There's some logic in a vote for each of the three gubernatorial candidates. But finally, we endorse Democrat Bev Perdue based on her progressive positions on critical issues.
Perdue, the lieutenant governor for the past eight years, is locked in a close contest with Republican Pat McCrory, popular mayor of Charlotte for 13 years. McCrory's been a centrist leader for Charlotte, where he has worked in concert with the city's banking and utility executives to bring smart-growth planning and a modern transit system to the Queen City. But in this campaign, he's taken regressive stances, bashing immigrants and pandering to fears about crime, while Perdue's stood for strengthening the public education system, for environmental protection and for investing in renewable energy sources.
Indeed, the Republican campaign against Perdue consists of the charge that she'd be "Status Quo Bev" if elected, continuing the centrist, pro-business policies of the past 16 years under Democrat Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley. McCrory, it's said, would "shake things up."
Maybe so, but McCrory's plans make the status quo look pretty good: He's for private school vouchers, supports amending the state constitution to discriminate against gays, is for ending health-care "mandates" that require insurance plans to cover specific procedures (mastectomies, for example), and promises to launch off-shore drilling with only the most perfunctory consideration of environmental impacts.
Perdue opposes vouchers, is pro-gay rights, has a plan to give every child (and more of their parents) access to affordable health insurance, and would allow offshore drilling only when assured it won't harm the coastal environment.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Perdue has the support of all of the state's major environmental, education and social-justice organizations.
Yes, state government is a mess. And perhaps McCrory, swinging a Republican broom in a Democrat-controlled town, could sweep it cleaner than Perdue, who also pledges a cleanup. But without fundamental campaign finance legislation, we doubt it. And on that subject, McCrory's been silent, while Perdue supports public financing for future gubernatorial campaigns and for all Council of State elections. The difference, in short, is that she not only promises to clean house, she offers a plan to do it.
Were there no substantive differences between the major-party candidates, we'd be recommending a protest vote for Libertarian Party candidate Michael C. Munger, based on the elements of his platform that make him the self-proclaimed "liberal in the race."
Munger, who chairs the political science department at Duke, is anti-capital punishment. He supports admitting the children of illegal immigrants to the UNC schools and community colleges. He is pro-gay marriage. His ideas on vouchers for public schools and for building only rural roads, not more urban highways, make good sense. But finally, the Libertarians would shortchange the public sector. And besides, Munger is not going to be the next governor; Perdue or McCrory will. And in that head-to-head contest, Perdue is the clear choice.
In the race for this powerless position, the only important question is which candidate would make the best governor should that terrible situation arise. It's not a close call. The answer is Democrat Walter H. Dalton.
A six-term state senator from Rutherford County, Dalton's a card-carrying member of the Democratic establishment in the General Assembly, a self-described team player who's been a leader on education issues and a co-chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. His best moves have come while addressing the housing foreclosure problem when it first arose here (he was named legislator of the year in 2006 by the N.C. Housing Coalition) and helping to author the Learn and Earn program that lets high school students work in vocational settings while taking relevant community college courses.
As lieutenant governor, Dalton says he won't hesitate to speak out if there's a "pressing issue" on which he disagrees with the governor or the legislative leadership—assuming both remain Democratic. But first, he'll talk to them. And listen. His view of the office is to fit his own ideas into the bigger Democratic scheme, then speak about them "with an amplified voice."
The same cannot be said for the Republican nominee, former state Sen. Robert Pittenger of Mecklenburg County. Pittenger, a wealthy real-estate investor who is spending heavily on his own campaign, was among the legislature's most right-wing members during his three Senate terms, crusading against public spending of every sort and for tax cuts that would benefit well-to-do folks like himself.
But he reserved his strongest bile for those who say that humans are causing global climate change: Pittenger thinks global warming is an unproven idea foisted on the public by deluded lefties.
The Libertarian Party candidate, Phillip Rhodes, is no option. His campaign, such as it is, is focused on stopping forced annexations and eliminating the language in the state constitution, required by Congress after the Civil War, that says we will not secede again from the Union.
Editor's note: These endorsements are organized by the order in which they appear on the ballot.
Earlier this year, Democrat Roy Cooper closed one (but certainly not the final) chapter in the Duke lacrosse case after a special state investigation concluded the three players were innocent of raping Crystal Mangum at a party.
But Cooper's office usually delves into lower-profile issues: going after gas price gougers and shuttering predatory lenders, which Cooper has done during his tenure.
As important, under Cooper's direction, the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab now has 42 DNA analysts, up from five when he took office seven years ago. A former legislator, Cooper has taken some unpopular but necessary stands as AG: banning those with severe mental illness from purchasing a gun and removing cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine from store shelves. It's inconvenient to ask the pharmacist for allergy medicine, but it helps keep the drugs out of the hands of meth-makers.
We endorse Cooper with one caveat: We seriously disagree with the establishment of the Information Sharing and Security Analysis Center, which, with Homeland Security funding, conducts surveillance not only on gangs—its main charge—but also peaceful demonstrations. While Cooper says in his questionnaire that ISSAC is "held accountable ... to make sure rights are not violated," it is nearly impossible to verify that claim because many of its records and investigations aren't open to the public. In his next term, we demand that Cooper dismantle ISSAC, as it is, in our opinion, a threat to civil liberties.
Lawyer Bob Crumley, a Republican, is running against Cooper.
We endorse Beth A. Wood, the Democratic challenger, based on her experience and well-focused understanding of what the state Auditor's job is—and also what it isn't.
Wood is a certified public accountant with 15 years of experience in state government, including 10 years working under former Auditor Ralph Campbell, a Democrat, and then under the current officeholder, Republican Auditor Leslie Merritt.
We mention the party affiliations, but in fact the auditor's post is supposed to be above politics. The job is to track, after the fact, how state money was spent and determine whether it was used for the proper, legal purpose. If not, the auditor blows the whistle. She also blows the whistle when she sees spending that, though it's legal, is ineffective or not in the public's best interest. But it isn't the auditor's job to second-guess legislative appropriations, go looking for "waste," or play to the political crowds.
Wood charges, however, and the record shows, that Merritt, also a CPA and a former Wake County Commissioner, hasn't always kept the politics out of his auditing. That, she says, is why she quit as one of his principal aides and decided to run against him.
We question, for example, as Wood does, why Merritt thought it appropriate to investigate whether the State Board of Elections was keeping dead people on the voting rolls, as he did in 2007. Merritt even rushed to the General Assembly to urge that it not enact an early voting law with same-day registration until his "audit" was complete. His suspicions proved completely unfounded, however, and seemed to be nothing more than Republican voter-suppression tactics run wild.
Merritt also blundered when he insisted early on that state auditor was not a full-time job, and he was free to work for private clients as well. Under fire, he dropped that idea, but the fact that he ever held it doesn't say much for his judgment.
Wood pledges, if elected, to keep the politics out and her staff's work trained on following the money, not any political agendas. She has a well-conceived plan for staff training and for making her agency's operations more transparent and useful to the public and policymakers without, though, crossing the line into headline-hunting.
We strongly endorse Ronnie Ansley for his progressive views on the state's agriculture industry. While he has run for other offices over the years, agriculture commissioner seems like a good match. He supports biofuels—not ethanol, which uses food sources for fuel—locally grown and marketed products and sustainable energy sources. In addition, he would increase inspections of imported products and product labeling to allow consumers to know products' state and nation of origin.
Ansley would advocate that more minorities be considered for jobs and internships within the Department of Agriculture. He also wants to stop the loss of family farms and agricultural land due to estate taxes. He opposes euthanizing animals with carbon monoxide, which has earned him the support of the N.C. Animal Advocates.
He supports additional safety measures for migrant workers, particularly in regards to pesticide exposure. He also opposes the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, the federal disease research lab that could be sited in Butner.
Although Ansley is a lawyer with a master's degree in agriculture education, he does not think the Council of State should deliberate the death penalty. However, if called on to do so, Ansley would support a moratorium.
Steve Troxler, the Republican incumbent, fails on at least two counts: He supports siting the NBAF in Butner, despite overwhelming opposition by citizens and other elected officials—and documents raising serious questions about its safety. In addition, his lack of leadership on the state's euthanasia rules has been disappointing.
We've been strong supporters of outgoing Commissioner Jim Long, who's held this post for 24 years. Long was always on the consumers' side when the auto insurance companies came looking for rate increases, sending them away with less than they wanted, and sometimes even less than they had when they came in the door, but never so little that they didn't earn a fair return on their risk. On car rates, that's the commissioner's job. In other areas, like health insurance, the commissioner has little or no authority over rates, but retains the ability to speak out.
With Long departing, we endorse the assistant commissioner he groomed to be his successor, Democratic candidate Wayne Goodwin. Goodwin is a lawyer and former state representative from Rockingham County, a strongly progressive legislator who ran unsuccessfully for the labor commissioner's job in 2004. After he lost, Long installed him as his new No. 2 in the insurance department. Goodwin won the Democratic primary this year with Long's endorsement.
Goodwin promises to resist, as Long did, recurring legislative efforts to strip the office of its auto insurance rate-setting powers. He also wants to trim the number of North Carolina drivers—now 22 percent—who get assigned to the state's reinsurance pool and are, in effect, subsidized by all other insured drivers. And he's promising to push for legislative reform of the state's "Beach Plan," which insures coastal property owners at below-market rates.
The Republican candidate, former Raleigh City Councilor John Odom, echoes Goodwin's platform, and enjoys a straight-arrow reputation as a businessman (he owns three muffler-repair shops) and officeholder. But Odom has zero experience with insurance regulation, and on the City Council, he had a tendency to always see things from the business perspective. We think Goodwin's more likely to challenge industry claims and keep consumers foremost in his mind.
Mark McMains of Fuquay-Varina, the Libertarian candidate, owns a body shop and two towing companies. He wants volunteer firefighters to be provided with health insurance.
Here's a thought: The state's labor commission should be on labor's side, not be an apologist for employers. (That's what the Commerce Department is for.) All who agree will want to support the Democratic candidate, Mary Fant Donnan.
Donnan is a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, which funds nonprofit groups around the state. She formerly was a top aide to ex-Labor Commissioner Harry Payne, a Democrat who did not seek re-election eight years ago and was replaced by Republican Cherie Berry, the incumbent now running for a third term.
One indication of the difference between the candidates: Donnan is endorsed by the state AFL-CIO; Berry is backed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The endorsements reflect their divergent philosophies. Berry says her department works cooperatively with business on issues like workplace safety. She was roundly criticized by the Charlotte Observer when, after the newspaper's investigation disclosed rampant safety violations in poultry processing plants, Berry said her department wouldn't change its approach.
The newspaper recently reported that half of Berry's campaign contributions have come from the managers of companies with repeated workplace safety violations whose fines nonetheless have been minimal. Berry responded that she has no role in fine reductions, and there's no connection between what her department does and the contributions she's received.
Donnan advocates stronger safety enforcement measures. She also promises a fresh look at plant-safety rules; the rules that sought to protect workers against repetitive motion injuries were developed by Payne but dropped by Berry as a burden to business. Elsewhere, Donnan advocates improved working conditions for farmworkers, increasing the state's minimum wage (Berry declined to take a position when it was last increased, in 2007, to $6.55 an hour), and working cooperatively with community colleges to improve literacy and help workers invest their savings.
Elaine F. Marshall has served for 11 years as Secretary of State, and while we don't think elected positions should be for life, she has performed admirably. We endorse her. She has advocated for strong reform of lobbying laws, helped educate consumers by fighting investment fraud, and wants the N.C. Ethics Commission to release its opinions to the public more quickly. As a member of Council of State, which is akin to the governor's cabinet, she voted against the execution protocol—thankfully—explaining it should be a legislative issue, not one for the executive branch.
Marshall, a Democrat, maintains that she distances herself from deal-making and political pressure, noting in her questionnaire: "Rest assured, I will enforce the laws within the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State without fear or favor of anyone."
Her Republican opponent, Jack Sawyer, is an attorney and real estate agent in Burlington. He received his law degree from Regent University, a low-ranking law school founded by Christian televangelist Pat Robertson.
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.
In the primary, we endorsed Eddie Davis because we thought he would strongly advocate to close the minority achievement gap. However, incumbent June St. Clair Atkinson, also a former public school teacher and a Democrat, is an excellent choice and we endorse her in the general election.
Given her limited authority, Atkinson should be commended for navigating the difficult terrain of the public school system, including focusing on improving North Carolina's high school dropout rate. She has spoken out for anti-bullying policies and laws—a strong stand considering the vehement opposition to such laws by Republican legislators. She also supports changing the school calendar law so teachers can take a specific number of personal days without having their pay docked.
Atkinson faces former co-Speaker of the House Richard Morgan, a Republican.
This election asks voters to choose between two experienced legislators for a post as a professional money manager. And we're not talking about a little money: The treasurer is in charge of investing some $70 billion, more or less (in today's markets, less), for the state's public employee pension funds. That means hiring many other money managers and monitoring their performance.
Fortunately, both of the candidates have business know-how. But that's where their similarity ends. We highly recommend a vote for Democrat Janet Cowell, who has the intelligence, integrity and progressive values to be an outstanding treasurer.
We've followed Cowell's career as a Sierra Club leader in Raleigh, a Raleigh City Council member, and a two-term state senator from Wake County. In every post, she's combined brains and good sense with the strength to stand up to—and oppose—special interests. Her principled vote against the state lottery stands out in her Senate career, along with numerous environmental measures she helped pass over business opposition.
The treasurer also advises the governor and legislature on state borrowing, including how much can be prudently borrowed without jeopardizing the state's AAA credit rating and—as important—which of the state's needs should be paramount when crafting bond issues.
Cowell has pledged to use her "bully pulpit" to help push the state in the direction of sustainable, "green" economic development. We're confident she will, yet not at all confident about her Republican opponent, state Rep. Bill Daughtridge of Nash County, who touts his 97 percent rating from NC FREE, a conservative group, in his campaign.
Daughtridge is a successful businessman, an oil jobber who serves on the board of the Petroleum Marketers of America. He holds an MBA from the Kenan School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill. Cowell's MBA is from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and her business career includes work in China, for big management consulting firms, and more recently for small venture-capital funds; she also teaches part-time at Peace College.
We can vouch for Cowell's ability and integrity and say that she, at least, is highly qualified on both counts. And frankly, her progressive record as a legislator merits our support as well.
Robert H. (Bob) Edmunds Jr., the incumbent, was elected to the N.C. Supreme Court in 2000. He previously served two years on the N.C. Court of Appeals, following his election in 1998. A former U.S. attorney, Edmunds has also worked as a private defense lawyer. On a bench of seven, which includes at least two strictly conservative justices, Edmunds is considered by lawyers and lawmakers to be a "mild conservative." His minority opinion in State v. Haselden, in which he chastised his colleagues for declining to throw out capital cases that improperly hinged on prosecutors' invocation of religion, showed that he is capable of ruling independent of ideology. However, Edmunds, a registered Republican, has shown signs of catering to partisan interests on the campaign trail, and there are concerns that Edmunds may be too willing to make conservative decisions in order to remain elected.
Earlier this year, Edmunds told attendees at a Republican campaign event in Watauga County that he is the "one person standing between you and one-party government in North Carolina." This statement is particularly troubling because Edmunds has consistently ruled with the majority in deciding how North Carolina can assign voting districts, an issue hotly contested along party lines. Most recently, Edmunds wrote the majority opinion in Pender County v. Bartlett, which is now being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The N.C. Supreme Court, under Edmunds, applied a "bright-line rule" in deciding that a voting district in Pender County did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Voting Rights Act, because the minority population was less than 50 percent. It remains to be seen whether this decision will disenfranchise minority voters or if it correctly interpreted the law, but Edmunds' unfortunate campaign remarks will likely taint the state court's ruling.
The Indy endorses Edmunds' challenger, Suzanne Reynolds, a highly regarded law professor at Wake Forest University who has written the authoritative text on family law in North Carolina. Her scholarly work has shown her to be a strong advocate for alternative sentencing (e.g. mandatory mediation in child-custody cases), and she favors incorporating drug and mental-health courts into the judicial system as a much-needed solution to solving the state's backlog.
In addition, colleagues describe her as having strong analytical skills, while showing progressive credentials, such as defending civil liberties and LGBT rights. Reynolds has no judicial experience, but her 27 years of teaching and writing about law lend her the necessary vision and discipline to serve on the bench. Though some courtroom observers wish that Reynolds had waited until a more conservative judge was up for re-election, her candidacy in 2008 presents an exciting opportunity that must not be ignored.
The Indy stands by its primary endorsement of James A. (Jim) Wynn over challenger Jewel Ann Farlow. Wynn was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to serve on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, a decision blocked by the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. Judges and lawyers describe him enthusiastically as a highly intelligent arbiter who avoids partisanship and ensures access to justice by all. Farlow, a private attorney whose Web site contains the bizarre pronouncement that judges must stop "making excuses" for criminals, did not return a questionnaire for either the primary or general election.
The Indy stands by its primary endorsement of Kristin Ruth, who has served capably as district court judge in Wake County for 10 years and has developed innovative solutions to family law cases.
We also applaud the campaign of Sam J. Ervin IV, who has shown deftness with the law in orders he has written as a member of the quasi-judicial N.C. Utilities Commission. Previously, he worked as a well-respected criminal defender in the western part of the state, skillfully representing controversial defendants and carrying much of the load of death penalty cases.
Doug McCullough is running an extensive campaign to maintain his seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals, to which he was elected in 2000. Recently, McCullough wrote the majority opinion in State v. Washington, an important case that affirmed defendants' rights to a speedy trial. However, McCullough has made several critical missteps outside the courtroom, which compel us to endorse his challenger, district judge Cheri Beasley.
In 2007, McCullough pleaded guilty for driving while impaired during the previous year. The N.C. Judicial Standards Commission issued a reprimand, finding that the incident showed a "failure to personally observe appropriate standards of conduct to ensure that the integrity and independence of the judiciary shall be preserved." More recently, McCullough showed poor judgment at a campaign event by making openly partisan comments.
Beasley, who has served capably as district judge in Cumberland County for 10 years, following her appointment by former Gov. Jim Hunt, would bring sound judgment and diversity to the N.C. Court of Appeals. In her questionnaire, she demonstrated thoughtfulness on controversial issues such as the 287(g) program and a desire to implement alternative sentencing, including dispute resolution and mental-health treatment, in order to alleviate court caseloads and empower victims. "Making sure that justice is truly accessible to all is my commitment," she writes. We applaud Beasley's focus and encourage her election as a powerful change to this conservative-leaning seat.
Linda Stephens was appointed to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2006 by Gov. Mike Easley, lost an election later that year, and was re-appointed by Easley in 2007. According to colleagues, she loathes campaigning, but—more importantly—serves capably as an effective, no-nonsense judge. Last year, Stephens wrote the majority opinion in State v. Hess and the minority opinion in State v. Styles, which strike an important balance in determining the legal parameters for traffic stops—lately, the impetus for a gross misinterpretation of the 287(g) program. Stephens' analysis in both cases is solid, and we feel that, despite losing an election in 2006, she makes a strong candidate for re-election in 2008.
Challenger Dan Barrett, a former candidate for governor and a private attorney with no judicial experience, likened himself to Justice John Roberts on the N.C. Family Policy Council's candidate survey and gave himself an 8 out of 10 rating, with 10 representing an "originalist" approach to the law. Though he filled out his Indy questionnaire thoughtfully—and refused to take NCFPC's bait in disavowing Supreme Court decisions—he presents no compelling reason to unseat Judge Stephens.
John S. Arrowood, who was appointed to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2007 by Gov. Mike Easley after serving briefly as a superior court judge, has served capably in his first year, earning him the respect of colleagues and the endorsement of all three statewide lawyer's associations. Before serving on the bench, Arrowood practiced commercial law for a Charlotte law firm, and he is a former law clerk in the N.C. Court of Appeals. The Indy strongly endorses Arrowood over his opponent, Robert N. (Bob) Hunter Jr., a private attorney with no judicial experience (who is not to be confused with the well-regarded appellate judge, Robert C. Hunter).
A registered Republican, Robert N. Hunter has paid lip service to conservative ideology and opposed important Supreme Court decisions in filling out questionnaires for groups like the N.C. Family Policy Council, an anti-gay advocacy group. On the NCFPC questionnaire, he volunteered that, in addition to his opposition to Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas, in which judges struck down a state sodomy law, he felt the Supreme Court cases did not guarantee a "right to immoral conduct." In exposing his rightist ideological leanings so clearly, Hunter would threaten the integrity of the court, if elected.