Some editorial pages are moving away from political endorsements, either because they don’t think a newspaper should take sides and others because their shrinking resources make the task too time consuming.
At The News & Observer, we’re sticking with the tradition of inviting candidates in for an interview and then sharing with readers who we support. We do it because many readers appreciate a little advice on the races they don’t know much about. But we also do it for ourselves. It’s a chance to meet people face to face, learn about why they’re running and what they’re hearing from voters.
This year, thanks to the electoral meddling of the General Assembly, the ballot in Wake County is especially full. School board races that would normally be held in odd years have been moved to this even year, and a presidential year at that.
We asked candidates to go online and sign up for a half-hour slot. Many did. Over the last three weeks, we’ve interviewed 40 candidates. By the end, the process becomes a blur of faces and issues, but it also restores one’s faith in democracy.
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The unnerving ascent of Donald Trump and the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton suggests something is broken, but further down the ticket in races for state and local offices, democracy is vibrant. The candidates run less because of ego and more to make a difference. They run because they want to fix things and to give voice to people they don’t think are being heard. And they run despite the time required, even some who are unlikely to win.
In state Senate District 18, Democratic candidate Jay Chaudhuri estimates that he has knocked on 7,000 doors. Shoe-leather campaigning, he said, “Makes you a better candidate, more accountable.”
The candidates differ widely. There are younger ones such as Mary Beth Ainsworth, a 32 of Knightdale, who is running because she is unhappy with how the school system serves special needs children, including her son. “I think the only way I can have an impact is if I run and try to change things from the inside,” she said.
And there are older ones, such as retired state Court of Appeals Judge Joe John, who at 76 is making a bid to become a member of the state House from District 40. “I’ve retired like three times,” he said.
There are familiar candidates like county commissioner candidate John Odom, who served 16 years on the Raleigh City Council before losing in the last election. A Republican, Odom says he could bring fiscal prudence to an all-Democratic board and connect the board with more conservative voters and business owners. “I bring people to the table,” he said.
Their are newcomers like Lindsay Mahaffey, 34, of Apex, who arrived here from Seattle in 2015, and is seeking a seat on the school board. She has three children and is a certified teacher who thinks she can help the board balance the demands of growth with racial and economic diversity. “I would be respectful of the history of Wake County, but also provide a different lens,” she said.
And there are candidates with deep roots like state Sen. John Alexander, a Raleigh native who runs a Cardinal International Trucks, a company his father bought in 1952. Raleigh’s YMCA on Hillsborough Street is named for his family.
In other local state Senate races, there are two classic matches between strong candidates with sharp differences. School board member Susan Evans, a Democrat, is stepping up to take on Republican Sen. Tamara Barringer in District 17 in the Cary-Apex areas. Barringer, who teaches law at UNC-CH business school, has a reputation as a moderate. “I’m working on policy issues, not politics,” she said, but she’s voted for a series of conservative measures, including House Bill 2. Evans is stressing that in the moderate district, “Her voting record supports extreme positions,” she said.
In District 18 covering eastern and northern Wake and Franklin counties, Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot, a conservative, faces a strong test from Democratic Franklin County school board member Gil Johnson, 54, a retired air traffic controller who has served 12 years on the school board.
We spoke with shrewd and seasoned candidates for statewide office, all Democrats: Roy Cooper, for governor, Deborah Ross for U.S. Senate, Charles Meeker for state Labor Commissioner, Dan Blue II for state treasurer and Linda Coleman for lieutenant governor. But we also spoke with several Libertarians who seek more to join the debate rather than win the race.
Olen Leo Watson, a Raleigh libertarian running in state House District 38, wants to eliminate sales taxes on food, medicine and utilities and also do away with the state income tax. He wants to legalize marijuana. He says his agenda is unusual but in keeping with America’s history of revolting against oppression.
“We’ve lost a lot of what it means to be Americans,” he said. “We were revolutionary at the beginning, weren’t we.”
Yes, we were. And after seeing the parade of 2016 candidates, we still are.
Look for our endorsements in early October.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, email@example.com