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.