Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — The race for the 3rd District of the N.C. House offers voters clear differences in principles and priorities. Democrat Robert Cayton, a Beaufort County commissioner, touts a nuts-and-bolts approach to governance. Republican Michael Speciale is best known for his advocacy in various Tea Party groups around eastern North Carolina.
“The main issues in this campaign are education, transportation, economic development,” Cayton said. “Those issues directly affect the future of rural Eastern North Carolina.”
“The main issue for me is liberty,” Speciale said. “That to me is the overriding factor in everything that I intend to do up there [in Raleigh]. If it infringes upon our liberty in a way that I think it should not, I won’t even consider any piece of legislation.”
The men competing to represent all of Pamlico County, most of the eastern half of Craven County and a large slice of southern Beaufort County, including Washington, have different backgrounds as well as views.
Cayton is in his ninth year as a Beaufort County commissioner; he has served in a three-person Democratic minority on the seven-seat county board the entire time. He is a 61-year-old Beaufort native, a minister at two Pamlico County churches, and has been a trustee at Barton College of Wilson and Beaufort County Community College.
Cayton twice ran unsuccessfully for the General Assembly and has been involved with a number of civic and service organizations.
Speciale, whose surname resembles that of actor Joe Pesci with the word “alley” added to the end, has his own unsuccessful General Assembly runs, and he has been active in the public eye. But the similarities between the candidates end there.
The 56-year-old Illinois native came to North Carolina as an 18-year-old Marine; he retired as a staff sergeant. Speciale has worked in the private sector, but he gained attention for his efforts as chairman of the Craven County Republican Party and co-founder of the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association, a Tea Party-like group advocating for lower taxes.
He is heartened by what he sees as a growing movement by states to reject improper or unfunded federal mandates.
“There’s nothing in the Constitution giving the federal government authority over education, over the environment, over a lot of things,” Speciale said. “They’ve twisted and contorted the general welfare clause, the commerce clause, in ways that [would make] the founding fathers pull their hair out.”
“Your base government institution is state government, because from the state government, the federal government was given its powers,” Cayton said. “But nevertheless, we agreed to surrender some of our state power to create a strong federal union.”
Both the federal and state constitutions must be upheld, Cayton added, saying that the federal document must take precedence.
This spring, the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation picked the race for House District 3 as one of this election’s most competitive campaigns. The district’s incumbent, freshman Rep. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, is running for the state Senate rather than defend his seat. The redrawn district is considered friendly to Republicans, but only marginally so.
A victory by Cayton could leave Republicans with a smaller majority next year in the state House.
Current registration is roughly 44 percent Democratic and 33 percent Republican. Area voters favored GOP candidates for president and U.S. Senate in 2004 and 2008, and a majority voted two years ago for the Republican straight ticket and for incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
But for governor they backed Mike Easley in 2004 and Bev Perdue in 2008 — both from the region — and they chose a straight Democratic ticket by a sizable amount four years ago.
Despite their differences on big-picture issues, Cayton and Speciale have similar views on several matters. Both oppose tolls on ferries that carry local commuters to and from work. And both want to see more emphasis on vocational education.
Cayton added that he would like to see U.S. Highway 17 expanded to four lanes over its entire span between the Virginia and South Carolina state lines.
Matthew E. Milliken is a contributor to Carolina Journal.