The region that could be called the Greater Triangle sprawls over a large swath of central North Carolina and a wildly diverse set of communities. But whether folks live in a spanking new suburb or a downtown condo or an old traditional neighborhood or on a farm (tobacco or perhaps organic arugula), they share many concerns common to Americans dealing with today's hard challenges.
Those challenges are economic. They are educational. They involve health care. And they involve this country's freedom and security in a world where neither can be taken for granted. The importance of wise decisions at the national level has seldom been greater.
The Greater Triangle elects three people to the U.S. House of Representatives. And it must be said that voters around here, in the region that encompasses Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill along with numerous other places that may be smaller but are no less proud and vital, have chosen exceptionally well.
They have sent to Capitol Hill three men who stand out for their knowledge of and judgment on the issues, their commitment to the hard work of legislating to move the country forward and their concern for the powerless who need advocates among the powerful. Reps. David Price, Bob Etheridge and Brad Miller are each attuned to the needs of districts that differ substantially in character. They also have a knack for teamwork that has benefited the region as a whole.
Democrats such as the three incumbents are on the hot seat this fall, what with voters' understandable frustration over an economic slump worse than most Americans have seen in their lives. That frustration is stoked by Republicans whose party had a heavy hand in sending the country off course.
But if America's good fortunes are to be restored, Price, Etheridge and Miller can be counted upon to be part of the rescue team. Each has The N&O's editorial endorsement for re-election. Each deserves the enthusiastic support of voters throughout this splendid quilt of a region who seek steady, well-informed leadership amid difficult times.
BOB ETHERIDGE There are a few lonely liberals in Etheridge's home county of Harnett, but he isn't one of them. Instead, as he's shown over three-plus decades of capable public service, he is a man of the pragmatic middle. That nicely suits his district, which is largely rural and small town even though it extends into the heart of Raleigh.
But Etheridge is as well a man of principle. That is the sort of conviction that led him to cast a tough but crucial vote in favor of health care reform. The principle was simple enough - President Obama's health care legislation wasn't perfect, but ordinary Americans and the nation's economy were being crushed by a system whose costs were exploding even while many went without needed care. It was a vote bound to draw criticism from the 2nd District's vocal conservatives. It was also the right call for the country.
Etheridge, who served eight years as North Carolina's superintendent of public instruction, has the chops to follow through on his commitment to education as the cornerstone of personal and national success. His work on behalf of military families has helped ease the burdens of troops at Fort Bragg. He views decisions on the economy with an eye toward the importance of putting people back to work and cracking down on the financial industry abuses that triggered the recession.
For a Republican opponent, the seven-term incumbent has drawn Renee Ellmers, a Michigan native and nurse who is clinical director at her physician-husband's care center in Dunn. She is a first-time office seeker inspired to run by her opposition to "government-run" health care - as if worthwhile reforms enacted this year went anywhere near that far. The country needs to cut spending and taxes to create jobs, she says. This, in a nutshell, is the standard GOP critique, reinforced by the tea party movement.
Ellmers may be an effective outsider candidate, but we disagree with many of her positions. Etheridge, with his experience and deep local roots, is far and away the better choice to advance the interests of the 2nd District's residents.
DAVID PRICE It's hard to imagine a better fit than between Price, the onetime Duke University political scientist, and this district with its strong higher education component. And as Price, of Chapel Hill, has climbed the House seniority ladder, he has gained wide respect both for his command of the issues and for his ideals. He also puts his understanding of the political nuts and bolts to good use - for example, as an advocate for the research funding that sustains the work of many of this region's laboratories.
If there is anyone on Capitol Hill who takes the positive role of government seriously, it is Price. He has become a leading U.S. ambassador for democratic institutions abroad, working through a congressional commission that seeks to further American precepts. He has taken care to stay in close touch with his constituents and to honor the give-and-take with voters. And as chair of the appropriations subcommittee for homeland security, he has been entrusted with key decisions that bear on the country's ability to withstand threats from within and without.
As he did two years ago, Price faces a challenge from Apex Republican B.J. Lawson, a Duke-trained physician turned businessman. Lawson's "core mission," he says, is to "reduce the size and scope of a government that has grown too big."
While that's a familiar conservative stance, Lawson follows it off the deep end as he accuses Price of wanting to control the economy and regulate people's lives. No, Price has it right. An economy left unregulated is a formula for just the kind of crisis America has been struggling with. It is leaders of the caliber and character of David Price who will bring us back from the brink.
BRAD MILLER It's a truism that the real work of Congress is done in committees, and Miller has excelled in the day-to-day grappling with the complexities of a troubled economy and the challenges facing ordinary citizens.
His district, stretching from Raleigh to the Virginia border and into Greensboro, is one where the recession has cut deeply as jobs and savings have evaporated. Yet for people at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure, Miller has been a champion. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, he pressed to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms just as other loans can be modified. And he has been an outspoken foe of predatory lenders while also stepping up to support health care reform.
Miller, an attorney who grew up in Fayetteville, was first elected to Congress in 2002 after exemplary service in the legislature. He is thoughtful, hard-working and committed to the belief that government can and must be a good partner with families and businesses to get the economy back on track.
His Republican challenger is Bill Randall, a retired senior non-commissioned officer in the Navy who moved to North Carolina in 2008. He lives in Wake Forest. Randall takes the minimal-government line that has found such favor on the right this year. With him, Miller has his hands full. But there is no question as to which of these candidates is better suited to make the hard, smart decisions in Washington. It is Brad Miller, who merits another term.