Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — They are heralding solutions to education woes, an anemic economy, joblessness and illegal immigration, but Republican congressional and lieutenant governor candidates in North Carolina’s July 17 runoff elections lament that their messages will not spark much voter turnout.
“Obviously, the expectation is that turnout will be very low” based on case history for second primaries, especially when there is no high-profile race at the top of the party ticket, said Andrew Taylor, professor of Political Science at N.C. State University.
“That’s the biggest challenge we face right now is just educating the people,” said lieutenant governor candidate Dan Forest, echoing the remarks of other candidates.
Republican voters statewide will choose between Forest and Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley, both Raleigh residents, for lieutenant governor.
Congressional runoffs are scheduled in District 8, Richard Hudson and Scott Keadle; District 9, former state Sen. Robert Pittenger and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph; and District 11, Mark Meadows and Vance Patterson.
Second primaries are scheduled when the lead candidate does not capture at least 40 percent of the first primary vote and the runner-up requests a head-to-head runoff.
“It’s going to be just hard core, habitual voters, activists, who are going to vote,” Taylor said. The irony is that national pundits are closely watching North Carolina’s congressional races because redistricting likely will benefit GOP candidates. Taylor speculated the current 7-6 Democrat margin could swerve to as much as a 10-3 Republican gain.
Voter turnout was a minuscule 1.8 percent in the 2008 runoff, and just 4.5 percent in 2010. For that reason, Taylor is no fan of runoff elections and their additional costs.
“A strong case could be made for instant runoff voting or even (deciding) by simple plurality,” Taylor said. “One reason as a political party you might not like runoffs is because your guys are going to continue to fight it out for a long time, which might weaken them for the general election.”
“Right now we would love to be raising money” for the general election, Meadows said.
One-stop absentee voting begins June 28 and ends July 14. Polls will be open July 17 from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Forest and Gurley are focusing on jobs and the economy. Both boast that their business backgrounds have prepared them for the job of presiding over the Senate, being a member of the Council of State and being first in line of succession to the governor. They also want to strengthen the power of the lieutenant governor in those areas where the office has some authority.
Forest finished first in the first primary, 62,000 votes ahead of Gurley. He said his training as an architect is well suited for executive leadership.
“We’re visionaries, we’re planners, we’re creative thinkers and consensus builders,” he said.
He’s also got a stroke of humor.
“Our slogan is Run Forest, Run. If I get elected you can call me Lieutenant Dan,” he quipped, drawing from the movie “Forrest Gump”.
His real campaign is “a three legged stool,” he said. “Jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy, education and illegal immigration.”
“We spend a lot of time talking about our past” in the furniture, textile and manufacturing sectors, but not about “building a platform or foundation for what we went to be 10, 15, 20 years down the road,” Forest said. He would like to eliminate the corporate income tax, reduce the gas tax and create a personal income tax bracket for small business owners “so we’re not punishing them for creating wealth and creating jobs.”
He said people “want smaller more responsible government. ... It’s too big, it’s too intrusive.”
But he said the biggest complaint he hears from voters is about illegal immigration.
“They want politicians to stop acting like it doesn’t exist,” Forest said.
Gurley believes he has twin engines of business acumen and political know-how that qualify him for the job.
“I do believe that the responsibilities I have at the county level prepare me to be a lieutenant governor,” he said.
“My wife and I have owned our own pharmacy since 1994,” Gurley said. “I have the background to help small business.”
North Carolina “has many assets in education, universities and colleges, and we should be leading the nation in economic development, not leading the nation in unemployment as we are doing now,” Gurley said. He would help to cut red tape and bureaucracy that stymie businesses, he said.
And while opponents “talk about Tea Party values . . . those are the things I’ve been doing the past 10 years,” he said. “People know I will be a conservative leader by my actions, not by my rhetoric.”
Gurley said some of State House Speaker Pro Tempore Dale Folwell’s campaign workers have come to work on his campaign since Folwell lost in the first primary. And he believes he would work wellwith Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory if he were elected governor. McCrory’s nephew, Patrick Sebastian, ran Gurley’s primary campaign, but has since returned to work with the Mitt Romney presidential campaign.
Congressional District 8
Hudson won 10 of 12 counties in the first primary, besting Keadle 32 percent to 22 percent in what is considered a strong Republican district. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell.
Hudson, of Concord, a former district director for ex-U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes and chief of staff for other congressional members, and Keadle, a dentist from Mooresville and former member of the Iredell County Commission, are in a barb-filled, knockdown, drag-out tussle.
“I don’t think our founders ever envisioned anyone like Scott Keadle, who’s so desperate to get in Congress he’ll shop around. He lives in the 9th district and works in the 12th,” Hudson said.
“I’ve seen what the economy does here in North Carolina, to my patients, my friends, my colleagues and my own business, so I can take real business experience to Washington, D.C.,” Keadle said.
“My opponent has been living off the taxpayers for 11 years in Washington, D.C. He has drawn more than $1.2 million in taxpayer funded salary over the last 11 years in Washington, D.C., and yet he claims he’s from here,” Keadle said.
Hudson said as an Iredell commissioner, Keadle accepted money for the county from the Obama stimulus plan, and voted to designate the entire county a recovery zone to attract more federal funds.
“It’s really an integrity issue,” Hudson said. “He’s running as a fiscal conservative.” Hudson said he would never support a bailout, giveaway or stimulus program.
Hudson supports a balanced budget amendment. He would place sunset provisions on agencies and legislation requiring federal lawmakers to vote to keep them alive, which would create rigorous oversight that is currently lacking.
And bureaucracy needs to be curtailed, he said.
“President Obama’s administration is doing through regulation what they can’t do through legislation,” Hudson said.
“If I am elected I expect to fight every day to cut spending,” Keadle said. During his term as a county commissioner he helped to cut more than $36 million in two years, he said.
“I didn’t watch the fight. I started the fight, led the fight and won the fight,” he said. “My Republican opponent stood by while his boss supported spending increases, supported raising the debt ceiling, supported the bank bailout of 2009.”
Keadle said as a congressman he would encourage domestic energy use and production, maintain a strong national defense based on peace through strength, defend families and the traditional values that made the country strong, cut spending, balance the budget and enforce immigration laws.
Congressional District 9
Pittenger, of Charlotte, topped an 11-candidate field in the first primary with 32 percent of the vote. Pendergraph, also of Charlotte, got 25 percent. The winner will face Charlotte Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Libertarian Curtis Campbell of Charlotte in the general election. Neither had a primary opponent.
GOP incumbent Sue Myrick is retiring at the end of this term. This is considered a safe Republican district.
Like District 8, this is a lively contest, with accusations of negative attacks by both candidates.
“Robert has spent literally over a million and a half dollars trying to paint a picture (of Pendergraph) that simply is not true,” said Neal Harrington, Pendergraph’s campaign manager. “We’re not throwing mud, we’re not running a negative campaign. We’re simply telling the truth.”
He said Pendergraph “had an onslaught of personal attacks on the radio. … He’s attacked me, he’s attacked my wife, my deceased father-in-law” and is engaging in class warfare.
“He wants to make an issue of my success, like being a success is a bad thing,” said Pittenger, who owns a real estate investment firm. “I can hear that coming out of Obama” but it’s surprising from a Republican candidate.
Pittenger said he prefers to talk about “how we need to return to open and free markets. We need to remove the regulatory burden. We need to dismantle Dodd-Frank and Obamacare, Sarbanes-Oxley. We need to simplify our tax code, make it more competitive. We’ve got the highest tax rate in the world.”
“I think Mr. Pendergraph has spoken eloquently defending both sides of every position,” Pittenger said. “He signed the Norquist tax pledge and a couple of weeks later he broke the pledge” and has said he would consider raising taxes and consider a federal budget plan similar to the Bowles-Simpson blueprint, which raises taxes $2 trillion and funds Obamacare.
“I support the Paul Ryan plan. I don’t think we need to be looking to tax increases to balance the budget or reduce the debt,” Pittenger said. “He’s also supported both sides of amnesty.”
“That is 100 percent false and inaccurate,” Harrington said of the amnesty allegation. Pendergraph, former sheriff of Mecklenburg County, “is probably most well known for being so tough on illegal immigration.”
Pendergraph “is actually a huge proponent of the fair tax, which is the exact opposite” of Bowles-Simpson, he said. He did vote to implement a fire district tax so that property owners outside of Charlotte would now pay for the services they were receiving, which is expected to lower taxes for Charlotte residents, Harrington said.
Congressional District 11
Meadows, a real estate developer of Highlands, outdistanced Patterson with 38 to 24 percent of the votes in the first primary. Incumbent Democrat Heath Shuler decided not to run again after redistricting made the western spur of North Carolina a more favorable district for Republicans. Hayden Rogers, Shuler’s former chief of staff, won the Democratic primary.
“We’ve got two Christian businessman who are family men who are running for office because we want to reclaim the country,” Meadows said.
“We agree on a lot of things, especially the social issues,” Patterson said. “I’m very much against abortion, all forms of abortion. I think we ought to keep the name of God in our government and our workplace. I’m not a Libertarian. I see a need for government.”
A self-described Tea Party Republican with a degree in economics who supports the fair tax, Patterson seeks “lower taxes, reduced spending, less government regulation, and just stability so you can grow the economy. Business hates hearing an answer of maybe, and that’s what we’ve had the past three and a half years from our government.”
“I’ve negotiated and done business in Russia and China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Dubai, all over the world. It’s no silver bullet” to achieve success, it just requires a work ethic antidote to an increasingly entitlement culture, Patterson said.
If elected, Patterson, a term limits supporter and manufacturer who has started 16 companies, said he would donate his congressional salary to charities in western North Carolina.
Meadows, of Morganton, said his jobs plan “is one that will work extremely well to create jobs not only in western North Carolina but the country as a whole.”
He is alarmed by “the attack on our religious freedoms, specifically by the executive branch,” and dislikes presidential executive orders such as the one signed by President Obama “increasing de facto amnesty” to illegal immigrants.
It is critical to cut spending and regulations “and allow the private sector to take off,” Meadows said. “It’s time we quit allowing the government to be the creator for government jobs,” which includes adding 6,000 new attorneys to the government payroll in the past three and a half years that “certainly can’t help reduce regulation or keep government off the back of the private sector.”
He believes Democrats are playing blame games and using scare tactics on Medicare and Social Security rather than seeking solutions that he would work to develop. Obamacare will increase premiums for seniors, who already are paying more for fuel and food under the president’s failed policies, Meadows said.
Dan E. Way is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.