The race to represent western Wake County in the state House features education-focused candidates who bucked their once-friendly relationship to trade barbs on the campaign trail.
Democratic Cary Town Council member Gale Adcock hopes to unseat two-term Republican state Rep. Tom Murry in House District 41, which stretches from the southwestern corner of Wake County to Murry’s hometown of Morrisville.
The race is expected to be close. Murry beat his Democratic opponent by only 2 percentage points in 2012 despite outspending him $500,000 to $200,000.
That year, Adcock told Murry she had no reason to run against him. She has previously texted him to say “thanks” for opposing Republican-led initiatives like House Bill 150, which would have prohibited municipalities from regulating the aesthetics of residential development.
But Adcock, a 60-year-old who has served on Cary’s Town Council since 2007, says she had a change of heart over the last two years as Murry supported legislation that didn’t reflect the values of a politically moderate district.
Adcock has criticized Murry for denying women access to healthcare by voting to defund Planned Parenthood and for supporting legislation that allows North Carolinians to carry concealed handguns into bars.
But both have put education at the forefront of their campaign.
Murry, a pharmacist, leads his opponent in fundraising and spending by a wide margin.
But Adcock, a registered nurse and nurse practitioner who works as chief health officer for SAS Institute, is optimistic about her chances.
The General Assembly has passed more conservative policies since then, and Murry’s district is considered to have a politically moderate voting base. The district has about 49,000 voters of which 35 percent are Republicans, 35 percent are unaffiliated and 30 percent Democrats.
She thinks a recent political ad that Murry authorized shows he’s nervous about his reelection changes. The ad depicts Adcock with a long, wooden nose and states “Adcock and her liberal supporters aren’t telling you the truth” about Murry allegedly “supporting massive cuts in education.”
“When a guy runs negative ads like that against a woman, you know he wants to win bad,” Adcock said.
Teacher pay an issue
Murry thinks he and other Republican leaders deserve credit for passing the first “dramatic improvement” in education funding since the Democrat-controlled General Assembly froze teacher salaries and furloughed teachers during the recession.
He supported a $282 million plan to raise teacher pay by an average of 7 percent in the most recent budget.
Next, he wants to focus on improving students’ odds of landing jobs.
“We need to treat our (college) chancellors like CEOs,” he said in a recent interview. “If they’ve got course offerings, they need to advertise to the students what the salary ranges for those degrees are (and) what the placement rates for those degrees (are).”
Adcock has criticized the plan to increase teacher pay that Murry supported because it folded longevity pay – which is given to teachers with 10 years or more of experience – into the teacher’s base salary.
Republican leaders estimate the raises will boost teacher salaries to 32nd from 46th in the nation.
“I wanted to see a plan that over a sustained period raises our teacher salaries to at least the national average if not higher,” she said in a recent interview.
Murry claims that raising teacher pay further would likely require tax hikes – something he said he’s not willing to support. Adcock didn’t rule out raising taxes on some, but said she would prefer to move around current revenues to fund higher teacher pay.
It’s unclear whether a referendum on the state’s education system will bring the district’s voters to the polls. Compared to other regions of North Carolina, state House District 41 isn’t exactly desperate for education improvements. Wake County supplements teachers’ salaries and the district is home to some of the state’s most well-off, high-performing schools.
Disagreeing over tax cuts
Adcock uses education as a segue to talk about how Murry supported a tax plan passed last year that disproportionately benefits the rich.
The General Assembly would have more money to fund education, she claims, if Murry and his Republican peers hadn’t changed the tax code in a way that leaves the state with less money to fund its priorities. Taxes cut last year will amount to a shortfall of about $700 million this year, and a total of $5.3 billion over five years, according to a report by the General Assembly’s fiscal staff.
Murry credits those tax cuts with stimulating the local economy. The jobless rate peaked above 11 percent in 2010 while Democrats controlled the General Assembly, he noted.
“The unemployment rate has dropped 5 points in four years,” he said. “If there was a change in philosophy at the legislative level, you would see us head back in that direction (toward high unemployment.)”