The Election: The Daily Advance endorsements


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election Day 2016 is days away. For those who will cast ballots Tuesday, The Daily Advance offers its endorsements on key state and area races.

Governor: Roy Cooper

Gov. Pat McCrory entered office four years ago with a lot of promise. After a distinguished 14-year career as Charlotte mayor, there was hope he would bring the same level of pragmatic can-do-ism to Raleigh, leading the state in a progressive direction. There was also hope that he would serve as a check on some of the worst tendencies of the newly empowered hard-right majority in the state Legislature.

Unfortunately, he’s done neither. Not only has McCrory not provided the moderate, forward-looking leadership we think the state needs, he decided to become a participant — at times enthusiastic participant — in the hard-right lawmaking and policymaking that has taken our state in the wrong direction over the past four years.

McCrory claims he’s led a “Carolina Comeback” that’s cut taxes by $4.7 billion and generated 300,000 new jobs since he took office in 2013. And indeed the state is making a comeback from the Great Recession in 2008-09. But the truth is, the state’s economic recovery is part of the larger national recovery. It’s also a fact that many of the jobs that have been created are low-paying and are in the growing Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham areas of North Carolina, not here and other rural parts of the state. Also, the tax cuts McCrory brags about have helped the wealthy more than the middle class, who now find themselves paying more in fees to offset the revenue lost from the tax cuts.

Yes, teacher pay has gone up and the state will have $2 billion in bond money to support construction projects on university and community college campuses. McCrory also provided good leadership both during and after Hurricane Matthew. But those examples are the exception rather than the rule. There are much more significant areas where McCrory has failed to show the prudent leadership the state needs. His ideologically-driven failure to support Medicaid expansion, for example, has cost the state billions of federal dollars while also continuing to deny health insurance to as many as 300,000 state residents who need it the most.

McCrory also signed off on the legislature’s voter ID bill that a federal court reently found discriminated against African-American voters with “surgical precision.” And he has been cheerleader in chief for House Bill 2, the anti-LGBT law that discriminates against transgendered people while also restricting the rights of millions of workers in our state. HB2 has had devastating effects on our state’s economy and reputation, creating business boycotts that have cost the state an estimated $500 million to $5 billion.

McCrory’s opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, opposed both the voter ID bill and HB2 and has chosen not to waste precious state resources defending them against predictable — and at least in the case of the voter law, successful — legal challenges. As attorney general since 2000, Cooper has a clear record of fighting to protect consumers, targeting predatory lenders and others who seek to take advantage of the most vulnerable.

Prior to being elected attorney general, Cooper served as majority leader in the state Senate. In that role he helped steer North Carolina along the moderate path that made the state a respected progressive leader in education, health care and poverty eradication. If he’s elected governor, we think the state has a better chance of gaining back that stature.

U.S. Senate: Deborah Ross

Even if there were no other reason to oppose Sen. Richard Burr’s re-election on Tuesday, the incumbent’s recent promise to a Republican group of supporters to block the Supreme Court appointments of Hillary Clinton, should she be elected president, would be sufficient.

In recorded comments provided to CNN, Burr said if Clinton was elected president and he was re-elected to the Senate, he would “make sure that four years from now, we’re still going to have an opening on the Supreme Court.” Burr later tried to walk back his flat refusal to consider any Clinton appointee to the high court, saying he would “assess the record of any Supreme Court nominee.” But we don’t believe him. We believe the Richard Burr who assumed he was speaking privately, because that’s the Richard Burr North Carolina voters are being asked to support on Tuesday.

The incumbent senator has already proven to be an obstructionist, joining his GOP colleagues in the Senate in refusing to allow even a hearing to Merrick Garland, President Obama’s well-qualified choice to succeed the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. Burr has also blocked the confirmation of Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a former justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, to a federal judgeship in eastern North Carolina, bragging to the GOP group that he’s responsible for the “longest judicial vacancy in history,” a reference to a judgeship that’s now been vacant for a decade. He also opposed North Carolina native Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as attorney general.

But there are also other reasons why Burr shouldn’t be re-elected. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr should be acting as a watchdog to prevent overreach by our national security agencies bent on protecting their activities from public scrutiny. Instead, he’s acted more as a member of the intelligence bureaucracy, blocking from public view, for example, the results of his committee’s probe into the Bush-era CIA’s use of torture practices, including waterboarding.

He also voted against the Dodd-Frank Act, the important legislation adopted by Congress in the wake of the nation’s economic collapse that imposes new restrictions on banks’ high-risk lending practices and provides new protections for consumers. He also was one of only three senators to oppose a bill outlawing insider trading by members of Congress. Burr said he opposed the latter because he believed it was unnecessary, noting that insider trading is already against the law. The overwhelming majority of his colleagues disagreed, however, perhaps recognizing that Congress often puts itself above the law unless the law specifically disallows them from doing so.

During his campaign for re-election, the usually low-key Burr has responded with surprising petulance, recently banning The News & Observer, for example, from receiving notices of his campaign schedule. Burr’s campaign imposed the ban because of its displeasure with a recent story about Burr’s attendance at a 2010 campaign fundraiser instead of at a Senate committee hearing on a costly military project.

Instead of focusing on his record in Washington, Burr has chosen to attack his Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross, for essentially doing her job as the former head of the N.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Burr’s campaign ads have claimed Ross opposed creation of a state sex offender registry in North Carolina. Ross wasn’t opposed to the registry, however, she just did her job ensuring its provisions didn’t squash individual liberties. Later, as a member of the state House, she voted a number of times to strengthen the sex offender registry.

Ross says if she’s elected, she’ll work to fix the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Burr, meanwhile, not only supports repeal of the historic health care law, he’s rooting for its collapse. That would be terrible for the thousands of North Carolinians who have come to depend on the ACA to purchase affordable health insurance. Ross also favors tighter controls on guns, a higher minimum wage, raising taxes on wealthier Americans, and taking more steps to halt climate change. Like nearly all other Republicans in the Senate, Burr opposes these efforts.

If Ross goes to Washington, she’ll join North Carolina’s other U.S. senator, Republican Thom Tillis. Having Ross and Tillis representing North Carolina in the Senate would be a true reflection of the divided politics in our state. It also might force more cooperation in our state’s political culture.

U.S. House, 3rd District: Walter B. Jones

We don’t agree with Congressman Walter Jones on much. The 11-term congressman from Farmville is often too much of a deficit hawk, opposed to most federal spending, including that which could benefit his own 3rd District. Of course as Jones correctly points out, much of the new federal spending that takes place isn’t paid for, and is instead borrowed, adding to the national debt which is already in the trillions. We also agree with him that elected leaders from both parties — Democratic and his own Republican — lack the discipline to pay for this spending through either spending cuts or revenue sources and are therefore responsible for fueling the debt’s rise.

We also agree with Jones that America’s leaders need to be extremely careful about intervening in another Middle Eastern country, and that before any intervention takes place, a full hearing and vote are held on the floor of Congress. Jones, a former war hawk, has done something unheard of in politics: he’s changed his mind about military interventions. His outspokenness on this issue in fact has drawn him wide criticism from fellow Republicans and resulted in GOP primary challengers in the past three election cycles.

Jones has represented the 3rd District well on some environmentally sensitive issues like offshore drilling, voting against the sale of offshore leases. And just a few years ago, Jones was instrumental in helping block the Navy from pushing through an outlying landing field it wanted to build in Camden County.

Jones, who represents one of the state’s 10 safe GOP districts thanks to legislative Republicans’ gerrymandering, has easily defeated the Democrats who’ve opposed him in past general elections, and we expect that will happen again on Tuesday when he faces off against Ernest T. Reeves, a businessman and retired U.S. Army captain from Greenville. While Reeves supports progressive ideas — like a massive infusion of infrastructure spending similar to the New Deal — he also has ideas that are less progressive — a 10 percent national sales tax and a national lottery -- to pay for the increased spending. Reeves needs to retool his ideas and run in a different district to have a chance of winning a seat in Congress.

Given our choices, we endorse Jones for another term.

 N.C. Attorney General: Josh Stein

For the first time in 16 years, the office of the state's attorney general will have a new name on the door come next January. With current Attorney General Roy Cooper seeking to occupy the governor's mansion, the job will go to either Democrat Josh Stein, of Wake County, a former state senator, or to current Republican state Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson.

Stein has ample experience at a prosecutor. Before serving four terms in the state senate, beginning in 2008, he spent seven years as a senior assistant attorney general for consumer protection issues. He's credited with taking tough and effective actions in the areas of protecting state residents from unethical and costly pay-day lender practices, telemarketing scams and identity theft.

Newton, who is chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee also has had an impact on state residents, but most notably in areas that deny rights and legal protections for the LGBT community while limiting the opportunities of convicted felons to pursue their claims of innocence. He's supported legislation to exempt magistrates from performing same-sex marriages for religious reasons and he's a staunch supporter of HB2.

Also, while Stein and Newton both are on record in favor of the death penalty, they are miles apart on the Racial Justice Act, which the Legislature repealed in 2013. The law gave death-row inmates the right to challenge their sentences if they could prove race affected their conviction. Stein supported the law; Newton was among the GOP majority which killed it.

The Innocence Commission also has divided the two candidates. The panel considers new evidence in convictions. It's work has resulted in some sentences , including death-row cases, being overturned. Stein's support of the commission is on record, while Newton has sponsored legislation, unsuccessfully so far, to kill it.

Stein's strong and effective experience as a prosecutor and his broader vision of how justice must be equally applied to protect all North Carolinians, and Newton's lack of both are sufficient grounds for Stein to gain our endorsement. Given the striking differences in how each would pursue justice should give voters more reason to elect Stein on Tuesday.

NC Senate, 1st District: Brownie Futrell

It's a good indication how concerned the Republican Party must be when it is willing to spend $600,000 to keep the 1st District Senate seat in party hands. They have reason to be worried about this race where two-term Republican incumbent Sen. Bill Cook is facing Democrat Brownie Futrell, former publisher of the Washington Daily News and a life-long resident of the district.

Cook, who the party feels desperate about, has shown little political leadership in the district or in Raleigh. Worst still, he has a limited grasp of the culture, history and needs of a district where he settled after retirement from the Maryland-Washington D.C. area. That's fine with the state GOP, whose interest is Republicans showing up to vote as directed on key party policy objectives – and Cook has certainly done that.

Cook's mismanaged priorities were on full display during his first term when he apparently seemed willing to write off Elizabeth City State University and allow party leaders to consider shutting it down. That signaled where Sen. Cook's priorities are – and they are not on the district. Since then, he has continued to follow the party line to prop up its ideological objectives at the expense of district needs. His opposition to Medicaid expansion – a factor cited in the closing of the hospital in Belhaven – reflects a view totally mistuned to the region. One of North Carolina's – and the nation's – poorest areas stands much to gain from the expanded program – more people getting the medical care they need; hospitals and medical practices writing off fewer losses to indigent care; and additional jobs brought to the region. All missed.

As for his support of House Bill 2, or “the bathroom bill”, he seems proud to be among those who won't acknowledge the discriminatory implications of the legislation, nor the damage it's done to North Carolina's economy, its image and ultimately to all it's citizens.

Futrell, with deep roots in the region and a long and engaged relationship with many of its citizens, has emerged to get the district's priorities back in front of the Legislature. Futrell, does not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in party money to support his campaign. However, his message, his leadership ability, his grasp of district-centered issues and his long-standing connections across North Carolina are worth much more.

While Cook touts party-backed tax policies — that mostly benefit the top earners, Futrell has catalogued 65 new taxes and regulatory changes that have a costly effect on middle-class citizens.

Also, as Cook and his party tried to claim the high ground on state education by approving teacher raises just before the election, overall funding for public education has not kept pace with the state's growing student population and needs. Futrell targets how the share of state budget directed toward education is on the decline, as North Carolina checks in with a ranking of 44 among the 50 states for per-pupil funding – and is dead last in the Southeast. Cook may feel comfortable with a few crumbs going to education. Not so with Futrell.

It's time for a change in representation that gets work done for the 1st District in Raleigh. We endorse Futrell to see that done.

NC House, 1st District: Sam Davis

Residents of the First North Carolina House District have an important choice to make at the polls. That choice is between two-term incumbent Rep. Bob Steinburg and Elizabeth City businessman Sam Davis.

Steinburg's tenure has been marked by efforts to better understand the needs of the region, which became his home after retirement to Chowan County just over a decade ago. In the four years since he has been in office, Steinburg's connections and knowledge have improved, as he demonstrated in efforts to meet with area educators and teachers, to try to get a better understanding of how legislative actions affect the education of local school children.

As it turns out, however, his opponent Sam Davis needs no orientation on the district's needs and priorities. A native of the area, Davis already understands how legislative actions help or harm the region. He knows because, he's lived in the area and served in various capacities long enough to have witnessed and been affected by legislative actions.

In addition, Davis has run for and been elected to political office, serving as a county commissioner for Pasquotank County. That and other commitments to community betterment over many years have tempered Davis' public service abilities. He gets it when it comes to understanding and helping constituents – those who agree with him and those who don't. It's a lesson Steinburg apparently may need to work on some, as he demonstrated by telling a heckler at a recent forum to “shut up.”

We credit Steinburg for his effort on education and other district needs, such as helping obtain a grant for the expansion of Jimbo's Jumbos in Chowan County. But he has fallen far short on key issues. His support on teacher pay has not translated to broader legislative policy to insure schools have the resources they need to meet objectives the public expects them to meet. Schools are still cutting back.

Also, Steinburg continues to oppose Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. Despite advocacy for expansion from area hospitals, health care agencies, public officials and many others, he is sticking with the party line in Raleigh, opposing the federal plan that would have pumped billions of dollars into the state to cover nearly a half-million poor and elderly residents while creating almost 50,000 jobs. That position does not represent what is best for this area and its residents.

Similarly, Steinburg is a sponsor of HB2, the “Bathroom bill” an action widely viewed as discriminatory toward the state's LGBT community. Even when it became apparent that the bill would cost North Carolina millions of dollars in investment, event cancellations, hundreds of jobs and a national reputation of intolerance, Steinburg, along with other Republicans, have continued to defend it on the ludicrous claim that it protects women and children. “I don’t give a damn what it costs the state of North Carolina, you cannot put a price on protecting our children, our women,” Steinburg claimed recently.

Apparently, Steinburg would rather his district take the losses inflicted by HB2 than admit he is wrong.

District residents expect a representative to work for their interests. Sam Davis would be that representative.