Ford: Senate race tainted by GOP ads

October 13, 2012 

For people such as myself who live in what could be called Greater Southwestern Wake County, the presidential race may be a hot topic. Some of us may quiver with anticipation to see who will claim the keys to the governor’s office.

But the contest that’s had our mailboxes overflowing with campaign propaganda is the one for the 17th District seat in the state Senate.

The glossy mailers tell a tale in terms of how campaigns are being run these days. It’s the Republican Party that must be immune to embarrassment, considering how it’s stooping to attack Democratic candidate Erv Portman.

Republican Tamara Barringer, a Cary lawyer and mother of three, was featured as the mailers started to flow. They were full of warm photos of the Barringer clan (her husband and law partner, Brent, is a GOP activist and former member of the UNC Board of Governors), and they touted her good works in the community, her career credentials and her support for the Republican brand of education reform.

Counting the ones that have come to our house in Cary, the N.C. GOP has sent out nine of these positive mailers, which note that Tamara Barringer authorized them. She also has been promoted in three mailers from the N.C. Chamber, lobbying group for the state’s business interests.

But after the flood of feel-good stuff, the Republicans opted to go low. They’re roasting Portman for a single vote he cast as a Wake County commissioner and before that for two votes as a Cary town councilor.

The votes are presented with zero context, wildly distorting their significance. And in the three attack pieces we’ve received, Barringer maintains her distance from the dirty work. These mailers were “not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.”

First, Portman is ripped for being the only county commissioner to vote against giving the Wake school system an extra $4 million. True enough – he opposed the budget containing the increase mainly because he thought the Republican-controlled commissioners board should have given the schools even more.

Someone who didn’t know the background might conclude that Portman was anti-education. When three of his four daughters are public school teachers?

Then comes a blast at Portman’s two votes on the Cary Town Council that endorsed higher water and sewer rates. The council, in unanimously approving budgets for fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2012, raised the combined rate by 7.9 percent and 5.9 percent respectively for customers using 7,000 gallons of water a month.

Perhaps one reason for the rate hikes was that residents have been using less water amid drought-related efforts to conserve, and thus rates had to go up to help keep the budget balanced.

At the same time, the council kept the same solid waste fee and the county’s lowest property tax rate. But Portman is tarred as an out-of-control revenue hog.

“Erv Portman’s Agenda: More for government. Less for families and local small business,” shouts one mailer.

“You pay more, but schools get less,” thunders another. “Higher water rates. Increased sewer fees. Less for schools. VOTE AGAINST Erv Portman for State Senate.”

Is Tamara Barringer on board with this kind of negativity and distortion? Or is her party just so bent on keeping the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Richard Stevens that she can’t control what’s done on her behalf?

It happens that the Barringers are down-the-street neighbors and friendly acquaintances of ours. A few weeks ago Brent hailed me while I was on a run past their house and asked me, mischievously, if I’d like one of Tamara’s yard signs. She’s clearly popular, and one would think she’s the favorite in a Republican-leaning district.

Yet it’s kind of sad that Tamara Barringer, an adjunct professor of business law and ethics at the UNC law school, stands to benefit from campaign tactics as sleazy as those her party is using.

As to Portman, who founded a successful firm that makes parts for the aerospace industry, the only time I’ve met him was when we wound up sitting in adjacent chairs at the South Hills Barber Shop and were introduced by a savvy barber. We’ve gotten three mailers promoting his campaign, each paid for by the N.C. Democratic Party and each talking up his agenda as a fiscal conservative and job creator. No stink bombs – at least yet.

Perhaps the GOP realizes that Portman – whose company drew a visit from President Obama awhile back – could be a formidable presence in the legislature and wants to cut him off at the knees.

But as things stand, the party is giving itself, its candidate and the political process a black eye with its slick, deceptive attacks. Is the 17th Senate District just one place among many where the same thing is happening? When there’s plenty of special-interest money to finance campaigns and nothing but contempt for the intelligence of voters, this is what we get.

Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at steve.ford@newsobserver.com.

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