Our endorsements for Congress

New districts, and some new faces, in races for the U.S. House of Representatives.

October 16, 2012 

The Triangle didn’t move following the Republican takeover of the General Assembly in 2010, but our congressional districts sure did.

Redistricting has altered the shape and boundaries of the three districts, the 2nd, 4th and 13th, in and around Raleigh. The idea here, as elsewhere in North Carolina – where Republicans hope to “turn over” as many congressional districts as anywhere in the country – is to create safe seats for GOP incumbents, the same for a handful of entrenched Democrats, and GOP-leaning districts in the rest of the state, where the gains are expected to come.

In Raleigh and the area immediately surrounding it, we have one of each kind of district.

The 2nd District

The district, which tea party favorite Renee Ellmers narrowly wrested from longtime Democratic incumbent Bob Etheridge in 2010, has been shifted west, presumably to make it more congenial to re-election of the first-term congresswoman, whose victory was both narrow and something of an upset. The geographical shape-shifting makes sense only in the distorted logic of redistricting, but the question for 2nd District voters is: Has Rep. Ellmers earned re-election?

In her favor, she’s aligned herself more with the Republican leadership in the U.S. House than with the farthest-out tea partyers. That’s not saying the House leaders are anything but highly conservative.

Ellmers, who trained as a nurse and who worked as clinical director of her physician husband’s clinic in Dunn, also is as staunch as they come in opposing “Obamacare” – in our view, a stance that ill serves the millions of Americans, including many people in her district, who without the Affordable Care Act will continue to suffer from a lack of health insurance.

Her Democratic opponent, Steve Wilkins of Whispering Pines, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who now works for Boeing, is a newcomer to electoral politics (as Ellmers was in 2010). His military service is a plus in a district that includes Fort Bragg. Wilkins, who to his credit defends the Affordable Care Act, is a native of Durham, did tours of duty in Iraq and at Fort Bragg, and appears to be honorable and sensible.

Still, the district was crafted for Ellmers and she’s the overwhelming favorite to win. Her stands may well reflect those of the district. We think a vote for either Ellmers or Wilkins would be justified, depending on the voter’s views.

The 4th District

The district isn’t anything like a close call. Democratic Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill has long been a force for good government, a leader in the U.S. House and an effective ally of higher education and research. It’s a shame that redistricting forced Price and current 13th District Rep. Brad Miller of Raleigh into the same district, with Miller choosing to retire – a real loss for Congress and the public.

Forcing such a dilemma was likely a key aim of Republican district-drawers. But with Price running again, 4th District voters have an excellent choice.

In distinct contrast, his GOP opponent, Tim D’Annunzio, is an extremist who was denounced by leading Republicans when he ran for a congressional seat two years ago. Then-party chair Tom Fetzer said D’Annunzio was “unfit for public office at any level.” Voters would be foolish not to heed that warning. David Price is the clear choice in the 4th District and gets our enthusiastic editorial endorsement.

The 13th District

The reconfigured district has been shifted south and east from the region that Brad Miller has represented. The district is designed to swing a formerly Democratic seat to GOP control, and former federal prosecutor George Holding of Raleigh had to beat Wake County commissioner Paul Coble in a bruising, high-stakes battle last spring to represent it. Holding’s Democratic opponent, Charles Malone of Raleigh, a Vietnam veteran who now works for the state, is thoughtful and well-intentioned but doesn’t have a realistic chance.

In the primary race, Holding, a former aide to the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, portrayed himself as being to the right of Coble on spending, no small feat. The question now is, how would he act in office?

His work as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina holds out some hope that he can be even-handed. The office prosecuted (or helped prosecute) prominent Democrats and some Republicans, with mixed results but a clear emphasis on cleaning up political corruption after the state came down with a bad case of it.

Balanced against that are some negatives. Holding’s campaign slogan – “Cut Spending Now” – suggests a narrow focus on hacking away at the federal budget when pruning is in order. And his willingness to see his relations’ money (the Holding family controls the parent company of First Citizens Bank) employed via a super PAC that vastly outspent Coble was no favor to the cause of campaign finance reform.

In office, Holding will have to bear in mind that many of his constituents have few resources to fall back on, and that cutting programs – including health care – that assist folks at the bottom of the economic ladder is an all-too-easy step for those who are well off. Can he do that? It’s an open question, but in the near certainty that he’ll be elected, and in the hope that he’ll temper his conservatism in a fair-minded way, Holding gets our editorial endorsement in the 13th District.

A note to voters: These three (and other, such as the 1st) congressional districts have been so altered since the 2010 election, and their shapes are so intertwined with one another, that it may take some digging to figure out which you’re in. The best single source may be the State Board of Elections website at www.ncsbe.gov. Fill out the information for My Polling Place and then click on the sample ballot.

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