Republican Rep. Tom Murry was named “Most Effective Freshman Legislator” by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. But to get re-elected in state House District 41 he must battle a tough challenger and woo an unpredictable electorate.
The suburb-heavy Western Wake County district has the highest number of independent voters in the state — 36.6 percent of registered voters are unaffiliated. The rest of the registered voters are split fairly evenly among Democrats and Republicans. But less than a quarter of partisans have voted straight tickets in recent elections.
In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won the district by nearly 5 percentage points; Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory won it by 7 percentage points.
The outcome of this down-ballot race could be determined by how well candidates do at the top of the ticket.
Running on the Democratic ballot against the incumbent is Harvard graduate Jim Messina. The seven-year Cary resident has a background as a business leader, specializing in technical support for nonprofits, educational institutions, and underprivileged populations.
Murry represents a district whose bustling commerce centers are heavily impacted by Research Triangle Park. But he shuns any notion that his is a bedroom community.
“No,” he laughed. “Our daytime population is three times our residential.” The research and development firms don’t survive by paying people to tread water, he said. They want self-starters with inquiring minds and a commitment to making things better.
To accommodate that dynamic and prepare an available work force, Murry said, it is necessary to maintain the existing “educated and informed” population.
While the rest of the state often struggles to graduate 70 percent of high school students, some schools in Murry’s district are sending a high percentage of students to college, he said.
To find out what he could do as a legislator to improve public schools, Murry, a pharmacist and lawyer by trade, visited classrooms and asked teachers questions. This resulted in the Student and Teacher Paperwork Reduction Act.
Other education reforms Murry would like to pursue include greater emphasis on math and science, increased vocational training, and rewards for effective teachers.
Murry views the field of opportunities for improving the state’s business climate as wide open. He is a fan of many of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ ideas for running government more like a surplus-running business, he said.
He also thinks the state should heed the findings of Brent Lane’s “Evaluation of North Carolina’s Economic Development Incentive Programs.”
The UNC study, prepared for the General Assembly in 2009, concluded that targeted incentives aren’t creating many net jobs, aren’t helping struggling communities, are often viewed as icing on the cake by accountants, escape the notice of executives, and do less to recruit business than would reducing the tax rate.
Regarding energy policy, Murry said, “I’m all for efficiencies.” There’s a nuclear plant and a solar plant in his district.
Appealing to progressives, Messina accused the Republican-led legislature of “dividing our state with midnight votes and issues that are beside the point.”
If elected, Messina would focus on what he calls the big issues:
• Protecting the environment through clean air standards, prohibitions on oil and natural gas fracking, and support for climate change science.
• Providing adequate funding for education, as schools are important to businesses that choose to locate in the RTP.
• Attracting business to the area by shifting the tax burden away from the middle class and small businesses, providing a “Made in North Carolina” tax credit, and reworking economic development incentives for longer-term results. CJ