Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Western North Carolina voters will get to choose between two known quantities when they go to the polls in the state Senate’s 50th District election. The race is a rematch of a 2010 election that was decided by just 161 ballots — less than 0.3 percent of all votes canvassed in the race.
The incumbent is Republican Jim Davis, a 65-year-old dentist who says that the economy and jobs “by far” are the main issues in the race. He’d like the Republican-controlled General Assembly to continue “doing what we’ve been doing in this last legislative session by making our tax structure more competitive, especially with our neighbors in the Southeast.”
Davis also wants the General Assembly to keep cutting regulations and “incentivizing people to work and to start businesses and to expand their businesses and to relocate their businesses” to North Carolina.
The challenger is Democrat John Snow, 66, who, if anything, may be even better known in Western North Carolina than his opponent. Not only did Snow represent the 50th for six years before his narrow loss to Davis, he previously had served 28 years in the area as a judge.
Snow did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. His website says, “creating jobs and recovering the economy must be our first priority.” The site argues that Davis and his fellow Republican legislators “have made no attempt to get our people back to work.”
The Tar Heel State’s unemployment rate is one of the worst in the nation, the site notes. In August, it was 9.7 percent, the fifth-highest in the country. In July, the most recent month county unemployment rates are available, Graham County — part of the 50th — had the second-highest jobless rate (15.2 percent) of any North Carolina county. Employment levels in Graham and neighboring Swain have languished, with their unemployment rates exceeding 20 percent in some recent months.
Snow’s website says that the legislature needs to add support for work force training.
Davis said in an interview that he had helped pass legislation that enabled the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel Resort in Western North Carolina to add hundreds of gambling jobs, including many for non-tribal members.
Snow’s website calls for expanding education funding. Among other things, he would restore a dropout prevention program and stop teachers from having to use their own funds to purchase school supplies.
Davis is open to cutbacks on education programs that aren’t yielding results. “The amount of money that we spend on education is a poor determinant [of] outcome,” he said. “We have expanded the amount of money that we have spent, inflation-adjusted, significantly, and we have no increase in outcome, essentially.”
The rematch between Snow and Davis is expected to be a tight one. News & Observer political reporter Rob Christensen noted that the 2010 race “was one of the most fiercely contested districts in the state in which both sides poured money.”
That may happen again. “My understanding is that I am the most vulnerable Republican in the legislature,” Davis said, adding that his re-election is “far from a gimme.”
The state’s seven westernmost counties — Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain — comprise the district. Redistricting led to just two changes in the 50th’s geography: Transylvania was dropped and all of Haywood was included. Previously, Haywood was divided between the 47th and 50th districts.
Registration in the 50th is 44 percent Democratic and 33 percent Republican, but the district backed Republican presidential candidates in the last two elections by wide margins; voters also supported Republican Richard Burr generously in his successful 2004 and 2010 U.S. Senate bids. Democrats Mike Easley and Bev Perdue won the race for governor in the district the past two elections, but with smaller majorities than either Burr in 2004 or the Republican presidential tickets either cycle.
Matthew E. Milliken is a contributor to Carolina Journal.