Dan Besse, a progressive Democrat on the Winston-Salem City Council, announces today that he will challenge Republican Donny Lambeth for the District 75 NC House seat.

Since the Republican takeover in 2011, the state General Assembly has increasingly lorded its authority over municipalities, most notably with the 2016 passage of HB 2, which, among other things, prohibited local governments from passing ordinances to protect transgender people.

Dan Besse, a four-term member of Winston-Salem City Council, experienced the heavy hand of Raleigh up close and personal last year when his proposal to name Winston-Salem a “welcoming city” was scuttled under the threat of punitive legislation that would withhold tax revenues from the city. With power shifting from cities to state government, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Besse is announcing his candidacy for state House today.

A former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor and delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Besse is running for the District 75 seat currently held by Republican Donny Lambeth in Forsyth County.

“Our state legislature has forgotten how to cooperate,” Besse said in a prepared statement. “We need a new set of priorities working for us at the state level: improving our schools, helping our people stay healthy, protecting clean water and air, and creating jobs. I’ll bring to this task the lessons I’ve learned serving in local government — it’s all about our neighbors working together to help our communities.”

Another Republican state lawmaker from the Triad, Majority Whip Jon Hardister, is also in the cross-hairs of a Democratic challenger. Steven Bucchini’s website says he helped the city of Greensboro with its unsuccessful bid for Google Fiber in 2010. After graduating from Grimsley High School, he studied electrical engineering and computer science at UC-Berkeley. Bucchini is challenging Hardister for the District 59 seat in Guilford County.

Besse and Bucchini were mentioned in a NC Democratic Party email today, along with three other candidates, as being part of a slate the party hopes will break the Republican majority. The party also said it has built a $2.4 million war chest through Break the Majority, a partnership with Gov. Roy Cooper, setting a record for a mid-term election.

Filing for state legislative seats runs from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28.

The largely suburban District 75, where Besse is running, creeps along Forsyth County’s southern border with Davidson County, from Kernersville in the east to Clemmons in the west, with a finger reaching into southwest Winston-Salem, including the Ardmore neighborhood. Besse has represented the Southwest Ward on city council since 2001.

The incumbent, former Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board Chairman Donny Lambeth, has run unopposed in all but one of his past three elections. In 2014, Lambeth handily beat Democratic challenger David Gordon, 62.8 percent to 37.2 percent.

Two weeks before filing, the maps for several North Carolina counties, including Guilford but not Forsyth, remain uncertain. A panel of federal judges ruled on Jan. 19 that the state must use a set of maps created by a Stanford University law professor to cure a racial gerrymander. Last week, Republican legislative leaders asked the US Supreme Court to stay the order, similar to what the high court did with an order to redraw politically gerrymandered congressional maps.

Even as a seasoned Democratic politician, Besse is likely a long shot for the District 75 seat. Indivisible Flip NC, founded by Democratic activists Amy Cox and Briana Brough, places District 75 at the bottom of a list of the 18 most flippable districts. Also citing District 103 in Mecklenburg, the pair write, “These two districts in suburban/exurban Winston-Salem and Charlotte essentially define the kind of place Democrats must win in 2018 and 2020 to take back the House. Roy Cooper lost these district in 2016 by 7-8 points, and the Dem House candidates in each district significantly underperformed Cooper. Winning these districts in 2018 will require strong candidates plus a Virginia-sized statewide Democratic wave. It won’t be easy, but it is do-able.”

In contrast, Indivisible Flip NC rates NC House District 61 in Guilford County under the corrective map drawn by Stanford University professor Nathaniel Persily as an “easy pickup” for Democrats. But of course, that all depends on whether the Supreme Court allows the maps to be implemented before the 2018 election.

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