Bedrock conservative principles such as limited government, support for the free market, and reducing taxes and regulations reverberate in the House District 82 Republican primary campaigns of appointed incumbent Larry Pittman and challenger Herbert Jay White.
But Pittman also is emphasizing social issues — White sticks to an economic development and jos-creation script — and the incumbent is eager to contrast his blue-collar background with White’s legal career.
“There are enough lawyers in Raleigh who focus too much on what their clients want, often to the detriment of their citizens,” Pittman said. “We don’t need any more of that.”
Pittman said White has served on the Cabarrus County commission “and he’s not been good for the county, so why transfer that to the state? I’m more of an average citizen, a working man type.”
“He is the incumbent. He is the one who is there and has been representing the people” and now has a public pulpit from which to speak, said White, who unsuccessfully sought the appointment last year when former state Rep. Jeff Barnhart retired to become a lobbyist.
“It is important to make certain that my message gets out to the people. I believe my message will resonate with the voting public, and I believe I will be successful” in winning the primary, White said.
No Democrats filed to run for the seat representing Cabarrus County in what the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation lists as a strong GOP district. The winner of the May 8 Republican primary between the Concord residents will be the presumptive representative.
Pittman, a Presbyterian preacher who quit a job in the shipping department of a transportation company after filling the legislative seat last October, won a Cabarrus County straw poll with about 60 percent of the vote in early March, he said.
“I’m very big on property rights, gun owners’ rights, the rights of parents to determine the education of their children, right to life, lower[ing] the tax and regulatory burden so small business can thrive,” he said. He advocates tax credits for parents whose children are homeschooled or in private schools.
White pounds away at economic development and jobs themes.
“The legislature did a great job this last time. We need to start moving towards more efficiency in government,” White said. “The economy and jobs.”
The free market needs to have more freedom, he said.
“There’s [sic] too many regulations that need to be done away with. If you do that, it’s going to level the playing field. That will encourage business to grow and encourage business to come to North Carolina,” White said.
He differentiates himself from Pittman by “having a game plan to move forward and accomplish these things.” In part, state government should turn over more control to municipal and county governments, he said.
“We have local bodies of government for a reason, and there needs to be more local control” instead of imposing mandates on local officials, White said. One way to help in that effort is to trim state government, he said.
“I think the number of agencies and departments we have need to be scaled back. I believe there is overlap in some of these programs. It just creates inefficiencies,” White said.
“I think in general the government does a lot of things it has no business in, Pittman said, citing the Global TransPark multimodal industrial/airport facility in Kinston as an example of something that should have been left to the private sector to build and operate.
“The state owns a lot of property around the state that isn’t needed. We’re trying to find ways to get rid of some of that,” said Pittman, who is on the House Select Committee on State-Owned Assets.
Both candidates cited transportation issues related to high-speed rail in Harrisburg as an important matter on which they would be active. Initial plans would close six ground-level crossings, bifurcating the town, disrupting traffic flow and angering residents.
“I’ve done what I can and will continue to fight so their voice can be heard,” White said. The county has advanced a plan to reduce the impact, he said.
“That has fallen on deaf ears. But I am hoping through the effort of the citizens … that will be heard and changes will be made,” White said.
Pittman held a town meeting in Harrisburg to gather public input, and delivered a petition to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Rail Division to lessen the impact.
“High-speed rail is a boondoggle,” Pittman said. “We don’t need to be spending all of these millions of dollars to save 13 minutes off a trip from Charlotte to Raleigh.”
Pittman said he wants to strengthen annexation laws to protect property owners and “do away with extraterritorial jurisdiction” altogether. He is pro-life, pro-family, and supports the constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.
He supports legislation to require lawmakers to vote on hiking the gas tax cap rather than allowing it to rise automatically through a complicated, formula.
“That was my first speech on the floor of the House,” Pittman said. The House passed the accountability measure. The Senate did not act on the bill.
White preferred to talk about job creation rather than his stance on the social issues.
“We have 8,000 unemployed people in Cabarrus County,” White said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get those people back to work.”
House District 82 is 78 percent white, 16 percent black, 34 percent Democrat, 40 percent Republican, and 26 percent unaffiliated.
In 2010, district voters cast 63 percent of votes for Republican incumbent Richard Burr and 35 percent for Democrat challenger Elaine Marshall in the U.S. Senate race. In the 2008 presidential race, district voters favored Republican John McCain to Democrat Barack Obama 56 percent to 43 percent, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory over Democrat Bev Perdue 63 percent to 35 percent.
Dan Way is a contributor to Carolina Journal.