The Center for Public Integrity tabbed the Kay Hagan-Thom Tillis U.S. Senate race as the most negative in the country. State government battles might not be ranked, but the one between Chad Barefoot and Sarah Crawford for a state Senate district that includes most of Garner would rank highly among them.
Ideological disputes shrouded in accusations of outside influence and half-truths from both sides characterize a race that could be among the most expensive– and most competitive – state races.
Central to the personal attacks has been Crawford’s husband, League of Conservation lobbyist Dan Crawford; Barefoot considers it an conflict of interest and ethical violation for a candidate to be married to a lobbyist much less speak on an issue. Experts say unless her family receives specific financial benefit to legislation she would not have to recuse herself.
One Barefoot TV ad called Sarah Crawford’s marriage and attack ad money spent by environmental groups “a dangerous web.” The ad then vaguely mentions an elections board investigation, though the article shown in the ad describes conservative Civitas Institute’s allegation of illegal nondisclosure by liberal political action committee N.C. Families First – not Crawford, her husband, or an environmental group.
“What I’ve been most disappointed with is that my opponent has been able to say whatever he wants about me without standing on his record,” Crawford said.
It is true that environmental groups have spent millions plastering Barefoot on TV for several months, though the League of Conservation Voters has been linked to Barefoot-attack spending.
“Most people don’t have to run against the spouse of a lobbyist,” Barefoot said, expressing dismay and a belief that the environmentalist groups’ money had turned the campaign dirty. “I don’t think anyone has ever had to go through this before.”
Barefoot accused Dan Crawford specifically of directing millions of dollars against him. Asked what, aside from environmental advocacy, linked the groups attacking him to Crawford, he essentially said to connect the dots on the ad buys and shared interests on issues, saying “you tell me he’s not directing millions of dollars.”
Both sides believe the race competitive and expensive. Finance reports are due on Oct. 27.
Crawford said her campaign has raised over $700,000, about half of which comes from her party’s caucus. Barefoot did not have finance estimate immediately available but agreed it has become an expensive race.
In 2012, Barefoot, spent about $1 million (more than three-quarters of it came from the GOP and PACs) to outspend Doug Berger roughly 4-to-1. He took out the incumbent in the newly-shaped district with 58 percent of the vote.
Clean or dirty money
Crawford has attacked Barefoot on the issue of fracking for going along with a legislature heavily criticized by environmental groups. Barefoot considers her views as well as those of other activists to be extreme.
Environmental groups helped fund a $1 million late-spring/early-summer anti-fracking campaign targeting Barefoot and two other Triangle lawmakers. Barefoot supports fracking but did not spearhead the legislation. He points to studies and comments from hydrologists that indicate the process, done correctly, is safe in relation to drinking water. The League of Conservation Voters does not categorically denounce fracking but heavily criticized new state regulation and enforcement rules.
The GOP called on Crawford to denounce the ad buy as dirty special interest money. Crawford has doubled down on the outside groups’ claims, heavily criticizing fracking legislation. She called “one glass” of contaminated drinking water too much.
As for fracking being safe, she called the February coal ash spill as an example of practices thought to be safe causing disaster.
Meanwhile, Barefoot blasted as a lie a Crawford ad that said rate-payers would be forced to clean up the coal ash mess. Barefoot pointed out that Duke cleaned up the Dan River spill itself and can’t charge NC customers for it. He also noted that the coal ash bill had broad bipartisan support in the legislature, painting Crawford’s environmental views as extreme.
“The central claim, the main argument Mrs. Crawford’s campaign has made against us is false,” Barefoot said.
Crawford notes that Duke Energy can, however, request N.C. rate increases later to cover the cost of retiring other coal ash ponds. That hasn’t happened yet.
Teacher pay by numbers
Another example of important issues getting personal has occurred with teacher pay. Barefoot touts the raises passed by the legislature over the summer, with salary increases averaging 7 percent, as the first since the Recession and among the biggest in state history. Democrats regard the raise as insufficient, and a disingenuous, GOP political move.
“I will vote for teacher pay raises every year, not just during an election year,” Crawford said. “A year ago they could have done it the right way; instead they gave tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.”
Barefoot complained that Crawford has repeatedly claimed in debates that her mother, a 22-year North Carolina teacher, received only a 0.29 percent raise. . Veteran teachers gained far less from the raises than new ones. The Senate’s raise schedule puts 22-year teachers at about 5 percent, or three percent with longevity excluded.
Crawford snapped back, pointing out that her mother taught in Michigan for eight years until moving to Knightdale when Crawford was 11, saying that nothing she’s said was inaccurate. Barefoot called leaving those eight years out of her statements misleading. He added that in legislation he voted for, Crawford’s mother should have received a 1.5 percent raise because it gave more credit for out-of-state experience in longevity pay.
“I’m glad Mr. Barefoot wants to continue to make this an issue about my family but not the issue,” Crawford said.