while we don't think elected positions should be for life, she has performed admirably. We endorse her. She has advocated for strong reform of lobbying laws, helped educate consumers by fighting investment fraud and want the N.C. Ethics Commission to release its opinions to the public more quickly. As a member of Council of State, which is akin to the governor's cabinet, she voted against the execution protocol—thankfully—explaining it should be a legislative issue, not one for the executive branch.
Marshall, a Democrat, maintains that she distances herself from deal-making and political pressure, noting in her questionnaire: "Rest assured, I will enforce the laws within the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State without fear or favor of anyone."
Her Republican opponent, Jack Sawyer, is an attorney and real estate agent in Burlington. He received his law degree from Regent University, a low-ranking law school founded by Christian televangelist Pat Robertson.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
North Carolina is one of a handful of states to elect the superintendent; in most, it is an appointed position. The post has only as much power as the State Board of Education is willing to cede it—not much. And the deputy state superintendent, not the top dog, has the legal authority to run the state's public schools.
In the primary, we endorsed Eddie Davis because we thought he would strongly advocate to close the minority achievement gap. However, incumbent June St. Clair Atkinson, also a former public school teacher and a Democrat, is an excellent choice and we endorse her in the general election.
Given her limited authority, Atkinson should be commended for navigating the difficult terrain of the public school system, including focusing on improving North Carolina's high school dropout rate. She has spoken out for anti-bullying policies and laws—a strong stand considering the vehement opposition to such laws by Republican legislators. She also supports changing the school calendar law so teachers can take a specific number of personal days without having their pay docked.
Atkinson faces former co-Speaker of the House, Republican Richard Morgan.
This election asks voters to choose between two experienced legislators for a post as a professional money manager. And we're not talking about a little money: The treasurer is in charge of investing some $70 billion, more or less (in today's markets, less), for the state's public employee pension funds. That means hiring many other money managers and monitoring their performance.
Fortunately, both of the candidates have business know-how. But that's where their similarity ends. We highly recommend a vote for Democrat Janet Cowell, who has the intelligence, integrity and progressive values to be an outstanding treasurer.
We've followed Cowell's career as a Sierra Club leader in Raleigh, a Raleigh City Council member, and for two terms a state senator from Wake County. In every post, she's combined brains and good sense with the strength to stand up to—and oppose—special interests. Her principled vote against the state lottery stands out in her Senate career, along with numerous environmental measures she helped pass over business opposition.
The treasurer also advises the governor and legislature on state borrowing, including how much can be prudently borrowed without jeopardizing the state's AAA credit rating and—as important—which of the state's needs should be paramount when crafting bond issues.
Cowell is pledged to use her "bully pulpit" to help push the state in the direction of sustainable, "green" economic development. We're confident she will, yet not at all confident about her Republican opponent, state Rep. Bill Daughtridge of Nash County, who touts his 97 percent rating from NC FREE, a conservative group, in his campaign.
Daughtridge is a successful businessman, an oil jobber who serves on the board of the Petroleum Marketers of America. He holds an MBA from the Kenan School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill. Cowell's MBA is from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and her business career includes work in China, for big management consulting firms, and more recently for small venture-capital funds; she also teaches part-time at Peace College.
We can vouch for Cowell's ability and integrity and say that she, at least, is highly qualified on both counts. And frankly, her progressive record as a legislator merits our support as well.