County races also critical to achieving progressive ideals | Our Endorsements | Indy Week
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County races also critical to achieving progressive ideals 

Several candidates for board of commissioners participated in a Wake County candidates' forum in September. The INDY filmed the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce, Triangle Community Foundation, NC-INPAC and Zeta Phi Beta.

Wake County Commission District 1

Joe Bryan, an incumbent seeking his fourth term for District 1, has occasionally expressed an inclination to defy the party line but never when it counts. Bryan has effectively played second fiddle to Republican ringleader Paul Coble since Coble was elected to the board in 2006. Even though Bryan has spoken recently in favor of a new transit plan, a transit referendum and committing additional funding to Wake County Public Schools for teacher raises—all issues he has voted against in the past— we think it's too little, too late.

We endorse Sig Hutchinson, a Raleigh communications specialist. Though he has never held elected office, Hutchinson's contributions to Wake County and Raleigh as a volunteer have been immeasurable. Hutchinson has secured more than $280 million for the area for open space preservation, parks, greenways, transportation and affordable housing via six successful bond referendums. He has ensured that nearly 6,000 acres in Wake County are permanently protected, and he led the way to create more than 180 miles of interconnected greenways throughout the Triangle. Hutchinson has chaired numerous boards and committees, including the county's Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee and the Triangle Transit Authority; with deep knowledge of the County and its issues, we don't doubt that Hutchinson will make a proactive and effective commissioner.

District 2

The current Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Phil Matthews is a shoo-in to cast a Republican vote, no matter the issue. Matthews served on the Garner Town Council for eight years and is seeking his second term as a county commissioner, but even as chairman, he's not shown significant leadership. While maintaining the county's enviable AAA bond rating is important, throwing teachers and transit under the bus is bad public policy. And Matthews was running the show this summer when the board didn't allow Democratic Commissioner Betty Lou Ward—who had just been released from the hospital—to vote by phone on whether to put a tax increase for teacher pay before voters this November. (The vote failed.)

We endorse Matt Calabria, an attorney from Fuquay-Varina, who makes the direct connection between teachers leaving the county "at an alarming rate—" and in the middle of the school year— with their being poorly paid. He says the County Commissioners need to work "collaboratively" with the school board, and that it is the Commissioners' responsibility to advocate to state government leaders on behalf of students and teachers. Calabria also singles out water quality and availability as a top issue for the County, which has seen its water sources threatened by droughts and pollution.

District 3

Rich Gianni, the Republican incumbent, was unanimously appointed to Board of Commissioners in April when Commissioner Tony Gurley resigned to take a different government job. The CFO of a tech startup in Cary, Gianni hasn't had time to do much of anything on the board, for better or for worse, except vote in lockstep with the other Republicans (or "vote responsibly" against a teacher pay increase, as he explained in a letter to The News & Observer.)

Regardless of our incomplete understanding of Gianni's slim record, his opponent Jessica Holmes is an impressive candidate, and we endorse her. An attorney for the North Carolina Association of Educators, Holmes is the first person in her family to attend college, and she worked her way through UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate and law schools; we think she is serious about education and improving conditions for teachers and students. Holmes has been politically active for years as an organizer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and hers has been a strong voice against school vouchers.

District 7

If any one county commissioner deserves to lose his seat this November, it is hard-right conservative Jesse Helms' nephew, Commissioner Paul Coble. Since 2006, Coble has ruled the Commission with an iron fist. He has silenced moderate voices like Joe Bryan's, passed a superfluous and inappropriate county resolution to support Amendment One and quashed—repeatedly—attempts to get education and transit initiatives before voters, despite overwhelming support for these issues in Wake County. Coble is out of touch with what Wake County residents want, and worse, he doesn't seem to care.

We endorse John Burns, a commercial lawyer and former Chair of the Raleigh Environmental Advisory Board. Burns is the polar opposite to Coble in terms of his positions on transit and education funding, and Burns has been running his campaign as to get Democrats elected as a unified bloc, to shift the majority away from the Republicans and ensure Wake County moves forward. We think this shows a true instinct for leadership.

Wake County Sheriff

The Wake County Sheriff's Office has had a rough month. On Oct. 6, police in Fuquay-Varina pepper sprayed a black teenager in his and his white foster parents' home, mistaking him for a burglar. In the last couple of weeks, two Wake deputies have been arrested, one for drunk driving and the other for tax evasion.

Sheriff Donnie Harrison, the flinty, no-nonsense, straight-talking incumbent has been in charge since 2002. He has publicly said he understands that many communities think "police are bad" but doesn't seem to understand why. Meanwhile he has defended incidents like the pepper spraying, saying if the teen had been an actual burglar, his officers would have let a criminal go. This kind of pepper-spray first, sort out the details later policing model has quickly become obsolete.

Willie Rowe presents a clear alternative vision. The African-American Democrat is a 28-year-veteran of the Wake Sheriff's Office, having spent 21 of those years in policy-making positions. In his inspired INDY questionnaire, Rowe explains that in the wake of Ferguson, sheriff's departments need to have a "proactive" rather than "reactive" strategy: addressing issues of racial profiling, shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline, and equipping Wake County officers with body cameras to monitor and ensure their conduct and interaction with citizens is appropriate.

Rowe has also taken a principled stand against increasing quantities of military surplus equipment being used by local police departments. "There is no place for such equipment in dealing with citizens exercising their right to lawful and peaceful protest," he writes.

Rowe says he will maintain the federal program that calls ICE on undocumented immigrants and he shows no willingness to decriminalize marijuana possession. But his nuanced understanding of the school-to-prison pipeline, his desire to eliminate racial profiling, his advocacy for police body cameras and his clear-eyed assessment of the lessons to be learned from Ferguson make Rowe an inspired choice.

Wake County Soil and Water District Supervisor

We endorse Jenna Wadsworth and Marshall Harvey

whom we endorsed in 2010. Wadsworth was just 21 at the time, but we were—and continue to be—impressed with her scientific, agricultural and public policy expertise.

Wadsworth came by this knowledge from her years growing up on a Johnston Couty family farm. As such, she has championed farmland preservation, local food systems. The Wake County district, which, once you enter northern and eastern parts, is quite rural. In the past four years, the district secured its first ever conservation easement and, according to her website, entered into a Market Based Conservation Initiative with the military. Essentially the program preserves open space and restricts development under a military flight path.

She lives in Cary.

Harvey has well-reasoned views on how to bridge the urban/rural divide in terms of runoff, water management and conservation. He supports bringing urban, rural and agricultural planners together to work as a unit.

Endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party, Matt Overby says he will work to preserve the traditional agricultural way of life, conserve our natural resources and protect small businesses by advocating for “less burdensome regulations.” Overly should understand that those regulations help conserve our natural resources, and that fewer regulations on—and more subsidies for—big agriculture have eroded the way of life he champions.

Jose Fraser refused to answer our questionnaire unless we had “done a pilot study.” This is our pilot study.

Durham Soil and Water District

It may be low on the ballot, but this is one of the hardest races to endorse in. There are two seats open, and three worthy candidates: Ray Eurquhart, whom we endorsed in 2010, biologist Will Wilson and Katie Locklier, a research and policy assistant at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke.

For Seat One, we endorse Wilson. He comes from a Minnesota farm background and serves on several key boards that involve conservation and protection of natural resources: Durham's Farmland Protection Board (1st Vice Chair), Open Space and Trails Commission (past Chair) and the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association's Water Management Committee. His questionnaire, http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/will-wilson/Content?oid=4258270, shows a nuanced and thorough knowledge of the issues, including stormwater run off, development and the balance between urban and rural concerns.

Here’s an example regarding mandatory vs. voluntary conservation programs:

“Wide stream buffers greatly improve water quality, but a farmer in northern Durham bears the cost of taking land out of production for these buffers while the benefits go to city residents as increased water quality. Is it fair that we expect the farmer to voluntarily cut his/her income when he/she already subsidizes city services through property taxes as described above? If the city, county, state, or federal government mandates the buffers without payment, is disgruntlement in the agricultural community a surprise? The added cost and frustration might cause the farmer to sell to a developer, lowering water quality much more than the hoped-for gain through increased buffers.”

Wilson also received the endorsement of People’s Alliance.

For Seat Two, it is a tough call between incumbent Eurquhart, whom we endorsed in 2010 and gave a Citizen Award to in 2009, and Locklier. We endorse Eurquhart, who has deep connections, especially with the African-American community, and his ability to advocate for minority-owned farms is key.

Eurquhart was endorsed by People’s Alliance, and because of his ability to reach an underserved community, we endorse him, too. He lives in the Southside neighborhood of Durham, an urban area that has stormwater and runoff issues. Eurquhart could advocate for reining in the toll urban areas take on our neighbors downstream. (Evidence: Take a stroll past Third Fork Creek for more evidence. The herons are less frequent. And the number of plastic bags probably is greater than the number of fish.)

Locklier’s credentials at Duke are impressive, especially her embrace of new geospatial technology and knowledge of nutrient reduction programs and other major policy initiatives.

She is correct that the leadership of soil and water districts throughout the state is not diverse. Of the 500 supervisors statewide, less than 10 percent—fewer than 40—are women. And that bothers us, too. “I hope to begin to change the face of Soil & Water from that of old white men to one that reflect the diversity of Durham County,” she writes in her questionnaire.

She also notes that none identify as LGBTQ, which, while true, sexual orientation is not a factor in soil and water conservation.

So why didn’t we endorse Locklier?

While we also heartily agree that Soil and Water districts lack diversity, considering the number of “old, white men” who are in farming, Locklier’s comment could alienate her from that constituency.

If that comment doesn’t faze you, vote Locklier. If it does, vote for Eurquhart.

Orange County Commissioner District 1

Let's put it this way: If you've been happy with the leadership of retiring Orange County Commissioner Alice Gordon, you're likely to be happy with Mia Burroughs, our endorsement for the District 1 seat. Burroughs, a six-year member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board, is a strong advocate for public education at a time when such leaders are most needed. She's committed to fairness and equality, and more than knowledgeable of the county's inner workings.

Her Republican opponent, Gary Kahn, certainly has pluck and nerve. Kahn has run before in liberal Orange County, but that never seems to stop this moderate Republican from plotting his next campaign. His chief goal seems to be holding the county's taxes at bay. That said, many of his views are out of touch with most Orange County residents.

At an INDY candidate forum this fall, he denigrated the idea of a local land-use plan. He said such decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. That's a point of view that we can't get behind. Vote Burroughs.

Chatham Commissioner Districts 3 and 4

It's difficult to separate Chatham County commissioners Brian Bock and Pam Stewart, two conservatives who helped change the course of this county's leadership. So we won't. While they've helped launch an innovative local incentive plan for teachers, their management style may focus too much on the bottom-line, cutting expenditures and maintaining the county's tax rate. As Democrats have pointed out, per-pupil funding in the county has fallen under this board.

Also, both Bock and Stewart are questionable leaders when it relates to the long-term environmental outlook of this rural (for now) county. Both back Chatham Park, a sprawling mega-development that will dramatically change the look of this county in the next three decades while simultaneously threatening the area's open space. And while both have been strong in demanding local government control of fracking, their opponents, Diana Hales and Jim Crawford, are a better fit for Chatham County.

In District 3, Hales, a small farmer from western Chatham, is an active member of environmentalist groups such as the Triangle Land Conservancy and the Haw River Assembly. She will offer a strong, clear voice on the county's endangered environment.

Meanwhile, in District 4, Crawford, a college professor, is dedicated to preserving open space and creating voluntary agricultural districts while shoring up funding of local schools. With fracking approaching, we believe the environment must take top priority in Chatham. Vote Hales and Crawford if you agree.

Chatham School Board Districts 3 and 4

Technically speaking, school board races are considered nonpartisan. Not that you could ever tell in most school board races in North Carolina. Democrats and Republicans differ sharply on basic educational principles. That's the case in Chatham County too, where the candidates offer stark partisan differences.

In District 3, we're picking Del Turner, a left-leaning incumbent who understands the need for parental involvement, community outreach and closing the socioeconomic achievement gap between students. Turner is right that educational initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, a national Republican campaign of the 2000s, succeeded in pointing out the gap between students, but offered no remedies. Turner, a long-time parent and volunteer, is passionate about the issue and knowledgeable.

Her opponent, Mia Munn, seems to have marching orders from a N.C. General Assembly that has slammed public school funding in nearly every way imaginable. Vote Turner.

And in District 4, social worker Jane Allen Wilson is our pick. Like Turner, Wilson is dedicated to offering an equal education for every student. As she said in the Indy's questionnaire, "We should not have to lower our standards because the current legislature has lowered theirs. It is of vital importance to our county's well-being as a whole."

Wilson's opponent, Angela Millsaps, is the GOP candidate of choice. She's been an active volunteer in the school system, but seems wishy-washy when it comes to the subject of school funding. Millsaps points to foundations and grants as key to bolstering stressed public schools, but school advocates can tell you that these outside options have been a poor substitute for committed public funding.

This article appeared in print with the headline "All politics is local"

  • Wake, Orange and Chatham County Commissioners, Chatham school board, plus soil and water districts

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