We endorse the incumbent, Sen. Vernon Malone, a Democrat from Raleigh, who's held this eastern Wake County seat since it was created after the 2000 Census. Malone, a retired educational administrator and former Wake County Commissioner, is a longtime leader in the black community in Southeast Raleigh. In this majority-minority voting district, he's never faced a serious challenge in three previous races, and he won't this year from Republican challenger Carol Bennett, a Knightdale resident who isn't running an active campaign.
In six years as a senator, Malone's been a back-bencher who goes along with the Democratic agenda in the Senate without offering much direction of his own. But he is, at least, a reliable vote for school funding, the university system and social services programs that the Democratic caucus, which is dominated by its conservative members, see fit to support.
Bennett, on the other hand, describes herself as a "Ronald Reagan Republican" who, though not a lawyer, is an experienced hand at civil litigation and advocates "affordable dispute resolution" for small businesses. She describes herself as full-time caregiver to her father as well as a horse trainer and riding instructor.
Voters can choose from among the Republican incumbent, the former Republican leader who's now a Democrat, and a Libertarian who says she usually votes Democratic but has no serious issues with her Republican legislators.
We'll take Chris Mintz, the reformed ex-head of the Wake County Republican Men's Club who switched parties two years ago and is trying for the second time to win a General Assembly office. Mintz's platform doesn't offer a lot of specifics. He's a financial consultant who wants to give small businesses a variety of tax breaks, including exempting the first $25,000 of profits for businesses with earnings of less than $100,000. Mintz is endorsed by the N.C. Association of Educators and SEANC, the state employees association.
The incumbent, two-term Republican state Sen. Neal Hunt, is an affable conservative who's progressive enough on environmental issues to have the Sierra Club's backing. But Hunt, a formerly constructive Raleigh City Council member, has concentrated in the Senate on right-wing "values" issues, including advocating the anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution. And on questions like whether Wake County needs a land-transfer tax or impact fees on development to offset rising property-tax levies, Hunt's old instincts as an apartment developer kick in: He's no help to the taxpayers.
The Libertarian candidate, Jan MacKay, is a Wake Forest motorcycle enthusiast who advocates the repeal of the mandatory helmet law, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana (and poker games for money), and is against every "sin" tax on booze and tobacco products. She's for gun rights.
Janet Cowell's decision to pursue the office of state treasurer leaves open this seat in the Democratic-leaning West Raleigh-Cary district.
Josh Stein won the Democratic primary after a competitive race. We stand by our endorsement of Stein, a Raleigh attorney who directs the consumer protection division at the N.C. Attorney General's office. In that position, Stein has a record of tackling predatory lending, telemarketing and identity theft, bringing relevant bills to the General Assembly and getting them passed. He cites his top priorities as improving education, reforming the health care system—that includes expanding health insurance for kids and fixing the mental health mess—and managing growth in a way that preserves the environment and quality of life. His long list of endorsements includes teachers, police and firefighters groups; the Conservation Council of N.C.; Planned Parenthood; and Equality N.C. We're excited by Stein's energy, drive and commitment to progressive goals.
Republican candidate John M. Alexander Jr.—known to friends as "Johnny Mac"—is a local philanthropist who owns a downtown Raleigh truck dealership founded by his father in 1929. The Hillsborough Street YMCA is named for Alexander's family, thanks to their longtime fundraising and involvement. He pitches himself as an "honest, respectable businessman" who can show the General Assembly how to balance a budget while providing necessities like health care and cutting "pork-barrel" spending. His positions are moderate to progressive, with an emphasis on increasing teacher pay and vocational programs in education, planning growth, protecting air and water quality, and support for a "multi-modal" transportation plan.
While Alexander comes across as thoughtful and independent-minded, we believe Stein's smarts, experience and policy positions clearly make him the right candidate for the job.
We endorse incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Stevens, who has served his conservative Cary district for six years. While he voted against an increase in the minimum wage and jumped on the anti-immigrant bandwagon by seeking to ban illegal immigrants from state colleges and universities, he's also broken with his party more than once on the state budget and is known as a thoughtful, moderate legislator. A former county manager, Stevens understands how the budget crunch affects urgent local needs. While he's taken thousands of dollars in PAC money this year, he was also one of 10 state senators to earn praise from Democracy N.C. for the transparency of his campaign finance records. The N.C. Center for Public Policy Research has consistently ranked him as a highly effective lawmaker.
Stevens faces no Democratic challenger, but Libertarian Brian Irving of Cary is campaigning on a standard Libertarian platform: eliminate nearly all taxes and regulations and reduce the size and power of government. Irving lists his priorities as stopping involuntary annexation—a hot-button issue in southwestern Wake that Stevens is also on top of—and allowing unfettered "school choice" through vouchers and tax credits. Irving has no experience in elected office but did serve on the Fayetteville planning commission when he lived there. He has made one previous run for a different state senate seat in 2004.
Incumbent Democrat Bob Atwater, a former Chatham County Commissioner, is running for re-election to the N.C. Senate for a third term on a platform that emphasizes funding public education, aiding homeowners and small businesses, and protecting the environment. He faces Republican challenger Roger Gerber, whose campaign focuses on one issue: removing the public charter-school cap in North Carolina.
The Indy strongly endorses Atwater over Gerber, whose plan for education is shortsighted and who does not appear to be staging a legitimate campaign. (Gerber refused to answer any questions that did not pertain to education on his Indy questionnaire, with the exception of a vague treatise on government handouts, which were on his Web site.) However, Gerber has posted his responses to other questionnaires, which reveal a pattern of strictly conservative viewpoints: He "strongly opposes" collective bargaining for public employees and land-transfer taxes, and he believes that environmental laws and regulations in North Carolina are "too strict."
Atwater, who boasts one of the highest environmental ratings by the Conservation Council, has exhibited leadership on several progressive issues, including proposing a bill that would have allowed individual counties to set a 1 percent land-transfer tax, if approved by a public referendum, and co-sponsoring a bill to introduce a North Carolina Earned Income Tax Credit. Neither bill came to a vote, but the 2007 state budget incorporated an EITC and allowed counties to increase their land-transfer taxes if passed by referendum. On these issues, Atwater risked political isolation to encourage sound economic policy.
Atwater has been described as "fair" and "thoughtful" in his role as chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, but overly cautious in some of his decision-making. On his questionnaire, Atwater said he was "open to hearing both sides" on the debate over collective bargaining, a regrettably mild stance. Like many of his fellow senators, he voted against the Racial Justice Act, which would have outlawed death sentences motivated by race, and voted for the construction of a seawall on Figure Eight Island, which environmentalists opposed as a dangerous infringement on the coastal ecosystem. Votes in the opposite direction would have been controversial. However, in the upcoming session, we encourage Atwater to take stronger stances in votes that matter, and to live up to his expectations as a progressive leader.
The race for the District 20 Senate seat presents progressive-minded voters in Durham with a conundrum: Elect the fiscally responsible Democrat or the self-described bleeding heart Libertarian. The Indy endorses Democrat Floyd B. McKissick Jr., who is seeking his first full term after being appointed to succeed the late Jeanne Lucas in 2007. A former Durham city councilman, McKissick has proven to be a capable legislator during his short time in the Senate. Based on his responses to the Indy questionnaire, he possesses a complete and nuanced grasp of the complex issues facing the state.
Other members of the General Assembly laud his fervent support of progressive legislation such as the bill to reduce foreclosures on sub-prime loans, and his co-sponsorship of the North Carolina Earned Income Tax Credit. They also note, however, that except for shepherding the meals tax referendum through the Senate, McKissick has not yet risked taking a leadership role on controversial issues.
With only token Republican opposition from Kenneth R. (Ken) Chandler, McKissick's main challenger is Libertarian David C. Rollins, a former investment banker whose platform seems designed to outflank the incumbent's left. Besides his strict adherence to the Libertarian philosophy on taxes (he's against them) Rollins' stance on the core issues (universal healthcare, abolition of the death penalty, medically accurate sex-ed, civil unions for same sex couples) does not diverge that greatly from McKissick's. In the end, experience wins out. We would, however, encourage McKissick to be the effective leader that he's shown flashes of becoming.
We wholeheartedly endorse Democratic Sen. Ellie Kinnaird for a seventh term. The former Carrboro mayor represents her liberal district of Orange and Person counties well, with a strong voting record on environmental, mental health and juvenile justice issues. We only wish Kinnaird were more effective at building consensus with her fellow legislators—she's one of the state's most progressive lawmakers, and we'd like to see her agenda succeed.
Challenging Kinnaird is Republican Jon G. (Greg) Bass, a retiree from Roxboro. Bass has never run for office, did not turn in our questionnaire, and pledged to raise less than $3,000, which excuses him from filing campaign finance reports, so we know little about his views or his supporters. He told the Roxboro Courier-Times that his goal in throwing his hat in the ring was "to add some common sense and reason to the political process" and to help teachers meet their goals.
The Indy gives its nod to Larry D. Hall, who would have been the choice even if the Libertarian challenger, Justin Lallinger, hadn't proven himself amateurish in the campaign. Earlier this month, Lallinger, a 26-year-old software engineer making his first foray into politics, began placing signs around Durham indicating that he was the incumbent. He is not.
Hall, the actual incumbent, has represented the values of his very progressive district, as indicated by his co-sponsorship of the Racial Justice Act, which would prohibit execution in cases where race was found to be a factor in sentencing. He also supported legislation that would institute a living wage at the state level. He has shown leadership in the effort to increase North Carolinians access to health care. But while Hall has advocated for progressive causes, we hope that in his sophomore term he becomes more adept at building consensus so as to ensure that his agenda is passed.
Paul Luebke, a nine-term Democrat, faces no Republican challenger but has a Libertarian opponent, Sean Haugh, the state party's political director. Haugh is running a spirited campaign, with progressive stances on LGBT rights, ballot access reform, reproductive rights and college admissions policies for illegal immigrants—all positions Luebke shares—but Haugh's answer to most issues is a simplistic "smaller government" approach, which neglects the funding that must go into effective social programs.
Most notably, his proposal for charter-school vouchers is the wrong solution to improving North Carolina's education system. Though we applaud Haugh's campaign to strike down restrictive ballot access laws in North Carolina (he is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Green and Libertarian parties), we strongly endorse Luebke, who rises beyond the pale of his party and has established himself as a highly effective advocate for progressive causes in recent years.
Luebke has shown fearless leadership on prison reform. He has worked tirelessly for a true moratorium on the death penalty—not just the current de-facto moratorium. He co-sponsored the Racial Justice Act, which would make it illegal to execute prisoners whose death penalty sentences were based on race. He also cosponsored bills to allow illegal immigrants to attend community college, and has voiced strong opposition to local handling of the federal 287(g) program. His has firmly opposed regressive taxes and fought to close tax loopholes that benefit corporate interests.
Former House Speaker Dan Blue is one of the state's most distinguished African-American leaders whose efforts lately have been concentrated on leading the Barack Obama campaign in North Carolina. Six years ago, Blue made his own bid for a Washington address when he ran unsuccessfully (but with our endorsement) in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. A high post in the new Obama administration can certainly be his if he wants it, but we selfishly hope he'll remain in Raleigh, where he practices law and serves as a role model for up-and-coming politicians.
Regardless of all that, Blue richly merits re-election in his race with Republican challenger Paul F. Terrell III, an Army vet who touts his National Rifle Association and Right to Life memberships as credentials for office, along with a stream of conservative talking points straight from the John Locke Foundation. Terrell is employed at CREE as a maintenance technician. In this heavily African-American district in East Raleigh, against the highly respected Blue, Terrell has no chance.
In his two House terms, Democratic incumbent Grier Martin has carved a reputation for himself as a progressive leader on ethics reforms and environmental issues. The N.C. Center for Public Policy Research this year ranked him the "most effective" of all first- and second-term members, he notes; he was also cited by the Conservation Council of N.C. and the Disabled American Veterans of N.C. for his leadership.
Martin was a primary sponsor of the House bill that helped force utility companies to get serious about generating power from renewable resources. His "Clean Cars" bill would toughen emissions standards for automobiles registered in the state, and a companion bill would require state government to use more fuel-efficient vehicles. He also helped to enact a state Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers. He's a leading advocate of campaign finance reform and public-financing options for candidates running for state office.
It wouldn't be an election in central Raleigh, however, without genial J.H. Ross on the ballot somewhere. A retired state Capitol police officer, Ross has run for the legislature several times before and for mayor of Raleigh in 2005, when he famously said rail-transit plans would soon be made obsolete by flying buses. Ross wants "Christian faith" recognized as our national foundation and English made our official language.
We wholeheartedly endorse incumbent Democrat Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a serious and highly effective progressive representing Cary and West Raleigh. Her list of accomplishments in this, her fourth full term, is long. A strong advocate for children, she successfully pushed for several bills recommended by the Child Fatality Task Force, including a not-so-popular increase in the minimum age for kids who ride in the back of pickup trucks. She is an equal defender of senior citizens, successfully pushing for a rating system for adult care homes. She supports a fundamental change in state transportation funding that would go beyond highways to incorporate buses, light rail, bike paths and sidewalks.
Co-chair of the Wake County House delegation, Weiss is also chair of the House Finance committee and a member of committees on the courts, the environment and aging. Much of Weiss' work is on preserving and strengthening the essentials of education, public safety and public health, which helps explain why she has strong support even in a district that's not particularly Democratic. Her political courage recently earned her a "Defenders of Justice" award from the N.C. Justice Center.
Eric Weaver, a real estate agent and private police officer from Raleigh, is running against Weiss as a conservative Republican with a Libertarian streak. In his Indy questionnaire, he lists as his priorities: lower taxes, eliminate state regulations, establish "school choice," and overhaul the state's probation system. He says Wake County should be receiving more of the state's transportation money, which it should spend on building roads, not rail. He supports a "market-based reform" approach to health care.
Democrat Al Swanstrom, a retired IBM executive, is a self-described social moderate and fiscal conservative with a real shot at unseating the Republican incumbent in this mostly conservative Cary district. A political newcomer (he currently serves on Cary's planning board), Swanstrom is running a door-to-door campaign against two-term incumbent state Rep. Nelson Dollar, a professional political consultant who's run the campaigns of several prominent Republicans across the state (some nasty campaigns, at that).
Swanstrom says his 35 years in business give him the experience necessary to build consensus and get the best return on our tax dollars. He emphasizes education—specifically, the need to adequately fund school infrastructure and reduce the dropout rate—and says he would address the involuntary annexation problem by giving homeowners the option to object earlier, in court if they choose, and requiring municipalities to justify their actions. In his Indy questionnaire, he shared what we consider to be progressive, common-sense approaches to a variety of social issues.
Dollar is an entrenched social conservative—every year, he signs on to a bill to amend the state's constitution to prohibit gays from marrying—but he's proud to say he's co-sponsored legislation with every Democrat in the Wake delegation. Dollar serves on key House committees, including education, appropriations, environment and transportation. He co-sponsored the bill that established a high-risk health insurance pool. But his stalwart support of the homebuilders' and developers' lobbies—and their PACs' support for him—tell us it's time for a change.
A longer shot than his fellow Democrat in District 36, Ed Ridpath still has a good chance of winning in his second bid to represent this southwestern Wake district. Ridpath is an IBM employee from Fuquay-Varina who served in the Navy. He says his rival, incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Stam, has been too focused on state politics as House Minority Leader and has neglected the basic needs of the district, namely "roads and schools, the fundamentals of government." A self-described moderate, Ridpath says his priorities are to bring more jobs to the state, improve career-based education, and address transportation needs through road building and maintenance as well as light rail and other transit solutions. He supports impact fees to fund school construction, and while he doesn't volunteer a position on many social issues, he says he will "not back down" on social justice.
Early in his legislative career, Stam was dubbed the "prince of pelvic politics" for his pursuit of anti-abortion legislation. He remains one of the loudest social conservatives in Raleigh—his outspoken objection to protecting kids from gay-bashing as part of the bullying bill included a reprehensible comparison of gays to pedophiles. As a real estate attorney, Stam's gone all-in for the developers' lobby, helping developers avoid paying impact fees and using his campaign money to fight the now-dead real estate transfer tax effort. He's blocked real transportation reform, and while he touts his ethics cred, he also voted against a voter-owned elections pilot.
In short, Ridpath's victory would be a very good thing for Wake County, and for North Carolina.
We endorse three-term incumbent Deborah K. Ross, who calls herself a "practical progressive"—a good description for the balancing act that's allowed her to go from liberal lobbyist for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to House Speaker Joe Hackney's leadership team in just six years.
Ross helped social justice advocates obtain $12 million in new money for the state's Housing Trust Fund—less than they sought, but a significant step forward in the direction of affordable housing nonetheless. She's been a legislative advocate for at-risk students in school, college-aid programs, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, a new state initiative to supplement the wages of low-income workers. She's pushed for an overhaul of the state's disastrous mental-health "reform" program, and in the meantime to keep the doors open at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh. She's pro-urban transit.
Her lone opponent in this heavily Democratic district that spans east and west Raleigh is Libertarian Susan J. Hogarth, a Raleigh resident and brain-imaging research coordinator who says she "lives off the grid" (no juice from Progress Energy) and is part of the "radical" Libertarian wing that thinks too many in their party are becoming Republican-lites. Hogarth says stick to core principles: No capital punishment, no eminent domain or annexation, peaceful immigrants are welcomed, and the state should allow citizens to propose new laws or repeal old ones by referendum.
Democratic incumbent Linda Coleman, running for her third term, is a retired state government personnel manager who's aligned herself with SEANC, the state employees association, to advocate better pay and bargaining rights for government workers.
She was also a stand-up proponent of the bill that would've required schools to protect gay students from bullying, which passed the House but died in the Senate.
We heartily endorse Coleman, who received a perfect rating for her votes last year from N.C. Voters for Clean Elections, a reform group, and a 90 percent grade from progressive Environment North Carolina. She cast key votes in favor of raising the state's minimum wage and establishing a high-risk health insurance pool, an important step in the direction of universal access to quality health care.
Her opponent, Republican Duane Cutlip, is a Wendell businessman who, according to his Facebook profile and campaign Web site, is a real estate investment adviser. He describes himself as "very conservative"; his Web site lists endorsements from the National Rifle Association, Grassroots N.C., N.C. Right to Life PAC and the National Federation of Independent Business. He calls for school choice (vouchers), tax cuts, a crackdown on illegal immigrants and a cleanup of the corruption in the General Assembly.
Stan Morse, the Democratic challenger, is the candidate who became famous—well, better known—for winning his primary after announcing that he wasn't running and was endorsing his opponent, Sam Brewer. After the primary, Morse could've withdrawn. Instead, he decided he wants to be a legislator after all. We endorse Morse for his advocacy for higher teachers' pay and opposition to corporate welfare and oil drilling in our coastal waters. He's anti-capital punishment, believes in "the sanctity of all human life" (he ducked when asked if he supports abortion rights), and says the rights of gay people "should not be diminished by their sexuality."
The president of a business consulting firm, Morse comes across as smart and opinionated. He'd certainly be an improvement on the incumbent, first-term Republican state Rep. Marilyn Avila, a former John Locke Foundation manager who's been chairwoman of the Wake Republican Party for five years and is linked to all the usual conservative causes: tax cuts, free enterprise, private school vouchers, the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and the crackdown on illegal immigrants, to name a few. Avila works hard, just on the wrong causes.
In his first term in the state house, Democratic Rep. Ty Harrell proved to be as dynamic a legislator as he was a candidate when he defeated right-wing incumbent Russell Capps in this somewhat conservative Cary-Morrisville district in 2006. A self-employed fundraiser from Cary, Harrell has devoted a lot of his energy to education, visiting schools all over Wake County while he voted to raise teacher pay by 10 percent. He also co-sponsored the bill that created a high-risk health insurance pool and supported tax incentives for small business owners. The N.C. Center for Public Policy Research ranked Harrell the most effective freshman lawmaker this spring. He has shown political courage in standing up for progressive values, such as co-sponsoring the anti-bullying bill in its original form.
Republican challenger Bryan Gossage is an Apex Town Council member who's running on public safety (he boasts the support of Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison), economic issues (he proposes cutting government spending and lowering the gas tax), and education reform (which largely consists of electing Wake County's school board members at-large). Gossage hasn't run a very active campaign for the House seat, but he has raised an almost equal amount of money as the incumbent, mostly from development interests and fellow Wake Republicans, including ousted Cary Mayor Ernie McAlister.
Correction (Oct. 27, 2008): Stan Morse is the president of Twin Oaks Team Inc., a business consulting firm.