In an hours-long meeting Thursday night, the People's Alliance PAC chose which candidates it will endorse in the upcoming primary elections.
The PAC endorsed candidates in local, state and federal races. Tom Miller, a PAC coordinator, said about two to three hundred people participated in the meeting, including many new members attending their first endorsement meeting.
Miller said the debate, especially when it came to endorsements for sheriff and DA, "was very spirited with many speakers."
"Sometimes the choices between candidates was a choice between genuinely progressive people each with strong support among PA members," Miller said. "In these contests, our speakers debated different viewpoints on what progressive leadership on the issues in Durham would look like if one or the other candidate were to win. For PAC members, these decisions are difficult to make. In the end, though, PAC will pull together around the candidates the group endorsed tonight."
For Durham County Sheriff, the PAC is endorsing Clarence Birkhead over incumbent Mike Andrews. Birkhead previously served as chief of police for Duke University and the town of Hillsborough. He ran unsuccessfully against Andrews in 2014.
Birkhead has said
he would not honor so-called ICE detainers — requests from ICE that a jail hold a detainee booked on local charges beyond when he or she would have otherwise been released so ICE can take custody — unless those requests come with a judicial warrant or outstanding warrant. Under Andrews, the Durham jail honors all detainers, which typically come with an administrative warrant signed by an immigration officer but not a judge.
That was an important issue for the PA's new Latinx Caucus, said Ivan Almonte, a community organizer who is also leading the caucus,
"It's not OK to be in fear every single day," he said.
The group initially came together to support Javiera Caballero as she sought appointment to the Durham City Council seat she now holds, and then approached PA about working together. Even though many immigrants represented by the caucus can't vote, they can make their case before PA members who can, Almonte said.
"We had this idea to empower ourselves to be out own voice in the community," said Almonte , who took part in interviewing candidates for sheriff.
Satana Deberry won the endorsement for District Attorney, over incumbent Roger Echols and defense attorney Daniel Meier.
Deberry is pledging to operate with more transparency and take an active role in reducing the number of people arrested and jailed in Durham on low-level charges. A former criminal defense attorney, Deberry currently serves as executive director of the North Carolina Housing Coalition.
Elizabeth Lee, a new PA member, came out to Thursday to voice support for Deberry. Lee said she liked that Deberry has experience outside of the legal system — including with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and Self Help Credit Union — in addition to working as an attorney, while Echols has been in the legal system for twenty years. Deberry has "moral conviction," Lee said, and that's what she's looking for in a candidate.
"In those twenty years she's been doing law, she's been doing all of these other things and in those positions she's done the kind of things that need to be done in the justice system."
For Clerk of Superior Court, the PA is endorsing longtime incumbent Archie Smith.
For Durham County Board of Education, the PA endorsed the incumbents: Mike Lee in District 1, Bettina Umstead in District 2, Matt Sears in District 3 and Natalie Beyer in District 4. Because school board races are nonpartisan, they will be decided by the May election.
The PAC also chose incumbents for state and federal offices, with the exception of North Carolina House of Representatives District 31, where longtime representative Mickey Michaux is not seeking reelection.
For that seat, the PAC is endorsing Zach Hawkins, 2nd Vice Chair of the Durham County Democratic Party and a former teacher. He'll face Republican Torian Webson and Libertarian Erik Raudsep in the general.
In District 29, the PAC voted to endorse Rep. MaryAnn Black, who was appointed to her seat last year, for another term. She has no Democractic opponent, but will face a Republican challenger in Charles Becker.
Rep. Marcia Morey was appointed to the District 30 seat last year and received the PAC's endorsement for another term. In the general election, she'll face Republican Barry Burch and Libertarian Matthew Wagoner filed for the seat.
In District 54, the endorsement went to Democratic incumbent Rep. Robert Reives over Republican Jay Stobbs.
In the North Carolina Senate, the PAC endorsed District 20 incumbent Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., who will face Republican Tom Stark (who is general counsel for the NCGOP) and Libertarian candidate Jared Erickson in the general. Sen. Mike Woodard was endorsed for another term representing District 22 over Republican Rickey Padgett and Libertarian Ray Ubinger.
For the U.S. House, the PAC endorsed incumbent Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2004, over Republican Roger Allison.
For District 4, the endorsement went to Rep. David Price, a Democrat who has represented North Carolina's Fourth Congressional District for three decades, although one of his opponent's, fellow Democrat Michelle Laws, had a lot of fans as well (at least judging by the crowd outside the meeting before it began). Laws is a professor, minister and former executive director of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.
Also seeking the District 4 seat are Democrat Richard Watkins, who is CEO of The Science Policy Action Network, Inc.; Republican Steve Loor, an Ecuadorian-American who runs a translation company; and Libertarian Perry Whitlock.
"As a group, PA PAC’s picks are a very strong team positioned to bring a considerable store of talent, thoughtful decision-making skills, and passion to public service in Durham and powerful progressive leadership at the state and national levels," Miller told the INDY.
You can read People's Alliance questionnaires filled out by the candidates here