For the first time in his legislative career, N.C. Sen. Stan Bingham, a Davidson County Republican, faces a primary challenge from his own party.
The reason, according to his chief rival, is because Bingham has parted ways with Republican orthodoxy on key issues and failed to represent the conservative instincts of his constituents in N.C. Senate District 33.
“There are quite a few people unhappy with his take on things,” said Eddie Gallimore, a small business owner and real-estate broker who has filed to unseat Bingham. “There is quite a bit of criticism coming down on him for things he’s voted on.”
Because no Democrat has filed in the district, the winner of the Republican primary May 8 will take the seat. Republicans have a decided advantage in voter registration in the district. In 2008, GOP presidential candidate John McCain and gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory carried the district 65 percent and 56 percent, respectively.
Getting into the win column will be an uphill climb for Gallimore and his fellow challenger, Sam Watford, the current chairman of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners. That’s because Bingham is an incumbent with six terms in the Senate under his belt.
Still, Gallimore gained some momentum in March when he won a straw poll sponsored by the Davidson County Republican Party. Gallimore has served on the governing board of the county GOP for the past seven years, with two terms as vice chairman.
Between the two challengers, Gallimore is more willing to criticize Bingham’s record in fiscal and social issues. Watford, on the other hand, said that he disagrees with Bingham on only one topic — the relicensing of the Alcoa dam. Even then, Watford said that Bingham has softened his stance recently.
“Our senator has done a good job for us,” Watford said. “I just want to give people a choice.”
Watford also suggested that one of his chief reasons for running is to gain more name recognition and let residents know that he’s interested in serving in the legislature in the future.
“I haven’t really done any campaigning and won’t say anything negative about my opponents,” he said.
In contrast, Gallimore draws sharper distinctions with Bingham. He points to instances when Bingham parted ways with Republicans in the Senate on a right-to-life bill and a Democratic-crafted budget. He also lobbed criticisms on involuntary annexation and the state takeover of dams and property along the Yadkin River owned by a subsidiary of the global manufacturing company Alcoa.
In the first instance, Bingham was the only Republican in 2011 in either chamber to vote against an informed consent for abortion law. A month later, he drew criticism from foes of the bill when he skipped a vote to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the legislation. If Bingham had remained in the chamber and voted against the override, Perdue’s action would have stood and the bill wouldn’t have become law.
“He was voted to go to Raleigh to do a job, to vote on legislation … instead of casting his vote, he just got up and walked out,” Gallimore said. “Whether he’s for it or against it, he should have stated his opinion by voting, and he did not.”
Through a spokesperson, Bingham declined to comment for this article, citing time constraints. In an interview with a television station, the six-term Republican said he would have been “lynched” and “disciplined” by his Republican colleagues if he had voted against the veto override.
“It was my vote that was do or die,” Bingham said.
Watford wouldn’t criticize Bingham on his votes. “I’m undecided about some of these social issues,” he said. “I can’t say anything negative or positive about the way Stan handled the situation.”
In 2010, Bingham joined fellow Republican Sen. Richard Stevens of Wake County in voting for the Democrat-crafted state budget. In an interview with the Davidson County Dispatch, Bingham defended his support for the budget because there “were just numerous benefits to Davidson County.”
But Gallimore criticized the move, saying that Bingham “voted for a budget that raised our taxes.” The claim is a mixture of truth and fiction.
In 2009, Bingham joined all his Republican colleagues in the Senate in voting against a two-year state budget that temporarily raised sales taxes and imposed a surcharge on higher incomes. In 2010, when the two-year budget already was in place and the tax increase wasn’t on the table, Bingham broke ranks with all but one of his Republican colleagues — Stevens — in voting for adjustments to the two-year budget.
Dam, involuntary annexation
Bingham sponsored legislation in 2011 that would chip away at the ability of Alcoa Power Generation Inc. to operate as a private company in North Carolina. The company controls four hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River; some elected officials, including Perdue, want the state to take control of the dams.
Watford described himself as “totally against” the state taking ownership. “We have to take some private property for roads, but not businesses,” he said. “I can’t imagine the state taking ownership of it.”
On the issue of involuntary annexation, Bingham plans to introduce a bill in the short session that would allow county commissioners to OK or reject annexations by a simple majority vote, the Dispatch reported.
But Gallimore criticized Bingham for not standing in the way of past annexations by cities in Davidson County.
“If anything, he’s been all for more annexation, because he was one of the legislators that helped to get two more cities incorporated here in Davidson County, instead of trying to stop annexation,” Gallimore said.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Caroilna Journal.