Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — On May 8, veteran Democratic House legislator Jim Crawford will learn whether he will pay a price for joining with Republicans to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the $19.7 billion state budget.
Crawford, one of five House Democrats who did so, is seeking the Democratic nomination for the newly redrawn House District 2. He acknowledges his budget vote is “a tremendous factor” in the primary race against current District 55 Rep. “Winkie” Wilkins, who was double-bunked with Crawford in the new district, and Jason Jenkins, labor caucus chairman of the Young Democrats of North Carolina.
Despite the primary challenge, Crawford doesn’t regret his budget vote. “I was in the position to put $300 million back into public schools of education, $100 million into universities, and $60 million in mental health,” he said. “I’m absolutely comfortable with that [the budget vote], and if I get beat because of it, I did what was right for the schools and I did what was right for mental health.”
The 14-term lawmaker says some people tell him they appreciate what he did. He believes his contacts, experience, and history of positions of leadership on committees allow him to get things done.
Wilkins sees things differently. He voted against the budget and talks of his “undying allegiance to education.” He said voters would decide about Crawford’s vote.
“I am simply pointing out that I voted against this budget that is very harmful to education and it’s very harmful to school children and it’s very harmful to teachers. And I voted against this budget that had invisible money in it,” said Wilkins, who has served for eight years in the General Assembly.
Wilkins defined “invisible” money as education funding that was included in the budget but mandated to revert back to the state. The process has been in place for years and is also known as the “flexibility reduction” or the “LEA adjustment.”
“I think there was some basic intent behind it,” Wilkins said of the reversion, “because at the end, it makes it look like the state budget added teaching jobs, but all it did was make the local systems look like the bad guys because they’re the ones who had to make the cuts.”
At age 30, Jenkins is several decades younger than his opponents. He said voters like the idea of a younger representative. “They want fresh faces and fresh ideas and new creative thought process in the General Assembly,” he said. Prior to 2003, Jenkins was a Republican. He says the party left him by moving too far to the right.
Jenkins believes North Carolina is heading down the wrong path on education, jobs, and more. “We have to stop any voter ID bills that might come up. We have to stop any fracking bills that might come up. So, you know, I’m not running just against Crawford. I have my own platform, my own issues,” he said, adding that several Democratic House caucus members asked him to run.
All three candidates express concern about District 2’s high unemployment. The February rate in Person County was 10.8 percent. In Granville County it was 10 percent. Both Crawford and Wilkins say North Carolina has good programs in place to spur job creation and growth.
“We need to make sure they’re more fully funded,” said Wilkins. “We needed more than $10 million in the One North Carolina Fund this year, but it just wasn’t done because of the money situation. We have cut back the small business fund and it was too small to begin with.”
Crawford points to his record. “I’ve introduced several of the Commerce bills with incentives. I’ve introduced bills for the Rural Center which takes care of buildings that have been vacant for two years.” He also cited his work with the Golden LEAF foundation “to keep their dollars whole so that they can work with industrial customers that are coming into the state, and small businesses.”
Jenkins says potential negative impact on the state’s economy is one reason he opposes the marriage amendment that will appear on the May 8 ballot. The constitutional amendment defines marriage as strictly between one man and one woman. “I think the main thing that really bothers me is the economic effects it might have — the companies that may want to relocate here that offer domestic partner benefits.”
Jenkins contends the amendment writes discrimination into the constitution, while Wilkins said it is far-reaching and does something the constitution shouldn’t do: “It takes away something rather than doing what a constitution ought to do, and that is guaranteeing something,” Wilkins said.
Crawford said he will vote no even though he sponsored the bill. He disagrees with some of what was added to it. “I think eliminating the opportunities for a contract — some of the tangential issues — are probably a little too harsh.”
The winner of the Crawford-Jenkins-Wilkins primary will face the winner of the Republican primary in the fall. Two Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination: Jon Gregory Bass and Timothy Karan. The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation rates House District 2 as “Lean Dem.”
Donna Martinez is a contributor to Carolina Journal.