2012 Primary Endorsements | Our Endorsements | Indy Week
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2012 Primary Endorsements 

The primary election is May 8

Additional endorsements have been added. The following are our complete 2012 Primary Endorsements.

Correction: Frank Roche lost the 2010 GOP primary in the 4th Congressional District.


This is a pivotal year for North Carolinians. We will pick a new governor. We will decide whether to engrave discrimination in our state constitution. We have a chance to elect state and local candidates who care about social justice, economic fairness and environmental protection. In November, we will elect—or re-elect—a president.

Because of congressional and legislative redistricting, many Indy readers may see new names on their ballots. For example, some Durhamites who used to be in Congressman David Price's 4th Congressional District are now in the 1st District, represented by G.K. Butterfield. If you're in a new district, you should receive a postcard from your county board of elections notifying you of the change. District maps are also on county board of elections' websites, which are linked on our 2012 Primary Voting Guide.

Vote like the future depends on it. Because it does.


Constitutional Amendment 1

North Carolina can cast a clarion vote against discrimination and in favor of human dignity and loving relationships by rejecting Amendment 1, or as its supporters call it, the Marriage Amendment. As the signs say: Vote Against.

Amendment 1 would add language to the state constitution defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, a definition already contained in state law. This supposed Defense of Marriage Act does nothing to defend anyone's marriage. Instead, it prevents LGBT people from entering into same-sex marriages—or, to be more accurate, it prevents the state from recognizing such marriages when they occur. To repeat, this law is already on the books.

Elsewhere in the country, state legislatures and courts have recognized that these so-called DOMA laws, by limiting the many statutory benefits of marriage to heterosexual couples while denying them to same-sex couples, violate a fundamental constitutional guarantee that all citizens shall enjoy equal protection under the law.

Thus, in six states and the District of Columbia, same-sex marriages are now accorded equal protection. In 11 other states, though same-sex marriages aren't recognized by that name, they are accepted as civil unions or domestic partnerships—with statutory benefits that are virtually identical to marriage.

Alarmed that the public is warming to the view that LGBT people are entitled to be treated as people who live and love the same as straights, the Republican Party in North Carolina made it a top priority, after winning majorities in both houses of the General Assembly in 2010, to step on gay citizens. That's the whole purpose of Amendment 1: To define LGBT people as second-class citizens with diminished rights.

The effect of Amendment 1 would be to prevent any future legislature from changing the state's DOMA to recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Indeed, Amendment 1 would go beyond the current DOMA statute by declaring that marriage between one man and one woman is the only form of "domestic legal union" the state can recognize.

Regardless that a future General Assembly might see that the public has moved to a position of accepting homosexuality and is ready to support loving LGBT relationships, this amendment would bar the enactment of a law even if the public wanted it.

This isn't majority rule, as Amendment 1's backers insist that it is. No, it's the opposite: The people, and their elected representatives, would be denied the power of law by a constitutional obstacle reminiscent of the three-fifths clause that once put slavery beyond the ability of citizens and their Congress to abolish.

A couple of things are undeniably true about Amendment 1: If it passes, it may be struck down by a federal court as a violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment, which finally abolished slavery, guarantees people in every state equal protection under the law.

The second truth was underscored by, of all people, House Speaker Tom Tillis. A Republican, Tillis helped push Amendment 1 onto the ballot. But recently he predicted that if it passes, and even if a federal court doesn't strike it down, it won't last more than a generation before the voters in North Carolina repeal it.

Why? Because as Tillis said, younger North Carolinians are growing up at a time when more gays are out, and more out gays are their brothers and sisters, their cousins, even their fathers and mothers—and themselves. Gays are, in a word, us. And "we the people," as most young people understand better than their elders, deserve fair treatment.

Constitutions, if they're anything, are documents that define our hopes for the future. This proposal, which would write discrimination into our state constitution for the purpose of making it harder for "we the people" to realize our hopes for equality, is an outrageous abuse of the constitutional power.

The amendment could trigger a host of unintended negative consequences, including muddying the state's domestic violence laws. Local governments, including those in Durham and Orange counties, would be forced to drop health insurance and other benefits now offered to the domestic partners of unmarried employees, gay or straight. Other local governments would be precluded from offering these benefits. (Private employers, for whom such benefits are increasingly common, would not be affected, however. The language of the amendment is specific that private contracts are beyond its reach.)

Polls show that a majority of North Carolinians either support gay marriage or, if not, support civil unions. Most North Carolinians, in other words, oppose continuing to use the marriage laws to hammer and discriminate against gay people.

Voting against Amendment 1 won't legalize same-sex marriages or civil unions. If it fails, state law remains unchanged. Still, if North Carolina rejects this anti-gay measure, our progressive message will be heard across the nation. In that sense, perhaps, the Republicans have done us a favor by giving us the chance to stand for justice.

Ironically, one of the strongest arguments against Amendment 1 came last week from a pair of right-wing "family values" conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage—but said Amendment 1 goes too far and hurts their cause.

No legal protections for same-sex couples? No civil unions? No domestic partnership laws? As David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt, native Southerners who now lead the conservative Institute for American Values in New York, wrote in The News & Observer: "That's mighty cold."

Don't confuse support for traditional marriages with "overt antagonism or cold indifference [to] the lives and needs of gay and lesbian couples and their children," these two conservatives counseled.

In short, if you're pro family values, the correct vote on Amendment 1 is against it.


U.S. President

Republican & Libertarian

Call this an endorsement of sorts for The Real Mitt Romney™, the guy who should be running instead of the consultant-controlled bot running in his place.

Rick Santorum tried to pull back the curtain and tell us who Romney really was, but Santorum's withdrawal last week and the shift in support of his Super PAC's biggest funder, Foster Freiss, to Romney means we won't get to see a barrage of ads exposing the liberal underbelly of the front-runner.

Frankly, if Real Mitt were running he'd be worth taking a look at. For most of his political career, Real Mitt had no problem being a moderate. Real Mitt backed Democrats every now and again. Real Mitt, as we'll hear repeatedly in the months ahead, figured out that short of single payer, an individual mandate was the only viable political option for reforming health care. In 2002, Real Mitt said he'd protect a woman's right to choose. Four years later, after deep reflection on the polling data, he'd changed his mind.

Real Mitt's not running. The Etch A Sketch has been shaken clean and a new, severely conservative Mitt dialed in. He's outlasted his biggest rival, but still shy of the magic total and with two active challengers, the campaign grinds on.

Despite being heavily in debt and running on fumes, Newton Leroy Gingrich promises to remain an irritant to Romney and us all. The former speaker was in North Carolina during the Santorum announcement and vowed again to take his campaign all the way to the convention.

Likewise Ron Paul, who has views on some issues—the war and privacy—with which we agree but a host of others we reject, and a passion for social Darwinism we find downright creepy.

Neither Gingrich nor Paul has a shot at winning. For all the attention paid to the former Massachusetts governor's inability to lock down the nomination, he did it weeks ahead of the North Carolina primary. In 2008, the current occupant of the White House didn't sew things up until after the Old North State went his way.

In the Libertarian race, the Indy offers no endorsement among the six candidates, but we will tip our hat to former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who almost ran in the Republican race. Anti-war and an outspoken critic of the war on drugs, Johnson could end up as the go-to vote for disenchanted Democrats in the fall. We recommend a close look at his enthusiasm for school vouchers and privatizing public services before making the leap.

Lastly, a reminder that if you're in the mood to register a protest vote, all three party's presidential primaries include a "no preference" option.


N.C. Governor

Democrat

Philosophically, there's not much difference between the two leading candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Both are moderates, or else conservatives in the sense that they follow public opinion but don't get out in front of it.

Yet there's a big difference in their electability. Based on that criterion, we recommend Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton over former Congressman Bob Etheridge.

The General Assembly is very likely to remain in Republican hands after the 2012 elections. The GOP controlled the redistricting process last year, and they've given themselves a huge head start toward maintaining their majorities in the Senate and House by "packing" Democratic constituencies into as few districts as possible.

In their short time in charge, the Republicans have slashed spending on public schools, community colleges and the UNC system while pushing their agenda of privatizing public education with more charter schools, tax credits for private schools and reduced support for public school teachers and teaching assistants.

Had it not been for the threat or reality of gubernatorial vetoes, they also would have repealed the Racial Justice Act; created a photo ID requirement for voting that would discourage those without drivers licenses (the old, the poor, mostly Democrats) from going to the polls; curbed state air pollution laws; curtailed Medicaid funding; and plunged headlong into fracking—the controversial practice of horizontal drilling for natural gas.

The only person standing in their way was Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, and she's not running again. It's critical that a Democrat replace her, if only to stop the Republicans from doing their worst. That's why electability rises to the top of the list of factors to be considered for the Democratic candidates. And Dalton, though he's no slam-dunk to beat the certain Republican nominee, Pat McCrory, would have the best chance against him.

A six-term state senator before being elected lieutenant governor in 2008, Dalton is no progressive standard-bearer. He is, or was, a product of his mountain (Rutherford County) district: pro-business, conservative when it came to environmental and social issues, but strongly pro-public education and an innovator on improving the public schools.

As he's sought statewide office, Dalton has moved to the left. On gay rights, for instance, in 2005 he supported an earlier version of the anti-gay marriage amendment (though to be fair he opposed other anti-gay DOMA amendments before and afterward); this year, he's come out against Amendment 1 and in favor of recognizing civil unions.

Bill Faison, another conservative Democrat (in 2005, he fought increasing cigarette taxes by 25 cents a pack to pay for public health programs), is running a distant third in this primary field.

The choice for Democrats comes down to Dalton or Etheridge, who, frankly, has as much to recommend about him as Dalton does, but who also has a few deficits.

Like Dalton, Etheridge has long been a strong supporter of public education. As a legislator, as the elected superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction for eight years, and in his 14 years in Congress, Etheridge was conservative on many issues (most notably, his support for the Iraq wars); but on school funding, he was progressive.

But Etheridge got too full of his own stature, and it came back to bite him one day in 2010 when a couple of young Republican operatives ambushed him with a video camera on a Washington, D.C., street. Instead of laughing them off, Etheridge pushed them around and belittled them, which they filmed for YouTube infamy. It was out of character, and Etheridge apologized immediately, but the damage was done. Etheridge subsequently was defeated for re-election to Congress.

Etheridge, too, enters this race having passed up many opportunities to run for governor or U.S. senator. After more than three decades in other offices, he's unfortunately emblematic of an Old Guard in the Democratic Party that needs to let go.

Dalton isn't exactly the New Guard, but he enters this race without Etheridge's baggage and with the chance to define himself as an education reformer. Equally important, he can define himself as a governor who'll be open to compromise with the Republicans but who won't be afraid to stand up to them.

We know the rap on Dalton is that he's too cautious, too colorless to win over the public. Our experience with him is, he grows on you.

The other candidates are Bruce Blackmon, Gardenia Henley and Gary Dunn.

Republican

We're backing no one in the six-way race to decide the GOP candidate for governor. The candidates are Pat McCrory, Jim Harney, Scott Jones, Jim Mahan, Paul Wright and Charles Moss.

McCrory, who is running away with the nomination and is ahead in matchups with potential Democrats, fails to get our endorsement mainly for his decision to support Amendment 1 and his haste to get the state into the fracking business.

The former Charlotte mayor took almost 47 percent of the vote in a loss to Bev Perdue. He faces another big Democratic turnout this fall, but none of his potential opponents has caught fire.

McCrory, to borrow a phrase from candidate Obama, is a nice enough guy. He's tilted right to stave off a serious tea party challenge, but there are signs, like his recent criticism of the Legislature, that he'll tack back toward the middle once he's past the primary.

In a recent Rasmussen poll, 46 percent of voters surveyed preferred McCrory compared to 36 percent for Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton. On the surface that's positive news for McCrory, but it's telling that his support hasn't budged since his last run and remains below 50 percent.

He may try to run against the widely unpopular GOP leadership in the state House, but you have to wonder how many of the bills Perdue vetoed—voter ID, offshore drilling/ fracking—would have become law had McCrory been governor. To make the sale, he'll have to convince swing voters he can rein in his own party on education cuts and whatever social policy its far-right fringes try to cook up in the next few years.


N.C. Lieutenant Governor

Democrat

We're excited by the candidacy of state Sen. Eric Mansfield and give him our strong endorsement in this two-person primary. That's not to say we're down on former state Rep. Linda Coleman, the other candidate. But Mansfield, a surgeon (ear, nose and throat) and a part-time Baptist preacher, brings to his public service a rare combination of expertise, strong values and the willingness to speak his mind.

Should Republican Pat McCrory win the governor's office and the GOP remain in power in the General Assembly, a victorious Democrat in this race must be ready to argue the progressive case against their conservative policies. And regardless how the governor's race comes out, the lieutenant governor's main duty is to be qualified to be governor should the need arise.

Mansfield is a new face in Raleigh, a first-term senator from Fayetteville, but he's already stamped himself a leader among the Democratic Party's next generation. In our view, and the view of a long list of progressive-minded Democrats who support him, Mansfield is ready, and he is qualified.

For starters, his biography reads like something from central casting for a Democratic candidate. Growing up in Georgia, Mansfield was 10 when his father died, which he says made him want to be a doctor. Raised by his mother, a teacher, he went to Howard University on a ROTC scholarship and consequently served as a medical officer in the Army—at Fort Bragg and in Kosovo—after getting his M.D. He's also earned a master's degree in public health from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Mansfield turned heads in the Senate last year as he spoke out against Republican bills to curb women's reproductive rights (and dictate exactly what a doctor is supposed to tell a pregnant woman), to shortchange the public schools and to repeal the Racial Justice Act. Mansfield's not strident. But he is he's smart, forceful and persuasive.

Linda Coleman has a long record of public service, including as a career state employee in human resources, a Wake County commissioner and a three-term state House member. She left the House to work for Gov. Bev Perdue as state personnel director, a job that's behind-the-scenes and often about patronage. She's strongly supported by the State Employees Association (SEANC), a mixed blessing given that SEANC has endorsed some very conservative Republicans in past elections out of pique that the Democrats were neglecting state employees.

As a Wake commissioner, Coleman was a centrist, missing chances to give more support to the public schools. Her legislative record was better, including her advocacy for raising the minimum wage. She also touts her support for cutting taxes, however. In this campaign, she was the first of the Democratic candidates for governor or lieutenant to come out for civil unions in the campaign against Amendment 1. (Mansfield, also an opponent of Amendment 1, quickly joined her, as did all three of the major Democratic candidates for governor.) That's a plus.

It's notable that should one of these candidates be elected lieutenant governor, he or she would be the first African-American to hold either of the top two Council of State positions. Both are capable. But on the question of who would be better able to state the progressive case in Raleigh, there's no comparison. It's Mansfield.

Republican

Five candidates are vying for the GOP nomination. We know Tony Gurley, a smart guy and a three-term Wake County commissioner, best. He's a libertarian; he's a moderate; he's whatever getting elected requires him to be. Running in a statewide GOP primary this year, he's required to be right-wing, and so he is, making his only mark recently by "leading" the effort to strip female county employees of their insurance coverage for elective abortions. Oh, and after supporting the 2006 school bond issue in Wake County when he was running as a moderate in a general election, Gurley has since joined in the Republican refusal to increase funding for the schools despite the fact that they're adding 3,000 students or more every year.

State Rep. Dale Folwell is from Winston-Salem. He's speaker pro tem of the House, a leader of the state GOP's anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-public schools efforts. We can't back him. Nor can we back Dan Forest, a Raleigh architect (and Charlotte Congresswoman Sue Myrick's son) whose campaign website leads off with quotes by Rush Limbaugh. State Rep. Grey Mills is a down-the-line conservative and former Iredell County GOP chair. Nope. Then there's Arthur Jason Rich, a tax accountant from Sampson County who's running on a strange platform of offering federal tax credits to people who buy new or foreclosed—but not other—houses. Federal? This is a state office.

We're tempted to endorse the "moderate" Gurley so his opponents can use it against him. But that would be harsh. So, no endorsement here.


N.C. Auditor

Republican

Details, details, details: The state auditor's job is a painstaking task that combines the OCD traits of an accountant with the forensic ability of an investigator. We endorse Fern Shubert as the Republican candidate up to that task. A certified public accountant, she has uncovered, and helped recover, $500,000 in waste as a consultant for the town of Marshville, N.C., and was awarded the Accountant Advocate of the Year award by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

A former town manager and state legislator—three terms in the House, one in the Senate, where she was the Republican whip—she understands how government does—or in some cases, doesn't—work.

Joseph DeBragga is an internal audit manager at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Debra Goldman of Cary is on the Wake County school board. Greg Dorityis the Beaufort County Republican Party chairman. Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright is also running.

The winner will face Democratic incumbent Beth Wood in the fall.


N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture

Republican

We're not big fans of Steve Troxler, the reigning agriculture commissioner, but we'll hold our nose as if downwind from a factory farm and endorse him. The latest affront from the ag department is Butterball-gate, the controversy in which an agriculture department employee tipped a local Butterball slaughter and processing facility accused of mistreating animals that it would be inspected. The employee was disciplined but kept her job.

Nonetheless, the federal farm bill is being hammered out in Congress this year, and North Carolina needs somebody with friends in high places to ensure the state's farmers benefit from that legislation.

That makes Troxler more qualified than his Republican opponent, Bill McManus, an attorney, accountant and former restaurant owner. McManus is good at aggregating media reports about the E. coli outbreak at the State Fair, which is under the jurisdiction of the agriculture department, and about the Butterball controversy. McManus is also expert at lobbing verbal and written hand grenades at Troxler, but he has failed to convince us of how he would run the ag department. It's easy to be a complainer; it's harder to offer concrete solutions.

Democrat

The farm bill could be law by the November elections, an excellent time for North Carolina to start fresh with a new agriculture commissioner. We endorse Walter Smith of Yadkinville as the person to defeat Troxler. Smith's priorities include stemming the loss of farmland and family farms. He has worked for the Farm Service Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administering ag programs to farmers.

The former Boonville mayor has wide knowledge of ag issues, including food safety, farm subsidies and the federal farm bill, which is due to be passed this year. We hope that if elected agriculture commissioner—and we really hope he beats Troxler—Smith prioritizes the needs of small farms over agribusiness.

Scott Bryant, a Chatham County cattle farmer, has never run for public office. We think he should start with a local board (Soil and Water District, perhaps?) before trying to leap into a state-level office.


N.C. Commissioner of Labor

Democrat

It's going to be difficult for a Democrat to unseat Republican incumbent Cherie K. Berry as commissioner of labor. She has name recognition (there are at least two songs we know of written about her), and her mugshot is in every elevator in the state on the certificate of operation.

If anyone is up to the important challenge of defeating Berry, we believe it is Marlowe Foster. Foster grew up in Farmville, Va., on—as you might suspect—a farm, tending to hogs, bailing hay and curing tobacco. He rose to become director of government relations at Pfizer. He's also worked as a budget director at Winston-Salem State University and a corporate affairs manager at Lowe's Home Improvement.

Having experience in both white- and blue-collar fields, in boardrooms and in barns gives Foster an ideal perspective from which to regulate workplace safety and help create jobs.

Foster faces John C. Brooks and Ty Richardson in the Democratic primary.

Brooks, 75, held this office from 1977 to 1993, when Harry Payne beat him in the primary. That vote came in the wake of the 1991 Hamlet chicken processing plant fire in which 25 employees died, trapped behind locked doors. The plant had never been inspected.

Brooks ran again in 2008 and finished second in the primary.

Richardson is another retread from the 2008 campaign. He came in third in that four-horse race, his only experience seeking elected office. He has served in the Marine Corps, the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety and the National Guard. He's worked on campaigns for Jim Hunt and Howard Lee, but he has not done enough in his personal political career to warrant such an important job in the Council of State.


N.C. Commissioner of Insurance

Republican

Mike Causey has run for insurance commissioner before—three times, in fact. We're endorsing him because of his background in the insurance business and his common-sense approach, both of which might have propelled him to win one of his previous races.

But those contests in 1992, 1996 and 2000 were against Jim Long, who had a strong reputation as a competent administrator and consumer advocate.

If Causey wins his primary, he'll face incumbent Commissioner of Insurance Wayne Goodwin, a Long deputy and the recipient of his enthusiastic endorsement.

Causey says he's willing to take on insurance companies and wants to improve the department's customer service and consumer advocacy.

He's familiar with the challenges faced by the state, particularly in striking a balance between the hurricane-prone coast and the rest of us. His victory in the primary should lead to a race that will be less about politics and more about insurance.

We're concerned that won't be the case if Causey's main opponent, former House Speaker Richard Morgan, wins the primary. Morgan, who served as co-speaker with Jim Black during one of the legislature's darkest and most divisive eras, is much more of a political animal.

James McCall is also running in the Republican primary.

If we are going to continue to have a Commissioner of Insurance elected by the people—only 11 states do—then we ought to have a race between two people who are going to talk about insurance.


N.C. Secretary of State

Republican

We remember Michael Beitler as "Dr. Mike" from 2010, when he was the Libertarian Party's candidate for U.S. Senate. He wanted U.S. combat forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He wanted the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy discarded. He didn't think it was the government's business whether you married or whom. As he told the Citizen-Times of Asheville: "Marriage is an agreement between two individuals that does not need the approval of anybody."

That's the Dr. Mike we like.

Running this year a Republican, Beitler is putting his pro-life, pro-business side forward and says he's "pro-traditional marriage." But we know that what he really means is, his male-female marriage is lovely, but your same-gender marriage can be lovely too.

Beitler is a business professor at UNC-Greensboro and a radio show host. We think he stands out in a lackluster field that includes former Wake County Commissioner Kenn Gardner, an architect who was defeated for re-election in 2008 following revelations that he got his business interests mixed up with his role as a county official. What he did—advocating for a community swimming center in Cary while he was its "volunteer" architect—wasn't illegal. (Later, he was paid.) But it didn't pass the smell test either.

The Secretary of State's office registers businesses, but it confers very little power on its elected leader. Why anyone would want it except as a steppingstone to something else, we don't know. A.J. Daoud, a funeral director from Pilot Mountain, says he wants it so he can generate economic growth. Good luck with that. Edward "Eddy" Goodwin is chair of the Chowan County Board of Commissioners. No word from him about why he wants it.

The winner will go against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, a Democrat who has run for the U.S. Senate twice. She has the right idea.


N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction

Republican

The best thing about Ray Martin is that he's not John Tedesco or any of the other candidates. We support him for that reason, and a few others, notably the fact that he says if elected, he will only serve one term.

Martin faces Tedesco (the architect of Wake County's now notorious neighborhood schools/ anti-diversity push), David Scholl, Richard Alexander and Mark Crawford. The winner takes on June Atkinson in November.

Alexander wants to cut Department of Public Instruction jobs and send them to the private sector. He thinks the state superintendent should be appointed by the governor, not elected.

Crawford served two years in the N.C. House and points to some bills he helped pass, but his talks with the tea party this campaign season are unsettling.

Scholl, a Union County school board member, is a "school choice" advocate. He wants "more local control."


N.C. Treasurer

Democrat

Janet Cowell, the incumbent, has done a good job in her first term in office. She has earned four more years and gets our endorsement. Cowell's lived a bit of a charmed political life in North Carolina, moving up swiftly from the Sierra Club in Raleigh to a seat on the Raleigh City Council to the state Senate and then, in 2008, to the treasurer's post. Call it luck, but it's the residue of hard work and her public service ethic.

The Treasurer is responsible for investing some $75 billion in state pension funds and is the state's chief fiscal officer, with oversight duties on state and local government debt. Cowell's powers in both areas are constrained by a web of laws and advisory committees, as they should be. So her successes are not entirely her own. Still, pension fund investments have done well in her first three years (up an average of 9.5 percent annually) and the state maintains its AAA credit rating.

Cowell has established a small ($230 million) Innovation Fund within the pension funds for the purpose of investing in North Carolina business if they have job-creating potential and offer a competitive rate of return. In the wrong hands, it could be a slush fund for political cronies. We trust that Cowell will use it to boost our state's economy, with an eye toward environmentally friendly investments, consistent with her fiduciary duty to state employees.

As of Jan. 1, the General Assembly put Cowell's office in charge of the troubled State Health Plan, which supplies insurance benefits to state government workers. That's either the Republicans giving her management skills a vote of confidence or else handing her a thankless task. Either way, it's a good call for a program that needs to be run more efficiently.

Cowell has also spoken out for modernizing the state's tax system to capture more revenues from emerging, and sometimes very profitable, service-sector businesses while reducing the highly regressive sales tax on retail goods. Hopefully, in a second term her view will gather more attention.

Ron Elmer, Cowell's challenger, is an experienced investment manager who says the Treasurer should be one too. Well, not really. The Treasurer hires investment fund managers ($75 billion is a little more than one person can handle), aided by an Investment Advisory Committee. But she is also expected to be a political leader in the best public-policy sense of that term. Cowell does have an MBA and a background in finance, so she's no babe in the Wall Street woods.

Elmer is right that the Treasurer should not be raising campaign money from the people she hires as investment managers. Cowell agrees: She advocates public financing (and limited spending) for candidates for the Treasurer's office, similar to what exists for state Auditor and Insurance Commissioner. But the General Assembly has thus far declined to provide public financing for Treasurer, forcing her and other candidates for the office to raise money where they can.

To her credit, Cowell's fundraising total of $565,000 through Dec. 31 is from diverse sources, including a lot of North Carolina contributors who have no apparent connection to pension investments—but who may see Cowell as a future governor.

Republican

This primary is between two candidates who've lost primaries for Congress. Frank Roche is a former New York City currency trader who now lives in Cary, has a radio show on WRDU and teaches part-time at Elon University. He ran for Congress two years ago, losing the GOP primary in the 4th Congressional District. We recall him as no more embarrassing than the average right-winger.

Steve Royal is an accountant and former corporate controller from Elkin who ran for Congress in 1990. He told the Associated Press he would serve just one term if elected, and he will take no campaign money from financial managers or lawyers looking to do business with the Treasurer's office. He's a debt hawk, judging from the profile he provided to the N.C. Center for Voter Education. "Excessive debt cannot only destroy individuals, but also cities, counties and even states. Debt is to be respected, even feared," Royal said.

The best we can offer in this one: Flip a coin.


U.S. House

District 1, Democrat (Durham County)

Some Durham residents may be surprised to learn they are no longer in David Price's 4th Congressional District but in G.K. Butterfield's 1st instead. Ah, redistricting. Rest assured, though, you'll be well-represented by Butterfield, who has been in Congress since 2004.

Butterfield had a whole other life before entering politics. An Army veteran and graduate of N.C. Central University, Butterfield became a successful attorney and won several voting rights lawsuits in Eastern N.C. He rose to Resident Superior Court Judge and presided over civil and criminal courts in the First Judicial Division, which includes 46 counties.

In his questionnaire, Butterfield lists job creation as the most important issue facing North Carolina. He wrote:

"To sustain 23 months of job growth under the Obama Administration, I will continue to support providing tax relief to businesses who hire the long-term unemployed, extending payroll tax cuts, accelerating investment in innovation, and increasing access to capital to small businesses, among other initiatives. Building a better workforce for growth industries such as energy and telecommunications will place our state and nation on more competitive footing. Lastly, we must make an investment in our future by rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in education."

On other issues, Butterfield says the federal government should undertake immigration reform, not individual states creating a patchwork of laws. He opposes Amendment 1. An Army veteran, he is not hawkish on the war(s) but still leaves the door open for military intervention: "It is imperative that we carefully withdraw our military forces from Afghanistan, working to transition the responsibility for security to Afghan forces. Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons must be met by broad multilateral discouragement, including sanctions, inspections, and multi-party talks. Military action should always be the last resort; however, I support the President's position that all options must be considered to protect our troops and our country."

In Congress, Butterfield serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and is the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. Butterfield supports developing legislation that will spur development of renewable energy and the new green energy economy while reducing greenhouse gases.

His Democratic opponent, Dan Whitacre, did not return a questionnaire, despite several attempts to reach him.

In the fall, the winner will take on Libertarian Darryl Holloman and Republican Pete DiLauro.

District 2, Republican (parts of Chatham and Wake counties)

Consider this a qualified endorsement of Renee Ellmers in the GOP primary for North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District.

She's likely to win handily in her second primary, and if the redrawn and much more Republican-leaning 2nd District sends her back to the Capitol, we hope she'll carry the message to the rest of her caucus that she opposed Amendment 1 without cost.

We also hope she'll get around to fully apologizing for her ad from 2010 that used "Muslim" and "terrorist" interchangeably, but we're not holding our breath.

Ellmers is one of the most conservative members of Congress, judging from her voting record. She lists the repeal of "Obamacare" as a top priority. But she's proven to be different from other members of the tea party-heavy Class of 2010. She's not been a bomb thrower and, like the rest of us, appears weary of the tactic of serial confrontations with the administration.

If she can drag herself and her party away from the edge of crazy and act a little more like Walter Jones and a lot less like Virginia Foxx, this state would be better served. Standing up and saying she'll vote against Amendment 1 was a good start.

Still, she shouldn't expect such kindness from us in the general election.

Sonya Holmes, Clement Munro and Richard Speer are the other GOP candidates.

District 2, Democrat (parts of Chatham and Wake counties)

In the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, the Indy endorses Steve Wilkins, a retired career military officer from Whispering Pines. Wilkins is the only candidate in the Democratic primary who lives in the redrawn 2nd District.

A Bronze Star recipient with 22 years in the Army, including combat deployments in Iraq and Kuwait, Wilkins would be able to add his insights in representing a district with many active and retired military residents. As a former legislative liaison for the military, he has the kind of experience to put that experience to work in Congress quickly.

He is no Blue Dog. In his questionnaire, he said he was strongly opposed to Amendment 1, writing: "I am opposed to Amendment One as it is unnecessary government interference in peoples' lives and does nothing to improve anything about North Carolina. It is a terrible waste of the General Assembly's time and our tax dollars at a time when their energies should be spent on the economy, jobs, and education."

Nicely put.

Wilkins also said he would fight efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and would work to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and programs for veterans.

We think Wilkins has the kind of experience and grasp of the issues to make a likely race against Ellmers in the fall competitive.

Toni Morris of Fayetteville is the other Democratic candidate.


N.C. Senate

District 18, Republican (parts of Wake and Franklin counties)

Three Republicans want the nomination to run against Democratic Sen. Doug Berger in this redrawn Franklin County-Northern Wake County district. All three present themselves as Christian-believing, government-fearing conservatives. Of the three, we believe that Michael Schriver offers the best hope of not being a totally backward senator if elected. Not a guarantee, mind you. A hope.

Schriver was Berger's Republican opponent two years ago in a different version of this district. He's been in the Marines, a cop in Wake Forest and a community college teacher, and now he owns a construction company. Even though his stated positions are thoroughly right-wing ("freedom is never more than one generation from extinction," he warns), we're trusting that his real-world experience will temper his world-is-ending outlook if he should win this office.

We have no such hope for state Rep. Glen Bradley, who is so far to the right even his fellow House Republicans have no idea what he'll do next. Bradley, in his one term, garnered attention when he proposed that North Carolina issue its own "legal tender"—that's money to those of us not trapped in the 18th century—backed by gold and silver. Great idea, and maybe the Pony Express will deliver the gold?

Bradley's also a fan of nullification, the idea that the states can decide for themselves whether a federal law is constitutional. Bradley did vote against Amendment 1 in the House, not because he's pro-gay but because he considers marriage "the domain of God" and not subject to civil law. In fact, he considers almost everything government does to be in violation of the Articles of Confederation, er, Constitution.

Bradley is a self-employed computer technician.

Then there's Chad Barefoot, who's a junior version of perhaps our least favorite legislator, House Majority Leader Paul Stam. Barefoot, in fact, worked as a staff aide to Stam until recently, when he took a job with a political public relations firm. Barefoot favors "school choice." That's good, because one of his firm's new clients is pushing for more charter schools. Barefoot holds a master's degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, home base for the Christian right. SEBTS might've written his campaign platform. Or maybe Stam did.

District 20, Democrat (parts of Central and Southern Durham County)

There was a time when Floyd McKissick Jr. could get no respect. When he ran for Senate for the first time in 2008, his name was conspicuously omitted from election flyer mailed by the State Democratic Party.

Five years later, that has changed. While McKissick won several awards during his first term as a legislator, his legacy (so far) rests in his co-sponsorship of the historic Racial Justice Act (RJA). That alone earns him McKissick our endorsement.

The RJA allows death row inmates who believe their sentence is a result of racial bias to appeal it; the inmates would be resentenced to life without parole. The Republican majority assaulted the RJA, repealing it via Senate Bill 9, but Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the measure. (A judge's ruling on the first RJA case could be announced as early as Friday, April 20.)

He opposes Amendment 1 and voter ID.

In addition to co-sponsoring the RJA, McKissick has earned leadership positions in the statehouse, including chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and Deputy Democratic Leader of the Senate.

McKissick, an attorney, was appointed to the N.C. Senate in 2007 to fill the seat previously held by the late Sen. Jeanne Lucas, and before that served on the Durham City Council for eight years. During his first full term in office in 2009, McKissick won several awards, including honors from the N.C. Justice Center, the N.C. Housing Coalition and the N.C. chapter of the NAACP.

Perennial candidate Ralph McKinney is opposing McKissick in the primary.

District 22, Democrat (parts of Durham, Person and Caswell counties)

Oh you lucky residents of the newly drawn state Senate District 22, you can't lose in the Democratic primary. Both candidates, Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard and Durham attorney Kerry Sutton, are solid progressives; in fact, their answers to the Indy questionnaire are similar in political outlook.

They both support the Racial Justice Act and a woman's right to choose. They both oppose Amendment 1 as well as voter ID, which would require any voter to show government-issued photo identification in order to cast a ballot, on the grounds that it will disenfranchise low-income, elderly, young and minority North Carolinians. (Many people in these groups don't have a driver's license and would be required to pay for an official identification card.)

Woodard and Sutton also oppose fracking because the environmental impacts are uncertain.

So how do you, lucky and progressive residents of District 22, decide between these fine candidates?

We think Mike Woodard has definitely earned the next step in his political career, and that is why we're endorsing him. Elected to City Council in 2005, Woodard has served Durham well—if you follow his Twitter feed, he is always at a city function, a community gathering or a constituents' meeting. His civic record—United Way, Red Cross, Jaycees, InterNeighborhood Council—is outstanding.

Woodard has strong environmental bona fides—he's on the Environmental Affairs Board as the Council liaison—and favors a comprehensive mass transit plan. He spent two years as chairman of the Joint City-County Planning Committee.

He also is familiar with the machinations of the Legislature. As a City Councilman, he is a member of the Council's legislative committee. He has sought additional funding for city police and other crime-prevention initiatives; he sits on the Durham Crime Cabinet.

Woodard also has ties to the business and arts communities via his appointments to the boards of Downtown Durham Inc. and the Durham Arts Council.

A Duke Health System administrator, Woodard can use his experience in these many facets of the community to leverage the city's interests in Raleigh.

Woodard's City Council term ends in 2013. If he is elected to the Legislature, City Council would vote on an appointee to finish his term.

That said, there are many good reasons to vote for Sutton. She is unafraid to stand up for her beliefs, which, given the lack of backbone among some Democrats, is in short supply in the Legislature. Exhibit A is Sutton's complaint against Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline, which recently resulted in Cline's removal from office. While a judge found Sutton's arguments compelling enough to dismiss Cline, Sutton likely alienated some potential voters, particularly in the African-American community. She could have chosen not to run, or not to complain, but she opted to do both.

In addition to Sutton's progressive stances, she would help rebalance the Legislature in terms of gender. WRAL reported in February that as a result of Republican redistricting, "women Democrats were hit hardest" by the new maps. At least six women retired from the Legislature. Considering the Republican Party's so-called war on women—and yes, we do think war is the appropriate term—North Carolina needs progressive, assertive women like Sutton in political power.


N.C. House

District 33, Democrat (Southeast Raleigh)

Rep. Rosa Gill won the 2010 primary for this seat over Bernard Allen II by a 3-to-1 margin. This is a rematch, and Gill should win again. She is a retired teacher who served for 10 years on the Wake County Board of Education. She was appointed to this Southeast Raleigh seat in 2009, replacing Dan Blue when he was appointed to fill a vacant state Senate seat. Gill was an effective legislator when the Democrats controlled the House, helping to enact the Racial Justice Act and bolster the sex-education programs in the schools. Since the Republicans have been in charge, Gill's been front and center in the opposition to their agenda.

Allen's father once held this seat. The son is a former state employee who now works for the State Employees Association of NC. This district is heavily Democratic, and no Republicans filed for the seat.

District 35, Republican (parts of Wake County)

Two conservative candidates, with one difference: Chris Malone has experience as a former Wake Forest council member and current member of the Wake County school board. Duane Cutlip doesn't, though not for lack of trying. Cutlip was the Republican nominee for the House in a different district in 2008 and 2010, losing first to former Rep. Linda Coleman and then to current Rep. Darren Jackson.

Malone was part of the Republican school board majority that roared into office in 2009 and, before they knew where the pencil sharpeners were, tossed out the county's pro-diversity student assignment policy. Two years of turmoil ensued before Democrats reclaimed the majority in the 2011 elections.

During that time, Malone was a card-carrying proponent of the Republicans' neighborhood-schools philosophy. Still, he did help to steer a center course between a pure "neighborhoods" position and the old diversity plan. What resulted was the compromise "choice" plan developed by new Superintendent Tony Tata—on which the jury is still out. But there's no doubt the outcome could've been worse.

We view Malone as a practical-minded conservative whose ideology is tempered by the knowledge gained from actually serving on two governing bodies at the local level. Slashing school spending sounds great when you're running for the General Assembly. It's not so great when you're on the business end of those cuts as a member of a county school board—as Malone's been.

So look for Malone to go after the "out of control state spending" but also to realize that state aid to schools should not be in the crosshairs.

Malone works as a case manager for a private investigations firm and is active in civic affairs in Wake Forest.

Cutlip, who formerly listed his occupation as real estate investment advisor, now says he has worked with finances in several small businesses in North Carolina. He lives in Rolesville. His campaign, he told the N.C. Center for Voter Education, "is rooted from his personal experience that small businesses are the engine of our economy." Cutlip added, "God. Family. Government. In that order."

District 38, Democrat (parts of Eastern Wake County)

Wake County's growth and Republican gerrymandering combined to produce the new 38th district, located in East Raleigh and East Wake, which is so packed with Democratic voters that no Republican candidate even filed. Thus, the winner of the three-way Democratic primary is all but certain to be elected in November.

A case can be made for all of the candidates. We think the strongest one is for Lee Sartain, who's been active in Wake County politics since his debut in 2009 as a candidate for Raleigh City Council. Though he didn't win, Sartain impressed voters with his energy and grasp of issues. With his strong background in educational policy—an N.C. State graduate, he's a policy analyst at NCSU's Friday Institute for Educational Innovation—Sartain seemed better suited to a legislative post than a council seat. Now, that legislative seat can be his.

If elected, Sartain would be a progressive voice in the House and its second openly gay member.

For voters who want more experience, or who think this majority-black district should have an African-American representative, Yvonne Holley is a solid pick. Recently retired from a career in state government as a procurement specialist, Holley has a record of public service in Southeast Raleigh, including being a board member (in better days) at the now-defunct YWCA. She's a past president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, the black community's political arm. She, too, ran for a seat on the Raleigh Council in 1999.

Abeni El-Amin, the third candidate, has good intentions but her record shows more starts than finishes. The nonprofit organization she created, Project Ricochet Inc., is aimed at helping minority youth find jobs in Southeast Raleigh. That's work worth doing. She's also a fitness coach and a former adjunct teacher at Shaw University and St. Augustine's College. In this campaign, she showed poor judgment by hosting a community television program that aired on a city of Raleigh cable-access channel—before it was pulled—and proved to be a thinly disguised infomercial about her candidacy. She was not its producer. Programs promoting candidates aren't allowed on the cable-access channels.

East Raleigh doesn't lack for veteran public officials, what with Sen. Dan Blue, Rep. Rosa Gill, Wake County Commissioner James West and Raleigh City Councilor Eugene Weeks. It does lack for younger representation. Sartain or El-Amin would provide a chance at younger leadership. We think Sartain merits the nod.

District 39, Democrat (parts of Wake County)

Rep. Darren Jackson's earned re-election. Don Mial, his opponent, is a good man, but he's in the wrong race.

Jackson was appointed to his seat in 2009, replacing Linda Coleman when she left to work for the Perdue administration. He was elected in 2010. A lawyer from Knightdale, he was a rising star when the Democrats held power, taking a leading role on education issues, including enactment of a landmark anti-bullying bill with an emphasis on protecting gay kids from bullies. With the Republicans in charge for the last two years, Jackson's been less visible—like many Democrats. But his voting record is solid, especially on education and environmental protection issues, and he retains the support of the N.C. League of Conservation Voters and the Triangle Labor Council.

Don Mial, a retired Army veteran who now works as a manager in the state Division of Juvenile Justice, has run twice for the Wake County Board of Commissioners—the second time with our endorsement. He resigned his seat on the Wake County Board of Elections to get into this race. But he hasn't done anything to persuade us he should win it.

Michael Slawter, a documents examiner in the N.C. Secretary of State's office, is a first-time candidate without much support or much of a campaign. He told the N.C. Center for Voter Education he's in the race to advocate for kids and minorities and to expose the waste he's seen in state government. Waste? Really?

District 49, Republican (parts of Wake County)

Oh, my. It's Dr. Jim Fulghum III—a neurosurgeon, John Locke Foundation board member and star of his own TV ads, where he plays the role of a curmudgeonly doc who hates Obamacare—against former state Rep. Russell Capps—who invented the role of curmudgeonly opponent of all things liberal.

Actually, we've always loved Capps, who in real life is as pleasant and, yes, we'll say as sweet as a right-wing conservative can be. That's his Christian conservative nature, of course, the thing that unfortunately also causes him to think evolution is a fraud and the world started, oh, not that long ago. (Don't be teaching the kids that scientific stuff, now. If Capps had his way, creationism would be the new science.)

Capps, when he was in the House, did author the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a landmark piece of anti-gay legislation. But he is most famous for his years and years and years as president of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, the rabid anti-tax group. He still is its president, though the WCTA's influence has waned over the years as its opposition to school bond issues made it look ever more silly.

Put it this way: At age 80, soon to be 81, Capps has earned the retirement he began when he lost his old House seat in 2006. But that was then, and this is now an essentially new House seat brought to us by Wake County's population explosion. Capps wants back in, but we think it's time to give someone else a chance. Even if he does look like a slightly younger version of the old curmudgeon himself.

District 50, Democrat (parts of Northern Durham and Orange counties)

In the newly created North Carolina House District 50, which includes parts of Orange and Durham counties, the Indy endorses Valerie Foushee.

A lifelong resident of Orange County, Foushee served on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education from 1997 to 2003, followed by eight years on the county board of commissioners. A retired public information officer for the Chapel Hill Police Department, Foushee has built her résumé in public life the hard way. She's negotiated school budgets, prioritized county services in the face of deep state cuts and sought common ground among local governments in a county with three very different municipalities.

Her style is calm and, in a county where people like to talk, she is refreshingly succinct. She has been an active negotiator in county matters and shown a willingness to compromise, but she's no pushover.

A few years back, when new colleagues on the county board wanted to revisit expanding the current landfill in the Rogers Road neighborhood, Foushee firmly told them she would fight any attempt to back out of the commitment.

Her public and professional experience gives her an understanding of the challenges faced by county governments, law enforcement and educators in times of constrained budgets and economic uncertainty. Rarely do you see a candidate with that kind of breadth.

Her opponent, Travis Phelps of Durham, made the task of endorsing Foushee easy. Phelps, a 22-year-old student who has come out strongly in favor of Amendment 1, is running as a "Conservative Democrat" and in forums has said his opposition to gay marriage is based on his Christian faith. He did not return our questionnaire.

District 50, Republican (parts of Northern Durham and Orange counties)

In the Republican primary for District 50, we are endorsing no one, but commend Lewis Hannah, a community banker from Efland and a board member of the Triangle Transit Authority, for his no-nonsense approach. In recent remarks to the N.C. Chamber of Commerce Hannah said the state needs to invest in infrastructure and that the Triangle's water supply should not be put at risk by fracking.

Hannah's opponent, Jason Chambers, was the only one of four candidates to return our questionnaire.

Chambers, a 25-year old Durham County resident who ran against Democrat Paul Luebke in 2010, declined to take a position on Amendment 1, saying "the people will decide." He supports Voter ID rules and recent abortion restrictions such as ultrasound requirements, and he opposes the Racial Justice Act.

Also running are Hillsborough minister Rod Chaney and Thomas Wright of Mebane.

District 54, Democrat (Chatham County)

In the race for the new House District 54 we endorse Jeffrey Starkweather, a longtime champion of the environment, social justice and sound growth policies.

The retirement of Rep. Joe Hackney, who represented the district in its various forms for more than three decades, leaves a need for a candidate who has a deep familiarity with the issues facing this Chatham County district. We think Starkweather's views on energy and growth could continue Hackney's work; his willingness to defend public education and to stand up to social conservatives are also impressive.

If elected, Starkweather would represent all of Chatham County and a chunk of Lee County near Sanford, some of the main areas targeted for fracking. He would add a strong voice in opposition to the fracking frenzy in the General Assembly.

In any other race, Deb McManus, a third-term school board member from Siler City, would have been an easy pick. She served both as chair and vice-chair on the school board amid escalating state budget cuts and speaks passionately about reversing that trend.

McManus' support of women's health and her strong stand for Planned Parenthood and against ultrasound requirements and other abortion restrictions helped earn her an endorsement from Lillian's List.

Both Starkweather and McManus have deep roots in the community and would make good representatives. We think Starkweather is the better choice given his history as an advocate for the environment and his expertise in the growth pressures facing the district. He would be a counterbalance to pro-growth local governments and has the kind of fire Democrats need in the Legislature.


Durham Board of Commissioners

There were times over the past four years when meetings of the Durham Board of County Commissioners seemed more like reality television than an orderly convening of elected officials. (Oh yeah, it is reality television: The circus maximus was broadcast for posterity on the public access channel.)

There was Michael Page, the mercurial board chair. There was Joe Bowser, who called for a Department of Social Services investigation—one he asked to call off once it became clear that the report would allege that he tried to influence hiring decisions at two county departments.

There was Brenda Howerton, whose attention sometimes seemed disconnected from the matters at hand.

There was longtime commissioner Ellen Reckhow, somehow holding herself together, calm like the eye of a hurricane. And there was Reckhow's cohort, even longer-time Becky Heron, raising hell and spitfire with the board majority until she resigned because of illness.

Beyond the spectacle, there are real implications of the commissioners' actions, most notably their approval of the rezoning for the 751 South development, a controversial large, mixed-use community planned for the sensitive Jordan Lake watershed. This will be the board majority's legacy. (Reckhow and Heron were the dissenting votes.) The handling of, and support for, this potentially environmentally damaging project is why we are endorsing no one from the board majority in this contest.

Instead, we're looking for a combination of a fresh start and institutional knowledge.

Thus we enthusiastically endorse incumbent Ellen Reckhow and newcomers Fred Foster Jr., president of the Durham NAACP; Wendy Jacobs,who served on the County Planning Commission from 2005–2011; and Duke University biology professor Will Wilson. We are not endorsing a candidate for the fifth seat.

Reckhow has served on the commission for 24 years, six of those as chair and 12 as vice-chair. She has often been the board's voice of reason. Reckhow has used her governmental and organizational expertise and leadership on the Triangle Transit Authority Board, of which she is chair, as well as other intergovernmental bodies.

Reckhow is a progressive and has a firm grasp of the county's financial obligations and its quandaries. Her top priorities are education—closing the achievement gap—sustainable economic development and public safety.

In her questionnaire, she identified a principled stand she would take even if it were unpopular with voters: city-county consolidation. It is a touchy issue, but considering the duplication of services and the budget problems at both the city and county, consolidation is worth discussing.

Foster has shown leadership in his role with the NAACP. He also is active in the Durham Democratic Party and served on the executive board of Operation Breakthrough, a nonprofit that helps low-income families in Durham.

He describes himself as a liberal Democrat whose priorities incude jobs, economic development and environmental protection and regulatory enforcement.

Foster opposes Amendment 1 because, he wrote in his questionnaire, "it violates everything that I have fought against since becoming the leader in Durham for civil rights."

Foster does oppose sales taxes as a way to generate new revenue for Durham Public Schools and mass transit. We disagree with him on this point, but his other bona fides outweigh our diversion of views on this issue.

Jacobs' resume of public service is distinctive. In addition to her years on the Durham Planning Commission, she has been active in neighborhood groups, environmental projects, parks and land preservation. She has a deep knowledge of the county's complicated planning issues and documents, including the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Unified Development Ordinance. It was this knowledge that led her and many fellow planning commissioners to recommend that the county commissioners deny the rezoning of 751 South. They didn't.

Her priorities are reducing the poverty and unemployment rates in Durham; addressing the problem of disconnected, low-achieving youth; and land use and transportation. She supported the sale tax increases for education and transit. She also opposes Amendment 1.

Another environmental advocate, Will Wilson has served on many county boards and committees, including the Urban Open Space Plan Advisory Committee and the Durham County Farmland Protection Advisory Board. The latter group is especially important for residents of Northern Durham County, which is rural. Without a diligent advocate on the commission, their concerns unique to rural residents can be overlooked.

Wilson's detailed questionnaire listed as his priorities smart growth, poverty and the financial ramifications of charter schools on Durham Public Schools. Wilson sees some potential positive missions for charter schools, but he rightfully is concerned about how charters that pull the best students from DPS could "harm the broad mission of a public education to help all children equally because it leaves fewer resources for DPS to deal with the most challenging students."

The other candidates have impressive professional résumés but lack the experience needed at this crucial time: Dilcy Burton, a lawyer; Anita Daniels, interim director of Durham Center Access; Larry Dixon, a retired county solid waste division supervisor; sheriff's deputy Rickey Padgett; John Owens, who works in the technology sector; and Elaine Hyman, who is retired from the county's human relations department.


Durham Board of Education

At-large, nonpartisan

We enthusiastically endorse incumbent Leigh Bordley, a key member of the school board since 2008. The former executive director of Partners for Youth, a teen mentoring program, she has served as a bridge between the white and African-American members of the school board.

At one time, the school board was a fractured institution, its meetings notorious for their combativeness. That is no longer true, even though there have been differences within the board and with the Superintendent Eric Becoats over, for example, the wisdom of redirecting $40 million in bond money, originally slated for a new high school, toward infrastructure and technology upgrades. Last February, the board voted 4-3 against Becoats' recommendation in order to buy more time for community input.

We think Bordley can also deftly navigate the board through the district's financial issues as additional charter schools open in the county, diverting students and funding from traditional public schools.

Like the swallows that return to San Juan Capistrano each spring, John Tarantino's name reappears on election ballots every election season. The former secretary of the Durham County Republican Party has run (unsuccessfully) for elected office at least three times: City Council 2009, State Senate in 2010, City Council in 2011. What makes John run? We don't know. He never turns in a questionnaire.


Orange County Board of Commissioners

District 1, Democrat

It's time for a sea change at the Orange Board of County Commissioners and we can't think of two better candidates to do the paddling for District 1 than Mark Dorosin and Penny Rich.

Both candidates are keying on transit, economic development and trash as the most important issues facing the county.

Each has experience serving on town government, something that is lacking on the current board. Dorosin served on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen from 1999–2003. Rich is a Chapel Hill Town Council member.

With Orange County's trash plans still in limbo even as the Rogers Road landfill is set to close in June 2013, now is the time to elect leaders who have the vision for how to responsibly dispose of the waste.

If we invented our ideal candidate for this office, his or her résumé would look similar to Dorosin's. He's the managing attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, where he works alongside Julius Chambers. Dorosin was instrumental in the successful campaign to rescind the anti-lingering ordinance in Carrboro that prevented day laborers from congregating on a public street corner during midday hours. He knows the issues facing small local businesses. He owned Hell, a favorite Rosemary Street watering hole, for a decade. He also worked as a loan officer at Self-Help Credit Union.

Like the other candidates, he opposes Amendment 1, but he takes it a step further by stating that if the referendum passes, he would instruct the county to continue offering benefits to same-sex couples and those in civil unions until the federal government says otherwise.

We also hope to see Penny Rich, who owns a catering business, take on greater leadership roles, which started when she stepped up from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board to the Town Council in 2009.

She identifies as a progressive liberal, and she isn't afraid to take controversial but necessary stands. Case in point: she wants to keep Orange County trash in Orange by siting small landfills across the county. Rich also wants the county to build a homeless shelter and quit depending on the generosity of the Inter-Faith Council and the religious community. She also understands the need to attract business without being married to the idea of big-box retail.

We like incumbent Pam Hemminger, too, but she has been a part of a BOCC that too often has deferred decisions and failed to adequately challenge the county manager.

Still, she should be commended for stepping up to the BOCC after serving on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. She's done a decent job, but we think Dorosin and Rich offer an exciting new direction.

District 2, Democrat

We enthusiastically endorsed Renee Price for this seat in 2010, and we're pleased to see her undeterred after narrowly losing, just 87 votes short, to Earl McKee. We're backing her once more.

District 2 represents all of Orange County not named Chapel Hill or Carrboro.

While we were underwhelmed with Price's boilerplate top three priorities—honest and open government, collaboration and fiscal responsibility—we see enough in her track record to believe in her ability to lead. Beyond the buzzwords, Price is pushing for better public services in Northern Orange (which is losing a daycare and a library), investment in farming and regional transit.

She has professional experience as a city and regional planner and has worked on housing and community development and sustainable living. Just as we were two years ago, we're excited about Price's nearly two decades of experience serving on Orange boards and commissions including the Planning Board, Commission for the Environment and the Historic Preservation Commission. That has prepared her well for this office.

Plus, with Valerie Foushee exiting the board of commissioners to run for N.C. House District 50, Price, if elected, would be the only African-American commissioner.

Incumbent Steve Yuhasz, a land surveyor, has represented his district well in his four-year term, but we don't align with his "fiscally responsible moderate" point of view.

First and foremost, we don't view transit the same way he does. He believes most transportation likely will continue in an individual vehicle model for the foreseeable future. That way of thinking spells trouble for mass transit efforts.

While it's nice to see the BOCC finally select a date to close the county landfill, they did so without a real, lasting plan for how to handle garbage, leaving the municipalities in the lurk. We wish Yuhasz and the other incumbents would have shown more leadership on this issue.

Nor are we inspired by this line of thinking: "I believe what we would like to do must be measured against what we can afford to do, and that we must manage expectations so as to provide optimism and incentive, but not suggest more than we can deliver."

We want leaders who live up to their words, but not by keeping a low bar. We want politicians brave and bold enough to aim high.

The winner will face Republican Chris Weaver in November.


Orange County Board of Education

Nonpartisan

A math question: If four candidates are vying for three seats on the school board and one does not return a questionnaire, how many questionnaires can the Indy consult for its endorsement? Three.

Luckily, all three who did respond—incumbents Stephen Halkiotis, Tony McKnight and newcomer Lawrence Sanders Sr.—provided platforms we are proud to support.

This marks the sixth race in which we've endorsed Halkiotis. He served five terms—20 years—on the Orange Board of County Commissioners before being elected to the school board in 2008. There he's used his three decades of experience as an Orange County Schools teacher and administrator to provide a needed perspective in budget discussions and achievement gap initiatives.

McKnight, who also is completing his initial four-year term, is a Gulf War veteran who works as an apprenticeship and training consultant for the N.C. Department of Labor. He's spent his career helping connect school systems and employers to prepare students for jobs. School boards need people like McKnight.

Sanders should prove a suitable replacement for Eddie Eubanks, who opted against a re-election bid. He has served as a parent representative on the Orange County Schools Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap Commission, a group with a charge that's as important as its name is long. He also serves on the Hillsborough Elementary PTA and with the Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Piedmont. Seventeen years of experience as a project manager leading diverse groups and overseeing funds buoys his candidacy.


Wake County District Court Judge

District 10, nonpartisan (Gray seat)

We enthusiastically endorse Erin Graber, 37, for District Judge. An attorney, she is well-respected by her peers and is well-regarded in the courtoom. Her first job out of law school was a crisis counselor and victim's advocate with InterAct of Wake County, which helps people who have been affected by domestic violence. Her specialty is families and children.

She also participates in the Wake County Volunteer Lawyers Program. Graber was profiled in N.C. Lawyers Weekly for her pro bono work. In one case, she put in 250 hours of free legal services to a young man who was fighting for custody of his child in an extremely complex case. The man got his son back.

We were impressed by her concern for indigent defendants. In her questionnaire, she listed as a priority the budget cuts that resulted in decreased funding for indigent defense. The hourly rate was reduced from $75 to $55, and as a result, Graber wrote, "many qualified attorneys who represented the indigent have been forced to stop accepting court-appointed work. This makes it difficult for the State to meet its constitutionally mandated duty to provide representation to defendants who cannot afford an attorney."

In 2010, we endorsed Defense attorney Damion McCullers, 34, for a different district court seat, on the basis of his commitment to juvenile justice, including the issue of gang violence. Had Graber not run for this seat, he may have received our endorsement again, but her experience and reputation is outstanding.

McCullers is active in his community and has volunteered with Helping Hand Mission and True Outreach Addiction & Behavioral Services. He also has worked with Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Dan Nagle, 57, retired from the Wake County Sheriff's office, where he supervised the juvenile investigations unit, then went to law school and became an assistant district attorney, prosecuting juvenile cases. While judgeships are nonpartisan, Nagle's supporter list is a who's who of conservative Republicans: House Majority Leader Skip Stam, Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley, State Rep. Nelson Dollar, former Wake school board candidate Heather Losurdo, former Wake school board chair Ron Margiotta, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble and U.S. District Attorney George Holding.

Attorney Ronnie Ansley, 50, also specializes in juvenile justice and has 20 years of legal experience.

Steve Mansbery, 31, is a family law practitioner at Tharrington Smith. Considering the other candidates' experience levels, Mansberry needs more and varied legal experience.

District 10, nonpartisan (Worley seat)

Incumbent Anna Worley, 41, was elected to the judgeship in 2008. However, over the last four years she has received ample criticism for how she runs her court, including her own tardiness. Worley ranked last in the N.C. Bar Association's 2012 Performance Evaluation Survey for District 10, with a score of 3.16 out of 5. Her lowest scores came in administrative skills (2.84) and legal ability (3.2).

For these reasons, we are endorsing Daniel Barker, 46, a lawyer with 18 years' experience in civil and criminal courts. In his questionnaire, he listed the inefficiency of the legal system and the high volume of cases as the top priorities facing District 10. He understands the budget constraints and yet he details several easy administrative and cost-effective improvements: showing up to court on time and using web-based technology to schedule and run the court room efficiently.

Barker is well-respected among his peers. We were impressive by the sense of humanity with which he approaches plaintiffs and defendants: "I will endeavor to administer justice in a fair and impartial way and to do so with kindness and respect for all who appear before me. As long as a judge acts fairly and impartially, exhibits kindness to all in the courtroom and treats every person with respect, while a party may disagree with a ruling or judgment, at least they can accept it, knowing that they received a fair hearing."

Charles Gilliam, 62, a self-described conservative, is the third candidate.

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