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Take-along voting guides

Governor

Given the mudfest in the Democratic primary, it's a murky choice at best between the two leading candidates. Neither has earned any respect with their relentlessly negative campaigns. Both are rich, middle-of-the-road party regulars who, when the muck is cleared, differ little on the issues. Each drips sincerity to the point that common folk turn away. You won't go wrong keeping your vote in your pocket. But forced to choose, we come down on the side of Richard Moore, the state treasurer, over Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue.

Click for larger image • Richard Moore, Democratic candidate for governor, speaks to the Durham County Democratic Convention at the old Durham County Courthouse April 19. - PHOTO BY DEREK ANDERSON

Moore has done good work in his two terms as treasurer, modernizing investment policies for the state's $78 billion pension portfolio to achieve a better balance of stocks and bonds—and a more prudent mix of safety and risk—than his very risk-averse predecessor, Harlan Boyles. The returns on those investments under Moore's leadership have been competitive with the broad markets, as they should be, and contrary to the Perdue campaign's dark assertions that they haven't.

Moore was among the first public pension fund managers to join the investor-protection movement, questioning the huge salaries paid to corporate executives and demanding cuts in the bloated fees some mutual fund companies charge.

It's true, Moore sullied that good work by wringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Wall Street firms he hired to help invest the state's money. He thus opened himself up to suspicions that he was choosing advisors based on their political support, a perception that, even if false, can't be disproved.

And yes, early in his campaign Moore did exclaim how "wonderful" it would be to repeal the state's corporate income tax. No, it wouldn't: It would be a $1.3 billion boondoggle. Moore's stopped saying it, fortunately. But it's indicative of his pro-business bent.

On the other hand, Moore has called for reforming the state's politics-ridden system of transportation funding. And he did speak out early, at a business conference in January 2006, for increasing the state's minimum wage, which was long before it occurred to any of North Carolina's other pro-business Democrats to say so—a list which includes, notably, Perdue.

As lieutenant governor, Perdue has little power, so there's not much to point to—good or bad—in her "record" over two terms. We credit her efforts as chair of the state's Health and Wellness Trust Fund, which controls part of the tobacco-settlement money, especially in leading anti-smoking efforts in the schools. She also took up the task, at Gov. Mike Easley's direction, of arguing the case for the state's military bases back when the Bush administration was looking for bases to cut. Her campaign ads exaggerate the "danger" to North Carolina. Still, she did her duty.

But Perdue fanned on her one chance to do something positive as lieutenant governor when she broke the tie in the Senate (the only time she gets a vote is when there is a tie) and gave us the so-called "education" lottery. Her vote won her favor with the state teachers' association, which is currently smearing Moore with negative ads—in contradiction of Perdue's solemn pledge to go positive. But it was a lousy decision to raise school money in such a destructive and regressive way.

Moreover, Perdue's made no bones about wanting to be governor from the day she took the No. 2 job, and has campaigned for it virtually full-time ever since. She's had every chance to speak up about anything that was not getting done in Raleigh but should—to break with the party establishment, in other words, about something. If she ever did, we've not heard it. Nor did we hear it from her when she was in the General Assembly and earned a reputation as "one of the guys"—and one of the tough guys at that.

We're still trying to forget Perdue's deceptive claim that she was "real poor" growing up, a self-styled "Coal Miner's Daughter." Her father was indeed a miner at first, but soon became a wealthy coal-mine owner and utility company executive. Perdue now accurately says of him on the stump that he was successful despite little formal education.

And Perdue has a cadre of progressive Democrats supporting her, including many women, who believe that if she's elected, she'll be better than Moore at the hard work of getting things done in Raleigh. That may be. Behind that fixed smile, Perdue is known for the kind of grim determination it takes to be elected the first woman governor. What she's not known for is inspired leadership.

There's a third Democratic candidate, retired Air Force Col. Dennis Nielsen. On the issues, he's well to the right of both Perdue and Moore, not that he's campaigning very hard.

On the Republican side, five candidates are vying for the nomination, but the polls show two front-runners: Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and state Sen. Fred Smith of Johnston County. We prefer neither. We had high hopes for McCrory, based mainly on his support for public transit in Charlotte—backed as well by 70 percent of the voters there last fall when right-wing critics forced a vote on the funding. But McCrory's campaign been a pastiche of conservative cliches—cut taxes, bash immigrants—to the point that he sounds just like, well, Smith.

Meanwhile, Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham continues his jihad against gasoline taxes, to the apparent boredom even of his GOP audiences. Farmer and pilot Elbie Powers wants to build more prisons and cut wasteful spending, including the salaries of bigwigs like UNC system chief Erskine Bowles.

We can, however, recommend Bob Orr, formerly a state Supreme Court justice and Court of Appeals judge, to Republican voters looking for a smart, moderate candidate. Orr's joined with progressive forces to argue for campaign reforms and against tax giveaways ("incentives") as a lure for corporate jobs. He's the one Republican candidate who seems to have a grasp of state government's primary functions—education, transportation, health care and prisons. Yes, he's against "waste" too, but he's not nearly as glib about it as his three opponents.

Lieutenant Governor

We're persuaded that all four Democratic candidates for the state's No. 2 position would—if called on by tragedy—be capable replacements for whoever's elected governor in November. Barring such a circumstance, however, there is only one way to be an effective lieutenant governor, and that is to convince your fellow politicians, and the voters of the state, that you are a plausible candidate to run and win the governor's office in some future election. If so, you can wield some influence from an otherwise nearly powerless post.

click to enlarge Hampton Dellinger - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

It's for that reason that, between the two obvious progressive choices, we support Durham attorney Hampton Dellinger, former legal counsel to Mike Easley in the governor's office and, before that, the attorney general's office. It's a close call over Dan Besse, the Winston-Salem councilman whose record as an environmental activist and policymaker is superb. But Besse insists that he can effectively influence policy from the lieutenant governor's office without holding himself up as a potential No. 1. And frankly, given Besse's wonky, unpolitical style, he's not one. Whereas Dellinger, who could curb his enthusiasm by half and still be a dazzling case of political ambition, will be—should he win—a potential future progressive governor. Imagine that.

Thus, we're not bothered that Dellinger's campaign is all about reproductive rights, affirmative action and his endorsements by such African-American icons as Duke history professor emeritus John Hope Franklin. It's true, much of what he talks about has nothing to do with the lieutenant governor's office. But it has everything to do, as he says, with being a state-level Democratic leader—not to mention that it's aimed squarely at the black and women voters likely to turn out May 6 for the Obama-Clinton showdown.

On state issues from education to health care to the environment and mass transit, Dellinger's positions mirror Besse's, though it's certainly true that Besse has been working at them longer and accomplished a great deal as an appointed member of such policymaking boards as the state Environmental Management Commission. In fact, we almost think Besse would lose influence by being lieutenant governor.

Dellinger's never run for office. But at 40, he's worked in many a campaign, going back to the '90 U.S. Senate run by Harvey Gantt against Jesse Helms. Drawing on his experience and family connections (his father, Duke law professor Walter Dellinger, is nationally known and was U.S. solicitor general in the Bill Clinton administration), he's raised more than $1 million from contributors, which puts him in the same fund-raising league as the presumed front-runner in the race and the choice of the party's pro-business wing, state Sen. Walter Dalton of Rutherford County.

Meanwhile, Besse's done well to raise a six-figure campaign treasury, given that his support comes mainly from environmentalists.

The fourth candidate, Canton Mayor Pat Smathers, is a personable populist but has raised far too little money to wage an effective statewide campaign.

Polling here is of little value—so far, none of the four Democrats are well-known to the voters—but Dalton has recently started TV advertising, and he has a solid record on education issues to sell. From here, it looks like only Dalton and Dellinger have any chance of hitting the 40 percent threshold and winning the primary outright. If that's correct, we'd like to see it be Dellinger.

Four Republican candidates are also running. Three are so unacceptable that we reluctantly recommend that our GOP friends vote for state Sen. Robert Pittenger, R-Mecklenburg. Yes, the very same tax-cutting crusader who, for six years in the legislature, has been fighting the idea of climate change as if it were a voodoo curse. Hard to believe, but he's the picture of sanity compared to Timothy Cook, a chemist and perennial office-seeker with a misdemeanor conviction for assault on a female on his record; Greg Dority, another perennial whose "security" work is too secret to reveal; and Jim Snyder, the lionine Lexington lawyer who might have been our choice until he signed up the venomous Vernon Robinson, self-styled "black Jesse Helms," as his "senior adviser."

Council of State

Auditor

click to enlarge Beth A. Wood - PHOTO BY DEREK ANDERSON

The winner in this Democratic primary will take on Republican incumbent Les Merritt in November. We think the stronger candidate on the Democratic side is a former Merritt assistant, Beth Wood.

Our choice of Wood, a certified public accountant whose career in state government has been as an auditor, over Fred Aikens, a longtime state official who recently retired, is based on what we think the job of elected auditor is—and isn't. We think it is, as Wood maintains, to be the final, objective and nonpartisan link in the chain of fiscal accountability for state spending. In that role, the auditor—and his or her staff—tracks whether funds were spent in accordance with the law, flags illegalities and may recommend legal changes to improve programs and eliminate waste. Done well, the work assists policymakers, but the auditor is not a policy adviser and shouldn't act like one. The adviser role is amply filled by the legislature's fiscal research division, the governor's policy and budget staff, agency staffs and the General Assembly.

Aikens worked as a fiscal analyst for the legislature and later as deputy commissioner in two highly political departments, transportation and corrections. He seems to want to carry on as a policy aide when, for example, he talks about forming inter-agency "taxpayer protection teams." That might be a good idea for somebody else, but not the auditor.

Wood brings to her campaign solid accounting credentials, including time as a teacher who trains CPAs in conducting government audits. She also brings the endorsement of Merritt's predecessor and her former boss, Ralph Campbell. Like Merritt, Campbell wasn't a CPA, but he let the professionals do the auditing while serving as their manager and spokesman. When Merritt took over with what Wood viewed to be a political agenda—plus an announced intention to work only part time while taking on private clients as a tax preparer— Wood resigned and announced that she'd oppose him for re-election.

Insurance Commissioner

click to enlarge Wayne Goodwin
  • Wayne Goodwin

It was pretty slick the way the longtime Democratic incumbent Jim Long waited until the last day of candidate filing before unexpectedly announcing that he wouldn't run again and was supporting his assistant commissioner for the job instead. Still, we think Long chose well in grooming Wayne Goodwin to succeed him. We liked the job Long did, and we trust Goodwin, a lawyer and former legislator with a progressive track record, will carry on in the same fashion.

Like his mentor, Goodwin promises to be a strong consumer advocate who will defend his department's authority to set rates for auto insurers—authority the industry and some influential legislators would like to take away—and will set them at levels that are fair to both sides. Insurers have a right to operate profitably; but since auto insurance is a mandatory product for drivers, such profits are properly subject to regulatory action.

Goodwin also pledges, like Long did, to fight any effort by Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. to convert from nonprofit to for-profit status, as well as to use the very limited powers available to his office to hold BCBS to its historic public-interest role in health care.

David C. Smith, a Durham attorney who is president of the Trinity Park Association, expresses progressive ideas. But it would seem that his role as president of the N.C. Association of Health Underwriters might hamper him as an industry watchdog—though he promises to resign if elected. And when he says to "stay tuned" for his plan for comprehensive health-insurance reform, a statement made on his campaign Web site, well, the voting's started, and we're still waiting.

John Odom is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Labor Commissioner

In a four-person Democratic primary, the two women are heads and shoulders above the men. We recommend a vote for Mary Fant Donnan, who also has the endorsement—importantly in this case—of the state AFL-CIO. The winner will seek to oust incumbent Republican Cherie Berry, who is unopposed in the GOP primary.

Donnan brings a strong record of public service into the campaign. She served for seven years as an aide and director of policy research for the highly regarded former Labor Commissioner Harry Payne, who's endorsed her as well. In that role, she was responsible for launching the state's innovative program of individual development accounts that help low-income workers save to buy a home, continue their education or start a small business.

When Payne stepped down in 2000, Donnan became a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, which supports many of the state's progressive nonprofit organizations. She's worked there with community economic development organizations to tackle a broad range of challenges including affordable housing, health care and workforce training. As commissioner, she promises to extend that work and be an energetic spokesperson for community needs while also stepping up enforcement of the state's existing workplace health and safety laws.

Robin Anderson, a Raleigh attorney specializing in employment law, has run a smart campaign focused on improving workplace inspections. She jumped on Berry, for example, when Berry failed to show much interest in the Charlotte Observer's exposé of dismal working conditions at House of Raeford poultry plants. Her platform and Donnan's are similar.

Ty Richardson, a Wendell machine operator who worked for the state Division of Emergency Management, lists some political campaign experience as well as a stint in the Marine Corps and time in Saudi Arabia training troops. His positions on labor issues are sketchy.

John C. Brooks, a lawyer, was the labor commissioner from 1977-93. He lost to Payne in the '92 Democratic primary after the tragic Hamlet chicken plant fire in which 25 workers were killed; Brooks' labor department never inspected the plant in the 11 years it operated.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

The state Superintendent of Public Instruction is an anomaly.

North Carolina is one of a handful of states to elect the superintendent; in most, it is an appointed position. The post has only as much power as the State Board of Education is willing to cede it—not much. And the deputy state superintendent, not the top dog, has the legal authority to run the state's public schools.

click to enlarge Eddie Davis
  • Eddie Davis

Nonetheless, Eddie Davis wants the job, and he should get it. In the Democratic primary, we endorse the longtime Durham teacher—and 1985 Indy Citizen Award winner—for his 30-plus-year commitment to serving disadvantaged and minority students.

More than 5 percent of all N.C. high school students dropped out last year, and minorities did so at a higher rate than whites. Davis says he would work to reduce the dropout rate by social promotion if students aren't reading by the end of third grade. He also supports alternative settings to "recapture" many dropouts who want to return to school.

He would also lobby for more funding for gifted and special education students, while asking the state to invest in technical and vocational training for students who choose not to attend college.

Davis' experience includes eight years on the State Board of Education (1993-2001), during which he helped launch the Closing the Achievement Gap conference, and he served as statewide president of the N.C. Association of Educators. If elected, Davis would be only the second minority to serve in one of the state's top executive positions.

As a member of Council of State, the superintendent also votes on issues outside his or her bailiwick. Last year, the Council was required to vote on the state's controversial execution protocol; incumbent superintendent June St. Clair Atkinson voted against it—the right call—sending the decision back to a judge. Davis says he believes such votes should be the domain of the General Assembly; but if required to decide, he would vote to prevent doctors from participating in executions.

Atkinson, also a former public school teacher and a Democrat, was elected in 2004, although the legislature had to settle the race after her Republican opponent questioned the validity of 11,000 provisional ballots. Given her limited authority, she should be commended for navigating the difficult terrain of the public school system.

click to enlarge Joe Johnson
  • Joe Johnson

In the Republican primary, only Joe Johnson, a former public affairs director at the Henderson County Sheriff's office, submitted an Indy questionnaire. Although he has no educational experience, we endorse him for his stance on several issues: He favors the 2007 personal leave bill, which would allow teachers to take a limited number of personal days without being docked $50 each time. He also questions the fairness and effectiveness of No Child Left Behind, especially its emphasis on standardized testing.

Also running are Eric H. Smith, a farmer from Reidsville, and Richard Morgan, former co-speaker of the N.C. House, who lost his re-election bid in the 2006 GOP primary.


Treasurer

click to enlarge Janet Cowell
  • Janet Cowell

Integrity and financial know-how needed for this office, responsible for the prudent investment of $78 billion of retirement funds on behalf of government workers and teachers, and which also has oversight of local government borrowing. In a three-candidate Democratic field, both Raleigh candidates have these qualities. We recommend Janet Cowell based on her strong record of public service and the support it's earned her across the state—support won because of her integrity and good sense.

We've backed Cowell since she emerged from the Sierra Club to run successfully for Raleigh City Council, where she was practical and progressive in overhauling the city's waste-management programs to improve recycling while also saving money. Elected to the state Senate in 2004, she's lead on environmental issues, helped pass a bill requiring government office buildings to be energy efficient and conserve water, and refused to be the deciding vote for the state lottery, which forced her Democratic colleagues to "borrow" it from the Republican side of the aisle.

Cowell holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, speaks Chinese, worked for HSBC and Lehman Brothers banks, and knows that a hedge-fund investment can be risky or a way to limit risk. Until recently, she worked for SJF Ventures, a small venture-capital firm in Durham specializing in green start-up companies. She has the knowledge, plus good ideas about tapping a public advisory board to help her choose the best investment firms while also assuring that politics plays no part the investment of that $87 billion. She's backed by the environmental groups, the AFL-CIO, the trial lawyers and NARAL.

A strong case could be made for Raleigh lawyer Michael Weisel: In fact, we made one when we endorsed him for treasurer in the '96 Democratic primary against then-incumbent Harlan Boyles. Weisel is a former pension fund investment manager (Wells Fargo, Kemper) with good insights about making the most of the state's retirement-fund investments. He promises not to use the treasurer's office as a stepping-stone to a higher elected office (he won't be another Richard Moore, in other words), though we don't think doing a good job as treasurer should disqualify you from ever being something else. It should, however, disqualify you from raising money for a big-bucks campaign from your Wall Street investment managers, something Cowell says she won't do. Cowell supports public financing for future treasurer's campaigns.

The third candidate, David Young, is an Asheville travel-agency owner and 16-year Buncombe County commissioner with a good reputation and sound investment views. He is president of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. The race looks to be between Young and Cowell. We know, and think highly of, Cowell.

Bill Daughtridge is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

N.C. General Assembly

N.C. Senate District 14

click to enlarge Ann Akland
  • Ann Akland

The Senate has ignored mental health issues for years, but never more determinedly than since it helped enact the disastrous "reforms" of 2001. Thus, lawmakers never seemed to hear Knightdale resident Ann Akland, who started speaking out in opposition to them almost immediately after their enactment and has continued to do so, aggressively and effectively, since. A Democrat, Akland has our support in her effort to unseat incumbent and fellow Wake County Democrat state Sen. Vernon Malone, who we think has stayed too long at the party.

Akland first earned our admiration in 2002, when we honored her with our Citizen Award for her work in reinvigorating Wake-NAMI, the local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. A volunteer, she stepped in to be virtually a full-time president as the consequences of the '01 law were unfolding, taking early retirement from her career as an administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency to agitate and organize for real reform. Six years later, after a ton of advocacy and community service, she's one of the main reasons why legislative leaders and finally even an embarrassed Gov. Easley are discussing what a humane mental health system should be. Akland's election will help translate those discussions into action in the Senate.

If mental health were her only issue, Akland would still be a smart, capable addition to the Wake legislative delegation. But it isn't, and she promises to be an energetic, progressive voice for families, communities and especially for the disadvantaged. For example, she's followed the mental health issue into the criminal justice system, where so many with mental disabilities find themselves, and recognized the crying need for better jail-diversion, alternative-sentencing and post-prison counseling programs. Such programs can offer a second chance and vital help to non-violent offenders, many of whom are distinctly disadvantaged, whether mentally or otherwise. They can also assure that there's room in our now-overcrowded prisons for the dangerous, violent criminals when they're caught violating probation or parole.

Sen. Malone has had a long, eventful career as an educational administrator, a Wake County Commissioner, and a leader in southeast Raleigh's African-American community. But since being elected to the Senate six years ago, he's been a back-bencher at best, a go-along vote for whatever the Senate Democratic caucus comes up with, which is usually rather conservative fare. Akland rightly points out that, as a member of the Legislative Oversight Committee for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, he hasn shown no leadership. If he's defeated, new leaders will emerge in southeast Raleigh. Meanwhile, Akland will be a leader in the Senate from Day One.

Republican Carol Dalenko is running unopposed.

N.C. Senate District 16

Progressive Janet Cowell is leaving her Senate seat for a run for state treasurer, so this Wake County district—which includes western Raleigh, Cary and Morrisville—is up for grabs.

We wish every district in the General Assembly had such superb Democratic candidates to choose from. Both have exceptionally strong progressive records of accomplishment, both have experience and demonstrated skill getting bills passed, and either would be a terrific state legislator.

click to enlarge Josh Stein
  • Josh Stein

After much deliberation, we endorse Josh Stein, an attorney from Raleigh who directs the Consumer Protection Division at the N.C. Attorney General's office. There, he has tackled predatory lending, telemarketing and identity theft, bringing relevant bills to the General Assembly and getting them passed. Stein also ran John Edwards' Senate campaign in 1997 and was one of his legal aides in Washington, D.C. Stein cites his top priorities as improving education, reforming the health care system—that includes expanding health insurance for kids and fixing the mental health mess—and managing growth in a way that preserves the environment and quality of life. He has a long list of endorsements, from the AFL-CIO to Equality NC. We're excited by Stein's energy, drive and commitment to progressive goals. We hope to see him accomplish those goals in the General Assembly for a long time.

Attorney Jack Nichols of Raleigh has a 30-year record as a champion of progressive politics in Wake County. As a county commissioner in the 1990s, he worked hard to improve schools and infrastructure and to establish water quality standards to protect the Falls Lake watershed. He was part of Gov. Jim Hunt's cabinet and was his deputy legislative liaison. Nichols helped to found Wake County Smart Start and has also been a lobbyist for the N.C. Civil Liberties Union. He has a particularly strong record on women's issues, helping to found Planned Parenthood of Raleigh and managing the campaigns of former Raleigh Mayor Isabella Cannon and County Commissioner Betty Ann Knudsen. His top priorities—indeed, most all of his policies—are so similar to Stein's, it's hard to parse a difference. That's no knock against Nichols. We would be thrilled to see him in the legislature.

Another Democrat, Mike Shea, is a retired track coach who acknowledges he's a long-shot, one-issue candidate. He wants lawmakers to take seriously the task of rehabilitating young people who are released from prison to keep them from offending again.

The winner in this race will face Republican John M. Alexander Jr. in November.

N.C. Senate District 20

State Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr. is running unopposed in the District 20 Democratic primary after his challenger, Ryan O'Neal Echoles, withdrew from the race in April. McKissick was appointed to the senate seat last year after the death of Sen. Jeanne Lucas. McKissick will face Republican Kenneth R. (Ken) Chandler in the November general election.

N.C. Senate District 23

click to enlarge Ellie Kinnaird
  • Ellie Kinnaird

We heartily endorse state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird for a seventh term. The former Carrboro mayor represents the values of her liberal district of Orange and Person counties admirably, with a strong voting record on the environment, mental health and juvenile justice. She serves on several Senate subcommittees, including the critical appropriations of base budget, environment and natural resources, and mental health and youth services, which she co-chairs. She sponsored an important bill to protect victims of human trafficking that passed the General Assembly last year. We wish Kinnaird were more effective at building consensus with her fellow legislators—she's one of the state's most progressive legislators, and we'd like to see her agenda succeed.

Challenging Kinnaird is Moses Carey, who has served for 24 years as an Orange County commissioner. A retired director of a nonprofit health care agency, Carey has a strong progressive record. He's defended the county's natural resources and was involved in the creation of the urban services boundary. He is a longstanding civil rights advocate who originated the first local civil rights ordinance in the state.

If Kinnaird had decided not to run for re-election, Carey would be a strong possible replacement. But we see no reason to unseat her.

The winner in this primary will face Republican Jon G. Bass in November.

N.C. House District 40

click to enlarge Sam Hart Brewer
  • Sam Hart Brewer

There are two names on the Democratic ballot, but one candidate has dropped out and endorsed the other, Wake high school teacher Sam Hart Brewer, who would've been our choice in any case. He'll offer a fresh perspective against the very conservative Republican incumbent, state Rep. Marilyn Avila, come fall.

N.C. Court of Appeals

The state Court of Appeals handles about 1,700 cases each year. Fifteen judges sit in rotating panels of three, weighing questions of law, not trial evidence, from cases appealed from the superior and district courts.

There are five seats open on the Court of Appeals, but of those only two races are contested, both nonpartisan. The top two finishers in these two races move on to the November election.

For the last few years, the Court of Appeals has ruled amid controversy. Judges have dismissed several cases for what many lawyers and the N.C. Supreme Court consider trivial rule violations. While the application of appellate procedural rules may seem arcane to those outside the legal profession, the practical consequences are important. The N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers and the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys—organizations historically at odds—found the dismissal trend so troubling that they jointly filed a brief to the state Supreme Court arguing that technicalities shouldn't prevent appellants having their cases heard before the Court of Appeals.

Incumbent John Tyson was a crusader in these types of dismissals. In 2007, Tyson wrote two opinions that dismissed cases for rules violations, even after the N.C. Supreme Court ruled earlier in the year "every violation of the rules does not require dismissal of the appeal or the issue, although some other sanction may be appropriate." In March 2008, the Supreme Court reversed two more of Tyson's dismissals. The Supreme Court ruling effectively squashed the controversy, but an informal survey by the Indy of lawyers who represent criminal defendants and civil plaintiffs—as opposed to powerful corporations, insurance companies and government—showed near-unanimous support for Tyson's ouster. They say he consistently favors corporations over injured workers, plaintiffs and criminal defendants. And outside of court, Tyson has campaigned on controversial political issues, using his stances on abortion and gay marriage to win conservative votes.

Tyson faces three challengers in the nonpartisan race for his seat: Kristin Ruth, Sam Ervin IV and Janet Pueschel.

click to enlarge Kristin Ruth
  • Kristin Ruth

We give the nod to Kristin Ruth, who has been a district court judge in Wake County for 10 years. Ruth has an excellent grasp of the need to apply the law impartially and efficiently, while also looking for ways to break the cycle of repeat offenders. She created an alternative program to deal with child support enforcement, which helps parents find work, make their payments and stay active in their children's lives, as opposed to throwing them in jail, where they fall further behind on payments. Ruth stated in her Indy questionnaire: "Although appellate courts do not have the discretion to be creative in this way, I believe my efforts underscore my appreciation of the practical implications of the law to the everyday affairs of the people who pass through our court system."

Sam Ervin IV is also a strong and worthy candidate. He has been a commissioner on the N.C. Utilities Commission for the past eight years, ruling on important energy cases. During his tenure, the commission implemented the new energy legislation enacted by the General Assembly last year. Previously, he worked as a criminal defender in the western part of the state, skillfully representing controversial defendants and, with his brother, carrying much of the load of death penalty cases. With that experience, he would make a fine judge.

Pueschel is a Wake County lawyer who served one term as the Wake County Clerk of Superior Court. She lost her re-election bid because her strident management style alienated courthouse regulars and clerks.

click to enlarge James A. (Jim) Wynn
  • James A. (Jim) Wynn

In the second contested race, incumbent James A. (Jim) Wynn faces challengers Dean Poirier and Jewel Ann Farlow. Wynn is an excellent appellate judge and has served in that post for 17 years. Bill Clinton nominated him to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms blocked the nomination. His research and analytical skills are top notch, he eschews politics, and unlike Tyson, Wynn works to ensure access to the courts for all citizens. As he stated in response to the Independent questionnaire, he reviews the substantive merits of arguments on appeal, rather than denying justice by dismissing cases for technical rules violations.

Poirier is an appeals referee on the N.C. Employment Security Commission and an adjunct instructor of law at several local schools.

Farlow is a lawyer from Greensboro.

  • Our endorsements for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Council of State offices, and the General Assembly

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