Old Friends Now Foes in State Senate Race

by Whitney Kenerly

Gloves come off in Democratic Primary in 28th senate district

The Democratic primary race for the 28 th Senate district has Melvin “Skip” Alston challenging incumbent state Sen. Gladys Robinson. While both Robinson and Alston have served together on boards and as leaders in the African-American community they have been critical toward each other in regards to leadership experience.

Sen. Robinson, who is seeking a third term, has introduced 20 bills that mostly focus on issues related to health care, education, and childcare.

Alston has been a local political figure for more than 20 years as former president of the NC NAACP and Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. While he was president, he worked with Robinson on education. “I appointed her as State Education chair,” said Alston, “We have been knowing each other for 25 years, and I consider her a friend.” The pleasantry ended there as Alston said he let Robinson go after one year. “She wasn’t a good fit because she could not relate to the grassroots citizens within the NAACP,” said Alston. He feels that Robinson, who holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from North Carolina A&T State University, “doesn’t relate to the common everyday person.”

Robinson maintains that she never worked for Alston, but for the community during her service for the NAACP.

Robinson has her own criticisms of Alston’s time as president and said, “He began to disgrace the NAACP in his principles,” and added that she is a strong supporter of current NC NAACP president, Rev. Dr. William Barber.

Alston has been very outspoken in his view that Robinson has been ineffective as a state senator. “I base that on her effectiveness ranking that is done by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research,” said Alston. “They ranked her as 49 th out of 50.” Alston says he is running because he feels that Robinson’s low rankings in attendance and effectiveness are unacceptable.

While Alston says the NCCPPR rankings are non-partisan, Robinson claims that they are biased, that the majority ranks the minority, and that Alston’s criticisms actually echo Republican rhetoric. In response to being labeled as ineffective, Robinson said, “People have said that about people across the state, and it’s a Republican slogan.” Robinson feels that, “Effectiveness for the community is about advocating for the people we serve,” and added that she’s been endorsed by several progressive groups including the Sierra Club, Lillian’s List and NC NARAL. “If Republicans rank me low, then good!” Robinson said.

Alston also says that Robinson has mislead voters about her record in the state senate, especially in regards to the Breast Density Notification & Awareness bill which passed unanimously in the state house of representatives. Alston says it is a lie that Robinson had anything to do with the passing of the law. Robinson attributes this criticism to a lack of understanding of the legislative process on Alston’s part. “The process in Raleigh is that you have to give up your own personal identity to get something done,” said Robinson. Robinson said GOP leaders opposed the bill when she tried to introduce it herself in the state senate, so she worked with state representatives to get another version of the bill passed in the house.

The rivals both understand that Democratic legislators must choose their issues carefully. Alston believes that the best approach is to choose non-partisan issues. “It’s going to be hard to get anything that’s partisan passed down in Raleigh,’ Alston said. “I look for non-partisan things, and that’s the way you get something done down there without coming back and having no bills introduced whatsoever.” Alston’s platform includes several broad issues that could actually be seen as very partisan and include increased funding for education, economic development, jobs, homelessness, incarceration, and affordable healthcare.

Alston maintains that these issues are only partisan if you aren’t willing to compromise. Alston’s selfproclaimed ability to compromise is one of his key leadership strategies and he is proud of his record of working with Republicans. “There’s always a compromise point in politics,” Alston said. “The way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Robinson chides Alston’s willingness to work across party lines. “Mr.Alston says that her works closely with Republicans,” said Robinson. “He must be a Republican then. So people have to decide if they want another Republican, or an actual Democrat.”

Alston sees Robinson’s views on compromise as a symptom of inexperience. “I believe that having local government experience will prepare you to go down there and deal with the hard nosed politics that they have,” said Alston. “Ms. Robinson has never had any local political experience. She’s never held any local office at all.”

In response to claims by Alston that he is more experienced, Robinson laughed.

“He’s experienced in looking out for himself,” she said.

Robinson says that Alston has not worked for the interest of the community, and claimed that he has a record of lobbying for payday lending, which she feels hurts lower income citizens. Robinson pointed to her years of experience in education.

“My opponent doesn’t even understand the legislative process,” Robinson said.

Robinson believes it is better to fight for causes that serve her constituents than to seek compromise with Republicans. She has introduced bills influenced by issues promoted by Moral Monday rallies. “Republicans don’t like Moral Mondays either,” she said. “Every Moral Monday I have been there,” Robinson said. “When Rev. Barber was arrested, he’ll tell you I came yelling from the elevator that they didn’t have the right to take him away. It was his right to be in that public space like that.”

Alston counters that he is still the better candidate in terms of relating to people.

“She talks over their heads,” he said of Robinson’s interactions with her constituents, while emphasizing the necessity of compromising with Republicans.

In response to Robinson’s effectiveness in serving her community he said, “She says she couldn’t do anything because of the fact that she was in the minority. So basically she’s saying that no Democrats can get anything done down there.”

Robinson is unwavering in her stance that she has acted on behalf of her constituents while accusing Alston of seeking to serve self-interests.

“I think the citizens have a clear choice,” Robinson said. “The people see me as their senator, and I am their senator.” !