News: CJ Exclusives

Challenger Nielsen Facing Long Odds In State House District 26

Incumbent Republican Daughtry has served in leadership, run for governor

RALEIGH — The past electoral successes of the two candidates running in the Republican primary for the 26th District of the N.C. House of Representatives could not be more different.

Incumbent Leo Daughtry has served 10 terms in the state House and two terms in the North Carolina Senate. He has served as the House majority leader and was a gubernatorial candidate, gaining 37 percent of the vote in the 2000 Republican primary, but losing to Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot.

Challenging Daughtry is Dennis Nielsen, a retired Air Force colonel who twice ran as a Republican for state Senate District 11 and lost. In 2008, Nielsen ran as a conservative Democrat in the gubernatorial election, finishing third with 4 percent of the vote.

No Democratic candidates have filed to run in the district, which represents about half of Johnston County, making the winner of the May 6 primary likely to win the seat in the 2015-16 General Assembly, barring a write-in or unaffiliated candidate in the general election.

Saying that Nielsen regards defeating Daughtry as a long-shot might be optimistic.

“Of course, you know I’m not going to get elected,” he said. Aside from name recognition, Daughtry also has the advantage of $14,395 campaign cash on hand at the end of 2013, according to the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, which rates the district strong Republican. Nielsen’s cash on hand was not available.

Voters in the district are 77 percent white, and Republicans hold a voter registration advantage of 37 percent versus 34.6 percent Democrats. In the 2012 presidential election, voters cast 63.9 percent of their votes for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and 66.6 percent of the vote for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

With respect to policy, Daughtry, a lawyer who has practiced law in Smithfield since 1969 and is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, spoke as a seasoned legislator and articulated positions that seem aimed at accomplishing the passage of bills.

Nielsen’s overall message was to get government out of the way of citizens. However, he was not as concerned about legislative success.

As for education reform, Daughtry noted that he has three grandchildren who attend school in Johnston County. He said that citizens there are generally happy with how the schools in Johnston County are performing.

He said that Johnston County residents are not in favor of school vouchers, but he believes that charter schools “add to the mix.” He’s in favor of giving teachers higher base pay if they receive graduate-level degrees in the disciplines that they teach.

Nielsen believes that the North Carolina school system has failed its children. “Public schools have already failed and it’s not because of the teachers,” Nielsen said. “It’s because of the way it’s administered.”

Nielsen said that the state should provide tax credits to parents who home school their children or send them to private schools. However, he said, “I don’t like the word voucher because it has negative connotations to it.”

Regarding tax reform, Nielsen, who runs a nonprofit organization that helps low-income and elderly citizens complete their taxes, wants to abolish the state income tax.

Daughtry said that he thinks more tax reform can be done, however, he’s happy with the reforms that were made in the 2013 legislative session.

“I think we need to be competitive,” Daughtry said. “I’m happy that we have reduced our tax burden on our businesses, and I’m happy that we are at least competitive with our neighboring states.”

Both candidates were in favor of eliminating the renewable energy standards imposed on utility companies and agree that legislative redistricting should be left to a nonpartisan commission.

“I’ve always supported an independent agency to do it,” said Daughtry.

Neither candidate thinks that the state should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“We can’t afford it,” said Daughtry. “Medicaid is costing us so much, and it’s grown so rapidly, that I really think we ought to be providing as good of service as we can provide. But I don’t think we should expand our service.”

On the issue of Medicaid expansion, Nielsen reiterated that government involvement in most things does not work.

“Get the government out of control. Every time they try to do something they screw it up,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen also advocated setting legislative term limits, lowering legislators’ salary, eliminating antiquated laws such as the prohibition on premarital cohabitation, and less restrictive firearm laws.

When asked how he as a legislator would create these changes in state policy, Nielsen said he does not believe in incremental change, and would submit 100 bills on his first day in office.

“You’ve got to stand for something,” Nielsen said. “I was a fighter jet pilot. I believe full throttle all the way.”

Brett Lewis is a contributor to Carolina Journal.