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Republican candidates crowd the runoff ballot

by Jordan Green

BY JORDAN GREEN jordna@yesweekly.com

Republican aspirations to knock off incumbent Democrats in the council of state in Raleigh resulted in a bumper crop of competitive primaries in May. No surprise then that the crowded Republican primaries resulted in a number of runoffs to determine who will face the Democratic incumbents in November.

Republicans are feeling the wind at their backs in an election in which North Carolina is expected to flip back into their column in the presidential race and their candidate is expected to capture the governor’s mansion. And GOP candidates for the four council of state seats are hopeful that coattails from the top of the ticket will help them oust the Democrats.

Runoffs occur when no candidate in the primary corners more than 40 percent of the vote and when the second-place finisher requests it. Turnout is traditionally so abysmal that the elections may as well be a secret. But all polling places will be open Tuesday, July 17 from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. And early voting at selected sites in Guilford and Forsyth counties runs through Saturday. Considering that turnout is predicted to be low, voters who bother to participate will have a super-sized influence. And, particularly on the Republican side, the outcome of the runoffs could very well determine who winds up in power come November.

If you voted a Democratic ballot in the primary, you must vote a Democratic ballot in the runoff. Likewise, if you voted a Republican ballot in the primary, you must vote a Democratic ballot in the runoff. Those who voted a Libertarian or unaffiliated ballot in the primary have no contests on the run-off ballot. Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters who did not vote in the primary can still vote in the runoff.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, REPUBLICAN

Both Republican candidates for lieutenant governor live in Raleigh and share a platform of cutting taxes and reducing regulations on business. Tony Gurley is a member of the Wake County Commission with 10 years of experience on the board. Dan Forest, whose mother is Congresswoman Sue Myrick, is an architect who has not served in elective office before. Forest describes himself as “a strong fiscal and social conservative” while Gurley touts his “proven conservative leadership experience.”

The two candidates are betting heavily that Republican Pat McCrory will be the state’s next governor.

“We feel strongly that Pat’s going to win,” Forest said. “That opens the door for a Republican lieutenant governor for only the second time in the history of North Carolina.”

Gurley said, “I want to work with Governor Mc- Crory and be the champion of small business.”

Forest said he wants to eliminate the state’s corporate income tax, reduce the state gas tax and create a small-business tax bracket for LLCs and S-corporations that would offer lower rates than the individual income tax. He added that he believes the revenue lost through those tax cuts would be replaced through economic growth.

Gurley said that as a pharmacist he has a list of burdensome regulations that he would like to address, and he would survey other business sectors to find out what regulations are hindering their growth.

Forest led balloting in Guilford County during the primary. Rich Brenner, a beloved sportscaster who was active in Republican politics, chaired his campaign before his unexpected death in February.

Forsyth County was carried by Dale Folwell, a local state lawmaker who fell only 3,516 votes short of second place. Gurley is making a play for Folwell’s supporters, arguing that both candidates have the political experience to back up their conservative convictions.

“He wasn’t just in the legislature; he was the speaker pro tem,” Gurley said. “Dale Folwell led workers comp reform. He worked with tort reform. He is an excellent legislator. I’ve been chair of our county commission three of 10 years. We have reformed the way county government works in Wake County. We both have proven conservative leadership.

“I cannot disagree with a vote for Dale Folwell,” Gurley added. “I hope that the people that made that decision will look at the two candidates and vote for me. If Dale Folwell voters stay home because Dale didn’t win, I’ll lose. If they come out, I’ll win.”

COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE, REPUBLICAN

The Republican runoff for commissioner of insurance pits a veteran lawmaker from Pinehurst against a Guilford County farmer with a wide array of professional and political experience.

Richard Morgan served in the NC House from 1991 to 2006, including a stint as co-speaker with Democrat Jim Black that angered his fellow Republicans. A primary defeat ended his legislative career.

Mike Causey is a former lobbyist whose past clients include the Farmland and Open Space Conservation Fund and the NC Autobody and Glass Association. He’s a former vendor at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market who left to start his own produce and meat market after tangling with the city-operated market over whether he was growing his own blueberries.

Causey studied civil engineering and construction in college, but was recruited to join Metropolitan Life as a sales representative, and spent 30 years working in the industry. He ran for commissioner of insurance in 1992, 1996 and 2000 at the encouragement of party leaders who were attempting to chip away Democratic control of the council of state.

Causey said one of the state’s most pressing issues is creating more consumer choice for homeowners east of Interstate 95 who are trying to buy homeowners insurance. Causey carried several coastal counties, including Dare, Currituck, Carteret and New Hanover. On the 4th of July he was in Beaufort County to celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding.

“One of the county commissioners pointed at the water, the level of the water,” Causey recounted. “I was told that 50 years ago there were houses out there. In the past 50 years there’s no doubt about it; there’s rising sea level. There’s controversy over the amount. The problem with the homeowners insurance — there are many problems — but availability is the biggest obstacle. People two or three counties back from the coast can’t even find homeowners coverage at a reasonable cost.”

While Causey appeals to the interests of coastal residents, Morgan is attempting to tap into the deep well of resentment against President Obama among Republican voters. Morgan could not be reached for this story.

“We’ve had enough Obama spending, enough Obamacare and enough Obama politics,” the candidate says in an ad available for viewing on YouTube.

“We’ve also had enough unconstitutional insurance mandates and enough of our go-along-with-Obama insurance commissioner.”

Causey said the federal government’s mandate that states create health insurance exchanges is not an area the commissioner of insurance can influence.

“I’m not a big fan of the federal government tak ing over anything,” he said, “but if that’s the law of the land, we’re going to have to work within those requirements.

Secretary of state, Republican

Both Republican candidates for secretary of state share experience serving as county commissioners, but differ markedly in tone and temperament. A retired special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Ed Goodwin returned to his native Chowan County in the state’s northeastern corner and was elected to county commission in 2008. A California native, Kenn Gardner came to North Carolina in the early 1980s and served two terms on the Wake County Commission in the state’s fastest growing county.

In an interview peppered with culture-war references, Goodwin railed against the Affordable Healthcare Act, a United Nations treaty to control firearms and favorable remarks by Elaine Marshall, the Democratic incumbent in the secretary of state’s office, about Occupy Raleigh.

“When those views and their speech clearly states that they want to overthrow the United States of America and they want to change the system as we have it, that’s not something that’s just an unpopular view, that is an enemy,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said that as secretary of state he would consult with county managers, chambers of commerce and economic development groups in the state’s 100 counties on a regular basis to find out what legislative changes need to be made to help their business climates.

Gardner, who works as an architect, noted that the secretary of state’s office is known as “the state’s filing cabinet” because of its primary function as a registry for companies and nonprofits. Like Goodwin, he said he would use the office as a bully pulpit for business interests and lobby the legislature for changes to policies that affected business whether they related directly to the office or not.

“Companies are spending too much time on doing the most simple of tasks,” Gardner said. “Simplifying and standardizing the paperwork allows them to save more of their money and focus on growing their business and hiring more people.”

Superintendent of public instruction, Republican

Like most of the Republican races on the runoff ballot, the contest for superintendent of public instruction features two conservatives.

John Tedesco may be the most well known, particularly in Guilford County. Tedesco was elected to the Wake County School Board in 2009 as part of a Republican wave that created a new majority intent on dismantling the district’s celebrated school-assignment plan based on maintaining socioeconomic diversity. In his second year in office Tedesco traveled to Greensboro to speak at a Tax Day Tea Party sponsored by Conservatives for Guilford County. He told audience member they were part of a new American revolution, and took aim at Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, who had participated as an officer of the NAACP in a civil disobedience at a Wake County School Board meeting.

“These people are going to try to make you feel ashamed,” Tedesco said. “They’re going to try to make you feel ashamed at every step. I’m not ashamed to be a conservative, Christian man. In Wake County they’ve had everybody and their brother trying to make me feel ashamed, whether they’ve got Bill Clinton chiming in or Stephen Colbert putting me on Comedy Central; they think it’s a joke. Or they’ve got Governor Perdue. Everybody you could possibly think of. Your NAACP. Even you’ve got some joke commissioner here who thought it was their right to come and disrupt our meeting. I think Commissioner Coleman should stay here and get her problems fixed here before she sits there and judges people in Wake County. Come to my meeting with the NAACP and the rest of them, and we’ll get you arrested, too.”

Tedesco, who talks about participating in the freeand-reduced lunch program as a child growing up in the Pittsburgh area, might be the more liberal candidate in the race. With equal passion, Tedesco talked about the school-to-prison pipeline, to significantly less enthusiastic applause from the conservative activists in Greensboro.

“Nearly a third of our children are dropping out,” he said. “We have two thirds of our children when they do graduate and go on to college that need remediation. We have 1.5 million children in schools in North Carolina, and yet we rank towards the bottom in education in the country; we rank fourth in America in incarceration. It makes me wonder why they don’t see that it’s fiscal conservatism to be more efficient and effective with the $8,500 a year that we spend to educate a child than the $30,000 that we spend to incarcerate a man.”

Richard Alexander, Tedesco’s opponent, would like to see the US Department of Education eliminated and thinks North Carolina should turn away federal funding for education. He also wants to reduce the size and scope of the NC Department of Public Instruction.

“I would ultimately like to bring it to the people through the legislative process that we ask the people for a constitutional amendment to get rid of the superintendent of public instruction,” Alexander said, “and replace it with a secretary of education appointed by the governor, that has zero policymaking authority.”

Alexander lives in the Charlotte area. He said he taught 5th grade special education through the end of the last semester in South Carolina so that he wouldn’t have to answer to the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Among the innovations Alexander would like to pursue is devolving policymaking authority to local school boards and establishing distance learning to accommodate the needs of high school students at schools with declining populations and deteriorating facilities. He faults Gov. Bev Perdue and her predecessor, Mike Easley, for focusing too much on college education.

“Governor Perdue and Easley spent their time saying every kid’s going to college; it was a one-track system,” Alexander said. “We know that every kid’s not going to college. We need to have a two-track system: a vocational track and a college-ready track.”

Commissioner of labor, Democrat

In the one runoff on the ballot for Democratic voters,John C. Brooks and Marlowe Foster are vying for the opportunity to challenge three-term Republican incumbent Cherie Berry for the seat of commissioner of labor.

Brooks led the office from 1977 to 1993 before being  ousted in a Democratic primary. Foster, a state government  lobbyist for Phizer Pharmaceuticals, presents himself as the more electable candidate.

“This is a very different North Carolina from when John Brooks was the labor commissioner in the 1970s,” Foster said. “It is different in demographics. There are more people who have moved here from out of the state. It’s different in the politics. It was a much more reliably Democratic state for these offices. There is a need to be able to work across party lines for results.”

Both Brooks and Foster live in Raleigh, but Foster at  one time lived in Winston-Salem. He worked for Lowe’s and ran unsuccessfully for the South Ward seat on what was then the city’s board of aldermen.

Brooks’ tenure as commissioner of labor will be forever associated with the 1991 Hamlet chicken plant disaster, which took the lives of dozens of workers and was memorialized in song by punk singer Jello Biafra.

“The Department of Labor did not have jurisdiction of that facility at the time the fire occurred,” Brooks said. “To have jurisdiction required that the company register with the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State filed an affidavit saying that the facility was not registered with the Secretary of State. The Department of Labor wasn’t responsible in any way for what occurred. They never had any type of jurisdiction. I levied the biggest fine that’s ever been filed in the state of North Carolina on that plant.”

For the past 10 years, Brooks has worked as staff attorney for the NC Labor Commission. He argues that the Department of Labor needs a lawyer in the top spot.

“I know where the injuries are occurring and what kind of injuries are occurring,” he said. “I know what the expense is in terms of lost income, and the terrible cost to the public in terms of the supplement that we pay for the use of emergency rooms that could be reduced.”

Both candidates said they would focus resources on enforcement of the state’s wage and hour laws, and work with community colleges to improve training for the benefit of both workers and businesses.

Guilford County Commission District 6, Republican

The Republican runoff for the newly created Guilford County Commission District 6 is a contest between two conservatives who oppose tax increases and say they want to cut government waste, while emphasizing support for public safety.

Jeremy Williams, a human resources director with Cintas Corp., draws his base of support from Conservatives for Guilford County, a group that has alienated some in the county Republican Party but has created an effective get-out-the-vote apparatus and a media presence through the online Guilford Guardian newspaper.

Williams became active in county politics after attending the 2010 Tax Day Tea Party rally. The following year he reviewed the county budget with Conservatives for Guilford County and recommended eliminating longevity bonuses for county employees, arguing that the sluggish economy mitigated the risk that they would be lured away by the private sector.

The Williams campaign has pulled in about $3,000 in in-kind and cash contributions, or about 40 percent of his total, from Conservatives for Guilford County’s political action committee and individuals active with the group.

Henning, an account manager with Brady Services who serves on the county party’s executive committee, has attracted support from more traditional Republican operatives, garnering endorsements from US Rep. Howard Coble, Guilford County Commissioner Billy Yow and Tony Wilkins, a former opponent who was eliminated in the primary.

A Marine, Henning announced on July 5 that he had signed the “no new taxes” pledge with Americans for Tax Reform, a powerful outfit headed by Grover Norquist.

Charlie Collicutt, Guilford County’s deputy elections director, predicted that turnout in this runoff will be lower than two years ago, when a contest between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham for US Senate headed the Democratic ticket and drew 4.5 percent of registered voters across the state to the polls. In 2008, only 1.8 percent of registered voters turned out. That was for a runoff with only one statewide race that, ironically perhaps, pitted John C. Brooks against another candidate for commissioner of labor. Brooks lost the runoff, and his Democratic opponent was ultimately defeated by Republican incumbent Cherie Berry.

Based on the past two cycles, if you bother to vote in this runoff your vote will have roughly 12 times as much impact as it did in the May primary.

“We’ve got more Democrats in this county,” Colicutt said. “All they’ve got is the commissioner of labor. That would statistically be the largest voting bloc. Are they going to turn out? No.”

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