Election 2006: YES! Weekly’s picks for 36 races

by the staff

US House, District 6

Howard Coble (R) vs. Rory Blake (D)

YES! Weekly endorses: Blake

In the beginning, Rory Blake was merely the beneficiary of the need for the Democrats to assume control of the US House of Representatives. But after meeting him, digesting his responses to our questionnaire, and reading his book, The How and Why of Market Democracy, it became apparent that he merits our endorsement, irrespective of party affiliation.

Blake’s stance on the issues is consistent, well-defined, reasonable and devoid of political double-talk. He favors the Murtha plan of redeployment as quickly as possible in Iraq; says that forsaking individual freedoms and civil liberties for a bit more security is not a good tradeoff; that increasing penalties for companies that hire illegal immigrants is a better idea than building a fence along the Mexican border; that the Geneva Convention should be upheld and that torture is not only morally wrong but counterproductive; and that retaining and growing custom and specialty manufacturing jobs in the region, coupled with research and new technology jobs, can offset the loss of traditional textiles and furniture jobs.

Personally, Blake is an attractive candidate, as well. The 56-year-old Charlotte native and UNC grad is a pharmacist by profession. He owned a small chain of drugstores, which he sold to a larger chain, and now lives with his wife (who is a High Point native) and two dogs in Carthage in Moore County. Their grown son lives in Charlotte and their daughter is a student at the University of Tennessee.

While “Congressman for Life” Coble is to be commended for distancing himself from President Bush’s Iraq war policy, he was not above a little schmoozing in the limo when Bush was in town a couple of weeks ago. Like many Republicans running for reelection, he does not want to be seen in public with the unpopular chief executive, but is happy to avail himself to the funds raised by him and distributed by the RNC.

Although the theme of Blake’s book (which is subtitled “The Decline of American Ideals and Rise of a Two-Class Society”), states that self-interest groups and corporate favoritism dominate American politics, is unerringly on target, the very facts that he presents may be his downfall. Coble has an enormous campaign war chest while Blake has reportedly spent only $30,000 which, ironically, proves his point that money talks and that he who spends most generally wins. He is banking on a tidal wave of anti-Bush, anti-incumbent and anti-status quo sentiment – in this blue-moon election, anyway – to prevail.

We can only hope that he is correct, that for once new ideas will trump old money. Howard has served the district admirably, but a well-deserved rocking chair awaits. Rory Blake is just the breath of fresh air we’ve been hoping for.

US House, District 12

Mel Watt (D) vs. Ada M. Fisher (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Watt

The seven-term representative of the gerrymandered Interstate 85 district carries political clout as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and while he has been less than electrifying on Katrina response, he is an outspoken champion of human rights in Darfur.

US House, District 13

Brad Miller (D) vs. Vernon Robinson (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Miller

The race for North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District features a cast of characters that, by the looks of it, could have marched straight out of the Marvel Comics vault – if execs were sitting on civics-minded titles along the lines of Superincumbent or The Creature From the Far Right.

In movies, or comics or fiction, we might be inclined to root for our rather colorful villain Vernon Robinson. But we’re talking about real life here, folks.

This is less an endorsement than a full on, belly-dragging grovel, and it’s directed at you, 13th District voters: Please, please, please cast your vote for incumbent Brad Miller on Tuesday.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, we offer a quick catch-up. Robinson, the Republican contender, has run a hate-filled, condescending, single-issue campaign buoyed by a shady network of archconservatives. His opponent, whose public persona is almost meek in comparison, has remained above the fray in broadcast forums, but has boiled over in some of his private interactions with media types.

We’re not surprised that the election has frayed Miller’s nerves. Soon after Robinson topped his primary opponents with his relentless nativist drum-beating, he started trying to portray Miller as being out of touch with his constituents. In his ads he accused Miller of transforming America into “one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals.” Robinson went so far as to call into question Miller’s childlessness, which resulted in the public disclosure of a very private matter: the hysterectomy his wife underwent in her late twenties.

Miller, with his conservative haircut and tasteful neckties, is hardly the irresponsible, free-love radical Robinson makes him out to be. During his two terms in office, the Democrat has championed plenty of issues that directly benefit his constituents’ lives, like community colleges, predatory lending and economic development. He’s steered clear of scandal, be it personal or financial, and earned a solid reputation for his nuts-and-bolts approach to legislating.

That said, Miller is not above reproach. He voted twice for the Patriot Act and appears to be changing his stance on illegal immigration to more closely resemble the enforcement-only position that has given his opponent so much mileage.

A better opponent would have taken Miller to task for this tendency to shift with the prevailing political winds. They also might have questioned the congressman’s actual voting record instead of distorting his ballots on a handful of scientific studies.

The hero of this story, alas, will not be the likable but flawed Miller. It is up to you, voters, to save the 13th District – and the day – from drowning in Robinson’s venomous dreck.

NC Senate, District 26

Phil Berger (R) vs. Rick Miller (D)

YES! Weekly endorses: Miller

Berger’s the Republican leader of the Senate and as such brings a lot of clout on behalf of his district, which covers all of Rockingham County and a swath of northern Guilford. However, Miller supports a statewide living wage, a moratorium on the death penalty, stem-cell research and alternative energy investment – all initiatives opposed by the incumbent. This is an easy decision.

NC Senate, District 27

Kay Hagan (D), running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Hagan

This Democrat running unopposed was on a mission trip to Cuba with First Presbyterian Church when we sent out our candidate questionnaires. Either she favors universal healthcare, covert American intervention in Cuban affairs or a good cigar – we’re not sure. All joking aside, we understand her to be a capable lawmaker who represents her urban Greensboro district well.

NC Senate, District 28

Katie Dorsett (D), running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Dorsett

Dorsett was the first black woman elected to the Greensboro City Council and the first woman elected to the Guilford County Commission, and she was appointed secretary of the NC Department of Administration by Gov. Jim Hunt, making her the first black woman to hold a cabinet-level position in the state. She’s a trailblazer. We like that.

NC Senate, District 33

Stan Bingham (R), running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Bingham

Not only does this man, who represents all of Davidson County and a sliver of High Point, drive a car fueled with used fryer grease, he also supports the legalization of industrial hemp. Sounds like our kind of guy.

NC House, District 57

Pricey Harrison (D) vs. Ron Styers (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Harrison

Pricey Harrison is a true Greensboro aristocrat – a verified member of the Bryan clan best known for their monied civic foundation.

Normally the editorial board at YES! Weekly is a pretty populist crowd, not inclined to let family connections influence our opinion of candidates. We believe that holds true in this contest as well, which pits Harrison against Republican challenger Ron Styers.

But we must concede that aristocracy has benefited Harrison and her constituents. For one thing, Harrison, who is winding up her freshman term in the NC House, has governed like she was’… well, born to it.

Unlike many freshman legislators who spend their first term quietly learning the ropes, Harrison sponsored and passed legislation in what the history books may record as one of the most productive sessions of the NC General Assembly (Jim Black scandals notwithstanding).

She’s championed environmental issues by sponsoring legislation to study the effects of global warming and set aside open spaces, helped pass the state’s minimum wage hike and even teamed up with Republicans to close a loophole in the state’s hit-and-run laws.

Her money has also allowed her to criticize embattled House Speaker Jim Black, whose hefty campaign contributions wind like scandal-encrusted tentacles through the coffers of many Democratic underlings. She’s one of a handful of House Democrats who have called on Black to step down as speaker.

Styers, who is also a hometown boy, has tried to make an issue out of the contributions Harrison took from Black in 2004, but the subject hasn’t gotten much traction among the electorate. If he wins, Styers has promised to implement some pretty standard conservative reforms like raising the cap on charter schools and lowering taxes.

Styers strikes us as a nice guy with middle-right positions. But we’re giving our stamp of approval to Harrison. Her work in the NC House of Representatives has already shown that, despite her lofty heritage, she nurtures a genuine concern for North Carolinians from all socio-economic strata.

NC House, District 58

Alma Adams (D) vs. Olga Morgan Wright (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Adams

Alma Adams spent a decade fighting to increase the minimum wage. She got our neediest earners a dollar raise this year and has vowed to press forward for a living wage of $12.32. She won’t stop until we can all afford the kind of fabulous headgear to which she’s become accustomed.

NC House, District 59

Maggie Jeffus (D) vs. Jim Rumley (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Jeffus

One of the criticisms of seven-term NC House Representative Maggie Jeffus is that her enthusiasm for the job has waned, that she is not as active as she once was. Her answer to that charge would be that during the 2005-06 session she introduced a total of 191 bills into the legislature and was the primary sponsor of 61 of them. Moreover, she sat on no fewer than 10 House committees, was chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, vice-chairman of the Appropriations Committee and member of the powerful Commerce, Education and Ways and Means committees.

So much for that.

For the second time in as many elections, her Republican opponent is Jim Rumley. While Rumley is a tireless campaigner who actually gained the endorsement of the News & Record, his by-the-book conservative philosophy offers nothing new to the political landscape. Right-wingers will love his opposition to a moratorium on the death penalty, stem cell research, public funding for developing alternative energy sources and transportation infrastructure, economic incentives to large corporations and a living wage, but the rest of the population in this blue county will find him lacking in imagination.

Jeffus, on the other hand, co-sponsored several bills calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, given that DNA evidence has lately exonerated several death-row inmates. Sadly, none of them passed. She is also a strong advocate of state funding for stem cell research, alternative energy sources, transportation infrastructure and economic incentives, provided there is some form of accountability tied in. On all those issues, we heartily concur.

While both candidates agree that teacher salaries should be a high priority in the state budget, Jeffus’ 30-year career as an educator prior to running for public office clearly gives her the upper hand there, as well.

In short, Maggie Jeffus has been an effective, courageous, visionary and hard-working legislator for 14 years, and to lose her experience and powerful committee assignments would be counterproductive. In teaching lingo, she gets an A, Rumley a C.

NC House, District 60

Earl Jones (D) vs. Bill Wright (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Neither

At first blush, former Pleasant Garden Mayor Bill Wright comes off as a solid good-government, small-R Republican who supports maintaining funding for education and mental health services, along with increasing North Carolina’s stewardship of Medicaid to remove some of the burden from county governments. He chides his opponent for campaign contributions received from the payday lending industry, as well as the maximum contribution he took from House Speaker Jim Black.

Frankly, we’d love nothing more than to tell people to vote Republican in this race to send a message that the Democratic Party’s ethically bankrupt “pay-to-play” system in Raleigh will no longer fly. The only problem is that Wright carries some unfortunate baggage.

An ugly mood of reactionary nativism is sweeping the country fueled, no doubt, by economic insecurity and the Bush administration’s insistent hyping of terrorist threats. Any candidate who resorts to demagoguery to exploit the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment doesn’t deserve our support. In this regard, we refer to an Oct. 2 blog dispatch by News & Record state political reporter Mark Binker. To wit, “Wright favors aggressively pursuing illegal immigrants, including checking legal status when someone is treated at a hospital.”

When parents are put in the position of weighing the threat of deportation against getting emergency care for a sick infant, that is a situation with which we cannot abide.

The Democratic incumbent, sophomore Rep. Earl Jones, is a formidable kingmaker as member of the powerful Simkins political action committee. He’s also a former Greensboro city councilman and the former head of the Guilford County Community Action Program. A 2000 investigation by the NC Department of Health and Human Services found that Jones’ nonprofit failed to account for more than $60,000 in grants funded with public money.

Jones deserves commendation for pushing the state to fund stem-cell research, and his efforts to pass legislation requiring companies that do business with the state to determine whether they profited from slavery is intriguing.

The lawmaker’s favorable qualities cannot, however, cloak the major stain on his reputation, which is his relationship with the payday lending industry that preys upon cash-strapped poor people by offering short-term loans with enormous interest rates – a practice aptly described by consumer advocates as “tossing someone an anchor when what they need is a lifeline.” Jones has accepted about $4,500 from payday lending companies over the past four years, often obscuring his patrons’ identities in campaign finance reports.

Jones is sitting on the fence on the proposed Credit Enhancement Act, a piece of state legislation crafted to suit the wishes of one of his contributors, Atlanta-based CompuCredit Corp. As a member of the House Financial Institutions Committee and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Task Force on Payday Lending, Jones is in a position to provide leadership to ensure that low-income borrowers are protected from corporate loan sharks.

A true Democrat would stick up for working people who struggle to pay their bills. Instead, Jones has played cute by presenting himself as a broker between the industry and consumer advocates while punting the issue to the NC Banking Commission.

NC House, District 61

Laura Wiley (R), running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Wiley

An energetic freshman representative, Wiley led the fight in the House for increasing the penalty for sexual predators who solicit minors over the internet, sponsored a bill signed into law that allows the NC Department of Justice to conduct criminal background checks on psychologists and sponsored successful legislation to bring North Carolina’s system of educating special needs children in line with No Child Left Behind. And we admit, she wins points for her winning personality.

NC House, District 62

John Blust (R), running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Nobody

Republican John M. Blust may have a great last name for a politician, but he does not get the YES! Weekly endorsement, mainly because of his silence to repeated inquiries about his positions. We do know that last summer he took a noncommittal stance on proposed Medicaid cuts that would have institutionalized severely disabled adults.

Guilford County District Attorney

Doug Henderson (D) vs.

Wendell Sawyer (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Sawyer

Guilford County’s No. 1 lawyer is an important position. The winner of this race will helm the prosecutorial arm of the court system and deal with a crime rate that is rising in frequency and changing in nature. He will need to be a skilled litigator, negotiator and communicator, plus he will need to have the strength to operate independently in a courthouse that has become steeped in politics as of late.

Which is why, after a grueling negotiation of our own, we choose Wendell Sawyer for the position.

The choice is more of a vote against Doug Henderson than one for the amiable Greensboro defense lawyer.

While Henderson clearly does not lack courtroom experience – he spent 22 years as a partner at Henderson and Henderson, the Greensboro law firm started by his father and uncle – it was his appointment to his current job and his first decisions while in office that we feel weigh the most heavily against him.

Gov. Easley put Henderson in place after promoting Stuart Albright to superior court judge, the job Albright’s father left just as the Project Homestead scandal was beginning to unravel, allowing the younger Albright to remove himself from the situation and empowering Henderson to proclaim that there would be no charges filed in the case.

It’s all a bit too cozy for us.

Sawyer, while not necessarily unacquainted with the corridors of power, is something of an outsider in the tightly knit political scene. He’s run for the office before, against Jim Kimel in 1998 and Stuart Albright in 2002, though he shows more interest in the office itself than the game of politics.

The father of six is the sole attorney in his downtown firm, and he unabashedly says he’s too busy to strenuously campaign. He’s a hard worker who has handled cases both criminal and civil, and he knows his way enough around a courtroom to be one of the more sought-after traffic lawyers in Greensboro.

But where the two candidates diverge is in their positions in the status quo and their willingness to move it forward.

Another difference is transparency. After closing the Project Homestead case Henderson said little in the way of explanation for his actions and has said that the State Bureau of Investigation report on the defunct company, which he has read, would not be released to the public. The only tidbit he offered about the document was that it showed some local politicians in an unflattering light.

Sawyer, on the other hand, does not keep his cards so close to the vest. The guy’s a talker, and we in the news business love a talker, especially when there’s a story to file with a deadline running down. And he has vowed to reexamine the Project Homestead file if elected.

Plus, his last name rhymes with his job. So be it.

Guilford Co. Clerk of Superior Court David Churchill (D) vs.

Nancy M. Swanson (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Churchill

There are some elected positions in the Guilford County bureaucracy that exist well below the radar, coming to the public’s attention only if something gets phenomenally screwed up. Clerk of courts is one of those positions, a job basically clerical in nature but which also carries administrative responsibilities, control of a $5 million or so budget and a judicial aspect wherein the clerk of courts sometimes presides over hearings. Normally the race is something of a snoozer, but this year pits the incumbent, David Churchill, against former employee Nancy Maness Swanson who Churchill says “left the office involuntarily.”

Swanson, whose main qualification is 28 years’ experience in the clerk’s offfice, has much to say about her former boss, including allegations of low morale in the department. But Churchill, a Wake Forest Law School graduate from upstate NY, seems to possess the qualities necessary for the job – experience as a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, a no-nonsense demeanor essential to the leader of a department with 120 employees and the desire and political savvy to keep his job – Churchill made a $1,000 donation to the powerful Simkins PAC after they endorsed him in the primaries this year.

That’s not to say Churchill is in anyone’s pocket. But even if he was, as clerk of courts he couldn’t do all that much damage.

Guilford County Sheriff

BJ Barnes (R) vs. Berkley Blanks (D)

YES! Weekly endorses: Barnes

BJ Barnes holds a reputation as one of the most powerful Republicans in Guilford County, and as a wily political animal he strikes us as someone on whom to keep a sharp eye. We view his campaign fundraising efforts with some distrust. At almost $58,000 as of June 30, it’s a sizable kitty.

We’re disturbed by Barnes’ acceptance of campaign contributions from representatives of the video poker industry, including one for $500 from Colonial Vending CEO Fred Ayers Jr. in February. It’s hard not to wonder whether the money will soften his office’s resolve to enforce the law against these addictive machines. And in 2004, Barnes made personal contributions to the campaigns of two Republican Guilford County commissioners. While it’s certainly not illegal it seems a little upside down to have the man charged with enforcing the law in Guilford County helping to choose the members of the county’s governing body – essentially his bosses.

And yet, whatever Barnes has done to reach and keep elected office, he’s proven himself more than capable of the job in his 12 years as the county’s top law enforcement official. While we’d prefer that Barnes had mentioned training before Tasers in his response to our question about how to prevent harm to emotionally disturbed subjects like Gil Barber (killed by a deputy in 2001), we believe that Barnes takes the safety and well being of citizens seriously.

He’s spoken plain truth to the county commission about the need for a new jail, for which he should be commended. At the same time, the Guilford County detention system appears to be keeping inmates alive with more success than the troubled Davidson County Jail, which is comparatively better staffed. From our experience, the jail is run in a transparent manner, and Barnes has shown himself to be an accessible and personable elected leader.

This race was a tough call for us. Barnes has an aggressive Democratic challenger in Berkley Blanks, who has taken the incumbent to task for bringing Tasers into Guilford County schools. Unfortunately, Blanks has made contradictory statements about his own stance on the issue. And the Democrat has offered little else of substance to distinguish himself from Barnes.

One of the questions we posed to the two candidates was whether they believe it is appropriate for the sheriff’s office to enforce immigration law. Had Blanks staked out clear opposition to the troubling trend of local law enforcement joining forces with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement he might have won our endorsement. Instead, in an interview with YES! Weekly he essentially said it’s a moot question because Guilford County deputies aren’t trained to identify and apprehend illegal immigrants anyway. Adding to our dilemma, Barnes indicates that he takes a somewhat more favorable view of immigration control.

“Presently, if we have an illegal alien who is arrested for some other charge, we can and do hold them for the government, but’… because of overcrowded conditions they must move them to another facility immediately,” he told us. “My biggest fear is that if we don’t become part of this program, those illegal aliens will start using this county as a safe haven.”

An August National Public Radio story that quoted Barnes as saying that he welcomes the Minuteman Project as “a community watch” adds to our unease. Neither Barnes nor Blanks seemed to grasp our question about how they would overcome the reluctance of illegal immigrants to report domestic violence, robbery and other abuses if they feared deputies would turn around and deport them. In this regard, neither candidate inspires confidence. Whoever wins, we promise we’ll hold the sheriff’s office accountable lest overzealous law enforcement push Guilford County Hispanics into a position of increased vulnerability. Safety is a two-way street after all.

Guilford County Commission, Dist. 1 Bruce Davis (D), running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Davis

A former Marine and owner of a High Point daycare center, Davis took a turn as chairman of the commission in 2005. Ideologically, Davis is pretty moderate and we can’t think of anything he’s really botched. He gets the nod.

Guilford County Commission, Dist. 2 Steve Arnold (R), running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Arnold

While we’re not familiar with the late Coretta Scott King’s position on corporate incentives, we appreciate the Republican vice-chairman’s rhetorical thrust and principled stance. Here’s what he told his fellow commissioners back in February:

“At the beginning of our meeting tonight, we had a resolution honoring the life and memory of Mrs. King. I think it’s fair to say that if she stood more for anything else in her life, it was equal justice under the law. Corporate welfare or economic incentives, whatever you want to call them, whatever else they may be, are not equal justice under the law. You cannot tax the entire citizen base and give some of the proceeds of that tax revenue to a private corporation and call it equal justice. No way.”

Guilford County Commission, Dist. 3

Linda Shaw (R) vs. Ray Riffe (D)

YES! Weekly endorses: Riffe

Although one member of our editorial board recused himself from this debate due to a personal connection with the Shaw family, the other three of us had very little problem endorsing her opponent, newcomer Ray Riffe. While Linda Shaw has been a competent and hard-working commissioner, she has done little to distinguish herself on the board. Fairly or not, most folks know her for her strong ties to the national Republican Party and the water-throwing incident with Skip Alston rather than her stance on any particular issue.

While the two candidates seem to agree on many things, chief among them advocacy of a new jail, AIDS education and prevention and rehab rather than jail for many drug and alcohol offenders, Riffe gets the edge primarily for his strong stance on education. Not to imply that Shaw is anti-education, but the fact that Riffe, a former Marine, makes his living with the NC Association of Educators demonstrates the depth of his conviction. His position is UniServ Director, which is essentially an advocate for the public schools, its employees and students. He regularly attends school board meetings, a habit other commissioners might consider emulating.

His résumè also includes a stint as secretary-treasurer of the NC AFL-CIO and president of the local branch of Communication Workers of America, both of which indicate a strong kinship with the working class. Also, he is president of the Lansdowne Homeowners Association, between Greensboro and Summerfield, which hints that he is concerned with the urban sprawl headed in that direction.

At a relatively young 40, Riffe will bring energy and temperament to a board too often fraught with partisan conflict and embarrassing bickering. If he becomes the consensus-builder that he says he intends to be, he will be a welcome addition to the county leadership.

Guilford County Commission, Dist. 6 Kay Cashion (D) vs. Lonnie Albright (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Cashion

Kay Cashion has a history of civic involvement as extensive as any in local government. That’s probably why she was appointed to the county commission in 2004. During the last two years, she’s demonstrated a measure of independence and civility that show her to be an asset to the Guilford County residents she represents. We also like the fact that she’s running on her record, not coasting on a famous last name.

Guilford County Commission, Dist. 9

Carolyn Coleman (D) vs. Vernon Ward (R)

YES! Weekly endorses: Coleman

Coleman’s resume includes supporting labor organizing among sanitation workers in Memphis during the time Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated there. She hails from Pleasant Garden and brings geographical balance to a Greensboro-dominated county government. As a commissioner she demonstrates independent judgment. And, as much as can be expected, she has proven herself a peacemaker as chairwoman of the fractious commission. She also was the only speaker to get any laughs at the State of the Community luncheon in August.

NC Supreme Court Chief Justice

Sarah Parker vs. Rusty Duke

YES! Weekly endorses: Parker

Sarah Parker has served on the NC Supreme Court since 1993. She was elevated to chief justice in February by Gov. Mike Easley to replace retiring Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the position. Suffice it to the say that the chief justice is at the top of the pecking order in the judicial branch of state government, equal to the governor and equal to the combined leadership of the two chambers of the General Assembly.

The chief justice leads the seven-member Supreme Court, heads the state Administrative Office of the Courts and sometimes appoints judges. As described by would-be justice Robin Hudson, the Supreme Court is “the highest court in North Carolina and the last authority on the most serious and complex issues we face, where decisions are sometimes literally life and death.”

Parker has run a low-profile race. Her online biography notes her membership in the Episcopal Church and her previous experience as a member of the NC Democratic Party’s executive committee. Those two factors were evidently enough for Rusty Duke, a superior court judge from Pitt County, to decide Parker is too liberal to lead the state’s highest court. As long as we’re assessing totemic identities we may as well mention that Duke is a Baptist, a member of the conservative Federalist Society and the lucky recipient of the NC Republican Party’s endorsement.

Without naming his opponent, Duke seems to make an implicit criticism of her ideological position, stating on his website: “Through judicial activism the most important moral, political and cultural decisions affecting our lives are steadily being removed by the courts from the democratic process. This is not the application of the rule of law; on the contrary, it is social engineering by judges enamored with their own power.”

Though Chief Justice Parker may lean a little left there is little evidence that she falls outside the secure center coalition on the high court where moderation and restraint have long been the dominant values of the North Carolina judiciary. Keep her.

NC Associate Supreme Court Justice

Mark D. Martin vs. Rachel Lea Hunter

YES! Weekly endorses: Martin

The race for the state’s highest court usually brings a crowd of distinguished candidates. Unfortunately, what distinguishes associate justice candidate Rachel Lea Hunter from her competition is not her credentials so much as her runaway mouth. Or is it her husband’s?

Rumors and comments about Hunter and her husband Connie Mack Berry Jr.’s conduct have saturated the blogosphere since the Durham-based attorney announced her candidacy earlier this year. Since this summer, Berry has made it a habit to respond to every single negative blog post about his wife personally and often incoherently.

Hunter has stumbled more than once herself in this campaign. She claimed that former UNC basketball coach and North Carolina demigod Dean Smith endorsed her, referred to black Republican congressional candidate Vernon Robinson as a “slave” and lobbied hard for installation on the ballot as “Madame Justice.”

Berry and Hunter claim to be testing PT Barnum’s theory that no publicity is bad publicity, and in an otherwise quiet, nonpartisan judicial race, they might just be proven right.

Justice Mark D. Martin has served on the NC Supreme Court since 1998 and demonstrated partiality toward the Constitution and legal precedent. He enjoys the support of all five living former NC Supreme Court Justices, some of whom crossed party lines to bolster the judicial conservative’s campaign.

Hunter, on the other hand, is hemorrhaging political friends. It’s been her strategy in the past to generate publicity through political stunts, and then rely on name recognition and voter ignorance to carry her through the election.

It didn’t work in 2004. We hope it doesn’t this year, either.

NC Associate Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson

vs. Eric Levinson

YES! Weekly endorses: Timmons-Goodson

Justice Timmons-Goodson wields an accomplished résumè, going back to her days as staff attorney for the Lumbee River Legal Services in Fayetteville and her decade on NC Court of Appeals. Also, if she wins she becomes the first African-American woman elected to the Supreme Court. Let’s call her the real Madame Justice.

NC Associate Supreme Court Justice Ann Marie Calabria vs. Robin Hudson

YES! Weekly endorses: Hudson

Both candidates currently sit on the Court of Appeals. The Republican, Ann Marie Calabria, holds some funky views about corporate responsibility and brings a decidedly ideological disposition to the bench. Hudson, on the other hand, comes across as a solid jurist who is “firmly committed to restraint, independence and following precedent.” And she’s a Page Pirate, to boot. Yarghhh.

NC Court of Appeals Judge

Bob Hunter vs. Kris Bailey

YES! Weekly endorses: Bailey

Bailey gets the thumbs-up largely due to the following quote from our candidate questionnaire: “Kris Bailey will not bow the knee, will not worship at the altar of lawyer money.” The italics are his, not ours. Also he gets a good reference from his current boss, Leslie Meritt, director of the Office of the State Auditor where Bailey works as the top lawyer.

NC Court of Appeals Judge

Linda Stephens vs. Donna Stroud

YES! Weekly endorses: Stephens

Incumbents have the advantage for a reason: They’re familiar with the job, have proven track records and, generally speaking, the election is theirs to lose. Stephens, the former deputy commissioner of the NC Industrial Commission was appointed by Gov. Mike Easley earlier this year, understands both the management and labor side of business. Her opponent Donna Stroud, a district court judge, lacks the research experience to sit on the court of appeals.

Guilford County Superior Court Judge, District 18C

Stuart Albright vs. Susan Bray

YES! Weekly endorses: Bray

We became fans of Judge Susan Bray when she ruled that the Guilford County Department of Social Services must pay the monthly mortgage on a house that belongs to its juvenile charge, John G., instead of spending his Social Security checks on food and clothing for the young man.

With DSS, backed by the NC Association of County Commissioners, now appealing the case to the NC Court of Appeals, it appears that John G. has become a pawn in a passive-aggressive effort by the counties to get the federal government to assume more responsibility for welfare costs. And Bray’s ruling that DSS is obligated to catch up mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure could help set a precedent with regards to the rights of children who become dependents of the state.

This is the kind of clear, humane and common-sense decision that illuminates the character and judgment of a judicial candidate. It tells us she puts decency before bureaucratic expediency and sees individuals not budget numbers when litigants come before the bench.

Bray ruled on the matter of John G. as a district court judge. Now she wants a place on the superior court bench, the highest trial court in the state. The seat is currently held by Stuart Albright, an incumbent by virtue of appointment by Gov. Mike Easley less than a year ago. Earlier in his career Easley appointed Albright district attorney for Guilford County before voters gave him their stamp approval in the polls. The other advantage held by Albright is that he inherited the judgeship from his father, Douglas Albright.

In this hotly contested race Albright has pointed out that he has tried jury trials in both superior court and federal court as a private attorney, in addition to his experience as a prosecutor. Bray, who has no superior court experience, calls attention to her 10 years on the district court bench and a commendation by Court Watch of North Carolina for her handling of domestic violence cases. Like her opponent, Bray also holds prosecutorial experience; she worked as an assistant district attorney for Guilford County from 1989 to 1996.

In his 10 months as a superior court judge, Albright boasts of holding court in eight different counties, yet most of his bragging rights seem to derive from his accomplishments as district attorney, where he claims a record for the highest number of guilty pleas and takes credit for shutting down massage parlors.

Ultimately, 10 months on the superior court bench does not amount to a decisive edge. And the fact that Albright won the endorsements of five retired NC supreme court chief justices does not sway us. In our view, this is not necessarily a plus in this instance. The term lasts for eight years, and whoever wins the first election generally has the job for life notwithstanding a major professional fiasco. Such power should not vested be in one person based on the influence of the good-old-boy club. Our endorsement goes to Susan Bray because her humanity shines more clearly than her opponent’s; her level of experience is equal to his; and her lack of political connections gives us more faith that she’ll carry out her duties with integrity and independent judgment.

Guilford County Dist.

Court Judge

Wendy Enochs,

running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Enochs

Wendy Enochs, who was first elected in 1994, is running unopposed. The job was hers to lose, and her lack of competition speaks to her competency in a job that requires fairness, organization and clear communication.

Guilford County District Court Judge

Tom Jarrell vs. Susan O’Hale

YES! Weekly endorses: Jarrell

The challenger, Susan O’Hale, makes a compelling argument that as a Korean-American she would bring needed diversity to the district court bench, but ultimately she doesn’t measure up to Jarrell’s unblemished, even exemplary track record. Given his run-in with a Wiccan defendant who reportedly placed a curse on his vehicle, we hope Judge Jarrell will rule fairly in cases involving those who pursue unorthodox spiritual practices.

Guilford County School Board, at large

Nancy Routh, running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Routh

Though her responses to the YES! Weekly questionaire were at times boilerplate and uninspiring, she’s a middle-of-the-road candidate with classroom experience. Plus, she’s running unopposed for a reason – nobody else is masochistic enough to want the job. She can have it.

Guilford County School Board, District 2

Garth Hebert vs. Debbie Maines

YES! Weekly endorses: Neither

Both contenders for the open seat in this secessionist north High Point district advocate neighborhood schools. The endorsement would go to Hebert by default because of Maines’ failure to return our questionnaire but for the former’s response to our question regarding the teaching of Nov. 3, 1979. He said: “We have much finer, more relevant materials in history and civics’… that replacing it with the Klan-Nazi shootings would be almost as ignorant as the shootings themselves.” We prefer an elected official who chooses to learn from the past.

Guilford County School Board, District 4

Alan Duncan,

running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Duncan

As chairman of the school board, Duncan has managed a coalition of civility as constituents fragment into dueling camps representing neighborhood schools on one side and socio-economic diversity on the other. A lawyerly policy-maker, Duncan tends to make every decision appear utterly pro forma and boring. This job demands visionary leadership from someone who will take unpopular stands from time to time. For better or worse, the job is Duncan’s, because he has no opposition.

Guilford County School Board, District

Jeff Belton, running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Belton

Belton is likewise running unopposed. As the apparently ordained successor to Marti Sykes, who decided against running for reelection in her inner-western Greensboro district, Belton is an unknown quantity. And again, no one else wants the job.

Guilford County School Board, District 8

Deena Hayes, running unopposed

YES! Weekly endorses: Hayes

Deena Hayes is the only school board member who has turned her position into a full-fledged political franchise. She opposes Tasers so vehemently that she’s proposed removing school resource officers altogether; she’s a charter member of the Guilford County Coalition Against Intolerable Racism; and she shines a spotlight on the disproportionate discipline against African-American students. Our only caveat is that sometimes she seems to care more for the spotlight than the cause.

Soil & Water Board

Lewis Brandon

and Richard L. Phillips

YES! Weekly endorses: Brandon and Phillips

Yawn. Two men run for two open seats in this obscure race for the caretakers of two of our primary elements. Even the passion these candidates feel for the environment and the importance of maintaining clean resources can’t get us worked up about it. Congratulations, fellas.