Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — The race for N.C. House District 9 features a Republican newcomer to politics against an incumbent Democrat in a district where the political dynamics have been altered by redistricting.
Rep. Marian McLawhorn, a seven-term incumbent, will face off against Greenville businessman Brian Brown in the Nov. 6 election.
District 9 includes Greenville and Pitt counties — a Democratic stronghold for many years. The North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation lists this as a swing district, but one whose Democratic base, like that of other Eastern North Carolina districts, has been diluted somewhat by redrawn boundary lines that could put it within reach of the Republican challenger.
As Brown told Carolina Journal in a phone interview, Democrats in Pitt County aren’t typical liberals.
“They’re very fiscally conservative and they’re very socially conservative,” said Brown, a pro-life advocate of traditional marriage. “They don’t feel like they have a voice in Raleigh. They would like to see a different direction.”
Brown says Pitt County and Greenville residents are expressing concern over the shrinking economy, rising fuel costs, and increasing regulation, something he experienced while operating his full-service catering business.
“A lot of regulations have definitely changed the scope of our business,” Brown said.
As an example, he cited the regulations that all restaurants must have a grease trap, although his operation in Wilmington didn’t have a deep-fat fryer.
That fact did not stop the grease truck from showing up on a regular basis.
“They would literally not take the hose off the truck, but they’d still hand us the bill,” Brown said. “Those types of costs are such a hindrance to operation, such hindrance to hiring and promotion.”
Indeed, the tough economy took its toll on his business, and Brown said he was forced to shut down the Wilmington operation, costing half his employees their jobs.
Brown said McLawhorn has made much of the fact that his Wilmington business did not survive, suggesting he would not be a good steward of taxpayers’ dollars.
Brown disputes that suggestion.
“What we did is what the government should do — not continue to lose money, shore up our operations, and save half our employees. It was a responsible move,” he said.
Regarding education, Brown says there needs to be a “real tough conversation about education, and I’m not afraid to do it.”
Part of that conversation would be ending tenure status for ineffective teachers.
“As a small business owner, I can’t imagine having inadequate employees and not being able to fire them,” Brown said.
By the same token, he believes good teachers should be offered incentives. He also believes in providing more school choice for parents.
Brown’s views on education are not only designed to benefit his potential constituents. They’re also personal in nature.
“I’ve got a 3-year-old daughter, and I think about what her future holds,” he said.
McLawhorn, a former town commissioner and mayor of Grifton in the 1990s, did not respond to requests for an interview. Though she has been elected seven times, her last election was a tight one. She received just over 50 percent of the vote.
She made headlines this year as one of five Democrats who sided with Republicans in approving a state budget that Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed. Perdue’s veto was overridden by the General Assembly.
McLawhorn, a former high school media coordinator, said she supported the budget because it contained pay hikes for teachers and state employees.
McLawhorn has been recognized for her work in combating domestic violence, serving as chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Domestic Violence from 2003-04, and chairwoman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Domestic Violence from 2005-10.
During that time, both committees were instrumental in strengthening the state’s domestic violence laws and securing funding for shelters and programs to aid domestic violence victims.
Conversely, McLawhorn received an “F” from the Civitas Institute’s conservative effectiveness ranking.
Analyzing McLawhorn’s voting record, Civitas concludes that she scored only 27.1 points out of a possible 100.
On key bills, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the amendment to the Racial Justice Act, and the Appropriations Act that cut spending without raising taxes, Civitas concludes McLawhorn “did not vote conservatively.”
However, Civitas did note that McLawhorn “voted conservatively” on some key bills. One was the Senate bill requiring involuntary annexations be subjected to a petition requiring 60 percent by local residents.
McLawhorn also scored as a conservative with her vote on the House bill requiring local government and private-sector employers with 25 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify program to confirm the legal work authorization status of new employees.
In spite of McLawhorn’s voting record and her lengthy tenure in a district that he thinks is moving to the right, Brown is bracing for a tough campaign.
“Anytime you go up against an incumbent, you’re dealing with name recognition,” he said. “It’s such an important election, such an important time for our city and our region.”
By the same token, he said, he was “just honored to have the opportunity to potentially serve my Pitt County residents.”
Sam A. Hieb is a contributor to Carolina Journal.