Pragmatist with extensive government experience runs for House 61

by Jordan Green

I think there’s a career trajectory in politics,” said John Faircloth during an interview last week in a meeting room at Coldwell Bankers Triad Realtors in north High Point. “Of course, the highest form of public service is volunteering with organizations such at the United Way. From there, you might be appointed to local government commissions or boards. After that, you might feel that you have something to give in terms of making decisions in elected office.”

Of the four Republican candidates vying to replace retiring Rep. Laura Wiley as representative of the District 61 seat in the NC House, Faircloth holds the most government experience. He has served on High Point City Council since 2003, including two years as mayor pro tem. Opponent Georgia Nixon- Roney was first elected to Jamestown Town Council in 2007. Two other candidates, Paul Norcross and Gerald T. Grubb, are seeking elective office for the first time. The winner of the May 4 Republican primary will be the district’s next representative barring the unlikely event of a successful write-in campaign.

Should the 71-year-old Faircloth prevail, he would be following a trail blazed by Wiley, a Republican who formerly served on the nonpartisan High Point council. Wiley’s three terms in the House have been marked by a style of muted ideology and a record of working across party lines in the General Assembly with Democrats in the Guilford County delegation such as Don Vaughan to advance High Point’s interests. As a politician, Faircloth eschews flash, and he shares a pragmatic streak with Wiley.

“She’s forewarned me of some of the dilemmas,” Faircloth said of Wiley. “I think she would say, ‘Listen carefully, make sure you have all the facts, and be somewhat suspicious.’ Everybody has a motive. You have to take everything with a grain of salt. But if you make decisions that are in the best interests of the citizens, you’d probably be right.”

Faircloth’s cautious, even boring style of politics draws both from his 16 years as a realtor, and an equal amount of time before that as chief of the High Point Police Department.

“The purpose of government, if you really look at it, is to get the right services for the citizens at the right cost,” he said. “Simple to speak of; difficult to do.”

Faircloth said he does not purport to be an expert on the state budget, which has been rent by a gaping hole thanks to the ongoing economic downturn, but if he wins the primary he will spend the next six months studying it.

“The balanced budget is one of the jewels we have in our crown,” he said. “What it places on the policymaker is a responsibility to have a clear understanding of the necessary services that make life livable for the citizens. In any government — local, state or federal — there are a lot of services and benefits that are nice to have, but not essential. [Some] services might have to be diminished or done away with.”

As a businessperson, Faircloth said it is apparent that North Carolina’s tax structure puts the state at a disadvantage in the national and international economy. As an example he pointed to the personal income tax, which impacts entrepreneurs who organize businesses as limited liability companies. The structure protects owners from liability, but requires them to pay a comparatively higher amount on business income than companies organized as corporations.

As someone with more than three decades in law enforcement, Faircloth is very interested in public safety issues.

“North Carolina is in good shape in terms of having good law enforcement,” he said. “I think our court system is very dependable. One of the weaknesses I see is taking away sentencing discretion from judges…. There are no two cases that are exactly alike. There are no two people that come to the table with the same upbringing, problems and demands. [The current system] doesn’t do a service to the person [charged], and it doesn’t do a service to society.”

The candidate said he would like to participate in an review of post-sentencing practices to reduce the expense of incarceration by increasing the use of house arrest through electronic monitoring.

In some facets, Faircloth tends to the moderate end of his party — a rarity in a year of conservative Tea Party fervor.

“I’m a strong supporter of the public school system,” he said. “I do, however, support a citizen’s right to choose alternative education, if they feel the public schools are failing them…. I do feel they should raise the cap on charter schools or remove it altogether.”

Faircloth prefers good transportation infrastructure and lower tax rates as a broad-based incentive to attract investment and employment, but believes there remains a role for targeted incentives and would not be in favor of doing away with the One North Carolina Fund.

“We’re in a competitive environment, in terms of building a business base,” he said. “As long as that’s part of the game, I think we’ve got to play the game.”

Faircloth presented himself as a friend to local governments in Guilford County, and said he would guard against the state government devolving responsibilities such as road maintenance without reducing taxes commensurately to allow counties to raise revenues without increasing local citizens’ overall tax rates.

“One of my true responsibilities would be to represent the concerns and needs of the governments of High Point, Jamestown and Greensboro, and the county government too. So often the state government passes a mandate, but doesn’t provide funding.”