Bruce Davis, Pete Glidewell and Jim Roberts (l-r) are competing in the Democratic primary for the 6th Congressional District (photo by Jordan Green)
by Joanna Rutter
Three Democratic candidates made their case for why they should replace Rep. Mark Walker in the US House during a forum hosted by the Young Democrats of Guilford County in Greensboro on Wednesday.
In a panel moderated by Young Democrats’ president, David Wils, candidates Bruce Davis, Pete Glidewell and Jim Roberts answered questions on of-the-moment issues, including racial injustice in policing, foreign affairs, gun regulations and the migrant crisis.
“You’re going to give me two minutes to solve ISIS?” Roberts said. “Islamic radicals kill more of their own. This has been going on for a millennium. This is their problem.”
Glidewell supported arming Iraqi forces; Davis mentioned the need for discussion and diplomacy. “Any time we take out a leader, we create a void that will be filled,” he said.
The 6th District as drawn now is relatively new territory; The General Assembly redrew congressional districts in 2011. This is the second election in the district since longtime Republican incumbent Howard Coble announced he was retiring in 2014. The district was drawn to favor Republicans.
The last time a Democrat held office in the 6th District was Robin Britt in 1985. He was succeeded by Coble, who held the office until January 2015 and passed away late last year. Walker succeeded him, and is running for reelection.
“We’ve had three decades of Republicans, and this district leans Republican,” Wils said in an interview before the forum. “But just in his first term, Mark Walker is decidedly more conservative than Coble … he’s turned a lot further right than we’re comfortable with, than some Republicans are comfortable with.”
Wils cited Walker’s vocal opposition of former House Speaker John Boehner during his campaign, only to vote to keep Boehner in the House soon after taking office, saying that “the betrayal was palpable” among Walker’s supporters.
“This election is critical to the 6th District,” Glidewell said. “The first time someone runs for reelection, they’re at their most vulnerable.”
Glidewell, Roberts and Davis share similar careers and backgrounds: all three served in the military, and own or started businesses.
Regarding previous political experience, Davis, a former Guilford County commissioner who lives in High Point, is no stranger to this race, having lost to Laura Fjeld in the 2014 Democratic primary. Glidewell was previously chairman of the Alamance County Democratic Party. Roberts has held leadership positions in his hometown of Mt. Airy, such as the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, along with serving as the president of the North Carolina Pest Management Association.
“I’m from Mayberry,” Roberts said. “Washington needs a whole lot of Mayberry.”
The issue of residency was raised when Glidewell, after listing counties within District 6 where he worked or lived, challenged Davis to explain why he’s running for the seat when he lives outside of the 6th District.
“When I cut my grass, I go from District 6 to 12 and back to 6,” Davis said. “They drew the line in my yard.”
All three candidates used their business experience as a tie-in for their common stance on strengthening jobs in the district after losses in tobacco, furniture and textiles. Glidewell said he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the basis that it moves jobs away from the United States; Davis spoke about growing industries such as aviation and nanoscience. Roberts proposed the idea of collaboration between local business leaders and universities on a jobs leadership team.
Other undisputed topics between the three included agreeing that climate change is real, supporting a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, gradually raising the minimum wage to above $10 an hour, and keeping Planned Parenthood intact.
All three replied in the negative when asked if they supported country-specific restrictions on migrants.
“We have enough resources to vet immigrants,” Davis said. “To be honest, I’m afraid of incidents [of terrorism] homegrown in this country, from people who look like us.”
Gun control was discussed in tandem with the issue of mental health care.
“Background checks will stop disturbed people from getting guns,” Roberts said. “They see it in the media, ‘Oh, he killed 101? I can do more.’ This problem seems to be unique to America.”
Davis compared gun restrictions to the success of seatbelt laws in reducing deaths. “Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is always going to be hard,” Davis said. “But I’ve never seen a gun fire without a person pulling the trigger.”
Glidewell pointed to a lack of mental health professionals and the ratio of guns to people in the state. “I am for the Second Amendment, but I’m also for common sense,” he said.
When the topic of racial injustice at the hands of law enforcement was introduced, differences between the candidates were more apparent. Roberts pointed to a recent report of a successful nonviolent arrest of an armed robber in Pilot Mountain, suggesting it as a positive contrast to law enforcement officers who kill citizens because of an apparent lack of adequate training. Glidewell said body cameras were important instruments.
“We need to increase dialogue,” he said.
Davis said the time for talk has passed, and action is required.
“In America, we are conditioned to believe whites are superior,” he said. “Until we understand where our race problems come from, when a young man can be choked to death for selling a cigarette — I’m tired of talking about diversity … it’s about inclusion.”
While Davis said he didn’t intend to bash Walker — “because the people in this district put him there” — Glidewell did not shy away from contrasting himself several times with the current congressman, saying Walker focuses too much on social issues and not enough on foreign policy and the economy.
Roberts’ strategy for taking Walker’s seat?
“I’m going to tell on him like he’s your 7-year-old brother,” he said. “Look at his donors. He’s been bought by corporations. Let ’em keep him.”
The March 15 primary will determine which of the three Democratic candidates will go up against Walker, or his Republican challenger in the 6th District in the Nov. 8 general election.
“We’re not looking for someone ideologically pure for District 6,” Wils said. “We’re looking for someone who can beat [Walker].”