For governor: Perdue, Dems; and McCrory, Reps

by Jim Longworth

Six people from the two major parties are running for governor this year. Two of them are Democrats and four are Republicans. Among them are a lawyer, a state senator, a mayor, a lieutenant governor, a former judge and a state treasurer.

Let’s start with the Democrats.

Bev Perdue, a former school teacher, served in the state legislature for 13 years, and was elected lieutenant governor in 2001. She is a down-to-earth, personable woman who genuinely seems to care about those in need, as evidenced by her work on behalf of uninsured children and the elderly.

Richard Moore, now in his second term as treasurer, has decided to run his campaign mainly via television, rather than pressing the flesh. He is the only major candidate who refused to appear on “Triad Today”‘s gubernatorial forum because his staff told me he was “just too busy to drive to Winston-Salem.”

This, despite having his pick of studio taping dates over a three-month period.

In any event, what troubles me about both candidates is that while they both tout their commitment to more affordable and accessible health care, neither seems willing to launch a full scale investigation of Blue Cross/Blue Shield with an eye toward instituting a cap on premiums and a ban on claim denials.

Perdue, for example, agrees with Fred Smith that if we all eat healthy and exercise, our premiums will decrease. But vegetables and jogging have nothing to do with going bankrupt if Blue Cross refuses to pay for your cancer surgery.

Neither Moore nor Perdue have a viable solution for stemming the tide of job losses in our state. True, a governor cannot repeal NAFTA and CAFTA, but he can impose severe penalties on companies that profiteer from the loopholes in those agreements and abuse the spirit of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act.

A governor can also sign an executive order putting a moratorium on all industry incentives. Instead, Moore, Perdue and most other candidates for statewide office promote the concept of re-training. I’m sorry but someone who has made her living as a sock seamstress for 20 years is not necessarily going to transition well into being a small-business entrepreneur. Still, Perdue has pledged to lobby her fellow governors to get rid of incentives altogether, and that is a step in the right direction.

Perdue is also the only one of the six candidates to come out in favor of reparations for victims of North Carolina’s forced-sterilization program.

It is the most tragic chapter in state history, and her efforts could bring much needed closure for those affected.

That brings me to my pick for the Democratic nominee. Richard Moore’s refusal to take part in “Triad Today” set him apart in a negative way from all other candidates of both parties, who each traveled long distances to take advantage of a free forum to communicate with voters. In Moore’s case, we are left with the impression that his time is more valuable than anyone else’s, and we certainly do not need another governor who is inaccessible. We’ve had that for eight years. Bev Perdue is both personable and accessible. She is also optimistic and seems genuine about wanting to make our state a better place to live. And so my endorsement for governor on the Democratic side is Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue.

There are four major GOP candidates running for governor this year: lawyer Bill Graham, former NC Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, NC Sen. Fred Smith and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

McCrory entered the race late, immediately changed the dynamics of the campaign and might have dashed Smith’s hopes for a cakewalk on May 6.

But by coming to the dance late, McCrory lost out on early endorsements from elected officials throughout the state, and that’s not good, especially for a Charlotte mayor. Though Charlotte/Mecklenburg swings a lot of weight in the state legislature, voters statewide don’t tend to support a Queen City leader for statewide office. Take Richard Vinroot as an example. An accomplished mayor, Vinroot took on Mike Easley in 2000 and lost, then couldn’t even get past Pat Ballantine for the nomination in 2004.

Nevertheless, McCrory is an effective leader who has managed to get re-elected six times in a very diverse city, and he puts no stock in the curse on Charlotte chief executives who run for statewide office. For one thing, McCrory hails from a small town – Jamestown, right here in the Triad – and he is in tune with the needs and concerns of all North Carolinians, having dealt with problems that are common to every sized locality, ranging from job development to illegal-immigrant gangs.

His solution for healthcare reform is to reduce the number of mandates the state requires of health insurers and providers. During our interview, he told me that we should put roads where the cars are and not where the powerful politicians live. And he is in favor of establishing an immigration court in North Carolina as well as an immigration detention facility. He also opposes any moratorium on the death penalty, and that gives me pause. After all, our criminal justice system has sometimes sentenced innocent men, and it might serve us well to put a hold on executions for a while until we can investigate other possibly flawed convictions.

Speaking of dispensing justice, Bob Orr left the Supreme Court bench to lead the NC Institute for Constitutional law, and to crusade against industry incentives. In fact, Orr is the only candidate of either party who has pledged to end all incentives for big corporations. Like me, Orr believes those incentives to be unconstitutional, and worse, to be a form of legalized corporate welfare that does nothing but move jobs around from one state to the next, or from one locality to the other. I have asked the other candidates if they would join Orr in banning incentives, but none would take up his mantle. They all hide behind the idea that unilateral repeal of incentives would spell disaster for North Carolina. But that’s like saying there’s no need to inoculate against smallpox in Raleigh if they’re not going to comply in Durham. Someone has to take the first step in dismantling this system of economic development by extortion. It’s too bad that Orr’s message doesn’t resonate more strongly with voters and that he didn’t decide to try and unseat Attorney General Roy Cooper instead of running for governor. While Cooper has spent his time monitoring cold medicines, our state is being raped by corporate CEOs. That wouldn’t happen on Orr’s watch as top cop. Anyway, it’s something to think about four years from now.

NC Sen. Fred Smith has vast experience as both a legislator and businessman, and if Hollywood were casting for a Southern governor, Fred would get the job. Unfortunately, like Perdue and others, his idea of fixing healthcare is to emphasize healthy lifestyles. Again, don’t misunderstand my position. Smith is correct in touting lifestyle changes and preventive care, but he has been in the legislature too long to go on the attack against health insurance executives who keep raising premiums by as much as 20 percent each year while giving themselves multi-million dollar salaries and hefty bonuses. Smith is wrong to oppose government-run universal healthcare (after all, no one in England has ever lost his home due to unpaid hospital bills). To his credit, though, Smith makes sure that his own company pays for employee health insurance. But not all workers are fortunate enough to work for Smith. More than 1.5 million Carolinians can’t afford health insurance, and many others are struggling to make premium payments each month. Smith told me that everyone needs to save some money to pay for healthcare. I challenged the senator by saying that people who can’t afford insurance certainly can’t afford to put money into a health savings account. Smith’s reply was: “Everybody’s got some money.” He should know. Reportedly, his paving company has snagged over $40 million in state contracts, which seems to me to be a conflict of interest. How can you vote on a budget that includes funds for road improvements, then turn around and bid for a piece of those funds?

On the issue of illegal immigration, Smith is in favor of instituting the 287(g) program for all sheriff’s offices, which will make it easier for them to catch and deport illegals, and he believes that, overall, state taxpayers have not been getting a return on the $21 billion they send to Raleigh every year.

No argument there.

Lawyer Bill Graham’s solution to the healthcare crisis is to offer more choices for consumers and, thus, lower premiums. It’s a lofty goal, and we might end up with more choices. But unless Graham can cap premiums legislatively I am skeptical about big companies lowering their rates and smaller companies being able to provide the same level of services as the blue monopoly.

Graham’s finest hour came when he put up his own money for a campaign to fight the gas tax. His efforts resulted in Democrats capping the tax and saving us peons about $159 million this year. Graham also has a proposal for how to curb the drop-out problem in our schools, which includes putting more emphasis on trade and vocational training. He is in favor of lowering taxes. He is also against incentives to companies that make no guarantees to workers or taxpayers, but stops short of calling for an elimination of all incentives.

Who, then, is the best Republican candidate to face Bev Perdue in the fall?

As I alluded earlier, Fred Smith had been the presumptive frontrunner given his statewide appeal and decision to announce early. Smith even told me that his private polling gave him the requisite 40 percent needed to capture the GOP nomination on May 6. But according to Public Policy Polling, McCrory and Smith are continuing to run neck and neck, so a run-off between the two men is almost certain.

For the record, let me say that any of the four Republicans would serve us well as governor – and so would Bev Perdue – but my endorsement goes to McCrory. I disagree with some of his positions, but he is a new-style coalition builder whose experience as a big-city mayor would bring a fresh approach to the kind of bipartisan leadership we need in the governor’s office.

We have suffered through eight years of cronyism and corruption in Raleigh. What we need now is a personable, compassionate, competent and accessible governor who won’t take off to his beach house after a natural disaster, and who won’t lose touch with us regular folk.

A McCrory-Perdue matchup in November could produce a really clean, issues-oriented campaign, and signal an end to the good-old-boy system in Raleigh. The good news is that with Pat and Bev fighting for the top spot, voters couldn’t lose, no matter who wins.