It appears the presidential election, one of the most unusual anyone can remember, has taken all the air away from local races.
On Nov. 8, lots of people are going to walk into the polls, look at the ballot and wonder who all these people are running for office.
Any air that the presidential race hasn’t taken is being sucked up by two big statewide races. Republican Pat McCrory is being challenged by Democrat Attorney General Roy Cooper, while Republican Sen. Richard Burr, running for his third term in the US Senate, is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from Democrat Deborah Ross. Millions of out-of-state dollars are being poured into these races.
But you also have Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in a rematch against Democrat Linda Coleman. Some people may know about that race because North Carolina has an extremely energetic and popular lieutenant governor, and in North Carolina the lieutenant governor actually has a job – unlike, for example, the vice president of the United States, who doesn’t have much to do unless the president dies.
In North Carolina we elect all the Council of State officers in statewide elections, which goes back to the days when North Carolina had one of the weakest governors in the nation, until Jim Hunt wanted to run for reelection in 1980 and got the state Constitution amended so he could run again.
In his second eight-year stint in the governor’s mansion in 1996, Hunt managed to get veto power for the governor. Mainly what the governor of North Carolina had before that was a nice house to live in and the bully pulpit.
But because of our state history of a weak governor, offices that are appointed in other states are elected statewide. Can anyone name the two candidates for state auditor? I can because I have a ballot in front of me. They are Republican Chuck Stuber, who is challenging the current state auditor, Democrat Beth Wood. Why in the world do we elect a state auditor?
The commissioner of labor is one that a lot of people do know because her name is in all the elevators statewide – Republican Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry is being challenged by Democrat Charles Meeker.
Around these parts a lot of folks know the Republican commissioner of agriculture, Steve Troxler, because he’s from Brown Summit. He’s being challenged by Democrat Walter Smith.
Cooper is running for governor, so the attorney general’s seat is open. And since Cooper has been running for governor for four years, some would say it has been open for a long time. Republican state Sen. Buck Newton is running against former Democratic state Sen. Josh Stein.
For some reason in North Carolina the voters have elected Republican governors, senators and lieutenant governors but prefer Democratic attorney generals. The last Republican attorney general was James Carson, who was appointed in 1974 and lost his reelection bid. It’s one of the oddities of North Carolina politics.
We also elect a commissioner of insurance and the Republican candidate’s name should be familiar by now; Mike Causey is making his fifth run for the office and also ran in the Republican primary for 6th District congressman in 2014.
Causey is facing the Democratic Commissioner of Insurance Wayne Goodwin. Maybe the fifth time will be the charm for Causey, who lives in Guilford County.
Former Speaker Pro Tem of the state House Republican Dale Folwell is running for state treasurer and is working hard to try to convince people to pay attention to that race. According to Folwell, the state treasurer has more power granted by the state Constitution than any office other than the governor.
Folwell was the head of the Employment Security Commission. When he took over the department it had a deficit of $2.7 billion; when he left to run for office it had a surplus of $1 billion.
Folwell, who is a certified public accountant, is running against Democrat Dan Blue III, who is an attorney. Blue III is the son of the state Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue Jr., who is a former speaker of the state House.
North Carolina has a secretary of state, something people may know if they have incorporated a company or needed to look up a company to see if it was incorporated. Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is being challenged by Republican Michael LaPaglia. I’m sure they both know exactly what being the secretary of a state entails, but I guarantee most people don’t.
We also elect the superintendent of public instruction, and the Democratic incumbent June Atkinson is being challenged by Republican Mark Johnson, a Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board member. No doubt the Republican-led state House and Senate would love to have a state school superintendent who didn’t complain about everything they did, but it’s another race that seems to fall through the cracks.
Those are all the statewide races on the ballot other than judges, and I’ve learned that even attorneys don’t know all the folks running for judge.
One reason there is so little interest in local races is that because the districts are being drawn to favor one party or the other, there aren’t many races for state House or state Senate. In fact, only District 27 state Sen. Trudy Wade has a legitimate challenger, and that is Democrat Michael Garrett, who is the son of Guilford County Board of Education member Darlene Garrett.
Democrat District 28 state Sen. Gladys Robinson is being challenged by Republican Devin King, who ran for mayor of Greensboro last year and received 11 percent of the vote. He may do better against Robinson but he’s got a long way to go to get in the winners column.
Republican District 59 House Rep. Jon Hardister is being challenged by Democrat Scott Jones. In 2014, Jones ran against Hardister and received 36 percent of the vote. In the rematch Hardister may do better.
President Pro Tem of the state Senate Phil Berger from Eden is running unopposed. Berger is known as the most powerful elected official in Raleigh, because in our state a bill can become law without the governor’s signature, or over the governor’s veto, but nothing becomes law without being passed by the Senate, and Berger has his hands on the reins of the state Senate.
Also running unopposed from the Guilford County delegation are Democratic District 57 state Rep. Mary (Pricey) Harrison, Democrat District 60 state Rep. Cecil Brockman, Republican District 61 state Rep. John Faircloth and Republican District 62 state Rep. John Blust. Democratic Guilford County Board of Education member Amos Quick is also running unopposed to fill the seat of the late District 58 state Rep. Ralph Johnson.
When you’re running unopposed, it’s hard to get too excited about your campaign, much less get anyone else excited about it.
Also on the ballot are congressional representatives, Guilford County commissioners, Guilford County Board of Education members, the register of deeds, where Jeff Thigpen aka “Mr. Deeds” is running unopposed, lots of judges and four Greensboro bond referendums.
Even without long lines, it’s going to take a while to vote this year.
Usually there is a drop off toward the bottom of the ballot, where people who vote in the races at the top of the ballot don’t vote for bonds or judges. But some people are predicting a drop off at the very top of the ballot this year, where people who don’t like either choice for president will simply not vote in that race.