Four of the seven commissioners' seats are up for election. Candidates run in districts, but voting is countywide--every Wake County voter gets to choose one candidate in each of the four races, in other words. The term is four years.
Right now, the Commission is 5-2 Democrats. Three Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election and one Republican. Nothing the Wake Commissioners have done over the past four years has excited anybody. They've supported the school system's budget requests--mostly. They've moved timidly to protect open space outside the municipalities, but while they spend a little, a lot of the unincorporated areas are being gobbled up by sprawl. A growth-management plan, years in the making, is said to be nearing completion. A watershed protection plan is also in the making, and will perhaps strengthen the county's weak rules; an affordable housing plan, when it comes out, will be better late than never.
Democratic Commissioner Linda Coleman, the current chair, says she hopes all four incumbents are re-elected, including Republican Herb Council. We disagree. We think what's needed is some new blood. (But not, incidentally, from any of the Libertarian candidates, whose ideological opposition to public spending just doesn't jibe with county needs.)
This is a close call. Republican Joe Bryan, the mayor of Knightdale, has a lot to recommend him, including the support of the Wake County Education Association. He's a proponent of regional planning, a leader in the Triangle J Council of Governments and an activist on school issues who organized "Education First," a program that matched hundreds of volunteer-mentors with eastern Wake students. We're not as keen about his support for building the southern part of the I-540 Outer Loop, which he's championed as chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Linda Coleman, though, also supports the southern Loop, essentially giving in to the idea that growth down there can't be any better managed than growth out North Raleigh way. She's been a slow vote in favor of school funding and, as chair, had to be talked into scheduling the inevitable vote in favor of a 1/2 cent county sales tax--to replace lost state revenues--before the election. She was hoping to wait. Stephen Hilton, a software developer, is the Libertarian candidate.
For years, Wake County has depended on Democrats to govern in the face of Republican wooliness. Bryan's election offers the chance of bipartisan leadership in a county that sorely needs it.
Commissioner Michael Weeks, a Democrat, has an enthusiasm for the county's many planning efforts that escapes us. But maybe he sees something we don't. Weeks is a reliable vote for school funding and supports the Triangle Transit Authority's planned rail commuter system along with affordable housing initiatives so that the mix of housing in all parts of the county complements the goal of economic diversity throughout the school system. That's the right idea--though for the moment, as sprawl persists, that's all it is.
Phil Jeffreys, the Republican candidate, says county taxes are too high, there's too much school busing and the schools don't need diversity. That's the wrong idea.
An easy choice. Democratic Commissioner Betty Mangum is the conscience of the group when it comes to school funding and, lately, on doing what's needed to replace Dorothea Dix Hospital. A retired teacher and state education official, Mangum works hard at her job and speaks out forcefully to the public about what the county needs.
Her Republican opponent, Tony Gurley, is anti-TTA, anti-school busing and thinks tax increases must be avoided by such means as not teaching sex-ed or paying Wake Superintendent Bill McNeill a bonus.
Ryan Maas, a nuclear engineer with Progress Energy, is the Libertarian candidate.
Republican incumbent Herb Council has pretty much the same record as Linda Coleman, the Democrat in District 1. He's not the first to the plate for school spending. But he's gotten there, displaying some backbone while others in his party (like Gurley and Jeffreys) stick their heads in the sand. He's in favor of a county bond issue for affordable housing and committed to making mental health services work, though he stops short of saying he'll vote for additional funding without seeing a specific spending plan. His re-election would do no harm.
Our support, however, goes to Aura Camacho-Maas, who promises to do some real good. Camacho-Maas is founder and executive director the Latin American Resource Center, which provides programs and curricular materials to schools and community groups. Her election would give the fast-growing Hispanic and Latino communities in Wake County their first representation on the commission, one who's a genuine "advocate for disadvantaged groups" of all kinds. For starters, Camacho-Maas says she'll push for more funding for schools with high percentages of low-income kids.
Roy Halliday, a retired IBM'er, is the Libertarian candidate.
John Baker is someone county residents have been comfortable saying is their sheriff for 24 years. We're still comfortable saying it. Baker's run a clean operation with, now, almost 500 employees. The worst thing anyone says is that they pass the hat for campaign contributions whenever he preaches at black churches. He should make them take that outside, of course. But Baker's highly respected in neighborhoods of color and pale skin alike. He treats prisoners like human beings in his jail, with a variety of educational programs; and he's responded well to the need for resource officers in the schools without resorting to the sort of thing his Republican opponent, Donnie Harrison, is for: a canine team to lead "routine" drug searches.
Harrison, a retired highway patrol officer, has his own dogs who help with search-and-rescue efforts and to track down escaped criminals. So he knows the right uses of dogs, but not the wrong ones.
Wake Clerk of Court
Jan Pueschel, the Republican candidate, is a Raleigh lawyer who promises accurate service, courtesy and accountability in the clerk's office. Once the female warden of a male prison (in Illinois), we have no doubt she'd run a tight ship. And after running her own law practice for almost a decade, she probably knows first-hand the ship's customer-service leaks.
Democrat Mark Perry, who won the nomination over incumbent Gil File, is also a Raleigh attorney with 15 years in his own practice. He, too, promises to correct the office's morale and efficiency problems and says, in more detail, how he'll do it--a combination of staff development efforts and better equipment. Perry's got a record of leadership, including service as president of the Wake County Academy of Criminal Trial Lawyers. He's also not political where Pueschel is--as head of former Gov. Jim Martin's Drug Cabinet and as a candidate for county commissioner four years ago. In this office, political experience is no advantage.
Matthew Halliday is the Libertarian candidate.
Soil and Water District
The incumbents merit re-election. Jessica Bellas, a civil engineer in Raleigh, is one of Wake County's leading environmental activists and a sparkplug on this unsalaried, unremarked body, which helps guide county policies on water-quality protection. Donnie Woodlief, a farmer from Zebulon, is a good complement to her. He advocates stepped-up farmland conservation efforts. Three other candidates, George Esworthy, Thomas Gulisano and Michael Slawter, are running but lack credentials for the job.
U.S. House District 13
Democrat Brad Miller, a Raleigh lawyer, has a good record in four legislative terms, the last three in the state Senate. He's solid on education and environmental issues but best on human rights, including abortion and gay rights. We were disappointed to hear his ringing endorsement of the congressional resolution authorizing the Bush war on Iraq regardless of U.N. sanction or even broad international support. However, his Republican opponent, Carolyn Grant, endorsed it too. Grant, a real estate broker since selling "Plants by Grant," the business she started, is also pro-choice on abortion rights, but since switching parties after her losing '99 bid for mayor of Raleigh, she's gotten in lockstep with GOP conservatism in other ways, including tax cuts for the rich.
Grant's campaign has been thoroughly negative, explained by the fact that the new 13th C.D. is Democrat-leaning, no surprise since Miller, as chair of the legislature's reapportionment committee, helped to make it that way. Still, Grant's given voters no reason to support her, only a mindless diatribe of "liberal, liberal, liberal" aimed at Miller. Miller might have rated three-liberals in his younger days. Of late, he's dropped back to just one or two.
Senate District 14
After 30 years on the Wake school board and the Wake County Commissioners, Democrat Vernon Malone is about to step up to the Senate. His election is a virtual certainty. This eastern Wake district is heavily Democratic and majority-black and Malone is, of course, both. He's been a rather quiet county commissioner but perhaps will be more outspoken in the General Assembly, on the subject of school funding in particular: The Republican candidate, Carol Bennett, is a horse breeder in Knightdale whose pet project would be more riding trails, apparently. The Libertarian is Richard Davison, a proponent of school vouchers.
Senate District 15
Wake Up, northern Wake! After eight years of not representing his old Cary-based district, incumbent Republican John Carrington has now moved to Wakefield Plantation and is a candidate to not represent you! You think we exaggerate? Carrington, whose company makes police gear, takes pride in the fact that he's doesn't introduce legislation, doesn't speak on the floor, doesn't give interviews and doesn't talk to constituents either, yet gets elected with money from his own deep pocket for advertising. He ranked 49th out of 50 in effectiveness among state senators in the most recent survey of Capitol folks by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
His Democratic opponent, Gerry Bowles, by contrast, is a doer who started Wake County Citizens for Effective Government, a North Raleigh community issues forum, and works as executive director of New Hope Outreach, an enrichment program for public housing kids. She used to work in the General Assembly as a legislative aide.
Nathan Wilson, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, is the Libertarian candidate.
Senate District 16
IncumbentEric Reeves, the Democrat, is a clear choice over former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble, the Republican, in this western Wake district. The kind of blind tax-cutting and pell-mell growth that Coble and his friend and predecessor as mayor, Tom Fetzer, put Raleigh through from 1993 to 2001 caught up with the city this year: Raleigh's wastewater treatment plant was so overloaded that, in heavy rains, untreated sewage just flowed right over it and into the Neuse River, triggering heavy fines from the state
Reeves, in six years as a senator, has worked effectively on some unglamorous projects--like beefing up state government's computer systems and e-commerce capabilities--and he shares in the Democrats' success improving school performance and teacher pay. He's also an advocate for regional transportation funding and, yes, for the smart-growth concepts needed to curb traffic congestion and cut down on the smog.
Jason Mara, an account manager for a tech company, is the Libertarian candidate.
Senate District 17
The Democratic candidate, Thomas Hunt, is an Apex media producer who lists expanded health care coverage as his top priority. But he hasn't run much of a campaign in this heavily Republican district in southwest Wake. No matter. We're convinced the election of Richard Stevens, the county manager for 16 years and now a management consultant, will be a good thing for Wake voters. Stevens is a conservative, but a pragmatic one who actually knows how government works. He's also a leader, serving as a trustee of both the Wake Education Partnership and UNC-Chapel Hill, where he's a former board chair. Stevens offers the prospect of a Senate Republican who'll be willing to work across the aisle with Democrats to get things accomplished.
Susan Hogarth, a research coordinator at UNC, is the Libertarian candidate.
House District 33
In this eastern Wake district, we endorse Bernard Allen with the hope that he'll be a worthy successor to retiring Rep. Dan Blue, who lost the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Allen, the Democratic candidate, is a former teacher and N.C. Association of Educators lobbyist with a long record of public service positions, including chair of the N.C. Central University trustees. He's run an energetic and positive campaign focused on school improvements. Venita Peyton, his Republican opponent, has mixed up some progressive intentions with her conservative ideology over the course of three recent campaigns for Raleigh city offices. Now, as she runs her fourth campaign in the last six years, it's hard to tell where she's coming from. Jesse Halliday, an accountant, is the Libertarian candidate.
House District 34
Don Munford, the Republican candidate, says his training as a lawyer-accountant makes him best-qualified to find and eliminate "wasteful spending." Strangely, he's been unable to point to so far. His Democratic opponent, Cynthia Barnett, got into the race late--the primary nominee dropped out--and isn't likely to win in this North Raleigh-northern Cary-Morrisville district. But Barnett's got more relevant experience than Munford--former teacher, former N.C. Citizens for Business & Industry official, now development director for The Opera Company of N.C.--and a better grasp of the complexities of state budget-making. Victor Marks, a consultant, is the Libertarian.
House District 35
No question in this West Raleigh-Cary district. Rep. Jennifer Weiss, first elected two years ago after being appointed to a vacancy, has established a strong progressive record on environmental and education issues and working to toughen the regulatory standards for child-care centers and nursing homes. Weiss was ranked as the most effective freshman last year by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. Her sponsorship of reasonable gun safety legislation in the face of the gun lobby's slashing attacks on her has been especially admirable. Darryl Black, the Republican, is a nice guy in the wrong race. An engineer, he's been doing nonprofit work while waiting for things to pick up at Cisco Systems, his employer. Linda Ellis, the Libertarian candidate, is a chemist at RTI International.
House District 36
Even less question here in this Cary-based district. The incumbent, David Miner, wasn't our choice in the GOP primary, but he won it and his only opponent is a Libertarian named Gregory Clayton who says he's dropped out of the race, though too late to get off the ballot. Miner's attentions have been on national politics lately, but for 10 years he's been a decent legislator with an open mind on the issues.
House District 37
We worry about this southwest Wake district , because Republican lawyer-activist Paul (Skip) Stam, the likely winner, is a rabid conservative but, unlike his ideological soulmates in the Wake delegation, actually knows how to make a point. Maybe that's because he once clerked for former N.C. Chief Justice Jim Exum, an Indy favorite. J.C. Knowles, the Democratic candidate, is a retired auctioneer who was on the Wake school board a long time ago (1968-83) and wants to make a comeback. He says he'll vote for higher taxes to improve the schools. Wow. Stam, of course, promises never to do such a thing. But Knowles has a '96 conviction on his record for defrauding two customers, for which he served a three-year term on probation while he paid them back. The voters will have to sort that out for themselves. Bradley Wheeler, a telephone company sales manager, is the Libertarian candidate.
House District 38
Deborah Ross, the Democratic primary winner, will be a terrific addition to the House. She was executive director of the N.C. Civil Liberties Union for seven years and before that was--a bond lawyer! Casey Gardner, the Libertarian candidate, is her only opposition.
House District 39
Darren Jackson, a lawyer in Zebulon, is our pick in this eastern Wake district that runs along the boundary from Fuquay-Varina to Wendell. He's a centrist Democrat making his first run for office after serving as a leader in the East Wake Education Foundation. Republican incumbent J. Sam Ellis has had a good moment or two speaking out against cuts to the state's disability programs, but not enough to make up for 10 years of conservative nay-saying in the House. Ellis' latest "contribution" was to stop a bill that would have allowed Raleigh to regulate against clear-cutting by developers. Libertarian Wade Minter is a computer professional.
House District 40
Much as it pains us to say it, in this northeast Wake district the only alternative to Republican Rep. Rick Eddins, who has nothing to recommend him, is a libertarian software consultant named Scott Quint who sounds worse.
House District 50
In this northwest Raleigh district, the only alternative to Republican J. Russell Capps, a right-winger but always polite, is Libertarian Lee Griffin. Griffin, though, isn't an end-all-government flamer like most of his party. He's for reducing taxes, not eliminating them, and he's pro-choice on abortion rights, which sets him apart from Capps. An IBM programmer until the spin-off he was leading went under, Griffin's back at N.C. State doing a second undergraduate degree in horticultural science, his first love. He won't win, but he gets our vote.
District Court Judge
District 14 Incumbent James Fullwood is facing opposition for the first time in his 13 years on the bench. But his opponent, Raleigh attorney George Hughes, hasn't given voters enough reason to choose him instead. Early on in his career, Hughes was censured by the state Bar Association for getting involved in a scheme with a shady auctioneer. Since then, he's been practicing in Raleigh, mostly handling criminal defense cases. Fullwood, a former prosecutor, cites his successful oversight of Wake's six-year-old civil arbitration program and the drug treatment court established in 1999 as key career accomplishments. He's currently the judicial representative to the county's Child Fatality Task Force/Child Protection Team. And he wants to see more attention paid to juvenile and domestic violence cases--a worthy campaign plank.
U.S. House, District 4
A lot of people, including The Independent, chided U.S. Rep. David Price over his delay in coming out against the Congressional resolution giving President Bush the power to unilaterally invade Iraq. But in the end, he opposed it, one of 156 senators and congresspeople to vote that way. A look at Price's record is a reminder that he usually does the right thing. That's why the Independent endorses David Price.
Overall, he has pushed bills that improved curricula at community colleges and restored tax deductability for student loan interest. He supports partial public financing for federal candidates, mass transit funding, increasing the minimum wage, higher fuel efficiency for SUVs and light trucks, and efforts to make home ownership more affordable. He opposes creating individual, private Social Security accounts, the Bush tax cuts, repealing the estate tax and military spending on SDI.
Price is running against Tuan A. Nguyen, a Republican from Cary who's a flight instructor, and Ken Nelson, a Libertarian from Holly Springs who's a business systems analyst with Wachovia Bank. Nguyen says he has a working class perspective toward fundamental issues, and says campaign finance reform that would allow regular folks to run for office is his top priority, along with cutting taxes, including the estate tax. Nguyen also supports the President in Iraq and opposes the death penalty. Nelson wants to cut taxes, let young people opt out of Social Security, opposes the death penalty, and says of Saddam Hussein, "the only way to deal with this madman is to finish him off..."