N.C. House District 40 (Wake County)

  • Joe John (one-term incumbent). Democrat. Education: Attended Belmont Abbey College. Earned bachelor’s, master’s, and juris doctorate degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill. Occupation: Retired. Career highlights: chief assistant district attorney, chief District Court judge, Resident Superior Court judge, Court of Appeals associate judge. Acting commissioner N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. Director of the State Crime Lab.
  • Marilyn Avila. Republican. Education: Chemistry degree, Georgia Southern University. Occupation: Retired. Corporate chemist, small business owner, formerly finance manager at the John Locke Foundation. Career highlights: Deputy Majority Leader N.C. House of Representatives, State representative 2007-2016, chairwoman Wake County Republican Party.
  • David Ulmer. Libertarian. Education: Bachelor’s degree on ROTC scholarship, Wake Forest University. Associate degree in telecommunications and network engineering, Wake Technical Community College. Occupation: Information technology worker. Career highlights: Wake County Libertarian Party chairman, former Army captain.

Republican Marilyn Avila thinks conditions may be ripe to win back her state House seat in a rematch with Democratic freshman incumbent Joe John, who defeated her by a razor-thin margin in 2016. Libertarian David Ulmer hopes to wage a wild card upset in the three-way race.

House District 40 was redrawn since the 2016 election under federal court order. The N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation, which closely monitors elections, lists the district as competitive. Republicans outnumber Democrats in registration while trailing unaffiliated voters.

John said he has learned a great deal in his first term, and “I think I’ll be in a much better position to apply that experience in the upcoming term.”

Avila, who spent 10 years in the House, and had risen to a GOP leadership position, didn’t plan to run. When no other Republican candidates stepped forward, and the district map was redrawn more favorably to the GOP, she decided to try to reclaim the seat.

Ulmer, who lost in the 2016 general election race for House District 49, said he’s running to win, but recognizes it’s a long shot. “More and more, neither of the major parties are representing people very well,” as shown by rising number of unaffiliated voters, he said. He would consider getting the Libertarian message out to inform voters and influence political discussion a win if he’s not the top vote getter.

John said one of his primary goals if re-elected will be to restore independence to the judicial branch, which he says has been undermined by the GOP legislature. Reversing legislation that made judicial elections partisan at all levels would be a priority.

“There are two particular big issues in health and human services that I’m still going to be working with, and for, and on. And one of those is [reforming] certificate of need,” Avila said. CON laws require health-care providers to maneuver costly, time-consuming barriers to earn state permission to open certain facilities or buy some types of medical equipment, Avila said.

The laws limit access to health-care services and increase costs to consumers and insurers, she said. She also wants to continue working to pass a modernization of nurses act to allow highly skilled people to practice to the top of their training without current restrictions. That would help to drive down costs and bring much-needed health care access to medically underserved areas.

Ulmer said he would abolish the whole CON system. “The big major medical service providers along with the politicians that they donate to have really stifled competition,” he said.

“I’d like to hear and really carefully consider the arguments on both sides,” John said.

All three favor more regulatory reform.

“Every regulation no matter how minor or major has a cost to it,” Avila said.

“No one has been more frustrated by what I call bureaucracies than I am,” John said. “To the extent we can streamline the process without giving up necessary protections I see no reason to stand in the way of that.”

Ulmer said occupational licensing regulations are particularly burdensome, noting a person has to pay thousands of dollars and take hundreds of hours of coursework to become a licensed barber in North Carolina. “The state shouldn’t’ be ensuring that everybody receives a quality haircut. They don’t need to teach the history of barbering,” he said.

Avila and Ulmer think overcriminalization is an issue to address. They support weeding out duplicative, outdated, and unnecessary crimes from North Carolina’s sprawling list of confusing statutes. John said the concept could be ripe for extensive study by the North Carolina Courts Commission, which he chairs.

Avila said during her 10 years in the House she saw many knee-jerk reactions to create or increase punishment for a litany of activities. Like bureaucratic regulations, once a crime is put on the books it is seldom reviewed to determine its effectiveness, or whether it costs more to enforce than it accomplishes, she said.

“If you can’t even know it’s a crime in some cases, it just shouldn’t even be there,” Ulmer said. He opposes one crime in particular. “I’m not even nibbling around the edges on marijuana. It should be fully legalized, Colorado model.”

The candidates have different positions on the six constitutional amendments voters will decide.

“In general, I don’t have a problem with any of them. Some of them are, I think, more necessary than others,” Avila said. She’s a bit reticent about the amendment reducing the cap on income-tax rates from 10 percent to 7 percent because it limits the ability to raise revenue in dire cases. But as long as prudent budget decisions are made it shouldn’t be a problem, she said. Photo voter ID has broad support among voters, she said, and imposing greater vetting on judicial vacancy appointments rather than allowing the governor to have sole say is a responsible change.

John said he voted in favor of placing the Marsy’s Law victims bill of rights amendment on the ballot, but did not vote for the other five. “I’m particularly concerned, as you might expect, about the amendment that affects judicial appointment,” because filling vacancies would become a legislative function instead of a gubernatorial one.

Ulmer supports the income tax cap because “the best way to limit government is to limit its funding.” He said the other five constitutional amendments don’t resonate with him. He also said the main reason to place the amendments on the ballot was to fire up Republicans. “I’m not a big fan of doing things just because you think you’re motivating your base.” He said he doesn’t like the voter ID amendment because he doesn’t think voter fraud is a concern, and the amendment didn’t specify what types of identification would be accepted to vote.

Avila said she opposes creation of a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission to draw electoral boundaries.

“When you can find me a nonpartisan person to sit on there and not care which way it goes, then I’ll be in favor of it,” she said. “Our founding fathers weren’t dummies” when they gave lawmakers the constitutional power to draw district maps. The problem arises when that power is abused.

John said the first bill he would file in the next session would be to establish an impartial, independent redistricting commission to draw legislative and congressional districts. “Legislators ought not to be selecting their voters. Voters ought to be electing their representatives,” he said.

Ulmer said an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission is a solid Libertarian policy. “This way of drawing maps now is hyperpartisan, and it’s not serving the voters or the state as a whole well,” he said.