As House Majority Leader, state Rep. Joe Hackney is arguably one of North Carolina's most powerful legislators--perhaps the most powerful now that House Speaker Jim Black is continuing his freefall from grace.
Representing Chatham, Orange and Moore Counties in District 54, Hackney has earned his majority leader post by being an effective legislator, ranking third of 120 House members, according to the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. He sits on the powerful appropriations committee, which is responsible for making funding decisions about perennially cash-strapped state agencies and programs, as well as committees on finance and environment and natural resources.
Last session, he introduced 141 bills, including admirable measures to amend lobbying laws, allocate tax credits for small businesses that provide employee health insurance and allow voters to verify their votes on paper, thus creating a physical record of ballots cast using electronic voting. Hackney's progressive credentials earn him our endorsement, but after 13 terms in the General Assembly, Hackney could do more. His bill to raise the minimum wage passed, but after the typical political give-and-take amped up hourly pay to just $6.15 an hour--hardly a living wage. And his measure to study problems with the state's death penalty allowed executions to occur during the study, absent a stay.
Challenger Alvin Reed, a Sanford Republican, subscribes to the Original Intent movement, whose members interpret the Constitution based on what they believe to be the Founding Fathers' objectives.
A self-described advocate of conservative values, Reed is also concerned about the decline of American morals, adding that the U.S. "was founded on the acknowledgement of a Higher Power as a moral compass." He supports a sales tax as the only fair form of taxation, and says the best solution to balancing the budget is through spending cuts, including a 10 percent cut in all programs over several years. Fiscally conservative, Alston says the state cannot afford to provide health care to every resident and is circumspect about school spending, adding "throwing money at education historically doesn't work."
Residents in Orange and Chatham counties have a difficult decision in choosing two Superior Court judges. Four candidates out of six advanced from the May primary to the general election, and all are knowledgeable, experienced and have dedicated much of their careers to public service.
But two stand out: former Orange-Chatham District Attorney Carl Fox and longtime civil rights attorney Adam Stein. They are facing incumbent Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, who was appointed to the seat by Gov. Mike Easley in February, and Charles (Chuck) Anderson, who's been a District Court judge for 10 years.
An indication of how closely contested the race has become is the thousands of campaign signs dotting the two counties. That level of campaigning is reflected in the candidates' spending reports filed in June after the May primary--Stein said he'd raised $82,432 and spent $57,013; Baddour had raised $56,434 and spent $47,831; Fox had raised $28,097 and spent $26,172; and Anderson had raised $24,607 and spent $13,926. Anderson limited contributions to $500 and vowed at first not to take contributions from attorneys who might appear before him, but decided after the primary that the latter restriction was impractical.
We like Fox, 53, because of the sterling reputation for fairness and even temperament he gained in 20 years as the elected Orange-Chatham district attorney, one that has been confirmed in his 17 months on the bench. He keeps his judicial calendar moving at a healthy pace--pointing out that he's presided over 18 criminal and seven civil trials and heard hundreds of pleas and motions. As a prosecutor for 26 years, he tried more than 340 jury trials--and 30 capital cases--and says he has "the most extensive criminal trial experience in state court of any candidate for this office." When possible, he says he favors "alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment, education, community service, house arrest and other community-based sanctions."
Stein is a legend in North Carolina legal circles. He helped found the state's first integrated law firm with Julius Chambers in 1967 and has a long history handling desegregation cases, including the precedent-setting integration of the Raleigh YMCA and speeding integration of the Durham and Chapel Hill school systems. Most recently, he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court three times in the 1990s in a successful battle to fight congressional redistricting that weakened African-American voting strength. He also has waged battles to improve the criminal justice system, notably in his handling of death-cases, and was a founder of North Carolina's Center for Death Penalty Litigation. (Full disclosure: He is also a longtime shareholder in the parent company of the Independent.)
By all accounts, Anderson, 56, and Baddour, 35, are both good judges and have had legal careers dedicated to public service--Anderson as staff attorney and then director of N.C. Prison Legal Services and Baddour as managing assistant district attorney in Orange and Chatham. If Anderson loses, he will remain on the District Court bench. Baddour is a young man, and we hope he seeks another judgeship when the opportunity arises.
Both have tried to make a case against Stein by pointing out that he's now 69 years old and under state law will have to retire when he turns 72, which means he'll be able to serve less than three years of the eight-year term if elected. Then, the governor would appoint a replacement and the position would go on the 2010 ballot. Stein responds by pointing out that he can become a retired recall judge and be used to fill in anywhere in the region or the state or be given special assignments. Though there are no guarantees, the state's Administrative Office of the Courts confirms there are several such retired Superior Court judges working full-time right now, and that if a retired judge wants to work, is mentally and physically capable, has a needed expertise or is in a geographic area that can use the help, there's plenty of work to do. And as the Triangle grows, an AOC spokesman says, the need for such judges is growing with it.