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ELECTION 2008: YES! Weekly endorses…

by YES! Weekly staff

US Senate

YES! Weekly endorses Kay Hagan

The editorial staff of YES! Weekly enthusiastically endorses Kay Hagan for US Senate. Hagan’s election could help the Democrats achieve a super majority in the Senate. In the current fiscal crisis, Democratic control of Congress is critical. Historically, Democrats have a much better track record with respect to regulation of Wall Street and the financial markets. YES! Weekly also applauds Hagan for her support of card-check legislation — laws that would make it easier for workers to unionize. Hagan, a lawyer and a former banker, has shown she’s not beholden to special interests and has expressed support for leveling the playing field for workers. Her progressive stance is evidenced by endorsements from labor groups such as Teamsters Local 391. Hagan also has a detailed energy plan that will encourage individual businesses to become energy efficient, increase fuel efficiency standards, and invest in public transportation. Hagan addresses global warming with a very detailed plan to curb our nation’s greenhouse emissions and create 300,000 “green jobs” in North Carolina by utilizing the state’s vast natural resources and outstanding research universities. Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole’s website makes no mention of alternative energy. In fact, Dole’s website doesn’t even detail a campaign platform. Here are the facts: Elizabeth Dole has been an absentee senator during her six years in the US Senate. She has marched in lock step with the Bush administration. And the policies of George W. Bush, and a Republican rubber-stamp Congress has driven up a $10 trillion national debt and helped set the stage for the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. At this point in our nation’s history, politicians are either part of the problem or part of the solution. And Elizabeth Dole is a big part of the problem in Washington. It’s time for a change.

US House District 5

YES! Weekly endorses Roy Carter

US House District 6

YES! Weekly endorses Howard Coble

US House District 12

YES! Weekly endorses Mel Watt

US House District 13

YES! Weekly endorses Brad Miller

With four Congressional seats up for grabs this cycle, North Carolina has a chance to bolster a Democratic majority in the House. Admittedly, this is one of the goals we had in mind when we made our endorsements. But incumbency, voting records, campaign contributions and political positions also weighed heavily on our figuring. Also, North Carolina is an incredibly diverse state, and we want to ensure that all of its denizens have a voice in the US Senate.

In District 5, we see Roy Carter challenging incumbent Virginia Fox. Carter has run something of a misleading campaign, muddying the factuality of some of his opponent’s positions, but in the end he gets the nod. Fox is a Bush Republican who has sided with the president more than 90 percent of the time, and we see no role for her in the new paradigm.

In District 6 we endorse incumbent Rep. Howard Coble, a tough call. Challenger Teresa Sue Bratton is smart, driven, progressive and well informed. But Coble wins points for his decades of service to his district. He has brought home his share of pork — which we don’t necessarily see as a bad thing — and knows well the corridors of power. His constituent services are legendary, something Bratton as a rookie would have difficulty replicating. And he scored big points with us when he cautiously voted against the first version of the bailout, but then voted for the improved version. We think it’s okay to flip-flop when new information is presented. Plus, though we acknowledge his time is coming to an end, we kind of like the old rascal and feel that the job is his to keep — for this next term, anyway. Hopefully his leadership will prove valuable to the entire North Carolina delegation.

Rep. Mel Watt comes up for reelection again this year, and we see no reason not to continue his employment. Watt voted against authorization of the war in Iraq. He’s stood tall against predatory lending, even when it wasn’t fashionable to do so. He backed the S-CHIP program, which helped provide health insurance to children, and though he’s vague on the healthcare issue, he does believe every American should be covered. He’s taken plenty of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but we don’t necessarily see that as an albatross — the programs themselves were solid, but they were laid low by people gaming the system. And even if his opponent, Ty Cobb Jr., were qualified for the post, which we don’t believe he is, this is one of the most gerrymandered districts in the state, created to encompass African-American voters. In a state where “one of us” politics sometimes plays quite well, Watt should safely retain his seat.

Similarly, Rep. Brad Miller is one of the guys we need in the House. Miller’s record as a legislator is impeccable: He’s always stood against predatory lenders, and came out against torture while some were tossing it about as a political football. On the foreign-affairs front, he’s fully engaged in the situation in Darfur and has visited the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently he introduced legislation that would compel people to testify before Congress when subpoenaed, crafted in the wake of the US Attorney scandal. We see Miller as one of the party’s rising stars. And as reporters, we appreciate his answer to the call for transparency. Miller is as accessible a politician as there is in the state. We anticipate many more returned phone calls to come.

Our picks total three incumbents and one challenger, three Democrats and one Republican, three white folks and a lone African American — a fair representation of a state which is so demographically diverse, though we should point out that Asians and Latinos — significant portions of the population — do not figure into the election this year.

Governor

YES! Weekly endorses Michael Munger

The two major political parties offer a choice for governor between a lame Democrat and an uninspiring Republican. Bev Perdue, the sitting lieutenant governor and an exemplar of the tight cabal of Democratic rule in Raleigh, trumpets education while denying it to undocumented residents and shows favor to big-business backers, while Republican Pat McCrory is a tough-talking proponent of cutting corporate taxes, drilling off the Outer Banks and building a new jail for illegal immigrants.

McCrory looks good in that match-up because, as mayor of Charlotte, he oversaw the opening of a light-rail transit system and collaborated with members of both parties to run the state’s largest city. Yet, as a fiscal conservative, he gives no pledge to make a public investment in mass transit, so it would be na’ve to expect a McCrory administration extend Charlotte’s enlightened transportation planning up the Interstate 85 corridor.

Libertarian Michael Munger is more than a protest candidate. He’s the best choice for governor of North Carolina. In keeping with his political philosophy, Munger says he would prioritize spending on maintaining and repairing existing roads rather than building new ones. New roads, one of the Democrats’ prescriptions for economic development, amounts to a subsidy of sprawl, he contends; clamping down on spending on roadway would create a market demand for light-rail transit, and opportunities for private-sector entrepreneurs. Munger also speaks persuasively about allowing the cost of education at state universities to float with the market. By cutting subsidies to tuition at top-tier institutions such as UNC-Chapel Hill, Munger says, money could be reallocated more efficiently and equitably in the form of scholarships to schools like High Point University.

We like him on the policy issues: He supports ending involuntary annexation, doing in the death penalty, allowing legal civil unions between same-sex couples, decriminalizing most drug possession, including marijuana, and victimless offenses, such as prostitution. Hurray.

Beyond his platform, we view Munger — a political science professor at Duke University and former staff economist at the Federal Trade Commission — as a leader capable of breaking the partisan impasse in our state, a politician not beholden to corporate campaign financiers, and person of integrity who will bring transparency and good government to Raleigh.

Lieutenant governor

YES! Weekly endorses Walter Dalton

For the second rung of the state’s executive branch, we lament that the Democratic electorate did not take the opportunity to advance Dan Besse or Hampton Dellinger, progressives with solid credentials to the general election. We endorse Democrat Walter Dalton for lieutenant governor, if for no other reason than that he sponsored the 2003 Innovative Education Act that created the Learn and Earn program allowing high school students to earn college credit by taking courses at area campuses. He’s a champion of education in the classic North Carolina business progressive mold. Otherwise, Dalton offers much of the same, including an uncourageous stand in the community college classroom doorway against undocumented resident seeking to educate themselves and become productive members of society as an alternative to joining gangs and selling drugs.

If you need a good reason to cast your ballot for the Democrat, consider that a vote for Dalton is a vote against Republican Robert Pittenger, who supports changing the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, lifting the cap on charter schools and halting embryonic stem cell research.

Attorney general

YES! Weekly endorses Roy Cooper

It’s rare when a state attorney general receives endorsements from both educators and environmentalists, but North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s campaign has received high marks from both the NC Association of Educators and the Sierra Club. Cooper helped launch the Critical Incident Response Kit, which was recognized by the US Department of Education as one of only three promising examples of school emergency responses in the nation. The NC Sierra Club Political Committee and the Conservation Council both praised Cooper’s record on enforcement of the state’s environmental regulations, citing his “uncommon dedication to protecting North Carolinians’ health by cleaning up pollution from coal-fired power plants.” Cooper’s record of achievement during his eight years in office speaks for itself. A former state legislator, Cooper has focused his efforts on enforcing the state’s laws as they apply to predatory lending practices, and has worked closely with local law enforcement to establish an SBI crime lab for the Triad in Greensboro, which opened in July. Cooper’s campaign website boasts that his Rush Case program has collected more than 150,000 DNA samples from convicted felons, and as a result, local law enforcement captured more criminals in 2007 using DNA evidence than in the first 10 years of the program. Perhaps best known for his investigation of the Duke lacrosse case, and scathing assessment of former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong’s bungling of the case, Cooper has worked quietly behind the scenes as a tireless advocate for North Carolina’s citizens. YES! Weekly proudly endorses Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper for North Carolina Attorney General.

Auditor

YES! Weekly endorses Les Merritt

YES! Weekly gives the nod in the state auditor’s race to Republican incumbent Les Merritt due in large part to his advocacy of increased government oversight of the state’s mental health system. “I’m sort of a private enterprise guy but there are certain things you’ve got to have government do,” Merritt told YES! Weekly. “You’ve got to provide some basic services to the most vulnerable citizens. You don’t get much more vulnerable than mental health patients.” Beth Wood, Merritt’s Democratic challenger, could make history by becoming the first North Carolina woman ever elected to the state auditor post. Wood served in the Auditor’s office for 10 years and has earned endorsements from organized labor and the teachers’ union. However, Merritt’s track record with respect to looking out for North Carolina’s citizens is impressive. Last year, Merritt issued a report that concluded the state could save nearly $16 million and use the money to provide about 10,000 more children with government-sponsored health insurance by switching responsibility for handling medical bills from one state office to another. Wood claims she will look for creative ways to ensure the state’s monies are spent wisely, but with respect to the state auditor position, experience counts. And Merritt, a two-time incumbent, has revealed his willingness to ensure the social safety net that protects the most vulnerable North Carolinians remains intact.

Insurance commissioner

YES! Weekly endorses Wayne Goodwin

Wayne Goodwin, Democratic candidate for NC insurance commissioner, is a prot’g’ of longtime Insurance Commissioner Jim Long. Goodwin has received a raft of endorsements but none more important than that of his former boss. “What I will do is continue doing what Insurance Commissioner Jim Long is doing, that’s to be our consumer watchdog,” Goodwin said at a candidate forum in High Point. “As insurance commissioner, I would contend that we should continue to have a strong regulatory role to ensure that companies that do business in this state are solvent.” In the current economic crisis, increased government oversight of insurance and securities firms doing business in the state will be essential to protecting the rights of consumers. Goodwin’s opponent, Republican John Odom, lacks experience and advocates a free-market approach to insurance. Odom, who owns three muffler franchises, promises to stand up for small businesses. But in state government, bureaucrats with connections are generally more effective. During Long’s tenure, state residents received annual insurance premium refunds, normally the week before the general election. Granted, Long’s actions were an overt attempt to ensure reelection, but he knew how to keep insurance rates low for North Carolinians. There’s no reason to think Goodwin would not follow in his mentor’s footsteps. Therefore, YES! Weekly endorses Wayne Goodwin for insurance commissioner.

Labor commissioner

YES! Weekly endorses Mary Fant Donnan

In the labor commissioner race, YES! Weekly endorses Democrat Mary Fant Donnan over Republican incumbent Cherie Berry due in large part to Donnan’s advocacy of workers’ rights and her outstanding record of public service. Donnan, who received her undergraduate degree from Davidson and her master’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Adelaide in Australia, is a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem. She previously served as a policy analyst and director of research and policy at the state Department of Labor, and her experience in the department should prove invaluable. While working for the department, Donnan spearheaded an initiative to help move low-income families to self-sufficiency through home ownership, small business development and education, according to the candidate’s website. Donnan also worked in the public schools as a music teacher. Her myriad experiences in the public and nonprofit sector should inform her service as commissioner of labor. Donnan has received the endorsement of organized labor and the teachers’ union, underscoring her commitment to workers’ rights. Donnan’s opponent, Republican incumbent Cherie Berry, has been endorsed by the NC Home Builders Association, which does more harm than good.

NC Supreme Court justice

YES! Weekly endorses Suzanne Reynolds

Admittedly, we don’t closely follow the business of the state’s highest court. Voters in Forsyth and Guilford counties have a choice between two highly qualified and honorable candidates for Supreme Court; they should bring any insight from personal dealings with the candidates with them to the polls, read some of incumbent Bob Edmunds’ opinions and consider challenger Suzanne Reynolds’ impressive academic career.

We give the edge to Reynolds, based upon a combination of factors and instincts: She’s a woman in a political season of change; she’s a teacher, and we like the notion that she would not only exercise good judgment but make decisions comprehensible to ordinary citizens; not the least, she’s the state’s go-to person on family law, and we buy her assertion that the high court could use more of that expertise.

A law professor at Wake Forest University, Reynolds has taught thousands of future lawyers. “There’s nobody on the court right now with expertise in family law,” she told the BlueNC Blogger Bash in the spring. “I, on the other hand, wrote the book on family law. I literally wrote the book on family law.”

It’s called Lee’s North Carolina Family Law.

Notwithstanding our endorsement of Reynolds, we would be remiss if we did not say that we see nothing lacking in Edmunds, an eight-year incumbent who rose from the Court of Appeals and a former federal prosecutor. He promises that “a review of my work on both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals reveals a record of fairness, impartiality, hard work and devotion to the rule of law,” and we take him at his word. We’ve seen him volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity worksite in Greensboro, marking him as not just a man of judicious temperament, but one of heart and compassion as well.

NC Senate District 27

YES! Weekly endorses Don Vaughan

With Kay Hagan off on her Senate campaign against incumbent Liddy Dole, the vacuum left by her absence in District 27 proves difficult to fill. On the one hand we have Don Vaughan, a seasoned politico though generally viewed as a go-along guy. And on the other we have Joe Wilson, businessman, whose sole political experience is a failed run for Greensboro City Council last year.

Opposites, indeed, and to make matters more complicated, most of us know these men personally, and we like them both.

But we have some issues with the candidacy of Joe Wilson. His campaign has been less than virtuous, particularly his gross distortions of his opponent’s record, part of a political strategy by which we cannot abide. He could not muster crucial support — this is a man who works in the real estate and development sector, yet failed to get political contributions from TREBIC members or from the NC Association of Realtors, something Vaughan was able to do. And Wilson’s combative nature is well documented. But the thing about Joe Wilson is that the qualities he trumpets as virtues — lack of political experience and consistently uncompromising positions among them — we see as flaws.

Vaughan, on the other hand, knows the game… maybe a bit too well. The seven-term Greensboro city councilman knows how to talk to the media and demonstrates an uncanny awareness of cameras pointed in his direction. But his recent tenure in Greensboro was played out under the radar, with little evidence of leadership or vision.

We also disagree with Vaughan on some key points: his opposition to the property transfer tax and his support for annexation laws among them. We also disagree with his opposition to allowing undocumented residents to attend community college, but we are realistic enough to admit that virtually every candidate running for state office shares this position, and that one likely cannot get elected without doing so.

We concede, though, that time and circumstance may be right for Don Vaughan and it’s possible that he could put his personal charm and savvy to work for the people of District 27. Either way, we’d prefer a moderately effective representative in the Senate who knows how to work the levers of power than an intemperate and untrustworthy maverick.

NC House District 58

YES! Weekly endorses Alma Adams

NC House District 59

YES! Weekly endorses Maggie Jeffus

NC House District 74

YES! Weekly endorses Wade Boyles

NC House District 75

YES! Weekly endorses Dan Bennett

Democratic Rep. Alma Adams quotes from the Christian gospel about doing “for the least of these” when it comes to economic justice, and her constituents in heavily Democratic-leaning District 58 demand no less. She has also has to works, modest though they may be, to back up her faith.

Following about a decade of struggle, her bill to raise the state’s minimum wage passed the General Assembly in 2006, raising it by a dollar. While we applaud that accomplishment, our enthusiasm is tempered by the facts that the increase has basically offset the rising cost of goods and services and that since late July the federal minimum wage has caught up with the state standard.

Adams talks about pursuing a living wage on the campaign trail, but she has offered few specifics about how that might be accomplished.

Also souring us on Adams is her defense of Rep. Thomas Wright in her capacity as chair of Legislative Black Caucus after the NC Board of Elections heard testimony that the Wilmington lawmaker diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars from campaign funds to personal uses.

Republican Olga Morgan Wright has proved to be a perennial thorn in Adams’ side. She characterizes state government as broken, but appears to lack an understanding of how to effectively represent constituents and address the problems she identifies. We look forward to the day when a black Democrat from a younger generation will combine Adams’ advocacy for the poor with a new kind of straight talk and political courage.

Rep. Maggie Jeffus, the senior member of the Guilford County delegation, is hardly a maverick in the state Democratic Party, but her heart is in the right place. A retired teacher, she consistently supports education in the NC House, including a bill last year to support experienced teachers become mentors. She’s worked on legislation that helped create the Haw River State Park, and she voted for Rep. Adams’ bill to increase the state’s minimum wage.

Our endorsement is tempered by the fact that Jeffus has been slow to distance herself from some of her integrity-challenged fellow Democrats such as jailed former House Speaker Jim Black. That said, we favor divided government in North Carolina. In the event that we elect a Republican governor it might be a good thing to have a strong, experienced Democrat from Guilford County to maintain the balance of power. Jeffus has ably steered state funds for UNCG, NC A&T University, and the two universities’ joint nanotech campus.

Republican challenger Jim Rumley’s positions are mostly boilerplate GOP fare. His position on illegal immigration is particularly extreme. He told YES! Weekly that undocumented residents should come into county health clinics to get vaccinations, and then face deportation. That statement demonstrates a lack of understanding about both federal law and public health, not to mention a lack of common sense.

NC Rep. Dale Folwell has long touted his ability to get “common sense legislation” to the governor’s desk. During his two terms in the General Assembly, Folwell can claim a number of legislative victories, like a bill that allows drivers to notify the Division of Motor Vehicles of their willingness to donate their vital organs in case of fatal accidents, and a bill that helps prevent identity theft. However, Folwell’s opposition to the Forsyth Tech educational bonds and his across-the-board rejection of economic incentive packages to lure businesses to the state, serve as two examples of policy positions that are troubling. Wade Boyles, Folwell’s Democratic opponent, is a newcomer to politics. If elected, he would become the first openly gay man to serve in the General Assembly. Boyles, 30, strongly supports the Forsyth Tech bonds, and said his primary focus in Raleigh would be addressing the social ills that arise from poverty. However, there’s more to Boyles’ platform than addressing poverty. “I want to increase teachers’ pay. I want to support bringing green jobs to our state and I want to stop giving tax incentives that outsource North Carolina jobs,” he said. Folwell is running on his record as a consensus builder, but the two-term incumbent co-sponsored HR 2803 or the Defense of Marriage Act, which would amend the state’s constitution to provide that the union of one man and one woman is the only marriage recognized as valid in the state. It seems like every election year, Republicans invariably put forth bills that pander to their base and bitterly divide the electorate. The General Assembly needs fresh, new voices that are not beholden to special interests that who will champion the cause of the poor and disenfranchised. That’s why YES! Weekly enthusiastically endorses Wade Boyles for NC House District 74.

YES! Weekly endorses the candidacy of Democrat Dan Bennett for the NC House District 75 seat due in large part to his support of economic incentive packages and the Forsyth Tech educational bonds. Republican incumbent Bill McGee, the House Minority Whip, declined to provide information about his candidacy to YES! Weekly. A quick search of the General Assembly website, however, gives one a good idea of McGee’s philosophy on helping the most vulnerable North Carolinians. McGee co-sponsored House Bill 524, which appropriated an additional $1 million for the North Carolina Food Banks and voted to increase the income eligibility limit of the Homestead exclusion. However, McGee also supported a bill that would impose a tax on wire transfers of money made by illegal immigrants and co-sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act. Bennett, a networking analyst for the NC Department of Corrections, has pledged to increase oversight of the state’s mental health system, safeguard the state’s environment, and support Forsyth Tech, Winston-Salem State University and the UNC School of the Arts by reducing class sizes and increasing teacher salaries. Bennett also favors offering economic incentives to lure business investment to the area. Bennett’s progressive agenda and enlightened policy positions have earned him YES! Weekly’s endorsement for NC House District 75.

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