by Brian Clarey, Jordan Green, Anthony Harrison and Joanna Rutter
Kudos if you voted in the March 15 primary; lots of people wait for the main event in November. So, you ask: What are we doing having another election in June?
Hang tight, there’s an interesting answer. Firstly, the federal courts threw out North Carolina’s Congressional districting map in February, ruling that it was a racial gerrymander. With absentee ballots for the March 15 primary already printed, the General Assembly hastily drew new maps and scheduled an election for all 13 of the state’s congressional districts on June 7. Meanwhile, on March 15, there was a Democratic primary for the open South Ward seat on Winston-Salem City Council that can only be described as disastrous. With the number of voters disenfranchised vastly higher than the margin of victory, the State Board of Elections ordered a new election, tacking it on with the already scheduled congressional primary.
Perhaps most bizarrely, the election for a single seat on the state Supreme Court wound up on the ballot of this special election because of a ruling in early May by, uh, the state Supreme Court finding that a 2015 law approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly setting a so-called “retention” election for sitting justice Bob Edmunds was unconstitutional. Under the law, voters would have only the choice of deciding whether or not to retain the justice, with the consequence that if he was not retained he would be replaced by appointment by the Republican governor. The state courts ruled that the voters have the right to choose among actual candidates, including challengers.
The bad news for democracy is that only a tiny slice of the electorate will vote in this election because, frankly, no one’s paying attention. The good news is that because of the anticipated low turnout, your vote will carry an enormous weight. As a benchmark, a special election in June 2008 drew just 1.8 percent of the electorate. Do the math: Those who show up to vote will be speaking for roughly 50 others who stay home.
Early voting is already underway, and it continues through Saturday. Visit the Guilford and Forsyth board of elections’ websites for specific times and locations. Or you can wait until June 7 and vote in your precinct. Make sure you bring a photo ID, so you can avoid voting a provisional ballot. If you don’t have a photo ID, you can still vote by signing a declaration stating that you have a reasonable impediment to obtaining an ID.
See you at the polls!
13th Congressional District
Candidates: Adam Coker, Bruce Davis, Mazie Ferguson, Kevin D. Griffin and Bob Isner
While the new 13th Congressional District leans Republican, 44.4 percent of its population is in urban Guilford County, including two thirds of Greensboro and most of High Point, so it’s no surprise that’s where most of the action is in the Democratic primary. Of the five candidates on the ballot, only one — staffing agency operator Kevin D. Griffin of Durham — is not a resident of either Greensboro or High Point. An arcane state law allows people to run for Congress even if they live outside of the district.
Bruce Davis is the only candidate on the ballot with experience in public office. Davis represented a High Point district on the Guilford County Commission for 10 years, and now chairs the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau. Experience counts, argues Davis, who has earned the endorsements of High Point Mayor Bill Bencini, High Point University President Nido Qubein and Greensboro Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson. “Would you let a doctor practice medicine that hasn’t studied, that hasn’t honed their craft?” he asked. “I think you want someone with experience.”
Bob Isner, in contrast, is trying to make a virtue out of inexperience. A developer responsible for Deep Roots Market and other high-profile projects in downtown Greensboro, Isner also likely benefits from the residual name recognition of having a son who is a famous tennis player. An engineer by training, Isner touts himself as a “problem solver,” and an endorsement from former US Sen. Kay Hagan speaks to his effort to position himself as a political moderate.
Mazie Ferguson, a lawyer and community activist who lives in Greensboro, jumped into the 13th District race after losing her bid for state labor commissioner in the March 15 Democratic primary to Charles Meeker. A veteran civil rights activist who supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, Ferguson boasts a deep résumé of community activism, including a term as president of the Pulpit Forum and serving on the police complaint-review committee of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission.
Adam Coker, a Greensboro entrepreneur with a background in trucking, construction and nonprofits, has positioned himself as a dynamic populist with proactive positions on issues like criminal justice reform and climate change. He earned the endorsement of Replacements Limited PAC, which advocates for the LGBTQ community. Coker’s campaign stumbled when it was discovered that policy positions were coped verbatim from the Hillary Clinton campaign. The policy advisor responsible for the copy left the campaign and Coker removed the material.
Griffin, like Ferguson, basically retooled an unsuccessful campaign in the March 15 primary to compete in the Congressional contest. Griffin lost the Democratic primary for US Senate to Deborah Ross.
The candidates are largely aligned on a number of issues, including raising the federal minimum wage, climate change and Social Security.
Ferguson, Coker and Davis all favor raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and pegging it to inflation, but Davis said he would start with an increase to $12 to give employers time to adjust. Griffin, who serves on the steering committee of the Durham Living Wage Project, said there needs to be a debate to determine a national wage floor considering that the cost of living varies from region to region. Isner said he supports some increase in the minimum wage, although he hasn’t decided what amount.
On whether the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are aggressive enough, Davis advocates proceeding cautiously to limit job losses, while Griffin said, “I don’t think there is any speed that is too fast.”
The candidates broadly agree on the importance of preserving Social Security, but Isner said he would be open to considering raising the retirement eligibility age if it was part of a comprehensive reform plan.
13th Congressional District
Candidates: Dan Barrett, John Blust, Andrew C. Brock, Ted Budd, Kay Daly, Kathy Feather, Chad A. Gant, Hank Henning, Julia Howard, Matthew J. McCall, Vernon Robinson, George Rouco, Farren Shoaf, Jim Snyder, David W. Thompson, Jason A. Walser and Harry Warren
Seventeen Republicans have filed to run in the newly cut District 13, and there will be no runoff. That means 15 percent of the vote will likely take the nomination.
People with little to no elected experience make up much of the slate, including Ted Budd, who has never run for office. The small businessman from Davie County owns a chicken farm and a gun range, ProShots, known for its high-profile billboard campaigns on Interstate 40. He’s built his campaign on “taking on the establishment,” “helping families thrive” and “insisting on fiscal responsibility,” according to his campaign website. Conservative PAC Club For Growth is financing much of his campaign.
Dan Barrett is a Davie County commissioner and previous party chair for the 5th Congressional District. The employment attorney has a lengthy list of policy positions on his campaign website, including defunding the Department of Education, securing our borders, instituting public prayer and reinforcing his favorite Constitutional amendments: 2, 4 and10. And he’s campaigning by walking across the entire district.
John Blust, a lawyer and accountant in Greensboro, has been serving in the NC House for 16 years. As a staunch conservative he long predates the tea party wave that crashed in 2010. He sometimes bucks his party, speaking out against an effort by state Sen. Trudy Wade to impose a new election system on the Greensboro City Council, but voted in lockstep with his fellow Republicans on HB2. His campaign plays down social issues, instead stressing military strength (he’s an Army veteran) and reining in so-called entitlement spending and curbing the national debt.
Andrew C. Brock is one of a handful of state legislators looking to upgrade to a desk in Washington, DC. Like all of the state lawmakers in the Republican primary, the seven-term state senator representing Davie and Iredell counties voted for HB2. He currently serves as chair for committees on energy policy and agriculture. The primary quote from his website: “[W]e’ve cut taxes, shrunk government, slashed regulations and provided the people with affordable energy and increased funding for education, and I intend to take those conservative values to Congress so we can defend our Christian values and balance the budget.”
Kay Daly is an active figure in GOP circles. She’s served on campaigns from Reagan to Romney. And though she’s light on positions and never held elected office, she’s amassed a large list of endorsements including Sean Hannity, Robert Bork, Swift Boat Vets founder John O’Neil and TV’s Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman.
An in-patient lactation consultant at a Charlotte-area hospital, Kathy Feather came to North Carolina from Johnstown, Pa. and has never run for office before. She does not address specific issues on her site, but namechecks the Second Amendment, small government, the supposed dysfunction of the Affordable Care Act and Christian family values — “but respect others beliefs, choices and freedoms.”
A Statesville attorney and charter member of his father’s church, Chad Gant has likewise never held elected office, but his website quotes Ronald Reagan and George Washington. His four issues are national security, national debt, abortion and the Second Amendment.
Just one Republican from the Guilford County Commission, Hank Henning, joined the fray. The former Marine wants to slice government spending, support the Second Amendment, secure the border, enforce term limits, make abortion illegal and reform the veteran’s administration. On the commission, he’s remembered as the guy who floated the idea to have the YMCA of High Point manage the Rich Fork Preserve.
Rep. Julia Craven Howard has served 14 terms in the NC General Assembly and is current chair of the banking committee. Like all current GOP state legislators, she supported HB2 and seems to be running on it, saying on Facebook that it “will awaken our nation to what Obama and the liberals have planned for our future. We must fight back.” She sponsored legislation in 2013 that reduced unemployment benefits and dissolved historic tax credits. One thing that differentiates her from the pack is that she is on board with independent redistricting.
As the register of deeds for Iredell County, Matthew J. McCall was one of the last holdouts in the state against performing same-sex marriages, waiting until the Department of Health & Human Services specifically ordered him to.
Calling himself the “black Jesse Helms” since his days on the Winston-Salem City Council, Vernon Robinson was the GOP nominee for the lucky 13th back in 2006, when it looked very different — then, as now, he lived outside of the district. His website rails against “cultural Marxists like the mayor of Charlotte,” the remnants of communism and current House and Senate leadership.
After finishing law school at UNC-Chapel Hill, George Rouco went to work for the CIA before settling down into private practice and making his name by raising money for kids with congenital heart defects — his child has a CHD. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rouco wants to finish the fence between the US and Mexico as well as bolster the Second Amendment and outlaw abortion.
Farren K. Shoaf owns WDSL, the Christian radio station out of Davie County. He’s never held office, but believes in a strong military, no amnesty for immigrants, the Second Amendment, repeal and replacement of Obamacare and abolishing the federal Department of Education. He’s also a rare GOP environmentalist, against fracking and GMOs.
Jim Snyder is a Lexington attorney who served one year in the state House and lost to Thom Tillis in the 2014 Republican primary for US Senate.
David W. Thompson, of Mooresville, is a stickler for the Constitution and civil procedure according to his website. But according to the Mooresville Tribune, he has had “at least 23 encounters with the law since 1993,” the most recent in 2013. Charges include misdemeanors, mostly for assault and breaking and entering, and a single felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon when, again from the Trib, “he shot a man at his former place of business.”
Jason A. Walser, a Salisbury lawyer, stands out from the crowd as an environmentalist who in his professional life helps run the Central North Carolina Land Trust. He doesn’t specifically reference the Second Amendment at his site, though he does mention the Zika virus as one of the biggest threats to our country. He has come out against HB2, setting him apart from most, if not all, of his Republican competitors.
Harry Warren has represented Rowan County in the NC House for three terms, serves as chair of the Public Utilities Commission and like all state Republicans he voted for HB2. But he also sponsored HB 328, which would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers permits — putting him significantly to the left of most of his GOP colleagues in the House. The three planks on his platform are national security, economic stability and a stance against government overreach.
5th Congressional District
Candidates: Josh Brannon, Jim Roberts and Charlie Wallin
The 5th Congressional District has been redrawn to capture all of Forsyth County, including the urban Winston-Salem area formerly tucked in the safely Democrat-leaning 12th District. Now, the new district mainly covers a large swath of northwest North Carolina, including Boone and Mt. Airy. Three Democratic candidates from the mountains — a software developer who ran for the 5th in 2014, a pest control man and a college food services director — vie for the nomination.
Josh Brannon is no stranger to this election. The software developer from the Boone garnered 39 percent of the vote against Republican incumbent Virginia Foxx in the 2014 general election. She’s defended the seat since 2004 in a district that has usually rated safely Republican, though a redistricted map drawing urban Winston-Salem into the mostly rural district, along with Trump’s candidacy providing a possible upset for Democrats, may shake that up.
Brannon’s overall campaign message takes a strong stance against income inequality. He regularly mentions “revolution” against the top 1 percent of earners and the 5th District’s place as the poorest in the state. His other campaign promises include true universal healthcare and disposing of the for-profit prison system.
Political newcomer, army vet and pest-control businessman Jim Roberts has held leadership positions in his hometown of Mt. Airy (where his family has resided since 1770), such as the Chamber of Commerce board of directors and the Jaycees, along with serving as the president of the North Carolina Pest Management Association.
“I’m from Mayberry,” Roberts said in a Feb. 3 debate. “Washington needs a whole lot of Mayberry.”
At that debate — for the 6th District before the old maps were thrown out by the federal courts — Roberts proposed the idea of collaboration between local business leaders and universities on a jobs leadership team. He also spoke in support of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, gradually raising the minimum wage to above $10, and more stringent background checks for gun owners.
Looking at 26 years of food services management on his resume, Charlie Wallin might not initially seem to be a fit for this job, but a peek into his extracurriculars suggests otherwise. A staff member of Appalachian State University as assistant director of food services, he serves as president of the university’s Staff Council; he was elected Chair of the 5th District Democrats of North Carolina in 2015.
His campaign pillars include lowering poverty rates through jobs with a living wage and protecting the environment, especially against fracking in rural counties. He supports refugee resettlement programs. He has also earned the endorsement of the Replacements Limited PAC, which advocates for the LGBTQ community.
5th Congressional District
Candidates: Virginia Foxx (i) and Pattie Curran
Virginia Foxx, who claimed the seat left vacant by Richard Burr’s successful US Senate bid in 2004, practically holds the Seal of Good Housekeeping for conservative politics in the 5th District, stretching from the mountains in North Carolina’s northwest corner to Winston-Salem. But tea party-inspired candidate Pattie Curran, a home-schooling mom from Kernersville, might be her most spirited challenger yet. Curran became an internet sensation in 2010 when she ambushed then US Sen. Kay Hagan at a town hall meeting to make known her vociferous opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Now, she’s shifting her sites to her own party.
Although Foxx holds a 96-percent approval rating from the American Conservative Union, her positions as secretary of the House Republican Conference and vice chair of the House Rules Committee, which determines what legislation comes to the floor for a vote, shade her as a member of the dreaded establishment. Running down the list of issues that conservatives care about — from religious freedom and abortion to the Second Amendment, immigration and healthcare, it’s hard to find much daylight between Foxx and her challenger. They split on surveillance — an issue that has hewed the party between its national security and libertarian wings. Foxx is firmly in the former camp, having voted for the 2015 USA Freedom Act, while Curran assails the act as giving the National Security Administration carte blanche to continue its warrantless wiretap program.
“The majority of Americans do not want to be spied on,” Curran told a group of conservative voters in Winston-Salem last year. “The majority of Americans want the Fourth Amendment upheld. And the Fourth Amendment is clear that if you’re going to search anyone’s property, possessions, you must have a warrant.”
6th Congressional District
Candidates: Mark Walker (i) and Chris Hardin
In the Republican primary for the new 6th District — still predominantly rural, switching around Guilford’s neighboring counties but still holding on to half of the county and Greensboro — freshman incumbent Mark Walker, supported by local tea partiers, faces a challenger from even farther on the right in Chris Hardin, a pharmaceutical businessman who criticizes Walker for failing voters.
Pete Glidewell, the only Democrat to file in the 6th, is running unopposed in June, and will face the winner of this Republican primary in November.
After Howard Coble’s long and storied representation of the 6th Congressional District, Mark Walker assumed his seat in 2014 with 58.7 percent of votes against Democrat Laura Fjeld. One of Walker’s first actions in office was to vote yes to keep John Boehner as speaker of the House, displeasing many supporters who saw the move as a betrayal of a campaign promise. But Walker pointed out that his pledge was to “vote against leadership on any legislation that is detrimental to the 6th District” and that he said he would support Rep. Trey Goudy over Boehner for speaker. Goudy was not a candidate for speaker at the time of the vote.
Formerly a music pastor at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, Walker’s freshman voting record orbits around healthcare and security. Among his eight sponsored bills in 2015 (none of which are law), two of note include HR 460, to improve human trafficking detection, and HR 1022, which would authorize diversion of certain security funds for “countering violent Islamist extremism” in light of recent attacks in cities such as Paris.
Chris Hardin’s critique against Walker: His stances aren’t far right enough. The newcomer candidate from Browns Summit plans to usurp Walker, who he calls a “miserable failure,” through low voter turnout for the special election, banking on former Walker supporters’ votes who would like to see even tougher stances on refugee resettlement and Obamacare.
Hardin works in the pharmaceutical industry and as a reserve police officer in Graham after previously serving in the Coast Guard and working as a street cop, school resource officer and in vice/narcotics before switching to reserve status for the last decade. He earned a master’s degree from Liberty University in 2014 in management and leadership.
Winston-Salem City Council South Ward
Candidates: Carolyn Highsmith and John Larson
If a rebuke to the claim that voting doesn’t matter was ever needed, one can point to the March 15 Democratic primary for the South Ward seat on Winston-Salem City Council, which came down to four votes on election night. Once the late absentee ballots were added, the margin narrowed to one vote, and when provisionals were added, the margin changed to six. That’s not to say that every vote is counted: The Forsyth County Board of Elections disallowed 101 legitimately cast absentee ballots because they were postmarked too late. More concerning was a finding that 31 voters in the South Ward were given ballots without the contest, while another 12 voters were allowed to vote in the race despite living outside of the ward. The problems resulted in the State Board of Elections throwing out the results and ordering a new election.
The consequences couldn’t be higher. John Larson, who is retiring from his position as vice president of restoration at Old Salem Museum & Gardens, and Carolyn Highsmith, president of the Konnoak Hills Community Association, are competing to replace Councilwoman Molly Leight, who is retiring from her seat on city council. Leight, an ally of Mayor Allen Joines, has endorsed Larson over former opponent Highsmith, who has challenged city council on rezoning, transportation and public safety issues in the outlying areas of the ward.
Larson has taken advantage of the extended campaign to deepen his engagement with residents in the booming suburban fringe of the district, while Highsmith retains a passionate corps of supporters who believe an independent voice is needed on council.
Republican Michael Tyler will be on the ballot in the general election, but the ward leans heavily Democratic, making the outcome of the primary crucial.
NC Supreme Court associate justice
Candidates: Bob Edmunds (i), Sabra Jean Faires, Mike Morgan and Daniel Robertson
Sitting Associate Justice Bob Edmunds of Greensboro states his record, dating back to his election in 2000, “is an open book,” that he enjoys bipartisan support and nearly every sheriff in North Carolina and remains impartial. However, his tenure contains moments of controversy. In two separate cases in 2010 and 2011, Edmunds ruled in favor of Abbott Laboratories and Wells Fargo and Co., two companies with which he owns stock. Edmunds also owns stock in Duke Energy, but ruled against the corporation in a 2013 decision. Edmunds refused to disclose the size of his investments. Finally, Edmunds’ seat was nearly guaranteed in 2015 after the General Assembly moved for this year’s vote to simply count as a retention election, the first in state history; the courts struck down the law. While judicial elections are nominally nonpartisan, Edmunds, a registered Republican, is part of the court’s conservative majority and holds the support of his party.
Challenger Sabra Jean Faires of Wake County was one of the plaintiffs against Edmunds in the retention-election law’s hearing. While the race for associate justice remains non-partisan, Faires proudly touts her unaffiliated voter registration, declaring on her website: “I will not bring a partisan political agenda to the court.” She argues, “Important decisions are often partisan splits, and that needs to stop.”
A member of Raleigh’s Bailey and Dixon law firm, Faires specializes in government, election and taxation law. As a lawyer, she has worked in state government, under both Democratic and Republican leadership staffs in the NC General Assembly, and under Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt.
Mike Morgan, a registered Democrat, currently serves as a superior court judge in Wake County. He began his career in 1979 as a research assistant with the NC Justice Department, then served as a staff attorney. His court experience includes positions as an administrative law judge, a district court judge, and attained his current seat in 2005. Morgan is a member of the US Supreme Court Bar and the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission. He represented the state in the Racial and Ethnic Bias Consortium and served on the NC Association of Black Lawyers’ Board of Governors from 1992 to 1997.
Mississippi native Daniel Robertson, a self-employed attorney from Advance who is a registered Democrat, proudly proclaims his status as “a political outsider who has never held political office.” Robertson touts extensive work with multiple law firms, served as general counsel for the Bank of the Carolinas and helmed the Journal of Space Law as editor in chief. Thanks to this experience, Robertson claims, “I therefore know the struggles most citizens and businesses face to survive in a world filled with burdensome regulations, taxes and requirements imposed by a government clearly divorced from its own people.”
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