Wake County Board of Commissioners, District 4
Kenn Gardner and Erv Portman have both served on the county commission. Only Portman deserves a return trip.
Portman's short stint on the commission—a year lasting from 2011–12, when he left to run for state Senate—came at a time when it was controlled by Republicans. Portman fought for public transportation improvements, and since leaving the commission, he's spoken out for better funding for schools.
Gardner, an architect by trade, served eight years on the board and stresses bipartisanship, something he believes is lacking on the unanimously Democratic board. But Gardner opposes the transit referendum and also supported the legislature's gerrymander of county commission districts, which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
We don't love the idea of unanimous Democratic control, either. But on the merits, Portman is the best choice.
Wake County Board of Commissioners, District 6
This county commission seat has been held by retiring Democrat Betty Lou Ward since 1988. The Republican candidate to replace her, John Odom, served on the Raleigh City Council for sixteen years until his defeat in 2015. On the council, he was known as a fiscal conservative who eschewed the more radical elements of his party and forged consensus.
This year, he's running on a promise to increase teacher pay, a worthy goal. But his opponent, Greg Ford, has been both a teacher and principal in Wake County. His campaign has focused on ensuring quality public schools, protecting the environment, and working toward viable public transit in Raleigh. Odom's life in public service is laudable, but the commission needs some fresh eyes. We're backing Ford.
Wake County Board of Education, District 1
Wake County school board chairman Tom Benton, a retired principal, has been in the news recently for battling Sheriff Donnie Harrison over bathroom policies for transgender students. But throughout Benton's term as chairman, he's also fought for better school funding and presided over the move to drop the title of valedictorian in Wake County high schools.
Benton has three opponents: Mary Beth Ainsworth, Sheila Ellis, and Donald Agee. Ainsworth makes a strong argument for more emphasis on special education, but Benton has done a good job as chairman, so he gets our vote.
Wake County Board of Education, District 2
While we're disappointed that she wasn't outspoken against Sheriff Harrison's threat to remove school resource officers from county schools over transgender "concerns," we believe that the school board benefits from counting vice chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler among its members, especially when compared with Republican challenger Peter Hochstaetter.
She holds a degree from N.C. Central, has been heavily involved in community organizations—from Girl Scouts to the Emerging Young Leaders Program—and is a champion for WCPSS's minority students. She has also worked with groups that advocate for women and children, including the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Hochstaetter, meanwhile, is a corporate trainer who sends his son to private school. Johnson-Hostler gets out support.
Wake County Board of Education, District 4
The son of civil rights activists and an executive director of the state NAACP, Keith Sutton has been fighting against injustices for decades. He served as outreach director for former governor Bev Perdue's campaign and, more important to us, worked as legislative affairs manager for the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. From 2000–07, he was also president of the Triangle Urban League. To put it simply, some people boast about a life serving others, but Sutton has actually walked the walk.
His challenger, Heather Elliott, might, for all we know, be a wonderful person, but her platform is largely unknown, and she has run an under-the-radar campaign. Sutton is the candidate worth going to the polls for.
Wake County Board of Education, District 8
The three candidates in District 8 bring vastly different experiences: a substitute teacher, a small-business owner, and a PTA volunteer. We're going with the teacher, Lindsay Mahaffey.
Gil Pagan, the business owner, has been an outspoken critic of Common Core, the oft-ridiculed state standards initiative. He has some good ideas, such as starting school times later. Gary Lewis, a former IBM computer network architect, is the treasurer of the Wake County PTA council. He serves on the community engagement committee of the school system's 2020 Strategic Plan, a major policy initiative of the school board, and has the endorsement of the Wake chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, the Triangle Labor Council, and the North Carolina AFL-CIO.
Mahaffey, who also has a master's in education, cites Wake County schools as the reason she and her family moved here and said at a candidate forum in September that she wants more investment in pre-kindergarten. Both Lewis and Mahaffey are strong candidates, but Mahaffey brings perspective as both a parent and teacher in the system.
Wake County Board of Education, District 9
In total, Bill Fletcher has spent a decade and a half on the school board. We think it's a good idea to give him another few years. Fletcher, a real estate agent who unsuccessfully ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2004, has made student achievement a focus in his recent years on the board. But Fletcher scores points with us for being outspokenly opposed to school vouchers and for being against the elimination of the diversity policy back in 2010.
Fletcher's opponent is Michael Tanbusch. Tanbusch's platform includes support for music and the arts, which we like, and stressing the importance of afterschool programs. But Fletcher is a proven commodity—and a Republican voice on an ostensibly nonpartisan board with seven Democrats and an independent.
Wake County Soil and Water District Supervisor
The county's Soil and Water District supervisors help protect natural resources in Wake County via technical education and funding assistance. When it comes to whom to pick for the job of supervisor, however, the only thing all that different about the two candidates, incumbent Marshall Harvey and challenger Matthew Hebb, is that Harvey has been doing the job since the last election with no major complaints.
Hebb, the chairman of the N.C. Federation of Young Republicans, says that it is "essential to understand that Wake County has a balance between agricultural, urban, and natural preservation concerns," and he adds that he would be cautious and fair about how to disperse funds allocated through the office. As for Harvey, well, it's hard to know what he says because his website is no longer active and his Facebook page doesn't tell us a whole lot. So this one's a toss-up.
What the hell. Tie goes to the incumbent.
Wake County Public Transportation Referendum
Wake County is growing by sixty-three people a day, but its public transportation system is firmly stuck in the twentieth century. We're overdue for an upgrade.
The public transportation referendum isn't perfect, but it is a start, with promises to increase the frequent bus network in Raleigh and Cary from seventeen to eighty-three miles, an expansion of weekend bus service, and to bring both a thirty-seven-mile commuter rail and bus rapid transit to the county within the next ten years.
As long as it's implemented in the correct way, the Wake County Transit Plan—which will get 48 percent of its funding this half-cent sales tax hike, should voters approve it—will improve the lives of current Wake County riders and encourage other people to use public transportation as well.
In a perfect world, public transportation investments would be funded by higher taxes on the wealthy rather than a regressive sales tax. But, thanks to state law, that's not an option. And time is of the essence: last year, Republican legislators threatened to take away the county's ability to raise taxes for public transportation. If this referendum fails, we might not get another chance.