News: CJ Exclusives

Education central issue in competitive Senate District 18

Incumbent Republican Barefoot highlights accountability in education, while Democrat Johnson pushes higher spending

For Democrats to reduce the Republicans’ dominance of the General Assembly, they’re going to have to pick up districts such as Senate 18 in Franklin and eastern Wake counties.

The district features an incumbent Republican senator in Chad Barefoot, who faces locally known Democrat Gil Johnson. The two candidates make public education a priority, but they embrace different approaches to school policy. Barefoot emphasizes measures that he says will improve student performance, while Johnson focuses on increasing spending on programs and personnel.

They also differ on the proper policies to spur economic growth.

The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, which tracks state elections, rates the district competitive based on conventional voting behavior since 2008. Its registered voters are 39.8 percent Democrat, 33.3 percent Republican, and 26.4 percent unaffiliated.

Neither candidate responded to multiple requests from Carolina Journal for an interview.

Barefoot was elected to the General Assembly in 2012, when he defeated veteran Democratic incumbent Doug Berger in the redrawn district.

Barefoot was re-elected in 2014 in a close race against Democrat Sarah Crawford.

Johnson has a lengthy tenure on the Franklin County school board. Neither candidate faced a primary challenger, and both candidates’ backgrounds are heavy on experience in education policy.

Barefoot holds a master of arts in Christian ethics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and a bachelor of science degree in political science with a concentration in public management from Appalachian State University.

Since July, Barefoot has served as vice president for institutional advancement at Louisburg College.

Among his assignments in the General Assembly, Barefoot serves as a co-chairman of the Senate Education/Higher Education and Appropriations on Education/Higher Education committees.

Johnson, meanwhile, has been a member of the Franklin County Board of Education since 2005, including four years as its chairman and two years as vice-chairman. He attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and UNC–Wilmington, but he didn’t graduate from either school. In 1987, he became an air traffic controller. After completing training at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, Johnson went on to spend five years in the control tower at Charleston, South Carolina International Airport/Air Force Base and 21 years at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. He retired at the end of 2012.

On his campaign website, Johnson lists only two items under “a common sense and reasonable approach to the issues facing North Carolina families:” Education and the economy.

“I have witnessed firsthand how our classrooms are impacted by the General Assembly’s lack of adequate funding for our public schools.

“Our General Assembly has shown that public education is not their priority, and they have forced local school districts to do more with less,” he says.

“High teacher turnover rates, driven by inadequate pay, have had a devastating impact on the classroom. It is time we reverse these damaging policies and make a commitment to raise teacher salaries to at least the national average.” he says.

Johnson ties the state’s economy directly to education.

“The foundation of our economy is a trained, educated work force. Fostering both a strong public and higher education system is crucial for workforce development, and in turn, the recruitment of businesses to Eastern Wake and Franklin Counties,” he says.

Barefoot, on his campaign website, offers a much different assessment of the problems facing education in the state:

“North Carolina families have lost confidence in our public school system,” he says.

“Parents and students want results, and they want choices, something that expensive education budgets have not produced. To regain our confidence, public policy must be focused on student achievement and school choice.

“We must encourage the public school system to recruit the best teachers from our colleges and universities and pay them well based on their performance. We cannot let the bureaucracy of education be more important than educating the next generation.”

Barefoot’s campaign website gives his views on 11 additional issues, including agriculture, election law, health care, and taxes.

On jobs and economic growth, Barefoot says reducing tax rates and providing a stable regulatory environment is critical.

“When government fails to balance its budget, uses targeted tax incentives to pick corporate winners and losers, and proposes unreasonable spending levels sustained by high taxes, businesses freeze or leave,” he notes.

“That is why I support growing our economy through reforming the state’s tax system so that we can reduce our tax rates, and provide a reliable regulatory environment for North Carolina businesses to grow.”

On taxes, he argues “North Carolina is at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states due to high tax rates. We must focus on reducing tax rates, and eliminating excessive taxes so that North Carolina is competitive again.“

In a candidate questionnaire for Indy Week, Johnson explained his tax and spending priorities.

“I would eliminate the new sales taxes that have been put in place on everything from car repairs to health care that shift a larger burden onto our hard-working families”

“I would cut the special interest giveaways, like the $265 million given to Duke Energy as they put our drinking water at risk,” he wrote. “I would prioritize investing in our public education system, making sure that our kids have access to current textbooks, and that our teachers are paid what they deserve.”