Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — The candidates for the District 1 seat in the North Carolina Senate agree on two key transportation issues that have dominated coastal Carolina headlines, but that’s where the common ground ends.
Whether voters elect Democratic incumbent Sen. Stan White or Republican state Rep. Bill Cook, they’ll have an advocate against proposed ferry tolls and in favor of the $600 million Mid-Currituck Bridge project.
The eight-county coastal district spans Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, and Perquimans counties and was represented for years by one of the most powerful politicians in the state: Democrat Marc Basnight.
This summer the legislature postponed ferry toll increases until July 1, 2013. Two routes would have seen new tolls. Tolls on three other routes would have gone up.
For White, tolls aren’t fair to locals who use ferries to get to work, the store, and school. What’s more, he said, locals don’t complain when other communities benefit from expensive roads and bridges. “And it amazes me why those people that get those extremely costly things would try to hamper these folks by putting a toll on,” White said.
Cook said he’s committed to little or no tolling.
“It was me who talked to [Senate President Pro Tem Phil] Berger and [House Speaker Thom] Tillis and was able to finally get that delayed. I was down there until wee hours of the morning — I guess it was the second-to-last day of this last session — and we finally got it done,” he said.
Cook is also committed to the seven-mile, two-lane Mid-Currituck toll bridge across Currituck Sound, despite concerns from some Republicans about the financial feasibility of, and state liability for, the public-private partnership.
“It would enable folks to more easily reach the beautiful coastlines we have in North Carolina,” Cook said, “and that encourages more jobs and stimulates the economy.” The bridge also represents a faster way off the Outer Banks in an emergency, he said.
White supports the bridge “100 percent” and says reneging on the project would be a mistake.
“If you’ve got this company that’s invested all this time, all this money, all this energy on a project for years, and you get here now and they say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it,’ do you think we’d ever have another company that would come in here on any public-private partnership if they thought the state government was operating in that fashion, where they would make a commitment and then, because of political winds, pull the rug out from under them?”
White is a lifelong resident of Dare County, a former Dare County commissioner, and a business owner. He is facing election for the first time since being appointed to fill Basnight’s unexpired term. Cook lives in Chocowinity and retired to Beaufort County after a career in the utility industry in Washington, D.C. He currently represents House District 6.
Outside of transportation, White and Cook diverge.
Cook voted for the 2012 General Fund state budget. White voted against it.
White opposes requiring a photo I.D. to vote. He says it tends to disenfranchise the elderly. Cook says requiring I.D. protects the voting system.
Cook voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act. White says the Racial Justice Act gives him a clearer conscience. “I don’t know that I could sleep at night if I thought that I took away the opportunity for that slim possibility where somebody is innocent, that they’re put to death,” White said.
Their differences boil down to philosophy, according to Cook. “Basically, I’m conservative and he’s liberal.” White, however, sees himself as a moderate and describes Cook as “ultra, ultra conservative.”
Unemployment in District 1 ranges from a July rate of 7.4 percent in Camden County to 11.2 percent in Beaufort County. White’s strategy for job creation is linked to transportation.
“To get any industry to locate in northeastern North Carolina, the first thing they ask for is what kind of highway system do you have? We have made some inroads but we still have a long way to go to get a good transportation system that would be attractive to some industries,” White said.
Cook links job creation to limited government.
“We’re going to have to cut spending, we’re going to have to get government out of business, we’re going to have to decrease some of the out-of-control regulation and make North Carolina a business-friendly state,” Cook said.
The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation rates District 1 as “Leaning Democratic.” Second quarter campaign finance reports showed White with cash on hand of $58,068 and Cook with $3,658. Cook describes the race as “tight,” and predicts swing voters will determine the outcome.
Donna Martinez is a contributor to Carolina Journal.