Sarah Crawford, a Democrat running for the state Senate sees disaster in the state’s current path.
But Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot, the incumbent she’s challenging in District 18, sees no reason for North Carolina to change course.
The two disagree on economic and tax philosophy as well, and both have accused the other of not putting constituents’ needs ahead of so-called special interests.
Barefoot, 31, won the newly created district spanning Franklin County and a jagged slab of eastern Wake County in 2012. Before the election, he was on the staff of Republican Rep. Paul Stam of Apex. As vice-chair of the Education Committee, he was a primary sponsor of a student privacy bill that received unanimous support. He also voted not to expand Medicaid and to fast-track fracking.
Crawford, 33, grew up in the district – in Knightdale – and works for the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities.
Theirs is one of the state’s most hotly contested legislative races, with more than $100,000 spent on advertising so far.
According to the stations’ FCC disclosure filings, Barefoot has had the biggest media presence, spending more than $170,000 in the early weeks of October. Crawford’s campaign has spent more than $105,000.
Crawford’s husband, Dan, is a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group League of Conservation Voters, a situation Barefoot has blasted as a conflict of interest.
Barefoot, meanwhile, is the son-in-law of conservative lobbyist Tami Fitzgerald, who led the efforts to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional in North Carolina.
Taxes and education
Crawford argues that the changes to the state’s tax code passed by Barefoot and his fellow Republicans are lowering the state’s revenue and will hurt public services at a time when many families are still struggling in a post-recession economy.
She compares it to the tax cuts that took effect in Kansas in 2013. Kansas now faces nine-figure deficits and a credit rating downgrade, and notes that North Carolina is also seeing shortfalls.
In September, three months into the new fiscal year, the state’s tax revenue is down by nearly $313 million in comparison with the first three months of fiscal 2013-14, according to the most recent monthly review by the Office of the State Controller. But state Budget Director Lee Roberts has said it’s too early too be alarmed.
“We have a General Assembly in which leadership is not focused on what is important to people,” Crawford said. “I do not see the economic turnaround the way that the governor and my opponent see it. Wages have been stagnant for years as cost of living continues to grow.”
Barefoot counters that GOP tax reforms are already bringing jobs, and that policies of past Democratic legislatures worsened the recession in the state. The unemployment rate, he notes, has steadily dropped since the GOP took over the legislature in 2010. (It bottomed out at 6.2 percent in April, below the national figure for the first time since before the Recession started. It has since risen to 6.7 in September, while the national rate has fallen to 5.9.)
“That’s the primary difference between us and them. We wanted to grow our way out. They wanted to tax and spend, and it didn’t work,” said Barefoot. “People are critical of the decisions we’ve made, but look, the people criticizing us want to go back to what created all the problems. It’s crazy.”
Crawford maintains that companies care more about an area’s education system than a few points on the tax rate.
“Investing in education does bring jobs to a community. I spoke with multiple mayors and multiple economic developers, and the No. 1 question they get is ‘How are the schools?’ ” Crawford said. “Right now North Carolina is not in good position to answer that question.”
Barefoot bristles at the claims that his party has cut education funding. “The only thing I’ve done is vote to raise teacher pay,” he said.
Those raises, which average 7 percent, still leave the state below average in teacher pay but no longer near the basement. The raises more dramatically affect young teachers than experienced ones, raising the bottom rung from about $30,000 to $36,000. Crawford called the move disingenuous.
“The raise is disrespectful to our most veteran teachers. My mother is a Wake County teacher. She’s getting a 0.29 percent raise,” Crawford said. “I believe it was a political Band-Aid to get them to Nov. 4.”
Finding the money
Barefoot wants to know how Crawford and other Democrats would pay for more education funding and the other changes they’ve said are needed.
“It’s not fair for them to make all these promises about things they’re going to do, and not say how they’re going to pay for it,” Barefoot said. “They don’t have a plan.”
Crawford said getting the funding would involve a variety of areas of the budget and compromises in which no one would get everything they wanted. She also said the “show me the money” argument rang hollow given the revenue the GOP had voluntarily sacrificed.
“When you have the option to reinstate teacher raises or give tax benefits to the wealthiest and corporations, and you choose the latter, you do not get credit for lifting them halfway up after you threw them down,” Crawford said.
Conflict of interest?
While Crawford accuses Barefoot of putting the wealthy first, Barefoot sees Crawford’s environmental record as extreme, and unduly influenced by special interests, her husband’s organization in particular.
“The mortgage on their house gets paid by a group that attacks legislators on issues that she’s decided to fight for,” Barefoot said. “Who do you represent, the people that pay your mortgage, or the taxpayers in the district?”
Barefoot said if Crawford won, her marriage should bar her from voting for or even advocating on such issues because of ethics laws.
Crawford said she’s proud of her husband’s work, but would work first and foremost for her district, and supports environmental issues because it’s the right thing to do. She also said ethics laws say that since her husband’s nonprofit doesn’t benefit financially from environmental law, she’s clear of ethics laws.
Bob Phillips – executive director of nonprofit Common Cause, a political watchdog advocacy group that helped push comprehensive ethics laws through in 2007 – said Crawford was correct.
“Obviously there needs to be transparency,” Phillips said. “Financial benefit is the big bright line that we would look at. There’s not anything statutorily that says because this person has connection to a certain industry that they would never be a part of the debate.”