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Local Candidates Gear Up For 2014 Election

HILLSBOROUGH- Even before the start of the filing period, more than a dozen local candidates have declared their intent to run for office in 2014.

Long-time Orange County Commissioner Alice Gordon announced she won’t be seeking re-election, prompting Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board Vice-Chair Mia Burroughs to seek the seat representing District 1.

Bingham resident Mark Marcoplos says he’ll challenge incumbent Earl McKee for the District 2 seat representing rural Orange County, and Bonnie Hauser will take on Board Chair Barry Jacobs for the at-large seat.

For the first time in three decades, there’s no incumbent running for Orange County Sheriff. Lindy Pendergrass announced he’ll be retiring after more than thirty years as the county’s top lawman. Already several challengers have put their names forward, including Charles Blackwood, Andy Cagle, Larry Faucette and David Caldwell.

The Orange County School board has four seats up for grabs- that race will be determined in the May primary.

At the same time, the Town of Carrboro will hold a special election to fill the board seat Lydia Lavelle left vacant when she was elected mayor last fall. To date, planning board chair Bethany Chaney is the only candidate to come forward, but others are likely to run.

At the state level, newly-seated House District 50 Representative Graig Meyer will stand for office for the first time, and State Senator Valerie Foushee will be running to keep the seat she was appointed to when Ellie Kinnaird stepped down. House District 56 Representative Verla Insko will be seeking her tenth term.

Last but not least, Superior Court Judges Carl Fox and Allen Baddour are up for re-election, as is District Court Judge Joe Buckner and District Attorney Jim Woodall.

The filing period opens at noon on Monday and  runs through the end of the month. The primary election is May 6, the general election is November 4.


Push For Teacher Raises Takes Hold In NC

STATEWIDE – With teachers in North Carolina among the lowest paid in the nation, a grassroots effort is taking shape to persuade state legislators to raise teacher salaries.

“If (teachers) can go elsewhere and get higher pay, better benefits, and a feeling of better respect for the profession, they’re going to do that,” says UNC-Greensboro education professor Wayne Journell. He’s one of many North Carolinians who, just in the last two weeks, have begun to raise their voices publicly in support of higher teacher pay.

That issue, of course, has been a controversial one for months. Last year, as North Carolina dropped to 46th in the nation in teacher salaries, the General Assembly voted to cut salary bonuses for teachers who earned master’s degrees—while simultaneously reducing funding for teaching assistants and eliminating teacher tenure.

Critics argued then that those moves would drive good teachers out of the state. In fact Chapel Hill-Carrboro assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese said in August that the process had already begun.

“We lost a great math teacher to Kentucky,” LoFrese said then. “That teacher’s making $10,000 more in Kentucky than they would have made here on the North Carolina salary schedule.”

And it wasn’t only the established teachers who were leaving. At UNC-G, Journell says his students were beginning to look elsewhere too.

“And they said, ‘Why–given what’s going on in the state–why should I consider staying in North Carolina to teach?’” Journell says. “And honestly, I couldn’t give them a good answer.”

Journell says that’s why he picked up his pen—and wrote an open letter to Governor Pat McCrory last week urging him to take action to raise teacher pay.

Read Journell’s letter here, via NCPolicyWatch.com.

And Journell wasn’t the only one.

On January 4, former Governor Jim Hunt wrote an editorial in the News and Observer challenging the General Assembly to raise teacher pay in North Carolina to the national average. Hunt says he himself led the charge to do just that during his tenure as governor—with bipartisan support. And while the effort was costly—$240 million per year—Hunt says it also paid off: between 1999 and 2001, as teacher salaries were increasing by 7.5 percent per year, he says student test scores were also rising faster than in any other state.

The General Assembly won’t be back in session for months, but Hunt’s editorial reshaped the debate, at least for now. Last week, an organization called Aim Higher NC launched an online petition to urge the GA to raise teacher salaries—and got more than 10,000 signatures in the first 36 hours. A survey from Public Policy Polling indicated that 79 percent of North Carolinians—including 66 percent of Republicans—favored Hunt’s proposal to raise teacher salaries to the national average. Governor McCrory too says he’s committed to raising teacher pay in 2014, though specific details still have to be ironed out.

And in Greensboro, Journell says his open letter got a big response.

“The next day when I opened up my email, I had a bunch of emails to go through,” he says. “I was kind of concerned that some of them would be saying, ‘oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ but all the emails I got were very, very positive.” (No response yet from Governor McCrory though, he says.)

It remains to be seen, of course, whether state legislators will ride the wave. Former Governor Hunt admits that any significant teacher pay raise will be costly—and while there’s bipartisan support for higher teacher salaries, Republicans in particular also remain opposed to any tax hikes.

But Journell says he’s hopeful that the current movement will have an impact in the end—and not just for the benefit of his students.

“You know, I have a kid,” he says. “She just turned one. She’s going to be educated in this state. And I want young, energetic teachers to be in North Carolina…

“I just don’t want us to drive them away.”


Chatham Dems Name Date For House 54 Appointment

PITTSBORO-Democrats from Chatham and Lee Counties have set a date to name a replacement to fill Deb McManus’s empty seat in the General Assembly.

The appointment committee will hold an information session for candidates and the public on January 11 from 10 a.m. until noon at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro.

The formal vote to name a new representative for State House District 54 will take place at the courthouse on January 24 at 5:30 p.m.

Six candidates have already put their names in for consideration: Cedric Blade, James Steven Heymen, Jeffrey Starkweather, Robert Reives II, Kathie Russell and  Tim Weiner.

McManus was serving her first term in the legislature when she resigned last month after being arrested on felony tax charges. She’s charged with embezzlement for allegedly withholding more than $47,000 in state individual income tax while working as the bookkeeper at her husband’s medical office.

The appointment committee is still accepting applications from candidates. You can find out more about the timeline and the process here.


Court Will Wait Until 2015 To Weigh Challenges to NC Voting Laws

CHAPEL HILL – A federal judge ruled the court will not hear a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s controversial voting bill before 2015.

Former state senator Ellie Kinnaird says the decision to postpone the trial is problematic because many voters could find themselves disenfranchised next year.

“It’s a very great disappointment because the voting law so limits the access to the ballot and many populations are going to be adversely affected,” says Kinnaird.

However, there is a chance the plaintiffs will file an injunction that could suspend the new rules until after the 2014 election.

“They’re going to ask the judge to say while the suit is pending, please stop those from going into effect,” says Kinniard. “Don’t allow all those changes to go into effect.”

Currently, Governor Pat McCrory and the State Board of Elections are facing lawsuits from the U.S. Justice Department, the NAACP, the ACLU, the League of Women Voters and others regarding the provisions of Republican-backed legislation that dramatically changes North Carolina’s voting rules.

Under the bill passed last session, early voting is cut by a week, same-day registration is banned, and all voters will be required to present photo ID by 2016. Opponents say the new rules target students, minority voters and the elderly, all of whom are more likely to support Democrats.

This past August Kinnaird stepped down from the state senate seat she held for nearly 20 years so that she could focus on voter outreach in the wake of the bill’s passage. She says the full impact of the voting law changes has yet to be seen.

“There are many, many changes that are going to affect different population groups,” says Kinnaird. “Overall, it will suppress the vote and we’re very concerned.”

The numerous challenges to the voting law will likely be consolidated into one case, to be heard in U.S. District court in July of 2015.


New House Rep. Meyer To Be Sworn In On Thursday

CHAPEL HILL- Newly-appointed State House Representative Graig Meyer will take his oath of office this Thursday, and the person he’s chosen to swear him in is the last to hold the position.

“State Senator Valerie Foushee is going to swear me in. Valerie held the seat before I did,” says Meyer. “But the real reason I asked her is that Valerie has always been a mentor to me, both in terms of the work that I’ve done in education and in my political aspirations. I really hope to follow in her footsteps and live up to the example that she set for me.”

Meyer takes Foushee’s place representing House District 50, which covers most of rural Orange and Northern Durham counties. He was appointed by a committee of Democratic Party officials in October.

Foushee herself went through a similar process when she was appointed in September to fill the N.C Senate District 23 seat left vacant by the resignation of Ellie Kinnaird.

Orange County Democratic Party Chair Matt Hughes says Meyer’s appointment will help bring stability to the local delegation, which has seen the retirement of three long-time leaders in the past year.

“Three of our legislators we had last year are no longer serving in the legislature: Bill Faison, Joe Hackney and Ellie Kinnaird,” says Hughes. “I think that we are at a point where we are settling down with our legislative delegation and it’s starting to solidify. I think Graig and Valerie and Verla [Insko] will all be able to work together really well in the legislature to produce some good work for Orange County.”

Looking ahead, Hughes says Orange County Democrats are in a strong position to help candidates who might face tight races in other parts of the state next year.

“Orange County is one of those places that, once you take care of a little housekeeping, you can go elsewhere and really help other counties and other candidates that are just a few points away from declaring victory in certain key races,” says Hughes.

Meyer says he hopes to help re-energize local progressives during both the May primary and the November election.

“Having a little period of uncertainty in the local area has made loyal democrats feel uneasy in knowing who’s going to fight for us, so I do believe people feel really relieved and excited knowing we have a strong delegation going into 2014,” says Meyer.

Meyer’s swearing-in ceremony will take place Thursday at 6:30 at the historic courthouse in Hillsborough.


Graig Meyer Appointed To N.C. House District 50 Seat

HILLSBOROUGH- Democratic Party representatives from Orange and Durham counties met Thursday to appoint Graig Meyer to fill the N.C. House District 50 seat formerly occupied by Valerie Foushee.

Meyer is a Chapel Hill-Carrboro school administrator and coordinator of the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program. He says he’s ready to usher in a new wave of Democratic leadership to help win back control of the General Assembly.

“We need Democratic leadership for the state of North Carolina that does more to promote our future than to think about where we are today or our past,” says Meyer. “We need Democratic leadership that thinks about where the state of North Carolina is going to be in twenty, thirty or fifty years.”

Meyer thanks the committee following his appointment to the N.C. House.

Meyer thanks the committee following his appointment to the N.C. House.

Meyer was one of seven candidates seeking the appointment. In the first round of voting, the four member executive committee split its votes between Meyer, attorney Drew Nelson, Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier, Chapel Hill Town Council member Laurin Easthom, and Durham Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Danielle Adams. Candidates Travis Phelps and Tommy McNeill did not receive any votes.

After just a few moments of negotiation, the committee united behind Meyer, appointing him unanimously in the second round of voting.

Meyer’s appointment fills the House seat left vacant when Valerie Foushee was named last month to represent N.C. Senate District 23, taking the place of long-serving former State Senator Ellie Kinnaird.

The term of office expires in December of next year, but Meyer says he plans to run to keep the seat representing most of rural Orange and Northern Durham counties.

“To win the seat in District 50 requires you to get out and get to know people all across the district,” says Meyers. “This district is like microcosm of North Carolina: urban, rural, farmers, scientists- it’s a real mix. You have to make sure you can represent all those people and be aware of all the issues that impact the different communities in District 50. If you can do that, you can solve the problems faced all across North Carolina.”

Because the General Assembly is not in session until May 14, 2014, Meyer could find himself defending his new position in the May 6 primary before the legislature even convenes.

The Democratic Executive Committee will submit Meyer’s name to Governor Pat McCrory for appointment. The governor has a week to make the appointment official, but should he fail to do so, Meyer would automatically assume the office.


N.C. Senate Hopefuls Vie For Open District 23 Seat

CHAPEL HILL-  The four-member committee that will pick a replacement for former state senator Ellie Kinniard heard  from the seven people who have put their names forward to fill the vacant seat.

Ellie Kinnaird announced her resignation August 19. She was on hand at the forum and spoke briefly, endorsing former Representative Alice Bordsen. Kinnaird said Bordsen, who served five terms in the House and is the current  first vice-chair of the Orange County Democrats, has the experience necessary to step into the position right away. Bordsen also touted her experience representing Alamance County, citing her work to help children and senior citizens.

Heidi Chapman, a personal injury attorney in Chapel Hill, said she’s seen the positive impact the community college system can have in the lives of people who are out of work, but she worries the system is being undermined by the current education budget.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton argued that the role of the appointee should not just be to lobby for specific issues, but to work to win back the legislature from Republican control. He said his campaign experience in Chapel Hill and Carrboro municipal elections can help get the Democratic Party organized in 2014.

State House Representative Valerie Foushee said since being elected to the General Assembly last year she’s built relationships with Republican members of the House that helped move OrangeCounty’s agenda forward. Nonetheless, she said she’d fight to tip the balance back to Democratic control.

Lynette Hartsell, an attorney from Cedar Grove, said she’d champion equality as an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. She called for Democrats to stand up for LGBT civil rights.

Jim Porto, former mayor of Carrboro, said he would not run for re-election if appointed. Instead he would focus on rebranding the Democratic Party to appeal to moderate voters alienated by the GOP’s agenda.

Amy Tiemann spoke of her local business ties to Chatham County and her ability to raise money for Democratic candidates. She said she’ll bring a science background to issues like fracking and climate change.

Committee members also had a chance to ask the candidates specific questions, and while they did touch on policy issues like restoring education funding and protecting women’s reproductive rights, much of the conversation revolved around the need for fundraising and organizing to shore up the Democratic Party ahead of next year’s election.

The courthouse at 179 East Franklin was standing room only for much of the three hour meeting, with many staying until the end to hear public comment. Of the fifteen who addressed the committee, more than half spoke in favor of Valerie Foushee.

The committee will make nominations and vote on September 8 at the Chatham Community Library. The two Orange County representatives control 446 votes between them, while the Chatham representatives control 212. Committee members can split their votes any way they choose. The winning candidate will need 330 votes to secure the appointment.

Committee members say they do want to hear from the public. You can email all four at ncsenate23vacancy@gmail.com, or find more information here.


McCrory Says He’ll Sign New Abortion Bill

RALEIGH- Governor Pat McCrory says he will sign into law the controversial abortion bill passed by the House earlier this week. McCrory had previously said he would veto the Senate’s version of the bill, which called for abortion clinics to be regulated as ambulatory surgical centers. It also mandated that a doctor be present for all stages of an abortion procedure.

The House version of the bill is slightly less stringent. It calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to develop new regulations that do not limit access to abortion services. In a statement released on Friday, McCrory called the House version “an improved bill which will better protect women while not further limiting access.”

McCrory has drawn fire in recent weeks as critics say he has abandoned a campaign promise to not support any measure that would restrict abortions.

However, the governor’s approval might not matter much in the long run, as Republicans in the House and Senate have large enough majorities to override any veto.