She has political experience, from chairing the Wake County Board of Commissioners to serving in the state House of Representatives, but Linda Coleman's biggest strength might just be the man she's running against. To put it simply, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest is dangerous. He's an embarrassment to the state and a foremost defender of HB 2, who once said that "transgenderism is a feeling." As his campaign slogan—"Run, Forest, Run"—suggests, he is not a smart man. Indeed, if a reanimated corpse were running against Dan Forest, we would probably support it. So, yeah, we're not the biggest Linda Coleman fans out there, but we're damn sure going to vote for her.
The attorney general's race is a battle between two state senators with very different records: Josh Stein, a moderate Democrat from Raleigh, and Buck Newton, a far-right conservative from eastern North Carolina.
Newton's fingerprints have been on HB 2 since the day it passed, as he served as its floor leader in the Senate and later encouraged supporters to "keep our state straight" at a pro-HB 2 rally. Newton's extremism has permeated his time in the Senate; he worked on the repeal of the Racial Justice Act and pushed to outlaw "sanctuary cities." He should not be trusted with an office as powerful as attorney general.
This isn't to say we don't have issues with Stein. For one, he was the only Senate Democrat to vote to ban cities from mandating that law enforcement refrain from asking residents about their immigration status. The bill was a xenophobic dog whistle; no progressive should have supported it. Stein also resigned from the Senate two days before the HB 2 special session, saying he wanted to focus on this race. Since HB 2 has proven to be unpopular, Stein has (rightfully) used it as a line of attack against Newton, but the fact that Stein wasn't with his fellow Senate Democrats when they walked out of the HB 2 vote was, in our view, an unacceptable political calculation.
Still, Stein has his strong suits. He has experience protecting consumers, having run the N.C. Department of Justice's Consumer Protection Division prior to seeking a seat in the state Senate. He also has a history of working on behalf of victims of domestic violence and shows a willingness to enforce regulations that preserve clean air and drinking water. Even with his blemishes, we'd take him over Newton any day of the week.
Secretary of State
When Elaine Marshall was first voted in as secretary of state in 1996, she was the first woman in North Carolina history elected to statewide office. She has served capably ever since. She's brought the office into the digital age, making online registration for businesses easier. And at a time when the Republican-led legislature wants to relax requirements related to what information businesses must submit to the state, Marshall has pushed for transparency.
Her opponent, Michael LaPaglia, has the support of tea party groups, has never held public office, and recently compared himself to Donald Trump. LaPaglia seems to have even less specific ideas for what he wants to do with the office he seeks than Trump does for the presidency. The gist seems to be that government should "get out of the way."
Commissioner of Agriculture
On one hand, Steve Troxler hasn't presided over any royal screw-ups during his decade-plus as agriculture commissioner. He's stood up to conservative extremists twice in recent memory. Last year, amid concerns about bird flu, Troxler's department mandated that poultry owners register their birds, despite jeers from libertarian types. And two years ago, he refused to back down against gun nuts who made a stink about not being allowed to conceal-carry at the State Fair, which the ag department oversees.
There have been less sunny moments, too. In 2012, a high-ranking employee in Troxler's agency tipped off a Butterball plant that Hoke County deputies were preparing a raid in search of evidence of animal cruelty. Troxler chose to believe this employee when she said she was trying to "curtail any future animal cruelty"; he called her an "exemplary employee," despite the fact that she was found guilty of obstruction of justice.
Along these lines, Troxler has stayed mum on HB 405, the "ag-gag" law passed last year, which essentially prevents citizens from gathering evidence of wrongdoing on corporate farms. Its constitutionality is being challenged in court; Troxler's campaign did not respond to our questionnaire or emails and calls when we tried to pin him down.
Troxler's opponent, Walter Smith, is making his second run at the gig after losing in 2012. Smith is a farmer, has a degree in agricultural engineering, served as mayor of Boonville, and has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture administering federal farm programs for thirty years. Unlike Troxler, he's upfront about ag-gag: it should be repealed. Because of that, we're supporting Smith.
Commissioner of Insurance
Wayne Goodwin is campaigning for his third term as insurance commissioner, and we see no reason to deny him. A populist former state legislator, he's smart, diligent, and forthright, rightly critical of the legislature's refusal to expand or create its own health care exchange, which he says drives up consumers' rates and puts the market at risk. But in February, he also warned federal officials that Obamacare was driving up costs and might lead to some insurers pulling out—which happened.
This episode illustrates what makes Goodwin a good commissioner: he's pragmatic, willing to acknowledge problems and propose solutions rather than rushing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And he's ever-mindful that his office's primary role is, as he once described it, "one big balancing act": consumer protections, which he considers his top priority, but by law, he also has to make sure that insurance companies make enough of a profit that they continue doing business in the state. From our vantage point, Goodwin has navigated this balance beam well.
His opponent, Republican former lobbyist Mike Causey, is making his fifth bid for public office. In 2012, he lost to Goodwin by 4 percentage points; this year, he's also campaigning on a populist message, accusing Goodwin of "being in the hands of the powerful insurance companies." We don't agree. Goodwin remains the better choice.
Commissioner of Labor
We're not endorsing in this race, between incumbent/Trump supporter Cherie Berry, aka the Elevator Queen—a labor commissioner who, as a News & Observer series demonstrated last year, has little interest in actually helping laborers—and former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker, the brother of one of the INDY's co-owners. You can, however, read both candidates' responses to our questionnaires at INDYweek.com.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
With public education chronically underfunded in North Carolina, it's good to have someone in the Department of Public Instruction who gives a damn. Over the last eleven years as superintendent, June Atkinson has garnered a reputation for helping the state's children and teachers and advocating on their behalf to the legislature. She's gone to bat for teachers and, if reelected, says she'll work to reinstate additional pay for teachers with master's degrees and a version of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program. She's also worked to increase technology in the classroom and approved a digital learning plan that will help equip all classrooms with Wi-Fi.
Atkinson has created initiatives to put in place quality preschool programs for the state's most vulnerable and opposed any voucher expansion programs. She believes that any school accepting public dollars should not discriminate against trans or gay students, and she worries that charter schools in certain parts of the state are furthering segregation.
While Atkinson's opponent, Mark Johnson, has identified several legitimate issues he wants to tackle if elected—the teacher license backlog, overtesting, and school ratings, to name a few—he hasn't laid out any clear policies for addressing these problems.
Given her outstanding record, Atkinson is the clear choice.
When you look at Chuck Stuber's résumé, it's hard to argue that he doesn't have the chops for this position. A former FBI agent who was involved in the investigations of former governor Mike Easley, former House speaker Jim Black, and former U.S. senator John Edwards, Stuber has proven that he knows how to dig in on fraud and corruption. While incumbent Democrat Beth Wood has done fine work as the first woman to hold the post, Stuber's unrivaled experience tilts the scale in his favor. And should Roy Cooper indeed occupy the Executive Mansion in a few months (fingers crossed), having someone from the opposing party to keep him and his fellow Democrats on the Council of State in check won't be a bad thing.
Dan Blue III
Both Dan Blue III and Dale Folwell are qualified candidates who understand the pressures associated with administering the state employee health plan, and we believe that either could do the job well. But in the end, we're endorsing Blue.
A Raleigh attorney with deep experience in finance and investing (he's also the son of Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue Jr.), Blue speaks laudably of retiring treasurer Janet Cowell, though he promises that, unlike Cowell, he won't accept positions on corporate boards while in office. He advocates improving constituent services in all one hundred counties and lowering the fees the state pays to outside pension-fund managers. And he also recognizes the damage that HB 2 has done to the state's economy. Those are all good things.
Folwell, a former forensic accountant and legislator, is clearly versed in the nuts and bolts of the job. He argues that the state needs to address head-on the $40 billion in liabilities its health care and pension plans have incurred. He says the state should reduce its assumed rate of return on its pension plan to a more realistic level. And he, too, promises not to serve on any corporate boards while he's in office. Those are all good things, as well.
But Folwell downplays the risks HB 2 poses to the state's financial health, while Blue rightly argues that, while the state is large enough to take an economic hit, local communities might not be. Perhaps more important, Blue warns against the dangers posed by a proposed constitutional amendment that would cap the state's income tax rate at 5.5 percent, which, as he notes, "locks in the current rates and leaves no breathing room." Folwell is largely dismissive of those concerns.
No matter who wins, the state will have a smart, competent treasurer, just as it had for eight years with Cowell. By a nose, however, we're picking Blue.