The League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad held a forum for state legislative candidates, but the league only calls candidates to the podium if both candidates in a race are present, so this forum was mostly for candidates for the state House, since in only one of the races for the state Senate were both candidates present.
Forums are generally not too exiting, but there was a little commotion when District 57 state Rep. Pricey Harrison, who has casts on both an arm and a leg as the result of a fall, got tangled in her crutches trying to get up to the podium. A bipartisan group of folks helped get her in her seat including the moderator Bill O’Neil from WXII.
Harrison is currently representing District 57 but is running for reelection in District 61. It is another factor that adds some spice to this election cycle; because of redistricting, even long-term representatives like Harrison are running in new districts and don’t know exactly what to expect.
Harrison is running for her eighth term in the state House against first-time Republican candidate Alissa Batts.
The first question was about the hurricanes that have ravaged North Carolina this year and what the state’s response should be.
Batts noted that Harrison had voted against the Republican budget bills that provided the funds for hurricane relief and said that the state had to make sure it had the money to pay all of its other bills.
Harrison, who was down in Raleigh on Monday voting for hurricane relief funding, said that there was refreshing bipartisanship at the past two special meetings called because of the hurricanes. She added that the state had not done enough to provide resiliency and needed to stop putting money into areas that were prone to hurricane damage. She also said that the state had to do more to protect its citizens from hazardous wastes released by these storms such as municipal wastewater, hog farm waste and coal ash.
Harrison added, “The state has not done enough about climate change.”
When asked about the recent court decision that the state had to be redistricted again, Batts said, “I do support an independent board or commission.”
Harrison said, “Folks, remember the reason we are hear today is that we had racially gerrymandered districts.” She added that the legislature redrew the districts and now they have been found by the court to have partisan gerrymandered districts.
She said, “The way we are doing it now is not serving the public well.”
When asked to talk about themselves, Batts got in a jab at Harrison who is the granddaughter of Joe Bryan by saying that she had worked to support herself since she was 16 and knew the hardship that working families have.
Batts also said she believed in limited government and that elected officials should be the voice of the people, not the voice of the party.
Harrison said that she had never taken a dime of corporate PAC money and that the Republican tax cuts had left the state short of funding particularly in education.
The only state Senate candidates who made it to the podium were in the District 26 race with incumbent Republican Jerry Tillman facing Democratic challenger Bill McCaskill. Tillman is currently representing District 29 but redistricting put him in District 26.
Tillman is not shy about his political beliefs and, because the League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan but liberal organization, there were a couple of groans from the audience after Tillman answered questions.
The loudest came when Tillman answered the question about redistricting. He said, “The best way to do redistricting is the way we do it now. The Constitution says that the prevailing party has that responsibility. The Democrats did it for 140 years and when we won in 2011 we won with the districts they drew.”
He added, “The best way to draw districts is to win.”
McCaskill, like many other candidates, suggested some kind of commission to draw the maps. He said that both parties had gerrymandered districts. But he said electing enough Democrats so the Republicans didn’t have a super-majority would bring some reform to the redistricting process.
When asked to talk about himself, McCaskill said, “If I were in the legislature, I would not vote to lower income taxes and then raise sales taxes.” He also said he would keep the rules and regulations in place to protect the environment and would personally work to restore North Carolina’s reputation.
Tillman said, “I’ve been there 18 years and rank number five in effectiveness in the Senate.
He said that cutting taxes is what made North Carolina the number one state in the country for business climate. He also said the Republicans didn’t raise sales tax but took away the penny the Democrats had added and that put $750 million back in the people’s pockets.
In the District 57 House race there is no incumbent because Republican Rep. John Blust, after 20 years in the legislature, decided not to run for reelection.
So two first-time candidates are going up against each other in what was a Republican district and now leans Democrat. But there is a twist in this race because it has a heavy minority population and the Republican candidate, Troy Lawson, is a running against Ashton Clemmons, a white Democrat.
When asked about protecting the integrity of elections, Clemmons said, “The board of elections across the state should be done in a nonpartisan way.” She added, “Having nonpartisan redistricting is a key step.”
Lawson said, “To me it’s very simple show your ID. Walk in and show your ID to vote.” Lawson said that the state provided IDs free to people who couldn’t pay and he recommended taking the process of providing state IDs to people into the neighborhoods. He said requiring people to show an ID would protect the electoral process.
Talking about themselves, Clemmons noted that she had spent her entire life in North Carolina and her entire career in education. She said she had been a teacher and principal and people who understood education were needed in the legislature.
Lawson said that he was the first black Guilford County Republican Party chairman in 156 years and he didn’t get there because of the color of his skin but because of hard work.
Lawson said the schools in the state were failing and he had been working on charter schools that are outperforming public schools. He said, “I support all kinds of education including public education and choice for families.”
Republican District 59 state Rep. Jon Hardister is actually running for reelection in District 59 but he had to move from Greensboro to Whitsett to stay in his own district. He is being challenged by Democrat first-time candidate Steve Buccini.
On the question about integrity in elections, Buccini said that it should be as easy to sign up to vote as it is to sign up for a Facebook account. He said he supported independent redistricting and that they needed to get the money out of politics.
Hardister said, “We need to get more people to vote.”
Hardister said that in the last session he and Democrat District 60 Rep. Cecil Brockman cosponsored a bill to enhance civic education in public schools. He said, “We’re not doing enough to get people involved.”
Hardister said that in all the discussion about the constitutional amendments it seemed that people had forgotten that the voters get to decide what will become a constitutional amendment and what won’t.
Buccini said, “I’m the only candidate running on my opponent’s record.” He said he had been attacked by Hardister for not being from the community and that he had never taken a penny from special interests.
Hardister said, “I haven’t attacked my opponent. I like my opponent. He’s a nice guy.” He said it was the Republican Party that was responsible for the attacks and he had no control over what the state Republican Party did.
Hardister noted that under Republican control the state had passed Michigan to become the ninth largest state in the nation and because of the Republican tax cuts had been running budget surpluses.
He said, “I’m very passionate about this state and respect everybody.”
Republican District 61 state Rep. John Faircloth is running for re-election in District 62 and is facing Democrat Martha Shafer.
On teacher salaries, Faircloth said, “We’ve seen improvement in the pay scale but we are not where we should be.” Faircloth noted that as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee he was well aware of the challenge in funding education and said that 58 percent of the state budget currently goes to education. He said, “We don’t have a recipe right now to raise those salaries.”
Shafer said that the state salaries needed to be raised to the national average and North Carolina currently ranked 37th in teacher salaries.
She said if salaries weren’t raised the state would be facing a serious teacher shortage.
Faircloth noted that he was raised in Greensboro and now lived in High Point, and being in a leadership position he could bring increased funding to Guilford County.
Shafer said that she opposed the direction that the Republican super majority had taken the state and was appalled at the current state of public education.
Democratic District 58 state Rep. Amos Quick is running against Republican challenger Peter Boykin.
On redistricting, Boykin said that he favored nonpartisan redistricting. He said that people were so confused with all the redistricting they didn’t know what district they were in. He said both parties had to get over the history of gerrymandering and move forward.
Quick said that there was bipartisan support for an independent redistricting commission but it wouldn’t happen unless there was a groundswell of support from the people.
He said, “The court said that African-American voters were targeted with almost surgical precision and that should be frightening to everyone.”
Boykin described himself saying, “I am an independent, free thinking Republican and also gay.” He said he had voted for liberals in the past and if elected he would not hesitate to fight against his party if he thought the party was wrong. He said, “We need more compromise. HB2 wouldn’t have been such a big issue if there had been more compromise.”
Quick said, “By the grace of God, I have served 14 years as an elected official.” He served 12 on the Guilford County Board of Education and two in the legislature.
Quick said, “I’ve been able to get some legislation through even though I’m in the super minority.”