Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — If there was any doubt about the political importance of the rematch between Democratic incumbent Rep. Hugh Holliman and Republican challenger Rayne Brown, the list of power players who’ve hit the campaign trail wipes it away.
Former Gov. Jim Hunt recently stumped for Holliman, the powerful House majority leader seeking his sixth term representing Davidson County’s District 81.
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer and House Minority Leader Paul Stam have campaigned for Brown, a social worker who lost to Holliman by just 1,300 votes in 2008.
The contest was one of the closest and most expensive House races of the year, according to the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation. NCFEF reports Holliman spent $342,743 while Brown spent just $15,258. The average cost of a winning House campaign was $65,807.
This year, the race is too close to call, says Ran Coble of the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. “I don’t think he is being caught by surprise this year and [he’s] running hard. From what I’ve seen of the money race, he’s already spent about $125,000 whereas Rayne Brown has about $30,000 or so.”
Brown says she doesn’t need to outspend Holliman to win. She’s going door to door like she did in 2008 and focuses on spending, unemployment, and property rights. Brown says Holliman is simply too liberal for the district. “I think I have every single chance to win,” she says. “I just go on every day, just taking my message to every individual I can find.”
Holliman views the contest as a choice between moving North Carolina forward or backward. He points to education. “She wants to do away with early childhood education, meaning the More at Four/Smart Start programs,” he says. “I don’t think she’ll be the strong supporter of education, in particular our community colleges, that I am.”
When it comes to the economy and job creation, Holliman says the state is doing all it can to attract new industries. He touts his record for helping small businesses by providing a tax break on unemployment insurance, setting aside money in the Rural Center for loans, strengthening small business communication groups in community colleges, and supporting the Main Street program.
Holliman criticizes Brown for not being specific about tough decisions ahead. The state is facing an estimated $3 billion budget hole next year.
“We’ve gone from a $22 billion-dollar budget to a $19 billion-dollar budget. Now if you’re going to take another 15 percent or so, tell the people where you’re going to cut,” Holliman says. “You’ve got to do more than say, hey, I’m just going to give people their money back. You’ve got to understand we’ve got to balance the budget. The decision is not that simple.”
Brown, a fiscal conservative, points the finger back at Holliman and the legislature. “It’s going to be tough because they’ve gotten us into such a hole,” she says.
“It’s not going to be pretty. We’re going to look at every single thing and I think everything has to be on the table. You’ve got to fund your core interests first and decide what they are.” Brown identifies education, public safety, law enforcement, and infrastructure as on her priorities list.
To spur job creation, Brown wants government to step aside.
“So we’ve got a growing government and we have a shrinking private sector, and I think that’s completely upside down. But what government can do is just to set the conditions. And we’ve not been a business friendly state in a quite a while.”
Poor tax policy is part of the problem and tax rates should be lowered, she says. “No surrounding state raised the corporate income tax, the taxes on small businesses and individuals, and the sales tax. We did all three.”
Brown also has concerns about the new federal health insurance law. She “absolutely” supports a legislative effort to exempt North Carolina from the mandate that individuals buy government-approved insurance or face a fine. Holliman says it’s “way premature” to consider such a move.
Davidson County is a mostly Republican area, Coble says, and that’s a key factor in the race. Election records show Holliman was the only Democrat to win a partisan Davidson County race in the 2008 general election.
Independent expenditures also could be a factor. Holliman says advertising critical of him from the 527 group Real Jobs NC, which has received some Republican funding, contains half-truths. The Associated Press has reported that a group called Real Facts NC has been formed to counter Real Jobs NC and that the North Carolina Association of Educators is a member of the Real Facts NC coalition.
Among the donors to Real Jobs NC is Variety Stores Inc., a subsidiary of Variety Wholesalers Inc. Former Republican legislator Art Pope is vice chairman, president, and CFO of Variety Wholesalers and a member of the board of directors of the John Locke Foundation, which publishes Carolina Journal.
Democrats currently control the North Carolina House. The GOP is seeking a net gain of nine seats to take control of the chamber.
Donna Martinez is a contributor to Carolina Journal.