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

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.

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

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