The wave of women signing up to run for political office has hit North Carolina.
State Democrats spent Monday announcing nine new candidates – including six women – in their 2018 effort to break Republicans’ veto-proof majority in the state legislature.
Rep. Darren Jackson, the top Democrat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, said on Twitter that he thinks the rise in women candidates has been especially pronounced in the last year.
“It’s something we were seeing way before all the sexual harassment scandals started to break,” he wrote. “After the 2016 election, a lot of women started turning out for events, indivisible groups, house parties. Many for the first time. Been seeing it for a year now.”
The Raleigh city council is now half women for just the second time ever, after the city’s October elections. Also in October, Virginia’s state legislature swung from a strong Republican majority to a split in power after Democrats flipped 15 seats in their favor. Almost all of those 15 Democratic winners were women.
In North Carolina, the elections for state legislative seats aren’t until November 2018, and the deadline for candidates to file (Feb. 28, 2018) is still more than two months away. In the meantime there might be more women of either party to sign up to run for what has always been a male-dominated state legislature.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 13 of North Carolina’s 50 state senators are women, as are 30 of the 120 state representatives. The state’s population is 51 percent female.
In North Carolina on Monday, Republicans pointed out that many of the GOP incumbents being targeted by the new Democratic challengers are also women.
In addition to the Democratic women who announced runs Monday, Cary Life magazine editor Jennifer Ferrell hopes to run a second time against Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary. First, though, she will be in a primary against fellow Democrat Matt Calabria, a Wake County commissioner. And Jen Mangrum, a professor at UNC-Greensboro, plans to run against Republican Sen. Phil Berger, the leader of the state Senate.
It’s unclear exactly which maps will be in play next November, when the elections will be held. There are three different versions of the legislative district maps.
One version, the current map, has been ruled unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering. Republicans in the legislature then passed a second version earlier this year, but a panel of federal judges considering the case hired an independent redistricting expert, Stanford University professor Nathaniel Persily, to draw a third version of the maps.
Persily’s version is the one that Democrats relied on to announce where they’re running. Republican leaders have criticized Persily’s work, which would make it easier for Democrats to win in several districts.
Despite the heavy Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature, North Carolina voters tend to split roughly evenly in statewide elections, like for governor or president.
Here are the candidates who announced Monday.
In Wake County, lawyer Sydney Batch announced her candidacy for House District 37, which represents southwestern Wake County. Batch is a certified child welfare specialist and runs a law firm focused on family law issues with her husband, J. Patrick Williams.
That seat is held by Republican Rep. Linda Williams, a former Holly Springs town councilwoman who joined the legislature last year after the retirement of Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, also a Republican.
The district covers parts of Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and Garner.
Batch said Monday in a written statement she wanted to run because “too many people feel the deck is stacked against them.”
“People want affordable, accessible health care, quality and affordable education, safe air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a fair paycheck,” she said. “Most of all, they want their children to live a more prosperous life than they have.”
In Johnston County, Linda Bennett is running for the seat held by Republican Rep. Donna White, a nurse from Clayton. Bennett founded a pharmaceutical consulting company and lives on a farm south of Zebulon.
“I’ve experienced not only the struggles facing rural North Carolinians but I know what it takes to build a business and solve problems by bringing people together,” she said in a press release. “I want to bring that knowledge and can-do attitude to Raleigh.”
Williams and White did not respond to requests for comment. But White wrote on Facebook that she plans to run for re-election.
“I welcome my opponent to the campaign, and I am very glad that her party recognizes the work I have supported that seems to be the platform stated by her campaign,” White wrote. “As a 12 year Johnston County Board of Education member and during my time in the NC House, my record of supporting public schools, increased teacher pay, and advocating for school safety and other issues is well documented.”
North of Raleigh in Granville County, longtime Creedmoor Mayor Darryl Moss announced he will run for the seat held by Republican Rep. Larry Yarborough. The district is mostly outside the Triangle, covering all of Person County, but it also includes some of the southern parts of Granville County near the border with Wake and Durham counties.
Moss’ campaign website says that “the people of Granville and Person counties are hard-working people who care about safe neighborhoods, quality education, supporting small businesses and much more. With the support of the voters, I promise to never stop fighting for them.”
In Concord, the 82nd district was redrawn so that its incumbent, Republican Rep. Larry Pittman, was put into a neighboring district. The new 82nd district is home to a different Republican incumbent, Rep. Linda Johnson.
Johnson could face Aimy Steele, an elementary school principal and former Spanish teacher who announced her candidacy Monday.
In Pittman’s new House District 83, he could face a challenger who also announced Monday, Gail Young.
Young is the leader of a liberal advocacy group called Citizens in Action NC that organizes protests in Cabarrus County. Young also worked for a long time for the Mecklenburg County government.
Pittman is one of North Carolina’s most controversial lawmakers – he compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler and sponsored a bill that could’ve changed the state constitution to allow North Carolina to secede from the U.S. – but he is also popular with his constituents, winning by nearly 16 percentage points in 2016.
Farther to the south in the Charlotte suburb of Union County, retired doctor and Army veteran Rick Foulke announced he plans to run against Republican Rep. Craig Horn in District 68.
Foulke was a doctor in the Army before retiring as a lieutenant colonel and going into private practice as an oncologist, first in Charlotte and then in Matthews.
His campaign website criticizes Republicans in the General Assembly for refusing to expand Medicaid when the federal government offered to pick up most of the costs.
“I spent my career diagnosing people with cancer, telling them I can save their lives but see them die because they couldn’t afford the treatment,” Foulke wrote on Twitter Monday. “That’s why I’m running.”
In Onslow County, Dan Whitten announced he will run against Republican Rep. Phil Shepard, a pastor from Jacksonville.
Whitten has worked in mental health care at several hospitals in the area.
In the northern Forsyth County suburbs of Winston-Salem, Terri LeGrand announced her plans to run against Republican Rep. Debra Conrad for House District 74.
LeGrand is a financial aid administrator at Wake Forest University.
Martha Shafer, a hospital executive, will run against Republican Rep. John Faircloth, a real estate broker from High Point, for House District 62 in northwest Guilford County.