The unlikely candidacy of Wade Boyles

by Keith Barber

Near the end of the second presidential debate between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain on Oct. 7, Obama spoke to the TV audience about his health care plan for the nation, as a hush fell over the crowd assembled at Krankies Werehouse in Winston-Salem. Roughly 50 members of the Democratic Party of Forsyth County, including a number of local candidates for office, remained glued to the projection TV as Obama outlined his plan.

Wade Boyles, Democratic candidate for NC House District 74, listened intently, hanging on every word. Like a member of a church congregation (with Obama serving as minister), Boyles finished the candidate’s sentences as his candidate repeated one of the most familiar planks of his platform. “Absolutely!” Boyles said. Others in the partisan audience applauded, and then turned away from the screen, and spoke amongst themselves as John McCain delivered his rebuttal. Boyles, vice president of the Young Democrats of Forsyth County and an Obama Pride North Carolina coordinator, is running for the NC House District 74 seat against incumbent Dale Folwell. A Stokes County native, Boyles describes himself as a newcomer to the political arena. He admits he didn’t get involved in politics until earlier this year. And one other small detail: Wade Boyles is openly gay.

Boyles acknowledges he faces long odds of being elected to the General Assembly. But the candidate remains optimistic.

“I really believe I can generate enough votes,” he said. “The numbers are there. The support is there. It is possible.”

In 2004, NC Sen. Julia Boseman became the first openly gay person to be elected to the General Assembly. More recently, however, Jim Neal, an openly gay investment banker from Chapel Hill, lost to Kay Hagan in the Democratic primary for US Senate. Hagan won by a whopping 61-18 margin. According to the NC Board of Elections, Folwell has raised more than $47,000 for his campaign. Boyles has yet to file a campaign finance report. The threshold for filing a campaign finance report is $3,000. However, Laura Barclay, Boyles’ campaign manager, said Boyles would file a report by the end of the month.

Dale Folwell looked totally at ease and in his element. Wearing a golf shirt and slacks, Folwell spoke in an even, measured tone, and the audience listened closely. Suddenly, it became clear why the two-term state representative can claim a number of legislative successes in his short tenure.  During a candidate forum at Ardmore Baptist Church on Oct. 9, Folwell addressed the audience, composed mostly of senior citizens, in a manner more befitting a university professor than a politician. Utilizing the Socratic method, Folwell answered questions posed by audience members by asking rhetorical questions of his own.

When asked about the state’s Homestead Property Tax Exemption, Folwell effortlessly shifted the conversation to one of his favorite subjects — education.

“Part of our revenue that would allow us to give you a larger homestead exemption comes from sales tax,” Folwell said. “You’re going to find this really ironic, but this church, your Boy Scouts, your Girl Scouts, your hospice, Forsyth Country Day, these hospitals — none of these entities pays sales tax on their purchases. They pay the sales tax but they get a refund. You will never guess who does not get a sales tax refund in Forsyth County….”

Folwell then paused for dramatic effect before telling the audience that the Forsyth County school system does not get a sales tax exemption, as audible gasps could be heard in the cavernous fellowship hall.

“No school district in North Carolina receives its sales tax back once it pays it in, but all these other organizations do, including Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty and George Clooney, when he filmed Leatherheads. They all get their sales tax back but the Forsyth County Schools do not and that’s wrong.”

Folwell is extremely adept at repositioning an issue to either highlight one of his legislative achievements or underscore a principle of his personal philosophy. Folwell has said he is adamantly against economic incentive packages, which include tax breaks for local film projects. Boyles takes a different view. He believes each company or project seeking tax refunds for setting up shop in the state should be judged on its own merits, and it would be unwise to make a sweeping generalization regarding economic incentives.

The fundamental differences in the philosophies of the two candidates can most clearly be seen in their diametrically opposed stances on the $62.1 million education bond referendum on the Forsyth County ballot on Nov. 4. Both candidates agree that education is the best way to address poverty, but their viewpoints diverge when it comes to supporting the measure, which would allow Forsyth Tech to expand its facilities.

Folwell said he does not support the bond referendum because it would disrupt Forsyth Tech’s vocational education and career center operations and place a greater tax burden on Forsyth County residents. Folwell said he believes that the community college actually encourages students in the county schools to drop out by offering a high school equivalency degree that requires fewer credit hours.

“I just don’t agree with that,” Boyles said, regarding his opponent’s position. “Kids drop out of school for all kinds of reasons. A lot of it, if you look at your inner cities, a lot of it has to do with poverty.”

Boyles said if the Forsyth Tech education bonds don’t pass, it could create a “brain drain,” and the ripple effect on the area’s economy would be lasting.

“It will destroy our economy,” Boyles said.

There’s more to Boyles’ platform than just supporting the education bonds.

“I want to increase teachers’ pay. I want to support bringing green jobs to our state and I want to stop giving tax incentives that outsource North Carolina jobs,” the candidate said.

Folwell said he’s running on his record as a consensus builder, touting the fact that in the most recent session of the General Assembly, his initiatives garnered 563 yeas and only 11 neas.

“I’m very proud of that,” he said.

Folwell co-sponosored HR 2806, which urges the US Congress to allow the state to determine whether offshore drilling should be allowed. Boyles said he supports oil companies drilling in areas where they currently own leases, but not opening up new areas to drilling due to environmental concerns. Folwell also sponsored HR 2803 or the Defense of Marriage Act, which would amend the state’s constitution to provide that the union of one man and one woman is the only marriage recognized as valid in the state. It would be fair to say the two candidates disagree strongly on this issue.

Barclay said measures like the Defense of Marriage Act reveal the duplicity of lawmakers, particularly Republican lawmakers, who claim to support family values.

“The irony of the Republican party is whenever they try to attack gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships or folks that have the support of their families, that is a personal issue. So, to try to attack the fabric of certain families and say, ‘You have to fit into this mold of one man and one woman and that’s the only type of family that’s okay,’ that’s ridiculous. That’s not appreciating the diversity of America and supporting true family values.”

Boyles said anti-gay measures merely serve as distractions from the important issues, and if state legislators would address poverty, it would solve a number of other social ills. However, the fate of the poor doesn’t appear to be at the top of the General Assembly’s agenda.

“It’s so ridiculous for them to throw out these issues that have nothing to do with human life and dignity. I come from the middle class, the lower middle class, and I have family who are poor…. I see what it does to people. That’s why I’m so passionate…”

Overcome with emotion, Boyles pauses for a moment, then continues, “…about helping poor people, because that is what my faith taught me, to help others when they can’t help themselves.”

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