News: CJ Exclusives

Clear contrasts between Republican Burgin and Democrat Sivoli in SD 12

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Senate District 12 (All of Lee and Harnett counties, and part of western Johnston County.)

• Jim Burgin, Republican. Occupation: President and owner of C&D Insurance. Partner, John Hiester Automotive. Education: University of Tennessee, bachelor’s degree in business administration. Career Highlights: Two-term Harnett County commissioner. New Horizon Insurance Group board chairman. B.C. Property real estate development president. Central Carolina Community College board vice chairman. Member State Health Coordinating Council, and State Retirement Board.

• Jean Sivoli, Democrat. Occupation: Retired restaurant/catering business owner. Education: N/A. Career Highlights: Harnett County Democratic Party Chairwoman. Former food service industry sales and marketing executive. Worked at U.S. Agency for International Development.

As chairwoman of the Harnett County Democratic Party, Jean Sivoli has worked with political candidates. A few months ago she found herself unexpectedly becoming one.

Retired Air Force Maj. Howard Baldwin surprised party leaders when he withdrew his candidacy for the open Senate District 12 seat in July. He had advanced unchallenged from the spring Democratic primary to the Nov. 6 general election.

Democratic Party leaders unanimously selected Sivoli over Kiara Johnson to take Baldwin’s place on the ballot.

Sivoli had only three months to pull together a campaign for her first run for office, though she has not given up her party’s Harnett County chairmanship.

Jim Burgin, a principal in multiple business interests who served as chairman of the Harnett County Board of Commissioners during portions of his two terms, is the Republican nominee. Incumbent Republican Ron Rabin chose not to seek re-election to a fourth term, and endorsed Burgin.

The largely rural district leans Republican, according to the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, which closely tracks elections and voter behavior patterns. Rabin won by 15 percent over Democrat Susan Byerly in 2016.

Sivoli did not conduct an interview with Carolina Journal. She briefly spoke on the phone to say she hadn’t received questions that were sent to her by email. She did not respond to three subsequent email requests, and multiple phone attempts.

Burgin said he’s running because, as a former county commissioner, he knows some problems can only be solved at the state level, and sometimes the solution will involve less government. Burgin thinks he’d be an effective senator because he knows how to get things done. He cited his experience as a businessman who has grown companies to hundreds of employees serving thousands of clients.

“I’m a worker. I work on problems and get involved,” he said.

As an example, he said, when he became a county commissioner the reserve fund balance was down to 8.8 percent of the general fund. He said it should be at least 15 percent, but was told that would take the county five years. The fund balance reached 15 percent in 18 months.

As chairman, he saw to it that every check written on behalf of the county was posted online.

As a senator, one thing he would like to do is create tax-free Agricultural Zones. About 40 percent of the people in his district commute to other counties for work. Agriculture is strong now, but produce is shipped elsewhere for added value. He wants to provide incentives for agricultural manufacturing businesses that would turn locally grown potatoes into chips or apples into applesauce.

Burgin would also like to reform the state’s mental health system. He tells stories of tragedies, along with rules and procedures that lead to trouble for patients. Care is inadequate, and it makes no sense for people in crisis to go be taken to hospital emergency departments, the most chaotic place in the health care system. Patients might be kept in a bed there for up to a week before a slot in an appropriate facility opens.

Overhauling the system will not be simple, but a lot of low-hanging fruit isn’t being addressed, he said.

Education is another area where there are ample opportunities for improvement, Burgin said. He would support evidence-based programs that train students and teachers for success, and he’s happy to talk at length about several he’ll enthusiastically support.

Though she chose not to do an interview, Sivoli’s online presence gives clues to her positions. Her website laments, “Many members of the North Carolina General Assembly have forgotten that we depend on them,” and adds, “It’s time for real ideas to solve real issues that will achieve real results.”

Sivoli agrees the state should pay more attention to education. Her website criticizes the legislature’s “slight pay increases for some teachers,” calling them “inadequate.” She opposes offshore drilling, and supports a law creating a livable wage.

Sivoli emphasizes improved health and welfare. She wants to expand Medicaid, and she’ll support “comprehensive efforts” to interdict the opioid crisis. Her statements frequently use the term “fight for,” and those issues include sensible ways to prevent and contain industrial pollution, more and better-paying jobs, and women.

“As recent events show, the rights of women are under attack from all levels of our government,” she told Lillian’s List, a North Carolina political training organization for pro-choice, progressive women.