Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Improving education and restraining electricity rates are among the top issues facing the candidates for state House District 8, covering parts of Pitt and Wilson counties. Two Wilson residents are vying for the seat — attorney Mark Bibbs, a Democrat, and Republican Susan Martin, an MBA who retired from IBM.
Historically, the region has been home to a large number of moderate-to-conservative Democrats who often split their tickets among both parties, the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation reports.
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Edith Warren did not seek re-election. Legislative redistricting created a new District 8 with more Republican voters than the district Warren served.
Both candidates spoke separately by phone with Carolina Journal about voter concerns.
Bibbs said excessive electricity rates and public education were top voter concerns, while Martin cited creating jobs and strengthening schools.
Citing a poll from early June by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling, Bibbs said no other issue polled as high as electricity rates did. In the poll of 502 registered voters (55 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican, 16 percent independent/other), 81 percent agreed that electric bills in cities and towns in Wilson and Pitt Counties were too high and they needed a state legislator who would fight to reduce the rates.
The rates have led some clients in the past year to go out of business, Bibbs said. One was paying $2,800 a month in rent while his monthly electric bill often exceeded $3,000.
Bibbs said his first priority would be to co-sponsor House Bill 1163 introduced in May 2012 by Reps. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, and Jeff Collins, R-Nash, to “prohibit the merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy without the provision of relief to the Municipal Power Agencies.”
Martin said she’s concerned about the rates, but also about giving government the power to dictate how a private business like Duke or Progress Energy should operate and how the relief would be provided, especially if consumers would have to pay for the poor business decisions of some municipalities.
The John Locke Foundation has written about the problems created when certain municipalities in North Carolina decided in the 1970s to become part owners of power plants (see, for example, “Many Communities See High Electric Rates”).
Daughtry told CJ that his proposed bill didn’t provide a specific relief mechanism but hoped it would be a catalyst to get all parties talking. Daughtry confirmed Bibbs had spoken to him about the proposed legislation.
Even so, Daughtry endorses Martin.
Martin believes the best way to create jobs is to reduce the size of state government and discussed how she’d do it.
Citing a report by The Tax Foundation that ranks North Carolina 44th in the country for its business tax climate, Martin said she’d eliminate the estate tax and cut taxes on families and businesses. “My district has a lot of small businesses and family farms and the death tax is particularly hard on them,” Martin said.
Martin also advocates zero-based budgeting, saying her experience at IBM taught her that since businesses have to make tough decisions, so should government.
And since regulations are driving up business costs, Martin said she would add sunset provisions to all regulations, forcing lawmakers to re-examine the costs and benefits of regulations.
Bibbs said he’d reduce the corporate income tax rate and possibly eliminate personal income taxes but would study how states like Florida, Tennessee, and Texas are doing it.
On education, Bibbs wants more funding for public education at all levels and said he would not have voted to raise the charter school cap.
To improve education, Martin said she’d increase local control and provide more funding for the classroom and teachers rather than the bureaucracy. Martin supports charter schools, adding she’d like to see whether what works well in charters could be applied to traditional schools.
Martin would work to pass a photo I.D. law to restore confidence in the election process. Bibbs opposes it.
“North Carolina needs to be a leader against implementation of Obamacare,” Martin said, and she’d be that leader.
A Sept. 6 Wilson Times story raised questions about Bibbs. Court records show he pleaded guilty to DWI charges in 2004 and 2007. The State Bar issued a disciplinary order in 2009 to suspend his law license for one year and stayed the suspension for three years if he complied with requirements in the consent order. In a Motion to Show Cause filed Aug. 3, 2012, the Bar alleges Bibbs violated conditions of the original order on multiple occasions and faces a Dec. 14 hearing to determine whether his law license should be suspended.
Bibbs denies violating the agreement.
Karen McMahan is a contributor to Carolina Journal.