2012 General Election Endorsements | Our Endorsements | Indy Week
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2012 General Election Endorsements 

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State Senate

District 15 (Northeast Wake County)

click to enlarge Sig Hutchinson
  • Sig Hutchinson

We did not endorse Republican Neal Hunt in his 2010 re-election bid. It's because he gave us ample reasons not to.

First elected to Senate in 2004, the one-time Raleigh city councilman has previously supported measures that define marriage as the union of only a man and woman and that require voter registration forms to be printed only in English.

In subsequent years, Hunt has not budged from his far-right stance. In the 2011, he voted in approval of legislation that requires women seeking abortions to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before receiving what remains a legal medical procedure. Then there's his 2012 "yea" vote to limit the scope of the historic Racial Justice Act.

In short, Republicans have trucked several nakedly regressive bills to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk since becoming the majority in the General Assembly. And Hunt has been a willing facilitator.

That's why we endorse his opponent, Democrat Sigmund "Sig" Hutchinson. A professional sales consultant, the 59-year-old Hutchinson hasn't held a public office. However, he does have progressive bona fides. Both the League of Conservation Voters and the North Carolina National Organization for Women Political Action Committee have endorsed him. He's come out strongly for a woman's right to choose and against Amendment 1.

Hutchinson also has a deep background in environmental advocacy, as evidenced by his opposition to recently passed legislation that authorizes fracking. He's also a member of the Wake County Open Spaces and Parks Advisory Committee.

The election of Hutchinson would chip away from the 31-19 Republican majority in the state Senate. With the gubernatorial veto power up for grabs this election, progressives in the Legislature are going to need all the help they can get.

District 17 (Southwest Wake County)

click to enlarge Erv Portman
  • Erv Portman

The race to replace retiring Republican state Sen. Richard Stevens is a fairly easy one to call. In one corner, you have professed pro-business, anti-regulation Republican Tamara Barringer. She's a Raleigh attorney and an adjunct assistant professor of legal studies at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, and this race marks her first run for public office. Nonetheless, she has been anointed by the state GOP, who have been spending money to stave off Democratic challenges in races across the state, including this one. Barringer did not turn in an Indy questionnaire. But she's come out as an opponent of collective bargaining and has associated herself with the faction of Republicans that have refused to restore public education funding levels until, as they've put it, public schools can be fixed.

That's not the same thing as having an actual plan to increase achievement in public schools. We can't back that. That's why we're endorsing Erv Portman. The 57-year-old Cary businessman is attempting to make the jump to the General Assembly from the Wake County Board of Commissioners, where he's served since being appointed to the board in 2011 following the retirement of Stan Norwalk.

Voters might think that an ambitious move. But Portman brings with him nearly a decade of public service experience, having spent more than a year navigating one of the more partisan iterations of the Wake County board in recent memory. He also served nearly five years on the Cary Town Council.

It helps that we like his record. He joined the other members of the board's Democratic minority in February to oppose a nonbinding resolution endorsing Amendment 1. He also touts his support of restoring funding for the state's public schools, though he's opposed to instituting additional sales taxes to fill the budget gap.

Portman has instead come out in favor of closing existing tax loopholes, like the one passed by the Republican-led General Assembly earlier this year that gives local corporations of any size a tax break on their first $50,000 of income.

As a counterbalance in the state Senate, Portman is the clear choice. He would add a centrist philosophy to a body that needs an infusion of it.

District 18 (parts of Wake and Franklin counties)

We endorse Doug Berger, a four-term Democrat and longtime resident of Franklin County, for his stances on many progressive issues. He opposed Amendment 1, the fracking bill and the Women's Right to Know Act, which would require women, including victims of rape and incest, who are seeking abortions to undergo intrusive transvaginal ultrasounds.

Berger supported the original version of the Racial Justice Act, a measure that addressed the racial disparities in death penalty sentences. Republicans gutted the bill in the last legislative session.

Chad Barefoot, the Republican challenger, has lived in the district, which the GOP re-carved to favor the party, only since last year. Cut from the same cloth as ultra-conservative House Majority Leader Paul Stam, Barefoot, 29, has virtually no public service experience, other than an appointment to the Wake County Citizens Energy Advisory Commission; he has attended about half of the commission's meetings this year, according to public documents.

Barefoot is part of a larger strategy, one begun in 2010 when the GOP, funded in part by ultra-conservative millionaires such as Art Pope, seized control of the House and Senate: Change the map, buy a few seats and continue, unabated, the conservative agenda of cutting public education, rolling back women's reproductive rights and extending tax cuts to the wealthy.

Barefoot hasn't earned the seat. And North Carolina does not need another Stam clone with its attendant far-right politics in the General Assembly.

District 22 (parts of Durham, Person and Caswell counties)

click to enlarge Mike Woodard
  • Mike Woodard

Current Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard is an easy choice in the race for District 22. An active city leader and stout progressive, Woodard backs the Racial Justice Act, supports a woman's right to choose, opposes fracking and the discriminatory Amendment 1. He supports the governor's proposed three-fourths of 1-cent sales tax to balance the state budget and head off further education cuts. Furthermore, he will not support more stringent voter identification laws, a transparent conservative bid to lower turnout among Democratic voters.

His opponent, Chapel Hill attorney Milton Holmes, is running a bizarrely weak campaign. His web presence is nonexistent. He was even gruff with a survey from the conservative Civitas group, offering up terse one-word answers and apparently leaving many questions blank. Here's what we know about Holmes: He says the tax rate is too high. He opposes nonpartisan redistricting. He opposes the sales tax for education. And how does North Carolina fix its budget nightmares? Reduce spending.

We'll take Woodard.

District 23 (parts of Orange and Chatham counties)

click to enlarge Ellie Kinnaird
  • Ellie Kinnaird

Longtime state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird has been a progressive champion in Raleigh for eight terms. A former Carrboro mayor and retired attorney, Kinnaird wants to restore public school funding cut by majority Republicans. She opposed deep cuts to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a valuable environmental agency devalued by frack-happy conservatives. She touts the jobs that could be created if North Carolina invests in renewable energy. And she was a Democratic advocate for nonpartisan redistricting back in 2003, long before short-sighted Democrats found themselves swallowing a bitterly partisan redistricting overseen by majority Republicans. Democrats didn't fix this problem when they had the chance, now we're all paying for it. But don't blame Kinnaird, who is running in a new District 23 that includes Chatham and Orange counties.

Republican challenger Dave Carter is a moderate conservative who, based on his responses to an Indy questionnaire, opposes the death penalty and calls for a cautious approach to fracking.

He heavily emphasizes his own job struggles—he's been laid off twice—as reason for his election. But while we're sure he can empathize, Carter is, alas, short on ideas and long on grand statements. When discussing the state's economic maladies on his campaign website, Carter puzzlingly cites his proficiency in Microsoft Excel, Word and Project. Huh?

State House

District 35 (Eastern Wake County)

In the Republican primary, we endorsed Chris Malone because he was more tolerable than his opponent, Duane Cutlip. But this is the race for the seat being essentially vacated by Jennifer Weiss. A solid progressive, Weiss opted for retirement after being drawn out of her own district during the last round of gerrymandering. And for his part, Malone has taken a number of anti-progressive stances.

In public statements, Malone has hinted at support for civil unions. But on issue of state- sanctioned gay marriage, he's staunchly opposed. We can't rightly back a candidate who takes that position.

So we endorse Lori Millberg of Wendell. She too has sat on the Wake County school board, serving from 2005 to 2009. Currently a business administrator in her husband's Raleigh law firm, she's won the endorsement of a cadre of Wake County municipal leaders. That includes the mayors of Knightdale and Zebulon. The progressive women's group Lillian's List has also endorsed Millberg.

District 36 (South-Central Wake County)

click to enlarge Lisa Baker
  • Lisa Baker

We endorse Democratic challenger Lisa Baker. According to her Indy questionnaire, Baker is pro-health care and anti-fracking. That helps. But our backing is mostly due to her running as the philosophical counterpoint to the incumbent, Republican Nelson Dollar.

That's not a knock on Baker. A 51-year-old community volunteer and political novice, Baker volunteered to run for the office when no other Dem would. And that's commendable. But as a first-time candidate with zero legislative or political experience, she's not the most ideal person to take on a four-term incumbent.

While acknowledging the difficulty, we're still not ready to concede that recruiting a reasonably qualified person to attempt dethroning one of Wake County's arch-conservative legislators is some quixotic enterprise. The progressive and moderate voters of District 36 deserve a serious contender. And from the state Democratic Party on down, the groups whose task it is to identify that person aren't delivering.

District 37 (Southern Wake County)

Our opinions of elected officials aren't etched in stone. That said, Paul Stam has done nothing in the last two years to persuade us that he's different from the anti-public school, anti-environment and anti-gay Republican we've never endorsed. And as long as he sticks to these stances, we never will.

Over the last two years, we've watched as Stam, as House Majority Leader, has ushered through numerous loathable bills. Fracking? Check. Amendment 1? Not only did Stam vote to place it on the ballot, he wrote the actual amendment.

It's no surprise then that we endorse his challenger, Jason Wunsch.

With such an entrenched opponent, it makes sense that Wunsch is positioning himself as the anti-Stam. Thus far, his campaign has been short of specifics and long on condemnation of Stam's own positions. But Wunsch, an attorney from Lillington, gets that offering tax credits for private education while slashing funding for public schools is not the way to improve education for the vast majority. He's also the only candidate in this race who recognizes that failure to fix public education may ultimately inhibit economic growth. It's also worth mentioning that Wunsch strongly opposed Amendment 1.

Wunsch has run for office before. He made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Fuquay-Varina Board of Commissioners in 2011. But even as a relative newcomer to politics, he's picked up some key endorsements from retiring state representative Jennifer Weiss, Wake County Commissioner Erv Portman and Wake County Democratic Chairman Dan Blue.

District 38 (East-Central Wake County)

click to enlarge Yvonne Lewis Holley
  • Yvonne Lewis Holley

When House District 38 got a bad facelift in the last round of redistricting, Democrat Deborah Ross was forced out, leaving her seat open for the taking. Enter Yvonne Lewis Holley, whom we are endorsing.

Recently retired from a career as a procurement specialist for state government, she handily defeated two other candidates in the Democratic primary contest, taking 60 percent of the total vote. And without a Republican challenger, she looked to have a cakewalk into the statehouse. But now she faces Shane Murphy, a career educator and social studies teacher at Carnage Middle School in Raleigh.

Murphy, who is running as an independent, did not submit an Indy questionnaire. But his campaign keys on the restoration of funding for public schools.

Forcing Republican leaders to engage with legislators who are also educators, people who have been on the bad end of slashed budgets, is tempting. But unlike Murphy, Holley has a history of public service. It's also worth remembering that the state House is a generally monochromatic electoral body, and Holley is a woman of color vying to represent a majority black district that includes southeast Raleigh.

Both are intriguing candidates. But if the question is who would be the more capable legislator, Holley, with her experience, is the clear choice.

District 40 (Northern Wake County)

We endorse Democrat William Watson Jones. Of the three candidates running for the seat, only one is making the case for progressive ideas. That's Jones. He supports marriage equality and opposes Republican-led efforts to block the implementation of Obamacare.

Like many of the Democratic challengers running this election year, Jones, a 57-year-old former police chief of Bunn, is a political novice. Despite the lack of legislative experience, he's secured key endorsements from Equality North Carolina and the Triangle Labor Council.

If his opponent, Republican Marilyn Avila, is breaking a sweat in her re-election bid, it's hard to tell. Her campaign website is under construction. And she raised only $18,000 during the second quarter fundraising period, according to campaign disclosure reports. That's walking around money compared with the sums her Republican brethren have been soliciting. And that's surprising because Avila is as regressive a conservative as can be found in the General Assembly these days. If Paul Stam had two X chromosomes, he'd be Marilyn Avila.

Given Avila's record, we're almost tempted to endorse Ronald Richard Reale as a spoiler. Reale is a professed conservative Libertarian. Like Avila, Reale did not submit an Indy questionnaire. But a gander at his various websites indicates that Reale is treating his campaign as a platform from which to make various bizarre accusations about Wake County Child Protective Services.

Reale's personal disputes with CPS, though tragic, do not a viable campaign issue make. As someone who affiliates with the tea party, not receiving an endorsement from the Indy may be the greatest compliment we could pay him.

District 41 (Southwestern Wake County)

click to enlarge Jim Messina
  • Jim Messina

Incumbent Tom Murry isn't the most fire-breathing Republican you'll ever meet. However, he's had one term to prove himself an independent-minded one. And it's there that he's fallen short.

Murry has instead latched on with the faction of legislators who believe the state should put off calculating sea level change on the coasts and that medical clinics that provide abortions should have their funding curtailed.

We endorse his opponent, Jim Messina. A 49-year-old businessman and nonprofit consultant, Messina's background is noticeably lacking legislative experience. Still, in months of campaigning, he's made the case for a more measured approach to governance.

While Murry voted to approve fracking, Messina has come out in favor of deauthorizing it until full evaluations of its environmental and economic impact can be completed. He's also opposed to further limitations of the Racial Justice Act.

Bottom line: The last thing the Legislature needs is another representative who's guided by conservative groupthink. To better make the case for their ideals, progressives in the House need Messina.

District 49 (North-Central Wake County)

click to enlarge Keith Karlsson
  • Keith Karlsson

This is the district vacated by freshman Republican Glen Bradley when he gambled that Wake County residents would support a candidate for state Senate who advocates for returning to the gold standard.

Not unexpectedly, Bradley finished a distant third in the spring Republican primary behind Chad Barefoot and Michael Schriver. Now his old seat in the house is up for grabs.

This is a contest between a retiring neurosurgeon with ties to the rabidly conservative John Locke Foundation and a onetime tech guru with a background rooted in progressive politics. We endorse the latter.

Our endorsement goes to Keith Karlsson, who spent the bulk of his professional career working at Research Triangle Park. Now retired, he's worked for nearly 30 years in computer networking for companies such as IBM and Cisco Systems. His résumé, like so many of this year's Democratic challengers, is absent of legislative experience. But he's long been active in county politics, with stints as chair of the Wake County Democratic Party and North Wake Citizens Advisory Council.

His strong stance on women's health and marriage equality have earned Karlsson endorsements from Equality North Carolina, NARAL NC-PAC and Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund.

We couldn't make a serious case for Jim Fulghum, a prototypical small government, anti-tax Republican. We could see him evolving into a gruffly pragmatic legislator whose ideology is tempered by a career spent working under the maxim "do no harm." But his membership on the John Locke Foundation Board of Directors is troublesome. The JLF is a Raleigh-based conservative think tank funded by Art Pope's myriad foundations. And there may not be government regulation on the state's books that its members would not roll back.

Our view is the Legislature and the district don't need another right-wing ideologue. What it needs instead is someone who is progressive and familiar with the local issues facing Wake County. Karlsson is it.

District 50 (parts of Orange and Durham counties)

click to enlarge Valerie Foushee
  • Valerie Foushee

We endorse Chapel Hill Democrat Valerie Foushee for this seat. An influential former member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board and now the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Foushee is a reliable progressive voice that would be a welcome addition in the conservative General Assembly. She earned our respect in September when she spurred Orange commissioners to promise funds for a community center in the Rogers Road neighborhood. As expected, Foushee promises to support public education funding at the state level.

Foushee's opponent, Hillsborough pastor Rod Chaney, mixes his theology with his sociology. On his campaign site, he reminds us that "not a single founding father was secular in his worldview." How do we know? Nonetheless, it doesn't answer the question of how we address North Carolina's myriad economic and social ailments. He's pro-fracking, opposes school funding increases and overly simplifies our economic straits as being a question of tax burden. We've heard this before. Let's not hear it again.

District 54 (Chatham County and part of Lee County)

This district, once the bastion of longtime House leader Joe Hackney, gets a facelift in 2012. The newly drawn district includes all of Chatham County and part of Lee County. We can't think of a more solid candidate to win this race than Deb McManus, a Siler City Democrat with education bona fides. McManus has served three terms on the Chatham County Board of Education. It's no surprise, then, that her campaign focuses on education, particularly restoring budget funding slashed by majority conservatives in the N.C. General Assembly. McManus understands that strong schools and a trained labor force are essential to shoring up the economy. Consider as well that McManus is a strong pro-choice advocate.

Her opponent, former Chatham GOP Chairwoman Cathy Wright, offers a stark contrast to McManus. She aims for long-range education reform that weighs whether schools are "productive" with their funding, a subjective question that begs for partisan bickering. No doubt, Wright is a strong candidate, often providing decent, reasonable debate when many resort to name-calling. That is commendable. But her stances—pro-fracking, anti-abortion rights, anti-Obamacare—are too far right to get our endorsement.

District 56 (Orange County)

Republicans simply aren't giving us a clear reason why eight-term Democrat Verla Insko should not hold on to her seat. Insko, a former school board member in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, is strong on education funding and classroom diversity. Insko promotes job development through clean energy, defends women's rights and voted against Republicans' override of Gov. Bev Perdue's fracking veto. Insko also wants to expand community college programs for professional and technical training, a boon in counties where quality jobs skip an untrained workforce.

Republican Karrie Mead has no political experience, which shows when she devotes a good chunk of her campaign blog to taking on President Obama. Mead needs to focus on problems she can solve in the N.C. General Assembly. She takes a populist route in her campaigning but doesn't deliver many specifics. Insko is the stronger choice here.

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