The 2016 election is the most consequential in living memory, with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump wreaking havoc on his party and presenting the prospect of an administration organized around white nationalism and populism virtually unprecedented in the United States. In the Republican primary, evangelical candidate Ted Cruz and establishment standard-bearer Marco Rubio are seeking to chip away at Trump’s lead, while economic populist Bernie Sanders is chasing Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate of her party.
While the presidential contest is grabbing the spotlight, there are also contested primaries for US Senate — the first time both a presidential and Senate election have been on the ballot in North Carolina since 2008 — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and a host of council of state seats. And while there are few contested primaries for state legislative seats, several important local races are on the ballot, including Forsyth County Commission, Guilford County School Board and Winston-Salem City Council.
The North Carolina primary is scheduled for March 15, but early voting begins on Thursday. Visit the Guilford and Forsyth board of election sites for information about times and locations for early voting. This is the first year that voters are required to present photo ID before voting, although voters who are unable to obtain photo ID can sign a declaration of “unreasonable impediment” and vote a provisional ballot.
Don’t look for Congressional races on the ballot. Because the federal courts threw out the old district maps, a special primary election for Congressional races has been scheduled for June 7.
Candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Rocky De La Fuente
Chances are you’ve heard of the first two candidates for the Democratic nomination for president — Hillary Clinton has been involved in politics since high school, when she worked for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. She’s been first lady, served in the Senate and as secretary of state. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist whose politicization dates back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, represented Vermont in
the US House from 1991 to 2007, and in the Senate since 2007. The importance of the North Carolina primary in this race hinges on the primaries over the next
two weeks, most notably the Super Tuesday group of a dozen plus states.
Rocky De La Fuente, a California businessman of Mexican descent, landed a position on the ballot by obtaining the requisite 10,000 signatures from North Carolina voters. He describes himself as a conservative Democrat, and has so far garnered enough signatures to also appear on primary ballots in Ohio, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Arkansas.
Candidates: Deborah K. Ross, Chris Rey, Kevin D. Griffin and Ernest T. Reeves
Deborah K. Ross is a Raleigh lawyer who has taught law at Duke University and served in the state House from 2003 to 2013. According to her website, “she was a leader on ethics reform and election law,” and she has been endorsed by the Replacements Ltd. PAC for its LGBT voter guide. Her previous leadership of the ACLU of North Carolina and experience as general counsel for GoTriangle, the Triangle transit agency, is relevant.
Chris Rey is the three-term mayor from Spring Lake. A major in the National Guard with military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rey has received
“numerous military awards and accolades including the Bronze Star,” according to his website. Rey is the executive director of Cumberland HealthNET, a nonprofit that “helps to coordinate care” for uninsured residents, and an adjunct professor at University of Mount Olive in the criminal justice department.
Durham staffing-company president Kevin Griffin has been involved with the Durham Living Wage Project, Dress for Success, Hiring Our Heroes and more. He helped found the living wage project in 2015, and previously lived in all three Triad cities, according to his website. He is a Forsyth County Day School and UNCG graduate.
A retired US Army captain, Ernest T. Reeves of Greenville ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014. He challenged an incumbent again the next year in a bid to be the mayor of Greenville. After his military service, Reeves worked for United Airlines and later attempted to start Jesusa Coffee and Jesusa Entertainment.
The candidate who wins the Democratic primary will likely face incumbent Richard Burr in the November general election.
Candidates: Roy Cooper and Ken Spaulding
Ken Spaulding, a Durham lawyer and former state lawmaker, has been running for governor for two-and-a-half years, struggling to gain exposure for his campaign. Meanwhile, long before Attorney General Roy Cooper officially announced his candidacy last October, the press was holding him up as the Democratic standard-bearer against Republican incumbent Pat McCrory. The latest poll by Public Policy Polling gave Cooper a 55/10 advantage over Spaulding, which explains why Cooper’s maintaining an
extremely low profile. Cooper refused to debate Spaulding at High Point University, and hasn’t so much as outlined his positions on his website. Spaulding proposes to raise teacher pay and increase the affordability of higher education. He opposes voter ID, calling it “voter suppression.” He supports Medicaid expansion and marriage equality. (previous coverage)
Candidates: Linda Coleman, Holly Jones, Ronald L. Newton and Robert Earl Wilson
Linda Coleman was the Democratic nominee in 2012 and narrowly lost to Dan Forest by only 6,858 votes. With YWCA USA, Holly Jones led initiatives for energy independence and women’s health. Ronald L. Newton is a Durham businessman and self-described populist. Robert Earl Wilson worked in state government for 30 years in the Secretary of State office and in corrections.
Candidates: Josh Stein and Marcus W. Williams
Josh Stein is the legacy favorite to fill the vacuum in the attorney general’s office left by Roy Cooper as he campaigns for governor. Stein served as first deputy to Cooper from 2001 to 2008 and in the state Senate representing Wake County since 2009. As a state lawmaker, he voted against a bill that would redistrict Greensboro for municipal elections, voted for a bill that forbids public-school teachers from working on political campaigns and against the amendment that allows magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex marriages — though he posted an excused absence on the day of the veto override vote.
Marcus W. Williams, a lawyer from Lumberton with 37 years of courtroom experience, is for better teacher pay and the restoration of tenure, the earned-income tax credit and the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina— none of which are functions of the attorney general’s office. He ran in 2012 for the 8th Congressional District, losing the primary to Jane Smith by 20 points.
Commissioner of labor
Candidates: Mazie Ferguson and Charles Meeker
Mazie Ferguson of Greensboro is a former president of the Greensboro Pulpit Forum, where she helped lead the boycott of K Mart in the well publicized and successful local labor battle. Ferguson, who has been a lawyer since 1978 but isn’t an active member of the bar, served as assistant legal counsel for NC A&T University for most of the 1990s. Ferguson said she was the first woman to pastor a Baptist church in the state — First Baptist Church in Siler City — though she is currently without a specific church. She’s been active on labor issues and fighting for working people for decades, she said, adding that she is following God’s calling.
Charles Meeker spent a decade as Raleigh’s mayor, ending in 2011, and preceded his tenure with eight years on the Raleigh City Council. He has been a lawyer since the 1970s after graduating from Yale University and Columbia Law School, according to his website. Meeker is running “to provide effective, accountable leadership” and would address an array of issues “from worker injuries to employee misclassifications to workers not being paid,” his site says. He has been endorsed by the Replacements Ltd. PAC for its LGBT voter guide.
The winner of the Democratic primary takes on incumbent Republican Cherie Berry in November. You might recognize her from the signs in elevators.
Superintendent of public instruction
Candidates: June Atkinson (i) and Henry J. Pankey
As a three-term incumbent, June Atkinson consistently polls in elections as one of the most popular Democrats in statewide elections. She touts an increase in high school graduation rates from 68 percent to 86 percent under her watch, and is currently working with the Republican-controlled General Assembly to implement changes in the common course of study. Under Atkinson’s leadership the Department of Public Instruction is piloting Proof of Concept, a computerized assessment tool to replace end-of-grade tests, which she calls “20th Century artifacts.” Challenger Henry J. Pankey, a former high school principal in Durham, is running on a fairly standard platform of support for teacher tenure and increased pay, resources for staff development, character development and computer technology. (previous coverage)
Candidates: Dan Blue III and Ron Elmer
Dan Blue III is the son of Dan Blue, the former speaker of the state House and Senate minority leader. Blue III works in pharmaceutical healthcare. Elmer, a CPA with a background in investment management, plans to improve retirement systems pensions.