In theory, the N.C. State Senate is the more deliberative body in the General Assembly. The House is supposed to be closer to the feelings and will of “the people” while senators represent larger, more diverse districts and act on what’s best for the state in the long run, not simply what’s possible to approve at the moment.
That theory now has been turned on its head. It’s Republicans in the House, in alliance with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who pushed, albeit unsuccessfully, toward a more moderate approach on some fronts. The Senate’s majority Republicans, led by president pro tem Phil Berger, have been the radicals.
While they have the votes, Republican senators have pushed through a far-right agenda with the urgency of people who know the moment will not last. That agenda includes tax cuts that benefit mostly the wealthy and reduce funding for other state programs. School vouchers. Restrictions that make it harder for low-income people to vote. Opposition to same-sex marriage despite its approval by federal courts. A refusal to expand Medicaid or help North Carolinians buy health insurance on their own state exchange.
The list could go on, but there’s no need for more litanies. The record is clear about the Senate’s trampling of the state’s moderate traditions and its legislation that has hurt the economy, curtailed rights, jeopardized health, stunted education and drawn repeated constitutional challenges.
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It’s urgent that the Senate’s march to the right be blunted, stopped and reversed. That process begins with this election, the first in which voters have a clear sense of how radically the state has turned under Republican control. Given the reality of the 2011 Republican gerrymandering of election districts and the high number of uncontested races, ending Republican Senate rule is out of reach. But voters can send a message in the Triangle that they want better informed and more deliberative leadership in Senate. They want thoughtful senators, not reckless reactionaries.
Fortunately, several strong state Senate candidates in the Triangle offer voters the chance to make that statement.
District 18: We support Democrat Sarah Crawford, a bright political newcomer who will stand against the Senate’s rightward tide. Crawford, 33, grew up in Knightdale, now part of a newly created district that spans Franklin County and a portion of Eastern Wake County. The daughter of a school teacher, Crawford wants more support for public education. She sees good schools as the key to the state’s economic vitality. Crawford, who works for the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities, appreciates the need for affordable health insurance and supports the expansion of Medicaid
Crawford is challenging Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot, a 31-year-old conservative who has been in lockstep with the Senate’s leadership. He wants to smooth the path for fracking in North Carolina and insists tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy are the best way to lift working class North Carolinians out of the post-recession rut. Barefoot, the son-in-law of conservative lobbyist Tami Fitzgerald, who led the efforts to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional in North Carolina, has made an issue of Crawford’s husband being a lobbyist for the environmental advocacy group League of Conservation Voters. That hardly seems a flaw. After four years of Republican rule, the state needs senators who care about protecting the state’s air and water quality and its coastal environment.
District 15: In this Raleigh district, which extends from Wade Avenue north to Falls Lake and Wake Forest, two friends and civic leaders are facing off. On the Democratic side is Tom Bradshaw, a former Raleigh mayor and state secretary of transportation. He faces Republican John Alexander, a trucking company executive, a fundraiser and a board member of the Alexander Family YMCA (named for his family). Both are seeking the seat long held by Republican Neal Hunt, who retired this year.
District voters would be well-served by either candidate. Both are committed to their communities and public education. But the state would be better served by Tom Bradshaw. He has extensive political experience at the local and state level and the skills to push for more support for education even as a member of the minority party.
District 16:In this district, which includes parts of West Raleigh, Cary and Morrisville, we support incumbent Democrat Josh Stein, 48, a Raleigh attorney. His Republican opponent, Jason Alexander Mitchell, 35, is a conservative self-defense instructor. Mitchell will appear on the ballot using his nickname Molotov. He says the General Assembly has done an “incredible job.”
District 17: We support Republican Tamara Barringer in this southwestern Wake County district. An attorney and law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, Barringer has voted with her leadership almost without exception. But she has also sponsored bipartisan legislation to benefit children. In a second term, she may develop more confidence and independence. Her opponent, Democrat Bryan Fulghum, has not mounted a credible campaign.
District 23: In District 23 covering Orange and Chatham counties, we support Democratic incumbent Valerie Foushee, 58, over Republican newcomer Mary Lopez-Carter, 49.
Foushee, a former Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member, Orange County commissioner and state representative, was appointed to fulfill the term of retiring Democrat Sen. Ellie Kinnaird and she will continue Kinnaird’s long commitment to promoting justice, fairness in taxation and effective social services.