Democrats vie for District 58 seat in decisive primary


Candidates for state House District 58 Ralph Johnson and Amos Quick align on issues of job creation and gun control, but differ on their main platforms and their plans to reach across the aisle to the Republican majority if elected.

by Joanna Rutter

The March 15 primary will decide whether newcomer Rev. Amos Quick III or incumbent Ralph Johnson will secure the seat for District 58 in the state House, representing a chunky diagonal region of Greensboro from the southeast segment of the city into the West Market Street corridor. No Republican candidates filed for election. 

In the 2014 primary race for District 58, similarly unchallenged by Republicans, Johnson won the seat previously occupied by Alma Adams, who left it for the 12th Congressional District. Johnson had tried before in 2010 but lost to Adams.

Ralph Johnson

Since taking office in the state House in January 2015, Johnson has helped introduce legislation on safer gun storage, and has voted in favor of a handful of bills protecting concealed carry rights for judges and retired law enforcement officers. He also voted against an opt-out provision for magistrates who refuse to perform gay marriages.

Johnson’s record reveals he sponsored a handful of bills on raising the minimum wage (all five of which did not pass), and co-sponsored the Foster Care Family Act, which aligns state law with federal law regarding “reasonable and prudent” standards for parents.

“It’s been a tumultuous time,” Johnson said of his tenure in the Republican-controlled house. “We’ve been facing legislation that has not always, in my view, done the real will of the people.”

It’s not an ideal situation for any Democratic candidate to head into; Johnson said conversations he’s had offline with Republican colleagues often end with, “I believe you’re correct, but if I get on the floor and make that argument, they’re going to primary me.”

Johnson referred to a bill he co-sponsored authorizing the use of cameras to enforce violations for passing a school bus as an example of successful bipartisan cooperation.

“We are in the business of saving lives,” Johnson said. “This is not a harebrained scheme … I had two Republican colleagues on that bill with me. And me, a Democrat? It doesn’t matter!”

Johnson’s career in the home improvement industry and experience as co-chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro among other community involvement, plus the term now under his belt, contrasts with his opponent’s career path.

Rev. Amos Quick III
Rev. Amos Quick III

Quick departed from his comedy career as a morning radio show host on 102 JAMZ to eventually work for the executive director at Greensboro’s Boys & Girls Club. He has served on the Guilford County School Board since 2004, and is the head pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in High Point.

“We’re really running for the seat more than against anyone else,” Quick said. “I have much respect for Johnson and for being there [in Raleigh].”

Quick plans to be on the offensive in working with Republican representatives.

“Some battles I’ll win, some battles I’ll lose, but no battles will be surrendered,” he said. “I have a willingness to fight for what I believe are common-ground fights.”

He mentioned job creation as a priority.

Quick’s plan to bring job growth involves collaborating with local universities and “harness local brainpower” to move the district out of its history of textiles and manufacturing into more modern industries such as biomedical engineering and technology.

“North Carolina used to be a leader,” he said. “We were one of the 13 stars. Our star has fallen, and it’s time to put it back in place.”

He mentioned his experience in local education, noting that Guilford County Schools is the largest employer in the county.

“In the recession of 2008, I was part of a group of elected officials who did not do wholesale layoffs like other districts.” Quick said.

He also said he was the board liaison for implementing Say Yes to Education, an initiative put in action in September 2015 that aims to reduce cost barriers to higher education for graduating seniors in Guilford county. Quick touted investment in education as a seed for future economic growth.

Johnson also mentioned investing in education as a priority.

“I’m concerned we’re not doing enough to assist teachers, not only with pay, but … we need to make sure teachers have the tools they need to be prepared to work with in the classroom,” he said.

The candidates both said they want to push for more stringent background checks for gun ownership, while also saying that they support the Second Amendment.

“Taking care of North Carolinians is not a partisan belief,” Quick said. “We are burying hundreds of North Carolinians every year because we don’t have common-sense legislation in place.”

Johnson concurred.

“At the end of the day, we need to do better a job making sure the people with these weapons are checked out,” he said.

The candidates differences are more a matter of emphasis than substance. Quick brings a passion for strengthening public schools, and a pressing issue for Johnson is moving forward with Medicaid expansion.

“If you don’t have your health, you have nothing,” he said.

He drew the example of Kentucky enacting Medicaid expansion in 2015. Johnson said the state-level expansion was supported by Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate. (Gov. Steve Beshear expanded the state’s Medicaid program via executive order; in an October 2014 debate, McConnell said he wanted to keep KYnect, the state insurance program, while eliminating Obamacare on a national level.)

“And it’s working!” Johnson said. Matt Bevin, a tea party-inspired Republican who recently replaced Beshear as governor has pledged to roll back the expansion.

“Of all the issues, I’m puzzled by it,” Johnson said. “We’re one of 20 states that hasn’t accepted it yet. We have individuals in pure denial that we don’t need Medicaid, but who accept money for infrastructure. Why not at least try it?”