Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Jobs and education are the top issues in the campaign to succeed retiring five-term Republican Sen. Richard Stevens for state Senate District 17, which covers southwestern Wake County. The race pits Republican attorney Tamara Barringer against Democratic Wake County Commissioner Erv Portman in this Republican-leaning district.
Both parties consider District 17 important in their efforts to win the gubernatorial, congressional, and presidential races.
Barringer was the managing partner of Barringer Law Firm LLP from 1988-2006, when she turned her focus to teaching business law, ethics, and professionalism as adjunct professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. Barringer has been active in Republican Party politics for years.
Portman was appointed to the Cary Town Council in February 2007 and elected to the position in December 2007. He left before his term expired to accept appointment to the Wake County Board of Commissioners in July 2011.
In separate phone interviews, Barringer and Portman diverged on how they’d address job growth and education reform.
“For decades, government has been overtaxing, overspending, and overregulating. It’s time for government to get out of the way of North Carolina businesses so they’re free to innovate, create jobs, and grow. We need balance. Regulations are the most insidious of all taxes because they’re hidden,” Barringer said.
Uncertainty over regulations and taxes, like those in the federal health care law, “stops business in its tracks,” Barringer said, forcing companies to offshore jobs just to survive. North Carolina must create a positive business environment to attract new businesses and keep those we have, she said.
Barringer praised the Republican-led legislature for its efforts in 2012 to limit the regulatory authority of state agencies. She said she would work to advance these efforts if elected.
Portman touted his more than 20 years of global business experience with a Fortune 100 company and the past 15 years with WestStar Precision, a manufacturing company he and his wife founded.
While promoting his jobs proposal in a September 2011 visit to the Triangle, President Obama toured Portman’s Apex facility. WestStar also has operated a plant in Costa Rica since 2000.
The biggest issue in creating jobs isn’t cutting taxes but having employees with the skills companies need, Portman said, and “that’s why cuts Republicans made to public education this year were so bad, though anything to reform the tax code and make it fairer but would be good.”
K-12 teachers face too many bureaucratic hurdles that limit their ability to be innovative in the classroom, Barringer said. “A business talks about its products then creates a system to produce those products, but in education we focus too much on the school system instead of the end product — the students. We must give teachers the tools they need and have fair metrics.”
Both candidates discussed technical education, saying many jobs don’t require four-year college degrees. Portman said his company has open positions that pay from $40,000 to $80,000 with full benefits, but “there’s a perception among many that jobs requiring just a technical education aren’t good jobs.”
“Too often, high-school students drop out before finishing because they don’t want to go to college, so the curriculum isn’t relevant to them. Students need exposure to trades earlier in their school experience,” Barringer said.
Portman blamed the Republican-led General Assembly for focusing on “partisan issues,” describing himself as a consensus builder with real solutions for complex issues.
At a June 18 county commission meeting, Portman was the only commissioner voting against the county’s fiscal year 2013 budget, one that spends $13.6 million less than the previous budget and doesn’t raise property tax rates. He said at the time he objected to a salary increase for Register of Deeds Laura Riddick, even though she hadn’t had a raise since 2005.
The board also had spirited discussions in June about a proposal to put a transit tax on the ballot this fall. The debate broke down on partisan lines, with the majority Republicans prevailing over heated opposition from Democrats, including Portman.
If elected, Portman wants the General Assembly to pursue nonpartisan redistricting, similar to the system in Iowa, to prevent “rigged elections.” An independent commission would help ensure “we can’t elect folks from the extreme who are toxic and harm civil discourse,” Portman said.
A June 2012 report from Raleigh-based N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation deemed District 17 as one of the 10 most competitive Senate district races in this November’s general election.
In past election cycles, Wake County has attracted lot of political advertising. With North Carolina’s growing number of unaffiliated voters at play this fall, NCFEF anticipates spending on this race could become quite expensive. Campaign finance records for the first and second quarters give Barringer a big lead in fundraising compared with Portman.
Karen McMahan is a contributor to Carolina Journal.