Wake County Democrats needed a dream candidate to go up against a hardworking incumbent Republican in a state House race last fall. In walked Grier Martin, son of a well-known politician and university leader, a family man who missed his daughter's early months because he volunteered to fight terror in Afghanistan.
And if that weren't enough, Martin had the charisma to deliver his message of fairness and integrity in government. He's tall, lean and handsome. Martin, 36, can be earnest and self-deprecating in the same breath. He says "Gawl-ly" like Gomer Pyle, and means it.
"He's honest, he's sincere, and he has his principles and he sticks to them," said Keith Karlsson, Wake Democratic chairman.
But this week, one of those principles faces a test. Martin fervently opposes creating a state lottery. He was one of nine Democrats who voted against it when the House narrowly approved a bare-bones lottery in April.
Now he must vote on a state budget that would greatly enhance that lottery by allowing it to advertise more aggressively than the House intended.
But the budget plan also contains several proposals that Martin supports.
Martin calls his opposition to a lottery a "core feeling."
"Gambling is not the business of government," Martin said. "There's plenty of other ways to raise money out there."
For the state budget deal struck by legislative leaders late last week to be approved, it appears that at least eight of the nine House Democrats who voted against the lottery will need to vote for the budget. That's because all House Republicans and at least one Democrat, Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County, are expected to vote against the budget as long as it includes various tax increases.
Democrats rule the House by a 63-57 margin. If everyone shows up, 61 votes will be needed to pass the budget.
So far, Martin is not saying how he will vote.
"The budget will do some good things, and those will weigh against some not-so-good things," he said Friday night in a cell phone interview from Conway, S.C. He had taken his 2-year-old daughter, Sara, there to visit with his 95-year-old grandmother, Maysie Wall.
It would have helped, he said, if budget negotiators had included more money for pay raises for state employees. The budget proposal includes 2 percent or $850 increases, whichever is more, for most state workers, plus an extra week of vacation.
"An inadequate pay raise like that makes it tough, particularly when combined with lottery language," Martin said.
Martin said Monday that House Speaker Jim Black and Gov. Mike Easley, who has long wanted a lottery to pay for education programs, have yet to put the squeeze on him. Easley's staff met with Martin before the House lottery vote; he told them he wouldn't support it, and that was as far as it went, Martin said.
As for Black, he and his staff have only informed Martin of the lottery negotiations, Martin said. Black helped Martin win the House seat with roughly $100,000 in campaign contributions and in-kind services.
Although his father, D.G. Martin, had served as a UNC system vice president and made unsuccessful runs for Congress, Grier Martin was content being a real estate attorney until the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
An Army reservist, he quickly signed up to serve. He spent 6 1/2 months in Afghanistan, using his legal expertise to settle damage claims, help fellow soldiers with legal troubles and advise commanders on the legalities of military actions.
He said he returned more aware than ever of how important a just, open and functioning government is. He has spent his first session as a lawmaker pushing for lobbying reforms, environmental protection, more judicial and law enforcement services and better pay and benefits for state employees.
But now, to take care of some of those needs, he may have to help move a lottery forward.
"This may be tough for him," said Karlsson, who opposes the lottery but says the Democratic Party has not taken a position on it. "It's not easy, but I have confidence in him that he'll do the right thing. And I think the voters appreciate that, too.
"If you have your principles and you stick to them, they will support you."
Staff writer Dan Kane can be reached at 829-4861 or email@example.com.