New faces but same power balance in Forsyth House races
BY JORDAN GREEN firstname.lastname@example.org
The Forsyth County delegation to the NC House, the lower house in the state legislature, will be completely new when lawmakers take the oath of office in January. That’s not so much because of what will happen on Election Day in November, considering that the decision has already been more or less made for the voters during the primary.
Under both Democratic and, more recently, Republican control, the General Assembly has divided the county into five districts — three designed for Republican representation and two ensuring that Democrats are elected. The turnover in the House this year comes as a result of two political retirements, two attempts to win higher office and a redistricting move almost certainly substituting one Republican for another.
A handful of candidates filed to run for District 74 after its current representative, Republican Dale Folwell, announced he would not seek re-election. Folwell made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, but was defeated in the primary. Debra Conrad, a longtime Forsyth County commissioner defeated two opponents to win the Republican primary, while David W. Moore bested John Gladman in the Democratic primary.
Conrad, like Folwell, is an archconservative with an urbane style and a resident of affluent west Winston-Salem. Voters in the half-doughnut-shaped district skirting Winston-Salem across the northern section of the county are reliably conservative, and the district swung for Republicans John McCain for president, Elizabeth Dole for US Senate and Pat McCrory for governor in 2008, a year that strongly favored Democrats.
Should she win, Conrad will be moving from a sevenmember board to a 120-member body.
“I’ve been told that freshman are supposed to sit and be quiet for the first two months — that will be difficult for me,” Conrad said. “I know several members very well, including Julia Howard, Skip Stam and John Blust. A lot of the issues will be familiar because counties are creations of the state legislature.”
Her position on a number of issues likely to be taken up by the House in the next session is no secret. House Speaker Thom Tillis has said that if Republicans do well in this election, he expects to pass a voter ID bill requiring voters to show ID before exercising their franchise at the polls. Conrad voted with the majority in a county commission resolution earlier this year to support a voter ID initiative.
Like many in her party, Conrad favors lowering the corporate income tax rate to make North Carolina more competitive with neighboring Tennessee and South Carolina in attracting investment even while spending money on bridge repair and an unemployment insur-ance reserve. The candidate says she subscribes to the belief that any loss of revenue through a reduction in the tax rate will be offset by additional revenues gained through expanding the tax base. The theory has been challenged by a number of economists, including Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
She added that she does not favor putting the burden on employers to rebuild reserves in the unemployment insurance fund.
“My top two issues have always been fiscal conservatism, and I’m a big believer in economic development and job creation,” Conrad said. “That’s how you keep the budget balanced and maybe cut taxes. I think the two go together hand in hand. Where I differ with the Democrats and Obama is he seems to think all the money you earn is the government’s, and they will decide how much to let you keep.”
Conrad’s Democratic opponent, David W. Moore is an aerospace consultant who lives in Kernersville. Moore registered to vote in Forsyth County in July 2010, registering a campaign website two days later, after relocating from South Carolina. He has run an erratic and mercurial campaign.
The candidate has developed an adversarial relationship with his own party, calling Forsyth County Democratic Party Chair Susan Campbell “a disaster” in a late May e-mail to the Winston-Salem Journal. More recently he opined in a Facebook post that “considering the incompetence centered around the FCDP leadership,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory will probably carry Forsyth County. Moore went on to say that, “There are many areas I could work with Pat on, especially making NC more corporate friendly.”
The tensions between the candidate and his party initially emerged when Moore’s criminal record came to light. Following an inquiry from the Journal, Moore said he was “ending all campaign activities” and changing his party registration. A few days later he changed his mind, and announced he was back in the race. He remains registered as a Democrat.
Moore told the Journal that he didn’t “remember a DWI conviction” and that “other convictions,” specifically a 1999 assault causing bodily injury conviction in Texas “could be referring to another David Wayne Moore.”
But he told YES! Weekly: “I had a DWI when the collapse of my business [happened], and then did a successful probation.” He acknowledged the assault conviction, adding, “I believe I had a scuffle back in them days.
“It happened in a period of my life when I was having to readjust to a lot of changes,” he added. “That’s probably not unfamiliar to most people.”
Moore’s campaign finance reporting also reflects some lapses of honesty. The candidate’s first quarter report reflected no expenditures for laminated palm cards, which Moore handed out during early voting. And an itemization of $106 in cash on hand from the first report should have carried over to the second quarter report, which instead reflected 0 cash on hand, 0 receipts and 0 expenditures. Moore could not be reached for this story.
Moore’s website indicates that he is opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to exploit natural gas.
His opponent said she supports aggressive efforts to develop natural gas and other domestic energy sources, but adequate safeguards should be put in place to protect property.
Moore said he opposes using tax dollars to subsidize charter schools and home schooling. Conrad indicated she supports charter schools and home schooling as a way to create competition and improve outcomes.
While Conrad has token competition in her House race, Republican Donny Lambeth is running unopposed in District 75 to replace Rep. Bill McGee, who did not seek re-election. Like Conrad, Lambeth has a long tenure in local politics, and currently chairs the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board. Also strongly Republican leaning, District 75 is the other half of the doughnut, running from Clemmons in the southwest to parts of Kernersville along the county’s southern line.
A self-described fiscal conservative, Lambeth said in a press release announcing his candidacy that he will focus on controlling state spending. The candidate did not return calls for this story.
Lambeth recently retired as president of Lexington Medical Center and Davie Hospital, part of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Health system, and said in his campaign announcement that he will make it a priority to fix the state’s mental-health system and identify alternative settings to hospital emergency rooms. Reflecting his service on the county school board, Lambeth said he will advocate quality education for all children and favors reductions in classroom size.
The Republican incumbent in District 79 holds significant clout in Raleigh, where she serves as senior chair of the House Finance Committee. Rep. Julia Howard is a relatively new face in Forsyth County politics, but the Mocksville realtor has held her seat since 1989.
When the Republicans redrew House districts last year, they shifted District 79 from Iredell County to part of Forsyth. More than half of the district covers the entirety of rural Davie County. The change, incidentally, led to the elimination of District 73, represented by Republican Larry Brown, who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary in District 74 and died earlier this month of a heart attack.
The new District 79 includes Lewisville and other parts of western Forsyth. Despite being a relative political newcomer, Howard managed to carry all but two Forsyth County precincts in her primary contest against Bill Whiteheart, a local commissioner. She faces Democratic challenger Cristina Vasquez of Winston-Salem.
Howard is an impressive fundraiser, and her campaign has taken in $163,265 in the current cycle from various sources, including political committees representing hospitals, healthcare facilities and health insurance, and anesthesiologists.
“As chair of the House Finance Committee there are several issues we’re working on,” Howard said. “The unemployment insurance structure is one. We borrowed and owe the federal government $2.7 billion. We’ll be working to restructure that and plan how we will be able to repay that debt and building a new reserve.
“The second big issue we’re doing is looking at tax reform in the state of North Carolina,” she continued. “We have become a service industry and not as much of an agricultural and manufacturing state. We’ll be looking at how to revise the tax base in the state of North Carolina and broaden the base for collecting tax revenue.”
As with the entire Republican caucus, Howard supports voter ID, arguing, “Nobody wants their vote to be circumvented by fraud.”
She noted that if Republicans can get a veto-proof majority or win the governor’s mansion, voter ID legislation will be enacted in the next session.
Howard said the state has a lot of cumbersome and needless regulation that hamstring business. She added that teachers have to fill out too many reports, which diverts them from the classroom and unnecessarily ties up taxpayer funds. The lawmaker also wants to cut taxes.
“Strange as it may seem, 4 percent is the amount of the budget raised through the corporate income tax, which is a small slice of the entire pie,” Howard said. “It would be wonderful to eliminate the corporate tax and reduce the personal income tax. Those are wonderful things we could do if we had the votes.”
That is one of many issues where Howard differs with Vazquez.
“That’s going to create a serious budget problem,” Vasquez said. “That doesn’t sound reasonable to me.”
A New England transplant originally from Havana, Cuba, Vazquez ran unsuccessfully against Dale Folwell in District 74 two years ago.
“I know I have an upward battle because it’s a Republican district,” Vazquez said. “My main concern is to raise awareness on certain issues.”
She argues that North Carolina should follow North Dakota’s lead and establish a state bank, which she said would allow for lower taxes and enhanced services while creating a budget surplus. But many observers credit North Dakota’s economic health to an ongoing oil boom. She said she also wants to promote intentional communities, sometimes also known as co-housing, as an alternative to both losing equity as a renter and being strapped to a burdensome mortgage as a homeowner.
On many of the issues currently being decided in Raleigh, Vazquez is dead set against the Republican agenda.
Voter ID, for example: “I don’t agree with that.” Fracking: “I’m a conservationist first. We have to look at other ways. Solar energy would be very profitable.”
On a new requirement that women to undergo an ultrasound before proceeding with an abortion, pushed through by Republican lawmakers in the last session: “I do not support that.”
Larry Womble, the Democrat who currently represents District 71, had planned to run for state Senate, but was involved in a serious car accident last December, which ultimately led him to retire from politics. Instead, his colleague in neighboring District 72 ran for the seat. Everette Witherspoon, a county commissioner, ran as Womble’s anointed successor in the Democratic primary for District 71, but lost to Evelyn Terry.
A former Winston-Salem city councilwoman and former community organizer, Terry approaches public service with a keen awareness of rising economic inequality.
“Everybody’s talking about free enterprise,” she said. “I realize that capitalism is what it is. But it has taken on new nuances because of the new technology. You’ve got to educate people so that they can think about being trained for the new jobs that are evolving. We’ve got to right now in many instances as I have gone through communities right at home it breaks my heart because there are two separate societies, one poor and one rich. Poverty is at an all-time high in America in the past 50 years.”
More than 60 percent of voters are registered Democratic in the district, which stretches from downtown Winston-Salem almost to the Davidson County line and roughly from Peters Creek Parkway in the west to Linville Road in the east.
Kris McCann, Terry’s Republican opponent, comes from a background that he hopes will appeal across party lines.
“The Democratic Party was a party that was supposed to be of working people,” he said. “I work seven days a week and 12 hours a day. I’m more in tune with the working-class people because I work every day. I take that to Raleigh that our government has to operate within a budget just like our households do.”
An electronics technician at Lorillard Tobacco Co. in Greensboro, McCann has hardly had time to campaign. He said last week was the first time he had gotten time off since Mother’s Day.
Although McCann and Terry philosophically agree that the success of each of the people they seek to represent is mutually dependent, they differ on many issues.
McCann calls voter ID an “infringement” and an example of “more government,” but said, “Because of the actions of a few, I think we’re going to have to have voter ID.”
Terry countered, “Anything that creates a barrier for a person who lives in a free democracy from being able to express how their leadership and the policies that they’re guided by because of some stupid laws that another ruling class decides they should not have the privilege to use is unconscionable.”
Terry was pleasantly surprised to learn she had received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood’s political arm. She opposes legislation passed in the last session that requires a woman to receive an ultrasound before pursuing an abortion.
“I am absolutely a proponent of a woman’s right to choose unequivocally,” she said, “and any intrusion of any legislative mandate regarding the right to choose in my view I am absolutely opposed to.”
As someone who was adopted, McCann said he believes women considering abortion should be made aware of that option. He said he believes abortion should be available in cases of incest, rape or when the mother’s medical safety is at risk, and that funds should be available to pay for the procedure in those cases.
“Abortion is something that I don’t like,” he said, “but it’s not [a decision] I have the right to make for someone else.”
Noting that many parents don’t have adequate time to help children with homework because of work obligations, McCann said, “If we can help reduce taxes, then maybe we can make it easier on parents to make ends meet.”
Terry said businesses in particular should be willing to pay their fair share of taxes.
“Whether they’re service or manufacturing related they should be willing to pay a fair portion to do business in a place that provides them with good roads, clean water, clean air and other things that are available through the public sector so that they are able to do business and make a profit,” she said. “Does that mean reducing taxes? I don’t think so. Or taking them away so they can make more profit? Who’s going to pick up the bill?”
Earline Parmon’s decision to vacate the House District 72 seat to seek election to the state Senate set off a three-way contest to replace her. Ed Hanes Jr. prevailed in a campaign that bypassed support from either Parmon or Vivian Burke, two powerhouses in northeast Winston-Salem who are rival political brokers.
Like its neighbor to the south, District 72 leans heavily Democratic, but has crept westward in the recent round of redistricting, picking up the affluent, liberal and predominantly white enclaves of Buena Vista and the West End. A pro-business Democrat with a strong concern for social justice, Hanes won his primary, in part, by appealing across racial lines with the slogan of “one district, united” while his opponents, Wayne Patterson and Jimmie Bonham, focused on high-turnout precincts in the African- American community.
“None of us are taking anything for granted,” Hanes said. “It’s a new district. My message is unity. Strong on business. Strong on education.”
Hanes, who owns a company focused on renewable energy development, faces Republican opponent Charlie Mellies, a public defender who works in the Forsyth County court system. A first lieutenant in the US Army Reserve, Mellies found out that he will be called up for training during the last stretch of the campaign and then again in January. He publicly asked voters if he should stay in the race and decided to do so after receiving positive feedback. He said at most he is likely to have to miss the first day of the General Assembly, which is largely ceremonial.
Both candidates have articulated a strong focus on constituent relations. Mellies offers voters access to his cell phone number and e-mail address so they can contact him any time. Hanes said he plans to hold quarterly constituent meetings in the district, if elected.
Hanes said he opposes voter ID as “unconstitutional,” but believes that adoption is inevitable in North Carolina. He said voters need to prepare for it by obtaining ID so they will face no challenges at polling places.
“I’m a proponent of voter ID,” Mellies said. “It’s important to know that the person voting is who they say they are and that they only do it once. Voting is a right we take seriously, and that people have given their lives to protect.”
Hanes describes himself as “a pro-life Democrat,” but said the right to choose an abortion is “settled law” and he’s not comfortable with putting “women in a position where the state is looking over their shoulder.”
“I am 100 percent pro-life,” Mellies said. “I don’t make any apology for that. I think it’s important that anyone considering an abortion have all the facts. I think it’s important for minors to get parental consent or go in front of a judge. It’s important to have education about the decision, and getting an ultrasound is a good first step.”
The candidates take contrasting positions on fracking.
“It’s important that we do explore opportunities to become energy independent,” Mellies said. “I realize there’s a tradeoff. There needs to be a good amount of regulation.”
Hanes said, “I’m against it because it puts into jeopardy poor people’s access to clear and clean water. I think there is anecdotal evidence to show it to be dangerous. As long as there are examples of well failures I am going to be very uncomfortable voting for or supporting any legislation with regard to the implementation of fracking.”
Hanes said that in light of the tragic and fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, North Carolina’s “stand your ground” law needs to be reviewed to ensure that it is “safe and just.”
Mellies said he doesn’t know all the facts about the Martin case, but he hopes that nothing like that happens in North Carolina.
“I’m a firm believer that when you’re on your property you should be able to stand your ground,” Mellies said. “That’s good for the homeowner and as a deterrent for someone who’s thinking about entering your home at night.”
Mellies has pledged to introduce legislation to require high school students to obtain basic life skills such as money management, cooking and home repairs before they graduate from high school.
Hanes said he expects to run afoul of the NC Association of Educators, a traditional Democratic constituency, with his support for charter schools.
“Competition breeds excellence,” he said. “I want the charter schools to play on an equal playing field. I want their teachers to be certified. I want there to be standards.”
The candidates have different ideas about how to pursue job creation and economic development.
Mellies said Smith-Reynolds Airport is an untapped resource in the district, and that young people have an opportunity for training through either GTCC or Forsyth Tech.
Hanes’ position on economic development attempts a melding of business and labor interests.
“What we’ve got to do is find a way to make North Carolina as attractive as we can for businesses to come in, and make sure our citizens can earn a living wage,” he said. “Make living wage discussions a part of your incentives discussion.”