News: CJ Exclusives

State Rep. Wray Faces Challenge from Baptist Minister Williams in District 27

Williams says incumbent isn't taking care of district's needs

RALEIGH — The House of Representatives District 27 primary is a winner-take-all race between two Democrats, incumbent Rep. Michael Wray of Gaston and the Rev. Dr. Franklin Williams Jr. of Weldon.

The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation lists the district as strong Democrat. Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters, 72.4 percent to 11.8 percent. President Obama got 61.8 percent of the vote in 2012, and Democrat gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton received 60.4 percent.

Wray has served five terms in the House, representing Halifax and Northampton Counties. According to NCFEF, he had $26,977 cash on hand as of Dec. 31, compared to $273 for Williams.

Wray serves in leadership roles in the General Assembly as deputy minority leader as well as on several key committees. He is vice chairman of the Regulatory Reform Committee and also works in Appropriations, Environment and Commerce and Job Development committees.

In the 2013 session Wray served as co-sponsor on the bill that expands the in-stand sale of alcohol during professional sporting events, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law in June.

For the most part Wray voted against the major bills proposed by the Republican-controlled legislature.

There are two interesting exceptions, however — the voter ID bill, and the bill prohibiting Medicaid expansion. Wray did not cast a vote on either bill.

Wray voted in favor of another controversial measure, House Bill 17, which prohibits the public disclosure of concealed firearm permit information.

Wray did not respond to numerous attempts from Carolina Journal via email and telephone to schedule and interview discussing his voting record and views on the issues.

Williams said he got into the race because “there are some things that are going haywire, and I just don’t feel like our representative is addressing those issues the best he can.

“I think it became more about staying in office than doing what’s right,” Williams said.

Williams said he was not in favor of the voter ID bill. He believes it will impede the voting process for people in impoverished areas who do not have driver’s licenses.
Williams also believes “we don’t have an irregularity problem” in the voting process.

Public education is another hot-button issue, and Williams said “it’s just been a nonissue” with Wray during his time in the House.

Williams said he’s alarmed that North Carolina’s school system is among the lowest performing in the state. One of the main reasons, he believes, is the low rate of teacher pay.

“We need to raise teachers’ pay to at least national average,” Williams said.

To fund teacher pay raises, Williams believes more money should be diverted from the state’s education lottery.
Williams described McCrory’s plan to do away with teacher tenure as “bad business” based on “poor research by the governor.”

“You don’t take things away,” Williams said of the law, favored by state leaders and passed in the General Assembly last year, but now being contested in court.

Williams said his work as a therapist that was primarily funded by Medicaid gives him some insight into the vote not to expand Medicaid in North Carolina.

Williams said that experience showed there is fraud within the Medicaid system, but that should not serve as an excuse not to expand Medicaid.

“What I’m afraid of is the people who really need Medicaid aren’t going to be able to access it,” Williams said.

“The Bible says it very clear: The poor are always going to be among us. We need to help the less fortunate. We just need to make sure that when we’re helping the less fortunate, we really are,” he said. “We can expand it, and make sure the right people are getting it. We need to make sure we’re providing the providing services and not overbilling and padding their pockets. Let’s just fix the system.”

Williams said he wants to take a close look at the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates power companies to purchase more costly renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, biomass products, swine and poultry waste at increasing levels.

“I don’t think we need to subsidize [renewable energy] forever. If it’s not off the ground in four years, it’s not getting off the ground,” Williams said. “Let’s subsidize but come up with a plan where it will be self-sufficient within a certain period of time.”

When asked about a taxpayers’ bill of rights, which limits tax increases to a formula based on population growth and inflation unless voters pass a referendum to raise them higher, Williams said he was in favor — with an important footnote.

“I’m not being conservative, and I don’t want to limit government, but I do believe we have to be more responsible when we make decisions in Raleigh, and know that we’re going to be held accountable,” Williams said. “Right now, I don’t know if our representatives get it.”

Sam A. Hieb is a contributor to Carolina Journal.